Thursday, November 29, 2007

Which HasBeen Put First?

I was re-reading a C.S. Lewis book last night and came across this passage:

"And no sooner is it possible to distinguish the rite from the vision of God than there is a danger of the rite becoming a substitute for, and a rival to, God Himself. Once it can be thought of separately, it will; and it may then take on a rebellious, cancerous life of its own. There is a stage in a child's life at which it cannot separate the religious from the merely festal character of Christmas and Easter. I have been told of a very small and very devout boy who was heard murmuring to himself on Easter morning a poem of his own composition which began 'Chocolate eggs and Jesus risen'. This seems to me, for his age, both admirable poetry and admirable piety. But of course the time will soon come when such a child can no longer effortlessly and spontaneously enjoy that unity. He will become able to distinguish the spiritual from the ritual and festal aspect of Easter; chocolate eggs will no longer be sacramental. And once he has distinguished he must put one or the other first. If he puts the spiritual first he can still taste something of Easter in the chocolate eggs; if he puts the eggs first they will soon be no more than any other sweetmeat. They have taken on an independent, and therefore a soon withering, life." from "Reflections on the Psalms", pp.48-9.

Reading this now at the beginning of the annual "Christmas rush" it struck me that our society has largely chosen the ritual over the spiritual. Think of the controversies the last few years over the euphemisms being promoted over names of items associated with Christmas--"holiday trees" and "Winter Break" are only a couple. Some want to keep the festival while discarding the Reason for it. But removing the spiritual element also removes the moral restraint, and so the festival becomes one of excess and overindulgence. And once that pattern takes over, it always escalates; it always takes more and more to keep up the pretense of satisfying the urge, because our people have chosen the Lesser and are trying to fill up the void left when we rejected the Greater.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A Warning

One of the most chilling passages I've ever seen in the Bible is Matthew 7:22-23: "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them,'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.' "(NASB)

At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is talking about the Judgment Day. And those whom He describes Himself saying this to are not the pagans, the atheists, the hardened sinners--He will be saying this to people who thought they amounted to something in the church, people who did miracles and wonders in His name. He calls them "you who practice lawlessness." What is "lawlessness"? It's rejecting God's law; and Jesus elsewhere summed up the whole law in two things: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. In other words, he is effectively saying, if you don't walk in love for God and man, you are none of Mine, and no religious activity, even miracle-working, can overcome that lack.

This passage is not an isolated one-time thing; it is echoed through the rest of the NT. Just before His arrest, Jesus was saying things to the disciples like "Love one another as I have loved you" and "By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another." Late in his life John was writing things like "If any man does not love his brother, the love of the Father is not in him" and "If you do not love your brother that you do see, how can you love God who you do not see." Paul wrote a whole chapter on love in I Cor. 13, and started out by saying it was "a more excellent way" than the tongues and prophesying he had just written about. One more from John: "For love is of God, and every one who loves is born of God, and knows God." And that implies that those who do not love do not know God.

In my life I've run across a lot of Christians who are more interested in arguing than in love--arguing over End Times, whether the "sign gifts" have ceased or not, Calvinism/Arminianism, liberal theology/conservative theology (there seems to be a whole cottage industry these days of blogs and websites to identify who is orthodox and who's a heretic) and nowadays over the postmodern thing--I see quite a few who are "agin" it. And if there's one thing I've seen again and again over the years, it's that when people start arguing they quit loving. I've seen at least one church destroyed because the leaders argued instead of loving.

I'm not saying these other issues have no importance at all. But it seems clear to me that Jesus, John, and Paul all considered Love the Most Important Thing. And any time we take one of these lesser things and try to act like it's the Most Important and forget that Love is the real Most Important Thing, we are making our own priorities higher than God's, and are in danger of the final rejection of Matthew 7:23.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Personal Update

I haven't done this before, but at least one reader expressed concern about my wife's recent health problems, so I figured I should report. She is doing better. Not any cut-and-dried cause, but it looks like a familiar suspect. Miriam had a brief hospital stay almost five years ago--heart-attack symptoms, but no actual heart attack, low cholesterol, no blocked arteries. It turned out to be formaldehyde poisoning--she had had a small business making tents for historical reenactors (we've done some of that ourselves since 1993). Some of the canvas was treated with a flame retardant containing formaldehyde. We had figured out that every time she made a flame-retardant tent she got another kidney stone; but in early 2003 some other things pushed her over the edge, and she got really sick. Formaldehyde doesn't cause hives or sniffles; it interferes with liver and kidney function. We did find a doctor who recognized it and helped, but it took a long time to de-tox from the experience. She is still very sensitive to a lot of chemicals--even latex paint bothers her for a couple of weeks after it is applied.

