Thursday, December 18, 2014

Save Your W(h)ine for Communion

Several people in my social media circles linked to a post by Thom Rainier, One Sentence That Pastors and Church Staff Hate to Hear. Here is the opening.

The moment they hear it, they feel the “cringe factor” throughout their body. Even as the first few words are spoken, the recipient feels his or her emotions plummeting. It is the one sentence that is uniformly dreaded by pastors and church staff. It typically begins with these words:

“People are saying that . . . “

The full sentence could say; “People are saying that you don’t visit enough.” Another example is: “People are saying that our student ministry is not doing well.” Or one more example is: “People are saying that you don’t have good office hours.”

The sentence might specify a group while maintaining anonymity for the individuals: “Some elders are not happy with you” or “A lot of the staff are unhappy.”

You get the point. It could be phrased a number of ways, but the meaning is still similar. “People” is never defined. The true complainer is never identified. It is one of the most frustrating and demoralizing sentences pastors and staff will hear. 

OK I get what he is saying but I don't think the problem is quite as cut and dried as it is being presented. In fact when I read it, the post sounds whiny and vindictive and the message being presented is more "don't critique your pastor at all" rather than "don't do it anonymously".

You can't have it both ways. You can't expect/demand the benefits of the employer-employee relationship (i.e. wages and other compensation) without getting the responsibility of being accountable to your employers. The rest of the church works for a living and pays you to perform certain tasks, tasks you signed up for when you applied for the job. As your employer,  the local church has the right and probably the responsibility to treat you fairly as an employee because that is what you asked to be, no matter what pious language you associated with it ("I feel called...."). In any employment relationship that is going to include performance reviews and critique of your work.

If I am doing substandard work or make a serious error at my job, I expect my employer to promptly and openly provide me feedback and corrective action, even if it is hard to hear sometimes. You can't do that in the religious employment setting though because it is impolite and perhaps even blasphemous. The employer-employee relationship is muddled in religious circles because people are not supposed to be critical of their employees, i.e. clergy and staff. This leads to a situation where an employee is not addressed by his employer with critical feedback because he is a "man of God" and above reproach. Instead of an open system of feedback on job performance (and make no mistake, it is a job), you get the behind the scenes whispering that often leads to sudden turmoil and firing because the very system itself serves to force employment feedback into the background.

But isn't it, to use Rainer's term that he repeats over and over, cowardly to hide behind innuendo when expressing dissatisfaction? Perhaps but again the skewed relationship between employer and employee makes direct feedback problematic. Who wants to be labelled the guy who is always being critical of the pastor in a group of people where many hold their pastor in an almost sacred reverence? Would anyone thank a mere laymen who tells a pastor that his sermon was poorly prepared, poorly delivered and substandard work right after the sermon and then suggests a corrective action plan to avoid more awful sermons in the future? I doubt it but that is what happens in the real world workforce. Why should religious employees be any different?

If you want open feedback from your employer rather than veiled critique, you should solicit it. Even better, stop demanding remuneration for serving in the local church and you go from being an employee back to being a brother. That would be better for everyone.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Another reason to oppose clericalism (hint: it involves donuts)

Check out this interesting graphic from the Wall Street Journal....



It is quite fascinating that clergy are obese at that rate, although from anecdotal evidence and observation I can confirm it. Why is that? It seems that being a pastor is highly sedentary, requires being away from home a lot and is very stressful, all of which adds up to guys getting fat while muching on snacks stressing over the next sermon.

Clericalism is unhealthy for the church, it is often unhealthy for the cleric's family and, as this graphic and other studies show, it is even unhealthy for the clergy themselves.

Monday, December 15, 2014

More adventures in ecclesiastical eisegesis

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another are covenant members of a local church. 
- John 13:35 ICV (Institutional Church Version)

What is it about ecclesiology that makes otherwise sound theologians go off the rails? Jonathan Parnell, writing for Desiring God, wrote a post called The Church on the Fringes that ratchets up the hyperbolic eisegesis to new levels, not even trying to make an argument from Scripture.

(emphasis mine)
Gospel advance in distance and depth means the good news of Jesus penetrates everywhere and all of me — and this is central to who the church is. In fact, it is the church, and only the church, that has been given this mission from God and been molded for it by God. There are simply no substitutes. You will not experience the overcoming power of the gospel in your life without the local church. It will not happen.
According to another sketch from Paul, the church is being built up “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). Which means, if we will be mature in Christ, we must be mature together. We are a body joined together, growing up together in love. For there is no other institution under heaven given among men by which we must be sanctified.
This commitment to maturity is the responsibility of the church corporately, and our responsibility to the church as individuals. Jonathan Leeman writes, “The local church is your highest authority on earth when it comes to your discipleship in Christ and your citizenship in Christ’s present and promised nation” (Church Membership, 25).
The local church is who helps you grow in Christ, and who affirms your identity in Christ. Which means, if you say you are a Christian, but you are not a covenant member of a local church, there is no good way to know that you are legit. Saying you’re a Christian without being part of a local church is, by definition, to be nominal. It means you are claiming the name, but there’s nothing to vouch for it. Someone will say, “You have your local church and I have my personal Christianity.” Show me your personal Christianity apart from the local church; I will show you my personal Christianity by my local church — by the brothers and sisters who see my life up close and know how I’m really doing.
Well there you go. In general I have been trying to stay away from "what is wrong with the institutional church" posts. I am more interested in finding ways to manifest what the church should look like in whatever the setting, using characteristics like we see in the book Simple Church: Unity within Diversity  rather than on features like "meets in a home". However I find public submission like this to be troubling and even dangerous and therefore worth responding to. It serves as a shackle for those who are already entrenched in the membership system, discouraging them from asking inconvenient questions. For those who are outside of the organized religious system it is a slap in the face, proclaiming them to be "nominal Christians" without a shred of evidence and insisting that they are of little use or value to the church, disqualified from so much as proclaiming the Gospel. It is not uncommon to find these sort of sweeping, baseless generalizations when the underlying case is so weak.

