Wesley’s Questions

If you’re familiar with 12 Step programs, you might remember that Step 4 is the Truth, i.e., “Make a searching and fearless written moral inventory of yourself.”

There’s a reason they say *searching and fearless* — it’s hard to be honest about yourself. (Especially in writing.)

John Wesley and his Holy Club used to do that every day (not in writing). They had a list of questions to help them do it. Here are the first two:

  1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
  2. Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?

I should mention that I hate those questions and rarely do this.

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GA222

My friends from Seminary, many of them, are posting from #GA222 in Portland. Reading their posts, I feel like such a dog in the manger. “They’re happy. Why can’t you be happy for them?” I ask myself. The reason is the same reason I wouldn’t be happy if someone had cancer and they were treating it with homeopathic remedies. (“None of the side-effects of chemo!”) They may be happy, but they’re not addressing the problem.

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Well. Oregon-Idaho takes up support for RCRC denied at GC2016. RCRC is the religious coalition for reproductive choice, i.e., they advocate for abortion rights.

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Korax

Raven
Accretion Disc | Flickr

“Consider the ravens,” says Jesus (here).

Ravens are popular in Alaska, and for much of the year, they’re the bird we see the most, possibly because their obnoxious croaking attracts one’s attention.

That croaking may be how they got their Greek name. The Greek word for “raven” is korax, –akos. If you’ve heard them, you have to wonder if their Greek name is onomatopoeiac. (From a Greek word that means what Greeks mean when they say echomimetico, which would probably be a better word than onomatopoeia.) I don’t know that, and BDAG is silent, but it seems likely to me.

Raven Chow

Certainly, Jesus is right that God feeds them. Ravens in Alaska are huge, like our deer and bears. I routinely see ravens as big as chickens—or maybe turkeys. What I’ve seen them eating isn’t very appealing, however. In the zoo (pictured right) it’s revolting, but in a parking lot, it’s worse.

Scavenging carrion may be one reason ravens were unpopular (judging from the Hebrew Scriptures) in ancient Near Eastern culture. Leviticus declares them unclean, Proverbs points to them as a caution, and Isaiah uses them in a curse. Only two references to ravens are neutral or positive: Noah initially sent out a raven, but we hear no more about it. Subsequently, Noah used only doves. In the Song of Songs, the woman compares her lover’s wavy hair to a raven.

But Jesus probably wasn’t thinking about that when he mentioned ravens. (Luke records Jesus saying “raven” specifically, rather than just “birds,” as in Matthew; Luke 12:24 and Matt 6:26.)

Two references in the Hebrew Scriptures suggest that Jesus was alluding to proverbial wisdom about ravens’ foraging ability: Psalm 147 credits God with feeding them. Job 38 uses this idea to illustrate how far God’s wisdom is above men’s.

But as Jesus’ audience considered ravens, they would surely have remembered how God provided for Elijah in the wilderness (1 Kings 17). Not only does God feed the ravens, but sometimes, God uses ravens to feed people. That was the point Jesus was making, that you don’t have to be anxious, since God will take care of his children. Maybe even by means of ravens.

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Good grief. The brain trust at World HQ published the PC(USA) Book of Confessions as a PDF without a table of contents. Way to move (cautiously) into the 1990s!

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Sexual Relationships — Theory and Practice

In view of all the changes to the PC(USA)’s Book of Order, it’s worthwhile to look at what its Book of Confessions says it believes. We wouldn’t want our practice to get ahead of our theology, after all:

d. The relationship between man and woman exemplifies in a basic way God’s ordering of the interpersonal life for which he created mankind. Anarchy in sexual relationships is a symptom of man’s alienation from God, his neighbor, and himself.

—Confession of 1967, §9.47

That’s pretty good. But it goes on to explain this problem as follows:

Man’s perennial confusion about the meaning of sex has been aggravated in our day (1) by the availability of new means for birth control and the treatment of infection, (2) by the pressures of urbanization, (3) by the exploitation of sexual symbols in mass communication, and (4) by world overpopulation.

—Confession of 1967, §9.47 (Numbers added for reference.)

There’s as much wrong as right with the list of reasons. (1) and (3) are obviously true; (2) has some truth in it, and (4) might be true if it weren’t for people like Norman Borlaug who solve problems instead of whining about nebulous potential dangers whenever the status quo is challenged.

Another problem with this list is that by lumping everything until about WWII together and calling them “perrennial” problems, backward views about sexual relationships like those of Boko Haram and ISIL don’t rate a mention, for all the violence and sorrow they’re causing.

In other words, our confusion about the meaning of sex was reflected in the very documents that tried to address it, almost fifty years ago.

Yet it reads like a breath of fresh air in today’s climate. The last two generations have not fared well (by any metric) as a result of what appears to be not a linear but an exponential accumulation of problems.

In the intervening years, new ways our confusion is aggravated have become apparent. I would include among them, (5) by the welfare state’s need for a broad tax base, which led to the creation of many inducements for women to work outside the home, and (6) by society’s misinterpretation of marriage as being about conferring approbation of and support for sexual rather than parental relationships.

Many of these causes are in fact symptoms of another, deeper, problem: the idea that we are smarter and more enlightened than our ancestors. We have made more progress along some invisible track. This gives us the audacity (or impetuosity) to implement change based simply on theory, rather than promising results from field tests. We impose our theory across all of society rather than using small laboratory environments to discover what works and what doesn’t.

