Perspectives on Women in Ministry 2: Women Can’t Be Elders

Continuing the series on providing different perspectives on women in ministry, Out of Ur offers the second installment with a video arguing that women can’t be elders. Here’s the video. If you want to participate in the discussion, head over there and offer your thoughts.

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The surprising benefits of not paying attention

A recent Wired article argues that we’re paying too much attention to the importance of paying attention. In “Bother Me, I’m Thinking,” Jonah Lehrer argues that the modern world is obsessed with being “focused,” and has missed out on the benefits of distraction.

As he points out at the beginning,

We live in a time that worships attention. When we need to work, we force ourselves to focus, to stare straight ahead at the computer screen.

Indeed, focus is so important that we routinely diagnose kids as having a disorder if they can’t pay attention sufficiently.

But, he goes on to summarize a number of recent studies that suggest there are real benefits to paying less attention.

For instance, researchers have found a surprising link between daydreaming and creativity—people who daydream more are also better at generating new ideas. Other studies have found that employees are more productive when they’re allowed to engage in “Internet leisure browsing” and that people unable to concentrate due to severe brain damage actually score above average on various problem-solving tasks.

The rest of the article focuses on several recent studies that support the conclusion that distraction actually helps promote creativity.

None of this suggests, of course, that we don’t need to be able to pay attention. He recognizes that focusing is a skill that most people need.  He just wants to highlight that for some people “distractibility can actually be a net positive.”

Although we think that more attention can solve everything—that the best strategy is always a strict focus fueled by triple espressos—that’s not the case. Sometimes, the most productive thing we can do is surf the Web and eavesdrop on that conversation next door.

One week left to win a copy of Grant Osborne’s commentary on Matthew

You only have until February 28 to enter the contest to win Grant Osborne’s new commentary on Matthew. So, if you’re interested, make sure you head over there and add your name to the list. And, if you’re not interested, win it for your pastor. I’m sure it will be greatly appreciated.

 

Should we teach classes on how to speak Christianese? (Light from the Dark Ages, part 1)

Church is boring.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that from one of my high school students. Probe them a bit, though, and you’ll discover that the problem isn’t just that church isn’t exciting like a video game, an action movie, or a first date. Instead, the problem is often that they don’t understand what’s going on or what it has to do with “real life.” Listening to the songs and sermons, the language seems so odd, so removed from everyday life, that they struggle to understand why any of this matters.

And, like most of us, when faced with an hour or more of something they don’t really understand, they get bored.

And, if we’re honest, teenagers aren’t alone in this. Many people have a hard time understanding “church language.” Faced with words like “sanctify,” “redemption,” or, heaven forbid, “ebenezer,” they feel like they need their own personal translator just to keep track of what’s happening.

Indeed, some people have grown so accustomed to not understanding church language that they don’t even notice anymore. I’m sure I could drop “image of God” into a sermon and it wouldn’t even phase most people despite the fact that they probably have no idea what that phrase even means.

What do you do when the average person doesn’t understand the language of the church?

That is exactly the problem the church faced during its transition into the early middle ages. After the fall of the Roman empire in the West, the church had to deal with the fact that most people no longer spoke Latin, the official language used in all church services. In such a situation, what should the church do? Should it retain its traditional language, or should it try to translate itself into its new linguistic context?

In the early middle ages, the church opted to maintain its language. And, I think that we’re all aware of at least some of the consequences. Few people ever learned Latin, meaning that they often had very little idea of what was taking place in the service. And, as a result, the worship service often became something that the priest did for the people, rather than something that the people actively participated in. Indeed, regular attendance at church services declined significantly as people came to think that even their presence was unnecessary.

When we choose not to translate the language of the church, we risk alienating God’s people from God’s worship.

But, what about the other option? It’s easy to criticize the church for making what looks like an apparently obvious mistake. Why continue worshiping in a language that people don’t understand? But, what if the church had chosen differently? Suppose that it decided to recognize its new context and translate its worship into the various languages of the people. Although I think this would have been a good idea, we should recognize that the church had good reasons for concern.

  1. Something always gets lost in translation. Just ask a translator. It’s never quite possible to capture everything when you move from one language to another. And, when you’re talking about important truths, losing something along the way is never a good idea.
  2. The church risks its “catholicity.” The early church was deeply concerned to emphasize that regardless of what part of the world you are in, you are still part of the one church of Jesus Christ. That is the church “catholic” (i.e. the church in its unity). And, for them, common worship practices and a common worship language were powerful and visible declarations of our Christian unity.
  3. You may end up with a lowest-common-denominator Christianity. If our focus is on what the “average person” is able to understand, and if our goal is to make sure that our worship makes sense to that person, do we not run the risk of “lowering the bar” so much that we lose some of the depth and substance of Christian worship?

