Saturday, August 01, 2009
Friday, July 31, 2009
Rev. Magazine posted an interesting interview this morning with Leland Eliason, the provost at Bethel Seminary about the relvancy of today's seminaries. They deal with some sensitive subjects; like the changing culture of the church and the seemingly unchanging culture at many of the nation's seminaries; the number of prominent, growing churches that are pastored by non-seminary trained pastors,...I have a slightly different view on this. When it comes to higher education, learning is not what education is about. Learning is easy. I barely attended class in graduate school. Read on my own and showed up for tests or other evaluative exercises. Nope, higher education is about apprenticeship and gatekeeping.
So… pastors that do well over the long haul without seminary training are just really self-motivated. I can buy that totally. I know some of them, and this motivation and the appetite for learning and having a great mentor is a quality that each and every one of them has.
Seminary then, is for the people who don’t have the motivation, structure, or discipline to make it happen? Is that really what he meant to say, or am I reading it differently?
The true value he does say that seminary gives is the perspective of church history. I would agree… but this could also be just as easily learned through self study and motivation, could it not?
What’s your take? Is seminary still invaluable? Are the teaching young pastors what they need to know to be effective in local ministry?
If seminaries are fading into irrelevance, then it is because they are failing at that function. They are educating, but not preparing, they building student bodies instead of building pastors.
And this is a huge problem for the church. If, and this is a gigantic if, a church staff served apprentice functions then maybe we could get by without something like a seminary, but most church staffs I know, the younger people are just cannon fodder. The senior staff uses them for labor, and if, God forbid, something goes wrong, they are disposable and blamable so that senior staff can keep right on going.
It seems our choices in pastoral formation are over-educated academics with no leadership skills, or self-centered survivors, skilled at building the church, but not disciples. Not a pretty picture.
I personally think the solution needs to start in the congregations. If took seriously what it means to be lay leadership, then maybe, just maybe, staff would have to improve.
Friday Humor - Low Brow Edition
relatedly: read this
Thursday, July 30, 2009
David Brooks has recently proclaimed the end of philosophy—moral philosophy, anyway (“The End of Philosophy, The New York Times, April 7, 2009). Exploring some of the recent research in neuro- and cognitive science, Brooks argues that the best scientific understanding of moral decision-making and action increasingly suggest that the classic “philosophical” picture of moral thinking as simply a matter of reason and deliberation is a wild fantasy. When we act, reason does not coolly deliberate the facts, and recommend the rational course of action. Rather Brooks suggests that, quoting the University of Virginia psychologist, Jonathon Haidt, “The emotions are, in fact, in charge of the temple of morality, and ... moral reasoning is really just a servant masquerading as a high priest.” This line of thought is, of course, philosophical. Haidt’s quote is a paraphrase of the Scottish Enlightenment philosopher, David Hume’s famous dictum, “Reason is and ought only to be the slave to the passions and can pretend to no other office than to serve and obey them.” Brooks isn’t proclaiming the end of moral philosophy as such, but rather the end of one particular style of moral philosophy. There are, however, three reasons to be skeptical about Brooks’s proclamation.This is deep stuff, and I frankly am unqualified to tackle it on its own level. I recommend all to read it.
But it does give me an opportunity to ask a related question. How did moral philosophy get itself into a position where it was vulnerable to this kind of attack?
In the West, and in particular in the largely Christianized West, we have ceased to reason about such things. As Evangelicalism has swept through the land, a movement where its entire mental energy is constrained by finding new, different and novel ways to present "the gospel," morality and ethics have been reduced to matters of dogma rather than serious contemplation. We have allowed a movement to become the church, and as such the church has ceased to perform many of the roles it should be playing in the lives of individuals and of society as a whole.
For example, there was a time when a historical period like we have recently experienced would have resulted in countless sermons and numerous Sunday School classes on "Just War." I have seen little outside the blogosphere, and that was fairly limited. If a church addressed the issue at all, it was more pep rally than education.
"Our church is against abortion." Cool! - Why?