What is important to establish is that in sweeping generalizations like this definitions are important. When using the words the "local church", they don't really mean what we see in Scripture. What we see in Scripture is the church made up of all believers in a geographic location. When contemporary religious leaders and thinkers talk about the "local church" they mean a very specific cultural religious manifestation. The definition, roughly speaking, is an organized religious institution that is more or less autonomous, competes for religious influence with other religious institutions in the area and is centered around scheduled, clergy led religious events.

"In fact, it is the church, and only the church, that has been given this mission from God and been molded for it by God."

Well of course, God gave the church the calling to proclaim and preach the Gospel. He certainly doesn't expect unbelievers to do it! What is really being said here seems to be that only organized religion has the official mandate to do preaching and proclaiming. In fact it seems to be suggested that people who are not affiliated with and under the authoritative auspices of a "proper" local church ought not be out preaching the Good News. I have seen this before. That would have come as something of a shock to the apostles as they don't seem to have been church members as understood and practiced by contemporary religious folks. Let me be contrary on this point. If you are a Christian it is your right and your responsibility and your joyous calling to preach Christ and Him crucified and you don't need the permission of a cleric or religious organization to do so.

"You will not experience the overcoming power of the gospel in your life without the local church. It will not happen."

Well that sounds lovely and all but as I pointed out the modern manifestation of "local church" didn't exist in the first century. Did none of them experience the overcoming power of the gospel in their lives? I cannot say this strongly enough. Given how critical "covenant church membership" is to religious organizations it is revealing that this entire system is utterly absent from Scripture. It is not found in example, in command or in inference. Maybe that gives you a clue about how legitimate statements like these are?

"For there is no other institution under heaven given among men by which we must be sanctified."

That is sort of true but only because there are no institutions at all under heaven by which we are sanctified. The local church doesn't sanctify you. Being a member and showing up doesn't sanctify you. The Holy Spirit does.

"The local church is your highest authority on earth when it comes to your discipleship in Christ and your citizenship in Christ’s present and promised nation."

Now that one is dangerous and treads onto the territory of Protestant papist claptrap. Look at those words again instead of glancing over them. What is he saying here? He doesn't define it but the meaning seems clear. Protestant institutional churches and by proxy their clerical leadership are the gatekeepers of access to Christ. I thought we did away with that in the 16th century?

"The local church is who helps you grow in Christ, and who affirms your identity in Christ. "

Well yes and no. The local church should help you grow in Christ but that doesn't mean grow to be a better church member and more faithful attender and giver. It means equipping you for the work of ministry and that is not something the organized church does very well, if at all. As far as affirming my identity in Christ, that is a statement (like others here) that sounds almost Papist, conflating organized religion with Christ Himself. My identity and the identity of every Christian is found in our adoption into Christ and our redemption, not by membership in an organization. It is obvious but it needs to be said, being a "covenant member of a local church" does make you automatically in Christ and not being a "covenant member of a local church" does not exclude you from being in Christ.

"Which means, if you say you are a Christian, but you are not a covenant member of a local church, there is no good way to know that you are legit."

Well once again, let's get away from issues that led to the Reformation in the first place! My legitimacy in Christ has lots of measures in Scripture. None of them have a thing to do with having my name on a membership roll at a religious organization. There are no check-marks in the Lamb's Book of Life next to the names of those who are in "covenant membership in a local church".

"Saying you’re a Christian without being part of a local church is, by definition, to be nominal."

This is the most egregious false claim because it first consigns all Christians, and there are a lot of them, outside of the institutional system into a second-class citizenship in the church, the Western religious equivalent of the Dalit caste of untouchables in India.

Further, it is not a stretch to say that there are far more "nominal" Christians that are members of local churches than there are "nominal" Christians who are not. Taking that yet another a step, based on years of observing religious gatherings I can say without much hesitation that given the general apathy or even indifference I have observed when it comes to service and evangelism, one could say that most people "in church" on a Sunday would qualify as "nominal Christians" and telling them they aren't because they are "members" who show up, shut up and pay up is theological malpractice.

Please, please stop denigrating those who are not in the culturally acceptable model of "church". That is a personal plea. Here is one that I invoke in the name of Christ. Stop telling people that you and the system that pays your salary are the gatekeepers to Christ. You have no right and no authority to make those claims. Maybe you should instead be searching the Scriptures and seeing if what you are so eager to defend actually exists because in many respects it doesn't and never has.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Don't talk to me about theology!

This is high comedy from one of the most dangerous modern wolves around, the execrable Glenn Beck:



I love it. He calls a "big evangelical" and then gets all self-righteous because someone who is an evangelical feels compelled to point out the dangerous and heretical cult Glenn belongs to, a cult that by the way sends out thousands of young men and women to talk to other people about theology. Of course no mention of who it was which sorta makes me wonder if he made it up to make a point. That certainly would be keeping in character with him. His faux outrage was so transparent but it was also very interesting.

