Tuesday, March 28, 2017

15. Putting on a Show

Chapter sixteen of Konrad Heiden's 1944 book, Der Fuehrer focuses on Hitler's pretense to follow the constitution as he wound his way into the system. My reviews of the earlier chapters were:
1. Hitler "never won the confidence of the popular majority--never as long as there were free elections in Germany" (411). But soon enough he would do away with those. Then it wouldn't matter whether the majority of people liked him or not. There would be no more elections to vote him out once he got his foot in the door.

Hitler had the loyalty of the "most determined tenth of the nation" (402), and that was enough.

"Hitler wormed his way into the state system... just by playing the good boy." The leaders who let him do so knew he wasn't good. Many of them detested him. Hitler was often laughed at as a joke by others. Many thought he wasn't quite right in the head.

But they thought they could use him. He held a certain sway over the violent discontent of German society, the murderous bands of the dispossessed and unemployed. Hitler promised to follow the constitution and not to do away with it. Hitler's associates--men like Röhm--convinced others that "Hitler was more harmless than he looked, and not quite right in the head" (411). "Hitler, with all his eccentricities, was not really so bad" (409).

But you can't play with fire and not get burnt.

2. "The Nazis began to undermine and to destroy the state from the inside" (396). Hitler would become "a destroyer of democracy through democracy" (406). He would "perpetuate the paralysis of democracy" (407).

Hitler said he did not plan to institute a bloody tyranny. "Dictatorship was only the 'natural reverse side of democracy... in the event that the forces in this parliament cannot agree; but it must be limited to emergency'" (395). But once he declared the emergency, Hitler would never give democracy back.

They began to collect state secrets on everyone, spying on everyone. They used bullying tactics to squash moderating forces. When the movie, All Quiet on the Western Front came to Germany, Goebbels released mice and snakes in theaters until the movie was cancelled. The movie depicted the horror and misery of war at a time when the Nazis wanted to foment a lust for war.

They spoke contradiction to curry favor with whomever they needed to curry favor at the moment, "the double talk of propaganda" (400). if they needed the state on their side, they would tell the state they were going to stop their rabble supporters. But they built on the restlessness of the rabble. If you had four or five people, they could add an SA leader and have a squad. Six squads built to a troop. Two or three troops made a storm. Two or three thousand people in a storm made a standard, then a brigade, then a superior group.

The idea was that the future war would not be waged with a massive army, but with a mass of little groups of brigands like this that could strike on a moment's notice. "The future will bring small, highly efficient armies which are suited to carrying out quick and decisive operations" (399).

3. The spirit of the time was authoritarianism and dictatorship. Among democracies, there was a sense that the epoch was hiding from its doom. "A meaning had to be given to a world that had grown meaningless" (390). If it could be done by no other way, then it would be done by force.

Many were without work. The coal miners wanted their death traps reopened because "it was better to live in constant fear of death than to suffer the constant hunger of their families" (392).

Promise whatever you need to get the support you need at the time. Then you won't need support once you're in charge.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Gen Eds 10b: Ancient China

This is the second post in the Classical Civilizations" unit of my World History series.

This is part of my "General Education in a Nutshell" series. The series consists of ten subjects you might study in a general education or "liberal arts" core at a university or college. The first topic in the overall series was philosophy. So far in the world history section:
1. The first dynasties in China go back to the 2000s BC (the Xia Dynasty, 2070-1600BC), although our first written records only go back to the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046BC). One of the four ancient cradles of civilization (India, China, Egypt, Mesopotamia), Chinese civilization originated along the Yellow River, just as Indian civilization arose along the Indus River. Ironically, the movement to a "civilization" is often marked by the beginning of slavery by the Xia Dynasty.

The "Zhou" Dynasty is usually considered the period of the birthplace of Chinese culture, although the dynasty only had widespread control from 1046-771BC. In the second half of their time, they only had limited power in the east (771-221BC). This was a period with a collection of clans that warred off and on with each other.

The first half of this "Eastern Zhou" time is called the "Spring and Autumn Period" (771-476BC), during which there were four major clans: Qin in the west, Jin in the center, Chu in the south, and Qi in the east. [1] Then a split in the Jin clan led to the "Warring States Period" from 476-221BC.

There is something fascinating about the 500s BC around the world. Human cultures everywhere seem to have made some sort of a jump. Buddhism rises in India. This is the time of Isaiah 40-66, the center point of monotheism in the Old Testament. In China, this is when Confucianism (Confucius' given name was Kong Qiu) and Taoism (founded by Lao Tzu) originated.

2. The "Warring States Period" was brutal, with as many as eight different "states" vying for power (Qin, Chu, Qi, Yan, Han, Wei, Yue, and Zhao). The power that would emerge as the first real unifier of China as an empire was the Qin Dynasty (221-206BC), and the name "China" is thought to come from "Qin." They used iron swords. The Art of War was written in the Warring States period by Sun Tzu.

The Qin Dynasty was strongly autocratic, and they created a highly bureaucratic and centralized state. Their approach to governance is known as "Legalism" and every dissenter to the central authority was put to death. The diverse "One Hundred Schools of Thought" from the Spring and Autumn Period was purged, with only the schools of thought the Qin Dynasty approved of allowed to survive. All other literature was destroyed.

It was the shortest dynasty of all.

Nevertheless, it was during the Qin moment of history that Chinese writing was standardized for the first time. The Great Wall, although a wall was started earlier, received its first substantial building during the Qi Dynasty. The well-known "Terracotta Army" is a massive collection of life-size model soldiers, chariots, horses, and such in battle array, celebrating the victory of the Qin armies. It is located in the tomb of the Qin Dynasty.

3. The Qin Dynasty only lasted 15 years until it was defeated by the Han clan, which set up the Western Han Dynasty (206BC-AD9). Han was less oppressive. While the population under Qin rule was decimated, it expanded during the Han period. The Han empire was the first long-standing empire in the region.

It was during the Han Dynasty that the Silk Road began to take shape, the trading route for silk between China and the Western world. Also, a Confusion Academy was set up to train bureaucrats for the empire. Some subordinate rulers were empowered on the edges of the empire.

Remnants of the Han rule continued until AD220, mostly in the east. During this time, the Silk Road brought Buddhism into China. The Han period ended with natural disasters and decimation by war.

4. At the end of the Han Dynasty, the area of China was divided into three kingdoms (AD220-80), after which the Jin Dynasty began (AD265-420). Another dynasty called the Sui dynasty (AD581-618) built the Grand Canal, while extending the Great Wall. It is interesting that their rule was so short. It seems like the dynasties that focused on building projects were shorter than those that focused on war.

5. Ancient Chinese history is full of war between clans and factions, back and forth, back and forth. The highly disciplined and usually authoritarian bureaucracy is another feature.

Next Week: History 10c. Ancient Egypt

  • Extreme authoritarianism is often short lived, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
  • Trade inevitably changes a culture because of the inevitable influences from the outside, but you change them too.
[1] Cf. http://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/chinese-history/spring-and-autumn-period.htm

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

14. Hitler's Horrible to Work With

Today, chapter fifteen of Konrad Heiden's 1944 book, Der Fuehrer. My reviews of the earlier chapters were:
1. The men immediately around Hitler "never ceased to laugh at him or to become enraged against him" (368). "He was not on terms of true friendship with any."

