Monday, June 26, 2017

Women and Ministry, Part 2 (The Two "Problem Passages)





I'm doing a workshop this morning at our HSRM Conference in Green Lake, Wisconsin, Empowering Women for Ministry.

I am posting this for the attendees, on the two "problem passages" in the Bible - women should keep silent in the church assembly, and women should not teach men.

This is Part 2 of Ben Witherington's clear explanation of the cultural specificity of those verses.

Women and Ministry: Part 1 (The Two "Problem Passages)




I'm doing a workshop this morning at our HSRM Conference in Green Lake, Wisconsin, Empowering Women for Ministry.

I am posting this for the attendees, on the two "problem passages" in the Bible - women should keep silent in the church assembly, and women should not teach men.

This is Part 1 of Ben Witherington's clear explanation of the cultural specificity of those verses.

Will the American Church Regain Its Moral Voice?

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, ocean, sky, cloud, outdoor, water and nature
Linda and I in Green Lake, Wisconsin

It's Monday morning. Linda and I are at our yearly HSRM Conference in Green Lake, Wisconsin. Last night we have a beautiful session with Steve and Wendy Backlund, who are on staff at Bethel Church in Redding, California.

I'm going to speak tomorrow night on "Normal Church." I'll talk about how the Church in America has lost the culture wars. (See here, e.g.,) Then, I'll present the only solution I see to regain the vast moral ground that we have lost.

I think, and pray, about this a lot. I ask God for wisdom and discernment, and what I am to do. This morning the often-quoted 2 Chronicles 7:14 is before me.


 If my people, who are called by my name,
will humble themselves and pray and seek my face
and turn from their wicked ways,
then I will hear from heaven,
and I will forgive their sin
and will heal their land.

What a great promise! Yet, sadly, most American Christians are too busy to pray, men more than women. This verse is about a "constant praying life," not a few multitasked prayers tossed up for a parking space. This is ongoing praying, consistent God-seeking. Now if American Christians did that, then I say watch out for the Church!

In the process of encouraging people to pray as conversation-with-God, I often hear the following, from Western Jesus-followers: "I don't think I have time to pray 30-60 minutes a day/'

If the Jesus-follower is from a Third World country, like ancient Israel in the time of Jesus was, they have time to pray. What's going on? My answer is: the more Westernized a person is, the less they take time to meet and talk with God; the less Westernized a person is, the more they take time to meet and talk with God.

I estimate that 80% of European and North American pastors and Christian leaders do not have a significant prayer life. By this I mean that they do not take time to actually pray. By "taking time" I mean more than saying a blessing over dinner, or multi-tasked "praying." By "significant," I mean something like an hour or more a day. I mean something like Jesus did, habitually.

My estimate comes from teaching and coaching 3000 pastors and leaders, over the past forty years. Many, many pastors have confessed this to me.

The statistics flip for pastors and leaders who are from Third World contexts. 80% of them have a significant prayer life. When they attend my prayer and spiritual formation seminary classes, they already have a quantitative prayer life in place. They pray... a lot. The European and North American clergy, on the other hand, find themselves "too busy to pray." They find it hard to "fit in" times of actual praying. Why is this so?

The reasons Westernized Christians don't significantly pray, and Third World Christians do, include these.

  1. SENSE OF NEED: More access to human helping agencies lowers the desperation level. But when I was, e.g., teaching and speaking in India, the lack of access to medical care, education, jobs, etc. was massive. One could only turn to God, in prayer. So in India I found pastors who were praying people. The less felt need there is, the less one prays; the more felt need there is, the more one prays.
  2. NEED TO CONTROL: Westernized Christians live under the general cultural illusion that they are in control of life; Third World non-westernized Christians live in a cultural world where human control is minimal at best; hence, they appeal to God (or gods, or spirits) for help. The more one feels in control of life, the less one prays; the less one feels in control of life, the more one prays.
  3. TIME: The more stuff a person has, the less they pray. Much of their life is dictated by their stuff, which demands much time protecting, arranging, storing, repairing, cleaning, cultivating, etcing. Stuff demands time. On the other hand, the less personal ownership, the more actual time to pray. The busier one is the less one has time to pray; the less stuff one has, the more one has time to pray.
The typical European and North American Jesus-follower has little felt need, is under the illusion that they can control things, and are afflicted with burnout-busyness. As these three elements converge, the God-relationship is virtually gone.

James Houston
writes: "To pray is to declare loyalty to a spiritual reality above and beyond the human realm of self-effort and control."