"Don't talk to me about theology! Talk to me about God in practice. How can I be a better man? How can I survive today?"

Oddly enough that is exactly why we need to talk about theology. Jesus Christ did not come to make me a "better man" or teach me about how to survive today. He came into the world to declare His Kingdom reign and to bring peace to His enemies by laying down His life.

What troubles me is that an awful lot of actual Christians also say this sort of stuff. Don't talk to me about theology! Talk to me about how to overcome racism or end white privilege or win America back for Jesus or preserve traditional marriage or.....on and on. I get the desire for less talk and more action but unless we do some talking so we know what we are supposed to be acting on we end up wasting a lot of time and effort and money on stuff that doesn't matter or at least are not the most important things.

There are wolves all around us and among us. Glenn Beck is just one of them. There are also lots of well meaning and sincere religious people who don't have a clue what they are talking about because they have never taken the time to wrestle with the tough issues, the big questions. I know that it is a strange mix, a faith that is so simple that it often confounds the wise and makes perfect sense to the the simplest and yet at the same time a faith that demands the whole of our mind to study and comprehend, a lifetime of study mixed with daily application.

Don't be like Glenn Beck, for a lot of reason, but especially here. Don't dismiss as trivial and inconsequential the study of the revealed Word of God. Don't lose the rich heritage of scholarship that has come before. Certainly don't hide in a study and bury your nose in a book all day but do devote time to theology. It is the richest intellectual pastimes around, one that is critical to a healthy church and one we are in desperate need of  today more than ever.

Adventures in Logical Malfeasance

Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world. But just you wait Pilate because one day in a land called America my Kingdom will be manifested when my people become sufficiently politically active and seize the reins of civil power!" John 18:36 CNV (Contemporary Theonomy Version)

Doug Wilson has himself in something of a tizzy over the rather sudden if predictable and (in my eyes) proper groundswell of Christian leaders who are advocating a sudden divorce from Caesar over the issue of marriage, in essence taking our religious seal of approval and going home. This is somewhat awkward given Doug's apparent love affair with some sort of weird postmillenial theonomy or whatever he calls it where Christians who fail to be sufficiently activist in politics are letting down the team or something. Now Doug is a pretty bright guy and says some pretty deep and correct stuff on many occassions but on a regular basis goes completely off the rails. His post, TheYarn in the Public Sweater, is an example of the latter. Apparently even a guy who advocates stridently for smaller government and rails against the government in general simultaneously sees political libertarianism as a philosophy to be an existential threat and a forbidden system of thought for any real, red-blooded Christian. I thought I would do a little dissection of some choice sections for my amusement and yours. This is gonna be a long one....let's get started.

" So that which is a distinctively Christian political theory (i.e. a theocratic approach) resembles libertarianism in a number of striking ways. "

So the only possible distinctively Christian political theory is a theocratic one. That particular model of civil government has worked out pretty well in the past, hasn't it? As a reminder, here is a quick definition from our friends at Wiktionary on the word theocracy:

theocracy (plural theocracies)
  1. Government under the control of a state-sponsored religion.
  2. Rule by a god
As an interesting side note: " theo- +‎ -cracy, originally from Ancient Greek θεοκρατία (theokratía, “rule of (a) God”), a term coined in the 1st century by Josephus (Against Apion 2.17) in reference to the kingdom of Israel."

So having a theocracy means either direct rule by God (assuming monotheism) or a government run by a state-sponsored religion. The first (and only) example occurred in ancient Israel under the Old Covenant with kings and prophets through whom God directly directed the affairs of His people. Of course Hebrews 1: 1-2 speaks of the office of prophet as God's chosen spokesmen in the past tense and I have found that any contemporary religious figure who claims a unique prophetic authority and mantle to speak for God to universally be a crank, crackpot, heretic or some combination thereof. So that leaves us with government under the control of a state sponsored religion. Now we have a new problem: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ". Oopsie. There is also part deux of the problem, namely that theocracy even in Israel didn't exactly turn out well as a theocracy made up of believers and unbelievers inevitably went haywire, something that subsequent attempts at theocracy have substantiated.

"In other words, a consistent Christian political theory is not libertarian, but it will in fact be accused by statists (including those Christians compromised by the idolatries of statism) of being libertarian. Just as a preacher who preaches free grace will never be antinomian, so a Christian political theorist will never be an anarchist or a libertarian. But it is equally true that any preacher worth his salt who preaches free grace will be accused of antinomianism (Rom. 6:1). It is the same kind of thing here."

So Christian political theory (a confusing and problematic term in and of itself) looks like libertarianism, talks like libertarianism, is often mistaken for libertarianism and indeed will be accused of being libertarianism but it of course never can be libertarianism because....marriage and divorce. Confused yet? If you aren't, you aren't paying attention. Keep going....

"So for the Christian political theorist, the integration point of all things is Jesus Christ Himself (Col. 1:18). Christ is the center, and must be the center. He cannot be the one before whom every knee bows and every tongue confesses, while at the same time being kept in the shadows. He is the integration point of all things, and cannot be the secret integration point. We must confess Christ, and we must do so in our collective capacity as a civil order. The Great Commission said to disciple all the nations, and this includes the Americans."

