Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Seminary PL2: Styles and Traits of Leaders

Last week I started a new subject in my Seminary in a Nutshell series: Pastoral Leadership. The previous section was on the Person of the Minister. My resource for today is Peter Northouse's Introduction to Leadership: Concepts and Practice, and the first post in this new series was:
Today I want to discuss the styles and traits of leaders.
1. There is no one right or always effective style of leadership. If leadership is influence, then to be a leader is to have followers, people whose actions are impacted by you. John Maxwell has famously suggested that a person who thinks he or she is leading, but has no followers, is just taking a walk.

People follow someone for different reasons. They can be very positive reasons and they can be negative. A leader is a leader because people are impacted by them, and people can be impacted by others for different reasons. Accordingly, there is no one style of leadership or type of leader.

2. Of course followers can be coerced. That is perhaps the oldest style of leadership, leadership with a club. This is the authoritarian leader. [1] It can be effective in terms of what the authoritarian wants, although not so pleasant to everyone else. It is the style of dictators and tyrants. With the help of armies and "strong men," some live a long and (for them) happy life. Perhaps more are overthrown and die violent deaths.

There are autocratic pastors and church leaders. Some church structures officially give significant powers to bishops and archbishops, to patriarchs or to a Pope. But even "low church" structures can have autocratic style leaders. The more independent a church, the easier it is for the head pastor to exert a more directive style of leadership. Some large church situations can develop a kind of pastoral cult.

In some cultures, strong pastoral leadership is the norm. In some cultures, a leader is hardly a leader if he or she is not somewhat autocratic.

There are times when a leader may need to be directive, even in the face of opposition. The leader then usually uses up some leadership capital. The proverb to "choose your battles" comes to mind. If you use your leadership chips on one issue, you don't have as many to spend on the next one.

I knew a pastor once who hesitated to start a building program, even though it needed to happen. But he intuitively knew that if he expended his leadership capital to raise that money, he wouldn't be able to expend as much on leading change in people's lives through preaching. He much preferred to use his influence in a spiritual than in a material direction.

3. Not all leadership styles are autocratic, however. On the other end of the spectrum is the "laissez faire" leader who is not directive at all. [2] The danger here is chaos. If there is no vision, no clear sense of direction, then the church or organization is likely to go no where. By definition, if there is no influence, there is no leadership.

One can be directive in one area, however, and allow freedom to move in others. Or even more, a person can empower others to become self-directed, to become leaders of themselves or of smaller groups. When there is a pastoral staff, there is something to be said for a leader that empowers and entrusts the staff to do their work without micromanagement and interference.

At a particular size of an organization, no single leader can have his or her fingers in everything. Unless a leader can learn to delegate well, an organization or a church will not be able to grow beyond a certain size. Once a church reaches a size of 150-200, the pastor will need more staff and/or volunteers before the church can grow further. And that leader will need to let go of control of all the details and trust others to play their role.

4. Probably the safest normal operating mode of a leader is in a more democratic style. A leader casts vision, but unless there is "buy in," it is likely to go no where. A leader may have a great idea, but it would be hazardous to move forward in the face of overwhelming opposition. A leader can lose the confidence of those he or she is leading. It may not even be the leader's fault. But a leader is not leader if he or she does not have followers. In such cases, it is probably time to move on.

It can take some skill to get a people on board with a leader's vision, and it can take some skill to get a people from point A to point B. There will rarely be unanimous support for a leader's vision. In the past, people were less in tune to the subtle maneuvering of talented managers. But younger generations in the West have seen enough clever movies to be able to sniff sneakiness, hypocrisy, and manipulation a mile away. This calls for a greater openness than perhaps was necessary of leaders in the past. This is not the age of the sneaky leader.

There is much to be said from a Christian perspective for a servant leader. This is a leader that focuses on serving his or her people in leadership. We have to think of the Philippian hymn (2:6-11), which speaks of how Jesus emptied himself of his divine prerogatives and took the shape of a servant.

Nevertheless, there is a time for directive leadership, and there can be a time when serving the people calls for pushing in ways they might not prefer to be pushed. Such pushing also serves them, however, even though it usually comes at a cost. There is a time to "wipe the dust off your feet" and move on (Matt. 10:14). [3]

5. There are any number of classic theories about leadership that may capture a corner of the situation but that we can probably dismiss as overall theories. For example, we can quickly dismiss the "great man" theory, the idea that "leaders are born, not made." There are leaders of all kinds, with all sorts of personalities and gifts. [4]

However, there are certain traits that are found in a large number of individuals that we would say are typical of great leaders. Northouse mentions the following: intelligence, confidence, charisma, determination, sociability, integrity (Northouse, 28-33). One can be an effective leader without these particular traits. Different situations call for different types of leadership. [5] But these certainly help.

A person may have good ideas, but if someone lacks confidence in their presentation, determination to see them through, or the sociability to present them, it is less likely that one will be able to lead others to their implementation. Much to the chagrin of the competent but uninspiring, charisma and confidence often win the day. A charismatic personality by definition accrues a following, while a less inspiring person with better insight may be alone on the sidelines.

But not always. Sometimes introverts win the confidence of a people. Sometimes a people comes to trust the competence of an uninspiring leader over the flash of the charismatic. And there are different kinds of intelligence. Sometimes a leader has insight in one key area that leads to organizational success, even though they are generally unintelligent in other areas.

So while effective leadership highly corresponds to the traits mentioned above, it is not always the case. There is no one set of traits that make a leader, and individuals can grow in these traits, even if some of them are not a natural disposition.

[1] The authoritarian leader is sometimes associated with Theory X in relation to management style. In Theory X, people are thought to be unmotivated and need constant supervision to make sure they do what they are supposed to do.

[2] Theory Y might be more associated with a laissez faire style of leadership. In Theory Y, people are thought to be naturally self-motivated to work and so are left to work under their own self-direction.

[3] Some pastors may think themselves martyrs when they are forced to move on. However, in some cases, it is the pastor who has pushed too hard or has failed in leadership, and the congregation may have greater wisdom. Pastors can be wrong in their sense of vision too.

[4] The Big Five test examines five traits that often either contribute to or distract from good leadership: 1) openness to new experiences, 2) conscientiousness, 3) extraversion, 4) agreeableness, 5) neuroticism.

[5] Sometimes called "contingency theory."

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Perfect Candidate

Quick post, thinking of "The Conservative Advantage." To tickle the moral ivories of the American populace, a candidate might:

1. Harm - Address ways in which some group s/he represents is being harmed. Republicans might reference Americans being harmed by not having a strong military (Cruz). Democrats might reference individuals who are trying to succeed but having trouble because of the economic set up (Sanders).

2. Fairness - Address aspects of America that are unfair that they will fix. Republicans often reference small business owners or the idea that the opposite side wants to take their hard earned money and give it to those who haven't earned it (Cruz). Democrats might talk about income inequality and how people who work just as hard earn thousands less, including women (Sanders).

3. Loyalty - Loyalty has nationalism written all over it. Republicans tend to have an edge on this one. But both Trump and Sanders' anti-trade rhetoric plays into this dynamic on both sides. Emphasis on the military feeds nationalistic impulses. Of course both sides stress loyalty to party over reason, and people over 50 usually vote their own party no matter how irrational it is. I'm not sure that any Democrat has ever found a way to create passion by emphasizing loyalty to American values when it comes to equality or Europe's sense of standing for our way of life in terms of rights.

4. Authority/Liberty - I'm not 100% convinced yet by Haidt on teasing these out. There may be a cultural dynamic here, but I agree that Republicans generally do better at appealing to both. Cruz stands for liberty in terms of Tea Party concerns, but Sanders stands for liberty in terms of privacy, which apparently is all the rage for some millennials. The only authority either side seems to want is someone to stop their opponents. They certainly don't want any authority over them. Both sides, it seems to me, could develop the phrase, "our way of life" in different ways that played on these keys.

5. Sanctity - Again, the Republicans have the edge. Interestingly, France found a way of making liberté, égalité, fraternité into something of a sacred charge. But not America. The sanctity of human life is a Republican phrase. Democrats might work on something like the sanctity of freedom, but define it in their way.

Some thoughts...

Sunday, March 27, 2016

1 Corinthians 15:3-8

"I passed on to you as most important what I also received: Christ died for our sins in line with the scriptures, he was buried, and he rose on the third day in line with the scriptures. He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve, and then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at once—most of them are still alive to this day, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me, as if I were born at the wrong time" (CEB, from Biblegateway).

Friday, March 25, 2016

Foolish Jesus

Good Friday we call it, the day when Jesus let the Jewish leaders and Romans crucify him. It's the day when Jesus chose not to fight back. It was the day that Jesus chose the path of the fool.

1. Paul says, "The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." To the Greeks, to outsiders, it is just plain stupid. So you're telling me that the king of the universe showed he was king by letting himself be tortured and defeated on a cross? That's just plain dumb.