To the crowds, he was a phenomenon, "Der Führer." "He made the masses see what they did not see, and not to see what they did see" (367), but it was not so for those around him. Those around him "were forced to hear this know-it-all, equipped with all the semi-education of his age, talking constantly of things he did not understand; they had to swallow the miserable German, the defective logic, the tasteless humor and false pathos which he brought forth at the dinner table as at the mass meeting; they had to suffer the bad manners... this raving dervish" (367-68).

"The most able men of his entourage refused to take him seriously--except as a demagogue" (373).

2. At a moment's notice he might begin to rage against cube-shaped houses or towers with flat roofs. "The fight against the flat sun roof was conducted with almost religious ardor, for this roof was 'Oriental, Semitic,' and absolutely 'un-German'" (365).

"On trips and walks he would suddenly run ahead, dragging his companions to some church or cloister, where he would surprise them with a lecture... Can't you see how that accounts for the magnificent stained-glass windows? It was not to be denied: when he asked if they did not see, nearly everyone saw" (361). :-)

3. Rudolph Hess helped him bridge the gap between his insufferable identity in private to his public phenomenon. "Suddenly, in the midst of a conversation, Hitler's face grows tense as with an inner vision... His eyes peer into the distance... and if the observer follower the direction of his gaze, sometimes, it has been claimed, Rudolf Hess can be seen in the far corner, with his eyes glued to his Führer, apparently speaking to him with closed lips" (359).

When Hitler was preparing for a speech, Hess would coach him. When Hitler was going to see an important visitor, Hess would coach him. It was as if this idiot of a man could only become the phenom with the help of his quieter, saner friend. "Hitler knew that his boundless imagination sometimes prompted him irresistibly to follies, and he expected Hess to protect him against himself at uncontrolled moments" (357). Imagine if Hitler had Twitter back then!

"Hitler only does the things that he happens to feel like doing" (380). So it was incredibly hard to get things done because he often didn't feel like staying on task. "Though he is the real source of energy in his cause and his enterprise, his incalculability is a serious obstacle to regular business." He often stalled a decision.

4. There was a "phenomenal untruthfulness" to Hitler, "which all his collaborators complained of" (368). "He deceived his co-workers even in small personal matters" (369). "He was always conspicuous for his hostility to hard facts, his fear of checkable details" (374). He would tell of the most fantastic conspiracy theories and his people would say, "You can't tell people that stuff." He would respond, "You can tell people anything!" (376).

He had a strange relationship to books. "He does not allow them to instruct him, but only to confirm his opinions" (374). "He virtually never quotes a single word from a classic author" (375). His walls were full of the most beautiful books, all of them unread.

I think I skipped a story in a previous chapter about a manuscript that Alfred Rosenberg gave to Hitler for approval. Hitler let it sit unread for months, although Hitler often stayed up throughout the night. Finally, he gave permission to publish it, sure it was fine. But it was quite anti-Christian and caused some problems for the movement. Hitler needed the church to get him into power and only then could he discard it.

5. Meanwhile, on his own he is a man of contemptible character. Even his artistic bend has a brutal character to it. In the early days of the movement he made promissory notes to be redeemed when the movement would succeed. On them he drew a beheaded woman representing the lie of those who disagreed with his ideas. "The true source of his belief in human vileness is self-observation" (377). He is vile and so assumes that everyone else is as well.

One hidden story from this period concerns his niece, his sister's daughter. In low times, he lived with them. He doted on her and, eventually, crossed a line by writing her a love letter. This letter was intercepted and purchased by someone from the movement for safe keeping, away from the public.

But then he wouldn't let her free. She was found dead at 23 while Hitler was away. It was declared a suicide but hard to say whether perhaps someone like Hess recognized in her Hitler's possible downfall. Once he had power, he purged hundreds of his enemies and former friends on June 30, 1934. The keeper of the letter was one of those murdered in the forest.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Seminary PL38: Church Budgeting

This is the seventh post on church administration in my "Seminary in a Nutshell" series. In this series, I first did a section on the Person and Calling of a Minister. Now this is the thirty-eighth post in a section on the Pastor as a Leader (see at the bottom).

The previous post looked at some biblical passages of interest in relation to using a church's resources. This post is about budgeting and the finances of a church.
1. In the denomination to which I belong (The Wesleyan Church), the "fiscal year," the finance year, the budgeting year, runs from May 1 to April 30. [1] A church's finances should thus be audited yearly thereafter, in May or June. In smaller churches, the books are usually kept by a volunteer treasurer. In larger churches, there is usually a paid staff member who keeps the books, a "director of finance" or "chief financial officer" (CFO).

One source suggests that the process for approving a church budget for the following year should begin at least four months before the next fiscal year. [1] In the church to which I belong, the board mostly voted on next year's budget in February, which some follow-up discussion in March.

The bulk of the budget planning can be done by a special budget committee or, in the case of the church to which I belong, a standing finance committee. In the church to which I belong, of a size between 1000 and 1500, the finance committee works with the director of finance to propose a budget that the broader board then adjusts or approves. In a smaller church, the board might play a more detailed role and the drafting of a proposal entrusted to the pastor/treasurer.

2. Most church boards will want to receive a monthly report that gives a sense of where the church is in its spending. This usually includes a breakdown of basic categories (a complete line item is probably overkill, although the treasurer should be able to provide it), the proposed budget for that category and the "year to date" expenditure in that category.

A good treasurer will know the typical ebb and flow of giving over the course of a year. So a church usually receives more in December than January because people are wanting to get some last minute charitable giving in so they can take it off of their taxes. Many churches in Florida lose a sizable portion of their congregation in the summer, as retirees head back north to Michigan and other places. So a good treasurer will know that the summer will be lean giving months and the winter much fatter.

A majority of church goers do not tithe. If 20% of your church attenders tithe, you are doing well. Personal giving information should be kept in strictest of confidence and pastors should resist the temptation to shame a congregation. Very few individuals should be privy to individual giving information. In some cases, a pastor may not want to know so that it does not interfere with relationships.

If the spending gets well beyond what it should be to date, expenses should be tightened. If individual ministry areas have a budget, each area might be asked to cut their budget by a certain amount. Financial expenditures can be curbed by cutting any number of corners (e.g., office supplies).

3. In 2015, churches of less than 200 in attendance had an annual budget of between $100,000 and $300,000. [2] Churches from 200 to 500 attendees ranged mainly between $300,000 to over $750,000 in budget. Churches of 500 to 1,000 ranged mainly between $750,000 and $2,000,000. Churches of over 1,000 tended to have a budget of over 1.5 million.

The percentages spent on various areas seem to be fairly consistent regardless of church size. The biggest expenditure of a church budget is often the salaries and benefits of the pastoral staff. A typical church might spend 45-50% of its budget in this area. This amount includes everything from base salaries to housing allowances to insurance to pension.

A number of resources suggest that a healthy ratio of church staff to church attendees is 76:1. [3] For every 76 people attending your church, you have one FTE or full-time equivalent of a staff member. A full-time equivalent (FTE) adds up part time staff. So if you have two part-time staff at 29 hours each, you might consider that the equivalent of one full-time person. [4]

The typical pay raise each year for the top-staff at a church is around 3%.

4. About another 20% of a church's budget might typical go for expenditures having to do with facilities and the debt thereon. So hopefully a church is not paying more than 10% of its yearly income on a mortgage and debt service in general. Then another 10% might go to utilities and maintenance of property.

5. Most churches have ministry related and outreach expenditures. This can include giving to missions far away or missional projects closer to home. The typical church spends at least 10% of its intake toward outreach or mission in some form or another.

