christians can have funny pastimes.

Christians can have funny pastimes.  We like to form coalitions and high councils, often centered around the diagnosis of culture as biblical or not.  Some of us like to play referee between the sacred and secular, the profound and profane, the already and the not yet.  Unfortunately this habit can become doubly dangerous when the cultural diagnosis is followed by a strict biblical antidote.

For example, a simple dose of Genesis 1-3 is all you need to recover any obvious confusion over gender roles.  Recently, Owen Strachan, Executive Director of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, made such a prescription when he wrote about a Sesame Street episode as an “assault” on our “Protestant worldview” which “is subtly but directly overturning long-held conceptions of manhood”.  Although I would gladly respond to Strachan’s piece, Micah Murray did an astoundingly beautiful job with his post, Boys and Dolls: A Father’s Response and I would highly encourage you to read it.

I really don’t mind the coffee shop conversations surrounding complementarianism, egalitarianism and gender roles that plague the evangelical blogosphere.  These conversations can potentially provoke the evolution of loving others as equally as we love ourselves, a distinctive characteristic of God’s kingdom.  Let the woman OR man oppressed by gender stereotypes say ‘Amen’.

What I really do mind about these councils, coalitions and blogs is the incessant need to constantly ‘recover’ all things as biblical or not.  Remember Jeff Foxworthy’s ‘You Might Be A Redneck’ jokes?  If you’re blowing the whistle on Sesame Street, then you might be reformed.  If you can’t watch one of the greatest children’s television shows ever without appealing to a ‘biblical’ definition of manhood or womanhood, then you might be reformed.

Whistle blowing isn’t a new pastime by the way.  Building a biblical framework for everything from dinosaurs to politics has gone on for several hundred years.

Sola Scriptura is one of the pillars of reformation thought.  It essentially states that the Bible alone contains all that is necessary for salvation and holiness or right living.  This doctrine or idea was basically born from a resistance to ecclesial excesses like indulgences and penance, which were being increasingly taught and cultivated within the Catholic Church.

Enter the greatest whistle-blower of all, Martin Luther, who believed that all scripture pointed to Christ and that anytime traditions or teachings conflict with scripture then tradition must be rejected.  Luther sought a balance between the authority of tradition and the revelation of the Spirit, by which some began to claim authority that went beyond scripture.  To Luther, that balance was found in the authority of scripture as a test for all claims of revelation be they past traditions or future assertions…including those coffee shop conversations.

However well intentioned the reformers were in developing dogma such as sola scripture, it was still made as reactionary to the misinterpretations of the Catholic Church.  I would point out that fighting heterodoxy (or bad teaching) doesn’t necessarily culminate in orthodoxy (right teaching).

Because of this, I take issue with the statement that ‘Scripture alone is sufficient for all matters of faith and practice’.  If I believed that, then of course I would feel compelled to diagnose something as biblical or not.  Luther’s legacy continues as men like Strachan use the bible to test gender roles.  However, the need to preserve and protect the Bible is never more evident in those who are afraid of losing something…

Perhaps the greatest danger of all is in making holy scriptures the fourth member of the Godhead.  Salvation is a gift from a loving God who sent His Son as the incarnate Word and who said of himself, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”  Bibliolatry isn’t the only conclusion to sola scriptura but it is a possible and real conclusion.

Justo Gonzalez writes, “the church established the canon…but the gospel established the church, and the authority of scripture is not in the canon, but in the gospel.”  I would never doubt or deny the sufficiency of scripture for both describing our salvation and making plain the salvation history of God but when exactly did the litmus test for something as potentially cultural as gender roles become Genesis 1-3?

Another great theologian, John Wesley, didn’t explicitly propagate a ‘quadrilateral’ for theological authority but he did employ four sources in reaching conclusions to truth.  These sources were scripture, tradition, reason and experience.

Wesley believed that our ideas about God affect our beliefs of God which affect our actions toward God.  Most importantly, these ideas are never formed in a vacuum.  He ironically approached a more Catholic theological attitude of prima scriptura, a paradigm that acknowledges the interpretation of truth as equally important to the truth itself, perhaps even holy itself.  Scripture will interpret us as we interpret it but why approach this holy process with such dogmatic rigor?

Christians always seem to get into battles with each other when we try to set scripture against experience or scripture against reason.  In one corner is Rachel Held Evans and in the other corner is Mark Driscoll.  What we have here is a false choice.  It’s a dichotomy that would confuse us.  Our imaginations are often forced into boxes that fail to justify in any sense the greatness and mystery that is God’s voice.

Are gender roles going to change over time?  Yes and expectedly in the direction of redemption.  May all who are captive be set free.