To the Jews, to insiders, it is beyond insulting. It's beyond infuriating. It's enough for us to take you out and beat you to death. So you're saying that our champion was humiliated and abused? You're saying the one whose function is to free us from foreign rule showed he was our king by letting our dominator win?

2. I don't think Peter was a coward. He was ready to fight for Jesus. He had his sword ready. He was ready to fight to the death for Jesus the king. What confused him was the Jesus who let the servants of the high priest take him, the Jesus who said almost nothing as he was being interrogated. It's not what he expected in a winner.

Maybe that's why Judas handed Jesus over. Did he want a fight and not get one? Was he trying to force God's hand? Was he trying to force Jesus' hand? Was he infuriated that Jesus himself wasn't on the offensive?

3. There is a time to fight. There is a time for Joshua. There will be a time when Jesus will return and fight. Good Friday is not about that time.

Good Friday is about winning by letting your enemy win. 1 Peter says, "It is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God" (3:17-18). There is no honor in the guilty person who suffers. They are getting what they deserve.

The righteous person who suffers condemns the person who is wronging them. The true martyr, the one who has done nothing wrong and is persecuted by others, this one is not only the one honored in eternity (blessed are you when others persecute you) but a source of power to the forces of justice in this world.

So there is a time to submit to evil, just as there is a time to fight it. 1 Peter addresses such a time. The middle voice of the Greek means something like, "choose to submit." "Servants, choose to submit to your masters... also to the twisted" (1 Pet. 2:18). There's a time for the underground railroad. And there's a time to choose to endure unjust persecution.

4. If you reject this truth, you are rejecting Jesus. When it is the right time, this is how followers of Jesus live. This was the heart of Jesus' mission. This is the cruciform life of servanthood.

There is a time to fight--especially for others. Christians fight for others when it is time. Fighting for yourself is a different matter. Getting your just deserts is something different. God is the judge. Vengeance is his.

It takes strength to let the unjust win. For many of us, it is far easier to fight and get revenge. Or maybe we are too insecure to let some fool win. Maybe we can't handle appearing to be the loser. Maybe we feel threatened by the appearance of weakness.

If our security is in God, we don't need to appear strong to others here. If our hope and confidence is in God, then we don't have to win here. We know who wins. We know who loses. The one who thinks he or she will win by dominating us is the real fool.

The enemy, the bully, the selfish narcissist that is smiling now will quake and bow in silence to Lord Jesus soon enough.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

7. The Conservative Advantage

Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind continues. I've blogged on:

1. Introduction
2. Intuitive Dogs and Rational Tails
3. Elephants Rule
4. Three Domains of Morality
5. Taste Buds of the Righteous Mind
6. The Moral Foundations of Politics

Today it's chapter 8: "The Conservative Advantage."

1. Haidt begins with a fun comment on how useless John Kerry's rhetoric was as a presidential candidate because he didn't connect solidly with the various moral taste buds. His bottom line for the situation in 2005: "Republicans understand moral psychology. Democrats don't" (181). "Republicans have long understood that the elephant is in charge of political behavior, not the rider, and they know how elephants work. Their slogans, political commercials, and speeches go straight for the gut."

The exception for Haidt? Bill Clinton, who "knew how to charm elephants." He concludes his introduction with the claim that Republicans connect with all five moral taste buds of the book thus far: harm, fairness, loyalty, authority, and sanctity. Democrats tend to be cerebral and connect only with a version of harm and fairness of the buds he's mentioned so far.

"Conservatives have a five-foundation morality" (184). That doesn't mean they're right. It just means they have a better chance of hooking people, just like you're more likely to hit the target with five bullets than with only two. They tend to hit more taste centers.

2. Haidt, his associates and students, have done lots of research with people correlating their political identifications with their answers to a moral inventory. The study has repeatedly corroborated their theory. Liberals tend to score very high on harm and fairness, while scoring very low on loyalty, authority, and sanctity. Conservatives score roughly the same on all five.

They even tried the experiment by seeing what kinds of dogs attract a person. "We found that people want dogs that fit their own moral matrices" (188). "Liberals want dogs that are gentle... and relate to their owners as equals." Conservatives "want dogs that that are loyal... and obedient." Both sides want clean dogs. :-)

The study applies to churches and what is preached. Unitarian preachers use more words having to do with care and fairness. Southern Baptists use more loyalty, authority, and sanctity words.

3. In the summer of 2008, Haidt thought Obama might be headed down a similar ineffective path and wrote an article titled, "What Makes People Vote Republican." His first piece of advice to liberals, amazingly? Assume that conservatives are just as sincere as liberals. :-)

Some philosophy...

Haidt pits John Stuart Mills (1800s) as the moral theorist for the liberals, while Emile Durkheim as the same for conservatism. Mills assumed that the best society is a place where people are free to do anything unless it harms others, and people band together voluntarily to work for the common good. He saw the individual as the basic unit of society.

Durkheim saw the hierarchically structured family as the core of society. He suggested that networks of groups that shape the actions of individuals are most appropriate, "self-control over self-expression, duty over rights, and loyalty to one's group over concerns for out-groups" (192).

Here's a quote! "The president is the high priest of what sociologist Robert Bellah calls the 'American civil religion'" (193). Let me follow with another quote: "Is it any wonder that [Democrats] have done so poorly in presidential elections since 1968?" The president must "perform the transubstantiation of pluribus into unum.

4. The response to Haidt's article, what makes people vote Republican, was predictable on the Republican side. The biggest objection was by those who are conservative because they are opposed to tyrrany and disproportionality. They want to fight oppression and overthrow the tyrant. "Sic semper tyrannus." Haidt came to recognize this as a weakness in his five moral taste buds approach, so he added a sixth--oppression/liberty.

He then tries to trace origins for "overthrowing the tyrant" from an evolutionary perspective. Following the theory of Christopher Boehm, he suggests that once people invented weapons, bullies who merely functioned with strength could be overcome by anyone. Bullies who only take what they want are now ousted. "Murder often seems virtuous to revolutionaries" (202).

"The Liberty foundation obviously operates in tension with the Authority foundation. We all recognize some kinds of authority as legitimate in some contexts, but we are also wary of those who claim to be leaders unless they have first earned our trust" (201).

So there is a tension between forces that want there to be an authority structure and forces that resist overbearing authority.

5. Liberty/oppression triggers both liberals and conservatives. Social justice is an example of an "oppression" trigger for liberals. An authority that does not earn the respect of their people. Equality triggers the liberty foundation for liberals.

But the word "liberty" triggers it for conservatives. "Liberty University" - pro-authority in the home, but not control by a secular government. Libertarian, except in the home.

6. The concern for disproportionality led Haidt to adjust what he covered in relation to fairness. He concluded that "egalitarianism seems to be rooted more in the hatred of domination than in the love of equality per se" (209). He had earlier assumed that the idea of fairness was mostly about "reciprocal altruism," You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. But his further research (he talks about the origins of the Tea Party here) has led him in a different direction.

For example, one study showed that people would rather punish cheaters than to advance in relation to their self-interest. This suggests a different origin for egalitarianism than self-interest.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Seminary PL1: Categories of Leadership

So we've finished Person of the Minister in the Seminary in a Nutshell series. For several reasons, I've decided to skip all the way to the end of the series to the final unit on pastoral leadership (PL). I'll come back to the context of a minister after the leadership unit.

1. There are three distinct elements in the direction of an organization, including the church. We might call these leadership, management, and administration. My colleague Bob Whitesel categorizes leadership in a way that bears some resemblance to these three categories. He speaks of strategic leadership, tactical leadership, and operational leadership.

Leadership has to do with the direction of the church or organization. John Maxwell is known for saying that "leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less." [1] Leaders are not always the people with the official power. Often the informal leaders in an organization are more important to its movement than those who hold the formal positions.

In our consideration of leadership, we will want to consider topics like leadership traits and styles, strategic planning, casting vision and facilitating mission, change leadership, team leadership, and financial development.

2. Management has to do with orchestrating the structure, relationships, and high level operations of an organization or church. If leadership has to do with the overall direction and spirit of an organization, management has to do with directing the parts of the organization itself so it can move in that direction.

Often those who are great leaders are not great managers, and often those who are great managers are not great leaders. Good leaders tend to be big picture people who generate enthusiasm and motivation on an organization wide level. Great managers tend to be more concrete and are involved in the higher level specifics of an organization. Leaders sometimes fly at a higher level, managers are involved in the major operations of the organizations.

Often it takes a leader-manager pair for an organization to thrive. Often there is a "face person," the leader, who generates enthusiasm and propels a church or organization forward with a sense of mission and vision. But make no mistake, without the tactical leadership of a good manager, such leaders often go nowhere or their ideas dissolve into the either. Both sets of skills are usually necessary for a movement to go anywhere.