So, will it be heart-loyalty to "things above," or "things below?" The answer to this question will determine whether or not a Christian prays. And that will determine whether or not the American Church wakes from its slumber. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Hatred Forms Impermanent Bonds

Image may contain: cloud, sky, outdoor, nature and water
Crossing Lake Michigan on The Badger

Many people bond around shared hatred. Persons A and B hate person C. They form community around this.

A hatred bond is a weak, impermanent unity. The day is coming when person A and person B will hate each other. How narrow, how shallow, how low, how short, is the hatred of the antichrist.

Atheist philosopher John Gray, in his brilliant The Silence of Animals, writes: "The collective solidarity of Nazi Germany was sustained by the incessant creation of internal enemies." (Gray, The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths, p. 56)
In a church, or family, or marriage, or ethnic group, where shared hatred is the bond, the devil rules in the absence of God. The apostle Paul counters this with these words:

I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge...

Ephesians 3

Friday, June 23, 2017

Pastors Don't Need to Be Awesome, Just Faithful

Image may contain: tree and outdoor
Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio

Paul writes, in 2 Corinthians 4:7-12:

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

It's easy to think that if God wants to do something great, he needs great people. But great people are not needed to accomplish great things for God. Paul flips the status-hierarchy thing on its head (just as Jesus did). 

God uses weak vessels to display his surpassing glory. This is why Paul is not freaking out about his own personal weaknesses. He knew his shortcomings. He's not physically impressive. He's not a great speaker. He's got a unibrow. People fall asleep while he preaches. Some even die.

New Testament scholar David Garland writes:

"Paul has become the suffering apostle of the suffering Messiah. We can learn from his example that ministers [pastors] do not have to be wonderful, just faithful. Many labor under the enormous burden of trying to be wonderful in the eyes of others rather than simply trying to minister to them. Many a minister suffers burnout from trying to run a sparkling program, keeping up attendance while keeping down conflict, and preaching catchy sermons instead of preaching Christ." (David Garland, 2 Corinthians, 230)

What our people need is not another performance, but God's empowering, majestic presence. Pastors are but jars of clay who bear within themselves the light of the gospel.

Painfully ordinary. But with the power of God inside.

The Only Legacy Worth Leaving


Image may contain: plant, flower, nature and outdoor
My back yard
"I'm an atheist. But I want to leave a legacy. I want my life to leave an impression, an impact, on others after I die."

That's what one of my young philosophy students told me after class.

I told her, "You won't."

I won't either. On neither theism nor atheism will personal legacies be made.

When you die the world will not stand up and take notice. The event of your expiration will be unattended, except for a few people who will be the equivalent of, perhaps, a hundred grains of sand on the entire Pacific coast shoreline. Out of those hundred grains of sand most will quickly leave your memory behind as they discuss the fried chicken and potato salad at your funeral luncheon.

What about your family? If you were married and your marriage was a good one, your surviving spouse will grieve your loss. The better your marriage was, the easier they will move on without you. If your marriage was lousy, they will lie awake at night filled with the bitterness of unfinished business, words of love never said, pain inflicted and suffered. At times they may wish they could forget you, but they cannot, and the thought occasionally comes to them that they wasted years being married to you.

The same for the children. Before he died, my father told me he loved me, and he blessed me with these words, "John, you've done well." My father's blessing helped me go on without him. I think of him, and my mother, occasionally and unpredictably, and feel thankful for the life and care they gave me. But I have moved on without them, which is what every good parent wants for their children.

"But what if I become Michael Jackson? Then, surely, I will be remembered?"

Well... you won't become Michael Jackson. But if you should achieve such fame, you won't be remembered personally. Your music will be revived, and a small group of people will pay to see your your memorabilia. But people will not remember you precisely because they did not know you. And, in this case, you did not even know you, at least as far as we can tell (which isn't very far). In your death, you can rest assured that, even if your post-mortem star briefly shines bright, it's glory will fade. When is the last time you thought about Michael Jackson the person? You have other things to think about, right?

There is one difference between theism and atheism worth noting. I explained it to my student in this way.

Several years ago I was the speaker at a conference for military chaplains. It was held at a retreat center on the Atlantic shoreline. It was winter, and during a long break I walked north on the beach for a mile. I don't often get to see the ocean, and it was my delight to take this walk. It was bitter cold. There was a strong wind blowing, and the waves were surfable.

