Archive for December, 2012

Eternity In Their Hearts, Love In Their Souls, And Books In Their Minds

Saturday, December 22nd, 2012

I have to confess, I have not given much thought to near-death experiences, or the light emanating from the tunnel at the end, or souls hovering over bodies as they lay dying.

But the proliferation of Christian and other books about preschoolers, neurosurgeons, and pastors who’ve stepped into the foyer of Heaven?  Those, I confess, I’ve treated with condescending doubt at best and eye-rolling cynicism at worst.

But this is the best article I’ve ever read on the afterlife, the phenomenon of near-death experiences, and the place of theology in understanding the claims some have made regarding drop-in visits to heaven and warm embraces from the Holy One.

Highly recommended  — you might even say it’s a bit of pastoral heaven from the pages of Christianity Today:
 
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/december/incredible-journeys.html

Being Right Vs. Being Righteous

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

Dr. Ken Collins of Asbury Theological Seminary, on the loss of Evangelicalism’s intellectual and cultural heritage during the 19th and 20th centuries:

” . . . Wesleyan evangelicals, by and large, have offered modest help in the quest to regain some of this intellectual capital since they were not often asking the question What can I know? (as were their Reformed evangelical cousins) but How can I love? . . .”

Shingle Bells, Shingle Bells

Monday, December 17th, 2012

It’s true that I’m acquainted with chronic pain, and some days are worse than others. 

Since Thursday, though, the skin on my left arm felt like it had been branded with a hot-iron mallet, the same one that must have pounded and shattered that elbow into searing, unrelenting submission — so much so that I did what I almost never do.  I went to Quick Care, fully expecting to hear that my arthritis was just acting up and ready to ask the doctor, in all sincerity, if a quick knock-out blow was at all in conflict with her a professional ethical standards.

Alas, she’s opposed to that sort of thing.  But she agreed something was acting up; further, no hot irons were involved.  The only thing acting up are the nerve bundles in my left arm raucously celebrating the holidays with fiery intensity and a steady staccato of stinging bursts of lightning.  It’s a full-on shingles party, and damn it if I’m not only the invited, but the host as well.  My chips and Icy Hot dip are not making much of an impression, which, actually, is how it goes in all of the other parties I host. 

My left arm is fairly useless, so while there’s a lot going on that I’d love to comment on, I’m going to need to take it easy for awhile.  Evidently this has a lot to do with stress, as well as with the fact that I got chicken pox when I was 32.  My prayer is that I can join the rest of our family in Western Washington on Friday, although that looks iffy now.  Either way, it’s Christmas whether I feel well or not, whether I’m with my husband and kids or not, and whether I’m traveling or not.  The Emmanuel has come. 

Thank you, Holy One — Jesus, Lord at thy birth.

I Think Reading The URL Probably Says It All

Saturday, December 15th, 2012

The Don of Vanity Publishing in Moscow, Doug Wilson, has a magazine — sorry, a Trinitarian commentary on philosophy and culture — called Credenda/Agenda.  It’s really deep — classicist, Reformed, patriarchal, and printed on kinda shiny paper.

It’s deep, in the sense that it sometimes uses Latin.

Deep, in the sense that it discusses obscure topics and tomes you’ve likely never heard of, for which, C/A will remind you, you are to feel ineffably stupid and silly.

Deep, because most readers don’t understand why they read and then feel they have to accept things like the notorious “studly guy with battery cables attached to his nipples” cover from a few years ago, and deeper still when, if they are Christians, the gorge rises in their throats when they read noxious verbiage like this, from the Dec. 19, 2010, issue:

http://www.credenda.org/index.php/Theology/a-brief-defense-of-gay-jokes.html

Most of the time, I’m happy to express why I think Wilson is a minister in the same way that I’m tall, tanned, slim, and blonde — which is to say, not at all.  This time, though, I think it’s probably more than enough to just read the verbal vomit he spewed just two years ago, for which he doesn’t apologize and, barring an actual encounter with the Holy Spirit of God, never will. 