The Wesleyan Church has a rather large (and complicated) expectation for contributions of local churches toward the denomination at large and its educational institutions. For the first $500,000 of a church with normal status, 2.75% goes to the denomination at large and 3.25% goes to the denomination's educational institutions. [6] The district in which that church is located then takes a cut as well. As such, a local church in the Wesleyan Church can find itself paying 10% of its income to the denomination.

6. The typical church has at least 2% of its budget in cash reserve. Perhaps it would be more ideal for an organization/individual to have at least a month's worth of reserve (a little over 8 percent).

7. When setting budget for the next year, there is a balance to find between realism and optimism. On the one hand, if a church never pushes itself to give more, it is unlikely it will. On the other hand, one personality segment of your church is likely to get frustrated if a church is always failing to reach its giving goals, even if it manages to end every year in the black.

Know thy congregation. Not every year needs to be a stretch year, but not every year has to end in budgetary defeat either.

Next Week: Pastor as Leader 39: Capital Campaigns

[1] Here is an annual report for a local church reporting attendance, income, and giving to the larger denomination of The Wesleyan Church.

[2] D. Martin Butler, Foundations of Church Administration: Professional Tools for Church Leadership, B. L. Petersen, E. A. Thomas, and B. Whitesel, eds (Kansas City, Beacon Hill, 2010), 67-79.

[3] "How Churches Spend Their Monday: An Executive Report," Church Law and Tax Store, 2014.

[4] E.g., "Salary, Staff, and Budget Trends of Large Churches," Church Law & Tax.

[5] While the Affordable Care Act is law, it is conventional to keep part-time staff under 29 hours so that an organization is not legally required to provide health care for them. In that sense, two part-time staff at 29 hours each is not really the financial equivalent of one full-time employee.

[6] Monies used for loans, received by bequests, given to missions, and so forth are subtracted from the income number. Income beyond $500,000 is then graded in the percent on which USF-EIF (United Stewardship Fund-Educational Investment Fund) has to be paid. From $500,000 to a million in income, the 6% total goes down to 4%. From 1 to 2 million, it goes down to 2%, and there is no assessment on funds over 2 million.

Leadership in General
Strategic Planning
Church Management
Conflict Management
Church Administration

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Observing the Bible: Two Paths

There are two basic ways to go about observing a text in detail. The first I am going to call a lectio divina way of reading the text, a “divine reading.” To observe a passage in this way I suggest you pray and ask the Lord to give you spiritual eyes to see. Bring with your eyes a knowledge of the character of God and the sound Christian teaching you have learned in the Church. Then read the text with openness to the Spirit. Listen to what he has to say. Savor every word. Chew on it and digest it. Circle, underline, and write notes with a view to hearing and being transformed.

Perhaps this "spiritual observation" approach is the most important way a person could read a biblical text. As you read the text, you see and hear things that you have not seen and heard before. As you submit to God through the text, change takes place in your heart, mind, and life. You have questions that you did not think to ask before, and you have answers that are so much more than ideas.

I believe that God regularly speaks to people in this way and that he does so to people with no training whatsoever in how to read the Bible in context. He meets us where we are, in our "world in front of the text." If you remember from the previous chapter, the "world in front of the text" is my world. I am the one in front of the Bible reading it, and I bring with me all of my assumptions and perspectives on the world. Of course the original meaning of the words of the Bible did not come from my world. The original meanings of the Bible's words came from the worlds of Isaiah, Paul, and John and their languages. The more I am reading the Bible with the "definitions" of my world, the less likely I am reading it exactly the way that Jeremiah or Mark understood their own words.

It is my contention that, as long as I am truly hearing God speak to me, it is okay to read the Bible this way. Otherwise, how many people would actually be able to hear God speak to them in Scripture? Only scholars? On the other hand, how can I know if I am really hearing God or just the burrito I had for breakfast?

I would suggest that we should always read the Bible in communities of faith, so that other people of faith can help me see the eccentricities of my own interpretations. Of course communities of faith can go off in skewed directions as well, which is why it is good for all Christians to be talking to each other. I personally put great stock in the "consensus" of Christianity, matters that the overwhelming majority of Christians have believed for a very long time. These would include the interpretations that we find in the early creeds of Christianity, including beliefs in things like the Trinity, the virgin birth, and God's creation of the universe out of nothing.

However, there is another way to read a biblical text in detail. This is the way I should read the text if I want to hear what it was originally trying to say in the language and categories of its first authors and audiences. Prayer is perfectly appropriate here as well, for God can help me think straight just as well as he can open my spirit. Here I sometimes suggest to students that they pretend that they are an alien from Mars, coming to a biblical text for the first time with no knowledge of Christianity or anything human. They only know the basics of the languages in which the Bible was written.

What sort of questions would they have? When they came across certain key words, they would not have a church background to draw on. They would have to ask, "What does this word righteousness mean?" because they might not have any prior conceptions. When they came across the word "but," they might know that there was a contrast involved, but might ask what exactly was contrasting with what.

The rest of this chapter is about how to do a first read through a biblical text with as open a mind as possible. Some call this exercise "detailed observation." [1] Try not to assume any answers and try not to jump to conclusions. If you were from another planet reading the Bible for the first time, what are the questions you would ask?

This is an inductive approach to the biblical text. It is one step on a journey to induce the meaning of the text from the text. While the spiritual approach comes to the text with a host of theological assumptions, the inductive approach tries to assume nothing. It tries to hear the questions the text itself raises. It is thus focused on the "world within the text." [2]

Again, I believe that both methods are valid and important. The spiritual approach is important because, as Christians, we should start with faith and seek understanding within the context of faith. But the second is significant because it helps keep us honest. It opens the door for the "reformation" of our starting assumptions. It is the most objective method for determining what the text actually meant originally. The rest of the chapter suggests the kinds of things we might look for in a biblical passage and the kinds of questions we might raise to move us toward its original meaning.

[1] Bauer and Traina

[2] Remember that the "world of the text" is just the text itself. We are going to somewhat artificially try to isolate the world of the text from either my world (the world in front of the text) or the historical world of the Bible (the "world behind the text") just to raise questions we might pursue later. This is impossible in reality--we have to define the words in the text from somewhere--but we often learn much in the attempt to read the text itself as if we knew nothing about anything.

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Shack 5

1. So we finish reading the The Shack today.
2. Chapter 14 deals with the contrast between law and grace. Here are some of the statements that give you the gist: "The Bible doesn't teach you to follow rules. It is a picture of Jesus" (197). "Religion is about having the right answers... But I am about the process that takes you to the living answer" (198). "Don't look [in the Bible] for rules and principles; look for a relationship--a way of coming to be with us."

Here are some more: "Rules cannot bring freedom; they only have the power to accuse" (203). "Enforcing rules... is a vain attempt to create certainty out of uncertainty."

There is much that I believe is true in these statements. A "legal" or "law and order" mindset is not the mind of Christ. The legalistic mindset "has fallen from grace" (Gal. 5:4). There may be many who will say, "Lord, Lord, didn't we keep the law in your name," and Jesus will tell them that they never knew him. I suspect there will be some who preached many a legalistic sermon on holiness who will not be in the kingdom of God because they did not truly love their neighbor and therefore did not truly love God.

I do think Young may have a slightly one-sided view of Paul's ethic, but I think he is more right than wrong. Augustine put it this way: "Love God and do what you want." What Augustine was saying is that if you truly love God, you will want to do things that glorify and please him. You will want to love your neighbor as yourself, not because it is a rule but because it is your heart.

