Bags of Bran


Quick thoughts about the Benedict Option
April 1, 2017, 10:34 am
Filed under: Biography, Destined to get me in trouble

Got it!

I have officially 120-some pages of another really good book before I dig into this one. Even though there have been enough reviews done that I have a pretty good idea what I’m in for, it’s still more or less my duty to read it.

I wonder if it will give me new categories to answer the following non-dilemma though:

A popular pastorbloggertwitterer just now cast dust on his head and shreded his garment on Social Media about Dr. Who, the British science fiction show (for those of you who don’t watch it either). Evidently Dr. Who is (and who could have predicted this) coming out, and has a consort. In response to this, Pastorbloggertwitterer suggests (tongue in cheek) that a Biblically faithful sidekick would add some depth and variety to the show.

I say, stop watching it.

And when Marvel superheroes start (start?) getting ambivalent about good and evil, stop watching them. And when Transformers start coming out of the closet, stop watching them. And when classic fairy tales are commandeered to transport enemy troops, stop watching them. Move on.

What do you really have to lose?

When “innocent fun” ceases to be innocent, do we hold funerals for it; or, do we set it aside for permanent things? We are supposed to train our senses to discern good and evil (Hebrews 5:14) so that we can stop approving evil things and turn our attention to “the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:10). Too expensive?

In anticipation of the book, I wonder if there would be profit in revisiting the Fudamentalist/Modernist controversy.



I’ll Start My Pursuit of Humility by Selling off My Books
June 9, 2016, 4:45 pm
Filed under: Destined to get me in trouble

“When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.”

-Erasmus of Rotterdam

I recently read a short article entitled “You Don’t Need a Massive Personal Library.” As far as it goes with the given motivations, it is good advice: if your motive is to have an imposing presentation office like a seminary executive or CEO pastor, then your large library would be so many peacock feathers, and about as useful. What is interesting to me is that the author assumes that a) these professional Christians need/read/use the books in their fancy libraries; and b) that having a library beyond a few hundred volumes smacks of hubris unless the owner is a professional Christian. He also assumes that bookshelves are trophy cases, and cannot be put in out-of-the-way places. So the books must go.

A man decides to start his new life of humility by getting rid of his books. It sounds like the plot of a P. G. Wodehouse story, or a tale of the Wise Men of Chelm.

If you are prone to narcissism to the point where you think that your library needs to go away, perhaps it’s time to examine some other things. For example, you don’t need to go to expensive conferences, whence you probably impulse-bought many of your books. You don’t need expensive suits (or expensive jeans, now that we’re post-Driscoll). You don’t need trendy glasses or pomade. You don’t need Apple products. You don’t need to drive a new car. You don’t need a new motorcycle. You don’t need season tickets. You don’t need a big screen. You don’t need your wife to be a trophy wife. Your kids can wear hand-me-downs. Your home can be modestly furnished. You don’t need to get a haircut every eight days. You don’t need a gym membership. You don’t need to eat at expensive restaurants.

Why you’d start your new life of humility by getting rid of books is beyond me, but if you’ve addressed all of the above and still find yourself pierced through because of your burgeoning shelves, by all means. We’ve got Google now.



I Have Absolutely No Idea.
April 5, 2016, 4:54 pm
Filed under: Biography, Destined to get me in trouble

During my weekly *ahem* research (OK, my breaks from sermon prep and such), I occasionally stumble across some ferociously interesting things. Often, time permitting, I post them with a few comments over at Religious Affections for the extra credit students.

It is rare, however, that I stumble across something so comically contrived, so curiously festooned in the draperies of faux-learning as this article.

An acquaintance of mine once tied a big, shiny wrench to the end of a fishing line and sat behind a dense hedge, waiting for suckers. When suckers came along and grabbed for the wrench, zing! He’d yank it away, and he and his co-lurkers would have a laugh at the expense of the mystified person staring blankly into the bushes.

That is exactly what this author is doing: he purposefully uses the kind of deconstructionist language that defies meaning at all cost. You might try to understand one sentence, but he has changed his references in the next sentence, and so you are lost. You grab for the meaning, but zing! Meanwhile, he and his buddies behind the bushes smirk knowingly at you for trying to pin him down.

In the essay, the author does what he is paid to do: he explores liturgy and gaming. He uses insider terminology: not Christian insider, but gamer insider. It is not difficult to tell which is the controlling idea in his essay. What overlap could there be between those two categories, you might ask? Perhaps the better question is why liturgy and video games would need to be reconciled with each other. Someone could have preempted the whole article by saying ‘Fine, have your hobby; you don’t need to prop it up with fathomless billows of hogwash.’

To press not forward, but to press over. To see ourselves not as one typically does, but as we might see a stranger from afar. To observe the stranger’s movements as we control them. To speculate about their motivations, their goals and their desires, and then to internalize them for ourselves. What does it mean to care for them so dearly that their failures are ours?