This is what hundreds of people in my town call pastoral wisdom from a man they call pastor.  Many — probably most — of them truly know Jesus as Lord and Savior.  It’s becoming more and more clear, at least to me, that the man they follow is not only NOT a pastor in any Biblical, Spirit-filled sense of the word, but exhibits the kind of fruit that makes you think, and think with profound sobriety, that he may very well not even know the Savior of Whom he speaks — and Who he believes is pleased when he counsels the purveyance of the Christian virtue of telling gay jokes.

Yeah.  Based on his conduct — the fruit that Scripture tells us is how we are to determine a person’s character and depth of faith — I’m praying that Pastor Doug Wilson, this Christmas, actually explores whether or not he is at all acquainted with the Emanuel.  I pray he is. 

And then I beg God to have him start acting like it.

G.K. Chesterton vs. The Word Of God

Friday, December 14th, 2012

Me?  I call it “no contest.”

But Douglas Wilson, in fending off criticism that he may have gone a wee bit far with his reference to intellectuals and peer-reviewed academic criticism as nothing more than “circle jerks” — which is a cringeworthily juvenile, puerile bit of dirty talk — claims that no greater moral luminary than Chesterton says that earthy epithets and such are sometimes necessary to make a point.

I think Chesterton’s fleshy countenance would drop if he heard that, because he undoubtedly was familiar, in ways that Wilson apparently isn’t, with the part of Ephesians 5 that doesn’t involve mistaken views of male hierarchy in marriage:

“Immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be mentioned among you, as is fitting among holy ones, no obscenity or silly or suggestive talk, which is out of place …” (Ephesians 5: 3,4)

Wilson, having avoided peer-reviewed scholarship all of his life, is free to criticize the results of it — but to wrongly co-opt Chesterton and miss the message of the Holy Spirit is something he’s not free to do without criticism.  His puckish charm wears thin; his disregard for even reasonable standards of propriety is, regrettably, iron-clad. 

It just might be time for Moscow’s most influential ministerial entrepreneur to leave childish things behind.  In fact, such was the case when he was 11 and just learning what, exactly, a circle jerk really is.  Sadly, most of the brave patriarchs I know of are pitifully imbued with a sense of humor that elevates boobs, poop, weenies and boners — and call it “pastoral,” just because it comes courtesy of their hale and hearty, bearded bellowing.

Score One For The Bad Guys In D.C.

Friday, December 14th, 2012
Well, it looks to me that the bad guys won . . . U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice has now withdrawn her name from consideration for Secretary of State, believing it to be better for the country for her to step aside. 
Here’s a thought: The handful of dimwits on the GOP who held her feet to the fire over “false intelligence” regarding Benghazi are the same people who thought, sought, and bought — hook, line, and sinker — the demonstrably false lie that Saddam Hussein not only brought about 9/11, but was preparing for imminent attack on the U.S. with weapons he actually didn’t have and wasn’t thinking about. 
What Rice said 36 hrs. after Benghazi on the best info available to her is morally very different from the road of continued evil these suddenly conscience-stricken critics of hers led this country down a dozen years ago. We lost a good public servant; she lost the right to be fairly evaluated. Believe me, no one “won” on this.  A note to my partisan Christian brothers and sisters out there:
Knowingly telling lies about someone and slamming their character and integrity for no reason other than political gain is a sin.  That “bearing false witness” thing?  It’s a sin, a grievous wrong, even if you don’t actually know the person.  It’s even worse, I think, if you feel a sense of victory when their downfall comes.  Yours may not; you might even find yourself traveling in elevated circles after your bit of character assassination.  But you’ll have to face the Judge someday, and the One who is all truth may well decide that it’s your turn to take a tumble — and not, be assured, because of lies people tell about you.
The truth of your own life will condemn you.  Words matter — eternally.

Why Mark Driscoll Ought To Make You Cringe

Friday, December 7th, 2012

Or throw up, after which you would, I hope, fall on your knees weeping.