3. In chapter 15, Mack reconciles with his father. After finishing the book, I am wondering if Mack really did murder his father. He puts poison in his dad's bottles, but he later only says that his father drank himself to death. It seems to me that God would have helped Mack deal with that event if he had actually caused his father's death.

In this chapter, though, Young tries to portray a heavenly scene of sorts. He does his best and you might think of some of the fantastical pictures in Ezekiel and Revelation. In this encounter, he meets his father and reconciles with him.

The implication seems to be that his father is in the kingdom of God. Many have wondered at this point if Young is implying a certain universalism, that everyone will be saved. Could be. I respect those who feel this way, although I cannot reconcile it myself with the biblical texts. But I understand that it is hard to balance God's mercy and justice. I think those who take an extreme view of mercy are more true to God's character than those who take an extreme view of justice.

But Young never says that everyone will be saved, and he does not tell us the details of how Mack's father's final moments played out. He does make it clear at the end that every knee will bow and every tongue confess at the end that Jesus is Lord (248).

4. On Sunday morning (note the implicit allusion to the resurrection), Papa has changed from the image of a black woman, to a man with silver-white hair in a pony tail. The implication is that up to this point, because Mack wasn't reconciled with his father, he had difficulty relating to God as Father.

God and Mack go up the mountain to find Missy's body. I thought of Abraham and Isaac going to make sacrifice in Genesis 22. The killer had left a trail for himself, a red arc. I don't know what symbolism was intended. I thought of the rainbow in Genesis after the flood, and about the blood of Christ.

Near the top of the mountain, Mack forgives his daughter's killer. "Forgiveness is not about forgetting," God tells him. "It is about letting go of another person's throat" (224). "Forgiveness does not establish relationship" (225). "Only some choose relationship." "Forgiveness does not excuse anything," God says (226).

Mack will have to declare forgiveness over and over. It will become easier "the third day" (227). (spoiler) The killer is found in the end, and Mack continues to forgive him.

5. I suspect this book will be therapeutic for many who have experienced great pain and grief. You can live the story and live forgiveness as you move through it.

6. They bury Missy's body, although only in whatever place Mack is in. A "tree of life" can now grow in the garden of Mack's soul where Missy has been laid to rest.

God in three persons and Mack have a kind of final communion--wine and bread. Then it was over.

As he heads home, he is hit by a drunk driver and awakes in the hospital. It is still Friday, leaving us to wonder if this was all something he experienced in a coma. However, we are led to believe that he did actually try to drive up to the shack and the red arc allows them to actually find Missy's remains.

A key moment is when Mack helps his daughter Katie forgive herself. She had been blaming herself for Missy's kidnapping.

7. A fun read. Here are my main take-aways:
  • The picture of God as love in this story is far more true to God's character than the opposite portrayal, which practically sees him as a slave to some abstract law of justice.
  • I think the book gives us the best answer to the problem of suffering and evil--we just have to trust that God is good and that we do not have a good vantage point or sufficient information to know why he allows what he does. We just have to trust him.
  • God has granted a large amount of freedom to humanity and his creation. He does not orchestrate everything that happens, although nothing happens without his permission. And he weaves many an evil or painful occurrence into a tapestry of goodness.
  • We must love even someone who commits the most horrendous acts, because God loves them too. He would like everyone to be saved. A "law and order" attitude is often a tool of the Devil.
  • This is just a novel. It sparks some very meaningful discussions. For many, it will be deeply therapeutic in a helpful sense. But don't take it too seriously. Take what God has to say to you and leave the rest. :-)

Thursday, March 09, 2017

The Shack 4

1. I'm almost done reading The Shack, with just 50 pages left to read tomorrow. The first day is here, the second here, and the third here.

2. Chapter 11 is the turning point of the book. Mack follows a path into a rock face where there is great darkness within and he faces the "great sadness" of his life. I think this space may represent not only the darkness of Mack's own life but also the tomb of Jesus.

Notice the timing of the visit to the shack. Mack has arrived there mid-day on Friday. He will leave on Sunday. So Saturday is the day that Jesus is in the tomb. "Lo, in the grave he lay, Jesus, my Savior."

3. We find out eventually that the woman who leads him through this darkness is "Sophia," which is the Greek word for wisdom. We learn in the next chapter that "Sophia is a personification of Papa's wisdom" (171). That's good biblical theology, and Mack references Proverbs 8. There are of course some who talk about wisdom as if she is a being distinct from God the Father, but Young is spot on with wisdom as a personification of one of God's attributes, not as a distinct being.

4. Wisdom reiterates to Mack that God loves all people equally, like a parent should love each of his or her children equally. Wisdom says this curious statement: "It is the knowing that grows and love simply expands to contain it. Love is just the skin of knowing" (155). I think what he's saying is that we get to know our children better in relationship and our love continues to cover that new knowledge. Interesting thought, although, of course, this is a novel. :-)

The base of Mack's problem, Wisdom reveals to him, is that he does not trust God. He does not trust that God loves him or his people. Wisdom says that Mack is there for Judgment, which for a moment terrifies him. But, she reveals, Mack is the one who is serving as the judge.

Mack has judged God as the source of evil, she helps him see (I thought of Job here). To help him see how absurd that is, she suggests that Mack must choose two of his children to spend eternity with God, and another three to spend in hell. Mack of course cannot do it, and finally pleads that he go to hell in their place.

Her point is clear. God does not want anyone to go to hell. He does not send people there by his own design. In fact he sent Jesus to die for us. Through Jesus death and resurrection, "I am now fully reconciled to the world" (192). God doesn't mean that everyone is reconciled to him because "reconciliation is a two way street." What God means is that "I have done my part."

5. Wisdom declares that evil is "not his doing" (164). God often doesn't stop it. "He doesn't stop a lot of things that cause him pain." "It is you humans who have embraced evil and Papa has responded with goodness" (165). God "chose the way of the cross where mercy triumphs over justice because of love" (164).

"Just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn't mean I orchestrate the tragedies," Papa tells Mack (185). Similarly, "nobody knows what horrors I have saved the world from 'cuz people can't see what never happened" (190). "You demand your independence, but then complain that I actually love you enough to give it to you" (191). Then "out of what seems to be a huge mess, Papa weaves a magnificent tapestry" (176).

"True love never forces" (190) is the key concept here. "Love that is forced is no love at all." God allows evil because he loves us enough to let us have the independence we wanted, but we suffer because of it.

6. I hope we will hear more about this comment: "Judgment is not about destruction, but about setting things right" (169). Mack stops judging God in the middle of the dark rock, and he has "re-turned," turned back toward God. The novel will move toward healing from this point on.

7. Young gives us his sense of our final destiny as being "a new cleansing of this universe, so it will indeed look a lot like here" (177). This is actually good biblical theology. Despite a lot of popular talk about heaven, most of the New Testament looks to eternity in "new skies and new earth." The new Jerusalem of Revelation comes down to a new earth, and Jesus eats with us as people on earth come from north, south, east, and west in the kingdom.

8. Young has some very negative things to say about the church as an institution. "I don't create institutions--never have, never will" (179). God is about relationships. Young calls religion, politics, and economics the "man-created trinity of terrors that ravages the earth and deceives those I care about" (179).

I am not as negative as he is toward hierarchies and institutions. In this he and I probably disagree. Nevertheless, I understand that these are regularly tools of evil and oppression. This quote at the beginning of the chapter by Blase Pascal is very striking and unfortunately often true: "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction" (171).