So, faced with a difficult situation, the early medieval church had two choices, both of which came with significant risks.

And, both sets of risks are worth keeping in mind as we deal with a similar situation today. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, we too struggle with a “church language” that most average people find hard to understand. What will we do?

  1. Will we choose like the medieval church to retain our language, convinced that it conveys important theological truth and maintains our connection to one another and to the broader Christian tradition? If we choose this path, we need to understand that we’ve got our work cut out for us. We must do the hard work of educating our congregations to understand that language, or we risk alienating them from the worship life of the community, leading them to grow frustrated, disconnected, and bored. And, we should also recognize that the tide flows against us in this task as the biblical/theological knowledge of the average person today continues to recede.
  2. Or, will we choose to translate our worship into the language of “the people”? Down this road likes the possibility of greater engagement and understanding. But, I’ve attended worship serves at many churches who opt for this path, and we should also be aware that this can be a road that leads to a theologically shallow spirituality that tries to develop in isolation from the broader life and language of God’s people through time.

As with most difficult decisions, I don’t think a simple either/or will suffice; the truth certainly awaits us somewhere in the middle. Our task is to recognize the dangers on either side and address the challenge with eyes wide open. And, that’s most easily done when we seek to learn from those who have navigated these difficult waters before us.

[This is the first post in our series on 6 Things We Can Learn about Worship from the Dark Ages.]

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Writing tip(s) of the day

At least once a week, I try to pass along any good writing tips or resources I’ve stumbled across on my various internet journeys. Today’s resource comes from an interview with Louis Markos, an editor at The Gospel Coalition website.

Answering the first question, Markos offers a number of authors that he thinks have a “beautiful and subtle prose” worth emulating. He’s particularly fond of Ray Bradbury and C. S. Lewis.

The latter part of the interview focuses on the differences between good and great sentences, as well as what it takes to craft a good argument.

Perspectives on women in ministry

Like it or not, the role of women in ministry continues to be one of the most hotly debated topics in evangelical circles. And, the reason it remains a debated issue is because people have strong perspectives on both sides. So, for the next several days, Out of Ur will be posting videos on both sides of the issue.

Here’s the first video in the series from Rose Madrid-Swetman, co-pastor of a church in Seattle.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nuv_3pUF7YY&feature=player_embedded

Flotsam and jetsam (the very overdue edition)

Darwin speculated that life began in a warm pond on the primordial Earth. Lately other scientists have suggested that the magic joining of molecules that could go on replicating might have happened in an undersea hot spring, on another planet or inside an asteroid. Some astronomers wonder if it could be happening right now underneath the ice of Europa or in the methane seas of Titan.

Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa prove — not contend — that students are not learning what they should, professors are not doing all they could, administrators are not focused on education enough and, as if that weren’t a glassful, society is and will continue to suffer is something isn’t done about it.

Three hit songs in the last few months have pushed the same message: You are awesome. You’re awesome just the way you are, even –no, especially– if you don’t fit in.

My take on the passage is that it refers to our meeting Christ in the air to welcome him to his earthly rule. If this is a “rapture”, fine, as long as it is not confused with the popular idea.

  • Rod has started what looks like a fascinating series on Firefly & Theology. (If you’re not familiar with Firefly, it was an outstanding scifi series on Fox that sadly only made it through one season, though it was later made into a movie.)

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0226028569?ie=UTF8&tag=jescre-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0226028569

The king is dead! Long live death and destruction?

Aragorn, the king, has returned. Let the rejoicing begin! Victory is here!

But, suppose that the story unfolded a little differently. Rewind the tape a little. Go back to the part of the movie where Aragorn jumps off the ship—black cloak flapping in the wind, dark eyes fixed intently on the orc army, grim face promising death to all who stand in his way. The promises of the kingdom in his hands. The hope of all humanity on his shoulders.

And an arrow hits him right between the eyes.

Knocked back against the side of the ship, he slowly collapses to the ground in a bloody heap at the feet of his shocked companions.

The king is dead!

Without Aragorn, the ghost army has no reason remain. So, the ghosts all head back to their home under the mountain. There is no dramatic rescue of the humans trapped inside the city. The orcs win and the humans are all massacred.

No kingdom, no blessings, no shalom. Only shoah. The king is dead and all hope is lost.

Now, suppose that you’re the orc who shot the arrow.

I’m sure you really didn’t understand what you were doing. You’re an orc. So it’s not like you’re all that smart. You saw some dingy-looking guy dressed in black and holding a pretty wicked looking sword. He scared you a little. You’d heard that he was supposed to be some great king who would restore peace and order throughout the land, but you didn’t buy it. You thought he was the enemy. So, you killed him.