The hyper-masculine, hyper-masculinist “pastor” of Seattle’s Mars Hill Church, who spoke at Doug Wilson’s 2011 “Grace Agenda” conference, has raised knuckle-dragging to a homiletic art form with his crude language, scatological humor, and sickening references to what a “bad day it’s gonna be” when he gets to Heaven and Jesus tries to “love” him as described in an allegorical reading of the Bible’s Song of Solomon.

Here’s just a taste — and just a little one, because I’m not only a nice person, but utterly sickened that this man has influence over any vertebrate more intelligent than a gerbil:

Driscoll insists that “real men” stay away from Christian churches because they portray Christ as a “Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ.”  Whereas, the sage and sober Mr. Driscoll adds, the Apostle Paul, John the Baptist, and especially Jesus were “dudes.”  As in, “heterosexual, win-a-fight, punch-you-in-the-nose dudes.”  This tower of testosterone, who once said he couldn’t worship a Savior he could beat up, calls ours an “Ultimate Fighting Jesus,” the kind “real” men can deal with.  (From Christianity Today’s “A Jesus For Real Men.”)

And it’s men who, as “heads” of their households, who have made Dricoll’s church a mega-enterprise and who follow him unwaveringly, lest he use his “spiritual gift” of “discernment” to reveal to them and others details of their past sins.

He can do that.  Because he’s Mark Driscoll.

Real Christian men — and women — can do something, however, that ol’ Mark can’t:  They can run like bloody hell from anything he touches, and they ought to.  Because the denizens of “bloody hell” are far more pleased with Driscoll than the King of Heaven is, and a Jesus fashioned in this thug’s image is an impotent, withered substitute for the One who represents God to us and us to God — the same God whose very Being is as represented in women as it is in men.  “For there is no mediator between God and mankind than the human one, Jesus Christ.” 

It wasn’t being a “dude,” or even being a man, that made Christ Savior.  The Greek here assures us that it was his human nature and his Godhood — not his burly shoulders, calloused hands, well-muscled thighs, or anything else — that makes him our mediator. 

When the meek inherit the earth, though, perhaps they’ll take pity on the pitiful Mr. Driscoll and offer him . . . oh, I don’t know . . . maybe a corner of an old, beat-down gym in which to seek repentance. 

Of Masturbatory Allusions, Pretty Women, Scholarship, And Pastoral Snottiness

Friday, December 7th, 2012

Of course he enjoys it.

The puerile always do; it’s no fun to engage in potty talk and wade into the choppy waters of vulgarity if you don’t have someone to either laugh with you or become offended.

But the little nugget below, courtesy of yesterday’s Blog and Mablog — a blog title which ought to offend anyone who grasps the wordplay on “Gog and Magog,” the archetypical enemy in Scripture of all that’s good and Godly — is particularly noteworthy, if not pitiful.  Not because Doug Wilson made a reference to “circle jerks,” which is a group masturbation session that your teenaged son will be shocked that you’ve heard about.  Wilson engages in frequent juvenile mirth about breasts, gay men, feminists, and other things; “circle jerk” is hardly the worst example of the Bearded Bishop’s bawdy bluster, albeit a bit more cringeworthy when used in defense of his intellectual disagreement with the Rev. Dr. N. T. Wright, the British Anglican bishop, over the leadership roles of women.

Here’s what Calvinism’s Patron Saint Of Crude, Swaggering Macho Frat Boys says:
 
“There is a difference between men who love the Lord their God with all their minds, and those intellectualoids who want us to submit the things revealed by God to a peer-reviewed circle jerk. I am only against the latter . . .”