Young's goal for participation in institutions, politics, and economics, it would seem, is to be "in it and not of it." I can buy that.

9. Young is fairly controversial on p.182. Here's the key quote. Jesus says, "Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don't vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions. I have followers who were murderers and many who were self-righteous. Some are bankers and bookies, Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians. I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa."

Mack rejoins this question: "Does that mean... that all roads will lead to you?" Jesus responds, "Not at all." He clarifies: "Most roads don't lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you" (182).

What is Young trying to say here? First I notice the past tense in several of these sentences. "They were Buddhists or Mormons." They "were murderers." Does he mean before they died? Does he mean before they changed and "re-turned"? He hasn't addressed it yet, but it seems pretty clear that Mack murdered his father when he was a boy. I thought of 1 Corinthians 6:11--"that is what some of you were."

On the one hand, Young is distancing himself from pluralism--all roads lead equally to God. His imagery suggests that Jesus is the way. When Young distances Jesus-followers from the word Christian, he is protesting religion and religiosity, not being a Christ-follower. He is at least suggesting that Jesus can find anyone in the world, no matter what road they may start out on.

I don't know if he is espousing the idea of "anonymous Christians." This is the idea that, while Jesus is the only way, there may be people whose heart is following Christ without their head knowing it.

That's probably enough for today. Lord willing we finish the novel tomorrow!

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Gen Eds H10a. Ancient India

The second to last unit in this long pursuit of world history is a unit I've called, "Classical Civilizations." Here I'm including ancient India, China, Egypt, and Mesopotamia.

This is part of my "General Education in a Nutshell" series. The series consists of ten subjects you might study in a general education or "liberal arts" core at a university or college. The first topic in the overall series was philosophy. So far in the world history section:
1. I have read that the most ancient civilization in India was the largest of the ancient centers among China, Egypt, and Mesopotamia, with as many as 80,000 people in each of its major cities. [1] Harrapan civilization was located in what today is Pakistan. [2] We know very little of that society, located in the Indus Valley. It was finally displaced around 1500BC by a group we call the Indo-Europeans.

The Indo-Europeans are the parent group of both those who are in India today and the groups that moved into Europe. We can trace this group in part because of the affinities within languages. Modern languages like Hindi and Urdu in India are distantly related to European languages like French and English. We can thus infer that a nomadic group of people in the area of north of Turkey (southern Russia) distributed themselves throughout Europe, Turkey, Persia, and India. [3]

2. Around 1500BC, these Indo-Europeans moved into India, speaking an Indo-European language known as Sanskrit. This was the written language of the priestly class, and they produced the classic scriptures of Hinduism, the Vedas. These "Aryans" are known for their caste system, the dividing up of its people into various fixed social layers. [4]

The indigenous Indus Valley people probably continued on as the lowest caste of the new India, the untouchables. At the top of the caste system were the Brahmins, the priestly caste, with the warrior caste right under them. The majority of Indianas were the Sudras, the servants. Then right above them were landowners and merchants.

3. The period from about 1500 to 150BC is often called the Vedic period of Indian history. The early part of this period was a time when the Hindu religion dominated, a religion that started out as polytheistic (many gods) with sacrifices and all. In later development, it is often thought of as a more of a pantheistic system (everything is god). Reincarnation is often associated with Hinduism, as one comes back from death either higher or lower in the hierarchy of life, depending on how one has lived in the previous life.

It was during this period, in the 500s BC, that Siddhartha Gautama (the "Buddha") would originate what would become Buddhism. He taught four noble truths--1) that life is suffering, 2) that suffering comes from our desire for pleasure and fear of pain, 3) that suffering can be ended 4) by following the eightfold path of a) right thinking, b) right intention, c) right speech, d) right action, e) right living, f) right effort, g) right attitude, and h) right concentration.

Another variation on Hindu religion was Jainism, originated by Mahavira at about the same time. Both of these new religions emphasized that suffering stood at the essence of human existence. But that one could move beyond it.

4. The Persians took over India from the time of Darius I in around 530BC till Alexander the Great in the late 300s. After that point there was the rise of the Mauryan Empire (322-185BC). The founder of this dynasty was Chandragupta (ruled 322-298) who reclaimed northern India after Alexander departed. Then under his son almost all of northern India came under Mauryan rule.

Under Chandragupta's grandson, Ashoka the Great, the empire reached its peak (ruled 304-232). Shocked at the amount of death it took to conquer the eastern part of the area, Ashoka became a Buddhist and founded many Buddhist monasteries. Predictably, his empire declined rapidly after his death and split into several smaller kingdoms. This is the Middle Period of India's history.

5. The golden age of India then revived under the Gupta dynasty (AD 320-550), in large part due to trade with the Roman Empire. I have already mentioned this flourishing of India under my treatment of the Middle Ages.

Next Week: History 10b. Ancient China

[1] https://sites.google.com/site/1ancientcivilizationsforkids/ancient-india

[2] Pakistan was not divided from India until 1947 in the aftermath of World War II.

[3] In Turkey, they were the Hittites of Genesis 23.

[4] Most societies implicitly have these sorts of layers, although upward mobility has been more possible in the modern Western world than in any period in history. More than anything else, public education has made this possible.

The Shack 3

1. This is my third day reading The Shack, reading 50 pages a day over lunch. The first day is here, the second here.

2. I won't complain about the meal scene. This is after all a novel. Is the picture of God as a black woman too stereotypical of what black women are supposed to be like? The image did make me a little uncomfortable in the first scene with Elousia, but I think Young had no ill intention.

There is some fun humor. Mack closes his eyes to pray and then realizes that God is right in front of him. He opens his eyes and says thank you. :-)

Young tries to make it clear that the three persons are all one God. If Jesus is there then they all are there. If he is talking to the Spirit he is talking to Papa. He tries to depict the devotion of each of the persons to each other. On the whole I think he does a good job. This is, after all, a novel, and he always leaves open the possibility that this is something going on in Mack's head, not the real Trinity.

3. There is talk about the Trinity limiting themselves in conversation with Mack. They know everything, but they "are not bringing it to mind, as it were" (106), so that they can have a real conversation with Mack. We can debate the details. I like the idea that God talks with us as we might talk with a child, knowing much more than we are acting like we know, so that the child can have a conversation on his or her level. This is how I picture God in conversation with Adam in the Garden.

4. Mack spends some time with Jesus in chapter 8, a chapter cleverly called, "God on the Dock." Jesus and Mack spend some time on a dock, and this is close to the name of a book by C. S. Lewis on the problem of evil. :-) Jesus feels more tangible to Mack, which makes sense because "I am the best way any human can relate to Papa or Sarayu." Some may want to debate the word "best" and suggest "only" might be better. [1]

Jesus explains the names. Elousia is a combination of El (a Hebrew name for God in the OT) and the Greek word ousia, which means "being." Sarayu is the Sanskrit word for "wind." Again, Young seems to be flirting with the possibility that some Hindus before Christ might have been reaching out for God without knowing about Jesus. I wonder if Young will clarify what he is thinking here at some later point.

5. Chapter 8 has some interesting thoughts. God's anger "is an expression of love all the same. I love the ones I am angry with just as much as those I'm not" (119). This seems theologically correct to me.

Then there is the question of hierarchy in the Trinity: "We have no concept of final authority among us, only unity. We are in a circle of relationship" (122). This is of course the point of view of historic, orthodox Christianity since the 300s.

