Two Perspectives on Adversity

Here is quote from David Wells’ book The Courage to be Protestant explaining how our forefathers approached adversity and how we currently approach it.

In the older world we left behind, people thought of adversity as inevitable. Adversity was a consequence of the fall for those of a Christian outlook. But even for non-Christians it was never seen as an unexpected intruder on life. It was never thought that life should be without pain. Pain, disease, setbacks, disappointments, and wrong done to us were all seen as part of our life in this world, part of its texture, a thread woven with all the other threads through the fabric of our daily experience. Adversity was seen, even, as a necessary component in life.

Today we resent adversity as an interruption in our pleasure seeking, a rude disruption of our opportunities and our sense of calm. It is a gross injustice. Why should bad things happen to good people? Where is the justice in that? We are entitled to better. Indeed, we are demanding better! Adversity of any kind is unacceptable.

Book Review: People to Be Loved

People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality Is Not Just an IssuePeople to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality Is Not Just an Issue by Preston Sprinkle

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sprinkle is one of those folks who thinks himself conservative, but is really a half step away from being a full-blown liberal. This mindset skews his entire approach. He thinks he is holding the line. The reality he is part of a rear-guard action that has retreated into the keep in hopes that the enemy will finally go away. But they won’t and surrender is inevitable. If the best you can say about a book is that at least he doesn’t think men should sleep with men, it isn’t a conservative book. He qualifies everything to death. He makes sure conservative Christians understand they are usually a much bigger problem than gays are. He isn’t even sure about excommunicating practicing homosexuals. Maybe, possibly, in a few select circumstances we could go this far. Sodom and Gomorrah has nothing to say to us about sodomy. Greedy, rich, coveting Christians are really the problem here, not gays. On and on it goes. The feeling one gets reading the book is that homosexual Christians have his sympathy while those who think sodomy and the desire for same-sex relationships are sin are more likely than not homophobic.

There are a few interesting sections in the book, including his part about mixed-orientation marriages. He gets some exegesis correct over and against some pro-homosexual folks. I did not disagree with him on everything. But on the whole the book is so condescending to the average, conservative Christian, contains so many qualifications, and gives up so much ground to the pro-homosexual groups that isn’t that helpful.

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Book Review: The Courage to Be Protestant

The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern WorldThe Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World by David F. Wells

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I began at the end of Wells’ five volume set on American evangelicals. The book was superb, though dated in a few places. I expected to read this book and find a critique of all those folks “out there.” But instead I was convicted of how many areas I have bought into postmodern thinking. My desire for comfort, ease, the enthronement of self, and my too low view of sin all became clearer as I read the book. As the Stones say, “You can’t always get what you want but if you try sometimes well you might find you get what you need.” The book wasn’t necessarily what I wanted or expected, but it was what I needed. For me it was more mirror of my thought than microscope to examine the culture.

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From Character to Personality

I am continuing to benefit and be convicted by David Wells’ book The Courage to Be Protestant. Here Wells is commenting on the shift from a man’s character being most important to his personality being most important. I have seen this become a key issue with ministers as pastors are hired more for their personality than for their character. Earlier Wells noted that, “character is either good or bad; personality is attractive, forceful, or magnetic.” Here is a longer quote on the consequences of this shift.

With this shift have come many consequences, probably few of which were foreseen as these great changes began to unroll. The older vision in which character was paramount produced an understanding of the self that was quite different from what we have now. Then the thought was that personal growth comes through cultivating virtues and restraining vices. Moral limitation through self-control and self-sacrifice was the key to satisfaction and happiness.

By contrast, the vision that grows with the new preoccupation with personality is one of unlimited self-expression, self-gratification, and self-fulfillment. The pursuit of pleasure has taken the place of moral nurture, the expression of emotion that of moral reticence [reserve/restraint]. What is remarkable about this is that people now think happiness has nothing to do with the moral texture of someone’s life and can be pursued as an end in itself. Indeed, many think it can simply be bought. That is what living in our consumer paradise has done to us now that we have vacated the older moral world.