Well, good to know.  Of course, Wilson hasn’t done so well in the peer-reviewed experiences he’s waded into — something, thankfully, he can avoid by using his vanity press to print and distribute his weighty tomes.  But just in case anyone reading BM yesterday, or today, or ever, has any doubt that Wilson’s arguments against women’s ordination and pastoral leadership are simply an example of solid Biblical exegesis, he adds the SHOCKING and HORRIBLE picture of an attractive, lip-sticked woman in a feminine-print cassock, which he offers as more — may we dare suppose “final”? — proof positive that his are not only intellectual, but utterly Scriptural, arguments.  Nothing more.

Whereas, you know, everyone else is just frantically searching for their Kleenex and wiping their sweaty palms on their jeans as they hear Mom approaching.

I believe that one solid argument against the absurd idea that women are more easily deceived than men are — something argued in the “comments” section of his previous posts taking Wright to task — is simply that most of his readers are men.  The beholden toadies he surrounds himself with are all men.  His elders and the pastors in his made-up denomination?  Men.  The “fellows” at New Saint Andrews are all fellas, and the folks invited to his yearly “Grace Agenda” conference — the main part, which is only for guys — are men.

It might not be the best argument for mens’ greater ability to detect and discern error, just as “manliness” and patriarchal bravery may not be best demonstrated by taunting people behind cutesy pseudonyms or the walls of anonymity, when so much error and stupidity are so eagerly lapped up by men for whom manliness is everything.

Fortunately, the Kingdom is full of women who, having been gifted, equipped, and called to pastoral ministry and leadership, not only continue to serve without The Great One’s permission, but know enough to not deride those far, far more educated and infinitely more “pastoral” — or, really, anyone at all — by describing their positions and beliefs as having come from something most people haven’t thought of since they were 14 and haven’t spoken of ever.  Those Godly men and women deserve better counsel from a better teacher whom I cannot imagine ever calling “pastor” no matter how many unfortunate, undiscerning men around me do.

The Bird Boy Of Fiji And How We Read Scripture, Part Two

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

In my previous post, which you should read before you read this one, I discussed the danger of a literal, wooden, context- and greater-knowledge- free reading and application of Scripture, using the example of a boy in Fiji whose epileptic seizures terrified his family, resulting in his being raised under their home, in a foot- and a half-tall space where they kept chickens.  While Suchet is safe and loved now, his body and psyche have suffered enormous damage from his living ’til adolescence under a house and then spending years tethered to a pole at a nursing home. 

His parents, who undoubtedly loved their child when he was first born, learned by culture and perhaps by training that his seizures were a manifestation of demonic possession — either a demonic spirit possessed their toddler son, or he himself was a demon.  Either way, he was cast out and, living much of his childhood and youth among chickens, he picked up their ways — he clucked, he flapped his arms, he pecked at his food from the ground, and, because of the skeletal deformities caused by growing up in an 18-inch- high patch of ground under the house, he perches rather than stands. 

Because his parents believed that seizures were proof of demonic presence.

We shudder, and rightly so, that anybody would ever be abused and neglected this way.  If we’re Christians, we join with good women and men of other faiths in praying for Suchet’s full rehabilitation and secure human connection.  But, as Christians who believe that the Bible is the revealed Word of God, we must also acknowledge that our own Scriptures treat every instance of seizure activity as a mark of demonic possession — because, no matter how much we know about epilepsy and its power to wrack the brain with uncontrollable surges of electrical stimulus, we feel committed to “follow Jesus” in calling New Testament accounts of healing from seizures examples of the power of God over demons — all the while knowing that, today, science and medicine tell us that seizures are organic,  not demonic, in nature. 

Most of us are OK with that; it seems a safe way to “move forward” in our understanding of Scripture, which, God be praised, means that we’re not at all likely to tell a friend with epilepsy that he is demon-possessed.  Nor would we suggest to a hemorrhaging female friend that she is to be considered filthy — stricken by an “unclean” illness and thus not fit for the company of the saints.  I think we can all agree that these would be, at best, detrimental to our evangelistic efforts.  At worst, it would cause the suffering person to reject the message of the freeing, healing, Gospel of Jesus Christ.