We are sorta OK here up to the point where Wilson assumes the false dichotomy of either subscribing to theocracy or keeping Christ in the shadows. Is there no other way? Preaching Christ to the lost, feeding the poor, visiting the widow, caring for the orphan, loving our brother. Are all of these only possible or only legitimate or even more likely in a theocracy? Hardly. I mean this line: "We must confess Christ, and we must do so in our collective capacity as a civil order." is so divorced from any Biblical foundation that is boggles the mind that someone who studies as seriously as Wilson can think it does.

I am going to skip the middle but feel free to read it because once again Wilson seems to base his argument on why the church needs to stay in the civil marriage business because we need to have someone to force the parties in divorce to do so amicably and to use the sword to make deadbeat dads pay child-support. No, I am being serious, go ahead and read it. Maybe it is just too intellectually high-falutin' for a fella from Indiana or maybe it is just a dumb argument. I did want to point out one part here that I found interesting, although the example of an ex-husband who won't leave the house and who should make him just weird ( emphasis mine):

"The answer ought not to be friends and family of the ex-wife, because that would be spiraling downward into tribalism. He has friends and family also, and they have guns too. The answer ought not to be the church, because the church is not authorized by Christ to use force. When force is necessary, the civil magistrate is the one who bears the sword, and he bears the sword so that recalcitrant ex-husbands will agree to leave the house (Rom. 13:4)."

Quite right at least in that one part, the church is not authorized to use force and bear the sword. I wish he would flesh that out because the thing about a theocracy is that in order to keep the heathen in line, the church (which is the state and vice versa) by definition will have to use the sword and that is forbidden so we have a quandary don't we? If the church and state are one then the state is necessarily taking on those things that are reserved for the church and the church is taking on things that are reserved for the state and in fact are forbidden for the church. This is a glaring logical conundrum that he just skips over. We continue.....

"But coercion is always a big deal, and those who are entrusted with coercive powers must always be required to use those powers of coercion sparingly and justly."

Sure. But. Show me an example anywhere, anytime in human history when this has occurred at any scale. Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely and all of that. Here we see the continuation of Wilson's enormous logical conundrum. How do we have a government composed of nothing but Christians in a mixed society that is at the same time a free one? Will not those who are not Christians inherently be less free? More....

"A free republic, with every man under his own fig tree, is not going to come until a free republic arises in the hearts of the citizenry. And that means Jesus. A free society will be one where the populace streams to churches every Lord’s Day in order to worship the Father, through Jesus, in the power of the Spirit. In big cities, there will be extra traffic helicopters out, telling the Presbyterians that they had better take Exit 28A if they want to make it on time."

Guess what Doug, that is never going to happen and even in times and places when everyone did "go to church" it was hardly a just and equitable society. In fact throughout much of Western civilization up until recent time people were compelled by force or by cultural pressure (blue laws, etc.) to "stream to church every Lord's Day" while during the rest of  the week going to war with other people who also "stream to church every Lord's Day" or enslaving people for profit or persecuting those who dared dissent from the cultural religious orthodoxy. Notice we have that use of coercion again and it was abusive and counter-productive. See a pattern here?

"More discussion is needed on this last point, I understand, but I trust the marriage issue is settled (at least for Christians)."

Well there we have it again. Doug has declared from his Protestant seat of Peter in Idaho what the only possible Christian response can be. All that remains now is to kiss his ring. Sorry to say but like many men before me I am afraid that I don't render the required obsequiousness to Doug on this matter. So that was snarky but wow what a pompous statement to make in closing an incredibly weak argument with holes in his logic you could fly a zeppelin through sideways.

All snarkiness aside, this sort of religious political eisegesis combined with sweeping generalizations and thinly veiled accusations is a serious distraction to the mission of the church which has nothing to do with seizing power and forcing the unregenerate to act like they are regenerate. To argue that the most compelling reason for the church to continue to serve as an agent of Caesar in officiating civil marriage is that we need someone to bring down the hammer when couples split and we aren't able to do it is the weakest argument I have come across on any topic in a very long time. More thoughts.....

In Romans 12 and 13 we have two sides of the same coin at play. On one side we have the church, called to be peacemakers who do not seek vengeance and leave the resolution of injustice to the Lord, overcoming evil not by conquering evil and bending it to do our will but by overcoming evil with good. On the other we have a call to submit to Caesar who has received authority from God including the authority to use the sword. It is important to note for the ten thousandth time what is not found in Romans 13. One, there is no call for Christians to cooperate and participate with Caesar, just to submit to and not rebel against him even when that would be the natural response. In fact history has taught us the painful lesson that it is nigh impossible and certainly unwise for the church to try to cooperate with Caesar, a far more pertinent application of 2 Corinthians 6:14 than marrying unbelievers (which is also unwise and for the same reason as the church trying to be buddies with Caesar). Second, there is not a clause in Romans 13 implying that it only applies when the Caesar or Caesar-esque stand-in is a just one. You cannot divorce the reading of Romans 13 with the setting and audience of Romans 13. It was not written for, at least not exclusively for, Americans living in the 1950's where everyone went to church and was nice to each other (except blacks but we don't talk about that). It was written to the church in Rome under the rule of Caesar, an oppressive government where public crucifixions were part of the criminal justice system. There would arguably not be an even semi-just, liberal (in the classical sense, not the modern theft funded state that murders babies sense) Caesar/state for more than a millennium so if the assumed clause was there most of the church would have missed it for a long time.

