Creation chronology – my reading of Genesis

I know folks who believe that a particular scientific reading of Genesis is a hill to die on – something that should practically be in the creed right next to the God-Man.

I disagree. I think Genesis is the opening of the story and history of God and man. What tidbits of information you can glean about geology and astronomy are not even close to being enough to build a comprehensive theory on. They aren’t meant to be.

Growing up I was mostly exposed to Young Earth Creationism. While I appreciate some of what these folks are trying to do, I have to say that I think an old earth is much more plausible. Why? It’s just a much simpler explanation, AND I don’t see it as being at odds with the Genesis story of creation at all. The number of linguistic and exegetical hoops you have to jump through to keep the old-earth theory alive is WAY fewer than the number of hoops to get to young earth.

There are two different angles to take in explaining (or believing) young earth creationism: scientific and “un-scientific”. Here, the ever helpful Fearsome Lutheran lends a hand:

“Scientific” YEC does not say that things like deep layers of volcanic sediment, fossils, the Grand Canyon, and distant nebulae are hoaxes. They simply labor to find some quasi-scientific explanation for how they can be what they are and yet the universe is 6000 years old–it doesn’t hurt to come up with some theory on how scientists are hiding the real evidence, either. “Non-scientific” YEC admits that the evidence is there, and that it does point to an old universe, but that it was all faked by God either at the Creation itself, or perhaps after the Fall in order to hide his own existence.

The difference between “scientific” and “unscientific” YEC is then that the former seeks to figure out how the evidence is consistent with a young universe, whereas the latter seeks to figure out why God put such misleading evidence all over the place.

Now, when an astronomer looks through his telescope and sees a star that, as best as anyone can figure out, is 1 billion light years away, that means that the light from that star took a heck of a long time to get here. The scientific YEC person will point to theoretical physicists who propose some sort of “expanding universe” theory to explain how that light actually only took 6000 years to get here (since that MUST be how old the universe is since the Bible says so). The “unscientific” YEC person will say that God really did create that star really far away, but he also created all the light in between us and the star so it would LOOK like it’s really old, but it’s not. Also, when we find rocks deep in the earth that seem to be really old? God put them there to fool us, but if we just read Genesis narrative more concretely, we’ll have the inside scoop that that rock is really only 6000 years old.

Does anybody else get the feeling that both ways assume too high an opinion of us? Why does the creation of the entire universe HAVE to correspond with the beginning of human civilization? We say that by reading YEC into Genesis were focussing hard on the word of God, but I think were just focussing harder on ourselves. We are the center of our own little world where every galaxy across space is just scenery for our little pocket of beings made in the image of God.

My theory? God made the universe to be unbelievably vast. We are one tiny speck in a sea of galaxies. He could have made it all a trillion years ago. We on earth are just one of his special projects. Yes, special because he filled our planet with life and even with beings made in his own image. That’s pretty incredible. But who says he doesn’t have other projects all over the place? Maybe other creatures not made in his image, but just for his pleasure? Maybe a race of people who never fell into sin? Aliens? Sure, why not. But I don’t think we need to concern ourselves with them. They could be a billion light-years away. If any of these other life projects he has going on were important to our civilization on earth, he might have mentioned them. He doesn’t. So who cares? Jesus is all about cementing the relationships between the creator and us, his special creation right here. Space is the final frontier but one we aren’t likely to explore, except for the portion in our own back-yard.

To reinforce some of these ideas, I draw your attention to this piece written recently by Tim at Taliesan. Here I’ve unashamedly pasted the whole thing:

The Layers of Intelligent Design

1.   Primordial cosmos:  ”without form and void”.   This is not matterless.   It is unorganized matter/energy.   It suggests the existence of random events, without — surprisingly — a moral color  (we are inclined to see randomnity as bad.)  There is no reason to believe the creation week obliterated or exhausted this formless stuff.   I believe we still see this with senses and scientific instruments.