But Bible-believing evangelicals find themselves in a bind, largely because we’ve come to believe that the Bible is a handbook for how to live — an instruction manual for personal fulfillment, marital harmony, business practice, politics, health, and any number of things.  We too often use the Word as a mechanic seeking to fix a broken-down carburetor checks the repair manual for a 2004 Honda Accord.  We pick out “applicable” verses and take them into our hearts — or slap them over our problems and those of others around us — and believe we’re on solid ground because we’ve “take the Bible at its word.”

Christian Smith, in his book “The Bible Made Impossible,” calls this “Biblicism,” and he raises some profound questions about how 21st century evangelicals have, in their attempts to be faithful to the Word, treated the Bible as a handbook, a repository of answers to any questions that may come up in our lives.  Undoubtedly it’s an approach that seems utterly faithful, entirely correct.  Sadly, Biblicism has become the favored, comfortable approach to exegesis — while completely missing what Smith says is the purpose of the revealed Word of God. 

He argues that the sole purpose of the Scriptures is to announce the coming, message, death, crucifixion, and imminent return of the Savior.  Every word, every verse, every passage, must be read through the lens, and in the context of, the work of Jesus Christ. Rather than existing as a manual for day-to-day consultation when issues or problems arise, Smith is not alone in his view that it is Jesus Christ, and Christ only, who is the revealed Word of Yahweh.  C.S. Lewis wrote “It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true Word of God.  The Bible, read in the right spirit, and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to Him.”  (“The Bible made Impossible,” Brazos Press, p. 117)

Douglas Wilson, whose condemnation of women’s teaching and ordination, based on 1 Timothy 2:11-15, is not a good teacher.  While he and I both revere the Bible as the revealed Word of God, containing all we need to come into relationship with Christ Jesus, we differ in our hermeneutical approach.  Wilson’s patriarchal masculinism — misleadingly called “complementarian,” as opposed to the “egalitarian” approach that sees Scripture as a call for women and men to serve, in church, home, and society, in accordance to their Spirit-given gifts and not their gender — requires that he pick and choose these and other scattered verses in the New Testament that seem, on the first, literal reading, to deny women the expression of their preaching, teaching, pastoral, and leadership gifts.  

He does this because of a sincere desire to “get it right,” to apply the Bible in its literal sense rather than wander down trails of free-form, compromising liberalism.  Unfortunately, he claims to have completely mastered a text that includes a Greek verb, “authentein,” that scholars have wrestled with for centuries.  The word can mean anything from domineering, usurping, grasping behavior to the “murder” of someone through slander.  In the 1 Timothy passages, he reads literally, and applies literally — with a typically arrogant certainty — two or three verses that the Apostle Paul wrote to a specific church in a specific time.  And these verses, if read and applied with exacting literalism, strike at the heart of the Gospel and deny the Body of Christ access to the profound gifting of its women.  In his certainty, Wilson presumes to call “false” what Spirit-gifted and Spirit-called women know to be true of themselves.  He not only condemns, with an appalling insouciance, the sincere calling that many women have, but also contributes to the hobbling of the Gospel message in a culture tremendously different from the culture in which Paul was writing.

Here is the text Wilson uses to deny women the full exercise of their gifts.  I’m quoting from the new Common English Bible, largely because many of you haven’t yet read from it.  The CEB’s translation of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 says:

“A wife (in the translators’ notes, a woman) should learn quietly with complete submission.  I don’t allow a wife to teach or to control (authentein) her husband.  Instead, she should be a quiet listener.  Adam was formed first, and the Eve.  Adam wasn’t deceived, but rather his wife became the one who stepped over the line because she was completely deceived.  But a wife (woman) will be brought safely through giving birth to their children, if they both continue in faith, love, and holiness, together with self-control.”