So what exactly is ‘biblical’ then and when is it appropriate to make that categorization?

I have this image of a Christ whose usual pastime is to walk with his friends, eating with them and engaging them physically, emotionally and intellectually.  We approach scripture with the same anticipation and expectation of hearing the voice of Christ as his friends did.  There is no fear here.  Here there is no need to assign roles according to gender.  There is only holy wonder, holy laughter.  Coalitions and councils give way to community as we leave our diagnoses behind.

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why true leaders are powerless: a reflection on the cross.

It was my first magazine interview.  And by magazine I mean ‘denominational publication’ and by interview I mean a Q & A sheet.  In fact, they really just wanted to fill the last page with something, so I was picked for “Meet The New Guy”.  One of the questions asked was for a favorite quote.  I really wanted to sound smart and well-read, especially since I was new to the position…

So one Google quote search later, I picked a Henri Nouwen gem you might have heard.  It is from In The Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership.  In it he says, “It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life.”  I read that and thought, ‘I’m definitely going to look good quoting this guy.’

Then life happened.

Five years later, two different jobs later, ‘coming out of retirement‘ later, I met Henri Nouwen again.  It was amazing how insightful he had become in that time.

the temptation of power…

I was just asked recently by one of my seminary professors, “How have you seen leadership give in to the temptation of power?”  He wanted us to answer it after reading Nouwen’s leadership text.  Some of my classmates chose to identify prominent pastors and other failures of Christian leadership.

This stung a little as all I had to do was look at my own story.  While I know this is a Christian professor teaching Christian content, I do want to call attention to the fact that all leadership is tempted toward power because all leadership is human.

I can easily point to historical figures like Pontius Pilate, Adolf Hitler and Richard Nixon who yielded to power.  To point out the failures of bishops and pastors isn’t wrong but it doesn’t get at the root of the matter.  I’m tempted to power and control not based on my position but based on my humanity.

It just so happens that when a leader has an audience and they give in to the temptation of power it’s broadcast for all to see.  The temptation to manipulate power can take any shape and form and I would dare say that we look no further than our own hearts to find it.

According to Henri Nouwen, the temptation for a Christian is to consider power as an apt instrument for the proclamation of the Gospel.  In fact, he would even say it’s the greatest temptation of all.  What Nouwen is driving at is that we are all guilty when we choose power as a means of control.  Based on this definition, many of our most successful leaders have given into the temptation of power and been praised for it.

I’m one of those leaders.

Five years after first proclaiming that “it’s easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life”, I still find myself wanting to be God, control people and own life.

powerless is good…

This same seminary professor immediately followed up with another question, “How is the cross a symbol of power and powerlessness?”

I knew what he was driving at even though I’m sometimes tempted to think of the cross as neither a power-full or power-less symbol but rather a commodity to my faith.  Or worse, a commodity to my religion.

The truth is, I believe in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  I believe the cross is the centerpiece of history.

I do believe the cross is a power-full symbol of power in that it represents the sovereignty and providence of God.  It is because of the cross that I am free from sin and brought into right standing before and with God.

Nouwen again writes, “Much Christian leadership is exercised by people who do not know how to develop healthy, intimate relationships and have opted for power and control instead.”

It’s when I look at the cross as a symbol of powerlessness that I find shelter from the temptation to manipulate others with power.

In fact, I see the cross is more than a symbol of powerlessness, it is an instrument of powerlessness.  It was an instrument of torture and death.  There are only a few sadistic machinations from human history that match the depravity of death by cross.  The cross means to kill us.

One doesn’t climb onto a cross and hang for a little while, hurting until they are brought down.  Once you have been hung on a cross, you don’t come down until you are dead.  If I or anyone could come down from the cross before death then I would have defeated its power.

It’s only when I am powerless to come down from the cross that I have discovered its nature and purpose.  Essentially, Christ gave up his power to come down.  He chose it.  A common criminal couldn’t make that choice…you and I couldn’t make that choice but the Son of God could.

For a brief moment, He gave up His access to the powers of the universe so that at our hands He could die.

why true leadership is powerless…

We are commanded to take up that instrument and let the due diligence of its weight work on us.  If I could add an additional point to Nouwen’s, it would be this, “It’s easier to like the cross, than to die on it.”

Knowing, being and doing aren’t always hand in hand.  To lead, as Nouwen points out, is to be led.  It is to offer ourselves up.  It is to trade our dreams of power for something beyond ourselves.

Five years later, Nouwen still says it best: “What makes the temptation of power so seemingly irresistible?  Maybe it is that power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love.  It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life.”

why ‘Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ is hurting woman: a response.