2.  Creation.   The stuff got organized.    The residuum of this is what we perceive when we look at the night sky, and this is the Design the biblical writers talk about.  But  the biblical writers are not necessarily seeing what we think when we think “design”, which is more like “pattern”.   They are seeing size, scale, and beauty.   The fabrication of the Garden, later, will reveal that this Creation,  whatever it looked like, though it is “very good”,  has no clear human purpose, except as raw material for a further ordering.   Even before the Fall there were at least two strata in the created universe that were not meant to look “designed” to unfallen human perception.    What we see now has no apparent purpose, unless explained by revelation, but we’re not seeing it clearly.

3.  The Garden.   The creation of the Garden in Genesis seems not to mean anything to Christians who argue with the evil evolutionists about design in the natural world.   But it seems crucial.   The distinction between the garden and the wide world is precisely the degree of apparent order.    And, in this context, the word “order” means something like “pleasant to humans”.    It was an island of suitableness within the infinite ocean of the Creation, which was itself on top of, or imposed on, the deep layer of formless stuff.   The idea was probably that the Garden would grow and take over all the Creation, which of course never happened.   So the Garden was the one place visibly designed for humans.    We do not perceive it now.   A flaming sword has been set at its door.

4.   The Creation, fallen.   Whatever degree of design the original creation displayed — something less than what God had in mind for us — must be broken down now, to some unknown degree.    And our vision is also broken.

I realize I am speculating here.  The point is not to nail all this down into creedal clarity.   The point is that the concept “design” is used by culture-warriors as if it means one thing.   It is either “evidence of design” or, I guess, “evolved by chance”; I find this dichotomy laughably simplistic — from a biblically literalist point of view.    Actually, the biblical concept of design is richly nuanced.   And that nuance not nearly mined to date.   We do the biblical picture great trauma by talking about it so carelessly.

Those of us who aren’t so certain to argue that we see “design” in the physical universe are often looked down on by our more dogmatic brethren.   As if we don’t really believe the Word.   Not so; we just see more in it than you, and see more that we don’t clearly see.    It’s hard to fight over something you know you aren’t seeing clearly.

I’m speculating too. I see a lot going on in the Bible, especially in the Genesis narrative. I see the potential for God pulling the strings on a thousand other things in the background and not feeling it necessary to tell us about them. The nuance in what we DO have hints at much more about the history of the universe than we’ll ever know. Tim’s idea of God going from less order –> more order makes a lot of sense from a creative standpoint.

As Dorothy Sayers point out, the very first attribute we discover about God, in Genesis 1:1, is that he is a CREATOR. We, in is image, are also creators. We’re always putting things into order. The creation of Earth and the life on it was one step in God taking what he had made (matter, energy, physical fundamentals) and putting them more in order. VERY ordered in this particular window of space of time. Then he told us about some of it via special revelation to Moses, who wrote it down in the Pentateuch. That’s good. Take it for what it is.

Somehow, He made a planet of a particular mass and put it just the right distance from a certain star of the proper energy to support rich biological life. The fact that the little snip of it we see in the Bible has the sun and moon created on the 5th day, long AFTER plants and vegetation are cooked up should not give us pause. When we come up with crazy theories in the language of contemporary science to explain this, we’ve already lost. We’re playing on the modernists turf, trying to use their own enlightenment tools against them. They will not believe the word of God even if a dead man returns to them. (Luke 16:31) Peer-reviewed journals and rhetorical footwork will not save their souls nor quell their rebellion. (Grace on the other hand, will blow their mind.)

So there you go. The really short version of why I believe in an old earth AND space aliens, with the caveat that I think space aliens are completely irrelevant.

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” – Psalm 19:1

Photo credit

On “natural” magic

Some Christians in our age vehemently apposed to sorcery in all it’s fictional forms.

This includes the Harry Potter novels, many video games such as Warcraft, and pencil and paper role-playing games like as Dungeons and Dragons.

Gosh. As a child, playing D&D was nearly on the same level as sneaking out of the house to slam a fifth of whiskey and sleep with your girlfriend. Watching Star Trek or playing with Star Wars toys was just fine though. Well, “The Force” was a little bit suspect, but not a show-stopper.

Of course, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, and Madeline L’Engle wrote fiction that was full of magic. For some reason, they got a pass in most circles.

I loved all of it. I read harder fantasy as well: Terry Brooks, Raymond Feist, etc. And even had quite a bit of fun playing Magic: The Gathering before it was discovered that the cards were made by the same company as D&D and included some demonic imagery. I had to throw them all away. This was back in junior high.