A Biblicist approach to the verse seeks out Paul’s denial of teaching responsibilities over men — and stops there, as it must.  The Biblicist, the Christian who reads the words on the paper, apart from any context, takes from this that women cannot teach men and cannot be ordained, believing that their exegesis is correct because it’s the most literal.  That literal approach, however, fails in the following verses.  Verse 13 says that Adam was formed first, and then Eve, confirming the Genesis account of the chronological order of creation.  It also says that Eve was deceived and sinned first.  Indeed she did.  However, the entirety of the New Testament, and particularly Paul’s long discourse in Romans 5 and 6, lays the responsibility for humankind’s sinful nature at the feet of Adam — whom God personally prohibited from eating of the tree’s fruit — and not Eve, who was tragically deceived. 

From this, complementarians assert that Eve, having been deceived, is the prototype for all women — concluding that women are more easily deceived, period, and thus unfit for the pastorate and the pulpit.  The Bible student who approaches the Scriptures with a “Bible as handbook,” literalist approach will wave verses 11 and 12 to support their complementarianism; the reader who views every verse through the lens of the life and work of Jesus Christ will not only consider other verses that favorably note women leaders in the Church, but also consider how, in the 21st century, this verse can be applied to lead Bible readers into a fuller understanding of Jesus Christ.  Their conclusions will, by necessity, vary. 

But the literalist is on shaky ground with verses 13 and 14, which are an accurate reflection of the Genesis account of the Fall but which say only what they say — and no more.  There is no warrant for reading into this account that women are, in all times and in all situations, more easily duped than men.  Their shaky ground becomes a Biblicist quicksand, however, in verse 15, which, if read literally and without context, insist that all women, if they practice Christian virtues, will survive childbearing.  Other translations say that women will also be saved through childbearing — and, as Biblicists, they must be consistent in their application of v. 13-15.  This means that women, if we read the text just as it is, are saved — redeemed, justified — through the bearing of children, which does damage to the Gospel message that all human beings are saved solely by grace through faith in accepting Christ as Lord and Savior (see Acts 15:11).  Further, any pastor, and most people in general, understand that throughout history many virtuous Christian women have died in childbirth.  This is a quandary, to be sure, for the Biblicist, who must explain why the Church must take v. 12, with all its murkiness, in a completely literal sense — and then abandon that, in faithfulness to the Biblical message of the Gospel, for v. 15, while also reading into v. 13-14 a declaration of female frailty that simply isn’t there.

Paul was writing from Ephesus, which, as we see in Acts 19, was in the throes of idol worship — specifically, the female goddess Artemis.  The cult of Artemis not only included the usual pagan debaucheries, but had women especially in a frenzy of falsehood.  The cult of Artemis appeared to give women more freedom and more power, and in its excesses brought women a false but intense sense of liberation — even to the point of degradation of men.  In the grip of goddess worship, the women of Ephesus were out of control.

It was in this context that Paul, whose primary concern was that the Church not engage in any activity that would disrupt or cause unnecessary offense to the culture around him, wrote that he was not allowing women to teach over men — then.  The trouble with the Greek “authentein” makes this verse not the clear-cut command that Wilson and others insist.  Properly understood, Paul, writing in a culture where women were literally and figuratively drunk with the “power” they found in the house of Artemis, wanted to make sure that women in the Church didn’t mirror the out-of-control female Artemis worshipers.  He chose to limit, then, the influence of women in the Church so there would be no mistaking that the Way of Christ was radically different from the female-led dead-end of Artemis worship.  Paul’s numerous commendation of female church leaders like Phoebe,  Lydia, Nympha, and the apostle Junia as well as the teacher of Apollos, Priscilla, ought to make it clear that he applauded female leadership — when that didn’t cause needless offense to the surrounding, nonbelieving community. (I recommend Richard Clark Kroeger and Catherine Clark Kroeger’s “I Suffer Not A Woman:  Rethinking 1 Timothy 2:11-15 In Light Of Ancient Evidence,” Baker, 2003.  The Clark Kroegers were evangelical scholars of Greek, the classics, and New Testament theology.  Wilson, I should add, may be the father of a classical Christian college, but he is not in their league; in fact, his Federal Vision theology reveals his tenuous grasp of basic soteriology and ecclesiology.)