Brooks argument holds water becasue we have largely abandoned the playing field. How do we get back to it?
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Why Does This Story Keep Showing Up?
There's much talk of the world being back in 1929, another Great Depression. For some, it is more like 1849.I think the "source" for this story which has appeared several times as the price of gold has shot up tells most of the tale. There is a group of people out there that wants to sell pans and picks, and this reporter is more than willing to assist them.
Back then, hundreds of thousands flocked to California in search of their fortune after gold was discovered there, founding the iconic image of men standing knee-deep in water, desperately sorting away the sediment in search of treasure.
Now, there are tentative signs of a new gold rush in the US, according to the Gold Prospectors Association of America (GPAA).
I am always amazed at get rich quick schemes. They almost never work, and even when we think they work, they don't work. Most gold rushes historically only enriched a few people. I have a fascination with the mining industry. Back in the late '80's I spent several year working heavily in the US gold mining industry. It was fun, but it also proved the point that little guys don't make money mining. The average gold mine today employees 100's, even thousands, moves hundreds of TONS of ore a day, and processes it in a mill that costs millions of dollars. It's big business.
But even in the old days, prospectors got little. They'd find a nugget or two, lay a claim, and quickly sell it to the big operations. Most of them ended up in wage labor to the guy they sold the claim to. The only people that got rich in gold rushes were the big capital guys that bought up the stakes and set up the operations, and the merchants. There was a lot of money in selling supplies to prospectors. But that is about it.
Gold rushes, were economic fads. Far more gold comes out of some places now than ever came out 0f the California gold fields - it's in some of the most isolated places in the United States. Huge money, no rush, because most people have figured out that they really won't get rich.
I have much the same feeling about the latest fade that is going to bring Christ to the entire earth. Seems to me that usually the ministry benefits far more than either their target "audience" or the Kingdom for that matter. Like a gold rush, so many come, so few actually benefit.
Why do we keep falling for it? Well, a genuine walk with Christ is not easy. We have to confess, we have to "pick up our cross," we have to endure persecution, and trial. It's not like we walk into church, find a nugget, lay a claim, and have it all.
But that seems to be what most people want from their religion. And so, we keep coming up with something that makes a huge splash so we can create a "rush." But only a few actually benefit.
Funny, the gold mining industry has matured. In doing so it is far more productive than it has ever been. I wonder when the church will do the same thing?
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
WAIT! - There's More
"We've seen compact fluorescent lamps start to take over shelf space at the local hardware store. Replacing a 60 watt incandescent with a 13 watt CFL seems like a great savings, though many consumers are disappointed with the slow warm-up times, lower-than-advertised lifetimes, and hassles of disposing the mercury-containing bulbs. Now EDN reports they may use more energy than claimed due to their poor power factor. Mike Grather, of Lumenaire Testing Laboratory, 'checked the power factor for the CFLs and found they ranged from .45 to .50. Their "real" load was about twice that implied by their wattage.' The good news: you're only billed for the 13 watts of real power used. The bad news: the utilities have to generate the equivalent of 28 watts (that is, 28 VA of apparent power for you EEs out there) to light that bulb.And this quoting here:
New research from NASA suggests that the Arctic warming trend seen in recent decades has indeed resulted from human activities: but not, as is widely assumed at present, those leading to carbon dioxide emissions. Rather, Arctic warming has been caused in large part by laws introduced to improve air quality and fight acid rain.This is some really good science, but I will not bore you with the details of that. I want to talk about humility. The very essence of science is that the more we know, the more we know what we don't know. These stories are proof of that. In other words, the fundamental lesson of science is "We don't know." Now should that not produce humility in the face of nature?
Dr Drew Shindell of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies has led a new study which indicates that much of the general upward trend in temperatures since the 1970s - particularly in the Arctic - may have resulted from changes in levels of solid “aerosol” particles in the atmosphere, rather than elevated CO2.
And yet, we behave as if we have it all figured out and we have to act now. Consider how ultimately self-centered that is. Acting on suspicion may be the ultimate act of hubris.