This shift from character to personality has also changed our ideas about success. An earlier generation thought about success in terms of hard work. But not hard work by itself. It was work that was also done well, work that reflected moral virtues like diligence, integrity, conscientiousness, and standards of fairness. People who worked well tended to live more circumspectly. They were more likely to restrain self-indulgence, refuse to make their consumption conspicuous, and express civic virtues in their town and neighborhood. Success in these ways was something that all could attain regardless of what kind of work they did…

When our focus changed from character to personality, so, too did our understanding of what success is. Success was not about living the good life, but about living well, high on the hog, as Americans say. Once others approved of us because of our character and the quality of our work…now it is far more important to stand out simply for what we have and how we can impress others.

Today we may well prefer to be envied than admired. Whereas the older kind of success was durable, this is not. This is fleeting. It is dependent not on its own quality but on the perceptions of others. Perceptions, however, are fickle, changing, quickly superseded, quickly forgotten. Success today, therefore, has to be constantly renewed, burnished, updated, recast, reinvigorated, made even more current, made freshly appealing, dressed up afresh, and reasserted. This is an ongoing project, and if it does not go on, our success begins to evaporate…

When the self began to be experienced through personality rather than within the framework of character, moral obligations that were common broke down. There was no longer a moral world outside each individual that restrained and directed that individual. Now, we have become self-directing, each in his or her own way.

Review: The River Thief

The River Thief

My wife and I rarely watch a movie all the way through in one sitting. Usually it is broken up over two nights. After the first night, the kids will usually ask me, “How is the movie?”  My answer is, “That depends on the ending.”  How a movie ends usually makes or breaks it.  A bad ending can ruin an otherwise good movie. A good ending, an ending that satisfies, can take an okay movie to good and a good movie to great. Our family finally got around to watching N. D. Wilson’s The River Thief. This movie is an example of the ending making the movie better. The ending satisfied in numerous ways.  I am not a movie critic nor the son of a movie critic. I have never made, wrote, directed, or acted in a  movie. So take my thoughts with that in mind. Here are my thoughts about this movie, starting with some criticisms.

First, you are not watching a movie made on a 20 million dollar budget with top of the line actors and special effects.  If you are expecting that then you will be disappointed. The acting is better than the first Kendrick Brothers movie, Flywheel, but there are still some bad moments.   This is not so much a criticism as it is a reminder of what to expect and that Christians have a ways to go when it comes to production values and acting.

Second, the story could have been tighter. At places the plot was uneven and the script was weak. Some questions naturally arise, such as why would that woman’s son help Diz?  Read the Filmfisher review, which hits on a few these problems as well as explaining why the grandfather is not a plot problem.

I have a few other criticisms, but considering this is the first full length movie by N.D. Wilson, that he wrote it and then shot it in three weeks,  I would consider it a rousing success. Why? Continue reading

David Wells on Marketing the Church

forsale

David Wells has written five books addressing some of major issues in American evangelicalism over the last couple of decades. Naturally, I began with his last book, The Courage to be Protestant.  So far it has been helpful in addressing why we are where we are. Even where it is dated, Wells is still giving us a road map of the past several decades. Here is quote where he describes what happens when the church abandons the truth as the center of her life and mission and instead focuses on reaching customers.

A methodology for success that circumvents issues of truth is one that will rapidly emancipate itself from biblical Christianity or, to put it differently, will rapidly eviscerate biblical faith.

That, indeed, is what is happening because the marketing model it followed, empties the truth out of the gospel. First, the needs consumers have are the needs they identify for themselves. The needs sinners have are needs God identifies for us, and the way we see our needs is rather different from the way he sees them. We suppress the truth about God, holding it down in “unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18). We are not subject to his moral law and in our fallenness are incapable of being obedient to it (Rom. 8:7), so how likely is it, outside of the intervention of God through the Holy Spirit, that we will identify our needs as those arising from rebellion against God? No, the product we will seek naturally will not be the gospel. It will be therapy of some kind, a technique for life, perhaps a way of connecting  more deeply with our own spiritual selves on our own terms, terms that require no repentance and no redemption. It will not be the gospel. The gospel cannot be a product that the church sells because there are no consumers for it. When we find customers, we will find that what they are interested in buying, on their own terms, is not the gospel.

Furthermore, when we buy a product, we buy it for our own use. When we accept Christ, he is not there for our use but we are there for his service. We commit ourselves to him in a way we do not commit ourselves to any product. There is a world of difference between the Lord of Glory, the incarnate second person of the Godhead, and a Lexus, a vacation home, or a trip to the Bahamas. The marketing analogy blurs all of this, reducing Christ simply to a product we buy to satisfy our needs. What is destroyed along the way are the biblical doctrines of sin, of the incarnation, and of the redemption. The marketing analogy is the wrong analogy. It is deeply harmful to the Christian faith.