Management involves subjects like organizational structure, conflict management, financial management, marketing, staff management, and managerial ethics.

3. Administration, as I am defining it, deals with the more nuts and bolts level of an organization, its day to day operations. "Operational leadership" requires great skill on the level of detail. David Drury once suggested to me that an organization maybe solid like a statue at the top but crumble under its own weight if its feet are not solid. So it is that great ideas go nowhere without a good tactician to implement them and good administrators of the details.

So the administration of a church or organization includes the orchestration of the details, from finances and taxes to form-filling and schedule arranging. Who sets up the website? Who maintains it? Who answers the phones and what are their work schedules? On a personal level, what are your time management skills?

While these categories and descriptions may sound very businesslike, they apply to the functions of the church. We can identify the people in the church who perform these functions or we can tell the stories of the times when something blatantly obvious--like unlocking the church for the wedding--didn't happen. The church either has people who perform these roles, whatever we call them, or the church is falling apart.

[1] E.g., Developing the Leader Within You (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1993), 1.

[2] I have found 12Stone Church to be an excellent model of good leadership from the very top all the way to the very bottom. Kevin Myers is an excellent strategic leader who knows how to see where the Lord wants to take the church and cast vision for it. Dan Reiland and others like Chris Huff are excellent tactical planners and managers. Then there are a host of operational geniuses who get the details done, people like Robin Ritchie.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Friday Science: Spinning Space Buckets

1. Trying to read through Brian Greene's, The Fabric of the Cosmos, to fill in some blanks on the current state of physics. Last Friday I summarized the first chapter. Today it's the second chapter, "The Universe and the Bucket."

2. Relatively short chapter and review today. The chapter is basically about a debate that Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibnitz had over whether space really existed or was just a concept we invoked to compare objects to each other. The force of Newton's person in the 1600s made it difficult for anyone to win against him.

So Newton's bucket scenario asked why the water in a spinning bucket first is flat and then concave, but that if the twisted rope holding the bucket slowed down and stopped, the water continued to be concave. Newton's answer that space was absolute. The water had a position relative to absolute space. So you could feel changes in acceleration because of the change in relation to absolute space.

3. Leibniz believed that space wasn't anything. Space is just what we call the relation between things. Leibniz pretty much lost the bucket argument in the 1600s, but Ernst Mach revived it in the 1870s. Mach suggested that it's only the matter in the universe, its collective gravity, that would make us feel ourselves spinning in space. There is no absolute space.

So Mach argued that we would not know any difference between spinning or not spinning in a completely empty universe. In a universe half as full, we would only be half as much aware, etc. "You feel acceleration only when you accelerate relative to the average distribution of other material inhabiting the cosmos" (37).

4. This sets us up for Einstein, who apparently showed that Mach and Leibniz were the winners on this one, not Newton.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Third Reich 1

1. Started reading The Coming of the Third Reich last night. It's the first of three volumes in a series on the entire sweep of the Nazi movement in the early twentieth century. This particular volume has to do with the rise of Nazis to power.

2. Evans starts with Otto von Bismarck, who unified his power over Prussia in 1871. Bismarck was idealized as the model German leader in the fifty years that followed. As is often the case, the myth of the man remembered was not always exactly the man himself (reminds me of how Reagan is sometimes made to look like a Tea Party Republican).

Bismarck was remembered as being ruthless and deceptive, a Machiavellian statesman for whom the end justified the means. He was remembered as a man of force who made his own reality, a conservative German reality. He was the "wild man of German conservatism, given to brutal statements and violent actions, never afraid to state with forceful clarity what more cautious spirits were afraid to say out loud" (2).

One person in 1915, in the middle of WW1, described the memory of the "Iron Chancellor" as "like a strong fellow, who has two good fists at his disposal, one for each opponent" (3).

3. There's no doubt that Bismarck was a conservative. There's no doubt that he was at times ruthless in advancing German interests. He is responsible for establishing the second German Reich in 1871, a rule over Germany, parts of France, Denmark, parts of Poland, and so forth that would last almost fifty years until it was ended by defeat at the end of World War 1.

There was, however, another side to him that was not remembered or much popularized. "He was not the reckless, risk-taking gambler of later legend" (3). He dealt in the "art of the possible." He said, "A statesman cannot create anything himself. He must wait and listen until he hears the steps of God sounding through events; then leap up and grab the hem of his garment."

Not popularized was the fact that he also served as a restraining force to the power of the military. The power of the military at the time in Germany was much as the power of the military currently seems to be in Egypt. After the conquests against the Danes, the French, and other German territories, the military would have enjoyed continuing. Bismarck tried to maintain the peace of Europe in the aftermath of these adventures. He did not seize colonial territory out of thirst but somewhat reluctantly, while others were looking to compete with the glorious takings of the British and others.

4. Germany came close to something like democracy in the revolutions of 1848. The liberals were clamoring for a Constitution like America, the French, and other countries had. They wanted the right to a trial by jury in an open court. They wanted equality before the law. They wanted freedom of business and the removal of censorship from freedom of the press. They wanted the right to assemble. "Germany reached its turning point and failed to turn" (5).

Nevertheless, after these "liberals" were defeated, the people did get some of these. They were given parliaments. Under Bismarck there was the birth of the Reichstag, the parliament for all the German states. But the chancellor controlled the military. The Reich Chancellor controlled when there was war and when there was peace.

Bismarck legitimized violence as the preferred path for political goals. "The great questions of the day," he said, "are not decided by speeches and majority resolutions... but by iron and blood" (8). Not exactly the American way. When he was in charge, martial law was the name of the game. Politicians and legislatures of the time lived, as it were, under the permanent threat of coup d'etat (9).

If there were protests, the police treated people more as enemies than as fellow citizens. Many of the police and other civil servants were in fact former military, indoctrinated in a way of life of force. The German army in the 1800s engaged in genocide in Namibia. They behaved like conquerors in the French and other territories they had conquered, not as if they had incorporated new people into a common land.

5. There were six political parties who differed quite widely from each other. This pendulum of extremes seems to have created a fundamental instability. Catholics were targeted and imprisoned in the 1870s in a "struggle for culture." The "liberals" were happy to see these traditionalists squelched. And after things eased up, the "Center" party of mostly catholics would be strongly anti-liberal.

Bismarck similarly stomped on the socialists. In a tactic Hitler would later used, he falsely blamed them for a couple assassination attempts and used the public outrage as an opportunity to oppress them. [Reminds me of Trump trying to suggest that Sanders is somehow responsible for the protests at his rallies or that it was a Muslim extremist who tried to storm his stage. Look for him to try to manipulate the American people in this way in the days to come. Wouldn't it be interesting if there were some kind of "terrorist attack" for him to take advantage of in the days right before the election?]

Lenin made fun of the German socialists saying they would never launch a successful revolution because "when they came to storm the railway stations they would line up in an orderly queue to buy platform tickets first" (15).

So Germany was racked by internal tensions and widely differing factions in the lead up to the first world war. It was controlled by a strong hierarchy that was associated with the military and considered use of force business as usual. It had political parties characterized by extreme views who hated each other and did not work together.

Here endeth the first chapter, "The Legacy of the Past."

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Prayers for Wesleyan General Board

Seems like a number of very important decisions are being made at the Wesleyan General Board meeting this week. For example, today they put forward the names of Wayne Schmidt and Isaac Smith as candidates for the next General Superintendent.

Pray for the General Board as they continue to make important decisions! Also pray for my Dean, Dave Ward, as he gives the devotional tomorrow morning.

6. What makes your political blood boil?

My summaries of Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind continue. I've blogged on:

1. Introduction
2. Intuitive Dogs and Rational Tails
3. Elephants Rule
4. Three Domains of Morality
5. Taste Buds of the Righteous Mind

Now chapter 7: "The Moral Foundations of Politics"

1. Care/Harm
In this chapter, Haidt takes the five moral taste buds (so far) and applies them to politics. The first is the Care/Harm bud. He believes that the evolutionary origins of this moral taste bud is the need for mothers and clans to protect their young. So we have a knee-jerk reaction to a child being harmed and get warm fuzzies over a child at rest. [BTW, we can also believe God created us this way.]

What we want to protect can change. So "we care about violence toward many more classes of victims toay than our grandparents did in their time," like baby seals (156).

2. Fairness/Cheating 
This is the second moral taste bud he addresses. The survival advantage here is that we survive better when we cooperate with each other to a mutual advantage, "tit for tat." Those who give with no expectation and those who only take are both more likely to die. Those who give and take, those who compromise to mutual advantage, are more likely to thrive.

A key insight in this short section was this quote: "Everyone cares about fairness, but there are two major kinds. On the left, fairness often implies equality, but on the right it means proportionality--people should be rewarded in proportion to what they contribute, even if that guarantees unequal outcomes" (160-61).

