Sunday, July 31, 2016

Seminary PL17: Leadership Structures in Church History

In church history, how has leadership been structured in different "denominations" or church groups? That is the topic this week. Last week we looked at leadership roles in the early church.

This is the third post on church management in my "Seminary in a Nutshell" series. In this seminary series, first I did a section on the Person and Calling of a Minister. Now this is the seventeenth post in a section on the Pastor as a Leader (see at the bottom).
1. As we saw in the previous post, leadership in the earliest church was both "institutional" and "charismatic." It was institutional in the sense that the Twelve were put in place by Jesus while he was on earth, then commissioned as apostles after his resurrection as witnesses to his resurrection. [1] Jesus thus "instituted" a structure of twelve, likely to symbolize the twelve tribes of Israel.

It was charismatic in that there was also a strong strand of prophetic ministry that stood outside any system of appointment. "The prophets" of the earliest church were called by God to speak his word at unpredictable times and places. They thus stood outside of any particular structure of leadership. A prophet could come from anywhere to speak to anyone.

From a human standpoint, Paul's apostleship looked charismatic. He was not appointed by the Twelve or by Jesus when he was visible on earth. Paul and other apostles like him were appointed by the risen Christ, largely in individualized experiences. In that sense, while we call Paul an apostle rather than a prophet, his ministry did not fall within any institutionalized structure.

2. This tension between institution and charisma is always present in a living church, although they usually vary in degree. As the church moved forward in history, it is understandable that it moved increasingly toward institutionalization. Official roles and structures make for stability, even as they can diminish flexibility and the spontaneity of charisma.

By the end of the first century, we have Clement of Rome telling the Corinthian church that they do not have the authority to oust their leaders, since those leaders were put in place in an unbroken chain that went back to Paul. Here we find the beginnings of what would become the idea of apostolic succession, the idea that all ministers must go back in an unbroken chain to the original apostles and Jesus.

Certainly it is helpful for ministers to be "recognized" by a community of faith. Most of those who think themselves prophets probably are not. But there is strong New Testament support for the prophet, and no evidence in the New Testament that this role has ever ceased. In the end, it is helpful for ministers to be "ordained" by communities of believers. We should be suspicious of someone claiming spiritual authority who is not recognized by any church. But there is no biblical basis for an insistence on apostolic succession.

3. The letters of Ignatius of Antioch, which date from the early second century (ca. AD110) indicate that a structure had developed in the church with a single, rather powerful "overseer" or bishop in larger cities. [2] This structure would only develop over time. In the first few centuries, the leadership of the church was focused in the bishops of the biggest cities: the bishop of Rome, the bishop of Alexandria, the bishop of Jerusalem, the bishop of Constantinople.

We thus cannot speak of a "Pope" in these centuries. The bishop of Rome naturally accrued increasing power in that Rome was a political power center for the world. But there were church councils from the early 300s to the 500s that held far more power and authority than any individual bishop. Eventually, however, bishop Gregory of Rome (590-604) managed to be recognized as the "first among equals" and the "servant of the servants of God."

So we might say that Gregory I was the first Pope.

4. Even then, he was not considered to have more authority than, say, the bishop of Constantinople. After the Islamic conquests, Rome and Constantinople were the centers of Christianity that remained standing. The conflict over the authority of Rome came to a head in 1054 when the "archbishop" of Constantinople rejected the right of the western church to add words to the Nicene Creed. [3]

By the time the conflict was over, both the Pope and the archbishop of Constantinople had excommunicated each other, and a split between the Orthodox church of the East and the Roman Catholic Church of the West was sealed and continues to this day. [4]

5. All the structures of the churches above are episcopal in nature. The first church structure was much looser, it seems. But throughout most of Christian history, the primary institutional structure of the church has been "episcopal," from the Greek word for an overseer.

Any church structure that has a powerful institutional hierarchy where leaders are appointed from above (rather than elected by the people) is episcopal. Such bishops and archbishops (head bishops) are usually appointed for life. The Roman Catholic Church is of course the most prominent example of a church that is structured in an episcopal way. But also in this category are the Orthodox churches (Greek, Eastern, Russian, American), Anglican and Episcopal churches, [5] and Lutheran churches.

6. There is a second kind of structure that developed after the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s (when large numbers of western Christians pulled out of the Roman Catholic Church). This form of church government is called presbyterian, after the Greek word for an "elder." In a presbyterian structure, the leaders of the church are elected by the members of the church.

It is no coincidence that presbyterian structures of church government rose at the same time that democracy rose in the western world. It is no surprise that both these structures rose as western world became increasingly individualistic. In presbyterian systems, it is not just the ministers who have a say in who the leaders of the church are, but lay people usually get to vote too (i.e., non-ministers).

Presbyterian churches are the most obvious instance of this church structure. My own church, The Wesleyan Church is primarily presbyterian in structure. There is a hierarchy, but it is an elected one, and no one holds a permanent office. Local churches send representatives to "district conferences," whose membership is half ministerial and half lay. They decide matters of that district.

Then there are "general" conferences for large regions like the United States or the Caribbean. Again, with half lay and half ministerial delegates, "general superintendents" are elected.

Some might cynically scoff at such a system, impacted as it is by modern cultural developments. But I would scoff right back at the ignorance that assumes that the same structure works equally well in all times and all places. Representational democracy has worked better in the modern world for most people than ancient monarchies did. And so this form of church government seems to work just as well at this point in history--if not better--than the other forms.

7. The third primary form of church government is the congregational model, in which all the power is focused in a local congregation. Local churches may be part of some association of other churches, but those other churches have no real authority over the local church. Local churches ordain ministers and believe whatever they choose to believe (although in most cases there is strong continuity with other churches that locate themselves in the same tradition).

This form of government is typical of Baptist churches and churches in the "Disciples of Christ" tradition. Independent and community churches generally fall into this category as well. "Freedom of conscience" is a major part of the Baptist tradition, understandably because no local church is beholden to any hierarchy.

The strength of this structure is flexibility and independence. The weakness is the lack of accountability and the potential for false teaching. It is harder to coordinate beyond the local area and, for pastors, harder to come by a new church once you leave the one you are at.

8. Finally, we might say that there are still pockets of charismatic "congregations" that rise out of nowhere. The house church movement is perhaps the best example of what I am thinking here. [6] Leaders are not put in place by the people to whom they minister and in fact we can question whether these groups have leaders. They arise spontaneously and usually do not meet in church structures.

Next Week: Pastor as Leader 18: The Importance of Good Management

[1] Since Jesus himself held no official position, the ultimate roots of church leadership were charismatic in nature.

[2] Sometimes called a "monarchical" bishop.

[3] Namely, the West had added the words "and the Son" to the line of the creed that says where the Holy Spirit proceeds from. But this was just the surface issue. The real issue was how much authority the Pope had.

[4] We should thus distinguish from the "church catholic," which is the Church in all times and all places, and the Roman Catholic Church based in Rome. There are "Old Catholic" churches still today in Europe which are neither Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox.

[5] The Episcopal Church is the United States' version of the Anglican Church or Church of England, reconceptualized after the Revolutionary War.

[6] I take this last idea from Dr. Bud Bence, who called this structure, "pneumatic."

Leadership in General
Strategic Planning
Church Management

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Gen Eds P12: What's Philosophy Good For?

The last eleven posts have overviewed philosophy as the first of ten subjects you would generally study in college as part of a "general education," also called a "liberal arts" education. The name of this overall series is called "General Education in a Nutshell."

The posts on philosophy were:
1. I wonder if I have covered more territory with these posts than I needed to. I've tried to be somewhat comprehensive when my original purpose was to show the importance and usefulness of philosophy.

So I want to take this post and ask, what is really useful about philosophy? If there were a philosophy course that really tried to help people, not just to tell them the stuff you are supposed to say in a philosophy course, what would that be?

