Archive for February, 2011
They’ve picketed Michael Jackson’s funeral, called Obama the “anti-Christ”, protested many of the recent funerals for fallen American soldiers, they’ve protested the Holocaust Museum because it “memorializes the godless Jews”, and they’re regulars at homosexual’s funerals. I almost forgot to mention that they believed 9/11 was part of God’s judgment on America and they protested the funerals of those who parished in 9/11.
Unless you’re a regular to the Westboro Baptist websites, which include www.godhatesamerica.com, www.yourpastorsawhore.com, www.godhatesfags.com, www.americaisdoomed.com, www.priestsrapeboys.com, www.jewskilledjesus.com, www.beastobama.com and, my personal favorite, www.godhatestheworld.com, you might not have noticed that their websites are down.
So, if you want to be brought up to speed, you can watch the actual live, on air video where the “hacktivist” group Anonymous are talking with Westboro Baptist Pastor Fred Phelp’s wife. It’s kind of funny and kind of depressing. And, it’s kind of long, but kind of worth the 10 minute investment …. Or, if you want to skip the video, you can look at Westboro Baptist’s response letter to Anonymous, which I posted below the video.
Anybody have a clear enough mind to offer some insightful thoughts on Westboro Baptist, Anonymous and this whole situation?
One of the steps in the adoption process is that Nicki and I will be developing a portfolio about ourselves for expecting mothers to look through and decide whether or not they want US to be the parents of their baby.
One of the things we sort of have to put into the portfolio is our occupations. This makes me a little nervous because the occupation of “funeral director” scares some people and I don’t want to scare anybody off.
It might not scare YOU, but trust me when I say that us funeral directors make numerous segments of the population very uncomfortable.
So, being that funeral directors employ euphemisms so frequently, I thought maybe I could be euphemistic in my occupational title … make it sound nice and cool and all.
My question is: What should I do? I need some help here from those of you creative and ethical types! Should I just be honest and say that I’m a funeral director? Do you see my dilemma? If I go the euphemistic route, I need some suggestions … SO, let your creative juices flow and lend me your ideas!
Fill in the portfolio blank, and don’t take this too seriously:
“Hi! My name is Caleb and I want to raise your child. Oh, and for my job I work as a ________________________ .”
As a preface, I should point out that I’m only using one trajectory (Christ above culture) from H. R. Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture typologies and two major church fathers who fit into that specific trajectory. Certainly, there were other Church father’s who dealt with the philosophers differently. I chose Clement and Origin because they represent the approach that some of those in my generation are taking towards Postmodernism; and they represent the assumed majority trajectory that the critics of the emergent and missional church think we’re all taking … an assumption that is misguided.
I want to explore the question, “How do Christians approach postmodern philosophy and the culture it’s producing?” by looking at two fathers in the early church and their approach to Greek philosophy. I don’t intend to give a clear answer to the above question because, honestly, I don’t think just one clear answer exists, but a couple answers are emerging.
I’ve often been told that learning history is like the movement of a swing: you swing back, so you can go forward. By understanding the past, the present becomes more clear and the future more open. And of course, we’ve all heard the axiom that if we don’t learn from the past, we are doomed to repeat it. Perhaps that axiom should be taken to heart by Christians now more than ever.
Western Christians sit with the rest of Western civilization as we phase out of the modern paradigm and into the emerging postmodern paradigm. While not all Christians are comfortable with and accepting of postmodernism (the philosophy(s) and ideas behind the movement), it becomes increasingly difficult for us to escape postmodernity (the cultural expression of the shifting philosophies of Postmodernism). With all the mediums (TV, internet, etc.) that confront us every day, the only way that Christians can escape the touch of Postmodernity is to remove themselves from the present culture and create a counterculture … which some are attempting to do.
Many who are liminal modern Christians find themselves fighting a hard, losing battle. The swell of Postmodernism is too strong for the modern Christian bulwarks to hold it back … and maybe it is time for some of those bulwarks to fall. Both postmodernity and postmodernism have leveled harsh criticisms of the modern version of Christianity in regard to biblical inerrancy, absolute truth in the modern sense and our general epistemology. And, in one way or another, those criticisms will change if not level our present view of those subjects.
