“Every church service is a liturgy, if it has various elements in some arrangement. That is what liturgy is. Liturgical churches are churches that have thought about those elements and their proper order. Nonliturgical churches are those that have not. It is no compliment to say that a church is a nonliturgical church. It is the same thing as saying it is a church that gives little thought to how it worships God.” (Robert S. Rayburn)
Archive for October 2010
My youngest son, on why I rather than he should request a lollipop from the barber:
“Because people which are kind of small are kind of shy.”
Be it noted.
A parting shot at Wright’s article (yes, I’m still thinking about it):
I’m pretty sure gays should have Islamophobia (something about sharia law), and I’m pretty sure a lot of Muslims have Homophobia (something about sharia law). So either we need to get the Muslims over sharia, or we need to get gays over their gayness, and it’s pretty clear where Wright would come down on this one. There just ain’t a “benign context” big enough to fit sharia.
I don’t know why I keep dignifying Robert Wright’s work with responses. I guess my reasoning is that, if he’s popular enough to get published in the Times, there must be some people out there who actually think his driveling qualifies as analysis, and my heart goes out to them.
Wright’s latest gush of twaddle, provocatively (if somewhat unoriginally) titled “Islamophobia and Homophobia,” asserts that we need to get over our phobia about Muslims, just as we have gotten over our phobia about gays, because if we don’t we are going to keep alienating Muslims, and alienating Muslims raises the risk of homegrown terrorism. Which, Allah help us, “could carry America into the abyss.” [Collective gasp.]
We have a constructive resource, however, in the progress we’ve made overcoming homophobia: “maybe the underlying dynamic is transplantable to the realm of inter-ethnic prejudice.”
Which, by the by, leaves me standing in uffish thought, for I can’t make head or tail of how concern about Muslims (adherents to a particular religion) equates to inter-ethnic prejudice (prejudice against those of a certain race). But be that as it may . . . .
When we explore the roots of our progress against homophobia, we discover that we’ve been able to “build bonds across social divides” just insofar as we’ve been delivered from “the power of intolerant scripture” and begun simply “getting to know people.” This getting-to-know-you thing is so potent – it has such power to move us to accept people, and in accepting them, to accept everything about them (gayness, Islamic beliefs, Christian fundamentalism [oops, strike that], or what have you) – that it can actually change the way we read our “intolerant scripture.” It helps us go back and read with fresh eyes: “if this broader tolerance requires ignoring or reinterpreting certain scriptures, so be it; the meaning of scripture is shaped by social relations.”
Well, hold on now. Let’s all settle down and breathe deeply before asking the question: “Could getting to know Muslims have the healing effect that knowing gay people has had?” The good news, says Wright, “is that bridging does seem to work across religious divides.” [Praise be!] It’s all a matter, he avers, “of bringing people into contact with the ‘other’ in a benign context. And it’s a matter of doing it fast, before the vicious circle takes hold, spawning appreciable homegrown terrorism and making fear of Muslims less irrational.”
‘kay. There you have it. Utopia on the other side of a group hug.
Yes, first question, there in the back. “Has this guy ever talked to a homegrown terrorist?” Don’t know; it seems unlikely. Next question. “Does he seriously think homegrown terrorists regard us as the enemy because they weren’t treated nicely on the playground?” Any other questions?
I have a few, actually. Does Wright realize that his group hug requires religious adherents to give up everything he regards as offensive before they get to be included in the hug? I assume, for instance, that no matter how much Wright gets to know a Christian fundamentalist or an Islamic militant – be the context never so benign – the warm fuzzies won’t permit him to accept such a person’s defining beliefs. It would be different, of course, if their defining thing were gayness.
Which leads to the question that vexes me every time I read Wright: Does he have any idea how boorish he sounds when he sneers at people who don’t happen to hold his insipid philosophical views? There are people in the cosmos – mirabile dictu – who don’t think they are competent to decide for themselves what is good or evil, and then to impose their gaseous emissions on the rest of humankind. They actually believe in the universal moral rule of a transcendent God, and regard departures from His truth and will, by anyone include themselves, as wickedness. (Not all, I might add, are prepared to blow up buildings over it.) One can say they’re all fools – dangerous ones, at that – who should be excluded from group hugs, but one should offer a more substantive reason than, “Well, those just aren’t people I can accept.” Otherwise, we have simply replaced the “power of intolerant scripture” with the tyranny of the benign.
