No More Buying Until I Do Some Reading

…that’s the promise I’m making myself. The book pile next to my bed is just too high, and I keep accumulating without making much progress. So, it’s time to whittle down the pile.

In no particular order, here’s what I’ve got piled up.

First, the ones I’ve not read yet:

  • Surprised by Scripture, NT Wright
  • Merton: A Biography, Monica Furlong
  • Meditative Prayer, Thomas Merton
  • Resurrection and Moral Order, Oliver O’Donavan
  • Paul and the Faithfulness of God, NT Wright
  • A Severe Mercy, Shelden Vanauken
  • From the Bible Belt to the Sun Belt, Darren Dochuk
  • Parables of Judgment, Robert Capon
  • Theodore Rex, Edmund Morris
  • Evangelical Theology, Karl Barth
  • Confessions of a Guilty Bystander, Thomas Merton
  • The Wounded Healer, Henri J. M. Nouwen
  • The Monster in the Hollows, Andrew Peterson

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Books I’ve started but not yet finished:

  • The Kingdom of Christ, Russell Moore
  • Jesus Manifesto, Frank Viola & Leonard Sweet
  • The Fiddler’s Green, A. S. Peterson

Books I wanna re-read:

  • The Sacredness of Questioning Everything, David Dark
  • When I Was a Child I Read Books, Marilynne Robinson
  • Between Noon and Three, Robert Capon

Unread on my Kindle:

  • Barefoot Church: Serving the Least in a Consumer Culture, Brandon Hatmaker
  • Center Church, Tim Keller
  • The Pastor: A Memoir, Eugene Peterson
  • Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity, Frank Viola
  • Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation’s Treasures from the Nazis, Robert Edsel
  • Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality, Richard Beck
  • Why Holiness Matters: We’ve Lost Our Way–But We Can Find it Again, Tyler Braun

By my count, that’s 26 books. At my current rate, I might finish them by the end of the year.

Unless I hit the Half Price Books or the library again and find another pile of reading material. But I’m gonna try not to.

Random thoughts while watching The West Wing tonight

Tonight we watched “Dead Irish Writers”, from the middle of season three. A couple of thoughts:

  • I finally realized that the actor playing Lord John Marbury is the same guy (Roger Rees) who plays Robin Colcord on Cheers. That’s hilarious.
  • The long scene where Abbey, CJ, Donna, and guest star Mary-Louise Parker’s Amy sit on the couch and drink wine and talk is simply brilliant – a stand out scene in a series of fantastic scenes.

Such a great show.

Lewis, Tolkien, and True Myth

There’s a good piece today from Fr. Stephen Freeman revisiting C. S. Lewis and JRR Tolkien’s exploration of myth – not myth in the popular sense of “a story that isn’t true”, but in the sense of a “primal, shaping story” that is “profoundly and deeply true”.

Tolkien, reflecting on [fellow Inkling Owen] Barfields’s work, said, “If God is mythopoetic, then we must become mythopathic.” This is to say that if God’s primary mode of revelation is through the instrument of mythic stories and events, then we ourselves must be open to understanding such mythic expressions of realities. Strangely, myth (in their use of the term) is far better suited to expressing Realism than any possible materialist account.

And this brings us to my original point: Why do the imaginative works of Lewis and Tolkien speak to the modern heart as much as they do?

They do so because they are true! But the truth that they relate is a truth known primarily by the heart and it is this dynamic that gives myth both its nature and its effectiveness.

Fr. Stephen goes on to say that the Christian liturgy (Fr. Stephen is Orthodox, for whom the liturgy is significant and ornate) is a way of including that deep, primal, indescribable truth into our worship of God. And while I’m not really tempted to move to Eastern Orthodoxy, I do think it’s something that us cerebral evangelicals would do good to consider from time to time.

We’ve been shaped by the Enlightenment to systematize and study and intellectualize our faith, which is all well and good. But we should also not be afraid of the primal truths of the universe that God created, even if we can’t always find words to express it. Lewis described in Narnia a “deep magic from before the dawn of time”. Let’s revel in the God who created it, both with our intellects and with our primal souls.