Wilson and other masculinists cling to these cherry-picked verses, and the effect on the witness of the Gospel in the world around him is toxic. Whereas the Church in first-century Ephesus chose to not needlessly offend the female-crazed, pagan culture around it by prohibiting, there and then, women’s leadership, those in the 21st-century Church who insist that women must not use their Spirit-given leaderships gifts blissfully ignore the needless, and un-Biblical, offense their message causes to the women and men around them.  The Gospel is, by its very nature, offensive to the sinner.  We can’t remove the offense that tells sinful men and women to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and may God rebuke us if we do.  That message is the foundation of the Gospel message, and it will offend sinners.  It must; it allows the Spirit to convict their hearts and turn to Christ. 

But the insistence on male hierarchy, female subordination, and gender-based service in the Church is not an essential part of the Gospel message — it’s not a part of the Biblical Gospel at all.  To make an erroneous teaching a central part of the Gospel preached to a contemporary audience that IS offended by the un-Biblical insistence on male-female hierarachy is a tragic, toxic endeavor that guarantees the rejection of Christ’s offer of salvation.  Preaching the true, egalitarian (Galatians 3:28) Gospel of Christ isn’t an accommodation to a feminist culture; it’s a proclamation that the social, economic, cultural, racial, and sexual divisions in sinful society are shattered in Christ and have no place in the Kingdom of God.  Praise God that that message, rather than the erroneous insistence on gender hierarchy, will resound with a 21st-century audience! The true Gospel focuses on Christ; all truth is in Him, and the clutter we add in the name of “faithful exegesis” dilutes that message and elevates secondary, divisive, and, in the case of women’s teaching and ordination, false teachings. 

These are the things that turn off our audience, who will walk away from a message of hierarchy, division, and sexism and never hear, perhaps, the message we ought to focus on.  Telling women today that they can come to Christ only to be limited, subordinated, and shackled virtually guarantees a rejected invitation.  How different the response could be if the only offense were the offense of calling out sinners and leading them to the One whose nature is reflected, beautifully and mutually, in the women and men he created!

I cringe at the thought of Wilson meeting a decent and prudent man from the Isle of Crete; will he stubbornly insist that, as Paul says, all Cretans are obnoxious sluggards?  He must if he insists on reading and applying the Bible literally.  I trust that he is wise and gentle with any congregants with epilepsy, any women with uncontrolled or erratic vaginal bleeding.  But what I truly hope, not just for Wilson but for the Church — as well as the churches and enterprises he controls — is that we approach the Word with reverence and Spirit-enriched focus on its true, sole message:  that God came to us in the flesh, showed us that He is the Way, died on a cross bearing our sins, and rose from the grave. 

We will glean much from the Word — comfort in times of trouble, counsel in times of uncertainty, promises in times of weakness.  But we cannot pluck a few verses that confuse and distract from the point of the Scriptural mission and then wonder why the non-believers around us continue to walk away, jeer at us, or react in shock that the good teacher they thought they understood really does want to keep women down.  He doesn’t, and until we learn how to read and apply the Bible for what it is and for what it intends, we will continue to offend, needlessly, those we supposedly want to reach. 

Paul would be dismayed.  In fact, I imagine the Apostle would find great need to fire off a letter to the Church today — and I don’t imagine it would be terribly complimentary.  May God help us to feed on His Word for what it is, not for what we need it to be to advance our social agenda.

The Bird Boy Of Fiji And How We Read Scripture, Part One

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

I have always had an interest in the study of feral children — even before I began to see so many of them running around Moscow’s Food Co-Op.

The idea that some children, abandoned by parents and society, end up being raised by animals has always fascinated me, so I’ve become devoted to watching Raised Wild on Animal Planet Friday nights.  The show features anthropologist Mary Ann Ojohta as she tracks down the Jungle Boy of Uganda, the Dog Girl of the Ukraine, and, this week, the Bird Boy of Fiji — all of whom, God be praised, have found themselves, while terribly affected by their early abandonment and neglect, safe in the arms of small, healing communities who love them.

