Wherein I agree with Rachel Held Evans…sort of.

Rachel Held Evans notes that one could make a Biblical case that gluttony is a “life style sin”. I agree. Gluttony is a life style sin and it’s a resource hog. Paul associates making a God of the belly with the heresies in Philippi. Going backward in the Bible to Proverbs, eating a reasonable amount of food is considered positively wise.

Now that I’ve agreed with her, I must say that where things get sticky is her hermeneutic. She notes a few things which can be read here:

It’s funny. Yesterday, in Sunday Superlatives, I included a quote from Mark Twain in which he referred to a snake oil salesman as an “idiot,” but no one left an angry comment warning me of hell based on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:22 that “if you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court; and if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.”

Nor did anyone raise any biblical objections regarding gluttony a few weeks ago when I casually mentioned overdosing on Sweet Frog frozen yogurt (strawberry, with a pile of chocolate chips, Oreo crumbs, and chocolate animal crackers on top, if you must know), or about materialism when I shared pictures of our new car. (Hey, for some people, a brand new Honda Civic is pretty flashy.)

And in spite of the flood of emails I get each week condemning my support of women in ministry, I’ve never received so much as an open letter criticizing my refusal to wear a head covering, even though my Web site is full of photographic evidence of what the apostle Paul calls a “disgrace” in 1 Corinthians 11:6.

We may laugh at these examples or dismiss them silly, but the biblical language employed in these contexts is actually pretty strong: eating shellfish is an abomination, a bare head is a disgrace, gossips will not inherit the kingdom of God, careless words are punishable by hell, guys who leer at women should gouge out their eyes.

She notes that people never get mad at her for certain things she posts vs certain things she does post that make people angry. Now, I’m not sure what to think about people sending angry emails over a blog post, but I’m sure it’s frustrating. My guess is that she’s trying to say that a “literal” interpretation of Scripture is utterly awful and that nobody is literal about anything except their own hot button issues. But she’s run into some serious problems:

  1. She notes that nobody criticizes her for not wearing a head covering or for having a hair cut. But Paul is noting a custom in a fairly text book example of a hypothetical syllogism.  εἰ γὰρ οὐ κατακαλύπτεται γυνή, καὶ κειράσθω· εἰ δὲ αἰσχρὸν γυναικὶ τὸ κείρασθαι ἢ ξυρᾶσθαι, κατακαλυπτέσθω. (1Co 11:6) “For if a woman is not covered, let her cut her hair. But if it is a shame to cut or shave her hair, let her cover her head herself. (Geoff Smith Translation). ” Note the middle nature of the imperative verb as well. Also note the previous context of the verse: “πᾶσα δὲ γυνὴ προσευχομένη ἢ προφητεύουσα ἀκατακαλύπτῳ τῇ κεφαλῇ καταισχύνει τὴν κεφαλὴν αὐτῆς· ἓν γάρ ἐστιν καὶ τὸ αὐτὸ τῇ ἐξυρημένῃ. (1Co 11:5 BGT)” “Now every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered shames her head (Geoff Smith Translation).” Paul says that every woman who preaches or prays aloud in church should dress with a head covering because it is considered a shame not to. Then he gives an if-then statement. I doubt that in any of her pictures she is preaching at a church meeting or praying aloud and if she is it is uncertain whether she lives in a region where such hair styles are shameful. So, the most literal (or literary) interpretation of the verse doesn’t even apply to her.
  2. She wonders why nobody shamed her for materialism when she bought a new car. The Bible never says not to own transportation or to buy new things. It says to be financially wise and to share. Both of those work in the context of buying a new car.
  3. She mentions, casually, that she overdosed on dessert. That is unwise. Nevertheless, the Bible mentions feasts as commendable (so long as some do not eat so much that you fail to feed the poor who are present). Proverbs does mention that too much dessert is unwise (see Proverbs 25:16), though I would imagine that most American Christians do not know that.
  4. She brought up shellfish, I’m not sure why. But if one is a Gentile Christian (which I’m assuming she is), the food restrictions are no longer and never really were applicable. Most literalists would say that those passages, due to the words of Jesus and Mark (read Mark 7:19), simply no longer apply in the same way. Though, I’m sure they do apply in this sense: Christians should avoid participating in habits which imply concession to foreign deities. This takes discernment in this epoch of God’s history with the world.
  5. She mentions that gossips will not inherit the kingdom of God. It would be lame if the New Creation were filled with gossip and the hatred and distrust stirred up by it. I hope gossips repent (especially me). A lot of people teach about gossip, why it is awful, and how to avoid it. So again, I don’t know why her criticism of a “literalist” hermeneutic has any traction here.
  6. She mentions that guys who leer at women should gouge out her eyes. Most of the previous things she said are, by genre, literal statements and therefore to be taken literally. Jesus, in this passage (especially if we take Matthew 18:1-10 and the context of ancient sage literature into account) seems to mean that if your actions or intentions lead you towards relationship infidelity, you should extract those practices and thoughts from your life. The passage is not meant to be literal, but the others she mentions are. But, to interpret a literary device literally, means to take it as a literal advice. Jesus’ parables are “literally parables.”