There are certainly large segments of evangelical Christianity that see the Trinity as hierarchical, drawing on passages like 1 Corinthians 15:28. Most of these discussions become heated because the Trinity is seen as a proxy for discussions of hierarchy in marriage. I personally don't see that marriage relationships necessarily need to follow the Trinity, since my wife and I aren't God. :-)

6. Chapter 8 begins to get into the problem of evil. Young's solution is in fact what I believe the best solution is. We need to trust that God is good and that "there are millions of reasons to allow pain and hurt and suffering rather than to eradicate them" (125). We as finite humans just aren't in a position to know them.

7. I found chapter 9 fascinating. The Holy Spirit and Mack tend to a garden, which evokes images of the Garden of Eden but in the end we find out is the garden of Mack's soul. It is a mess, which the Spirit finds wonderful. Things are constantly being uprooted and newly planted. It is hard work for Mack and at times painful (evoking I thought Adam working by the toil of his brow). But there is purpose in the mess.

Independence seems to be portrayed as the root of human sinfulness. Rather than rely on God, we try to go it on our own. And rather than love each other, we seek autonomy. Evil is seen as the absence of good rather than a thing (Augustine).

There is an interesting exchange about whether Eden was real or a myth. The Holy Spirit tells Mack that it was indeed real. But for those who think it is only a myth, "Their mistake is not fatal. Rumors of glory are often hidden inside of what many consider myths and tales" (134). :-)

8. This is a really clever novel at points. The imagery and allusions are fun but not forced. I could see using it as a secondary text in a theology class as a discussion starter. Jesus and Mack walk on water in chapter 10. :-)

In the discussion between Jesus and Mack in chapter 10, Jesus says that God could fix the world immediately, but then the story would end before it was consummated (145). "To force my will on you... is exactly what love doesn't do." Of course I think this is mostly true right now. I do believe God will force his will on everyone at the Judgment. Don't know how Young will handle that yet.

Jesus suggests that God also submits to humanity. It is mutual submission all the way around, including in the family. I think I get what he's saying. If God lets us have our way sometimes, that is like submitting to us (not sure I like the idea of God submitting to us, though). Of course as an egalitarian I believe in mutual submission in marriage as the ideal.

Some interesting thoughts on husband-wife relationships. I won't agree or disagree. He suggests that the man turned to work and the wife to the husband in the Fall (only for him to rule over her). Both are supposed to face God equally.

He also rejects WWJD, saying that Jesus' life was not supposed to be an example to copy. Not sure I know all of what he is trying to say. I actually do like WWJD as a model, although I agree that everyone has a different idea of who Jesus was. :-)

[1] Did Job relate to God through Christ directly? Did Abraham relate to God through Christ directly? Won't debate those questions here.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

The Shack 2

1. Yesterday I started reading The Shack. I'm trying to read 50 pages a day over lunch to finish this week.

So today (spoiler) we learn that Mack's daughter has been horrifically murdered. In the meantime, God ("Papa") has sent him a note inviting him to the shack where they discovered her blood.

2. So the theological analogy starts pretty heavy when we hit chapter 5. There are a couple of theological items prior to that I might mention. I forgot to mention yesterday the interchange on p.31 between Mack and his daughter Missy before she is murdered. She says, "Is the Great Spirit another name for God--you know, Jesus' papa?" Mack responds, "I would suppose so. It's a good name for God because he is a Spirit and he is Great."

I'm wondering if we'll hear more on the issue this alludes to--is it possible to worship God by another name when you don't know the name of Jesus. I'll leave the issue lie until some later point.

3. I thought some sentences on pp.65-66 were interesting: "In seminary he had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred Scripture, properly interpreted, of course. God's voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects."

If you know me, you probably know that this made me smile. We Wesleyans and Pentecostals--like the apostle Paul--don't believe that spiritual gifts, revelations, and miracles ended when John wrote the final nu in the book of Revelation. So preach it Young on God's continued communication with his people! Also, as a Bible scholar, I am firmly convinced that the New Testament authors not only read the OT literally but that they also often read it spiritually.

If you have to get a PhD in Bible to hear God's voice, pretty much all Christians through all church history are lost.

4.  I'm sure the portrayal of God the Father as a black woman, Jesus as a Middle-Eastern man, and the Holy Spirit as a hard-to-focus-on Asian woman was hard for some to handle, but the author makes it clear that these are not fixed forms. "I am neither male nor female... If I choose to appear to you as a man or a woman, it's because I love you... After what you've been through, you couldn't very well handle a father right now, could you?" (93).

I mentioned in my first post that God is not literally gendered, because he doesn't have genitalia and is Spirit. So I appreciate the way the author has tried to shake us from thinking God is a white male. The author is "trying to help you keep from falling so easily back into your religious conditioning" (93). I suspect we'll hear later what Young was getting at by the names Elousia and Sarayu (I have guesses).

5. God is omniscient--Elousia knows everything. Check. √ Yet Mack is also free to do whatever he wants. "Just because I know you're too curious to go, does that reduce your freedom to leave?" (94). There's some dance with the question of foreknowledge and free will here. Elousia suggests that freedom is complicated, and I suspect we'll hear more about it later.

Suffice it to say, the Wesleyan tradition does not believe that foreknowledge implies determinism. I have no problem with both believing that God knows all the details of the future and yet does not fully determine it.

6. Elousia has scars on her wrist as Jesus does, so there is perhaps some flirting with patripassianism, a minor heresy that suggests God the Father suffered on the cross with Jesus. I don't know if that's what Young is getting at or not. I do agree with him that God did not turn his face away from Jesus on the cross. "Regardless of what he [Jesus] felt at that moment, I never left him" (96).

That is indeed what I believe, despite a lot of pop theology about God the Father turning away. I actually believe that Young is giving us orthodox theology here, despite how popular it is to think of the Father turning away from Jesus on the cross. I hope we get to unpack why "turning away" theology is bad theology in the pages to come.

7. Finally, there is the idea that Jesus "has never drawn upon his nature as God to do anything" (99). I don't know about never (in terms of while he was on earth), but I do believe that Jesus played it by the human rules while he was on earth (e.g., note the wording of Acts 2:22). The miracles he did, his ability to be victorious over temptation--these are all possible for all those who trust in him through the power of the Holy Spirit. One of the things Jesus did on earth is show us what it means to be truly and fully human.

Good theology there, in my opinion. Notice that in both Acts and Paul, "God raised him from the dead." I can't think of a place in Acts or Paul where it reads, "He arose."

Notice the careful wording in The Shack: "Jesus, as a human being, had no power within himself to heal anyone" (italics mine). I don't know all of what Young is suggesting, but in his humanness, I suspect this is good theology. Of course I believe that Jesus in his divinity could have healed, but he didn't choose to access that power during his earthly ministry, as far as we can tell from the Synoptic Gospels.

8. There's some theology about love in the Trinity (101). Love needs an object, so the love in the Trinity makes it possible for God to be love. I suspect it goes well beyond Scripture, but it is orthodox. :-)

13. Destroying Democracy with Democracy

On to chapter fourteen of Konrad Heiden's 1944 book, Der Fuehrer. My reviews of the earlier chapters were:
1. "In 1925 we were again one man. In 1926, seventeen thousand; in 1927, over forty thousand; in 1928, over sixty thousand; in 1929, over a hundred and twenty thousand; today (March, 1930), we are over two hundred thousand" (349).

Hitler had come to understand that he could destroy democracy by democracy. He did not need to take over Germany by force. He could use the discontent of the people to get elected on a populist swell, only then to substitute a dictatorship for democracy.