The sort of theocratic society Doug pines for and in turn lambastes others for not embracing has not and never will exist on this side of the Resurrection and Judgment precisely because the only One who could make that happen, Christ Jesus the Lord, has not ordained it to be so. It is amazing that people who talk so glowingly of sovereignty when it comes to soteriology in the abstract seem to be practical Arminians when it comes to social issues. God helps those who help themselves go to the ballot box and etc. I trust that God's will is being done even with a miscreant and wannabe tyrant like our current President in the Oval Office. God handles the "big picture", we are called to the simpler tasks because we are barely capable of doing those and generally have failed anyway.

Jesus taught that His Kingdom was not of this world, that His people are strangers and sojourners in this world, that we are citizens of His Kingdom and ambassadors to the unbelieving world, that we are wheat among the tares. It is a tension to be sure but a necessary and intentional one. Had Christ chosen to do so He could have come in power and ruled the world by force, either in Person or through a designated mediatorial ruler. Instead He founded His church among the outcasts, the powerless, the foolish of the world. We should not ignore that inconvenient setting as a historical anomaly but rather as a very intentional act on the part of God.

We do not have, never have had and never will have the numbers to live in an idyllic Christian theocracy and that is kind of the point. We operate in the Gospel from a stance of weakness, of foolishness. We represent Christ not by standing in the halls of power but by kneeling at the feet of others, not with the sword or the Presidential pen but with the towel and basin. Paul taught it well when he wrote:

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12:9-10)

It is nigh impossible to reconcile calls for seizing earthly power in a misguided and doomed desire to coerce what Christ alone can provide. If we are strongest when we are weak then it follows that the opposite is true and we are weakest when we think we are strong. Wilson's argument fails in the same way that a lot of libertarian thought fails, namely that it operates in a theoretical model divorced from messy reality. The difference is that when Doug Wilson makes his claims he drags the church into it and in doing so threatens to distract an already highly distracted church from our actual mission which has nothing to do with being yoked to Caesar so he will pummel dead beat dads. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

By the grace of God we can raise $2.2 million to support our radio show and webpage!

Ok, every year about this time I get the same emails and I post the same posts. So yeah it is repetitive but it needs to be pointed out again and again. And yeah it is usually Ligonier that I poke at because they have the most outrageous requests. So in my email today ( you might need to click the picture to see it clearly)....



$2,252,894.

That's a lotta moolah.

I am all for solid Biblical teaching and I think that R.C. Sproul and company provide a lot of great content. I also understand that there is a cost to a ministry, if you want to call Ligonier that. But 2.2 million dollars? A ministry that I support as I can that I will not name here to avoid linking them with my snarkiness reported revenue of less than 20% of what Dr. Sproul is asking for to meet Ligonier's year end need. With those funds they provided housing, food, education and medical care to a ton of orphans. Is that a less pressing, less Christ-honoring need than an audio-visual teaching service?

Anyway, enough of that. I just had to vent a bit. Feel free to send money to Ligonier, better there than Joel Osteen or Benny Hinn and we do need more solid teaching in the church but as for me my extra money will go to orphans.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Real Cost of Higher Indoctrination

I have been pretty vocal about my general disdain for "higher education" in this country. A lot of my concern has focused on the cost of a college degree. The other side of my general disgust with the university system in America is that what it is providing and producing is a farce, the very opposite of what it claims (open-minded, broadly educated, critical thinking graduates).

Even 20 years ago when I was in college it was a laughable enterprise, the classes were incredibly easy and the students by and large were not noticeably more intelligent than the general populace, concerned mostly with getting wasted the next weekend. I can say without a hint of hyperbole that the only thing I got out of my B.A. is a gateway to my first few professional jobs that required a 4-year degree just because that is what H.R./recruiting types seem to think you need. I have met quite a few people in my career without a 4-year degree who are bright, competent hard-working people and I have met a TON of people with a degree that couldn't reason  their way out of an overturned laundry basket.

Things have gotten worse in the intervening two decades. Much worse. While political correctness was pretty rampant when I was in school, it has degenerated to unimaginable levels in our current environment. It is not a stretch to say that the only apparent purpose in the institutions of "higher education" today is to inculcate a particular, decidedly illiberal, leftist worldview on students.

Exhibit A, students at Columbia Law School are being allowed to delay final exams because they just can't handle the news these days,

Columbia Law School has agreed to delay final exams for students who face "trauma" and disillusionment following two recent, racially-charged cases in which grand juries declined to indict white police officers in the deaths of unarmed black men. And now, students at Harvard and Georgetown want the same dispensation, also saying they just can't face their tests in the wake of the grand jury decisions in Missouri and New York.

"For some law students, particularly, though not only, students of color, this chain of events is all the more profound as it threatens to undermine a sense that the law is a fundamental pillar of society to protect fairness, due process and equality," Robert E. Scott, Columbia's interim dean, told the school in an email Saturday.

Poor dears. Practicing law is such a low stress job, I am sure that this will help prepare them for a career in law.

Exhibit B, the President of Smith College is forced to apologize for saying that "all lives matter". Why is that a problem? Well apparently she was unaware that saying that cheapens the critical hashtag campaign of #blacklivesmatter.

The Daily Hampshire Gazette, which first covered the story, quoted one Smith sophomore, Cecelia Lim, as saying, “it felt like she was invalidating the experience of black lives.”