He continues:

When we control another and take for granted that their success is ours, we begin to learn a posture of support. It is a liturgy of obsessive empathy, a ritual of active concern for whomever happens to be within our field of view.

To walk from left to right is to succeed vicariously through another, whose identity we have taken as our own.

To walk from left to right is mentorship.

But here we have fathomless billows of hogwash. What could he possibly mean by ‘liturgy of obsessive empathy?’ Nobody actually believes that we grow in our understanding of human nature, that we become better neighbors, friends, sons, daughters, or Christians by slaving away in front of video game consoles. Nobody believes that he is being mentored while he is saving two-dimensional princesses. The author is not trying to inform you, he is trying to impress you when he says things like “Mario may have been a weird, incomprehensible person, but he was a whole person.” Mankind (not just the Christian portion of mankind, but the whole) has universally understood personhood differently.

But this article is exactly the kind of fashionable nonsense that many Christians now demand. They desire thinkpieces that bear the trappings of intellectual profundity, such as technical jargon, needlessly difficult sentences, and incorporation of comforting cultural furniture. At the same time, they desire that such displays pose absolutely no threat to their own idolatrous notions of the god of ‘luv.‘*

*Kreeft is Catholic. Set your filter accordingly.



The Provisional Center?
January 5, 2016, 3:57 pm
Filed under: Biography, Destined to get me in trouble | Tags: , ,

Why is John Piper, co-editor of a massive book sharply demarcating the roles of men and women, and board member for an organization committed to the same, so inclined to jettison his principles come conference time?

Todd Pruitt asks this important question here:

Mortification of Spin | Now I’m Really Confused about Complimentarianism

The reader might notice that Pruitt does not answer the question, but wonders aloud that it is not being asked. He thinks, as do others, that someone ought to sit Piper down and ask him what’s up.

But what is Piper going to say? “I don’t really believe those things that I staked my ministry and reputation on?” No; and putting his finger on a principle that guides his decisions would also be next to impossible, as he demonstrated when he tried to defend his relationship with Mark Driscoll.

Little bit of this, little bit of that…

I strongly suspect, mostly in the absence of any counter-evidence, that what guides Piper is what Rolland McCune called glandular Christianity. A glandular Christian’s approach to a problem or topic is more or less instinctual: there really is no coordinating principle that normalizes his positions. He lets his assumptions go unquestioned even after pressure comes to bear upon his position. At that point, he reaches for his concordance and throws up a haphazard, temporary embankment around his position. In this person’s mind, the position does not actually need to be defended: it is justified because he holds it.

This, perhaps, is why so many attempts to discern a pattern in Piper’s thinking come across as tenuous.



Commendable Perspectives
December 28, 2015, 1:47 pm
Filed under: Bibliophilia, Destined to get me in trouble

As you loyal readers (both of you) know, I haven’t written much lately, whether on this site or any other. The reason is that I have discovered that many of the things I would say are very often better said by other people, and my greatest service to you would be to direct you to them. When John the Baptist instructed his followers to follow Jesus instead, he was doing them the greater service than if he had merely tried to poach Jesus’ sermons and pass them off as his own.

With that in mind, I commend to you Tom Chantry’s blog, chantrynotes. He writes from a Reformed Baptist perspective, and as a Baptist myself, I find his critiques and observations especially apt. As I always say, I never give an unqualified endorsement; but Chantry usually does a good job.

In particular, I commend this particular article, where the author rightly points out that John Piper’s evident lack of stability and consistency is symptomatic of an utter lack of discernment. He has no ability to tell the moral worth of anything beyond the theological categories yucky and yummy. Chantry has it right.



Selling Things to Christians
November 20, 2015, 2:30 pm
Filed under: Destined to get me in trouble, Personal Adventures

I grew up in a smokers’ home, so there was a time when the smell of smoke was transparent to me. I had no idea that my home smelled like anything, or that I smelled like anything, until one day a friend told me. Even then, I couldn’t smell it; but he could, and that was a turning point in my self-awareness at around age 9.

Today, at age 40, I can’t stand the smell. I’ve become so sensitive to it that I can be driving down the Interstate with the windows up and smell smoke coming from other vehicles. Ick.

Similarly, I’m pretty unplugged from media these days. I generally don’t watch TV or movies, and even when they’re on in front of me, I’m generally not watching them in a participatory sort of way, I’m trying to analyze them. What are these people trying to sell me? What are they arguing for? What do they value? What is the nature of their appeal? It sounds cynical because it is: I reflexively begin from a position of distrust toward a person on a screen telling me something, especially if there are multiple layers of appeal (read: marketing) assailing me simultaneously.

Many (most?) people get all of their information from people talking on screens. There is an entire symbol set that corresponds to the different way that such people think. It constitutes a grammar, and much like we don’t consider grammar when we’re engaged in casual conversation, we see right through those symbol sets to the things symbolized. Screens, as it were, speak our language; and accompanying aesthetic elements such as hairstyles and clothing on the speakers, background music, and cinematography are all employed to give credibility to the message.