A few years ago, my wife and I decided to ignore the stigma and read through all the Harry Potter books. What fun!

My wife made the comment that if the “magic” in these novels was simply ascribed to science fiction gimmicks, then suddenly they aren’t seen as spiritual traps anymore.

For example:

  • Harry Potter shoots stunning spells with his wand at a monster = satanic sorcery!
  • Han Solo shoots a robot with a laser blaster = fun!
  • Wizard casts RESTORE on Knight. Health +50. = dangerous imaginative play, opening yourself up to demonic possession
  • Gandalf shoots stunning spell at Balrog on the bridge in Moria = cool! (free pass for Tolkien)
  • Harry and Dumbledore escape by teleporting back to Hogwarts castle, just outside the grounds. = going to hell
  • Data and Command Riker beam down to the planet’s surface = going to the planet’s surface

Now, don’t get me wrong. Demons are real. Satan is real. There are all kinds of authentic occult activities that attempt to contact demons, speak to the dead, control other people, influence the spirit world, etc. These are all prohibited in the Bible for obvious reasons.

But is a magician in a novel shooting a fireball at his foes the same thing? Does the very notion of it fill God with wrath? I’m thinking were talking about different things here.

One reason C.S. Lewis gets a pass is that he goes out of his way to try to explain his magic as being “natural”:

It was Ransom’s belief that Merlin was a fifth-century Christian druid, not the evil man suggested by some of the Arthurian legends, that he lived just at the close of the Atlantean age whe magic was relatively natural and harmless rather than during a later period when black arts prevailed and magic had become demonic.

-Clyde S. Kilby, The Christian World of C.S. Lewis, p.105

This is EXACTLY how I’ve always thought of magic. It COULD be a spiritual thing. It could be demons. In fact, if that guy in Tibet really is levitating? Demons. But inside of a secondary world (like in a story or a game), why could magic not be a NATURAL thing, like gravity or the properties of chemicals?

If you were to show someone from 200 years ago an electric light, they would insist it was magic. What about a radio? We know it’s just electricity modulating at a particular range of the electromagnetic spectrum that isn’t visible. What would an ancient person conclude except that it was some sort of spiritual telepathy?

Near the end of one of Raymond Feist’s fantasy novels, a warrior character asks a magician to explain his art. He throws the man 3 oranges and asks him to juggle them. He does. The magician replies that to someone who doesn’t know how juggling works, that appears to be magic – making one always hovering in the air. He went on to say that once you learn how to juggle with no hands, then you will understand magic.

Most of what passes for REAL magic in our world likely depends on the operation of demonic spirits. That is why it is so unpredictable! It is not bound by laws. Missionaries see magic in deep Africa all the time, but not in America. The demons are choosing where to operate so they can have the most effect. We have other temptations in the 1st world now.

A bonafide spiritualist today who hosts seances will tell you that they are very temperamental. A lot of times, nothing happens. Sometimes the communication with the dead is very flaky. But every once in a while it’s real enough to scare the crap out of them or offer undeniably special knowledge. Well, the reason it’s so flaky is they are dealing not with science, art, and laws of magic, but with PERSONS. You can’t control familiar spirits. They are laughing at us silly humans who try to conjure them up. If they can give us the slip, they will. They are likely in the employ of the father of lies. Besides showing our rebellion against God by attempting to work with them or control them, we’re also being hoodwinked. Don’t waste your time with the occult.

But magic in novels and games is almost entirely scientific. It has hard rules governing it, just like we have hard rules governing electricity, air resistance, quantum mechanics, etc. You need to have 50 magic points to shoot that fireball. Harry Potter practices his hover charms not like a medium attempting to talk to the dead, but like a football player in the weight room working on his abs. The elves in Middle Earth have sophisticated arts and crafts knowledge to make swords and armor that never blemish. This is light-years away from a voodoo fetish amulet, though at first glance both are inanimate objects infused with magical properties.

The evil witch in the Narnian mythology destroys her homeworld with “The Deplorable Word” – some sort of unspeakably evil magic spell. On her world, this was part of the natural law though – a temptation to be used or not used by its people. Sounds a LOT like nuclear weapons on our world.