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Tim Keller: What is a Conservative Protestant

I’ve mentioned the recent Pew survey to some people this week and several have asked me what “Mainline Protestantism” is and how it relates to “Evangelical Protestantism”. The Pew people explain their methodology, but it’s not especially useful unless you’re trying to classify people in a survey. So I prefer this explanation by Tim Keller:

I’ll use the Bebbington four plus one. Now, David Bebbington was a historian and a sociologist some years ago who tried to define evangelicalism and came up with these four characteristics.

I have never found the autograph of what he actually said, but because it keeps coming down through everybody else, this is my understanding of his four characteristics were the authority of the Bible — by that, I think it means the Bible trumps reason and experience. Secondly, the necessity of a conversion experience of some kind. Thirdly, salvation through faith in Christ’s work on the cross, not good works. Fourth, mission, the idea of activism, needing to take this message to the world.

And my fifth one I would add — even though it may be inherent, it may be implied, I would call it supernatural Christianity. Liberal Christianity tried to redo all of Christian doctrine in terms of naturalistic assumptions, no miracles. And I would say an evangelical conservative Protestant definitely believes in miracles, believes the resurrection really happened.

Somebody once told me, if you ask an Episcopalian minister, “Did the resurrection really happen?” and if he says, “Well, it depends on what you mean,” that means no.

I don’t know if that’s fair to suggest about Episcopalians, but I know a several Methodist and Presbyterian ministers who would add a lot of caveats and nuance to their answer.

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The Church and Young People

The Pew study that came out this week revealed that in just the last seven years the median age of Mainline Protestants went from 50 to 52. Looking at stats like that, you have to wonder if we’ve reached a tipping point.

Last month, at the 2015 Catalyst Conference (West), Andy Stanley said:

If your church is designed by 50 year-olds for 50 year-olds to the neglect of teenagers, shame on you.

That’s a hard pill to swallow. I don’t know of a better communicator in the church than Andy Stanley. He didn’t use the word “shame” lightly.

But consider what the 17th Century Puritan John Flavel said:

If you neglect to instruct them in the way of holiness, will the devil neglect to instruct them in the way of wickedness. No. If you will not teach them to pray, he will to curse, swear, and lie. If ground be uncultivated, weeds will spring.—The Mystery of Providence

Of course, the devil doesn’t do that by whispering in young people’s ears. It happens, mostly, because the world is a fallen, broken place full of fallen, broken people who prey on the weak and vulnerable.

Jesus changed that. He said that that young people have angels in heaven who see the face of God in heaven and woe to those who harm his little ones.

His followers changed the world. Eric Metaxas wrote about how the church challenged the thinking of the ancient world about children:

Into this world came Christianity, with its condemnation of abortion, infanticide and child abuse, its glorification of faithful marriage. … This ethic, which the Western world takes for granted today, is a direct heritage of Christianity.

There was a time when the church thought about how much God loved young people. The church improved the status of children so much we are incapable of imagining how bad it used to be. What does the future hold for children if the church puts the needs and desires of 50 year olds ahead of teenagers?

Cross-posted from my new JLP Pastor blog.

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Quotes

Some quotes from leaders attending Orange Conference last week, via Brian Dodd:

The antidote to cynicism is curiosity. The curious are never cynical. The cynical are never curious. The cynical have it all figured out.—Carey Nieuwhof

There are no balanced old people. You’re really angry or you’re really happy.—Carey Nieuwhof

Jesus prepared for 30 years and taught for three. We prepared for three and try to preach for 30.—Carey Nieuwhof

If you write “Family” on your calendar you can tell people you have a commitment on that day.—Carey Nieuwhof

What breaks my heart is in the United States hundreds of thousands wake up on a Sunday and church never crosses their mind.—Andy Stanley

Business did not make systems up. God is a God of order.—Jenni Catron

We need to introduce systems at our staff’s point of need.—Jenni Catron

Encourage. Encourage. I can see the things which need to be fixed but not the things which are working well. We should be encouraging five times to every one criticism.—Jenni Catron

People out of their faith and obedience to God have given their resources and because of this you have a paycheck.—Jenni Catron

I’ve even found myself evaluating weddings.—Jeff Henderson

What is this generation of students worth? It’s worth everything.—Andy Stanley

Blame is a change-avoidance strategy.—Andy Stanley

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Why Churches Don’t Grow

Thom Rainer has a list of 7 reasons why some members of churches don’t want them to grow. It’s a pretty good list when even the pastor can say, “Yeah, I get that. Sometimes I feel that way.” For example:

Loss of memories. I recently heard a poignant story from a lady whose church was demolishing the old worship center to build a new one to accommodate growth. She and her husband were married in the old worship center. She understandably grieved at the loss of that physical reminder of their wedding.

Others I don’t find as compelling. My favorite not-a-good-reason is number 5. (Or maybe I should write like a click-bait headline: “Number 5 will make you roll your eyes. Again.”)

If Genesis 11 is a commentary on people’s refusal to obey the commandment of Genesis 1:28, then what is the commentary on people’s refusal to obey the Great Commission or John 20:21 or Acts 1:8?

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