My Fourth of July:

  • Ran the local 8k. Didn’t set any time records.
  • At home: finished the laundry and cleaned the bathroom.
  • Mowed the lawn
  • Finished tearing out the chain link fence on the west side of the yard
  • Filled in all the holes left from ripping out the fence posts
  • Filled four lawn bags with garden weeds
  • Washed the dishes
  • Ate a really yummy dinner of grilled chicken and roast potatoes
  • Strongly considered taking a nap beforzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

Happy Independence Day, everybody!

Bullet Points for a Wednesday Morning

Just a few random observations…

  • Crazy softball game in our church league last night. We were behind 3-0 most of the night, then with two outs in the bottom of the 5th inning we scored 13 runs to invoke the mercy rule. Wild.
  • I finally got my iPhone back from Apple after I sent it in to get the lock button replaced. Or at least I got an iPhone back. I didn’t record serial numbers, but the device ID reported by my work’s network is different, and it’s missing the little scratch on the screen. I’m not complaining – it’s basically a like-new iPhone 5, 18 months after I originally purchased it.
  • Curious what the iPhone 6 will turn out to be and whether it’ll be enough to tempt me into an upgrade. If they have a larger device and I can get a decent price for my old iPhone, that might be enough… otherwise I can always wait for the inevitable iPhone 6S.
  • I thought I lost my Fitbit somewhere going through security on the way home from my business trip last week. Was thinking it’d be a good excuse to need to check out the next round of wearable devices undoubtedly coming out this fall. Ends up I found it this morning in an obscure corner of my backpack. Oh well.
  • Looking forward to meeting another “internet friend” in person tomorrow. I’ve met a couple dozen folks over the past decade who started out as “internet friends”, and they’ve been pretty consistently awesome. I have no doubt this next one will be, too.
  • I’m feeling really tired this morning. I have a few vacation days scheduled over the next couple weeks, which should help. I need to schedule a few more. Things just don’t slow down.

Mere Fidelity Podcast on NT Wright

I’ve recently started listening to the Mere Fidelity podcast, a theological conversation between Americans Derek Rishmawy and Matthew Lee Anderson, and Brits Alistair Roberts and Andrew Wilson. On a recent episode they took up the topic of Anglican theologian NT Wright.

Now it’s no secret to any readers of this blog that I’m a huge NT Wright fan; I have given away more copies of Surprised By Hope to friends than any other volume, heard him in person once, and in general point to him as one of the most influential authors in my theological development over the past decade. I’ve read most of his recent popular-level books, and the first three of his Christian Origins series. (His two-volume fourth part of that series is sitting in my to-read pile.)

All the participants on the podcast expressed a great deal of admiration and appreciation for Wright before launching into their criticisms, but it was the criticisms that had me wanting to shout “but… but…” at my phone as I listened. I think much of my disagreement with them may be explained by my American layman’s perspective, and indeed they may have provided enough caveats through the podcast that we’re likely not in great disagreement, but I want to trace their thoughts and my responses here if only to benefit my own thinking.

Wright’s Characterization (Caricature?) of Evangelicalism

This is where I’m going to bang heads with the MF guys (and probably mostly Anderson) the most. At one point he says this:

[...in Surprised by hope] he [Wright] has a narrative about evangelicalism that’s largely de-historicized. That rips even hymn verses out of their context and uses them to show all of these problems within the evangelical milieu. And he says lots of true things in doing so, but he creates such a caricature of the mentality that he’s disagreeing with along the way that I think it’s really unfortunate. [at 13:20 or so in the podcast]

And later on:

The only reason anyone should ever by ‘surprised by hope’ in this world is if they ignored Augustine, ignored Calvin, ignored Aquinas, ignored Luther, ignored everyone who has been saying ‘new creation’ and ‘resurrected bodies’ for the past two thousand years. [at 20:45]

Here, I suppose, the evangelical academic’s caricature is the layman’s sense of reality. I would respond to Anderson here that for every historic evangelical who would largely align with Wright, thus making Wright’s claims a caricature, that there is likely a current evangelical who would not, or at least who knows little on the subject, thus making the “caricature” something much closer to reality.