This kind of magic is a tool that makes the secondary world much more interesting. Just like robots and time travel make science fiction fun, magic gives fantasy an interesting world to have a story take place.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are all kinds of nasty things that can be unhealthy to fill your mind with. When I take a look at the source books for most contemporary fantasy role playing games, I’m rather shocked at the amount of gory hardcore necromancy described throughout. That and straight-up erotica. When a story has an evil wizard in it that wants to make everyone his slave, that is one thing. When many pages of the novel or scenes in the movie absolutely revel in the the darkest details, that tells you something about the author. It’s not difficult to discern an unhealthy fascination with the world, the flesh, and the devil. In fantasy literature and games we sometimes see more of the devil hangin’ around. Want flesh? Soft core porn on MTV is a good place to start, but frankly, go just about anywhere. The world? You can start with the mall or your local Walmart, or CNN. Our children need to be able to discern all these temptations as they mature. A moratorium on fiction or games containing sorcery does virtually nothing to guard them from the devil and has plenty of potential to make their childhood unnecessarily boring and unstimulating.

Back to our Christian fantasy authors. Tolkien’s Middle Earth is just our own world in a earlier age. He explains how the world was filled with magic. The Valar, or angels that had some interest in the governance of Earth were endowed with this sort of creative energy. When the elves left Middle Earth at the beginning of the fourth age, the magic began to fade. Now, several thousand years later, it’s buried so deep, it can never be reawakened. There is not even a memory of the old arts. Magic today is either a parlor trick or toying around with demons and fancying yourself a warlock. Get a job people.

In my childhood I discovered that Magic: The Gathering was unhealthy for me, but NOT because the game had “spell casting” cards in it. No. It was unhealthy because I spent WAY too much time thinking about it and playing it. My other studies and disciplines (music, computer work, exercise) and also social time went to pot because all I wanted to do was work on my deck or play cards with my other two friends who were into Magic. It was on the same level as playing Nintendo all day or being a TV couch potato. At the time, I was not mature enough to handle it in moderation. So my parents banned me from participating. Ultimately, this was a good thing for me when I was a pre-teen, though, in hindsight, not for the reasons they thought.

Here is the funny part. Fictional magic is usually “natural”, like science. But let’s not make our own religion scientific:

  • Pray five times + fasting = power with God to heal people!
  • Tithe + read the whole bible through in 1 year = financial blessing!
  • 5 hail Marys + 6 our fathers = anti-depression enchantment.

How is this much different than the witch jumping through esoteric hoops to control the spirits? Are we trying to control the holy spirit? Well, the devil and his spirits are guaranteed to be up to no good. God has made rich and glorious promises to us, but they are NOT the kinds of things you can put in a spell book. God is a PERSON. Our interaction with him is not like Chewy fixing the hyper drive on the Millennium Falcon. It’s more like a three-year old daughter relating to a strong and gentle father.

Photo credit

Photo credit

Faith, Hope, and Love all the same thing?

With a friend/coworker of mine, I’ve begin working through John Stott’s study of Thessalonians. It’s been quite a while since I’ve done a straght-up bible study. Stott says in the preface that he intends the book to be literature, read straight through to properly develop ideas and themes. It isn’t a “commentary” proper, that is usually more of a reference work.

Anyway, in the first chapter he makes an interesting comment on “faith, hope, and love”, which, you’ll recall are found together all over the NT.

Faith rests on the past; love works in the present; hope looks to the future. Every Christian without exception is a believer, a lover, and a hoper (not necessarily an optimist, since ‘optimism’ is a matter of temperament, ‘hope’ of theology). Faith, hope, and love are thus sure evidences of of regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Together they completely reorientate our lives, as we find ourselves being drawn up towards God in faith, out towards others in love and on towards the Parousia in hope.

-John Stott, The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, p. 29

We have different words and meanings attached to these, but it makes me wonder if, in the spiritual world, faith, hope, and love are essentially of the same essence. We split them up to accomodate our temporal nature.

God is love, but he is outside of time. When he stepped into time, he became someone to believe IN, who acted in the past. His act toward us right now is one of love. When we love others, we do something about it right now. And we hope for what God has promised to do in the future (fully redeem us and the rest of creation).