But, this isn’t the first time that Christianity was the recipient of harsh criticism from the intelligentsia of secular culture.
Philo of Alexandrea, a Jew who was also a contemporary of Jesus, attempted to show the compatibility of the Old Testament religion with the best of Greek philosophy. Justo Gonzalez writes, “Philo tried to prove that the God of scripture is the same as the One of the philosophers, and that the moral teachings of the Hebrews are basically the same as those of the best among the Greek philosophers. This sort of argument provided ample ammunition for the early Christians in their efforts to show to the pagan world that their faith was credible” (The Story of Christianity; 19).
In an attempt to show that Christianity wasn’t just for the ignorant and superstitious – an assumption about the early church that existed in the minds of many of the unbelievers and an assumption that continues to this day – Clement of Alexandria saw Christ in and above culture. Clement was convinced that there was only one truth and that any truth in Plato was in fact the truth of Jesus Christ and scripture. Again from Gonzalez, “philosophy was given to the Greeks just as the Law was given to the Jews. Both have the purpose of leading to the ultimate truth, now revealed in Christ” (87). This compatibilist mentality of Clement lead to the conversion of some of the unbelieving intelligentsia, but also lead to the philosophizing of God’s nature, leading to a view of God as Ineffable and remote that still permeates the church’s theology today.
Origen of Alexandria declared that “nothing which is at variance with the tradition of the apostles and of the church is to be accepted as true.” Gonzalez writes, “it is also important to note that on many points Origen is more Platonist than Christian” (95). Origen’s attempt to reconcile the Hebrew view of God with the Hellenistic view lead to his heavy use of the allegorical method of looking at scripture, which looked for the “deeper meaning” or rather the meaning that would be acceptable to his Hellenized sensibilities.
Certainly, the attempt to reconcile two varying world views may have stayed persecutions and helped in the conversion of both the intelligentsia of Roman society as well as some of the aristocracy. (And, as an aside, I might add, if we were under the persecution that the early church was under, would you consider making philosophical compromises if those compromises could change public perception and quell persecutions?) But such an unchangeable, Hellenized view of God also laid the framework for Arianism to gain it’s foothold. It could be argued that the attempt to reconcile Jesus culture with Roman culture was a small part of the reason that Constantine’s “conversion” and amalgamation of Christianity was celebrated and embraced by some Christians.
I’m sure that you, like me, see many parallels between the situation of the early church and our situation today. Surely we aren’t experiencing physical persecution that was partially based on misunderstanding, but there are similarities. Surely the early church fathers were critical of the Hellenistic ideas and held Christ / scripture / tradition as the norming norm, yet the osmosis of ideas was inevitable. In fact, if we look down through Church history, the influence of culture on the Church’s view of Christ and vice versa has been a common theme. So that, while postmodernism / postmodernity may be a new challenge, the Church has had enough confrontation with outside sources that there is ample history that can teach us.
The Apostle Paul on Mars Hill provides a seminal view how Christians should begin to touch a foreign culture: Paul spoke the language. And Paul’s incarnational movement on Mars Hill stems back to the Incarnation of his Christ, who took man’s flesh so that He could communicate the Father. If our understanding of incarnational living is that we learn to speak the language of postmodernity, we must understand that by learning to speak the language, we will be shaped by the language … or as Niebuhr suggested and like Paul did, we can transform the language.
I’ll give Stanley Grenz the final word: “The transition from the modern era to the postmodern era poses a grave challenge to the church in its mission to its own next generation. Confronted by this new context, we dare not fall into the trap of wistfully longing for a return to the early modernity that gave evangelicalism its birth, for we are called to minister not to the past but to the contemporary context, and our contemporary context is influence by postmodern ideas. Postmodernism poses certain dangers. Nevertheless, it would be ironic — indeed, it would be tragic — if evangelicals ended up as the last defenders of the now dying modernity. To reach people in the new postmodern context, we must set ourselves to the task of deciphering the implications of postmodernism for the Gospel” (A Primer on Postmodernism; 10).
I believe the Spirit guides, but for me, it always seems as though the Spirit is guiding with more questions than answers. I want him to be a GPS, but apparently he’s a teacher in the tradition of Jesus (this blog is a continuation of the blog I posted yesterday … you can read it by clicking here).
