Tuesday, June 30, 2009

MacArthur v. Driscoll

I had figured this issue was going to die down but it seems that's its going into the fifth round or so. Essentially the question here is whether it is acceptable for a preacher to speak naturally on sexual topics or not. In other words can you as a Christian minister discuss sex the same way you would discuss auto repair or is hemming and hawing and being vague a requirement.

Since this charge is being led by MacArthur I think it makes sense to start by quoting him. All of the quotes come from a series of 4 sermons that MacArthur gave on Driscoll entitled "The Rape of Solomon's Song" (Part1 Part2 Part3 Part4)
[Y]ou can[not] make a biblical case for Christians to embrace worldly fads—especially when those fads are diametrically at odds with the wholesome speech, pure mind, and chaste behavior that God calls us to display. At its core, this is about ideology. No matter how culture changes, the truth never does. But the more the church accommodates the baser elements of the culture, the more she will inevitably compromise her message. We must not betray our words through our actions; we must be in the world but not of it. . . . . It's vital that you not send one message about the importance of sound doctrine and a totally different message about the importance of sound speech and irreproachable pure-mindedness.

Mark Driscoll’s response to that admonition and the things he has said since have only magnified my concern.

Mark did indeed express regret a few years ago over the reputation his tongue has earned him. Yet no substantive change is observable.

The first misconception some have regarding this debate is that this is new for MacArthur based on a particular television appearance. So I'd just counter this by noting that MacArthur has been arguing this case against Driscoll for years. For example he attacked Driscoll "vulgarity" in his "Grunge Christianity" article. And I have heard claims this is personal, and I don't think it is personal. Over the years MacArthur has attacked so many different people on some many different ideological grounds with these sorts of campaigns there is no reason to believe that this is merely a cover. His followers have broadly attacked Missional Christianity as per the image to the left.

What I really see though as the base underlying cause is not vulgarity, but rather postmodernism. In The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception MacArthur also attacked Driscoll as the cursing pastor. But the big issue in this book is epistemological. Driscoll is philosophically postmodernist while completely orthodox in his theology. Driscoll argues that Christian have a responsibility to engage the last 200 years of epistemology in an effective way. MacArthur in a book on epistemology displays a shocking ignorance of the topic. That is in many ways a replay of the classic question of Galileo, "Does the bible teach what moves the heavens or how the heavens move" just applied to another sphere of human inquiry.

With that preface lets hit the 4 issues in this debate
  1. Legitimacy of cursing, or vulgarity.
  2. Legitimacy of expositional preaching on poetry.
  3. Legitimacy of expositional preachong on the Song of Songs in particular.
  4. General attack on postmodernism.
First with respect to the first charge I'm not sure Driscoll is actually guilty a sin here. Here is the latest joke that everyone is in a tizzy about. What I should mention though is you'll rarely see the actual joke. Where I come from a statement of charges should be specific, not vague. If Driscoll is to be disciplined for "jokes" the specific jokes should be listed with citations of where they came from. OK here goes:
Question: What does the bible say about masturbation
Answer: Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might (Ecc 9:10)
OK, were you shocked? Not did you feel like you are supposed to be shocked; were you actually shocked? My guess is no, that joke is tame. The sort of joke that anyone who understands it isn't going to be shocked by. I can't even imagine anyone being aroused by it, which is core to the definition of obscenity, so I'd immediately dismiss any claims about this joke being obscene. Now I think the reason the joke isn't repeated is because it is so borderline, far better to say "I can't repeat the obscene joke on my site...." and convict Driscoll without even a complete statement of the charges. The fact is that this joke is so far from obscene that television censors had no problem with it during daytime. If MacArthur (who preaches in Hollywood) thinks that is an obscene joke there are about 5 of the country's top comedy clubs within 10 miles of his church, where he can find out how off base he is.

Now "corse jesting" is prohibited by Eph 5:4, as is "silly talk". Even if I were to grant that MacArthur has gone a lifetime without making a course joke, I'd say he's the pot calling the kettle black when it comes to this verse given the mountain of sillyness that comes out of him. So the question is do we want to remove pastors from office for Eph 5:4 violations and if so which ones would remain standing at the end?

So having dismissed obscenity lets move on to the second charge Driscoll's interpretation of the Song of Songs. First off, Driscoll has a dedicated site on Song of Songs, Peasant princess, where you can see for yourself he does a good job doing a very standard poetical deconstruction of a love poem. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary you wouldn't hear in any high school literature class taking apart a poem with lots of metaphor and allegory. The interpretation itself is not particularly unusual either, it is standard fare that you would find in most good commentaries. Adele Reinhartz opens his analysis with “The Song of Songs is the bible’s only extensive discourse on human, erotic love.” The idea that this erotic treatment is some innovation of Driscoll's is nonsense. Driscoll presents the material well but in a very direct way.