No one else walked the beach that day, so when I turned back to the south I saw that the footprints that I had just made were fast-disappearing, and finally gone. "That," I thought, "is how my life shall be." 

So much for any personal legacy. But for the theist, the point of my life was never to be the point of life. But if, through my life, the footprints of God imprint others, then I could not be more pleased.

I'm certain every atheist is not obsessed with leaving their mark on the world. But, sans God, that's all they have. And that will be microscopic, and come to nothing.

I like what Thomas Merton wrote, in closing his autobiography The Seven-Storey Mountain. He writes:

"And when you have been praised a little and loved a little, I will take away all your gifts and all your love and all your praise and you will be utterly forgotten and abandoned and you will be nothing, a dead thing, a rejection. And in that day you shall begin to possess the solitude you have so long desired. And your solitude will bear immense fruit in the souls of men you will never see on earth."

That is something my soul can rest in.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Lose Your Social Media and Gain Your Soul

Detroit

Thomas Merton wrote: "I am glad to be marginal. The best thing I can do for the "world" is to stay out of it - in so far as one can." (A Year with Thomas Merton: Daily Meditations from His Journals, K 5980-83)

Merton blended solitude and togetherness with people. Being with others can be challenging. Meaningful times in solitude are required to deepen our ability to love and be with others.

Being with ourselves is in ways more challenging than being with others. This is why many cover up their inner life with unceasing busyness. This is why Henri Nouwen referred to solitude as "the furnace of spiritual transformation."

Get alone with God. Be in community. Get alone with God. Be in community. Getting alone with God, habitually, makes us better when we are with others.

Few show us how to be alone with God. (Sherry Turkle's Reclaiming Conversation is brilliant on: be in solitude, be in conversation; be in solitude, be in conversation; and so, on and on.) We have not been taught how to be alone. Its value has not been demonstrated to us. Thus, we do not know how to be with others. American culture fails to train us for authentic community. 

How shall we do life together. Both Merton and Nouwen believed that authentic community is a function of aloneness with God. True God-aloneness morphs the heart into a community shape. Authentic community shapes our solitary times with God. And so, on and on, back and forth, there comes a dialectical movement that strengthens both self and community.

I find it encouraging that Merton never watched TV. I cannot say the same. But next week will be a welcome media void, as Linda and I will be at our annual summer conference. Why not try, as an experiment, life without social media, if only for a day, or a week? Merton did it for a lifetime. People traveled from all over the world to sit with him, be with him, and hear from him. And, to watch him listen.

Wisdom is different than information. Many are informed, few are deep and wise. You cannot gain wisdom by googling it. It's a different type than could be captured in a tweet. One needs a lifetime of aloneness with God, followed by community, in the dialectical movement. 

Merton was met by God as he met alone with God in stillness and in silence. This is the kind of Jesus-follower I need in my life; viz., someone who gains their soul by losing their cyberspace.

If this feels threatening, it's only because we are still trying to find our life and place in culture. We fear being left out, and unrecognized. These fears reveal who we really belong to.

You and I belong to a God who loves us so much that any of this world's acclaim is inglorious by comparison. This is a secure place.

This coming week I will spend much time in that secure, secret place, getting alone with God, and then being with others. I'll enter a private space, and then go public.



"All of humanity's problems stem from 
man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone."

Blaise Pascal
(Thank you B.A.)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Studying the Real Jesus

Cancun

One of my former philosophy students asked:,"I am curious to understand what you mean when you say "The REAL Jesus." Could you tell me about it?"