Here are several helpful areas for a philosophy course to address:
  • Philosophy should teach a person to question their own assumptions. Philosophy should hold up a mirror to a person and say, "You didn't even realize you had blind spots and were wearing glasses."
  • Philosophy should teach a person about logical fallacies and good inductive reasoning. Society desperately needs better and more objective thinkers.
  • There are a host of perspectives on philosophical issues that relate to a Christian "worldview." These are not as cut and dry as many think, but they include positions especially in the philosophy of religion, ethics, social and political philosophy, and the philosophy of the person.
  • Ethics has to be one of the most relevant areas of philosophy. I suspect a very relevant philosophy course would spend a good deal of the course thinking through ethical issues.
  • Social and political philosophy is a tough one to touch, since this is an area where unexamined assumptions run deep. But it is helpful for a person to know the options, to see the world from the perspective of others, and to become more consistent.
  • Part of recognizing your own assumptions is realizing that science is not completely objective, that people have unrecognized assumptions about history and art and people.
We do not always see the value of having our minds opened and our easy assumptions laid bare. But it arguably is very good for humanity and society.

2. I have gone back and retrofitted my posts with classical philosophical texts. I regret that my Eurocentric background has left me impoverished when it comes to philosophical voices of women and color. I welcome input here.

But following the older canon of philosophical classics, I suggest the following books as the "should reads" of Western philosophy.
  • Plato's Apology
  • Plato's Republic
  • Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
  • Rene Descartes' Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy
  • John Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding
  • David Hume's An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
  • Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason
  • Kant's A Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics
  • Augustine's City of God
  • Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan
  • John Locke's Two Treatises of Government
  • David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature
  • Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations
  • John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism
  • Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto
  • Friedrich Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morality
  • Soren Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling
  • William James' Pragmatism
  • John Dewey's How We Think
  • Sigmund Freud's On the Interpretation of Dreams
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations
  • Albert Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus
  • Ayn Rand's The Virtue of Selfishness
  • Hans Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method
  • Michel Foucault's The Order of Things
  • Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
  • Richard Rorty's Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature
  • Alistair MacIntyre's After Virtue
  • Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind
Next Week: World History Overview

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

My Grandfather's Prophecy Book 1

Just after the 1960 election, my grandfather Harry Shepherd (1883-1963) wrote a book titled, Foundational and Fundamental Truth Concerning the Coming of the Lord. My mother, then married almost fifteen years, typed it up since he couldn't type. He would die a couple years later.

In this day of print on demand, no book ever need go out of print, so I've decided to self-publish it. But first I'll type out the book here online. Here is more information on him.

Somehow it seems appropriate that I (coincidentally) start transcribing his book the day after Tim LaHaye passed.

Foundational and Fundamental Truth Concerning the Coming of the Lord
The treatment of this booklet is based on Four Promises to Abraham Given in Genesis 12:1-4
by Harry A. Shepherd

Rev. Shepherd taught Bible Prophecy in Frankfort Pilgrim College for eighteen years
50 cents

Order from
Rev. Harry A. Shepherd
851½ Third Street
Frankfort, Indiana

Kindly dedicated to Stanley Booher, a student
in Frankfort Pilgrim College, and to Rev. J. W. Adcock,
a Professor, and to my wife, for their kind suggestion
of the publication of the truth in this booklet.


Much has been written on the great truth of the personal return of the Lord to this earth. Why then should anything further be offered? May we humbly suggest that as far as our reading has gone, the approach and the angle of discussion in this booklet is different from what our reading has encountered in the good material which we have perused. We approach the subject from what we choose to call an Abrahamic angle. In other words God made four promises to Abraham upon which rests as a foundation and from which stems the fundamental truth of the coming of our blessed Lord as well as some other gracious redemptive truth.

I. The Fall of Man a Procuring Cause and a Contributing Cause For the Coming of the Lord
Before proceeding to a consideration of those four promises we suggest that it would be well to try to determine the reason or cause for any coming of the Lord. The reason is to be found in the following truth that the Fall of Man in Eden was a contributing and procuring cause for such coming. The Fall put man where he needed the coming of God to his rescue and redemption. This coming God forthwith put into execution according to Genesis 3:8. The fact that God enjoys the fellowship and social Association of His true followers may cause one to wonder as to the possibility of former comings during the period of Adam's and Eve's innocency in Eden. In the light of Genesis 3:21 it seems that God taught them a blood atonement of a Kinsman Redeemer and proper modesty in outward appearance. Also in His great mercy, compassion and love He sent them forth out of the garden and placed cherubims and a flaming sword about the tree of life to keep them from eating of it and becoming immortal sinners so that they never could be redeemed and saved. Genesis 3:22-24.

In order to verify God's pronouncement and promise Genesis 3:15 that the Seed of the Woman should bruise the serpent's head and it should bruise His heel in the crucifixion and by this verification undo the terrible effects of the fall, the Kinsman Redeemer must come to earth and be associated with the human family. He must also belong to that family but not be involved in its misfortune and wreck through sin and thereby not be infected by the carnal nature. This human connection would give him the right to come to earth and redeem.

As this Kinsman Redeemer was to be of the Seed of the Woman and not of the seed of man His physical gestation must be different from the ordinary reproduction of mankind. According to Matthew 1:18 and 23, Isaiah 7:14 and Luke 1:30-33 the Holy Ghost would be the author and father of this offspring of a virgin. Consequently when He came to earth he would bring his deity and an unsullied and carnality-free humanity with Him. This type and kind of birth and coming would give Him not only the right to redeem but also the abundant power to redeem and save. Praise the blessed Lord! According to the Old and New Testament Scriptures all of this was abundantly fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the Kinsman Redeemer out of the house of David Whose coming maybe seen in God's four promises to Abraham in the long ago...
Section 2 next Tuesday

Monday, July 25, 2016

Monday Review: Great by Choice 2

Last week I started reviewing Jim Collins and Morten Hansen's new book, Great by Choice. Today is chapter 2: "10Xers."

1. The title of the chapter has to do with the companies that form the focus of this book's study, namely, companies that performed at least 10 times better than its industry index over the period from 1972-2002.

The study concluded that there were three key characteristics of the leadership of the companies in this category: 1) fanatic discipline, 2) empirical creativity, and 3) productive paranoia. I like the last two titles, not as happy with the first.

2. So they begin by contrasting Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott, who in 1911 raced to be the first to get to the south pole. Amundsen made it there and back in good time. Scott got bogged down and ended up freezing to death.

Collins and Hansen use Amundsen as an example of the kind of leader who is more likely to lead an organization through chaotic times. Amundsen prepared fanatically for the trip to the south pole. He experimented with various options to find the ones that seemed most likely to work. He expected everything to go wrong and had multiple failsafes. They basically summarize his philosophy as, "Don't wait until you're in a crisis to prepare for it."

By contrast, Scott had done little experimentation in preparation. He chose the wrong animals and the wrong equipment. He had barely enough provisions to make it if everything went right. He depended on being able to hit his return path without error. He made it to the pole, but died before he made it back to his starting camp.

3. So the first characteristic they identified of the companies that super-produced in tough times is "fanatic discipline." Frankly, I'm not sure that they found the right term because they seem to ball up several things in this category. For example, they include "consistency of action" here--clearsightedness in terms of goals. But surely the leaders of the other companies were tenacious in some way too.

I liked this line: These leaders were "utterly relentless, monomaniacal even, unbending in their focus on their quests. They don't overreact to events, succumb to the herd, or leap for alluring--but irrelevant--opportunities" (21). They were "non-conformists in the best sense" (23). They were "fanatics" (22).

It sounds like this category should have been titled, "disciplined fanatics" rather than "fanatical discipline." But I've detected in Collins a tendency to push against charisma. He's a data guy by personality, which suggests there could be some bias against the charismatic in his books.

So let's go ahead and put a hypothesis out there, namely, that what he is talking about here is an intense, focused, and idiosyncratic passion that often bordered on the weird. These guys didn't give a rip what other people thought about them.

4. The second characteristic of the leaders of these companies was a certain "empirical creativity." What they mean here is that these leaders were creative, but based on data. "At times of uncertainty, most people look to other people... They look primarily for empirical evidence" (28).