I often ponder the problem of evil in God’s world, the dark mystery of His wisdom in using sin and grace to manifest His glory (especially in the cross, and in the final judgment of all things). A thought came today that the horrible miseries and evils of the present age occasion some of the sweetest fellowship known to man. My best friendships have been forged in fires of suffering, in seasons when I had to bear a burden my friend could no longer bear alone, or when he did so for me. If laughter melds heart to heart, so do tears. Will, perhaps, some of the richness of the life to come be that we have wept together on earth, that we have known each other thus? Could it be that terrestrial love burns hottest in the commonness of struggle, and that the joy of celestial rest together will rise in part from this? What blades of love may spring in that world from seeds that died in this one, and did not remain alone? What love of God is known to us in His unfathomable entering and bearing our curse? Can we ever stop laughing at the horizons of love our God has opened through the malice of our Serpent foe?
Real exchange today among my three children about their baby sister:
“Maybe she’s talking like a human.”
“No, she isn’t. She’s talking like a baby.”
“Babies are humans.”
“No, they aren’t. Some are boys.”
A prayer of thanksgiving to our Lord for two of His lambs who are to be baptized today:
“Almighty God and merciful Father, we thank and praise Thee that Thou hast forgiven us and our children all our sins, through the blood of Thy beloved Son Jesus Christ, and received us through Thy Holy Spirit as members of Thine only begotten Son, and so adopted us to be Thy children, and sealed and confirmed the same unto us by holy baptism. We beseech Thee also, through Him, Thy beloved Son, that Thou wilt always govern these children by Thy Holy Spirit, that they may be nurtured in the Christian faith and in godliness, and grow and increase in the Lord Jesus Christ, in order that they may acknowledge Thy fatherly goodness and mercy, which Thou hast shown to them and to us all, and live in all righteousness under our only Teacher, King, and High Priest, Jesus Christ; and manfully fight against and overcome sin, the devil, and his whole dominion, to the end that they may eternally praise and magnify Thee, and Thy Son Jesus Christ, together with the Holy Spirit, the one only true God. Amen.”
I think I had a bit of an epiphany today. For several years, I’ve been asking myself why not only the mainline liberal churches are hemorrhaging their younger generation to the world (which makes a certain amount of sense, when you think about it), but also conservative churches – and more importantly, conservative churches that are doing fairly sophisticated worldview training and cultural engagement/analysis, and trying hard to keep their preaching in touch with the real world their people live in – are losing their second generation nearly across the board. I have been in conservative churches that deserve to lose their youth, because their presentation of the gospel is comprehensively boring and out of touch; but what of churches where youth are getting neither the typical entertainment fare of evangelicalism, nor chalky lectures on Reformed topics of dubious relevancy, but discussions of a Christian philosophy of life in lively conversation with the leading contemporary expressions of culture? In other words, why do youth seem to abandon good fare in these churches as readily as they abandon bad fare elsewhere?
Part of the answer, it occurred to me today, is that conservative churches have not been prepared for the way human community has changed over the past half century; and this is tragic, because community controls the destiny of youth. Children (younger and older) will always follow those they regard as their community. Those of whom they say, “My people,” will ultimately hold the key to their hearts, their interest, and their devotion. The people of whom they say, “I want to be with them; I want to be like them” – those are the people they will go after, even if they happen to disagree with them on various points of ideology.
There is a quite ridiculous notion afoot in conservative churches (especially the Reformed stripe) that because ideas have consequences, all we need to do is present the right ideas in an exciting and stimulating way, and we will have no problem holding the allegiance of our next generation. If we can mold ideas, we can mold lives. Of course, this is at best a half-truth, at worst Cartesian balderdash. It is the one who shapes a person’s identity who will claim that person’s allegiance, and social connections have far more to do with shaping identity than communication of ideas. A teacher may be a brilliant communicator of her subject matter, but if she cannot form a bond with her students such that she inspires them to come with her on the adventure of learning – if she is unable to make them want to follow her, and to imitate her learning (in short, to take something of her identity as their own) – she will be powerless to hold their allegiance even over against the allure of perfect idiots in their peer group. The same goes for parents, pastors, youth leaders, and what have you. It is not that children must find their community in their peer group, but let us be honest: most of the time it is peers who are most effective at shaping identity, and the community that shapes identity is the community that will prevail in the end.