I found the story of the toddler, kept underneath his house by his parents until his adolescence, then tethered to a pole in an old-folks home and finally rescued by an Australian psychologist, to be the most tragic.  Suchet became known as the Bird Boy of Fiji when he began, in infancy, to mimic the behaviors and vocalizations of the birds who made their home with him under the parents’ house.  His skeleton was forever damaged by the horror of never, for years, being able to stand up; by the time he could, the bird-like behaviors he had developed — pecking at the ground for his food, clucking, waving his arms — had made him the object of horror and contempt in his village.  He is profoundly delayed, developmentally, but safe — and loved — in the arms and the home of the woman who rescued him more than a decade ago.  Sachet doesn’t know why the people who love him don’t cluck and squawk like he does, or walk on bent, hobbled legs like he does, but he knows love. 

I cry at every episode, but this story — Suchet’s story — really hit me.  He wasn’t left behind when his family was scattered, or even neglected by abusive, drunken parents in their hateful stupor.  His parents kept him out of the house — kept him under their pole-raised shack roughly a foot or so off the ground — because he had epilepsy.  His epileptic seizures, the product of a brain beset by electrical storms, told his parents that he was a Devil-child — an evil spirit-boy, or a normal boy irrevocably possessed by an evil spirit, but, either way, a harbinger of evil who must be kept out of their home, if not their hearts. 

We don’t know if Suchet’s parents thought this because of some too-brief exposure to the Bible, where every case of demonic possession is represented by epilepsy-like seizures — or, to put it another way, every Biblical case of what we would now, because of advances in science and medicine now available to us, call epilepsy, is illustrated as an instance of demonic possession.  It’s very likely, of course, that the indigenous religion of Suchet’s parents taught the same thing — sadly, without the corresponding benefit of scientific knowledge — but it’s possible, given the strict, literal reading of the Biblical text, that they came to fear their son because of some incomplete exposure to the Scriptures. 

Christ knew, of course, what he was dealing with as he cast out the demons whose contamination of soul, spirit, and flesh evidenced itself in the writhings of what we now call epileptic seizures, and I can’t say with authority that there are no contemporary instances of seizure-inducing demonic possession.  I can say, though, that we now understand that when we hear the hoofbeats of seizure activity, we would be unwise to attribute them to the thunder of, say, the wildebeests of the African savannah as opposed to the more mundane gallop of the common horse. 

Scientific fact tells us that a child beset with seizures likely has epilepsy or another organic brain problem; medical advances we  praise God for enable us to do better for him than stuff him under the house and hope he dies.  No truth of Christ’s healings as portrayed in the Gospels is compromised or diminished by acknowledging that what was assumed to be at one time, and undoubtedly for the Lord Jesus to demonstrate his power, instances of demonic possession are to be seen today, and seen correctly, as the brain disorder epilepsy.  Thankfully, few would argue this point. 

Not even, I’m assuming, Douglas Wilson.

But, as I’ll demonstrate in Part Two, Wilson and other masculinist exegetes engage in a similar unreflective, context-deprived, strict-words-on-the-paper reading of the Bible, borne, we can assume, of a sincere respect for Scriptural authority — but also of a strong need to hold tight to those verses that appear to strengthen their own.  They trample the garden of Biblical teachings regarding help for the poor and concern for the marginalized in their mad stomp to pluck and wave about three or four verses that, read together, would appear to strengthen their cause if it weren’t for their apparent dissonance with the Gospel message.  We’ve seen this in his recent rants about 1 Timothy and women’s teaching and ordination, despite massive confusion emanating from the four-verse block of text he claims as the final word on the subject.

But, as I suggested in my previous post, Wilson’s exegetical errors mean that the last word to justify women’s permanent subordination is better found in Blog and Mablog — not in the Word of the God whose image is equally reflected in women and in men.