A key point Collins and Hansen make here is that they didn't "favor analysis over action." There is a certain kind of data person that just likes endlessly collecting data and never acts. That's not what they're saying here. These companies sometimes took big risks, but they were risks based on evidence.

5. Finally, these leaders had something called "productive paranoia." They were always expecting the bottom to fall out. Bill Gates was "Doctor Doom" at Microsoft, once prompting an 11% drop because of a memo he sent worried that the sky was going to fall at any minute. One of the company presidents had a portrait of General Custer on his wall. The leader of Southwest predicted 11 of the last 3 recessions. :-)

"By embracing the myriad of possible dangers, they put themselves in a superior position to overcome danger" (28). I particularly identified with this one. It's part of why I was willing to step back into a leadership role at IWU this year. I see the educational sky cracking all around us, and I fear my part of the university is doing squat.

6. Collins then connects these specific characteristics with what he called "Level 5 Ambition" from his Good to Great book. In that book, Level 5 Ambition was a combination of humility and professional will. Since many of the leaders of this book were flamboyant (seeming to contradict their earlier findings--again, one suspects there is some bias against charisma lurking here), they describe humility as a tendency to work for the greater good.

Now maybe that's what they should have said in Good to Great! These leaders weren't out for themselves but for the greater good of the company. Now that will preach. These "paranoid, neurotic freaks" (PNFs) were "passionately driven for a cause beyond themselves" (33).

The next few chapters begin to play out these concepts in greater detail.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Seminary PL16: Leadership in the Early Church

Today let's look at early church leadership structures. This is the second post on church management in my "Seminary in a Nutshell" series, now moved to Sundays. In this seminary series, first I did a section on the Person and Calling of a Minister. Now this is the sixteenth post in a section on the Pastor as a Leader (see at the bottom).
1. When Jesus was ministering on earth, he was obviously the leader of the group. After the twelve (now eleven) disciples witnessed his resurrection, Jesus sent them as the apostles, as witnesses of the resurrection sent to spread the good news. Judas was replaced by Matthias, restoring the number of the Apostles to twelve.

Note that, according to the requirements for Judas' replacement, the apostle Paul would not be qualified as one of the Twelve. According to Acts, his replacement needed to be someone who had been with Jesus from the time of John the Baptist (Acts 1:22). So it goes without question that no one alive today could be one of the twelve apostles, since not even Paul qualified by Acts' standard.

2. There is, however, a second level understanding of an apostle we find, one that includes Paul. He understands an apostle to be someone to whom the risen Christ has appeared (1 Cor. 9:1) and who has then been sent to proclaim the good news. 1 Corinthians 15:5-8 gives us a sent of those to whom Jesus appeared: first Peter, then the twelve (apostles), then James and the other apostles. Then he was the last. 

So again, there are no apostles of this sort today, or at least Paul did not anticipate there being any. The New Testament apostles were individuals to whom the risen Christ had visibly appeared and whom Jesus himself had commissioned, perhaps audibly.

We know the names of some in this company. Paul seems to include Barnabas in this list (1 Cor. 9:6; cf. Acts 14:14). In Romans 16:7 may very well include a husband-wife team among the apostles, a couple named Andronicus and Junia. If so, we should expect that they were two of those to whom Jesus appeared and that they were part of the early church's mission.

3. Is there a third layer of apostle in the New Testament? There are other people who are "sent" by someone or another. Paul calls Epaphroditus a "messenger" of the church of the Philippian church (Phil. 2:25). Here he uses the same word but not in the strong sense of the word elsewhere. Here it is used in its more ordinary sense of someone who is sent from someone to bring a message to someone else.

So in the face of the consistent New Testament use of the word apostolos, it is overwhelmingly likely that 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11 are speaking only in relation to the apostles of the early church when they speak of apostles. The foundation of the (early) church were these apostles and another group known as the prophets (Eph. 2:20). We should remember that, at least in his earliest letters, Paul did not foresee that the Lord would tarry this long (cf. 1 Cor. 7:29). He did not see himself as setting up a structure that related to the next two thousand years.

4. So what of today? There are groups that call leaders apostles today. These leaders are characterized by extreme charisma and heightened power in their ministries. God knows their hearts. Words change their meanings over time. If some Christian groups are inspired for mission by a particular use of words, may the Lord be with them. But know that these are not apostles in the biblical sense of the word.

It is also common to speak of "apostolic ministry," that is, to speak of individuals playing roles in the church today similar to the roles the apostles played in the early church. Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim understand the function of apostles as being that of mission and church planting. [1] For them, those who play the apostolic role are tasked with the extension of the church and thus its overall vigor.

Interestingly, church history has more often seen the highest level of institutional leadership as the heirs of the apostles' role in the early church. That is to say, they implicitly see the role of the apostles in the earliest church as that of final authority, not least in the writing of Scripture. So for most of the last two thousand years, apostolic authority is seen to continue in Scripture and in institutionalized leadership.

Perhaps there is truth in both of these models. Yes, one of the key purposes of Scripture was for the original apostles to leave a "deposit" of right teaching (orthodoxy) after their deaths (cf. 1 Tim. 6:20). Yes, the apostles appointed leaders to serve as an authority structure for the church (cf. 1 Clement 42:4-5; 44:1-3). Yes, Christian tradition suggests that the apostles spread throughout the world spreading the good news of Jesus' resurrection and lordship. [2]

So if a Christian group today wants to use the word apostolic to emphasize one of these aspects, it will be in continuity with at least one aspect of the apostles.

5. Ephesians 2:20 and 1 Corinthians 12:28 highlight another important role in the early church, namely, that of prophet. There was apparently an identifiable group within the early church known collectively as "the prophets." These were individuals to whom the Lord gave revelation for the church, not least spiritual interpretations of the Old Testament about Christ.

In Acts, we see one of these prophets in action, Agabas. In Acts 11:28, he predicts that there will be a famine in Palestine. In Acts 21:11, he predicts that Paul will be arrested in Jerusalem. 1 Corinthians 14 suggests that prophecy was widely practiced in the early church, even on the level of local churches. Paul has a very favorable view of it, suggesting it is more beneficial to the church than speaking in an unknown tongue.

A thorough study of the way the New Testament interprets the Old Testament shows that the early church was largely "charismatic" in its interpretation. The Spirit revealed truths to the church through Scripture in ways that were not limited by the original meaning or context of those verses. We can imagine that many of the "spiritual" interpretations we find in the New Testament came from these prophets. Indeed, some have suggested that some of the words of Jesus in the Gospels may have come after his ascension as prophetic words from the risen Lord that came through prophets (e.g., Matt. 10:38).

Unlike the original apostles, there is nothing about the nature of a prophet in the New Testament that suggests this function had any reason to stop with the deaths of the first apostles. [3] In the church today, prophetic voices are those that receive words from the Lord and pass them on to the church. Certainly some pastors fit into this category.

But the very nature of the prophetic is that it often stands outside the normal, institutional structures of the church. Prophets often come unexpectedly (and often annoyingly) from the sidelines. Anyone who has a word from the Lord to speak to the church--whether it is corrective or predictive or encouraging--is functioning like a prophet today.

6. We find another role of early church leadership in Acts 15. When the question whether Gentiles can be saved comes up, it is discussed by the "apostles and elders" (15:2). So there was a group of leaders in the Jerusalem church known as the elders. No doubt following the pattern of Jewish synagogue leadership, the earliest church seems to have had a group of older individuals who provided wisdom and leadership to local Christian communities. These were probably mostly men, in keeping with the culture.

So it seems that Paul's local churches included groups of elders who provided leadership to those house churches (Acts 14:23). We should not think that this was the only leadership structure in play. It seems that there were sometimes key individuals who provided spiritual leadership. Timothy, for example, seems to have played a stronger role in the Ephesian church than just another elder. The same would apply to Titus at Crete. Names like Epaphroditus, Epaphras, and Archippus may indicate individuals with special roles in key churches.