Much like I have to work harder to get meaning from Elizabethan English, people who get all their information from people talking on screens would have a tougher time with propositions. You can read about media ecology if you want to understand this better.

I say all that to bring to your attention this video, where Francis Chan pitches his book, Erasing Hell. I’ve not read the book, but that’s more or less irrelevant to my point here, because I’m not analyzing the book. What I’m analyzing is how Chan and his publisher present the book. First, they chose video, rather than printed word or even static pictures. Second, you may notice that Chan and his clothing are the only things in color and in focus in the video. Third, Chan is not speaking in propositions, he’s speaking in the language of therapy; talking about his journey through this topic and what he’s learned. His motions are precisely choreographed. Fourth, there is that amorphous Muzak thrumming away generically–almost transparently–in the background.

I am not denigrating Chan’s pastoral concerns, nor am I calling his earnestness into question. I share his concerns, to some extent, even if I disagree with his conclusions. But this video is telling us more than that the doctrine of hell is actually in the Bible. It’s telling you how to feel. It’s telling you how to feel about Francis Chan. It’s telling you how to feel about Chan’s book. It’s telling you how to feel about the topic of Chan’s book. Now, considering that this is a marketing video: what are you supposed to do with those feelings?

Are Chan et al. manipulating your emotions? I will leave that to your judgment; but at the very least, let’s acknowledge that they are making a very strenuous appeal to your emotions.

 



When Subcultures Win
October 29, 2015, 2:10 pm
Filed under: Bible, Destined to get me in trouble

Recently my friend Michael Riley participated in a panel discussion about whether “styles” of worship music ought to divide people who are otherwise (with respect to doctrine and polity) in substantial agreement. Now, the word “style,” as it is used in these discussions, is a major weasel-word: everyone agrees that “style” is subjective, right? and has no intrinsic meaning? yes?

No. But “style” is useful because it connotes “taste,” which evokes overtones of “liberty,” “ἀδιάφορα,” “you’re a legalist,” and thus befogs and beclouds the entire issue with “stop judging me” and “how can it be wrong when it feels so right?” sentiments. But that is another discussion.

What intrigues me is something that Riley said in the middle of his presentation that drew a sharp retort from another panelist that was engaged in the issue.

The other panelist helpfully, if not entirely accurately, distinguished among high culture and its expressions (think galleries and orchestras); sub-culture and its expressions (think tattoo parlors and nightclubs); and common culture (think all those cultural expressions that have become ubiquitous– Muzak). What he was attempting was something like this: High culture is inaccessible to the average person; sub-culture is untrustworthy; but the music of common culture requires little to no interpretation.

It’s true: we don’t bother to interpret common culture. Whenever we go into a bank, a grocery store, an elevator, a shopping mall, or any public space, in the background (as in a milking parlor on a dairy farm), there will be this innocuous pink noise. Pop music, the expression of common culture relevant to the discussion, is everywhere. And because it is everywhere, it is, he would argue, innocent of all connotation. It merely is. It represents nothing. Therefore, he would conclude, if we put our theological content into such packaging, it will go down easy into the soul, without requiring the listener to work at interpretation.

If I’ve represented the other panelist fairly (and I’ve tried), it sounds like a good idea. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine down, and why make things difficult if they don’t need to be?

But a conservative Christian would never agree that any cultural expression is free from connotation. INTENDED connotation is notoriously difficult to erase, because the people who invested the thing with meaning INTENDED for it to give certain impressions. We might not be tempted to worship the golden calf, but we could understand that we are in the presence of something that was made to be worshiped.

And that was where Riley had to make his stand. He granted that music once used to rebel against all authority was now being employed to sell pickup trucks. Pickup trucks: you know, the icon of middle-of-the-road American values? Yes, we’re now using rock ‘n roll, of all things least likely, to sell emblems of Americana. But the very fact that this might not strike people as ironic points to one of two conclusions: either the rock ‘n roll subculture has indeed lost its original and intended meaning; or the rock ‘n roll subculture won, and the values of the rock ‘n roll subculture have been assimilated into the larger culture. If the latter is true, the culture, in succumbing to the sub-culture, had lurched irretrievably in the direction of anti-Christianity. So there is a new, less-Christian normal, with a new set of less-Christian sensibilities.

At this point, the other panelist was forced to insist abruptly that the expressions that arose from older, rebellious subcultures had lost their original and intended meaning. If he were to admit that there might be any vestige of the original and intended meaning left in the music that he uses to worship God, this would be an admission of blasphemy. Golden calves are pronounced free of their idolatrous connotation because nobody worships golden calves anymore.

But this leaves a vacuum in the argument: in order for cultural expressions to be or become neutral things given enough time, there has to be some positive force, applied over time, by which cultural artifacts and expressions can be cleansed of their rebellious intent in the sight of God. Can anyone look back and dispute that common culture has grown MORE hostile to Christianity at exactly the points when subcultures became mainstream?

It’s easy to say that rebellion is nullified over time: but to what Scriptural principle would one point to support it?

 




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