Some thought this was the key insight from the chapter. So Bernie Sanders says, "unbridled capitalism is unfair because it creates a small number of filthy rich people while stealing from the majority." But Rand Paul would say, "socialism is unfair because it does not reward people for their work and steals from some to give to those who did not earn it."

3. Loyalty/betrayal
"The male mind appears to be innately tribal" (162). "Warfare has been a constant feature of human life since long before agriculture and private property" (163). The Koran treats a traitor much worse than an enemy.

On this human impulse, liberals tend to cull fewer men than conservatives. "The left tends toward universalism and away from nationalism, so it often has trouble connecting to voters who rely on the Loyalty foundation" (164). As a side note, Bernie Sanders and Trump are both connecting with some in this group by their position against free trade.

Unfortunately, they at least aren't acting like they are quite as up to date on the real economic consequences of trade protectionism (see the consequences of the Tariff Act of 1930... It reduced imports and exports by half and perhaps extended the Depression).

4. Authority/subversion
In many cultures, the urge to respect hierarchical relationships is very deep. These relationships ensured that groups did not disintegrate into disorder, which of course makes a group vulnerable to outside attack. Kings agreed to protect and provide order in exchange for loyalty. "Human authorities take on responsibility for maintaining order and justice" (167).

Again, the political right is usually much better equipped to build on this foundation than the left, "which often defines itself in part by its opposition to hierarchy, inequality, and power" (168).

5. Sanctity/degradation
I was impressed with Haidt being able to come up with an example of this taste bud in Western culture, since in general we don't use this bud much. Because we have been a relatively safe culture, we have not worried as much about screening our environment.

He gave a horrific example of a man who agreed to let another man murder and eat him. Since both agreed and participated fully, it would be hard for many philosophers to come up with a reason why this was wrong. It actually reminded me of my third reason why "final justice" is not unloving (which can relate to capital punishment as well).

The origins of this taste bud, Haidt argues, has to do with the "omnivore's dilemma." Creatures that can eat anything face the risk of poisoning themselves. Those who eat everything die. Those who don't explore any new foods may die. The person who explores with caution survives. "The emotion of disgust evolved initially to optimize responses to the omnivore's dilemma" (172).

[P.S. There could be implications here in relation to the OT food laws.]

So there is a human tension between "neophila" (attraction to new things) and "neophobia" (fear of new things). Liberals tend to lean to neophila and conservatives to neophobia. Liberals tend to favor immigration, conservatives resist it.

6. The next chapter will talk about the conservative political advantage. We can already sense what he will say. "It appears that the left relies primarily on the Care and Fairness foundations, whereas the right uses all five" (179). This allows conservative politicians to pull on more moral strings and gives "conservative politicians a broader variety of ways to connect with voters."

Monday, March 14, 2016

Lots of IWU professors at WTS

The Wesleyan Theological Society met last week in San Diego. I was absolutely amazed at how many IWU professors were involved. There was a time when no one from IWU went. Then there was a time when only John Drury went.

Now look:
  • Abson Joseph: "The Background and Implications of the Language of the New Birth in 1 Peter"
  • Kayla Caruso: "Becoming Like a Child: John Wesley's Doctrine of Childhood"
  • Constance Cherry: "Child Dedication in Alternative Rites for Wesleyans: Some Possible Models for Contemporary Practice" (also responded to two papers for the Charles Wesley part)
  • Patrick Eby: moderated "Language and Experience in Cultural Contexts" (the panel had Abson Joseph, Lara Levicheva, and Lena Caruso; Patrick also responded to two papers for the Charles Wesley part)
  • John Drury: On panel reviewing Katherine Sondregger's first volume on the Doctrine of God in her new Systematic Theology (also moderated one session)
  • Lenny Luchetti: "A Homiletic New Birth: How Empathy Drove John Wesley to the Fields"
  • And I have to mention Joanne Lyon: "Don't Be Overcome with Evil, but Overcome Evil with Good"
What an impressive showing!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

ET17: The Bible prohibits homosexual sex and several other types of sexual act.

This is the seventeenth post on Christian ethics in my ongoing series, theology in bullet points. The first unit in this series had to do with God and Creation (book here), and the second unit was on Christology and Atonement.

We are now in the third and final unit: The Holy Spirit and the Church. The first set of posts in this final unit was on the Holy Spirit. The second set was on the Church. The third set was on sacraments. This final section is on Christian ethics.
The Bible prohibits homosexual sex and several other types of sexual act.

1. Not only the secular world but many Christian denominations are currently experiencing upheavals in relation to the question of homosexuality. The cause of these upheavals is the tension between biblical and historical prohibitions of homosexual sex and an ever increasing number of people we know who have those desires. So the love of neighbor creates a sympathy for individuals who, if they follow the biblical prohibitions, will never be able to have sexual fulfillment in this life. Yet the love of God urges us to follow the prohibitions of Scripture and Christian history.

2. An important observation is that the Bible always has sexual activity in view in the seven relevant texts: a) Genesis 19:5, b) Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, c) Romans 1:24-27, d) 1 Corinthians 6:9, e) 1 Timothy 1:10, and f) Jude 7. None of these texts are talking about what we now call sexual "orientation" because our paradigms have only shifted to this way of thinking about the subject in the last hundred years or so. None of these texts address sexual desire apart from sexual acts. In every case, it is a sexual act that is condemned.

When we talk about a sexual orientation today, we are asking what gender attracts a person sexually. At present there is a tendency to think that a person will begin to have sexual attraction to one or the other sex as one enters puberty or before. Today, we call this a person's sexual "orientation." [1] In the majority of these individuals, this desire is experienced as a default. [2] That is to say, in most instances, the person did not make any decision to be attracted to a certain gender, nor can a person make him or herself become attracted to a different gender. [3]

The Bible does not address someone who is attracted to the same sex but never has sex with the same sex. Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 speak specifically of the act. One of the terms in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 probably refers to the active person engaged in male homosexual sex, while 1 Corinthians 6:9 perhaps adds mention of a male in the passive role.

Romans 1:26 speaks of the "use" of a woman by a woman and a man similarly trading the "use" of the woman for a man. The context of exchanging "use" implies that "burning with desire" is talking about an act, not an orientation in 1:27. Similarly, that verse uses the verb, "working" indecency. Finally, in Genesis 19, it is an act that the men of Sodom want to commit.

In all seven passages, it is a homosexual sex act that is condemned.

The Bible thus has nothing to say about someone who has homosexual desires but who never expresses those desires in deed. We might extend Jesus' teaching on lust toward another man's wife in Matthew 5:28 to say that it is not God's will for a person to express their homo- or heterosexual desires in thought either. The power of the Holy Spirit can empower a person to discipline his or her thoughts before temptation becomes sin, whether one's desire is heterosexual or homosexual. Temptation is not yet sin. Sin of the sort with which God is concerned always involves a choice, mental or physical.

3. It is thus similarly anachronistic to think that the Sodom and Gomorrah story is about homosexuality as an orientation. It is about men wanting to have a sex act with the same sex. Any ancient reader would have assumed that these men had wives and children, that the act contemplated was a violent act of humiliation to an outsider, an act of sexual domination and rape.

The parallel story in Judges 19 illustrates this dynamic. An outsider comes to town, and the men want to rape him--a homosexual act of rape to humiliate the man (19:22). Instead, they rape the visitor's concubine to death. This fact shows that what is in play here is not a matter of homosexual desire, but the desire to humiliate and dominate an outsider. It is an act similar to what vulgar lore suggests may sometimes take place in prison.

Modern issues lead us to see Sodom and Gomorrah primarily in relation to sex acts, but it is worth noting that the treatment of an outsider was as much or more the concern of the biblical authors. When Isaiah compares Israel to Sodom, there is no mention of sexual acts, only of the way Israel is treating the orphan and widow (Isa. 1:10-17). Ezekiel 16:49 compares withholding help from the poor and needy to Sodom. The only sexual act Jeremiah 23:14 mentions in proximity to the mention of Sodom is adultery.

When Jesus mentions Sodom in Matthew 10:15, it is in the context of the disciples entering a town on mission and being rejected by that town. The parallel to the Sodom story is clear. The angels as the messengers of God entered Sodom and were violently rejected by the city. So if the disciples are rejected by a town, they should wipe the dust off their feet and move on. The sin of Sodom that Jesus focuses on is thus the sin of rejecting God's messengers.