Consider: Your spouse is working late. One night your spouse comes home late and is acting very furtive. You suspect infidelity. You storm out based on your fears. You only consider your perspective. And yet, if you slowed down long enough to listen, your spouse was working late to get some overtime to pay for a very special present for you. The specific furtive evening in question was the night the present was being sneaked into the house.
That's the problem when we act on scientific suspicion.
Monday, July 27, 2009
Things That Do Not Help
- Drunken pastor's offensive online chats
- NY pastor accused of filching funds for Botox
- Say amen: Ark. church holds Easter service in bar
And now consider this headline:
- Obama’s Christian Appointee to Faith-Based Program Says New Testament Teaching on Homosexuality Is ‘Not True’
If I had to guess, I would guess that mst of you find the first grouping, "disappointing," or "saddening," or "unfortunate," but I would bet they do not make you angry like that last one does. That last one conjures up words like "heresy," "anathema," and "abomination." I wonder why?
There are several reasons as to that "why." One in the tendency to forgive sinful human weakness - not a bad thing for all of us. Another is that a "reasonable" argument can be made to justify the action. (Church in a bar is reaching out to sinners and Botox could help make the pastor more 'attractional.') That last one though, that's messing with "essentials."
But ask yourself this - which of those will do more damage to people experiencing a life remade and transformed into the image of Christ? Look, let's be honest - they all do damage, but what does the most? For my money, it's the pastor stealing, or getting all drunk and randy online. The truth or falsity of scripture is an argument, but when you steal from me, or get rude (to say the least) to my daughter on line, well then I lose trust in those that represent Christ.
If in fact, the Christian life is a process of gradually laying myself at Christ's feet - of coming to trust Him with my very all - then is not something that erodes that fledgling trust an enormous problem?
The flip side, of course, is that if we get too legalistic and to judgmental about these poor souls, we erode trust just as much as letting it slide. But if discipline in some fashion is not exercised....
The 'heart of the gospel' is not a theological formulation - it is trust. Trust of a God that incarnated, died, resurrected, and saved us. We must be worthy of that trust.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Sermons and Lessons
A Sermon, Delivered at Rutland, West-Parish in the Tear 1805.
There is no greater folly than for men to express anger and resentment because their religious sentiments are attacked. If their characters are impeached by their own creed, they only are to blame. All that the antagonists can say, cannot make falsehood truth, nor truth falsehood.
The following discourse was delivered at Rutland, Vt. June, 1805, immediately after hearing Mr. Ballou, an Universal Preacher, zealously exhibit his sentiments. The author had been repeatedly solicited to hear and dispute with the above Preacher; and had been charged with dishonesty and cowardice for refusing. He felt that some kind of testimony, in opposition to what he calls error, ought to be made; and has been urged to let the same appear in print. But whether, on the whole, it is for the interest of truth, is left to the judgment of the candid.
Rutland, December 30, 1805.
Genesis 3:4 - And the Serpent said unto the Woman, Ye shall not surely die.
The holy Scriptures are a peculiar fund of instruction. They inform us of the origin of creation; of the primitive state of man; of his fall, or apostasy from God. It appears that he was placed in the garden of Eden, with full liberty to regale himself with all the delicious fruits that were to be found, except what grew on one tree - if he eat of that he should surely die, was the declaration of the Most High.
Happy were the human pair, amidst this delightful paradise, until a certain preacher, in his journey, came that way, and disturbed their peace and tranquility, by endeavoring to reverse the prohibition of the Almighty, as in our text - ”Ye shall not surely die.”
Earth felt the wound; nature from her seat,
Sighing through all her works, gave signs of woe,
That all was lost.”
We may attend
To the character of the preacher - To the doctrine inculcated - To the hearer addressed - To the medium or instrument of the preaching.
I. As to the preacher, I would observe, he has many names given him in the sacred writings, the most common is the Devil. That it was he that disturbed the felicity of our first parents, is evident from II Cor 11:3. and many other passages of Scripture. He was once an angel of light, and knew better than to preach such doctrine; he did violence to his own reason.