So the discontent in Germany was just great enough in September of 1930 that he was able to get a sixth of the German vote and take 107 seats in parliament. It was far from a majority, but it was enough to start the chain of events that would eventually lead to his take-over of the state.

2. The global economic downturn was a key element of this vacuum of discontent. As the economy went, so inversely went Hitler's popularity. As wages decreased, Hitler increased. "The age characterized by Henry Ford when he said that 'anything which is economically right is also morally right' was drawing to an end" (331).

The US was throwing up tariffs (e.g., the Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act of 1930), which hurt everyone (including America). Everyone had become a producer, but now no one was a buyer. Farmers had no one to sell to and soon joined Hitler's base. "The discovery of the peasants [farmers] was a master-stroke of National Socialist propaganda" (335), similar to Trump's discovery of the blue-collar worker in the recent election.

So Hitler now would say things like, "Liberation from this slavery is possible only if the German people can sustain itself mainly from its own soil" (337). "In future, soil can be acquired only by him who means to farm it himself" (337). And of course there was always the Jew to blame, although Jews played no actual role in Germany's situation. Like the illegal immigrant and refugee in America currently, they were simply a pretend target behind which to focus collective angst and anger for other reasons, not a real threat.

Germany had been growing financially primarily because of foreign investment. With the global crisis, this source began to dry up quickly and Germany's true financial situation was again revealed.

3. Meanwhile, Hitler was supported by individuals who did not like his entire agenda, but thought he was useful for creating enthusiasm and excitement in Germany as a nation. Hitler would turn on them once his power was secure. You cannot play with a snake and be surprised when you get bit. But they were enamored by "the sight of the endless crowd" (341). And look at the enthusiasm of the youth, even if Hitler was not someone you would want to run Germany.

So Hitler had the armed ex-soldiers from his beginnings. He gained the ex-small farmers. There was increasing anti-capitalist sentiment because only the large-scale property owners were benefiting. The National Socialists joined in street fights between union workers and former soldiers and communists. Goebbels felt that to dominate the streets was eventually to dominate the state.

In a fight between the, at that time, non-Hitler SA and the Hitler SS resulted in a sound defeat for the SS. (They had to call the police for help) But Hitler stepped in and, with his charisma, won the SA in Berlin to his side. Now he was the Führer of the SA.

4. Hitler was able to make these gains in the election of September 1930 because of the inability of those in power to secure a coalition in parliament. As these things go, the Reichstag was dissolved and new elections took place. The existing chancellor, Heinrich Brüning, had hoped to solidify a reliable majority. Oops.

"It is always the greatest triumph for an opposition when a government becomes its own opposition, attacks its own system, adopts the criticism of its adversary" (345).

Meanwhile, the youth just now entering the vote had no sense of social class or political belonging. There were no jobs for them. They easily flocked to the armed ex-soldier from Hitler's beginnings. They were taught a total disregard of humanity, which came not from bloodthirstiness "but from cold calculation--for the vilest horrors of this age have been perpetuated out of cold intellectual calculation and not out of bestial cruelty" (352).

"This Nothing in human form, drawing all the problems and passions of the day into himself by the suction of an empty personality--this was a profound tragedy for Germany, and not only for Germany" (353).

Monday, March 06, 2017

The Shack 1

1. I'm ten years late to the game, but the movie that has just come out makes me think I should finally give The Shack a read. Since the IWU Marion campus is on Spring Break (I'm not), I thought I could read the book over lunch this week.

So I took the book off our shelf (it's my wife's copy) and read the first 50 some pages today. Many know the story (spoiler). A young daughter goes missing (so far)...

There hasn't been much theology yet, but I did notice a couple interesting points in the first 50 that I thought I would mention today:

2. The first comes in the Foreword. I thought this paragraph was particularly important: "Memory can be a tricky companion, especially with the accident, and I would not be too surprised... if some factual errors and faulty remembrances are reflected in these pages. They are not intentional" (13).

What I think William Young is getting at here is a recognition that when you are talking about God, we cannot hope to get it all right. Indeed, those who think they have God all figured out are probably the last people you should listen to. The hit on the head is a masterful touch--who would dare write a novel where the voice of God in that novel pretended to be the direct voice of God?

3. A second point of interest came from the imagery of the Multnomah princess dying for her tribe. "Honey, she didn't have to die. She chose to die to save her people" (30). Similarly the follow-up: "Jesus didn't think his daddy was mean. He thought his daddy was full of love and loved him very much. His daddy didn't make him die. Jesus chose to die because he and his daddy love you and me and everyone in the world. He saved us from our sickness, just like the princess." (31).

No complaints here. On the one hand, I imagine it annoys some for the symbol for Jesus in the legend to be a princess, but my strand of the Wesleyan tradition has no problems here. God has no penis or genitalia. He is not literally male. Nor does my strand of the Wesleyan tradition believe that Jesus had to come to earth as a man. God could just as well have come to earth as a woman. So no problems with that part of the symbolism for us.

4. Certainly the Bible does not portray Jesus as having no choice in his death. He chooses to submit himself to the Father's will (e.g., Mark 14:36). God gives him the choice. Is there a possible world in which Jesus says no? I guess the orthodox answer is no, because in every universe Jesus' divine will follows the divine plan. [1] Of course Jesus is God, so the plan is his to begin with.

These last comments go beyond anything the biblical texts say. Without explaining the way it works, the Bible seems to affirm both that Jesus' death on the cross was part of God's plan and that Jesus' human will freely submitted to the plan.

So no heresies I can see yet...

[1] "Monothelitism," the belief that Jesus only had one will, was finally considered a heresy in the late 600s. The idea is that if Jesus truly has two natures (one divine and one human), then he also has two "wills," one divine and one human.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Seminary PL37: Muzzling Oxen and Burying Talents

This is the sixth post on church administration in my "Seminary in a Nutshell" series. In this series, I first did a section on the Person and Calling of a Minister. Now this is the thirty-seventh post in a section on the Pastor as a Leader (see at the bottom).

The previous post was on risk management. In this post we look at some passages in the Bible that relate to church administration.
1. The Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30) is about a man who goes on a journey, but entrusts some incredibly large amounts of gold with three of his servants. A talent was well over what would be a million dollars today, so an ancient person hearing such amounts would perhaps shudder at the responsibility given to these three. The first servant gets five talents (over six million dollars). The second two (2.5 million). The final servant got one talent.

As you know, the first two servants invest and double the amount of money. But the third servant is afraid, as perhaps most hearing this parable would have been. He hid the talent in the ground and only had the same talent to return to his boss when he returned.

The first two servants are rewarded. The third, in the imagery of Matthew, is sent into the fire of hell, while his talent is given to the first servant.

Luke has what may be another version of the parable, the Parable of the Ten Minas (Luke 19:11-27). A mina was a sixtieth of a talent, more like $20,000.

2. In their contexts in Matthew and Luke, it is clear that these parables have to do with the time between Jesus' resurrection and return, the time we are in right now. In Matthew, the parable is situated between a parable about having our lamps full of oil when Christ returns (Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids) and a parable about helping others in the meantime (Sheep and Goats).

In Luke the context is similar. Those with Jesus think that that the kingdom of God is going to appear immediately. The Parable of the Minas is thus about what we are to do as we await Jesus' return.

So what does the "investing" of the money stand for? The context of Matthew 25 makes it quite clear. "I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me" (Matt. 25:35-36). The investment in Matthew is focused on investing in others.