As Westerners, we are prone to miss the importance that hospitality to strangers played as a core value of the ancient world (cf. Heb. 13:2). The myth of Baucis and Philemon illustrates the value, as a region rejects Zeus and Hermes in disguise. As a judgment, the gods destroy the region and reward the elderly couple that showed hospitality to strangers and outsiders by welcoming them into their home. [4]

The only clear place elsewhere in the Bible where the sex act of Sodom is in view is Jude 7. False teachers are said to "defile flesh in their dreaming and reject dominions and blaspheme glories" (Jude 8). This is a difficult text, since the relationship of the false teachers to the angelic realm is in view in the passage. Indeed, the act of the men of Sodom in Jude 7 is to "go after different flesh." Does this mean same sex, in which case it would be a reference to homosexual sex? Or, given the angelic context of both Jude and Genesis 19, does the verse refer to sex with angels in some way. [5]

4. It is difficult to know if any context other than same-sex was in view in Leviticus 18, 20, 1 Corinthians 6 or 1 Timothy 1. No such context is mentioned. The Greek word arsenokoites, used in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy, looks like it could have been a word Greek-speaking Jews coined to refer to the male homosexual act mentioned in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. It is a combination of the Greek word for "male" and for "bed."

It has been plausibly suggested that it refers to a male engaging in the active role of male homosexual sex. Accordingly, the word malakos (literally, "soft"), also used in 1 Corinthians 6:9, might refer to someone who regularly serves in the passive role of male homosexual sex. The NIV1984 thus translated the word as "male prostitute." [6]

The simplest way to take these references is as a general condemnation of the male-male sex act.

5. We are thus left with Romans 1 as the crux interpretum, the key passage on this question in the Bible. Once again, if Paul had some specific context in view other than the act in general, it is not clear. He uses male-male and female-female sex as an example of a world where God has let ungodliness spiral out of control.

In the train of thought of Romans 1, Paul begins with a general statement of how the wrath of God is impending on human ungodliness (1:18). While Paul does not mention the Gentiles, a Jewish listener would have heard "Gentile sins" in Romans 1. Paul starts with idolatry as an example of the world turning its back on God. Then he moves to homosexual acts. Then he culminates the chapter with a list of all sorts of wickedness among humans, including greed, envy, deceit, gossiping, and arrogance.

He is building to the claim in 3:23 that all have sinned, that all will die as a consequence (6:23), and that all are in need of Christ (3:28-30). We should not think that any of these sins, then, are singled out. Paul's goal is both to indicate the universal human condition, while also setting up any Jew who might think that he or she has a pass simply because their sins are not as bad as the Gentiles or because they belong to God's people.

It would thus seem that Paul uses male-male and female-female sex as an illustration of the fallen human situation and of the ungodliness that has brought the wrath of God on humankind. [7]

6. Throughout Christian history, these seven references have been taken to condemn homosexual sex. This element of the equation--the position that the church has taken throughout history--is seen to be determinative by many Christians. Even though the passages are few and the context in some instances may not be entirely clear, Christians throughout history have taken the same basic position on this question. [8]

7. We might mention other sexual prohibitions in Leviticus 18 that the New Testament and new covenant seem to keep in force. When Paul prohibits a man from sleeping with his father's wife, he reiterates Leviticus 18:8. It is likely that New Testament prohibitions of porneia include sexual sins in Leviticus 18 like incest and bestiality.

8. We conclude therefore where we began. The Bible prohibits homosexual sex and several other types of sexual act. However, the Bible does not address those who have homosexual desires but do not act on them. There is no biblical basis for considering those who discipline their thoughts and actions in this area as spiritually inferior in any way to a heterosexual who disciplines his or her thoughts and actions.

Very important for believers is that we act with love in our thoughts and actions toward those whose desires are for the same sex. This is the command of God, that we love everyone, including sinners, including enemies. Loving others does not mean agreeing or approving of their actions. It means that when we are given a choice between action A and action B, and we know A is the loving one, we choose action A.

There will be individuals in our churches who disagree with the "catholic" position on this issue (a position held everywhere throughout history) and with our interpretation of these biblical passages. Those who are members of denominations with the catholic positions have chosen to bind themselves to the positions of their churches. The pastors of these churches, by remaining in those churches, similarly have chosen to bind themselves to hold these positions.

But they must preach and act lovingly toward those who disagree in thought or action in their midst. We cannot in the end force anyone to change their minds or actions. If we want to minister to those who disagree in our pews and if we want reach gay individuals for Christ, we will have to be loving in the way we approach this issue and leave them in God's hands. Some would say that we should not try to have those who disagree on this issue in our churches (1 Cor. 5:11). Those who believe we should minister to such individuals will foster a climate in which we can agree to disagree. The rest is in God's hands.

Next Sunday: ET18. Thou shalt not steal.

[1] The scale developed by Alfred Kinsey in the 1940s and 50s was more complex, rating people on a scale from 1 to 6, with 1 being exclusively heterosexual and 6 being exclusively homosexual. If his scale has any validity, it suggests that some people do not perceive themselves to have a clear "orientation" toward either the same or opposite sex.

[2] It seems to be the case that, in the vast majority of instances, those who have sought for God to change their orientation have not experienced such a change. For reasons we do not know, God does not seem to answer this prayer with great frequency. Organizations that try to change a person's orientation using psychological, pharmacological, or other means are highly suspect, perhaps even abusive. Although I do not know of any studies, we can wonder how many divorces in the past have resulted in part from individuals attracted to the same sex who married in the closet.

[3] There are clearly people today who experiment with both genders. In these cases, any expression of their sexuality with the same gender does seem to be a matter of choice.

[4] We should possibly hear this story in the background of Acts 14:8-18, when Paul were preaching the very region where the story of Baucis and Philemon takes place.

[5] It would be rather strange if the angels were thought to have "flesh," unless a form of the angels in flesh were in view.

[6] The NIV2011 combines the two words together as "men who have sex with men."

[7] This is the only instance in Scripture where female-female sex is mentioned.

[8] It is true that Christians do not consider many of the prohibitions in this part of Leviticus to be binding today (e.g., mixed thread in Lev. 19:19). The difference in this instance is that the New Testament seems to reiterate the sexual prohibitions of Leviticus as part of God's universal expectation.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Seminary PM6: Good books for personal spiritual formation

The Seminary in a Nutshell series so far:

Chapter 1: The Calling of a Minister

Chapter 2: The Person of a Minister
Ministers have different personalities and strengths
We each experience God best in different ways.
There are certain classic spiritual disciplines for individuals.
There are spiritual disciplines we do in community.

Good books for personal spiritual formation
1. There are a couple classic books that Wesley Seminary students read in their first course. One is Henri Nouwen's In the Name of Jesus. In this short book, Nouwen warns against the drives to relevancy and to be spectacular.

His antidote to the itch for relevancy is contemplative prayer. Christian leaders need to be people who live in the presence of God, not just people who lead a moral life. Knowing that God loves us will fuel us and focus us on our relationship with Jesus rather than on passing relevance.

Antidotes to the drive to the spectacular are confession and vulnerability, seeking forgiveness and reflecting on the mind of Christ, which brings humility.

2. Another book students read in their first course is Dietrich Bonhoeffer's, Life Together. In some ways, this book counterbalances the first one. Bonhoeffer argues that Christians need to live out faith in community rather than on our own. We need our brothers and sisters in Christ. We mediate the presence of Christ to each other.

Bonhoeffer wrote this classic while leading a small group of men in secret seminary training. He praises reading the Scripture, prayer, work, and other spiritual disciplines. Living together helps us learn how to control our tongue.

3. There is a final book I want to mention that Colleen Derr added to her Congregational Formation class in the seminary that also seemed worth mentioning, Sabbath as Resistance, by Walter Brueggemann.

In this book, Brueggemann urges that we move beyond arguments over what the law demands to Sabbath as resistance and Sabbath as alternative. Sabbath is resistance against the culture of "now" and immediacy. Sabbath is alternative to all the chatter that clutters up all our "rest time."

Sabbath as resistance requires intentionality. It requires the reinforcement of community.

4. Not every pastor needs to hear these words as much as others. Some pastors need to get in gear for mission. Some need to become more relevant. Some need a dose of business sense. These spiritual gems are like proverbs. They each bring a truth needed on various occasions by various ministers. The Lord bring these truths to mind when we need them.

Here endeth the Person of the Minister.

Next week: Contexts of Ministry 1

Friday, March 11, 2016

Friday Science: Greene's Roads to Reality (1)

Physics is moving fast. The Higgs boson, gravitational waves, it seems we're on the verge of something big. This week I started reading through Brian Greene's, The Fabric of the Cosmos, which gives a fair sense of where things were in 2004. [BTW, I've collected a number of my science book reviews here.]

1. He starts interestingly by disagreeing with Albert Camus in the Myth of Sisyphus. Sorry Brian, having a reason to live is still more existentially important than knowing the secrets of the universe. The laws of the universe won't change whether I know them or not. But if I don't have a reason to live, the secrets of the universe are irrelevant to me.

2. Greene briefly covers the old stomping grounds of all books like this one. The next few pages are a map to the rest of the book, a brief preview.