So now lets get to the charge, we have notes on Driscoll's sermon with "objectionable" parts highlighted. Now there is no question this is on the level of a 7th grade sex ed class in a sermon only given to people over 18 while discussing a love poem. Is this over the line? Is deconstruction of a biblical poem a legitimate activity. Tim Challis as well as MacArthur answered this question in the negative. I think this point can be immediately dispatched by noting that the Book of Hebrews is an exposition of the poetry of Psalm 103. God cannot forbid what is commanded.

So then we have to turn to a more specific question if there is something unique about Song of Songs that prohibits it. And in general the answer comes back to sex. That is the MacArthur position is that a preacher can discuss politics, law, history, theology, the news, sports, movies.... from the pulpit without hemming and hawing but you can't say things like "when woman are sexually aroused blood flows to the inner and outer labia". To prove this is sexually specific would anyone object to the equally explicit, "when a person is having a heart attack they often feel stabbing or shooting pain down the arms". Was the heart attack comment obscene? I'd say no, it was good medical advice. And that is precisely my opinion about the first comment as well.

But this is a tricky point. And it gets to the very core with the debate regarding missional Christianity. Missional Christianity rejects Churchianity and the standards of Churchianity when it comes to behavior whether in dress, attitudes towards body modification, in speech, in layout of the church. It says that it is going to walk away from some aspects of Churchianity to be able to actually reach people who would otherwise not be reachable. The bible never commands this sort of bashfulness, it is rather part of the "Christian culture". Paul lived in a culture vastly more explicit and open regarding sexuality than our own and never prohibited living in the culture, rather he demanded the opposite outreach.

What Driscoll did speak openly about a sex act he did so the the same way one would speak about grocery shopping or driving. And I think this is what people are reacting to, it was not the sexual content of anything Driscoll said but rather his lack trepidation in discussing it. Driscoll is not embarrassed to speak openly and sex that I think that not the content is MacArthur really found distressing. I had a similar experience on this board when trying to have an adult discussion of Christian Domestic Discipline. What I found then as well as every time this topic comes up, was that Churchianity's insistence on in treating sex differently than driving on adult boards is to impose upon sex the very obscenity that people like MacArthur are supposedly objecting to.

And this finally brings us to MacArthur's general attack on postmodernism. For MacArthur postmodernism is a chance to relive his hero's battle (see Spurgeon and the Down-Grade Controversy), (and Fed Up by Johnson). For Driscoll it is an opportunity for the church to reform its literature and make itself relevant to a culture which is altering its opinion on core issues about the connection between mind and world. The ideological struggle between Driscoll and MacArthur, deserves its own post and further should be broadened . Driscoll himself asserts that the primary division he has with MacArthur is over the contextualization of gospel.

MacArthur is Reformed, were he Arminian we could ask for a clear number like, how many souls should be lost due to an unwillingness to be missional: five, a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, five hundred thousand...? How many would would just be "collateral damage" and not induce a policy change and how many would make outreach worth it. Since the answer is most likely in the millions, today I think this is a worthwhile question. MacArthur cannot reach the people that the missional Christian movement meets and reaches out too. So were he and his followers successful in delegitimizing it the number who would leave or never join the faith would hopefully only be in the tens of millions over the next century. But MacArthur is reformed so essentially he can be as ineffectual as he wants in outreach, since his works have no part in people being saved. So I close with question to readers who disagree with me, what your number?

See also:

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Suzanne's index

Suzanne McCarthy of Suzanne's bookshelf has put together a wonderful index of her posts on language. While it is far from a complete list it is a terrific resource for those looking for quick counter arguments on many of the common woman bashing themes that show up on bible blogs. Definitely a resource worth checking out.

I figure I'm also going to use this post as a running place holder for various related topics so expect the list below to be live and growing:

Friday, June 26, 2009

Wow I just got promoted

So I just got paid a pretty high complement a few minutes ago. Yesterday I posted a link to the Bayly blog (thread) to the Why be an ESV hater article. Basically the article is about the fact that the ESV is a political translation, and Bayly was both agreeing with me and posting some pretty clear evidence. As is my policy I contact anyone I link to every time I link if I can. I think that is basic politeness, gives them a chance to respond. Anyway, the Bayly's actually know who I am. Not only that David Bayly paid me high praise indeed, "Thanks for dealing with this individual [CD-Host] I've not found another commenter on this blog as filled with darkness, including the atheists who recently visited the site. They are deceived. This individual is a deceiver". Talking about yours truly! Wow and here I thought I was just a run of the mill bible blogger. Hah, I just made #1 force of darkness on the whole history of their blog (which actually goes back quite a ways). I'm feeling great. I've had a lousy week and that post definitely made my day. I'm on the internet so I get insulted regularly, but that was the coolest of all time.