At the sampling of evangelical churches I’ve belonged to in my 37 years (including Baptist, Bible, Christian & Missionary Alliance, and Evangelical Free), never once have I heard a full-bodied story of resurrection taught in the way Wright proclaims it. Most often the eschatology isn’t taught at all, or it’s lightly glossed over – certainly never brought in a way that emphasizes (as Wright does) how that understanding of the Kingdom impacts how we live in the here and now. My conversations with fellow church members anecdotally indicate that the Left Behind series continues to more significantly influence the common evangelical layman’s view of end times than anything else. (Maybe the upcoming Nic Cage remake of the Left Behind movie will change that? Nah.)

As to the specific point about ripping lines of hymns out of context, I’ll say just two things. First: that the hymns he calls out are some which I have grown up loving dearly, which makes Wright’s criticism a bit painful; second: That this bit of the book will fall flat with American evangelicals within the next 10 years or so since most of us are singing only modern praise songs now, the content of which typically struggles to be correct theologically about even the basics of the faith, and which almost never addresses eschatology.

Anderson doesn’t let it go, though. Later on he argued that Billy Graham’s view of resurrection and heaven isn’t really that different from Wright’s, if you know the code words:

For all the good that he [Wright] is doing, the straw man has brought an unnecessary antithesis and hostility towards the older ways of framing things that doesn’t realize that evangelicals have shorthand, and a whole cluster of concepts behind that shorthand, and it’s not all as bad as NT Wright presents it as being in his lay-level work. [at 22:50]

A couple of thoughts here: first, I wouldn’t assume that Wright “doesn’t realize” that evangelicals have this shorthand. I would assume it is familiar to him and most all scholars who have even a passing familiarity with the history of evangelical thought. However, Surprised By Hope is a popular work, and at the popular level I think there are many, many evangelicals who aren’t familiar with this shorthand.

Fortunately, Rishmawy chimed in on this point:

You and I know that’s shorthand… [but] I think there are times when the shorthand has gotten lost in pop evangelicalism or pop fundamentalism or whatever, where people hear this and are, like, ‘this is totally new’ and you’re right, my pastor has kind of sounded like that. The best of the tradition has never lost sight of this. [at 23:20]

I’m not sure what bits of evangelical tradition Derek deems “the best”, but his comments about that shorthand being lost in pop evangelicalism are, in my experience, right on. When I heard Wright speak in Nashville a couple years ago he noted that, as a surprise to him, he’d developed ‘something of a side ministry’ helping American evangelicals find their way out of the Left Behind sort of theological mess. I’m one of those, and grateful for it.

At another point in the discussion, Roberts, in making an (apparently obligatory on Mere Fidelity) Oliver O’Donavan reference brought up a point that I very much appreciated – that American fanboys of Wright, in feeling that Wright is some sort of Pied Piper (no, not that Piper) leading them out of evangelicalism, would not be feeling their current disillusionment with Wright on social issues if they understood his theology more fully. To wit:

It was Oliver O’Donavan in a conference in dialog with NT Wright that I attended – he made the point that Wright always makes these hyperbolic statements that seem to be anti-traditionalist in order to cover up just how traditionalist he actually is, how conservative his position is, because otherwise people wouldn’t realize how firmly in continuity it is with Reformed evangelical tradition. [at 19:20]

This has actually led me to appreciate Wright even a bit more lately than I had before, because I find myself having pushed pretty hard against evangelicalism the past several years, only to consistently find that while I am often sympathetic with the plight of some of my more progressive brethren, I can’t fully get on board with them when it comes to much of their social progressivism. It’s encouraging to have someone like Wright seemingly closer to that middle ground where I often find myself.

To the esteemed gents on Mere Fidelity – first, thanks for the great conversation. Yours has quickly become a favorite podcast of mine. But I’d urge you, in the midst of your theological erudition, to not so quickly pooh-pooh Wright’s pop characterization of evangelicalism. By many accounts he is speaking evangelical truth at a level that is reaching many who may never delve into Augustine, Calvin, Aquinas, or Luther. And for that we should be thankful.

The Mere Fidelity guys are promising a second discussion on Wright to discuss the Reformed folks’ issues with his theology. I’ll listen with interest but, not being Reformed myself, without much of a dog in the fight.

O’Hare Overnight Liveblog

American Airlines and a stalled warm front have conspired to have me sleeping overnight in the Chicago O’Hare airport to catch a flight home first thing in the morning. So what’s a guy to do? Live blog, why not? Here’s the offending weather picture.

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A traditional Liveblog would add posts at the top, but I’m lazy and like to see things in chronological order, so I’ll update at the bottom.