But to be a little more particular, let it be observed,
1. He is an old preacher. He lived above one thousand seven hundred years before Abraham - above two thousand four hundred and thirty years before Moses - four thousand and four years before Christ. It is now five thousand eight hundred and nine years since he commenced preaching. By this time he must have acquired great skill in the art.
2. He is a very cunning artful preacher. When Elymas, the sorcerer, came to turn away people from the faith, he is said to be full of all subtlety and a child of the devil - not only because he was an enemy of all righteousness, but on account of his carnal cunning and craftiness.
3. He is a very laborious unwearied preacher. He has been in the ministry almost six thousand years; and yet his zeal is not in the least abated. The apostle Peter compares him to a roaring lion, walking about, seeking whom he may devour. When God inquired of this persevering preacher, Job 2:2. “From whence earnest thou?” he answered the Lord, and said, “From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.” He is far from being circumscribed within the narrow limits of parish, state, or continental lines; but his haunt and travel is very large and extensive.
4. He is a heterogeneous preacher, if I may so express myself He makes use of a Bible when he holds forth, as in his sermon to our Savior, Matthew 4:6. He mixes truth with error, in order to make it go well, or to carry his point.
5. He is a very presumptuous preacher. Notwithstanding God had declared in the most plain and positive terms, “Thou shalt surely die” - or “In dying thou shalt die” - yet, this audacious wretch had the impudence to confront Omnipotence, and says, “Ye shall not surely die!”
6. He is a very successful preacher. He draws a great number after him. No preacher can command hearers like him. He was successful with our first parents - with the old world. Noah once preached to those spirits that are now in the prison of hell; and told them from God, that they should surely die: but this preacher came along and declared the contrary - ”Ye shall not surely die.” The greater part, it seems, believed him, and went to destruction. So it was with Sodom and Gomorrah - Lot preached to them; the substance of which was, “Up, get ye out of this place; for the Lord will destroy this City.” Gen. 19:14. But this old declaimer told them, No danger! no danger! “Ye shall not surely die.” To which they generally gave heed; and Lot seemed to them as one who mocked - they believed the Universal preacher, and were consumed - agreeably to the declaration of the apostle Jude, “Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities about them, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.”
II. Let us attend to the doctrine inculcated by this preacher, “Ye shall not surely die.” Bold assertion! without a single argument to support it. The death contained in the threatening, was doubtless eternal death, - as nothing but this would express God’s feelings towards sin, or render an infinite atonement necessary. To suppose it to be spiritual death, is to blend crime and punishment together. To suppose temporal death to be the curse of the law, then believers are not delivered from it, according to Gal. 3:13. What Satan meant to preach was, that there is no hell; and that the wages of sin is not death, but eternal life.
III. We shall now take notice of the hearer addressed by the preacher. This we have in the text - ”And the serpent said unto the WOMAN,” &c. That Eve had not so much experience as Adam, is evident; and so not equally able to withstand temptation. This doubtless was a reason why the tempter chose her, with whom he might hope to be successful. Doubtless he took a time when she was separated from her husband.
That this preacher has had the greatest success in the dark and ignorant parts of the earth, is evident: his kingdom is a kingdom of darkness. He is a great enemy to light. St. Paul gives us some account of him in his day - 2. Tim. 3:6. “For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women, laden with sins, led away with diverse lusts.” The same apostle observes, Rom. 16:17,18. “Now I beseech you brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.”
IV. The instrument or medium made use of by the preacher, will now be considered. This we have in the text - “And the SERPENT said,” &c. But how came the devil to preach through the serpent?
1. To save his own character, and the better to carry his point. Had the devil come to our first parents personally and unmasked, they would have more easily seen the deception. The reality of a future punishment is at times so clearly ml pressed on the human mind, that even Satan is constrained to own that there is a hell; although at other times he denies it. He does not wish to have it known that he is a liar; therefore he conceals himself, that he can the better accomplish his designs, and save his own character.