OK so other than CD's ego tripping is there any content coming from this? First off I'd like answer a few questions.

There was a request for a link to my debate with Frank Turk (centuri0n). This is in reverse order (start at the bottom) but it is available here. There was a request for more insight on discipline and I was recommending the walk throughs list. Eric, had linked to my Rules for due process.

So what set them off? Heck, if I know. I haven't talked to those guys in over 2 years:
  • I'm hoping it was the Defense against Patriarchy series. This series the Bayly's actually deserve some credit. Of course, Doug Phillips was the main target, but the Baylys also had a blog full of their claims about their views having been the norm through Church history were a leading inspiration. I ended up writing over 100 pages proving that to be a cock-and-bull story.
  • Another possibility was our first encounter Tim Bayly on homosexuality and feminism where Bayly calls for excommunication based on opinion (not teaching or actions). I asked him to confirm this was really his opinion. He sort of did, then rejecting my characterization then refused my offer to let him rephrase as he saw fit.
  • One of the other articles about women's issues.
  • There are about another 1/2 dozen scattered references to him over the years.
But this just doesn't seem to rise to the level of prince of darkness, ok maybe defense does. I'm pretty proud of that. So while I feel great pride in David's complement there is this sense of undeserved praise. What to do, what to do? I should mention that Tim's comment wasn't bad either:
CD-Host, I owe our readers no link to your lies and heresies. Contradicting the Word of God is no small thing, and it's my sworn duty to silence it when it occurs. Often, it's helpful to our readers to hear questions and arguments. But in your case, the anonymity and toxicity of your heresies rises to a level I must not permit. So I'm pulling all links to your web site.
So in other words my stuff is well above the average in terms of lies and heresies. And you know what, I also got a permanent link on Planet Atheism today. Tim in recent threads had mentioned there were some problems recently with atheists (I couldn't find the threads on his blog unfortunately). But I suspect there is a connection, and this new link is their doing. So to get to the point, I'll take this opportunity to warmly thank both Tim and David for their endorsement.

I've noticed in the last 2 years a sharp drop off in claims that complementarianism and patriarchy were the universally held view up until: a generation ago, the 70s, the last hundred years.... and I can only hope that I had something to do with this and my modesty is misplaced.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Ken Brown's 5 books

Ken Brown posted a challenge:
Name the five books (or scholars) that had the most immediate and lasting influence on how you read the Bible. Note that these need not be your five favorite books, or even the five with which you most strongly agree. Instead, I want to know what five books have permanently changed the way you think.
Here are my 5:
  1. NIV Study Bible Walked me through the bible and got me to read it.
  2. Back to the sources, by Barry Holtz. Along with other Jewish writings, taught me to read what the OT text actually says not what people tell you it says.
  3. Jesus the Magician, by Morton Smith. Presented the first plausible answer to "lord, liar, lunatic" and taught me higher criticism.
  4. Fragments of a Faith Forgotten (online free) by G.R.S. Mead. Taught me that the bible was a Greek book written by Greeks about Greek topics and that I would really understand it until I learned to think Greek. Opened my eyes wide.
  5. The Jesus Puzzle (associated website), by Earl Doherty. Well in all fairness the earlier versions of the website before the book came out. Taught me the mythicist case, which got me to understand how Christianity came from Hellenistic Judaism. That is it put me on the road to the New School.
I really should have 7.

If I could add a 6th it would be Bauer's Orthodoxy and Heresy. This book founded a whole school called the "new school" which includes Pagels, Pearson, John Turner.... This is where I currently identify.

And number 7 deserves an honorable mention. Bultmann's The Gospel of John, which taught me lower criticism.

See also:

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Why be an ESV hater?

This is a reply to John Hobbins of Ancient Hebrew Poetry (article link). We are were discussing my one verse challenge to ESV supporters that has been running for over a year now, "Find one verse in the that the ESV translates more accurately than the NRSV". The idea being that for people who claim that the reason they choose the ESV is formal translation the NRSV offers a far far superior formal translation. There are hundreds upon hundreds of instances of terrible translations in the ESV, comparatively. What I had unable to find was one place the ESV did better. It is looking like John found a verse, Isaiah 1:6, there is no mention of "bleeding" in the Hebrew. The real point of course was that people choose the ESV not because it is a superior translation but rather because they supported the cause.