Faith in God’s future promises could be called hope.

Hope that what God says about himself and what Jesus did for us could be called faith.

Acting after the character of God because of what we believe about him could be called love.

Acting after the character of God because of what we hope he will do in the future would be love.

Are the three really all that different?

We know God’s love toward us is a gift. We argue about whether faith is a gift from him or not. A lot of us pray for hope. Replace “hope” with psychological stability and freedom from depression. Replace a prayer for love with a prayer for patience (now!).

Perhaps he gives us all three. Has given us all three. Will give us all three (so let’s ask him).

Here what I’m saying? I think they’re the same thing.

Yeats and establishing an art for your own people

I’m finding a collection of essays by Yeats (so far the only poet I’ve found that I consistently enjoy), really interesting.

I thought one day—I can remember the very day when I thought it—’ If somebody-could make a style which would not be an English style and yet would be musical and full of colour, many others would catch fire from him, and we would have a really great school of ballad poetry in Ireland. If these poets, who have never ceased to fill the newspapers and the ballad-books with their verses, had a good tradition they would write beautifully and move everybody as they move me.’

Then a little later on I thought, ‘ If they had something else to write about besides political opinions, if more of them would write about the beliefs…, or about old legends…, they would find it easier to get a style.’

Then, with a deliberateness that still surprises me, for in my heart of hearts I have never been quite certain that one should be more than an artist, that even patriotism is more than an impure desire in an artist, I set to work to find a style and things to write about that the ballad writers might be the better.

-W.B. Yeats, What is ‘Popular Poetry’?

This sounds remarkably similar to Tolkien writing his Middle Earth history so as to provide England with the ancient mythology it was sorely missing.

Aaron Copeland tried to write distinctly ‘American’ music to escape the gravitation pull of Europe.

I think we all long to make our mark on history and be somewhat distinct on this earth. This desire can extend beyond ourselves to our friends, community, and even nation (patriotism). Sci-fi explores this as the race of man making it’s mark on the universe. I think This has more religious implications than at first glance.

Biblical Artistry

It would appear that at every turn, modernism serves to mangle the artistry in the Bible.

Include in this list of offenders:

  • a hard-core scientific reading of Genesis
  • an engineer’s reading of Revelation, complete with complex diagrams and math equations
  • a metaphysical reading of Song of Songs where it seems the poem is about anything except sex

Brought to mind by:

I have done my own translations of all biblical texts cited. The King James Version, of course, remains the magisterial rendering in English, but even in its modern revised form it lacks a good deal in the way of clarity and philological precision, while the various contemporary translations, in striving for just those two qualities, tend to obliterate literary features of the original like expresive syntax, deliberate ambiguity, and purposeful repetition of words. My own versions at times may seem willfully awkward, but at least they have the virtue of making evident certain aspects of te original that play an important role in the artistry of biblical narrative.

-Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, preface

DELIBERATE AMBIGUITY? In the Bible? You’re kidding. I thought that’s what we had all those nice translations and commentaries for: to get RID of that!!!


The Elizabethan Book of Common Prayer

I checked out a copy of the 1559 edition of the Anglican Book of Common prayer.

This was the time of William Shakespeare. During this age, going to church was compulsory! (Wouldn’t that be something…)

In the appendix, the author has this to say about it’s influence:

Indeed, without knowing it we may find ourselves using phrases derived from the Book of Common Prayer. “Throug fire and water,” “outward and visible,” “inward and spiritual,” “picking and stealing,” “pomps and vanity,” “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust” – these and like words and phrases heard over and over again have become a part of the heritage of English-speaking peoples. it could be argued that the Prayer Book has had a disproportionately high degree of influence when compared with the influence of the Authorized [King James] Version of the Bible.

-John E. Booty, History of the 1559 Book of Common Prayer, p.327

Church social dynamics

I think if I got digging, I’ve got enough material to write an entire thesis on how most church divisions can be explained almost completely as function of various social dynamics.

When protestants typically start a new church, the usual M.O. is to use a lot of rhetoric about how it is a “new move of God” or some other sort of spiritual language.

Churches splitting for (seemingly) theological differences often describe themselves as the remnant of the pure church keeping the faith while the mothership sinks into the deep waters of heresy.