2. The devil is an enemy to all good, to all happiness and excellence. He is opposed to the felicity of the brutes. He took delight in tormenting the swine. The serpent, before he set up preaching Universal Salvation, was a cunning, beautiful and happy creature; but now his glory is departed. “And the Lord said unto the serpent, because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field: upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life.” There is therefore, a kind of duplicate cunning in the matter - Satan gets the preacher and hearers also.
And more than simple conquest in the foe!”
3. Another reason why Satan employs instruments in his service is, because his empire is large, and he cannot be everywhere himself.
4. He has a large number at his command, that love and approve of his work, delight in building up his kingdom, and stand ready to go at his call.
1. The devil is not dead, but still lives; and is able to preach as well as ever, “Ye shall not surely die.”
2. Universal Salvation is no new fangled scheme, but can boast of great antiquity.
3. See a reason why it ought to be rejected, because it is an ancient devilish doctrine.
4. See one reason why it is that Satan is such a mortal enemy to the Bible, and to all who preach the Gospel, because of that injunction, Mark 16:15,16. “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”
5. See whence it was that Satan exerted himself so much to convince our first parents that there was no hell - because the denunciation of the Almighty was true, and he was afraid that Adam and Eve would continue in the belief of it. Was there no truth in future punishment, or was it only a temporary evil, Satan would not be so busy in trying to convince men that there is none. It is his nature and element to lie. “When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own; for he is a liar, and the father of it.” John 8:44.
6. We infer that ministers should not be proud of their preaching. If they preach the true Gospel, they only, in substance, repeat Christ’s sermons. If they preach “Ye shall not surely die,” they only make use of the Devil’s old notes, that he delivered almost six thousand years ago.
7. It is probable that the doctrine of Universal Salvation will still prevail, since this preacher is yet a live, and not in the least superanuated; and every effort against him only enrages him more and more, and excites him to new inventions and exertions to build up his cause.
To close the subject - As the author of the foregoing discourse has confined himself wholly to the character of Satan, he trusts no one will feel himself personally injured by this short sermon: But should any imbibe a degree of friendship for this aged divine, and think that I have not treated this Universal Preacher with that respect and veneration that he justly deserves, let them be so kind as to point it out, and I will most cheerfully retract; for it has ever been a maxim with me, “Render unto all their dues.”
The following Hymn, taken from the Theological Magazine, was repeated after the delivery of the preceding discourse. –
A late writer in favor of Universal Salvation, having closed his piece with these last lines of Pope’s MESSIAH,
Rocks fall to dust, and mountains melt away;
But fixt his word, his saving power remains,
Thy realm forever last, thy own Messiah reigns;
his antagonist made the following addition to them:—
“When seas shall waste, and skies in smoke decay,
Rocks fall to dust, and mountains melt away;
In adamantine chains shall death be bound,
And hell’s grim tyrant feel the eternal wound.”
But all his children reach fair Eden’s shore,
Not e’er to see their father Satan more.
The tottering drunkards shall to glory reel,
And common strumpets endless pleasure feel.
Blest are the haughty, who despise the poor,
For they’re entitled to the heavenly store.
Blest all who laugh and scoff at truth divine,
For bold revilers endless comfort find.
Blest are the clam’rous and contentious crew,
To them eternal rest and peace are due.
Blest all who hunger, and who thirst to find
A chance to plunder and to cheat mankind:
Such die in peace - for God to them has giv’n,
To be unjust on earth, and go to heaven.
Blest is the wretch whose bowels never move
With gen’rous pity, or with tender love;
He shall find mercy from the God above.
Blest all who seek to wrangle and to fight;
Such mount from seas of blood to worlds of light.
Go riot, drink, and ev’ry ill pursue,
For joys eternal are reserv’d for you.
Fear not to sin, till death shall close your eves;
Live as you please, yours is th’ immortal prize.
Old Serpent, hail! thou mad’st a just reply
To mother Eve, “Ye shall not surely die!”
But, Reader, stop!—and in God’s holy fear,
With sacred truth these tenets first compare;
Our Savior’s Sermon on the mount peruse –
Read with attention, and the bane refuse!