And obviously I'm on the other side of this cause. I see the ESV as a flag ship for a political cause I despise, an attempt to degrade and demean women as a way to "fight back" against feminism. The ESV translation was born out of a political struggle and from its first days has identified itself with this cause. The ESV is where it is today due to a brutal campaign of lies and hatred (example). Yes, this translation gets looked at from a political perspective. What fully justifies it is the fact that the ESV continues to politicize bible translation. All over the web you hear insinuations that the ESV is the "real word of God". I helped create the phrase ESV-onlyism as a reference to this attitude in comparison with the well known KJV-onlyism that exists in niches of fundamentalists. If the ESV had come out as what it is, a conservative redaction of the RSV designed to read some Calvinism back into the bible text it wouldn't have been controversial. But this bible from its start has sought to become an acceptable alternative unifying bible, not a niche translation. And the controversy helps to remind people that endorsing the ESV is endorsing the cause for which it stands and the effects of its policies: higher teen suicide, higher teen pregnancy, unwanted and abused children, increased rates of spousal abuse, poverty, depression.... And yes I hate those things and make no apology for it. The ESV isn't just a bible anymore than the Jungle is really a book about a family of immigrants. Both books exist as part of a political movement.

But even if one doesn't look at the ESV politically, it is a pretty poor translation. Reading Calvinism into the bible text is frankly dishonest. And reading the New Testament into the old, when claiming to translate "from the Hebrew" is dishonest. Given the choices out there: NET, REB, TNIV, HCSB, NLT, NRSV, AMP... the message of the "ESV haters" has been there is no good reason for a church or an individual to pick the ESV. The negatives far outweigh the positives. And you are absolutely correct that the passion for ESV bashing comes from the political context in which it lives and thrives.

In my article on accuracy I noted that using independent accuracy criteria (that is non ideological) simply choosing based on nothing more than the handling of Isaiah 7:14 would explain 71% of all accuracy differences between mainstream bibles. Bibles that read words having nothing to do with "virgin" as "virgin" pretty freely alter the text in hundreds of other places as well.

In short the ESV by itself is a mediocre bible with nothing particularly creative or important about it passing itself off as a huge innovation. It is part of a political campaign and it is this political campaign which provides the motivation to engage in this debate frequently.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Salon on teens

Haven't posted for a while but I thought this was too good to pass up. Salon did a terrific "dear Abby" style column on teen rebellion.

When we are teenagers, because the world has not been designed around our needs but around the needs of the adults who run that world, it often appears that the world will not give us what we want unless we contrive to find it for ourselves, and that means breaking the rules. When a child turns 16 and suddenly has a set of new requirements for happiness -- a sudden need for companionship and society, for recognition outside the family, for a free, unfettered flow of experience full of novelty and risk -- and no one shows her how to meet these new needs (and how could anyone show her such a thing, her needs being new to her and impossible for her to express), then she naturally sets out to meet these needs. And if a few rules stand in her way, well, those rules will be broken.

Your daughter is trying to meet her needs. That is how a human being gets along in the world. Perhaps you can figure out a way she can meet her needs that is acceptable to you. It is not possible for you to meet all her needs directly, because one of her needs is to do it on her own. But within your vast area of control, perhaps you can create areas of seeming autonomy within which she can continue to explore and learn to make her own choices. That might help her. It might be what she needs.

Do you remember how awful it is to live in fear of your own parents? Do you remember that? I hope that you have not now reached adulthood repeating the catechism that whatever you endured under the rule of your own parents was all for the best, nothing you didn't deserve. I know adults who do say, look at me, I turned out OK, so it must be OK to treat my children in the same way I was treated.

It depends on how we view the human project. If we think of ourselves as components made to function dutifully within a society with fixed rules and fixed parameters, if getting and holding a job and raising a family are the primary goals, if existence is a preordained program of obedience to commands and right answers to tests, then yes, a somewhat punitive, controlling, rigid structure that denies the child the opportunity to fully master the multifarious arts of being may be just what is required.

But if you think that the child's project is much broader: to become, to unfold, to fully realize every merest spark of genius in her being, then you may agree that to accomplish that project, she needs more leeway to figure things out. She needs to make some mistakes.

You may not be able to prevent her from making those mistakes, but maybe you can be there to catch her when she falls.