In response to student backlash, McCartney apologized in another campus-wide email Friday, saying she had made a mistake “despite my best intentions.” 

She wrote that the problem with the phrase lay in how others had used it.

“I regret that I was unaware the phrase/hashtag “all lives matter” has been used by some to draw attention away from the focus on institutional violence against Black people,” she wrote.

In her apology e-mail, McCartney also shared some of the student emails she received.

She quoted one student as saying: “It minimizes the anti-blackness of this the current situation; yes, all lives matter, but not all lives are being targeted for police brutality. The black students at this school deserve to have their specific struggles and pain recognized, not dissolved into the larger student body."

So all lives sort of matter but the only ones we can talk about on campus, where of course we explore all points of view, are black lives because those are the ones that get the most political capital. We are deep in the PC fever swamp when saying all lives matter gets you into trouble.

Exhibit C, George Will is going to be one of the commencement speakers at Michigan State University. Turns out that his politically incorrect statements on the golden calf of "campus rape" is expected to draw more than 700 protesters. Now I am not sure how you gauhe the number of protesters beforehand (kinda like the 'Million Man March') but hey it makes for good press.

"It makes me really, really sad to call myself a Spartan, to even feel I belong to this institution," said Emily Kollaritsch, a senior and one of the organizers of Wednesday's rally. "He might have his opinion, but for the university to affiliate with him is another story. They are affiliating with a rape apologist."
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One faculty member, Assistant Sociology Professor Stephanie Nawyn, said his appearance sends a bad message in light of an ongoing federal investigation into MSU's handling of sexual assault cases. The Department of Education has two open Title IX compliance cases against MSU for assault reports made in July 2011 and February this year.

"I am concerned, as are other faculty, that bringing an individual to our campus that has publicly invalidated and dismissed the traumatic experiences that some of our graduates have had sends an inaccurate message to our students," Nawyn said in an email. "Will is not just giving a speech; he is part of one of the biggest days of our graduates' lives, and I want that day to include messages that the Spartan community respects and treasures all of our students."

Nawyn is among a group of faculty who are organizing a second or alternate alternative graduation ceremony for students who are not comfortable sitting through Will's appearance. Details of the ceremony were not yet finalized as of Tuesday afternoon.

Curse you George Will! You are making poor Emily Kollaritsch sad! Really, really sad no less! The last thing we want at the commencement address of kids who have received four years of learning to be open-minded is a viewpoint that makes them uncomfortable or might cause them to ask questions.

Then there is the granddaddy of them all (oh sorry, that was probably an overly patriarchal expression), the Rolling Stone debacle where a "journalist" was apparently fishing for the worst rape story they could come up and found a real dozy at the University of Virginia. Except that it turns out to not be exactly true. That doesn't matter though because the "rape culture" narrative is all that is important. Check this out, in the Washington Post no less, from Zerlina Maxwell.

In important ways, this is wrong. We should believe, as a matter of default, what an accuser says. Ultimately, the costs of wrongly disbelieving a survivor far outweigh the costs of calling someone a rapist. Even if Jackie fabricated her account, U-Va. should have taken her word for it during the period while they endeavored to prove or disprove the accusation. This is not a legal argument about what standards we should use in the courts; it’s a moral one, about what happens outside the legal system.

Weird, because I thought we had a presumption of innocence until guilt is proved. If I say that Ms. Maxell stole my car even though she has never been within 500 miles of it, we should assume I am correct. Facts don't matter, the narrative does. What is really interesting is that the title of the story changed. It now reads: No matter what Jackie said, we should generally believe rape claims but look at the hyperlink which doesn't change when the title does: http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/12/06/no-matter-what-jackie-said-we-should-automatically-believe-rape-claims/ The key word that changed is AUTOMATICALLY. Her original title was changed and this is documented but I don't think for a second that what she believes has changed. A charge of rape should automatically be believed. No facts, no evidence. Rape, which is a horrific crime, has been reduced to a tool to push a political agenda and all that matter is the agenda. It doesn't matter that false accusations damage the credibility of other, actual, rape victims. It only matters that the agenda is advanced, Jonah Goldberg at National Review does a good job of dissecting this whole fiasco as a smokescreen for an expansion of Title IX i nhis article The Feminist Power Grab.

Here is the moral of this story. Send your kids to trade school so they can learn something that will get them a decent job and encourage them to read books on their own, lots of books by lots of different people with different opinions. If they do go to a 4 year school stay away from the "elite" schools and stick to smaller local schools and for crying out loud steer way clear of the "liberal arts". If you are going to invest that kind of money and time at least come out with a degree that will lead to employment. There is no point in spending tens of thousands of dollars and years of your life to be force-fed leftist dogma in an environment where contrary views, even those held by the vast majority of Americans, are forbidden.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock: On Being "Late To Church"

This morning I was out driving some Amish friends to their church gathering that was fairly far from home. While the Amish technically gather in homes, the amount of preparation, expense and fretting that go into getting ready for church is incredible and makes it seem like an onerous obligation more than a joyful gathering. More on that maybe on a different day.

Anyway, as we drove there and I drove back I passed a ton of cars rushing around full of families in their Sunday best, hurrying to get to church on time so they wouldn't be late. It is hard to blame them. As a large family that often was running behind I know all too well the awkward feeling of walking into the sanctuary once the service has started. People maybe don't mean to (and maybe they do) but if you walk in late people are going to turn and look at you, you are going to feel awkward trying to find a pew with space and it is all around uncomfortable. Is that how our gatherings should be?