Here's how I think about this.
  1. For forty-seven years I have been studying about Jesus of Nazareth. I engage in "historical Jesus" studies. In my PhD program I did a qualifying exam on ancient Christology. I wrote my dissertation on metaphor theory, and New Testament theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg's idea of "resurrection" as a metaphorical way to speak of an historical reality.
  2. As a "Christ-ian" and Jesus-follower, and as one who once cried out to Jesus to rescue me and got rescued, I've devoted my life to knowing about Christ, and knowing Christ.
  3. But the historical Jesus gets buried under the layers of culture. We have, e.g., an "American Jesus." I'm not interested in that, except as it tells me some things about our culture and religion. What little "Christian TV" I've watched in days past contains much misleading stuff on Jesus, like the "Prosperity Gospel Jesus," which, as far as I can tell, is nothing like the Jesus of, e.g., Matthew 25 (and elsewhere).
  4. I am interested in studies like my friend Craig Keener's The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. Texts like this peel away layers of cultural accretion to expose the Jesus of history. I have a large stack of books devoted to doing this. For a good mini-book by a great New Testament scholar, see Richard Bauckham's  Jesus: A Very Short Introduction. For a longer read see Bauckham's wonderful, scholarly Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony.  
  5. The "Real Jesus" is: 1) the Jesus who walked the earth in the early first century, was crucified, buried in a tomb, and was raised from the dead; and 2) the Messiah ("Christ") who now lives, within and without us.
  6. Strategy: 
    1. Slow cook in and meditate on the four Gospels. Keep a journal on what God says to you as you do this; 
    2. read New Testament scholars on Jesus. Just as anyone wanting to study brain surgery should read texts written by brain surgeons, in studying Jesus one should read the works of New Testament scholars who know the original languages, the socio-rhetorical environment of the time, and the socio-cultural environment of the time; and 
    3. abide in Christ (John 14-15-16), both individually and corporately. That is, live the life Jesus called you to live, as seen in John chapters 14-15-16.
Want to do Real Jesus studies? I suggest the following authors, texts, and websites. (Note: you can ignore Internet Jesus-debunkers who have never engaged in this kind of scholarship.)



This would be good for starters. 

And, of course, read the New Testament for your own self.


  • Begin with the 4 Gospels.
  • Read them as if for the very first time.
  • Take notes.
  • Pay attention.
  • See how and why the Real Jesus was either embraced or despised.
Needed: Old Testament background; Second Temple Judaism background

Scientists Reject Postmodernist Theory

No automatic alt text available.
Some beach on Lake Michigan, in West Michigan

When we were in East Lansing, as campus pastors at Michigan State University, our church was filled with scientists. Over the years I was privileged to do book studies and Bible studies with many of them. The dialogue we had deeply informed and enriched me.

One common thread was their reaction to the postmodern 
anti-realism. 

"Metaphysically, postmodernism is anti-realist, holding that it is impossible to speak meaningfully about an independently existing reality. Postmodernism substitutes instead a social-linguistic, constructionist account of reality. Epistemologically, having  rejected the notion of an independently existing reality, postmodernism denies that reason or any other method is a means of acquiring objective knowledge of that reality. Having substituted social-linguistic constructs for that reality, postmodernism emphasizes the subjectivity, conventionality, and incommensurability of those constructions." (Stephen Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, Kindle Location 292)

We cannot speak about a reality that exists independently of the human mind? No method can give us objective knowledge of that reality? (Especially, for postmodern theorists, the scientific method.) For a scientist this is absurd, since science is the study of objective reality (trees, viruses, planets, global warming, the physical brain, etc. etc.)

Theistic philosopher Dallas said:

"The early church did not get stuck in a Cartesian box. Aristotle thought there were a real world and a real mind that could know it. And that is what disappears. I have watched scientists listen to postmodernists and it is a constant display of thinly veiled disgust.” (Willard, Eternal Living: Reflections on Dallas Willard's Teaching on Faith and Formation, Kindle Locations 230-232)

The idea that there is not an objective reality outside of us, and that it can be studied and known, is absurd (even while taking into account how our experience of that reality is socially constructed).

(For an interesting and brave attempt to rescue postmodern ideas, and apply them to a Christian worldview, see James K. A. Smith, Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? See esp. Ch. 2, "Nothing Outside the Text? Derrida, Deconstruction, and Scripture.")

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Good Leadership Is a Channel of Water Controlled by God (The Presence-Driven Church)

Squirrel, in my back yard

In the past week at Redeemer three different people felt led by God to do something that would involve our church family. One person was told to host a conference for women, another is to put togethere a mission project to help neeeeedy children, and the other is to facilitate a teaching presentation involving a guest speaker.

Each person shared their idea with me. Each idea sounded like a from-God thing. And each person will be the leader of the vision God gave them.

This is pretty much how things happen at Redeemer. Our people pray. Sometimes God calls them to do something. If it involves our church family, they share it with me. I become one of their support persons, cheering from the sidelines as they lead.

Advantages of doing leadership this way include:
  • the pastor doesn't have to recruit people to do something
  • the people experience God leading them to do something
  • the people grow in leadership
  • the people gain ownership over the God-given vision
This is leadership in a Presence-Driven Church. It is more exciting than top-down, hierarchical leadership. It's healthier, too. We are not striving to make some event happen. It's about hearing from God, and following. Then, watching God produce the results.

We see this in Proverbs 21:1:

Good leadership is a channel of water controlled by God;
he directs it to whatever ends he chooses.
(The Message)