Sometime the reasons can be very complicated. Luther split from Rome over justification by faith at the start of the reformation. But thousands of people followed him. Judging by the simple fact that a LOT of people just really don’t care about theology very much, it has to be assumed that many of these folks that first joined with Luther and his major followers did so primarily for OTHER reasons. These reasons are most likely the influence of family and friends, geography, or any number of other motivations. Didn’t like the priest in your town? While for years you’ve been stuck with him. Now suddenly there is an alternative down the street! See ya! Never went to mass much anyway and then your best friend’s husband (who really does care about theology) starts taking his family to the protestant church. You follow along. I’m sure you can think of lots of other examples.

Of course the single most important factor is probably geography. In fact, it’s pretty much a given. Church’s are SUPPOSED to be divided by geography, right?

Next on the list of the influences is family. The Catholics often get accused of having children who grow up going to church but don’t care one bit for Christianity. The truth is though, this phenomenon can be observed in all the other churches too, to varying degrees.

Do you have any “friends” that are just hangers on? What about the obnoxious co-worker who drives you (and plenty of other people) bananas with their ineptitude, gossip, or astonishing lack of social skills? Who wants to be around these people? Almost nobody. And whaddayaknow, some of them go to your church! You get enough of these people together (or get one in leadership) and they start to drive people away.

When people start hanging out at a different bar, they probably have the honesty to say, “Well, I used to hang out there until a lot of drunk frat guys starting hanging out there too. The place got too loud. John’s Pool Hall is more quiet even though it’s kind of smokey.”. But when we leave a church, we have to say something like “I just didn’t think the gospel was being proclaimed there.” or “We wanted a richer spiritual environment for our kids” or even “We really felt God was leading us to join this new congregation. Everyone is so close! It’s like a real warm community.” When the whole freakin’ time, the real reason was that the new worship leader wouldn’t let your wife sing back-up anymore and that really obnoxious guy was always trying to accost you after every service and gripe about what he saw on Fox news last night.

Again, I’m not saying all splits are over petty things. The Anglican’s splintering over gay ordination is pretty significant. The local Assembly of God’s new youth pastor breaking off and taking all the cool kids with him is something else entirely. Splits don’t have to necessarily be over personal conflict either. If a new factory was built near your neighborhood and your church saw an influx of blue-collar workers, you think that might change the environment a bit? If the pastor decided to change his sermons to be aimed more at folks who never went to college and suddenly your children don’t know half the kids in youth group after the congregation went from 200-300 people, you suddenly find yourself shopping around for somewhere more comfortable. Somewhere were people are more like you. This is bound to happen.

Now, please understand me. I think a LOT of these sorts of divisions are not inherently sinful or petty. The are much larger sociological forces at work here. Listen to this recent commentary by Seth Godin:

Dunbar’s Number isn’t just a number, it’s the law

Dunbar’s number is 150.

And he’s not compromising, no matter how much you whine about it.

Dunbar postulated that the typical human being can only have 150 friends. One hundred fifty people in the tribe. After that, we just aren’t cognitively organized to handle and track new people easily. That’s why, without external forces, human tribes tend to split in two after they reach this size. It’s why WL Gore limits the size of their offices to 150 (when they grow, they build a whole new building).

Facebook and Twitter and blogs fly in the face of Dunbar’s number. They put hundreds or thousands of friendlies in front of us, people we would have lost touch with (why? because of Dunbar!) except that they keep digitally reappearing.

Reunions are a great example of Dunbar’s number at work. You might like a dozen people you meet at that reunion, but you can’t keep up, because you’re full.

Some people online are trying to flout Dunbar’s number, to become connected and actual friends with tens of thousands of people at once. And guess what? It doesn’t scale. You might be able to stretch to 200 or 400, but no, you can’t effectively engage at a tribal level with a thousand people. You get the politician’s glassy-eyed gaze or the celebrity’s empty stare. And then the nature of the relationship is changed.

I can tell when this happens. I’m guessing you can too.

A lot of newer missional church planter’s realize this last point. Once their church gets to 150-200 people, that’s IT. They pull the plug. Take 20 and start a new congregation. If you don’t initiate it, it won’t be long before some of your members get fed up (with each other or YOU the glassy-eyed pastor) and do it themselves and the results aren’t always pretty.