The point I’m making is that shotgunning a bunch of harsh Biblical sayings that are ignored and peppering in ones that are often misunderstood and claiming that it’s all a matter of selective literalness is either confused or disingenuous. I hope that she is simply trying to make a point about a weird conservative mob-culture she’s noticed. But I get the impression that there is a subtext that it’s okay not to try harder to interpret passages that seem outrageous to us, but more appropriate to ignore those verses.

I understand and appreciate some of her points about choosing certain verses to feel powerful or morally superior. That comes from misapprehending the gospel more than being literally minded though. Maybe there is an element of satire to her method here. I sense it, but it seems overridden by how she talks elsewhere. Her best quote from the whole ordeal has to be this, “It’s hard to “other” the people we know and love the most.”  I hope I’m not “othering” her, but I the approach to the Bible that says, “we cut our hair, eat shellfish, and enjoy English blood pudding therefore literal prohibitions have less mileage today” seems irresponsible.*

*She says that we should try to work this stuff out carefully. But I still don’t think the approach used in the above passage from her blog is rhetorically appropriate. She uses rhetoric when Aristotle would have said dialectic is necessary, or rather she could have perhaps tried harder to make the word a bit more fitly spoken.

5 Questions for Youth Pastors

A buddy of mine posted a link to this article (which makes some interesting points.)

The questions he poses are:

  1. Why am I doing this? (about the ministry itself)
  2. Why am I doing this? (about the specific event)
  3. Can I do this without Jesus? (the description of this question is bizarre) 
  4. Who is my provider? (this is about not seeing the church as your employer…I get it but if the church is your employer then you still have to navigate that relationship like Paul talks about in Colossians 3:22-4:1)
  5. Who is my first love? 

 

I want to propose my own five questions:

  1. Have I kept up with my Greek?
    Your job is not just to vaguely make disciples of Jesus or to love people. Every Christian is called to love people. Your job, ostensibly, is to be the steward of the Gospel and the Scriptures which contain it. Paul talks about this in Ephesians 4:12-24, anybody given to the church as a pastor is to help people come to knowledge of the Son of God. Knowledge of Jesus comes from Scripture, especially the New Testament. (The same could be said of your Hebrew, but the early church often used the LXX).
  2. Do my students know what Jesus says to do? 
    Seriously, have you taught them how to learn about Jesus from the gospels? Jesus says that an invincible life can be forged from obedience to his teachings (see all four gospels on this point). 
  3. Have I spoken to the parents in my church about Ephesians 6:4?
    ἐκτρέφετε αὐτὰ ἐν παιδείᾳ καὶ νουθεσίᾳ κυρίου. (Eph 6:4) Or “[Fathers], noursish them in the training and the instruction of the Lord.” Parents are responsible for traditioning the gospel to their children in ways that a youth pastor can only facilitate.
  4. Do I encourage my students to be excellent students and to pursue useful careers?
    A big complaint among youth ministers is the business of their students. Frankly, youth ministers should encourage their students to be disciples in all of their endeavors rather than inventing more and more ways to take their time. There is also the phenomena of youth ministers taking students who happen to love the Lord genuinely and immediately trying to encourage them into Bible college despite where the student’s actual talents are. Remember Ephesians again “Ὁ κλέπτων μηκέτι κλεπτέτω· μᾶλλον δὲ κοπιάτω, ἐργαζόμενος τὸ ἀγαθὸν ταῖς χερσίν, ἵνα ἔχῃ μεταδιδόναι τῷ χρείαν ἔχοντι. (Eph 4:28)” or rather “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather get a job, working hard with his hands, so that he might give to those in need.” Part of converting to Christ means learning skills to give material possessions to the needy. In my youth ministry experience as a kid and in almost every youth ministry book I’ve read the goal is to take people who are interested in the Lord and try to get them to be volunteers, future youth ministers, etc. The better goal is for them to use their competence in the direction God has called them (usually determined by their skills not simply their love of the Lord). 
  5. Do I encourage my students to pray for the mission of the church in the world?
    The mission of the church in the world is the whole reason you’re a youth pastor. Somebody told you the gospel. Does your youth ministry reflect the whole purpose of the church (the glorification of God in the world by means of discipleship under Jesus Christ)? 

    Bonus Question: Am I so immersed in youth-group culture that I cannot have a conversation with an adult?
    This is a weird place to be. Don’t be that guy/gal who simply helps a bunch of young people be immature at restaurants into their twenties. 

