The Grateful Christian

Essays, opinions, and works-in-progress by a conservative Lutheran pastor.

My Photo
Location: West Michigan, United States

In order of importance, I am a: Husband, father, pastor, hobby programmer, writer. Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust instead
Of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.

--C.S.Lewis, The Apologist's Evening Prayer

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Yes, it really did

"Did It Really Happen?" is the title of the Google News pointer to this article in the San Diego Union-Tribune. It discusses the power of Easter in the collective mind of Christianity, and seeks to probe a little bit into the fact that not all "Christians" are agreed on the literal facticity of the resurrection of Jesus.

The Bible is quite clear that the resurrection of Jesus "really happened" in the same literal, historical sense that the sinking of the Titanic really happened. Frankly, I don't understand those who say, let's not press that point too hard; of whom Ms. Dolbee's article says, "there are Christians who simply don't buy into the physical Resurrection account. . . For Gray, the Resurrection was spiritual, not physical."

I cannot see how God can communicate a "spiritual truth" through a historical lie. Either a dead Jesus came back to life and was seen by His disciples, or not. If not--if some part of that report is untrue--then Jesus' followers lied.

As I often do, I challenge these revisionist "Christians" to put that kind of logic into practice in some other area of their life. How would he feel if he received a report that his wife had been unfaithful to him, and when he asked her about it, her only response was, "Honey, it doesn't matter whether I really slept with him or not, but how the report affects your life"? Rev. Gray says, according the the article, that his doubts about the historical truth of the resurrection do not diminish his faith. But if he was hiring a tutor for his teenage son, and the candidate for the job would not submit to a background check, wouldn't that diminish his faith in the tutor?

It does not make something more "spiritual" to place it out of the reach of scientific or historical investigation--unless you are a Gnostic, believing that the material world is either evil, or simply irrelevant. That kind of spirituality, which has become so popular lately, is completely opposite from Christianity and the Scriptures.

The apostle Paul, for instance, deliberately proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus when he spoke on Christianity to the philosophers gathered at the Acropolis in Athens. He included it because it is a crucial part of Christianity. When it offended them, because many of his hearers were influenced by the same kind of Platonism that had given rise to Gnosticism, he didn't say, "Well, anyway, gentlemen, let's not get bogged down in that little detail." He stuck to his insistence that these were facts--even though it lost him most of his audience.

Paul went from there to Corinth. Later, looking back on that visit, he wrote to the Corinthian Christians at Corinth, "When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified "(1 Cor. 2:1 NIV). The historical details would not get short shrift with Paul. Later in the same letter you can find what is often called the Great Resurrection Chapter--1 Corinthians 15--where he says

if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead.

Read that chapter for yourself and then decide whether the historical factualness of the report of Jesus' resurrection is irrelevant to its "spiritual" benefits. The Bible says it happened. I believe it. I hope you do too.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Screwtape, stereotypes, and seeing

This morning a few of us met for breakfast and to discuss C.S.Lewis' The Screwtape Letters. We were talking about Chapter 2, which Screwtape begins with censure for his hapless nephew Wormwood:
I note with grave displeasure that your patient has become a Christian. ...we must make the best of the situation. There is no need to despair; hundreds of these adult converts have been reclaimed after a brief sojourn in the Enemy's camp and are now with us. All the habits of the patient, both mental and bodily, are still in our favour.
We were discussing what "mental habits" might be, and someone mentioned how he was struck by the reference to thinking in pictures, and how Screwtape encourages Wormwood to twist that to his advantage, by heightening in his patient the sense of disparity between the mental picture of a Christian that he carries around in his head, and the real Christians he encounters:
Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like "the body of Christ" and the actual faces in the next pew.
Knowing this, what can we do to defeat this kind of vulnerability in the way we think? (Mental habits, right?)

We decided that one problem might be that we are not really looking at the person, but just noticing the things that annoy us--dealing with stereotypes. (Joe's personal digression: General Semantics here: the map is not the territory; we deal with the object [the map], not the reality [the territory]. What Abraham Maslow called "rubricization." Theologically, when applied to God, it is called "idolatry," but it is just as sinful when we do it to people, and content ourselves with our caricature of the person, rather than really looking with an open mind.) Thus the defect is in our looking.

Or, the defect might be in our ideal of a Christian, a case of unrealistic expectations, informed more by the world than by God. We ought to be praying that God would take charge of the process by which these pictures are formed, instead of letting the world or the devil or tradition or our upbringing draw these pictures for us.

Well, we had this discussion 15 hours ago, so I'm not sure I'm remembering it just right. But this is what I got out of it...