He starts with Newton and "classic reality." For Newton, the laws of nature were deterministic. If we knew all the variables and all the laws, we could predict everything that would happen for the rest of time. Second, time and space were absolute scaffolds that provided the universe with a rigid, unchangeable area.

3. So next he mentions relativity. Einstein showed that space and time can expand and collapse both as something approaches the speed of light and as one approaches something of great mass.

4. Next comes the quantum changes. Newton was wrong about determinism. We cannot predict what will happen, only the odds. Strangely, there can be an instantaneous connection between things that happen at completely different locations.

5. It is clear that cosmology has been the next phase. Weinberg and Hawking are the big names here. Why is it that time only moves in one direction when nothing in the laws of physics would prohibit a backwards movement. It may have something to do with something that happened in the very earliest moments of the universe.

6. As he moves toward the end of the chapter, he begins to talk about the quest for a unified reality. Quantum mechanics and relativity are currently incompatible, and physics will not be able to move much further until that conflict is solved. Greene clearly is sympathetic with string theory as a possible way to harmonize them.

So the book begins...

Thursday, March 10, 2016

5. Righteous Taste Buds

My summaries of Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind continue. I've blogged on:

1. Introduction
2. Intuitive Dogs and Rational Tails
3. Elephants Rule
4. Three Domains of Morality

Let me continue with chapter 6: "Taste Buds of the Righteous Mind."

1. The "three domains" of previous chapters seem quite generative for describing various ethical strands within the Bible. In this chapter he tries to tease out five moral "taste buds" that humans have. Like cuisine, some cultures emphasize some more than others. They are:
  • care/harm
  • fairness/cheating
  • loyalty/betrayal
  • authority/subversion
  • sanctity/degradation
So far I don't find these as generative as the earlier three, but we'll see how things progress.

The taste bud image in itself is generative. The suggestion is that all tongues come with the potential for certain tastes, but varied cultural contexts activate some more than others. So also there are various moral categories we come equipped with as humans. Some cultures activate some more than others.

2. His love of Hume as a moralist comes out again in this chapter. Morality is based in a variety of sentiments. I have a good deal of respect for Hume, but my elephant is hesitant to dive in. I'm reading Haidt with caution.

One of the more amusing aspects to the chapter was Haidt's suggestion that Bentham was on the autism spectrum and that Kant wasn't far off. He uses research into autism, where a person can be plotted against two axes--one has to do with high and low empathy. The second has to do with high and low systematization. So the "Autism Zone" is placed with high systematizing and low empathy. He puts Bentham flat in the square, Kant just outside it.

3. On the one hand, I agree that Kant is worthless when it comes to ethics. When it comes to epistemology, Kant is fundamental to my sense of knowing the world. But when it comes to morality, Kant was useless. He tried to make morality into an equation that just flat fails and that Kant himself tried to re-express multiple times.

Bentham tried to make morality into an equation as well, but his intention was working at something noble. Bentham was balking at a world that treated the aristocracy as more important than the common person. Sure, Bentham's approach needed seriously modified to be human, which John Stuart Mill did. Mill's version is much to be preferred, but Bentham had good intentions. "The greatest good for the greatest number" needs some supplements, but it is fundamental.

Forgive me for believing that there are some ways in which Enlightenment morality is superior to a number of other world moralities. A world in which women have the same value as men is a better world than cultures in which they do not. A world that leans toward individual identity seems to me a better world than one than leans toward honor-shame.

I'll admit that it's hard to prove it. I can say, "Because it leads to a greater total happiness without individual oppression," but I can't prove it. It may be that some cultures actualizing different standards may have greater total happiness.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

ET16. Sex should be kept within a marriage relationship.

This is the sixteenth post on Christian ethics in my ongoing series, theology in bullet points. The first unit in this series had to do with God and Creation (book here), and the second unit was on Christology and Atonement.

We are now in the third and final unit: The Holy Spirit and the Church. The first set of posts in this final unit was on the Holy Spirit. The second set was on the Church. The third set was on sacraments. This final section is on Christian ethics.
Sex should be kept within a marriage relationship.

1. When Jesus presented a model of marriage in Matthew 19, he looked to Genesis 2 as the model: "Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate" (19:4-6).

Becoming "one flesh" here is bigger than sex, but it certainly includes it. Paul prohibits visiting a prostitute by reminding the Corinthians that such an individual becomes one flesh with that prostitute (6:16). Paul is not in any way saying such a person is marrying the prostitute. But he is indicating that sex is an act that has dramatic spiritual implications and that it should only take place within marriage. [1]

Today we focus especially on the relational aspects to sex, the way it involves a special bond between two people. In the biblical world, the social implications and the purity implications would have been even more important. Sex was understood to be an act of particular vulnerability for defilement. And unless it took place within marriage, it threatened the social stability of society.

2. There are not many explicit statements in the Bible insisting on sex only in marriage because it was such a strong assumption of the biblical world. It did not need to be said. Women especially were expected to be virgins when they marry. It was not necessary to argue for it.

The older word fornication was often taken to refer to sex before marriage, but the underlying word porneia had a very broad reference to sexual immorality in general. When 1 Thessalonians 4:3 says to "abstain from fornication," it was not likely singling out pre-marital sex from other forms of sex outside marriage, but it was referring to a variety of improper sexual activity, perhaps including adultery. [2] Paul says not to exploit a brother in this area, quite possibly a comment on adultery (4:6).

3. The Old Testament clearly expected a woman to be a virgin when she married. In Deuteronomy 22, a woman who is not found to be a virgin on her wedding night was to be stoned (22:20-21). If a man sleeps with an engaged woman in the country, he is to be stoned but she is spared on the assumption that she screamed but no one was there to hear (22:25-27). If the same takes place in the city both are to be stoned on the assumption that she could have screamed but did not (22:23-24).

If a man sleeps with a woman who is not engaged, he has to marry her (Deut. 22:28-29). Exodus' version of this law also allows that the father may not want the woman to marry this man (Exod. 22:16-17). Both passages reflect the fact that a woman was expected to be a virgin at the time of marriage.

4. 1 Corinthians 7 gives perhaps the clearest instruction on the subject: "To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion" (78-9). In other words, if you cannot control your sexual urges, it is better to get married than to be having indiscriminate sex outside of marriage. [3]

This is a very practical approach. It does not give us the lofty theology of man and woman becoming one flesh. It simply states that people should get married if they can't control themselves sexually.

5. We shouldn't be surprised that much of the biblical text focuses on the woman. The woman was seen in ancient patriarchal cultures as a point of vulnerability for shame to one's family. But most avenues for a man to have sex outside of marriage were also closed. He could not have sex with someone else's wife or concubine--that was adultery or porneia. He could not have sex with a virgin, for that wronged her and her family. Israelite men and women were not allowed to be prostitutes (Lev. 19:29; Deut. 23:17).

In short, the biblical text insists that women can only have sex within marriage, and the avenues for a man to have sex outside of marriage were prohibited.

6. In current Western culture, defilement has been transformed into sexually transmitted diseases. Social consequence has largely been translated into the difficulties and disadvantages of single parenting. These are of course real possible consequences of sexual activity outside of exclusive sexual relationships that involve commitment. Any teenager or twenty something whose attitude to sex is casual takes the risk of significantly disadvantaging their lives in these ways.

But there is also a potential cheapening of life. One lives for selfish pleasure, the baser and less noble of human impulses. If love of others is virtue, indiscriminate sexuality is on the love of self side of the equation. Sex can be a high expression of love, or it can be an act of pure self-pleasuring at the expense of others. The latter is incompatible with the values of Christ.

The more one values marriage, the more one will restrict sex to the marriage relationship. And the more one has the values of Christ, the more one will view males and females as equal partners in sexual relationships. Paul shockingly declares these values of mutuality in 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 where he urges that husbands and wives should have sex regularly so that they are not tempted to find sex elsewhere. He shockingly suggests that the wife has claim on her husband's body, just as he has claim on hers.

7. In the end, there can be no question where the assumption of Scripture lies. The Bible assumes throughout that sex is to be practiced within marriage and not outside of it.

Next Sunday: ET17: The Bible prohibits homosexual sex and several other types of sexual act.

[1] We can extend the principle and say that a man in the Old Testament with many wives became one flesh with all of his wives.

[2] One might look to Leviticus 18 for a general sense of the kinds of activities to which porneia refers.

[3] Paul's preference for celibacy here probably had a lot to do with an early expectation that Christ would return rather quickly to earth (e.g., 1 Cor. 7:29-31). 1 Timothy would later encourage marriage as the norm (1 Tim. 4:3; 5:14).

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Seminary PM5: There are spiritual disciplines we do in community.

The featured resource of the day is Keith Drury's, Soul Shaper: Becoming the Person God Wants You to Be. It is a synthesis of two previous works he did: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People and With Unveiled Faces.