3. Certainly the parable has been used in a much broader way, and of course the English word talent comes from this parable. God has given us all different gifts. While we await his return, we should put those gifts to work for his kingdom. Yes, that includes the material resources he has given us. We should invest them into his kingdom and steward them wisely.

As it relates to leading the church, we should be good stewards of what God has given us and his church for the betterment of the kingdom. It goes without saying that leaders should not get rich off the gospel. I have always admired Billy Graham who took a salary from his organization rather than getting rich off of it. Similarly, we should not waste the resources our congregations entrust to us, for we then will have less to give to the master when he returns.

But we must not be too timid either with those resources, like the one who buried the master's money in the ground. I wonder if I have known leaders promoted beyond their capacity (the "Peter principle") who seemed to get paralyzed at the weight of new decisions. But like someone in a house on fire, failure to move can be the worst decision of all. So leaders must at times force themselves to invest their minas, rather than hide them away for safety reasons. And if they cannot handle the pressures of such responsibility, they might honorably seek to work for others who can.

4. The second passage I wanted to cover today is in 1 Corinthians 9:7-11. In this particular chapter, Paul is using himself as an example of how the church is not about personal freedom or rights but about giving glory to God and building up the community of faith. So if I feel free to do something in the Lord but I know it will damage the faith of someone else in the church, I should not exercise my freedom.

Paul uses himself as an example. While he technically should have been materially supported by the Corinthians when he was there, he did not expect that support for the betterment of the gospel. Paul worked with his own hands and at times took material support from other churches perhaps so that he would not become entangled with the strings of patronage at the church he was at.

The ancient world functioned extensively on the basis of what are called "patron-client" relationships. Someone with resources gave to someone without, with an informal expectation of receiving honor in return. [1] If Paul had taken such patronage from the Corinthians, he may have felt it would tie his hands some when it came to preaching the gospel with forthrightness. Without such strings, he could exercise full apostolic authority.

So Paul uses himself as an example of giving up his "rights" for the betterment of the kingdom in hope that the Corinthians would stop using their freedom to eat at pagan temples in a way that threatened to destroy the faith of others in the church.

5. Nevertheless, this passage provides a model for churches needing to support their pastors and spiritual workers materially. "Do not muzzle the ox when it is treading the grain" (Deut. 25:4). Being from the city, Paul finds the literal meaning of this verse irrelevant. Rather, this verse for him had everything to do with those who minister the gospel. He receives a word from the Lord from this verse indicating that ministers should be supported materially for the spiritual work they do.

During the Depression, many preachers were paid in food. Certainly there are ministers who work for almost nothing so that church doors can stay open. Many ministers are bivocational, working other jobs like Paul to support themselves.

But if a church can, it should not be stingy with its "spiritual oxen." Hopefully the days when people think "The pastor only works one hour a week" are over. Churches with a preponderance of that kind of thinking (or worse, with a pastor who is actually like that) are doomed to close. Better to take their mina and give it to another church anyway.

But a pastor should get a living wage from a church. A pastor should get reasonable health insurance and a retirement of some sort. A pastor should either get a parsonage, a housing allowance, or be paid enough to have housing. If a church cannot manage such things, it should think of closing and joining another church.

Next Week: Pastor as Leader 38: Budgeting

[1] This patron-client system arguably is the key cultural background for understanding grace and spiritual gift language in the New Testament. Grace was the propensity to give to others disproportionately to what they might give back in return. It would be wrong to think, however, that one might not play a role in getting that grace or that there were never any informal expectations of how you might respond. We would be wrong, therefore, to assume that grace in the New Testament was unconditional.

Leadership in General
Strategic Planning
Church Management
Conflict Management
Church Administration

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Detroit's Resurgence

I was privileged to visit Detroit this weekend and learn from a well-known pastor/team there with an important ministry in the city. I left with a complex mixture of emotions and thoughts.

1. First, the city really is in a process of being fantastically reborn. The downtown is already quite transformed by the owner of Quicken Loans. A new Pistons and Redwings stadium is being built. I wouldn't be able to afford some of the apartments that are either going up or being restored. Downtown areas that were a definite no-go five years ago are being transformed.

Thank the Lord the emergency manager of the city under bankruptcy wasn't able to sell off Detroit's art and other cultural landmarks. It's all coming back.

I heard that bankruptcy saved the city because it allowed the city to get out of the corrupt contracts that corrupt mayors and city officials had made. As one person said, government isn't bad--it's really essential. What's bad is bad government. What's bad is corrupt government. What's bad is bad government without accountability. Good government is spectacular. [1]

2. Midtown just to the north is also in the process of rebirth. From downtown to Wayne State has been and is being dramatically transformed. That is where our Wesleyan work is located.

In the middle of this rebirth is a need for ministry to those displaced by the past and being further displaced by the revitalization wave of the city. I was thinking of the Parable of the Lost Sheep today. If one out of 99 sheep is lost, the Christ-follower is charged to find that one sheep.

I believe that much of America--including in the church--has become Nietzschean. The Nietzschean insists that lost sheep must be discarded because they are a waste of resources or worse. The darker forces of the world might even try to eliminate them. This simply isn't a Christian perspective. There may be a point where that makes us the enemy, because we are charged to save the discarded, to love the "enemy."

3. Although Detroit is becoming safer and safer, it still bears the horrible scars of its past. The east side is empty block after empty block where once there were tightly packed rows of houses. At its worse there was horrible violence here. I kept thinking of the Walking Dead. There has been some spiritual warfare waged.

In Northend, above Midtown, block after block is in the process of slow restoration. There is one place with a street of mansions. Then one side of the next block is restored. Then the other side of that block has empty houses with vacant windows and doors. Each year has made a dramatic difference.

There is a lot of urban farming going on in neighborhoods where young people are slowly restoring things. There are neighborhoods being restored by Christian non-profits and others. Corner grocery stores are opening. Parks are rising. Basketball courts are newly in play.

Birwood wall
4. As you head toward seven and eight miles north of the center, you see the scars of past racial divides. The Birwood wall was constructed in the 50s to mark off a white area from black, so that whites could get loans to build houses. The Civil Rights Act of 1967 at least tried to put an end to such nonsense.

But what had become quiet racism is resurfacing with a vengeance in the current climate. There will be more conflict ahead as the wave of restoration sweeps the displaced into the counties north of Detroit, where white supremacy is alive and well. Some moved north when they were forced to let African-Americans live on the east side of the Birwood wall.

5. Many different feelings. "Everyone looks out for their own interests" (Phil. 2:21). The powerful get what they can and don't seem to care about the rest. It seems like a lot of people are now in jail for corruption, people who were supposed to be looking after schools and the city. The marginalized either are "disappeared" or self-destruct or kill each other. "Law and order" becomes a law unto itself.

6. Then there's Dearborn. Quite safe for "Americans," but a city almost completely made up of Muslim refugees. Sunni Yemenis in the south, where the Ford plant is. Shia Iraqis and Lebanese in the east. Hamtramck is similarly a first port of entry. They all matter to God. But they don't matter to each other and America considers them the enemy (although many of them love America intensely).

It remains to be seen what they will become. And the church is having virtually no impact on them.

As Pastor Mick Veach has often quoted, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field" (Matt. 9:37-38).

[1] Imagine a place where there are no street lights and no trash pick-up. Imagine no mailmen. Imagine having to pass a test in the eighth grade to have any shot at a high school education. This is where Detroit was just a few years ago.