If we look at the way Jesus’ taught, it was sometimes via statements and often via response question. Here’s a list of Jesus’ questions. I know it’s long, but it’s interesting. (If you want, you can skip down to the bottom)
- Matthew 9:14-15 (NIV) 14 Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them?
- Matthew 15:1-3 (NIV) Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” 3 Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?
- Matthew 15:32-34 (NIV) 33 His disciples answered, “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?” 34 “How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.
- Matthew 17:24-26 (NIV) 24 After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” 25 “Yes, he does,” he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own sons or from others?”
- Matthew 21:16 (NIV) 16 “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him. “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, “‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’?”
- Matthew 26:6-10 (NIV) 6 While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, 7 a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. 8 When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. 9 “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” 10 Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman?”
- Mark 2:1-11 (NIV) 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” He said to the paralytic, 11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”
- Mark 4:10,13 (NIV) 10 When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables…13 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?
- Mark 4:38,40 (NIV). 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” 40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
- Mark 7:17-18 (NIV) 17 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18 “Are you so dull?” he asked.
- Mark 10:2-3 (NIV) 2 Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 “What did Moses command you?” he replied.
- Mark 12:14-17 (NIV) 14 They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. 17 Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him.
- Mark 12:18, 20-24 (NIV) 18 Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question… 20 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. 21 The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. 22In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. 23 At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”24 Jesus replied, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?
- Luke 2:48-49 (NIV) 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” 49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”
- Luke 6:1-3 (NIV) One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and his disciples began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat the kernels. 2 Some of the Pharisees asked, “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” 3 Jesus answered them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?
- Luke 10:25-26 (NIV) 25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
- Luke 10:29,36 29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” . . . 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
- Luke 12:41-43 (NIV) 41 Peter asked, “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?” 42 The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time?
- Luke 18:18-19 (NIV) 18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.
- Luke 20:1-4 (NIV) One day as he was teaching the people in the temple courts and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him. 2 “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they said. “Who gave you this authority?” 3 He replied, “I will also ask you a question. Tell me, 4 John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or from men?”
- Luke 24:17-19 (NIV) 18One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 “What things?” he asked.
- John 3:4,10 (NIV) 4 “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” 10“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?
- John 6:60-71 (NIV) 60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” 61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you?
- John 8:3-10 (NIV) 3The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say? . . . 10Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
- John 11:8-10 (NIV) 8 “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight?
- John 13:37-38 (NIV) 37 Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38 Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me?
- John 18:22-23 (NIV) 22 When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby struck him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded. 23“If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?”
- John 18:33-34 (NIV) 33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” 34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
- John 21:20-22 (NIV) 20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them…21 When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” 22 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”
I wonder, when Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the Great Teacher, does he mean that the Holy Spirit is the Great Questioner? Because, honestly, that’s been my experience with the Spirit. He hasn’t been the GPS that I’ve often thought he should be. He hasn’t been the “guide” that I thought he would be. He’s been a socratic dialectic.
Am I the only one who’s experienced the “guidance” of the Holy Spirit in this manner?
Block writes, “Questions open the door to the future and are more powerful than answers in that they demand engagement” (101).
Although I’m not a vocational teacher, I’ve had the privilege of teaching in different forums and the question that I’ve had to ask myself, at the onset was: Would I rather teach the right information or produce an environment that cultivates critical thinking? I’ve chosen the latter … sometimes at the expense of “right information” … realizing that although information and thinking aren’t mutually exclusive, the latter is more likely to inspire ownership of the question and honest searching.
Quick informational answers kill investigation and thinking. Cheap thinkers want quick informational answers. Good teachers restrain themselves.
Jesus uses aporia in both his question responses and in his parables themselves. Was clarity the purpose of Jesus’ parables? Or was engagement, investigation inspiration and, at times, the withholding of information the purpose of his parables?
Block writes that the great questions have three qualities: they’re ambiguous, they’re personal and they evoke anxiety. Has anybody ever read the Gospels?
Is it any wonder that the Jesus of the Gospels produced the community of the early church?
The church likes to say, “Jesus is the Answer.” But, I wonder if the very foundation of the church’s continuation through two millennium and present growth is inspired by Jesus being the Question?