George Romero, Showbread, and Being Married

Warning: post uses Zombie imagery. If that grosses you out then too bad or don’t read it.
Note: I do not write this post to secretly reveal any personal problems, but only to reflect upon the nature of marriage, a favorite song, and the Biblical text.

One of my favorite bands since 2004 has been Showbread.
One of my favorite songs by them is titled George Romero Will Be At Our Wedding.
They have a tendency (or Josh Porter, their lead singer does) to use the macabre and the bizarre to tell stories with deeper meanings.

Here are the lyrics to the song mentioned above (the emboldened lyrics will commented on below):

I was looking for you when I first heard the sirens
The ambulances filled the streets
The masses screamed and called for help
You were no where next to me
The soldiers came to round up the living
And take them away to somewhere that’s safe
But if I cant find you there’s no place to save me
If you are gone then its too late

Night turns to dawn, and dawn into day
And the land overflows with the dead
Where did I last hold you in my arms?
What was the last thing that you said?
Some hide underground, others hide in a mall
I still drag myself through the streets
A life without love my love isn’t a life to me

I don’t believe that love can rot away
So first aim for the heart, then aim for the head

I wept bitterly and then I threw up 
Something silver washed up in my lap 
This metal thing, your wedding ring 
Brought all of the memories back 
I remember the bite, and breaking my teeth 
I remember choking it down 
Eating your fingers one at a time 
I left most of you there on the ground 

And it’s there that I find you, just as you were left
Writhing you rise to your feet
You come back to my side with very few insides
They’re still strewn about on the street

I have heard it said that love endures all things
And now I know that its true
Stronger than the grave, death cant put it out
Here I am, the walking dead, still next to you

I don’t believe that love can rot away
So first aim for the heart then aim for the head
If true love last forever, then love doesn’t die
It just becomes the living dead.

 

The thing about being married is that (if Christian doctrine is true) every time somebody gets married a sinner promises things to a sinner. Paul make a comment in Galatians about Christians who judge one another on the basis of misunderstanding the Old Testament and exclaims, “But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.  (Gal 5:15)” This is a real possibility in any relationship, but especially in marriage. In no other typical friendship or institution are people required by proximity and promise to be so intimate. And when people who have secrets, sinful habits, weird habits, or contrary habits live together (that’s anybody who is married by the way), then they run the risk of devouring one another with judgmental behavior and selfishness.

Show bread noted:

I wept bitterly and then I threw up
Something silver washed up in my lap
This metal thing, your wedding ring
Brought all of the memories back
I remember the bite, and breaking my teeth
I remember choking it down
Eating your fingers one at a time
I left most of you there on the ground

I think, without being facetious, though certainly intending the humour implied in the analogy, that marriage can be this way. You have to work hard at putting certain things to death in yourself or those things will kill the very person you promised to love the most. Paul notes this later in Galatians about Christians, regardless of how they view the law they are people who “have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Galatians 5:24).” This verse can be translated as “those who belong to Christ crucify the flesh with its passions and desires.”* Either way, the point is that unless we kill off our own sinfulness we could easily turn a simple dispute over cooking, cleaning, or finances into a marriage killing and spiritually deadening force. But there is hope: the love of God never fails. In calling upon the love of God as our example in marriage, we can apologize, forgive, and ultimately hope for the resurrection of marriage and of our own selves in this life and in the age to come. The guys from Showbread symbolize this with a man realizing the horror of his actions after seeing his wife’s wedding ring. He goes back for her and they both (in the timeline of the Romero movies this makes sense because the song takes place during Land of the Dead wherein the Zombies begin to re-civilize) remember their vows, regain their humanity, and move on with their lives.

*One could take ἐσταύρωσαν as a Gnomic aorist. In the context of Paul describing the life of Christians as a battle against those very desires, this understanding seems to win on the rhetorical effectiveness it possesses. But I have never seen a translation take it that way and only one commentary (Ben Witherington’s) mentions it and even then he cites Burton who calls it an inceptive aorist, which carries roughly the same idea.

On Being Sick

I’ve noticed that once every few months I get such a bad case of heartburn that I can hardly concentrate or function in any physically demanding capacity. 

Honestly its times like these when I’m well enough not to be afraid of dying and feeling poorly enough not to want to be productive that my thoughts are the furthest from God.

In all seriousness in my worst moments of physical suffering (particularly ones that do not affect my clarity of thought) my thoughts have been clear enough to think of two things: immediate necessities and God. On the other hand when reading difficult matters of philosophy, the attacks made on the Christian faith, and doing Calculus that my mind can most easily move with clarity to the reality of God. 

This is also the case with being around small groups of people (larger groups can be annoying enough to find it difficult to believe in anything transcendent…even math) about whom one can find obvious infiltrations of God’s grace. I can also think with clarity about the Lord when doing manual labor. 

But when I’m just plain old sick I can hardly think about anything of meaning except for things that depress me. 

The fact is that this ought not be. I’ll practice more next time.