The word "overseer" (episkopos) seems roughly equivalent to an elder. Titus 1:5-7 treats the two as the same role in the church, as 1 Peter 5:1-1 also seems to imply. [4] So when 1 Timothy 3 gives guidelines for overseers, it is likely giving guidelines for the elders of house churches or city wide collections of house churches.

By the early second century, the word overseer had taken on larger proportions. Ignatius seems to be the sole "bishop" (as we now might translate the word) for the whole city of Antioch in Syria. We have evidence from inscriptions that there were some women who were bishops in the first few centuries of the church.

7. Another role in the early church is that of deacon. The Greek word diakonos seems to refer to a role "serving" the local church. Although Acts 6 does not actually use this word, we can imagine that the kind of role portrayed there for Stephen and Philip is similar to the kind of role deacons served. These would be more mundane roles such as those done in churches today by trustees, volunteers, and, in fact, roles actually called "deacons" today.

Paul mentions a woman named Phoebe who was deacon of the port house church at Cenchrea, four miles southeast of Corinth. In Philippians 1:1, Paul indicates that the church of Philippi also had deacons. [5]

8. A word of caution is in order here. There are some in the church who, sometimes condescendingly, criticize churches that do not use these names for various leadership roles in the church today. Two important qualifications should be mentioned. The first is that there may have been varying leadership structures in the early church. We should not assume that all churches were led in the same way.

We do not find a single language in the New Testament. For example, the word deacon does not appear in Acts. Paul never uses the word elder in his primary letters. Some churches were probably more "charismatic" than others, others more structured, just like people have different personalities.

Perhaps more to the point, the structures of the early church were "incarnated" structures. That is to say, they fit the cultural dynamics of the day. It is foolish to think that the same leadership structures will be equally effective in all places, cultures, and times. Doing things the way they did them then will often yield quite different outcomes in a different time and place.

The church thus needs to do its best to incarnate the right values into forms that fit different wineskins. The early church had leaders. It had an authority structure. It developed institutions in some places (like the authority of apostles and elders in Jerusalem). It also had room for the Holy Spirit and more charismatic leadership that came "off the institutional grid," so to speak.

These are two important poles for the church today: institution and charisma, apostle and prophet. Without the prophet, institutions become stale and bureaucratized. Without the apostle and council of elders, there is no clear official answer in controversy.

Meanwhile, there must be local leaders and there must be "get it done" type people. Although it is not a neat division, the broader church apostles and prophets are like the strategic leaders of the church. [6] The local elders and overseers are like the tactical leaders of the church. Then the deacons are like the operational leaders of the church.

Of course good strategy can come from anyone, as can good tactical and operational insights. In the modern church, if you would, we can line up these types of leaderships roughly with those who lead, those who manage, and those who administrate.

Next Week: Pastor as Leader 17: Historical Church Structures

[1] E.g., Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim, Permanent Revolution: Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the 21st Century Church (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2012), 8.

[2] Except for what we know of Paul and hints of Peter, the New Testament really gives us almost no information on what happened to the other apostles. Our sense that the apostles spread out all over the world comes from tradition rather than the Bible.

[3] It is horribly bad exegesis to interpret 1 Corinthians 13:8 this way. Paul is here either talking about specific prophecies (rather than prophecy in general) or if he had prophecy in general in view, he would be referring to the eschaton and the return of Christ, which has of course not yet happened. It is true that 2 Peter 3:2 may speak of these early church prophets in the past tense, but 2 Peter has in mind the earliest predictions of Christ's immanent return.

[4] The word variously translated as "oversight" or "watching" is the verb form of the word for overseer.

[5] It has long been tantalizing to me that Timothy is referred to as a diakonos in 1 Timothy 4:6, although most translations are probably right to translate it as "minister" or "servant" in this instance.

[6] See here for this distinction I took from Bob Whitesel.

Leadership in General
Strategic Planning
Church Management

Saturday, July 23, 2016

3.3 Resistor Identification

This is the third week of Module 3 of the Navy Basic Electricity and Electronics series. Last week was:
1. The unit of measure for resistance is the ohm, symbolized by the Greek letter omega, Ω

Resistors are commonly color coded to indicate their resistance value. To read the code, start at the end with the least body color showing. The first band gives the first number of the value. Then the second the second. The third band then tells the number of zeros behind the second digit.

The fourth band tells you the "tolerance," which means how precise the resistance is, how much its value is likely to vary.
Opensourse NearWiki
2. NBEE gives a mnemonic to remember the values of the numbers--"Bad boys race our young girls behind victory garden walls." Ooookkkk? Its black (0), brown (1), red (2), orange (3), yellow (4), green (5), blue (6), violet (7), grey (8), white (9).

For the tolerance, the mnemonic is "Get started now," which stands for gold (±5%), silver (±10%), no color (±20%).

3. Another system of giving the resistance value is the "part numbering system." So RB31P102G means RB31 (tells you the style), P (tells you how temperature affects it), 102 (resistance value), and G (gold, tells you the tolerance). With regard to the resistance number, the final number tells you the number of zeros (so it's two zeros here). If there is an R and then a number here, then that is where a decimal point goes.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Friday Science: The Road to Reality 1

I haven't stopped reading Brian Greene's, The Fabric of Reality. I've read almost two more chapters since I last posted on it, the latest of which is on string theory.

But I came across a 1000 page book by Roger Penrose that has distracted me: The Road to Reality. Penrose is a 80+ year old Oxford physicist who worked in the area of cosmology, not least as a mentor to Stephen Hawking. What attracts me about the book is the way that he blends the expansion of mathematical understanding with the expansion of our knowledge of physics.

1. The first chapter is called, "The roots of science." I won't go into much detail but he basically is making an argument that mathematics is objectively true. Math is not a matter of opinion. Fermat's Last Theorem is not true because Andrew Wiles came up with a proof that was pleasing before someone came up with a disproof that was pleasing.  Fermat's Last Theorem was true before Fermat came across it, and it would be true even if no one had yet produced a mathematical proof.

The way Penrose expresses this idea is by affirming Plato. Plato believed that there was an independent reality to ideas apart from the concrete instantiations of them in the world. Penrose isn't wanting to make a big deal of this. He wants us basically to see this as a way of saying that math is objectively true. In the real world, we have approximations, but mathematical ideas are real in a way.

I would personally rather go Aristotle on him. Math is an abstraction of the real world. Math is objectively true but as an abstraction of the concrete world. One corresponds to one thing. Two to two things. Multiplication is multiple addition. Division is multiple subtraction. Exponents are a particular kind of multiplication.

We use a base ten coincidentally because we happen to have ten fingers, but this is just a way of talking about reality. "Natural math" is probably more based in e or pi. These last two paragraphs are my thoughts rather than those of Penrose.

2. The last part of this first chapter presents his sense that the whole of our mental world comes from the physical world, and the whole of math comes from our mental world, and the whole of the physical world comes from the mathematical world. He leaves room for the possibility that there may be left overs. Some of our ideas may be distinct from the physical world. Some of the physical world may be apart from math. Some of math may be independent of our mental world.

Interesting, although not why I bought the book yet.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Thursday Novel Excerpt (starving time)

A fourth excerpt
The excitement over John Smith's departure did not last long. George Percy was a far more enjoyable leader of the community, but a far less capable one. The natives had respected and feared John Smith. Now, as their own food supplies became sparse, the colonists only seemed pathetic and weak.

One group, led by Captain Martin, was found dead with bread stuffed in their mouths by the natives, as if to say, "You want bread? We'll give you bread." Only Martin himself escaped, and was viewed as a coward from then on in James Towne.

Far more serious was what happened to Captain Ratcliffe, the second president of the settlement. He went on a similar trip to trade for provisions from Chief Powhatan. His men were killed and he was tied up and stripped naked. Then women proceeded to flay and dismember him piece by piece, throwing each body part in a fire while he watched... until he was dead of course.