I was thinking about family get togethers. Now my family doesn't do much of this, in fact I can't remember the last time extended family got together, but my wife's family does this all the time, aunts and uncles and cousins and lots of people that I have no idea who they might be, all gathering together. Lots of eating and talking and laughing. Usually the invite has a start time and is open-ended as to the end time (2 until ???). If the get-together starts at 2, you aren't really expected to show up at 2. Maybe you do or maybe you come a little early. Maybe you come at 2:30 or 3:00 or 5:00. People aren't going to be interrupted and stare if you show up at 3 instead of 2, they will welcome you and tell you to grab a plate. What is important is not that you arrive at a specific time but that you came. A family gathering is not about schedules, it is about being with the people you love (and sometimes are irritated with!).

Now think about going to a movie or even a theater production. If you have ever been to a movie theater you know that people coming in late are a distraction from the show. They stand on the stairs whispering and pointing, trying to find somewhere to sit. When they open the door light comes in to the theater. It is irritating because everyone else paid good money for admission and got to their seats on time. No one talks or at least they are not supposed to because everyone is focused on what is on the screen. Heck for theater productions they often won't even let people in after the show starts to prevent latecomers from disturbing the show. I would rather get to the theater early and have to wait than show up a minute late. While not true for movies, it certainly is the case for certain theater performances and concerts that a certain dress is required. One ought not show up for a symphony wearing sweatpants and a Batman t-shirt.

So think about church as we culturally practice it. People dress up and plan their morning around when they need to leave. They rush to arrive and get themselves in place, kids often sent off to "children's church" so they don't distract anyone, kids in many church being the religious equivalent of cell phone that need to be turned off so they don't make any noise. Everyone sits mostly still and silent and focuses on the stage. The paid or at least carefully selected performers, picked because they speak well or can sing better than others, lead the performance worship. We show up on time and then rush for the exits to get a jump on the crowds leaving.

Does that sound like a family gathering or a theatrical performance?

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Our Pro-Life Blinders

Tim Challies linked to an article, You're Not Really Pro-Life Unless..., that quotes a book where the author chastises those who ask why the pro-life movement is so narrowly focused on just abortion when there are other ills in the world. His response is typical and includes the usual labeling of the argument as being liberal (because only liberals care about life outside of the womb apparently) and a loutish complaint about scare resources. Malarkey. It is not just a lack of tangible action, it is all too often an utter lack of concern or even a tortured position where one weeps over murdered babies in the womb but demands preemptive military action around the world to defend our "freedom".

If being "pro-life" for you means being anti-abortion and a concern for little else when it comes to the loss of life for innocent (or even not so innocent) image bearers of God, your concern for unborn children is laudable but your understanding of the sanctity of life is woefully underdeveloped. I don't oppose abortion because I think killing unborn children is wrong (although I do and it is). I oppose abortion because Scripture teaches me that all human life is made in the image of God. While I have a special loathing of infanticide as a act of violence inflicted on the most vulnerable of God's image bearers in the one place in the world that they should be cared for and comforted in a way never to be duplicated, that does not give me a free pass to ignore the other unjust killing of my fellow image bearers just because they have a different skin color, a different passport, a different language or are part of a different faith.

Being pro-life is not less than being anti-abortion but it certainly is more than that. Our life witness to the world is incomplete and hypocritical and even if we refuse to see this by closing our eyes, hands over our ears and chanting "liberals!", the very people that we hope to and must influence see right through it. Even more so, Christ sees through it when we pray to end abortion on Sunday and vote to send more children to their death on Tuesday. All human life is precious and deserving of justice from the unborn child in Boston to an unarmed 12 year old gunned down by police in Cleveland to the elderly woman in Afghanistan killed as collateral damage in a drone strike to the teen in Syria killed in the civil war we meddle in. We cannot ignore the unjust taking of life no matter where it happens if we claim to be pro-life and follow the Prince of Peace.

Friday, December 05, 2014

A Taste Of Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity

Here is a little taste of what can be found in Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity, taken from my chapter on A Church That Is Composed of Peacemakers:

What exactly does it mean to be a “peacemaker”? The Scriptures,
taken as a unified whole, give us a far more comprehensive
vision of peacemaking that goes beyond “Don’t shoot
people or beat them up.” The vision for the Church as a
community of peacemakers is nothing less than a living out
of the Gospel: loving our enemies; service as the highest calling;
humility, love, and self-denial as the most precious attributes;
counting others as more important than ourselves.
All of these notions run completely counter to our prevailing
culture. More often than not the Church reflects the “me first”
attitude of the culture rather than the “enemy love” attitude of
Christ. Setting aside our own safety, preferences, and wants
in favor of others is an otherworldly manifestation of the as
yet to be culminated rebirth of all things under the direct eternal
reign of Christ. Something so supernatural can only result 
from the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit.

Pretty good stuff right? Maybe not but I kinda liked it. The book is chock full of excellent writing and you ought to check it out whether you are into "simple church" or not because it really gets at some of the most fundamental questions of what it means to be the church and how we live as the church. Buy your copy at Amazon!