You killed the king.

You killed the only hope for the world.

Oops.

And, that’s exactly what happened in our story. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter had to stand up in front of an entire crowd of people and deliver some bad news. The Promised One returned. He came with all of the blessings of the kingdom: life, Spirit, peace, forgiveness, purity, new creation, healing—shalom. After so many long centuries of waiting, after all the uncertainty and doubt, after so many false hopes and broken dreams, the King came to restore the kingdom.

And you killed him.

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified. (Acts 2:36)

The King came, and you killed him. The hope of the world, nailed to a cross.

Now what do we do?

[You can read the rest of the posts in this series on the Gospel book page.]

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A prayer for Sunday from St. Anselm

Lord Jesus Christ; Let me seek you by desiring you,
and let me desire you by seeking you;
let me find you by loving you,
and love you in finding you.

I confess, Lord, with thanksgiving,
that you have made me in your image,
so that I can remember you, think of you, and love you.

But that image is so worn and blotted out by faults,
and darkened by the smoke of sin,
that it cannot do that for which it was made,
unless you renew and refashion it.

Lord, I am not trying to make my way to your height,
for my understanding is in no way equal to that,
but I do desire to understand a little of your truth
which my heart already believes and loves.

I do not seek to understand so that I can believe,
but I believe so that I may understand;
and what is more,
I believe that unless I do believe, I shall not understand.

Lord Jesus Christ; Let me seek you by desiring you,
and let me desire you by seeking you;
let me find you by loving you,
and love you in finding you.

I confess, Lord, with thanksgiving,
that you have made me in your image,
so that I can remember you, think of you, and love you.

But that image is so worn and blotted out by faults,
and darkened by the smoke of sin,
that it cannot do that for which it was made,
unless you renew and refashion it.

Lord, I am not trying to make my way to your height,
for my understanding is in no way equal to that,
but I do desire to understand a little of your truth
which my heart already believes and loves.

I do not seek to understand so that I can believe,
but I believe so that I may understand;
and what is more,
I believe that unless I do believe, I shall not understand.

Lord Jesus Christ; Let me seek you by desiring you,
and let me desire you by seeking you;
let me find you by loving you,
and love you in finding you.

I confess, Lord, with thanksgiving,
that you have made me in your image,
so that I can remember you, think of you, and love you.

But that image is so worn and blotted out by faults,
and darkened by the smoke of sin,
that it cannot do that for which it was made,
unless you renew and refashion it.

Lord, I am not trying to make my way to your height,
for my understanding is in no way equal to that,
but I do desire to understand a little of your truth
which my heart already believes and loves.

I do not seek to understand so that I can believe,
but I believe so that I may understand;
and what is more,
I believe that unless I do believe, I shall not understand.

Jonathan Edwards on commonsense as a failure of the imagination

Americans have a long history of touting commonsense as providing a solid foundation for sure knowledge of the world. We’re often skeptical of those whose ideas sound too “theoretical” or “abstract,” and we scoff at people who posit ideas that seem radically contrary to the world as we experience it.

This attitude often displays itself most clearly in how people react to scientific theories. People laugh at the idea that the universe could be made of “strings,” because obviously we don’t experience reality that way. And, many mock the idea of global warming because it happened to be colder in their part of the world the last couple of years. Now, I’m not trying to start an argument about whether these theories, and others, are right. My only point is to comment on how many people use commonsense experience to reject or “refute” more abstract ideas.

For Edwards, this suggests a complete lack of imagination.

I’ve been re-reading Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life, and this section stood out to me the other day. The specific context has to do with Edward’s philosophical idealism and how contrary to commonsense it is to suggest that the “physical” is not what is ultimately real. But, Marsden goes on to point out that the same imaginative openness to new ideas also characterized Edwards’ approach to scientific developments.

The problem with thinking that commonsense experience was ultimate, he was convinced, was a failure of imagination….’Imagination’ at the time meant literally the faculty by which one forms images of things. The case of prejudices, said Edwards, was that people get so used to perceiving things in common ways that they ‘make what they can actually perceive by their senses, or by immediate and outside reflection into their own souls, the standard of possibility or impossibility; so that there must be no body, forsooth, bigger than they can conceive of, or less than they can see with their eyes; nor motion either much swifter or slower than they can imagine.” (Marsden, Jonathan Edwards, 80)

This isn’t to say that Edwards rejected commonsense. In most situations, commonsense is a fine guide to understanding the world. But, Edwards point is that our perspective is inherently limited. So, if we insist on judging the world on the basis of our own limited experiences, we will necessarily be prejudiced against much larger truths. And, Christians in particular should be able to look beyond our limited horizons and imagine possibilities that border on the absurd.