The following is a response I wrote to Karen Swallow Prior’s piece titled “Why ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” Is Hurting Woman“.  It is not an exhaustive review of the books (which I have read) or the American version of the movie (which I have not seen).  Please read her original article to gain context in my post.  If you respond to this post, please do so respectfully and please distinguish between commenting on the books or movies (either Swedish or American versions). 

Karen,

After reading your article I’m confused.  In the same sentence you disclaim “This isn’t a film review and…I offer analysis based only on the film.”  From that, I can’t really discern what you’re driving at so I’ll try to figure it in this response.

Character study has rightly informed the way we see ourselves for as long as characters have been created.  It’s part of the beauty of literature, film and all media.  In your case, being introduced to a character through a Facebook status is a rather recent phenomenon however.  Facebook and Twitter have afforded us the privilege to form quick uninformed opinions about things for which we previously were forced to seriously chew on and investigate.  This is true in your owns words, “My immediate reaction, though I knew nothing at that point about the book or the character, was ‘uh oh'”.

My main critique of your article isn’t whether Lisbeth Salander should or shouldn’t be regarded as a heroine.  For the rest of the world that doesn’t read first-world evangelical posts like these, Lisbeth Salander is and will be regarded as a hero for better or for worse and in some cases should be.  While your (and mine) hero, the one “placed upon…a mere plank and crossbeam” is the greatest character study of all, his story has yet to be discovered by many a victim of sexual injustice and Salander will have to suffice for standing up against said injustice.

Don’t take me wrong, I’m not nihilistic or cynical enough to say if Stieg Larsson is all you’ve got, that’s all you’ll get.  However, I’m realistic enough to know that my definition of sexual injustice or my fight against gender prejudice can’t be informed by someone’s facebook status, clothing line or even David Fincher‘s Hollwood star-crossed vision of Larsson’s book.

You say that Lisbeth Salander is hurting women yet you don’t provide any statistical or even anecdotal evidence of such.  Your credibility to make such claims stems from “watch[ing] [a] friend undergo self-injury, sexual victimization, sexual deviancy, drug addiction, institutionalization, and the occasional come-to-Jesus moment”?   I hate to break it to you but I have those friends too.  They are guys, fully masculine and fully devoted to a spiritual struggle that extends well past the publication of a swedish mystery novel.

Going back to my initial confusion at what you were driving at with this article…are you trying to rescue women from stereotypical chains that Hollywood places on them?  If so, I would contend that you are using this platform to perpetuate chains that are placed on men as well.  You write, “She has the smarts and independence men increasingly expect in a post-feminist world, makes a great work partner, stitches up a bullet hole with vodka and dental floss, rides a motorcycle, initiates sex (and does girls, too), makes breakfast the morning after, brings herself to orgasm while her partner lies back and thinks about work—all the while staying (largely) emotionally unattached. She’s essentially a breasted boy.”

So…that means all boys are just great work partners, stitch bullet holes with vodka and dental floss, ride motorcycles and initiate sex?  All boys bring ourselves to orgasm while staying emotionally unattached?  Karen, are you married, do you have a boyfriend or have a son?  Do you assign these stereotypical cliche’s to them as well?  Hopefully, the other men who are reading this post and sincerely following Christ the best way they know how won’t be offended by the same unjust prejudices that you herein propagate.  I’ll clue you in…not all men get off on these movies, their imagery and feel the need to beat their chest when movies like these are made.

I get it.  You went and watched a movie that has some seriously disturbing themes and you had an emotional response.  Did you apply the same Facebook-litmus test to last years sordid tale of female sexual deviancy, Black Swan?  Darn it, Hollywood why do you continue to define my view of all women as sexually repressed, catty, snobby, closet-ballerinas, jealous with low self-esteem.  Geez, those male directors and their need to compensate.

Well, hats off to the Stiegster for accomplishing his goals: awareness of sexual deviancy, injustice and *gasp* swedish culture.  It’s too bad he’s not around to chat with Darren Arrenovsky or the execs at MGM and Columbia.  All we have of Larsson are three books from which to derive a character that should and will be studied, admired and hated.  The joy of film is that it can be watched but the lasting beauty of literature is that it can be read, again and again.  From the pages of books we continue to peel back the “layers of our own facade”.  I’m so glad the Lord reveals our facade’s in more than one Book.

With Respect,
Jonathan Simmons

love sick_an elementary curriculum_part four

Thank you Michelle Wheeler for writing this lesson!  Check out the incredible Jake Page for more amazing illustrations. 

1 John 2:12-17

Your Father loves you more than this world ever can. Continue reading