The Seminary in a Nutshell series so far:

Chapter 1: The Calling of a Minister

Chapter 2: The Person of a Minister
Ministers have different personalities and strengths
We each experience God best in different ways.
There are certain classic spiritual disciplines for individuals.

Today: There are spiritual disciplines we do in community.
1. In the West we have come to focus on the kinds of spiritual disciplines that we do as individuals. But the biblical world was not a world of individuals. Indeed, in most times and places, human beings have thought of themselves in terms of groups rather than as lone individualists.

What are the kinds of activities that we believers do in community to help form us?

2. Worship and fellowship rank high on the list. We worship together and God forms us. Fellowship is also part of God's plan for the church, and while we may not always sense that God is changing us when we fellowship, he is. He is making us more loving toward each other. He is helping us learn to endure conflict and become better in the process.

In worship of course is regular communion. The Lord's Supper is a reminder of the grace of God toward us and a chance for us to renew our relationship with him publicly. The Lord's Supper was meant to emphasize the oneness of the body of Christ. "Though we are many, we are one body, because we all partake of the one bread" (1 Cor. 10:17).

Baptism is also a corporately formative discipline. Although we have a tendency to lean toward its individual dimensions, baptism is also a heavily corporate event. The community of faith makes a covenant with the individual or child to bathe them in prayer, to surround them with a communion of faith that will help protect them from temptation and sin.

Confession also is often a regular part of public worship. It very much relates to an important function that the body of Christ can play in our spiritual walk, namely, accountability. Our brothers and sisters in Christ help keep us from falling into temptation. They can also play a positive role of encouragement and mutual edification.

3. Finally, we should not underestimate the spiritual good it does us to participate in the mission of the Church and in service to others. These are tasks that we might naturally think are for others and not ourselves, but we do as much or more good to our own walk with Christ as we do for others. The mission after all is God's and we serve because God loves others. We participate in God's mission, and we benefit from it ourselves.

4. Ministers, like all Christian individuals need to participate in these disciplines of Christian community. The pastor is not exempt or in some way apart from the worship, fellowship, means of grace, confession, accountability, mission, or service of the community of faith.

Sometimes it can be more difficult for ministers to participate in some of these disciplines. When you are responsible for the worship service, it can be more difficult to relax and experience worship. Being in the role of the leader can make fellowship awkward or more difficult with individuals in the church. The same goes for accountability.

So ministers need to get away and worship somewhere else occasionally. Every once and a while, they should experience another community of faith. Denominations can create systems where there are pastors for pastors. A pastor should be part of an accountability group that, more likely than not, is made up of individuals from outside the church at which they minister.

The pastor and his/her family also need friends and fellowship. Sometimes the pastoral situation can be isolating within a congregation. This is then another area in which denominations can facilitate fellowship among pastors in an area.

5. There are spiritual disciplines that we do in community, and pastors are not exempt from the need and benefit.

Next Week: Seminary Pastor as Minister 6: Some spiritual reading

Friday, March 04, 2016

Sermon: “Spirit Empowered Humanity”

Preached March 4, 2016 as the final sermon in the Cox Deeper Life Series.
So if you were here on Wednesday, the title of the sermon was, “Jesus sanctified humanity.” The basic point of that sermon was that when Jesus came to earth he showed us what it meant to be truly human, to be the kind of human being that God intended all human beings to be. I argued that when Jesus was on earth, he played it by the human rules and did everything he did by the power of the Holy Spirit. The idea was that there was nothing that Jesus did that, in theory, we could not also do through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus showed us how to be human.

So today we want to talk about how the Holy Spirit can empower us to be like God, to be holy as he is holy. What does that look like?

Two aspects to us being holy
There are two basic aspects to being wholly as a person. The first is *being* God-ified.

I don't know if you saw the first of the recent Batman reboot movies. In Batman Begins, there's a scene where Morgan Freeman is showing Christian Bales something he calls memory cloth. Basically when you put an electric current through the cloth it stiffens. So Batman can put the current through his cape and instantly it becomes a glider, like the picture.

Arkham video game 
[By the way, I guess physics students don’t think this would actually work very well, so don’t try to jump off any of the dorms with something like this.]

What I mean by being “God-ified” is that when we become God’s, he touches us. He electrifies us. He brings us into his force field. I thought of the Iron Man movie where he “electrifies” the hands of people falling from Air Force One so that they can’t help but grab the next person’s hand.

This is a difficult concept for us. Our Western culture doesn’t understand the idea that sin or holiness can be contagious. Take 1 Corinthians 7:14, where Paul says that an unbelieving spouse is made holy when they are married to a believer and that the children are also made holy by this connection. This is a pretty amazing statement. Just by being married to someone who is touching god an unbeliever is brought into the force field of the Holy Spirit. The children are brought into the force field of the Holy Spirit. Like the cape that when electrified takes on the form so in some strange way, and unbeliever in connection with a Christian somehow comes within the power of God!

We have a real tendency to bring comments like this into our modern paradigm. We want to say that they come under the influence of Christianity, the influence of God. And of course that's all true. But there something more than that going on here, something special, something striking. I would go so far as to say that to some small extent an unbeliever who's touching as it were a believer is less likely to sin. They’re a little more likely to do the good or more likely to be protected from evil. again I don't know how it all works. Its mystical, it's divine.

But somehow, even unbelievers are “God-ified” by contact with true believers. It doesn't mean they're going to be saved. Paul is explicit about that. Just because an unbeliever is married to a believer doesn't mean they're actually going to make it in the end of the kingdom of God. Paul saying something different, something very difficult for us modern people to get our head around.

But one aspect to holiness is to be “God-ified.” When we are God’s, God is touching us and that makes us holy.

But there is a second aspect to holiness. not only does God touch us and make us *be* God-ified, but the part I most want to talk about today is that when we are made holy we *live* God-ified. So “being” God-ified is one aspect of holiness, and the second is “living” God-ified.

So we return to the verse we looked at Wednesday in 1st Peter 1. “Do not be conformed to the desires That you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, so be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, ‘You shall be holy, as I am holy.’”

On Wednesday we talked about how Jesus came and represented us. Today we want to talk about how we need in our lives to represent God in how we live.

Only by God’s Power
We all know the saying by Yoda in Empire Strikes Back. “Try not. Do or do not.” I'm not sure I never really understood what that means. When I hear it I just think man I've got to really try harder. And after all there are some things you just can't do. I grew up in the area where they told you that you could do anything you put your mind to. Do they still say that? it's a load of rubbish. I will never ever be able to run a five-minute mile. When I was in high school I came within 29 seconds of doing it once but I can tell you for a fact I will never ever be able to run it.

Empire Strikes Back
So what's up with this try not do or do not stuff?

As I reflect on this sermon, though, I wonder if what Yoda is telling Luke Skywalker is that he actually can't do it. I wonder if he's telling Luke that the kinds of things that he is trying to do are impossible for him to do. In other words, the only way to do them Is for him to surrender himself fully to The Force and let the force do them through him.

No I don't believe in some impersonal force around us that empowers us. But I do believe in the Holy Spirit. I do believe that God wants to take over our lives and do impossible things through his power in us. I believe in the Holy Spirit.

What does it look like?

1. Love God with your all.
So what does it look like to live holy and not just be holy because God is touching you? I think Matthew 22 is a great place to start. Yeah actually it's a good place to end too. Someone comes to Jesus and ask him what God requires of us, what the greatest commandment is. Jesus responds, You will love the Lord your God with all your heart soul and mind. Basically, God expects you to love him with all your being.

This is a pretty tall order. It falls into the category of things you might try to do but you just can't. It's the kind of thing that's going to take some divine power to come anywhere close to.

For one thing none of us are really completely aware of ourselves. I may want to give everything to God but I don't know everything there is about me to give. Let's face it human beings are incredibly complex and we are far more unaware of ourselves than we are aware of ourselves. if other people only see the little bit of our iceberg above the water, we don't really see that much more of ourselves either. The stuff deep down the stuff that really makes us who we are, the stuff that drives us, the stuff that pushes us in certain directions--we aren't that much more aware of a lot about stuff ourselves than anyone else is. In fact, sometimes other people are more aware of those things than we are.

If I don't know all of me, how can I give it to God?

It might help to think of it more like an arrangement we have made with God, a covenant even. Have you ever actually told God that your whole life is his? Now none of us knows really what that all is going to entail. None of us knows the crises we're going to face later in life. In a real sense, none of us knows the complete inventory of this house that we live in, this house that we call our lives.

Did you have a fun attic in your house growing up? Did you have a musty basement in your house or a cluttered garage? My family is, for good or ill, a Harry Potter family. There's this place in Harry Potter that is called the Room of Requirement. It's a place where there is a ton of stuff and a mess of junk, and you never know what you're going to find it. I hate to say that we have an attic a basement and a garage in my house that are a little bit like that. There are things that I've been looking for in our house for over 15 years.