What I find fascinating about this quote is that what was once the strategy of mega-churches and their CEO pastors has now become the strategy of virtually every church. We have drunk so deeply and for so long at the well of the market that most of our churches, denominations, para-church organizations, and coalitions function this way without even thinking about it.  Our gut instinct is to market our product. We are not preaching the truth. We are trying to gain new customers. These days most of us are selling Jesus, our church, our books, and our conferences.  It is not easy to disentangle ourselves from this method. We need websites and books. We want people to know about our churches and what they offer. Even conferences, despite their misuse and abuse today, can be helpful. But  marketing Jesus and the gospel is not a minor issue. It is antithetical to the faith which we proclaim, it leaves the sheep hungry, and does not evangelize the lost.  We must proclaim the gospel, write books and blog posts, record podcasts,  and be the church without selling the gospel like just another product.

A Distraction

I just finished reading Preston Sprinkle’s book  People to be Loved.  There were numerous flaws with the book. It reminded me of a man throwing a cup of water on a burning a house and claiming he is fighting the fire. If the best you can say about a book on this subject is at least he doesn’t believe men should have sex with men then it is not going to help fight the battle. My goal is to review various sections of the book. I want to begin with one of the more persistent lines you see from the gay Christian movement: same sex attraction is not just about sex.  Here is Sprinkle:

Being gay doesn’t mean you walk around want to have lots of gay sex any more than being straight means that you walk around wanting to have lots of straight sex. Have a same-sex orientation includes a wealth of other virtuous emotions and desires towards members of the same sex; it cannot be narrowly reduced to a volcanic hunger for sex. Same-sex orientation includes the desire for conversational intimacy, same-sex physical touch, emotional bonds, companionship, doing life together, and expressing mutual affection toward members of the same sex.  And if all of this sounds “gay” to you then David and Jonathan really were gay, since I am alluding to 1-2 Samuel.

He goes on to quote with approval lesbian Julie Rodgers

[same-sex attraction is] an overall draw toward someone of the same sex, which is usually a desire for a deeper level intimacy with those of the same sex. Just like a heterosexual orientation can’t be reduced to a desire for straight sex, a gay orientation can’t be reduced to a desire for gay sex. This longing for intimacy is usually experienced as a desire for nearness, for partnership, for close friendship, rich conversation, and an overall appreciation of beauty.

Again Sprinkle:

Most gay Christians I know say the same thing. Same-sex attraction is much broader than just a drooling desire for gay sex. Such attraction includes a virtuous desire to be intimate-in the David and Jonathan or Jesus and John sense of the phrase-with people of the same sex.

I would love to see quotes from Christians who think people who struggle with SSA walk around with a “drooling desire for gay sex.”  Sprinkle does this a lot in the book where he puts words in the mouths of conservative Christians (with no citations) that I have never heard a conservative Christian in the pew, from the pulpit, in an article, or in a book say. Perhaps he is thinking of Westboro and folks like that.  But conservative Christians distance themselves from groups like this over and over.

But besides the condescension towards conservative Christians, he repeats the mistake I often see in gay Christian literature: It isn’t about sex. We can see the problem with this proposition by asking a simple question: What separates SSA from the desire for close, intimate friendship with someone of the same sex? Right. Sex. If there is no sexual component then it isn’t SSA. A man can have a close intimate friendship with another man without it being sexual. Men have done this for thousands of years and Christian men have done this for just as long. They have kissed each other, embraced each other, wept with each other, spent nights together talking, slept in the same bed, swam naked, showered together, etc. without there being a sexual component. The desire for male physical affection and emotional intimacy does not make it same-sex attraction.

Same-sex attraction does not simply mean you have or desire close friendships with people of the same sex. It means the desire for closeness with a member of the same sex that includes a romantic/sexual component. Without that it is just a close friendship between people of the same sex, which all Christians should have and should work for. This is the reason why the sexual/erotic aspect of SSA should be front and center. It is what makes SSA, SSA. The friendship angle pushed by gay-Christian groups is a distraction.  Friendship is part of SSA, just as friendship is part of marriage. But that is not its central or defining trait. Without the sexual/romantic component it isn’t same-sex attraction.