Tyrone Wells on Creativity

Speaking of Tyrone Wells, while exploring his web site I jumped to the web page for The Longing which seems to be a Christian band he is/has been part of. I found this statement on the bio page, and I love it:

I remember going to a concert once and thinking distinctly throughout the show that it was the best thing I'd ever heard... and that someone had ripped a gaping hole in my chest. The best art always makes me ache. The hole in my chest that night (and on many other occasions) I have begun to understand as "the longing". I believe that the best art, the most beautiful creations, give us a glimpse of the brilliance of the Original Creator. The "longing" that I feel when I see and hear these artists and their art... is really at it's core, none other than a window to the beauty of God. For what man-made creation I ask you, can compare with the handiwork of God? What song can compare to the sound of rushing winds, singing birds, or crashing waves? What drawing or painting can compare to the radiance of a sunset or the vivid visual of a mother holding her newborn child? Until that day when we see our creator face to face in all His glory we are left with glimpses, fleeting impressions, and the longing.

This is a strong parallel to C.S. Lewis' description of how he got "drawn in" (kicking and grumbling, as it were) to the Christian faith. (I'll get back to you with a quote on that, eventually.) Sheldon Vanauken wrote in A Severe Mercy that for him it was the filigree of bare branches against the night sky.

Note to Noah: you might like to contrast this with the essay you recently sent me. Specifically, you might explore how some forms of entertainment "try to fill the God-shaped void," as you put it, in an anesthetic sort of way, to dull the longing for God; but other entertainments do what Tyrone Wells describes--they increase the ache, and point you to something higher.


This made me laugh out loud!

I've been tracking down a song I heard on F/X's RESCUE ME, a soulful ballad that left me wanting more (you RM fans will remember it was the one that played while Tommy Gavin waited at the hospital for news of his daughter who had gotten hurt in an automobile accident). Anyway, thanks to the F/X RESCUE ME chat board, the music was identified as being by Tyrone Wells.

Googling Tyrone Wells turned up this site where you can listen to his stuff (and buy it), an outfit called CDBABY.

The listen feature convinced me that I've gotta get this album.

Anyway, I explored a bit more, and got curious about CDBABY; who are these guys? I went to the About page and learned that they are a distributor for independent musicians. Down the page a bit, I came across the source of my big loud laugh (which I have circled in red for your entertainment):

This is like acid-free paper, and dolphin-free tuna, and the film disclaimer "No horses were harmed in the making of this movie."

What a comfort to know that the Internet has places you can surf to that don't put money in Micro$oft's pockets, eh?

Saturday, March 05, 2005

The Dryer Sheet Theory

Last Sunday in Bible Class I referred, in passing, to my Dryer Sheet Theory. It was a blunder. I was tired, and I forget to watch my mouth when I'm short on sleep. The next blunder was when I saw their puzzled expressions; instead of saying, "Never mind, it's not important," I elaborated. I guess the cat's out of the bag now.

So it's time for me to do some damage control. (Yeah, right. I'm probably flattering myself that they even remember my explanation, or even that it took place. But hey! If I can't flatter myself in a weblog, why even keep one?) So here is the official release of the Dryer Sheet Theory, with notes for its application.

It goes like this:

Someday, when we've solved the mystery of why cancer and allergies are on the rise, and why the sperm count of males worldwide is on the decline, it will come out that the culprit was not something obvious and dramatic, like PCBs and pesticides and electromagnetic waves, but something small, harmless-looking, and ubiquitous--like, well, dryer sheets: those gauzy little squares suffused with fabric softener that my wife insists on throwing into the dryer with our clothes.

Note: I don't really believe that Bounce™ or Cling-Free™ cause cancer. . But I have a sneaking suspicion that the culprit will turn out to be something like that, something hidden in plain sight, something that nobody gives a second thought to. But because it delivers a small dose, so to speak, over such a wide area, and a long time, the cumulative effect is pernicious and disastrous.

I use the Dryer Sheet Theory as a metaphor for things that are generally regarded as harmless, but that are possibly damaging us by degrees.

Example: the current trend to make everything customizable--call it the personalizing craze. Cell phones come with covers, so you can color-coordinate your phone with your wardrobe. You can, apparently, customize the ringtones. Now they are marketing computer mouses (a techie told me long ago that those input devices are never referred to as "mice" in the plural) that have changeable covers. There is some interest in the auto industry in doing this with automobile bodies. It's been going on in the Bible publishing industry for ten years (Zondervan sells the NIV translation in a bewildering array of editions, niche-marketed to prisoners, members of the armed forces, teens, moms, single parents, jocks, nerds, etc. ad nauseam.) What is this trend doing to us? Like a low-grade infection, how is it eroding our concepts of the nature of reality? What is it doing to our sense of community and culture?

Another example: advertising. I am a capitalist, but I am alarmed at how much we have been programmed by, not so much advertising's content, as by its methods. I believe Marshall McLuhan was right: the medium is the massage. (That's not a typo. Look it up.) I see people in the Christian Church for whom the word "evangelism" means slick offset-printed brochures with high-quality production values and text with just the right amount of cool to "attract the unchurched."

Dryer Sheet Theory. You heard it here first, folks.