Three boys who were Thomas' friends watched Ratcliffe die from the woods. Thomas Savage, a boy on the very first ship, had been given to Powhatan from the beginning. Thomas Spelman was of course the one John Smith had tried to sell to one of Powhatan's sons. Then there was another Dutch boy with them named Samwell.

The next few months were the worst of Thomas' life. For most of the winter, the fort was surrounded by natives. Anyone who tried to get out to find food put their lives in serious danger. A number who fled in desperation to live with the surrounding tribes were never seen again. Francis West snuck off with one of the ships, presumably returning to England.

As they became hungrier and hungrier, they began to kill off all the animals within their reach. First it was the horses recently brought from England. Then the pigs and chickens. More and more desperate they became--dogs, cats,  then rats, snakes, leather.

Then it took a darker turn. They began to dig up dead bodies and eat them. Some licked the blood of individuals as they were bleeding to death. A gentleman named Collins even killed his pregnant wife and ate her.

The boys were savvier. The natives did not seem to pay them as much attention and they learned the languages more quickly. Thomas and the other boys managed to slip unnoticed down the river to fish throughout the winter.

In June of 1609, Percy finally loaded up as many people as he could on one of the remaining ships, planning to close down the settlement and sail back to England. Thomas was not one of the ones lucky enough to get on board. But it didn't matter. Percy returned to the fort the same day he left. In what everyone believed was an act of God, three ships with provisions arrived in the Chesapeake Bay that very day, a new governor with them.

From that point on, the future of the Virginia Settlement was secured.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Gen Eds P11: Philosophy of Art

So we come to the last category in philosophy, the philosophy of art or aesthetics. Last week we looked at the philosophy of history.

This is the tenth and final philosophy post in a series called, "General Education in a Nutshell." Philosophy is the first of ten subjects to overview in this series. These are the subjects a person normally takes in college (or high school) as part of a general education (most of them also make up what is sometimes called the "liberal arts").

The first ten philosophy posts were:
1. Art is often thought to be a subjective matter: "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." Certainly this is true from one perspective. One person thinks landscapes are beautiful, another likes abstract art. One person likes Mozart, another loves rap music. Someone else denies that techno is really music.

We might therefore say that art is anything that some person considers to be art. Normally, there is an artist involved, someone who believed he or she was creating something that was an expression of something in some sensory medium that can be seen, heard, touched, tasted, or smelled. Sometimes it is the person experiencing that medium who considers something art, an expression or an embodiment of something.

Of course we might ask, what does God consider to be art? Why the whole creation is a work of art by God's hand, a work of beauty! "The heavens are telling the glory of God" (Ps. 19:1).

2. There are those who would say that there are objective criteria for what is beautiful. Symmetry is often considered an objective basis for beauty. What about rounded figures as opposed to jagged or square ones? Some would say there are aspects of the human brain, parts that "light up" with certain visual and auditory stimuli, such that they can actually objectify beauty.

Most of us at this current time would probably say that this approach misses the point of art, which is not scientific but oriented around pleasure. But as we will see, our perspective is only one perspective, one that fits where we are situated in history, and not the only one.

What does God consider beautiful? "God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good" (Gen. 1:31). Everything that God has created, insofar as it is not marred by Sin, is beautiful. Who knows, perhaps even that which is marred by Sin is beautiful to God in a way, for Sin only exists because of the possibility that we might choose the good. Even the unrepentant sinner remains beautiful to him, because he or she is still the image of God. God is able to love the sinner even though he does not love sin.

The laws of physics are beautiful. They are indeed elegant. There is a mathematical beauty to the universe. These are manifestations of God as an artist.

3. The sense of the purpose of art and what therefore constitutes good art has changed from time to time in history. For example, both Plato and Aristotle in ancient Greece assumed that the purpose of art was to provide a representation of reality. [1] For Plato, this sense of art implied that it was a bad thing, just as for similar reasons it mean for Aristotle that art was a good thing.

Plato believed that anything we experience with our senses is only a shadow and a copy of reality itself, which is something we access with our minds. The idea of a table is the reality. A physical table is a shadow and a copy of that reality. So for Plato, a piece of art was a copy of a copy of reality. It took one farther from the truth and thus was bad. It also could play on the emotions, which for Plato was bad.

By contrast, Aristotle believed art was good for similar reasons. Unlike Plato, he did not believe that the idea of something--its essence or form--was something that truly existed independently of substance. When I identify something as a table, my mind has abstracted the essence of a table from the table. Art is helpful in this regard, because art focuses on the essential form of something.

And while art often evokes an emotional response, Aristotle believed this experience could be cathartic in a way that actually helps clear our minds. Music might purge us of emotions so that we can think straight.

4. So Plato and Aristotle both judged the value of art on whether it led to greater rationality. Quite the opposite for the Romantics in the late 1700s and early 1800s. For them the emotional irrationality of art was what made it art and what made it good. The artistic ideal was the eccentric artist who seems possessed of something greater than him or herself. The artist is someone swept away by genius, someone with whom the rest of us cannot really relate.

This Romantic paradigm has more or less dominated our sense of art up until the present time. Good art evokes strong feelings which, while irrational, are good.

 Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) had a slightly different perspective on art. He agreed with the Romantics that art was largely about feeling. But he disagreed on what constituted good and bad art. The Romantics viewed art as an individualistic matter. It didn't matter whether you or I recognized the meaning or genius of a work of art. It was a matter of the individual artist and individual taste.

But for Tolstoy, art was only good art if it evoked universal feeling and values. And the values of importance were things like the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. If a work of art made us feel more loving toward each other, then it was good art. If a piece of art helped us feel solidarity with one another as human beings, it was good art.

4. All of the above, in their own way, believe that art is good if it is constructive. If it builds rationality, Plato and Aristotle would have said it was good. If it built individual or corporate feeling, the Romantics and Tolstoy would have said it was good, respectively.

With Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979), art becomes good if it has a destructive function. Building on the work of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), Marcuse suggested that art serves a psychological function in relation to repression. Repression, for Freud, was the result of human beings not being able to fulfill their deepest drives and desires. This energy gets pent up inside us and can be destructive.

Marcuse saw art as an outlet for these repressive drives. Art allows a person to release these repressed feelings. In that sense, his perspective bears some resemblance to Aristotle's.

5. But we might end with Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), who thought all these perspectives failed because they all evaluate art on the basis of what we might call its "instrumental value." Art is good or bad depending on what it does. For Wilde, art has intrinsic value. Art doesn't have to do anything at all. Art is valuable for its own sake.

Next Week: Summary of Philosophy's Value

Classic Reading
  • Plato's Republic
  • Aristotle's Poetics
  • Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment
  • Leo Tolstoy, What is Art?
  • Oscar Wilde, Intentions
  • Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilization
[1] I have drawn the general pattern of what follows from Robert Paul Wolff's About Philosophy.

Monday, July 18, 2016

RNC begins with a slam...

So I'm listening to the beginning of the Republican convention. There's a group that has a petition to have a roll call vote on the rules, in hope that they might by-pass Trump as a candidate.

The chair not only did not recognize those with the petition but mumbled something about the "previous question." The previous question requires an immediate vote without discussion. It's a tactic to stop any discussion. But it requires a two thirds vote itself. No vote was taken.

Then the chair calls for a vote on the rules. The place roars in protest before he asks for the ayes. He counts the roar of protest as an aye vote. The volume stays the same for the nays. He says the ayes have it. He moves on.

As we speak, the leaders are trying to figure out what to do. Complete chaos, with different groups calling different things like "Roll call vote." Several have walked out.

The chair finally comes back. He says that enough people withdrew their name from the petition that it no longer had enough votes to be considered. Republican Whips allegedly went around convincing enough state signers to take their names off.

No one has yet seen the counter-petitions to verify... :-)

Update 2:
It was finally said that Minnesota, DC, and a couple other states withdrew their signatures.