Mark N at the Boar’s Head Tavern recently made this comment. He was reading my mind.

Try and follow me on this one. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that 99% of churchgoers could care less what your church’s theology is. There’s only one out of every hundred in your church who really cares, and he/she probably has a blog. What average joe does care about is your church’s culture, which is a combination of theology driven ecclesiology, covenant community, and the vision cast by leadership. So theology acts as a rudder, but the current (culture) plays a part in shaping your church into what it really is. This is how I see it, correct me if you think I’m wrong.

I’ll go out on that limb too.

Theology is a rudder. Bad theology will drive the ship into the rocks eventually. Wise folks on board will likely start jumping ship as the coast gets closer. But what the ship IS, that’s YOU! The people in it. That is, the ship is shaped by your church culture. It might look like a clipper ship. Or an ocean liner. Maybe a cruise ship. Possibly a space ship? Nevermind. That metaphor needs some work.

Church splits and divisions are just a really opportune time to analize these things. However, they affect every aspect. Check out this post about the singles culture at a particular church. I’m sure some of you can relate.

The Mars Hill [Seattle] vision Driscoll has repeatedly articulated that “young men would love Jesus, get jobs, take wives, and make babies” is totally a Social Gospel idea, a vision that through the preaching of the Gospel society will be transformed by Jesus into a better society. The fact that this is not a LEFT-leaning social gospel does not make it any less a social gospel.

How much of our post-millenialist-Jesus-will-subdue-the-earth theology is highly dependant our congregants having lots of babies? Is that a real move of God, or just us gettin’ moving? Maybe both, but watch out for rhetoric like this.

To shift gears a bit back to the theory, here is another post from the BHT, this time by Harmless Anarchist:

The advocacy by theological networks, coalitions, and all that rot, whether formal or informal, are 95% explicable as the expression of psychological and social needs and pressures of the particular religious society. Posts such as the one linked have a near ritual character and function [a rant about how right their theology is versus everyone else]. They build community identity. They are how a particular social species leverage technological means to construct their ecological niche.

Here on the interwebs, the theology-phile seems to have pride of place in the order of things. I don’t think anyone will contest the fact that theology sites are ubiquitous. While sites that talk about discipleship, community, and healthy church culture are there, they’re in the minority. Why is this?

Why is this? Well, talking theology is an easy front to avoid loving your neighbor. Studying the bible and the reformers is easy compared to summoning the emotional energy to listen to that obnoxious guy at church one… more… time.

More on all this later.

Photo credit

Charles Williams, sigh…

In the first chapter of her literary criticism of Charles Williams, Agnes Sibley writes

Charles Williams led an outwardly uneventful life. He never took a holiday, and only once did he leave England, to give a lecture in Paris. It was as if he needed no external stimulus to make ife interesting; an inner excitement about ideas carried him through what same would have regarded as boring days.

Fascinating. I aspire to travel, but I also aspire to what she is describing here.

The more and more I read of William’s works and about him, the more I am convinced that about 80% of what was cool about Williams was lost when he died in 1945 at the age of 58.

All accounts of Williams are of an amazing personality. And yet… his actually writing? I’m going to step out into the light here and say that Charles William’s work are of dubious value.

I read a recent essay on how Bob Dylan can produce (intentionally maybe?) a horrible new album and people will rave over it anyway. I’m afraid people are slow to denounce Williams for similar reasons. C.S. Lewis absolutely gushed over him at every opportunity. Out of respect for Lewis, nobody is able to read one of William’s novels and say (out loud) “Hey, wait a minute. This is crap”. Well, I’ll say it. Actually crap is maybe a bit too strong. You could do a lot worse. But it’s still pretty lousy.

I’m serious!

His ideas were original. He took romantic idealism to mind-blowing new heights. Heights that I’m afraid could only be sustained as long as he was personally in the room maintaining the energy through sheer enthusiasm.

I have TRIED really hard to like Williams. I really have. It seems like I should like him. Some of his stuff has been great. His introduction to Arthurian legend was top notch. His poetry has it’s moments. But for the most part? I’m tired of trying. On to something else.