Thursday, December 04, 2014

How The Government Can Get It Wrong Even When It Is Right

In the wake of the Ferguson decision to not indict a police officer for killing an unarmed black man who apparently was attacking the officer there has been a call for more police body cameras. The incident in Ferguson took a very long time to resolve in part because the grand jury had to sift through the varied and often conflicting witness testimony, including testimony that was clearly made up and outright false statements to the police. Some of these false witnesses, who should face prosecution, made statements that helped inflame the violent unrest in Ferguson, Missourri. Certainly there would still have been outrage had the officer in question been wearing a body camera but perhaps we wouldn't get the ridiculous "hands up, don't shoot" stuff or the level of lawlessness and violence. 

The President has subsequently called for $75 million to help buy 50,000 cameras for local cops. That seems like a good idea, right? Well no, not really.

I am actually in favor of body cameras for police for a lot of reasons. It helps in incidents where there is a question of the extent of force used by police. It keeps an eye on the people we pay and that we arm, perhaps giving them pause before acting in the heat of the moment, and that is always a good idea. It can serve as credible evidence at trial. It can also help to establish the innocence of those wrongly arrested. All of that aside what I don't like about this is that it is the Federal government getting involved.

Policing is supposed to be almost exclusively a local issue. Local cops who live in their community, hired locally by local leaders. The more we have Federalized policing, the worse it has become. The arming of local cops with military weapons is the result of a Federal program. The raids on peaceful farmers for selling raw milk are Federal. The zillions of Federal drug laws designed to let national politicians look "tough on crime" are an overreach and encroachment on local autonomy. When the Feds come in and decide to spend money we don't have as a gesture when that spending should be decided and allocated at the local level, it simply reinforces the top down Federal dominance that is completely at odds with the intent of the Constitution.

This is the same mindset that we will see in Federal "civil rights" investigations that will surely follow the failure to indict in Ferguson and in the Eric Garner case in New York. Very different cases by the way. The message is that Uncle Sam will pat local governments on the head and let them pretend to have a say in law enforcement but as soon as the Feds don't agree with a decision they can step in and reverse course, functionally creating a double jeopardy situation where citizens apparently can be tried for the same crime as many times as needed until a politically palatable decision is reached.

Sure it is "only" $75,000,000. That is a pittance and less than $.50 per person in America. Sure it is probably a good idea for more cops to wear body cameras. What makes it a bad idea is that it reinforces the notion that every decision has to come from Washington D.C. and that we are no longer governed by our consent but by decree from D.C. Maybe if the Feds stopped sucking up a huge percentage of GDP and the lion's share of tax revenue local police departments could make procurement decisions for themselves. 

So President Obama, thanks but no thanks. I appreciate your attempts to pander to the crowd by appearing to "do something" but if you really want to do something how about staying out of local law enforcement, stop offering to buy them goodies and stop giving local cops tanks and machine guns. Thanks in advance. 

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Brady Hoke and the Win At All Costs Culture

I pay very little attention to sports these days, a marked difference from the days when watching sports, talking sports, engaging in fantasy sports, etc. dominated my thoughts. I still keep an eye on the teams I used to follow, especially the University of Michigan which has been in a free-fall for the last few years, culminating in the firing of Brady Hoke after yet another loss to Ohio State. Mitch Albom wrote a piece on the firing of Hoke for the Detroit Free Press and said something very troubling.

A news conference was held Tuesday afternoon, three days after the final game of U-M's season, a bad loss to Ohio State. Here's what we learned that we already knew: that Hoke is a good man, that he is a classy man, that he instilled important values.

And that he lost too many football games.

Hoke is a great guy and instilled important value, often to young men who haven't heard these values taught anywhere else. None of that matters because Michigan didn't win enough. That is what is wrong what is wrong with sports in general and college football in particular. It is in large part why I don't watch sports anymore and barely follow them outside of social media, and why I am seriously concerned about the impact of sports on our culture.

We pay lip-service to the "values" that sports are supposed to instill in young men and women. That idea is a farce. In sports at virtually every level the bottom line is the bottom line. Just win baby. We don't care what kind of person an athlete or coach is as long as they win games. Tim Tebow, overt religion aside, is out of the NFL because even though he appears to be a great guy and role model, he doesn't win enough. Meanwhile the professional sports leagues are full of guys who are out and out criminals, drug users and cheats, serial fornicators and violence prone modern gladiators who exist to amuse us. All we care about is winning and there is so much money involved that there are always going to be those who will look the other way at malfeasance because a player can knock down three pointers or hits quarterbacks like a freight train or shoots ten under par.

Win no matter what. It doesn't matter if they guys who graduate (or don't, who cares) are borderline animals as long as the alumni are happy. It doesn't matter if athletes are crippled later in life because they destroyed their bodies for our entertainment or if they are so messed up from concussions and steroids that they take their own lives. All that matters is the "W" instead of the "L". These aren't values we should cherish nor are they values when should accept even while making pious noises about the importance of "values". They certainly are not values we should want to pass on to our kids and doubly so for those who take the name of Christ.

I know Brady Hoke had to go, he was clearly over his head at Michigan and losing to Ohio State year after year is not going to get it done. I also know that he is probably a pretty decent guy and coach and will get another job. Likewise Michigan will hire a big name coach and is more likely than ever to hire someone with a dubious ethics as long as they win. More than anything I know that we need to talk about the hold that sports has on our society and culture, especially in the church. The values that are really dominant in sports are not the values we should teach our kids but until the money dries up little is going to change.

Good luck Brady, I wish you well.