Monday Review: Great by Choice

For the next few Mondays, I'm going to do reviews of Jim Collins and Morten Hansen's book, Great by Choice. Now that I'm done with my theology Sunday series, I'm moving my schedule around a little. Normally, I would do the electronics series on Mondays, but I'm moving that to Saturdays.

Collins is of course known for a series of books on successful businesses: Built to Last, Good to Great, and How the Mighty Fall. This latest asks why some companies do better than others in chaotic times. The first chapter is titled, "Thriving in Uncertainty."

So why did Southwest thrive under the same circumstances in which Pacific Southwest Airlines failed with "a similar business model in the same industry with the same opportunity" (3)? Southwest gave the greatest 30 year investment on stock from 1972-2002. It was 63 times better than the stock market in general.

In this book, Collins and Hansen are going to look at ten companies in this book that fit the following criteria: 1) truly spectacular results for 15+ years in comparison to the stock market in general, 2) it happened in a turbulent, uncontrollable, fast-moving, uncertain, and potential harmful environment, and 3) the starting point was vulnerable.

The ten he picked were Amgen, Biomet, Intel, Microsoft, Progressive, Southwest, and Stryker. He's contrasting these with comparable companies that had similar circumstances but quite different results: Genentech, Kirschner, AMD, Apple (which floundered during this period), Safeco, Pacific Southwest Airlines, and the US Surgical Corporation.

Here is a small taste of what they found:
  • Successful leaders in a turbulent world are not necessarily risk-taking visionaries. "They observed what worked, figured out why it worked, and built upon proven foundations" (9). They were "more disciplined, more empirical, and more paranoid." 
  • Successful companies were not necessarily more innovative than those that were unsuccessful. They were able to scale innovation.
  • Speed did not necessarily mean success. These companies knew when to move fast and when not to.
  • They did not simply change just because the broader context was changing.
  • They did not necessarily have more good luck.
He ends chapter one with a Peter Drucker quote: "The best--perhaps even the only--way to predict the future is to create it" (12).

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Seminary PL15: Managing the Church

Today I begin a stretch of posts on church management.

Since my theology in bullet points series is now done, I may shift my "Seminary in a Nutshell" series to Sundays, a series I've been working on now for about seven months (thinking about it). In the seminary series, first I did a section on the Person and Calling of a Minister. Now this is the fifteenth post in a section on the Pastor as a Leader (see at the bottom).
1. In our initial post in this leadership series, we distinguished management as that form of leadership that had to do with "orchestrating the structure, relationships, and high level operations of an organization or church." "Management involves subjects like organizational structure, conflict management, financial management, marketing, staff management, and managerial ethics."

Although Warren Bennis had an unnecessarily negative view of "managers" over "leaders," we can perhaps gain something from his famous distinction between the two:
  • The manager administers; the leader innovates.
  • The manager is a copy; the leader is an original.
  • The manager maintains; the leader develops.
  • The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.
  • The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.
  • The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.
  • The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.
  • The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader's eye is on the horizon.
  • The manager imitates; the leader originates.
  • The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.
  • The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his or her own person.
  • The manager does things right; the leader does the right things. [1]  
This list certainly makes the "leader" sound more glamorous than the manager. Some of the contrasts make the "manager" sound small-minded or like an obstacle. But hopefully we can put a better face on the distinction.

2. Successful organizations, including churches, need good management. Bennis almost makes it sound like management is a hindrance, but it is essential. One of the things that Jim Collins' classics Built to Last and Good to Great have made clear is that successful businesses require good organization and discipline. Charismatic leadership, without good management, goes no where.

The opposite can also be true. Good management that doesn't respond to a changing environment will eventually have nothing left to manage.

What Bennis does capture, though, is that management is concerned with systems and structure. The job of managing is "doing things right," where the decision of what the right thing is has already been made. Management is about the "how" and "when," after the "what" and "why" have already been decided.

3. So what are the systems and structure of a church? In a couple posts, we'll consider the different historical structures that various denominations have had throughout history. For now, let's stick with fairly common local church structures.

So in a small American church, the church structure often consists of the congregation, the pastor, and a governing board of some kind. On that governing board is often a lay leader of some sort ("chair") and a treasurer who handles the finances. One person may serve as a secretary to keep records for meetings and such. There may be a smaller subset of the board that are the official "trustees" of the church, who are legally responsible for the property and such.

We can scale-up these basic roles to fit any size of church. There is the ministry team, including senior leadership. There is the management and operations team, such as those who handle finances, facilities, personnel and human resources. Then there is usually a governing board of some kind, with representatives from the congregation at large, often with individuals designated as trustees to handle legal matters.

4. These structures can be captured in what is called an "organizational chart." Before we look at a sample org chart for a medium sized church, we might draw the overall structure of a typical church something like the following:
This is almost a "systems" diagram, which sees the church as a system that includes 1) the input from the world and any denomination, 2) the output into the world, 3) the most central part, the "transforming system" that is the internal aspect to the church, 4) the context or environment, which includes the boundaries between the church and the world, and 5) an evaluative component or feedback loop. [2]

But a more typical organizational chart for a church would spell out the specific roles within the church leadership and administration. For example, here is one that might depict a larger size church:
Here the governing board may have several subcommittees, such as trustees, a finance committee, and a personnel committee. A recent fad is to divide a church board into two subcommittees known as an "elder" board and a "deacon" board, where the former gives more spiritual direction and the latter more material direction. Then the two can meet as a whole for bigger decisions.

Ministry staff of course can multiply exponentially. If we think of the six main domains of ministry practice (worship, mission, proclamation, discipleship, relationships, and leadership), there are often staff pastors for each of these domains in a large church. Large churches usually have an executive pastor to address the more managerial and administrative aspects of a church (leadership). There can be worship pastors, missions or outreach pastors, teaching pastors, preaching pastors, Christian education directors, youth pastors, children's pastors, young adult pastors, college and career pastors, senior adult pastors, small group pastors, spiritual formation pastors, pastoral care pastors, connections pastors, visitation pastors, and no doubt more.

Under the executive pastor is often an operations team. There can be a finance manager or a more generic business manager. There can be a facilities coordinator or a personnel manager (human resources). There may be an office manager and almost certainly a secretarial staff for any church of this size.

5. So there is a management aspect to any church, and it scales up to the size of the church. A church of about 150 has to address its structure or it will not be able to grow any further. The basic components to be managed are people, money, and resources. Good management ensures that these are managed with dependable systems operated with clear decision making procedures and policies.

Next Week: Pastor as Leader 16: Leadership in the Early Church

[1] On Becoming a Leader 4th ed. (Basic Books, 2009 [1989]), 41-42.

[2] An old introduction to a systems perspective on a church is Alvin Lindgren and Norman Shawchuck's, Management for Your Church (1977). In secular management, the systems approach traces back to Ludwig von Bertalanffy.

Leadership in General
Strategic Planning

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Thursday Novel Excerpt (Don't Light Gunpowder)

A third excerpt
After Wynne died, Thomas quickly joined the group that worked with Francis West. West had arrived in Jamestown on the same ship as Captain Wynne and Thomas, so they knew each other and had even worked together when they went to the Monacans.

In the summer of 1609, Smith discovered that half the supplies in the storehouse had rotted, and the other half had been eaten by rats. The despair that ran through the fort was intense. But Smith in his calm and confident way always had a plan. He dispersed the colony to find Sturgeon, oysters, and whatever else they might find.

Thomas went with West to the falls, where the city of Richmond is today. West was convinced that the well water in James Towne was one of the things that was making so many people sick. He thought the falls would be a much better site for a settlement. So a little later on, when he heard that the Virginia Company wanted them to find a suitable place for a capitol, he took it on himself to go begin to build a new settlement there.

Thomas went with him and about 120 other settlers, many of them from a series of ships that arrived that summer, having survived a hurricane at sea. West found a spot down from the falls and set his group to building. By now Thomas knew a thing or two about how to fell trees and put them together into huts. It was actually pleasant work, away from the petty tensions of James Towne.