Last winter Miriam got a job selling flowers at Costco here in Indianapolis, as a contract employee for the flower wholesaler. She liked the job, enjoyed being around people, had some play for creativity. But there is a strong possibility that the dyes and pesticides used on the flowers are bothering her. She has given notice that she will not renew her contract next month, and her supervisor is looking for someone else to take over (supervisor is not happy about it; Miriam's sales were often among the best in the region, until she got sick). She is feeling much better after some rest and de-toxing activity, and around February she'll look for a new job.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Postmodernism and the Doctrine of the Fall

Despite the rantings of some church leaders about how awful pomo is, I personally think it fits better with one basic Biblical doctrine than modernism does. The modern assumption is that man is basically good, and with proper education, health care, and the elimination of poverty, everything will be fine. The Bible teaches that man was created good, but rebelled against his Creator; and ever since, man has been flawed. Compared to what he was, he is now flawed morally, intellectually (researchers figured out years ago we only use about 10% of our brain's capacity) and physically. This means you can't always count on people doing the right thing; even the smartest have blind spots and weaknesses, and very few are as smart as they think they are; and our bodies run down, wear out, and succumb to diseases.

It is common to claim that postmoderns don't believe in absolute truth. But what if there are some absolutes, but you can't rely on fallen Man, as he now is, to (1) recognize one if he stumbles across it, (2) understand it completely if he does recognize it, and (3) express it accurately to someone else so they can understand it? I think the real net effect is nearly the same; you don't have properly functioning absolutes, not because there are none, but because Man doesn't "get it" when he sees one.

Which of these two views of Man--the modern mantra that Man is basically good, or the historic Christian teaching that Man is marred by the effects of sin and death--actually corresponds better to the real world we live in? If Man is good, why are there such people as Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Saddam Hussein, Ahmedinejad, Charles Manson, and the neighborhood mugger? But according to the Bible, such people are to be expected because of the present nature of man. Even when he means well, Man does not always do what he knows he ought to do (I've worked in residential construction for the last 20 years, and I've seen way too much shoddy, substandard, unsafe, and just plain WRONG work done by supposedly trained and licensed tradespeople--and missed by the building inspectors, too!) And there are some people who don't even mean well.

I think the postmodern shift is going to allow us to get back to some basic Biblical concepts that the modern world rejected and tried to ignore. As Brian MacLaren expressed it, the modern world was not a bed of roses for Christianity; let's look for the opportunities the new situation may bring.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Is postmodernism really "back to the future?"

It's been a while since I posted anything here--you know the saying, "Life is what happens while you were making other plans."? My wife has been ill (doctors still don't know what or why), several car breakdowns (I'm finding the Internet more useful than the repair manuals you buy at the parts stores, but you have to get home to use it.) Anyway, enough has been going on to push blogging to a low priority. BUT--lately somebody came over and read my postings lately, read the whole schmutz, apparently, AND LEFT COMMENTS!! So I know he was here! (Thank you, ded, for giving this tired blogger a shot in the arm, and maybe a needed kick in the pants!)

Going back to the title of this blog, I thought I'd say some more about the "postmodern" thing. While some Christians have come down hard "agin it", I think they're overreacting to the first stages when they should be pitching in to have a chance to help shape the final product. A few months ago Harrison Scott Key, on the World Magazine blog, made the remark that "postmodern" with a small "p" really only means "what comes after 'modern'."

Yes, there are some common characteristics. But I think a case can be made that even these are not necessarily opposed to Christianity. For instance, take distrust of authority: I admit I have a pretty strong distrust of human authority. But it has nothing to do with any academic philosophy or literary criticism; rather it is rooted in the doctrine of the Fall, as I learned it from the writings of C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer. Because human beings are fallen creatures who do not always do what is right, I am not going to put unlimited trust in any human authority figure, in government, business, or the church. (I do not have a problem with God's authority--He isn't a fallen human being). The idea the man is basically good is not a Christian teaching; it is one of the results of the modern worldview. It did not take hold in this country until after the Civil War. In fact, the writers of the US Constitution definitely did not believe men could be trusted with absolute authority; that's why they wrote so many checks and balances into the Constitution. For many years I regarded myself as something of a "throwback" or pre-modern, because some of my attitudes were more common among Christians of the late 1700s rather than in the 1960s and 70s. And I think the postmodern shift may be recovering something valuable that people in the last century moved away from.

To give an idea what this can mean, from something that happened a few years ago: We attended a new church that was starting up in the Lawrenceburg area, a Vineyard church. The pastor made a poor decision about the order of service. It was a poor decision for two reasons: he rejected what most of his people wanted; and because he had agreed publicly to what they wanted, it put him in a position of going back on his word. Under the Vineyard church structure, the local pastor pretty much has the authority to do whatever he wants. But I can't find anything in Scripture that teaches that having authority automatically protects you from being stupid, or protects you from the consequences of bad decisions (half the people left that church in a couple of weeks). Look at Rehoboam in the Old Testament--he shot off his mouth and was left with only a fraction of his kingdom's territory and population.

Well, life is intruding again; have to get out and do some things. I'll try to get some more posting in soon.