This is why it is essential that churches define themselves not first in terms of ideas but in terms of relationships. Before someone screams “Liberalism!” let me explain. The church is not first a community that holds to a certain creed; it is first a community that worships and serves a certain God – the God who is Himself three Persons and one God. We are those who have been invited into, and are defined by, communion with the Triune God; and we enjoy this communion as the communion of saints, bound to all of our fathers who worshipped Him, and to our brethren in all the world who worship Him. We are a people, bound to each other and to our God; and while we certainly want our children to learn the creed with us, more fundamentally we want them to say of this God, “my God,” and to say of His people, “my people.” We want them to have a sense of ruling identity shaped by the love of their Father, their Messiah, and their Teacher-Comforter, in fellowship with His saints. We want them to be so accustomed from their youth to the experience of worshipping God with His people, and of working, playing, eating, drinking, rejoicing, and weeping with those people, that when other communities vie for their attention, there really isn’t much allure. And make no mistake: if our children lack a sense of community within the church, rival communities will find it easy to pick them off. Demas didn’t leave the church and go to the world because he found an ideology he liked better; he left because he “loved” the present world, because it won his heart, and he wanted to be with, and be like, the enemies of God.
I said above that conservative churches have been unprepared for changes in human community over the past half century. Many have been totally unprepared for what technology is now doing to human community. Parents and church leaders have no answers to the fact that the youth of a congregation may be in up-to-the-minute communication with their peers for sixteen hours each day. A child’s community is no longer geographically limited, it is no longer local. It is present in a handheld object during all waking hours. It is accessible from every electronic portal in the cosmos. Add to this that family communal times, and church communal times, are shrinking to the point of near-nonexistence: How many families are getting quality hours at meals together or in meaningful conversations or activities? How many members of the average congregation are sharing life together in any significant way? Do we really think ten minutes of family worship, or an hour and a half on a Sunday morning, will somehow counteract the omnipresent influence of the generally pagan community surrounding our adolescents (and now our pre-adolescents)? Are we that naïve? Do we actually think a couple hours of top-flight worldview training on a Friday night will captivate our youth, when they already identify with, and frankly prefer the company of, an unbelieving community elsewhere? If so, we are very, very stupid indeed.
I believe that unless conservative churches are willing to spend as much time building the bonds of community in their midst as they are debating the fine points of theology (and please spare me the charge that I am unconcerned about doctrinal precision), they will continue to lose the rising generation. We must share life together. We must worship together, feast together, educate our children together, work and play together, weep and rejoice together. We must tell the stories of our fathers in a way that creates a sense of solidarity with God’s people of old. In short, we must live in such a way that our children want to be in the company of the saints rather than elsewhere – so that they say, “I want to be with them and be like them.” This hardly insures against every case of wandering, but it’s a far sight better than the insurance of mere good ideas. Our children need the gospel in spades, but they need it embodied. The Word must take flesh, and they must live in its presence. Perhaps then we can be the church of a thousand generations.
At the heart of manly leadership is the dogged pursuit of horizons one will not reach, of goals one will not attain, without the skills and resources one needs, without self-pity, and without understanding or sympathy from others. If a man demands more than this, he should find a different calling.
“God in his infinite wisdom decided to give us a book, a very long book, and not a portrait or an aphorism. God reveals himself in his image, Jesus, but we come to know that image by reading, and that takes time. God wants to transform us into the image of his image, and one of the key ways he does that is by leading us through the text. If we short-circuit that process by getting to the practical application, we are not going to be transformed in the ways God wants us to be transformed. ‘Get to the point’ will not do because part of the point is to lead us through the labyrinth of the text itself. There is treasure at the center of the labyrinth, but with texts, the journey really is as important as the destination. ‘Get to the point, man’ is the slogan of the liberal theologian; it is a demand for the kernel without the annoying distraction of the husky twists and turns of the text itself.” (Peter Leithart, Deep Exegesis, p. 55)