But it wasn't to last. As usual, Smith had to have his say and his way with regard to the venture. When West went back to James Towne, Smith arrived on a boat and told them West had picked a bad spot for a capitol. It needed to be on higher ground, where it could be more easily defended and wouldn't flood.

He was probably right, but none of them wanted to get between him and West. Thomas himself had seen enough of Smith's enemies conveniently disappear in the short year he had been there. "Take it up with West," one of the others said. Thomas remained silent and blended in.

Smith as usual didn't take no for an answer. He found a native fort nearby they called Powhatan's Tower, which was already built and he thought would serve much better as a site. He negotiated with Chief Powatan's son, Parahunt, for the site and indeed for provisions and protection. To pay, Smith sold Parahunt a boy named Henry Spelman, who was about Thomas' age.

In typical Smith fashion, Spelman had no idea about the deal. He just suddenly found himself alone with the natives, uncertain where Smith's group had gone. He would sneak away within a week.

But West's group continued their work building the site. "Take it up with West," they said again to Smith. For about a week they ignored Smith and his insistence that they continue work on his site. Finally he acted like he was going back to James Towne, furious.

Instead, he went about a mile down river and got stuck on a sand bar, Thomas thought intentionally. West's settlement was then attacked by natives who had got the impression from somewhere that the fort was low on gunpowder. Rumors later flew that Smith himself had told them.

Since Thomas knew the land as well as anyone, he set off to try to catch Smith's ship as soon as the attack started. Happily, there was the ship only a mile away, grounded on a bar. Smith did not seem surprised to see him. He was more than happy to swoop in to the rescue and vanquish the attackers.

Thomas and the others could see defeat. They took two days and moved their materials to "Nonesuch," what Smith had chosen to call his site. He had proudly named it after one of Queen Elizabeth's palaces.

Then of course West arrived back from James Towne, having heard of the attack. He ordered all his men back to the first site. Foiled again for the moment, Smith finally headed back for James Towne.

Before he left, Smith ordered Thomas to refill his gunpowder bag and get him a new "slow match." A slow match was a fuse cord that could be lit without quickly burning. You kept it near you when you thought you might need to have your gun handy on a moment's notice.

Thomas may have put a little too much potash on the match. He had to make it new you see. In any case, the rightly paranoid Smith laid down in a small boat to sleep, his gunpowder and match on his belly. But the match burned more quickly than normal, and Smith suddenly found his manhood on fire. He rolled in the water and was fished out by his men.

And so it was that an insignificant Welsh boy accidentally did what so many others had wanted to do for two years. He sent the famed Captain John Smith back to England.

Some forty years later, his nine year old son would ask him with dreamy eyes if he had known the famous Captain John Smith, the one who was saved by Pocahontas. "Aye," he said to his son's delight. "He was a right foul git."

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Gen Eds P10: Philosophy of History

Today we look at the philosophy of history. The last post tried to cover the gamut of perspectives on social and political philosophy, including economics.

This is the ninth philosophy post in a series called, "General Education in a Nutshell." Philosophy is the first of ten subjects to overview in this series. These are the subjects a person normally takes in college (or high school) as part of a general education (most of them also make up what is sometimes called the "liberal arts").

The first nine philosophy posts were:
1. Story is a fundamental category of human thinking. Whether it be ancient old men sitting at the city gates, "Homer," or the medieval bard, we tell each other stories to amuse each other and, more importantly, to capture our values and philosophy of life. Families tell stories that capture the eccentricities of our personalities, along with our strengths, weaknesses, and values.

In short, we use stories from our history to define who we are, what we believe, what we hope, and how we should live.

Mind you, these stories are more short vignettes than they are long over-arching, uber-narratives. There has been a movement to say that we interpret reality from within a certain narrative--a version of the older idea that we interpret reality from within a certain worldview. But the stories and paradigms that inform our understandings of the world are far more granular and atomistic than they are grand and large. [1] They are more like short stories that have affinities with each other than some long grand ecrit.

It was Jean-François Lyotard (1924-90) who first described the "post" modern situation as a resistance to such "grand narratives," by which he referred to the attempt to reduce reality to simplified stories that claim to explain everything. These simplifications help us process an extremely complex world by reducing it to something you can tell a child, but they inevitably skew and spin it. As a colleague of mine once said, all "taxonomies" are inherently skewed, where a taxonomy is an attempt to reduce the truth to a list.

2. Perhaps a primary goal of the liberal arts with regard to history is to catch a glimpse of "your people's" "myths" from the outside and to catch a glimpse of other people's "myths" from the inside. A myth is a story that expresses a mystery or some fundamental perspective on life. When we tell the story of the founding of America, that story is meant to capture our values and to reinforce certain perspectives on the present.

When the "Tea Party" adopted that name, they were taking an image from America's past that they valued and applying it to our current situation. Russians tell stories from Russia's past. The Chinese tell stories from their past. All these stories are no doubt skewed in comparison with any videotape or critical examination a critical historian might give. The point of the story is something slightly different than "telling it just as it really happened."

In the "Western world," Herodotus (ca. 484-25BC) is often called the father of history, because he told the story of the Persian Wars not just from the Greek perspective, but from the perspective of other players as well. He also told the story without reference to gods causing events--he focused on human causes and effects. Finally, he drew on some historical evidence rather than hearsay alone.

Plutarch (46-120) called him the "father of lies" rather than the father of history. Why? Because Plutarch didn't like equal time for non-Greek perspectives. Plutarch represents the default human tendency to privilege the perspective of your group and not to consider fairly the perspective of other groups.

3. So there are twin problems here. On the one hand, you cannot escape your own perspective to achieve something like a God's eye or bird's eye view. The modernist goal of achieving objectivity is a "myth" of objectivity that can never be attained. Indeed, the Western "myth of progress" is itself a skewed view of history, another "grand narrative" that skews the story.

Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886) suggested that the goal of the historian was to tell history "as it really happened." The historian was to base all conclusions on evidence. He or she was to question their sources rather than assume the correctness of certain ones just because you liked their perspective or trusted the source. You should focus on concrete realia rather than abstract ideological constructs.

These are indeed good goals that should steer the ship of the historian. The problem is that they are unattainable. You cannot tell history "as it really happened" because all history telling involves the selection and deselection of data. All history telling requires us to prioritize and arrange. Historical events tend to be complex, and we cannot look inside another person's head to know what they are thinking. We never totally know what we ourselves are even thinking.

As Michel Foucault (1926-1984) said, "knowledge is violence." Reality is complex, and every act of knowing it skews and does a certain violence to it.

So the myth of objectivity is a star to steer by, but one we will never arrive at. Ernest Troelstch (1865-1923) expanded on the criteria of good historical formulations. All historical conclusions should be open to revision. We should presume the laws of cause and effect. And we should interpret the past on analogy with how things happen now.

There was a clear "anti-supernaturalist" bent to Troeltsch's philosophy of history. The analogy principle, for example, would mean that we cannot infer a resurrection in the past if we do not see resurrections happening now. But you cannot prove such a thing. By what proof would we suggest that there could not have been unique events in the past?

4. More on some key historical "myths" in a moment. So if the one problem is that we aim at objectivity but cannot attain it, the other problem is that while we must acknowledge our inevitable "tribalism" we should not use it as a self-fulfilling prophecy. When I use the word "myth," I am not using it as something that is false or necessarily bad. Our myths shape who we are and how we engage the world. They are not only important; they are inevitable.

Our myths are often based in facts and real events. But they are storied interpretations of those facts and events. But the world is arguably not a better place when "storied tribalism" is allowed to reign supreme. We can't talk to each other because you have your version and I have my version of the story, and never the twain will meet. Washington DC right now is a tale of two tribal narratives that cannot speak to each other.

So we must acknowledge our subjectivity but not acquiesce to it. We cannot transcend it but we must aim to do so. Emmanuel Levinas (1906-95) indeed suggested that we ground our being in the subjectivity of the other--being subject to the other--rather than in our own subjectivity.