I did my doctorate in England in the city of Durham and the university I was a part of was made up of little colleges and had I think about 12 colleges that made up the university. The one I was part of was called St John's College, and I was something like in RD in St Johns.

One of my jobs--which by the way it was very dubious to give me this job--but one of my jobs was that if the fire alarm went off I had to go find out where in this maze of interconnected houses the alarm has been set off and then go to see if there was an actual fire. And let me say that St John's was a fire trap of amazing proportions. Basically at some time they had taken this row of houses that were built in the 17 hundreds and they had torn down the walls inside between the making this kind of maze of tunnels like that went up and down and around. One of my favorite staircases ended in a wall.

Let's just say that the boy in me loved that maze all of the secret places that you can find in this amazing network of hallways that were almost like tunnels in a mine. There are all sorts of hidden nooks and crannies in those buildings.

In the end, we just don't know everything that's in our lives. we don't have to list every single thing and specifically give it to him in order to love him with all our heart mind soul and strength. Holiness preachers use to use the analogy of signing over the title deed to your house to God. I may not know everything that's in my house. I may not know everything that's going to come through the doors of my house in my life, but I can sign over the house to God

I can make an arrangement as it were. I can make an arrangement that promises God that everything in my house, whatever it is it is his. That doesn't mean that I may not have to struggle at some point in the future.

Maybe someday when I'm wandering through my attic I'll come across something that pulls against God. Maybe I'll encounter something in my attic that threatens to divide my loyalty. And when that moment comes, and it probably will, then I have to stop and remind myself who holds the title to my house who owns the property.

And I won't be able to do it in my own power. There's a good chance that “trying” won't be enough. There's a good chance that I will have to rely on the Holy Spirit to make it a reality. But 1 Corinthians 10:13 promises that the Holy Spirit will make us able to bear up under temptation. Paul implies that there is no temptation that has to win over us.

Have you ever signed over the property of your life to God? Have you ever promised him that whatever you find in your attic or basement or garage, that it is his? Have you ever made that covenant with God for all of the rest of your life, committing your all to him?

It's not something we can do. It's not something we can work out in our minds or figure out. It's a covenant that we give over to him and let him take it from here.

There's a verse in Colossians 3 that has been my personal motto in this area. It says that whatever you do in word or deed do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. What this says to me is that my fundamental motivation needs to be to serve God with all my heart and all my being.

It's a different way of thinking about what I do. I don't approach living as a question of what is right and wrong but I approach what I do with the question of what would be most pleasing to God what would most glorify God.

A teenager once asked me how far he could go with a girl before he would go to hell. I smiled and jokingly said that he had already done it. Why? Because he wasn't approaching the question from the standpoint of what would most please God but from the standpoint of how much sin he could get away with.

In other words he has not given his property over to God he wanted to give just enough of his house to God in order to get to heaven. It's like Jesus said, this people honor me with their lips but their heart is far from me.

So there will always be things in our house that we lose track of, that we don't even know are there. Our lives are not static stuff comes in stuff goes out. I don't know if you've seen the movie inside out, but there's this pit where old memories fall to die, never to be heard of again.

Those things aren't so much the problem for holiness. As the hidden things of our lives come back we simply rededicate them to God we simply remind ourselves that we have committed to love God with all our heart mind soul and strength.

The problem is when there are secret spaces, hidden closets that we full well know are there but that we don't want to give to God. Again, being a Harry Potter family, I thought of that little place under the staircase where Harry Potter is sleeping in the first movie when the story all begins.

Harry Potter, Sorcerer's Stone
There's a campground in Frankfort Indiana that my family used to have a cabin at. And right underneath the top step of the stairs to the second floor, there was a little nook that you could open and I used to keep a can collection there. Don't ask me why I collected cans. But I have a can that had 1976 on it, the Bicentennial anniversary of America's birth. And then I had a can that said 1986 on it and then later one that said 1996 on it, if I remember correctly.

Some of us like to have little secret places in our lives little things that we keep to ourselves, little things that we do not share with others. And of course it's okay to have some things that you keep private to yourselves. That is it's OK as long as you don't keep them from God.

The problem with secret spaces is if we don't give that part of our house to God.

So if you've never actually signed over your property to God that is something you're going to want to do. That is something you must do. There's simply is no other option. We cannot keep our houses from God and be his.

The same thing goes with secret spaces. It may be some little thing at first that we are keeping from God. but if we continue to have parts of our lives where we do not let God go, eventually they go from being little things to becoming quite great things indeed.

A drip of water seems like hardly anything, but over time just that little drip can create large cracks. I mentioned that I was at St John's College in England. When I first arrived there the steps leading up to the front building were quite remarkable. Like I said they were from the 17 hundreds. The principle of the college once remarked when he had visited Independence Hall in Philadelphia how funny it was when the tour guide remarked at how old that building was. He whispered to his wife that his office was in a building that old.

But the steps in front of John's College actually bowed. And you might think wow what incredible force must cause stone to actually curve? but the answer is just the ordinary steps of people like you and me walking up and down and in and out of that building for 300 years. a little step is nothing but a million of them can cause stone to bow.

So it is also with our lives. For both good and bad. Habits of doing good are hard to establish but with each passing time that we do them it becomes easier. good can become a habit. But in the same way, small little things that we keep from God can over time become so great that they smash our relationship with Him. we cannot go into the kingdom with anything other than that which fits with God and small bits of defiance overtime become massive defiance in the end.

2. Choose to love others.
There is a second part to the Great Commandment. When the young man came to Jesus and asked him what God required of him, Jesus not only said that he needed to love God with all his being. Jesus also said that he needed to love others.

You might remember the parable of the Good Samaritan in which the person who comes to Jesus in that instance tries to wiggle out of loving people he doesn't like. in lawyer like fashion this man says but who is my neighbor? in other words can I get by with just loving my friends, the people that I like to call my neighbor?

Jesus answer must have been very very annoying. In the story of the Good Samaritan Jesus makes the hero someone that no one wanted to like, a Samaritan! Jesus was saying as it were that you have to love everyone, even Samaritans.

Jesus says similar things in Matthew 5. Jesus says if you only love the people who are friends with you better than anyone in the world? Don’t even evil people like their friends? No, Jesus says. You must love your enemies just as God loves his enemies. God sends rain and sun not just on good farmers but on wicked farmers as well.

So the command for us to love our neighbor means everyone, both our friends and our enemies.

An interesting observation here is that God does not command us to like everyone. I don't think that loving in this instance is the same as liking. in fact I don't think that what Jesus is talking about here has anything to do with feelings. rather, it has to do with choices.

I tried to word this last slide carefully. Choose to love others. I think there will always be people that you don't like, people who rub you the wrong way. this is specially applies to people who have hurt you in the past.

When we say that God calls us to love our enemies, what we are saying is that God has called us to act lovingly toward them, not to feel loving toward them.

I like to think of it this way. In life we are often confronted with a choice between A and B. Now sometimes we don't know which is the more loving choice. but often we do. Often we know that Jesus would take choice A and not choice B. Sure we can be self-deceived. I am amazed right now at the incredibly different things that American Christians think Jesus would do. Christians often disagree on what the loving thing actually is. God knows, And God is the judge.

As we said on Wednesday God isn't looking for perfection from us. He's looking for commitment. He's looking for our intentions. As Jesus says God looks on the heart.

To love our enemy means that when we are confronted with a choice between A and B that we choose the loving choice. It doesn't mean that were happy about it. It doesn't mean that we enjoy doing it. It means that, by God's grace, by God's power, we trust ourselves to the Holy Spirit and make the right choice.

There are of course all sorts of clarifications here. When it comes to our own morality and eternal destiny, all of a suddenly become good lawyers. We want to wiggle out of doing the right thing so often. But it is true that sometimes the loving thing to do is not to let others have what they want. Sometimes, as one person put it, love must be tough.

For me personally, sometimes I get a kind of gnawing feeling inside of me that what I'm about to do just isn't the right thing. This happens off and on Facebook and Twitter for me. I like to make people laugh, but some things just aren't funny. Sometimes right before I tweet something I'll get this kind of feeling inside that I want to ignore. Some of my friends have suggested that this is the Holy Spirit or my conscience telling me that I really shouldn't tweet that.

But again God is not looking for perfection. He's looking for commitment.

So as we close this holiness series today, I hope that you will make a commitment. it is first of all a commitment to give your house to the Lord. Even though you don't know everything that's in your house, you can sign it over to him. You can say to the Lord, “Lord I'm giving you everything I know that's in my house. I'm giving you all the secret spaces.” You know what they are. Give it all. Give it all to God. Everything that there now. Everything that's there from the past. Everything that's going to be there in the future.

Then commit to choose love when you have a choice. Commit to make the right choice whenever you're confronted with doing the loving thing or not doing the loving thing.