The "multicultural" approach suggests that when we pretend that there is only one, objective perspective--the one we have--we simply empower the perspective of our group. And as a society as a whole, we empower the dominant culture or group without it even knowing it has a perspective. When a "white" person speaks of a color blind society, there will inevitably be a tendency to be blind to the situations and perspectives of non-whites. [2]

A multicultural approach suggests that we acknowledge our differing situations and perspectives and then work to transcend them. We do not acknowledge them to stay in them but to move toward "intersubjectivity." We move to find common ground and thus to create one story out of two.

These are the twin poles of historical investigation--objectivity and situatedness. We are situated and we must fully acknowledge that we are situated in a particular tribe and culture. We are situated in certain myths and constructs. But our goal is to understand the other from their storied perspective as well and to help them understand me within my story. Our goal is to unite our stories and transcend them, to create a larger story that includes the both of us.

In the meantime, the star of objectivity, the "myth of objectivity" remains valuable, even though we will not reach it. The star of objectivity insists that we root our interpretations of history in the events of history. It insists we favor the concrete over the abstract and ideological. We favor primary sources over secondary ones because the further we get away from the events themselves, the more layers of interpretation we have to work through. It insists that we work within the framework of cause and effect.

5. As an example, let us briefly consider the myth of Western progress. First, what is "Western" in the first place. What does Greek history really have to do with me? I am not Greek (although I married a quarter-Greek). There is no essential connection between what people like Plato or Aristotle thought and who a guy like me is who's a hodgepodge of English, Scotch-Irish, Dutch, German, and Welsh.

The only reason the Greeks are important to my story is because someone connected to my past made them so. When the European story was being assembled at the beginning of the "Renaissance," they formulated it as a rebirth of the Greeks and Romans. Of course, it was a selective "rebirth." The majority of ancient Greeks--the ones that did most of the living and dying--probably had little idea who Socrates or Plato were.

Indeed, think of the term, "Renaissance," "rebirth." It implies that culture was more or less dead for a thousand years. Think of the term "Middle Ages." Middle between what? The very term, as Foucault might say, did violence to the people who lived for a thousand years by imagining them to be in the middle between good and the rebirth of good.

In short, the very idea of Western history is an imposition on history. It ignores the equally considerable--indeed in many cases superior achievements of other cultures such as the Chinese and the Indian. Egypt is pulled into the story because it is on "our side" of the globe and it is present in the biblical texts, which were important and part of the "Western story."

6. We will have recourse to consider the American story as it is currently told when we dive into history in three weeks. The American story is also told from within varying mythical frameworks. The progressive "myth" sees America as a series of improvements, with the best yet to come. The Civil War improved us in relation to slavery. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, there were improvements made in regard to unbridled capitalism. The twentieth century improved us with regard to women's rights and civil rights. Our current task is to keep that trajectory of progress going.

The conservative "myth" is quite different. It looks back to the founding of America as a Golden Age when everyone believed in God and the greatest principles of society were captured in a sacred document, the Constitution. When the world is in trouble, it calls on us for help because we are the best and the strongest. We saved Europe's butt in WW1, then again in WW2. But we are in danger. We need to get back to the days when America honored God. We need to elect leaders like Ronald Reagan, who captured the ideals of conservative values. We are on a spiraling downward trajectory that will lead to our destruction if we don't take America back.

Of course both of these narratives are "myths" in the sense that they both oversimplify an incredibly complex reality. They are tribal narratives. We will get nowhere unless we can supercede our own stories and begin to understand the story of the other.

6. There are of course other stories that are of historical significance because they impact us. Nationalism is the tendency of a particular nation to privilege its story and destiny over all others. [3] "American exceptionalism" is a form of nationalism. It says, "Americans are better than every one else" or perhaps, "God likes America more than he likes everyone else." The American story is told accordingly.

Karl Marx (1818-83) had a philosophy of history. His perspective was that history was the story of class struggle. It began with kings and slaves, a thesis and antithesis that conflicted until they resolved in a synthesis with lords and serfs. [4] That thesis-antithesis pair lead to a synthesis of aristocrats and merchants, which lead to a synthesis of the bourgeoisie and proletariat (worker). He believed that he was living in the final thesis-antithesis pair, and that it would lead to bloody revolution and finally a classless society.

That communist "myth" had immense influence in the twentieth century. It influenced the formation of the Soviet Union and countless other revolutions. "Ideas are dangerous," G. K. Chesterton said. But they are only dangerous in the hands of dangerous people. And they are only powerful in the hands of those who can use them to light a fire. "Ideas have consequences," not because of the ideas themselves but because of the power they can wield in the hands of charismatic figures.

7. There is some truth in the parable that says, "Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it" (George Santayana). There are cause and effect patterns that stand outside my apprehension of them (critical realism). There is a "history itself" even though I only know history as it appears to me.

Certain actions tend to lead to certain effects. If we completely reject any truth to history outside of our own perspective on it, we are lost in a whirlpool of solipsism.

So what of the Christian story of history? There are those who have suggested it is an existential myth that has no need for historical foundation. [5] But if there is no historical reality to the Christian story, then it would seem to lose its power. Christians do not want to believe that the Christian story is a mere story that we tell to ground who we are and how we live. We want to believe it has some basis in objective fact.

So if you had been at Jesus' tomb two thousand years ago, might you have witnessed him coming from the grave? This is not a question of subjective perspective. It is a question of historical event. Either his body was there and then it was not or the story is not historically accurate.

Will there be a point in the future when Jesus returns again in a visible way? Either he will or he won't. It isn't a question of intersubjectivity. It either will happen or it won't.

So history is either linear (headed on a trajectory) or it isn't. The other option is the cyclical view, that history more or less repeats itself, over and over again.

Of course "historic" Christianity views these core events as historical events rather than subjective perspectives. God exists as a Being distinct from our existence or belief in him. God as real being interacts with history in a way that is like the cause and effect of humans interacting with history. Jesus was a real person who really died on a cross and really became alive again such that his human body was no longer dead in a grave but is in continuity with the body he has now.

Objectivity and situatedness capture the twin poles of critical realism when it comes to historical investigation. There is such a thing as history itself. God knows it because he knows all the events of history in all their interrelationships with each other. No human has the capacity, the access, or the intelligence to have a God's eye view. We are stuck in our tribal perspectives. But we must aim to supersede them.

Next Week: philosophy of art

Classic reading
  • Augustine, The City of God
  • G. W. F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit
  • Karl Marx, Communist Manifesto
  • Richard Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences
  • Michel Foucault, The Order of Things
  • Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition
[1] We might expect that our paradigms would have certain commonalities and affinities, family resemblances. We can loosely speak of collections of similar paradigms that constitute a worldview. But these should be balanced with our formative stories, along with our key practices and symbols.

[2] The very terms "whites" and "blacks" arguably reflect the kinds of historical shifts that Michel Foucault wrote about so forcefully in some of his writings. Before the slave trade, there was no such thing as a "black" race. There were only individual tribes. When the differentness of African slaves was pitted en masse against their captors and "owners," black became a descriptor for a collection of people who before would have distinguished their "races" from each other.

So "white" is created in counter-position to "black." Black is created by a new paradigm, and white is created in consequence. But in America, "white" was not a title given simply because of skin color. When Italians first immigrated to America, they were not immediately considered "white." All this is to say that these perspectives have a history, and it is not the "story" we tell ourselves today.

[3] The very idea of the nation-state is arguably a modern development. In older times, ethnicity was more the basis for societies. Empires, by contrast, involved the subjection of other groups by a dominant group ruling the other groups, rather than a singular identity for the whole.

[4] This philosophy of "dialectical materialism" was loosely based on G. W. F. Hegel's (1770-1831) sense of history as the story of the conflict of opposing ideals moving toward absolute spirit. The language of thesis-antithesis-synthesis, however, came more from a simplification of Hegel than from Hegel himself.

[5] Rudolph Bultmann did not believe Jesus historically rose from the dead but considered the myth very meaningful as a metaphor for creating meaning in a meaningless world.