8:30 pm
Eating dinner at the Chili’s in the atrium of the airport. It’s pretty busy for this time of night. The bar is full, undoubtedly with folks who know that they’re gonna be here a while. The gate agent told me they set up a bunch of cots over by gate K1 to handle scenarios just like this. I’ll be grabbing one of those before it gets too late. First to get my check and then go find a power outlet. This phone battery won’t last forever.

9:04 pm
Some serious lightning outside and rain coming down pretty good. The airport folks have probably 150 cots (complete with airplane pillows and blankets) set up already and have carts full of more cots ready to go.

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That’s the stack still waiting to be set up.

Wandered down a ways and found a lonely cot right next to a functioning power outlet. Score!


9:16 pm
Time to watch a movie before sleeping. Fortunately I have a fully stocked iPad for just such an occasion. Tonight’s feature: Drinking Buddies. With Olivia Wilde and Ron Livingston it can’t be too awful, right?


9:50 pm
Sharing my power outlet for a while with a gal who has a thick southern accent and an iPhone 4 with a dead battery. The cots are filling up here by gate K1.


10:51 pm
Movie over. I liked it. Revolutionary idea that a guy and a girl could be friends and not immediately head to the sack. There’s no way though that Olivia Wilde’s character could drink that much beer every day and stay that skinny.

Cots full of people off in both ways down the concourse. And people still heading past us to make late-night west coast connections.

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Made a quick trip to the bathroom, brushed my teeth, switched to glasses. Time to try to get some sleep.

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There was a second cot down by my feet when I claimed this one; a few minutes later somebody grabbed it and moved it further down the concourse. 30 minutes later the airport folks set another one up in its place. And 2 minutes ago somebody took it, too, to some other location. Maybe I’m scary looking. Of course maybe nobody just wants to sleep next to my feet. I can’t blame them.


11:15 pm
I am 6-foot-4 inches long. This cot is decidedly not. Yawning a lot but there are lots of lights still on and it’s noisy. Wonder how long that’ll persist?


11:25 pm
All my yawns feel unfulfilling somehow. Still really bright. Breaking out my Cubs hat to lay over my face in hopes it’ll help me get to sleep and give me a little local cred.

The hat smells almost as bad as my feet.


11:38 pm
Not having much luck sleeping. It is quieting down some now, though. Created a Foursquare location. Hope other people will use it!

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12:05 am
No luck sleeping so far. Can’t even seem to get that good yawn in. It has quieted down quite a bit in here after midnight; all the automated announcements are turned off, as are some of the overhead lights.

Some lucky folks are sleeping – the guy next to me is sawing logs – but many are laying restlessly awake on their cots just like I am. Starbucks will be doing brisk business in the morning.


12:52 am
Still no luck sleeping. Think I’d have better luck on the floor than on this cot – it’s just too small. I think I’ll go wander around. I wonder if I can find a piano…


1:08 am
Ok, once I got up and walked past all the cots I realized I severely underestimated how many there are. At least 350 now stretched out, all full. And flights still arriving and departing. (I feel sorry for the folks whose flight to Charlotte is now departing at 3:18.)

Lots of people up, wandering around, getting McDonald’s, sitting talking. Guess it never sleeps here.


2:38 am

Spent the last hour playing a piano I found in the concourse wine bar. Had security come by, identify an unattended bag, then stand around and chat for 15 minutes while waiting for the police to come pick it up.

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The security guy told me that his 17-year-old son was shot 3 times last Friday in a drive-by shooting and is still in the hospital. Meanwhile, dad works the graveyard shift at O’Hare and worries about his son. Taking a minute to pray for the dad and the kid.

The terminal is getting quieter now. There were a few flights still coming in during the 1:00 hour, but now things have turned over and the new folks are coming in for the morning shift. The security guy chatted up a 50-something Polish baggage handler who has his folks living with him, walks with a limp, but has been doing the job day in and day out for 15 years. It’s a sobering reminder to me, miffed that I missed my flight home to the suburbs, that there are folks getting paid a lot less who do a lot harder jobs at worse hours. I have much to be thankful for.


3:21 am

I’m parked in the food court at a table next to a plugin. There are three 24-hour shops open: Starbucks, McDonald’s, and Dunkin Donuts. And they’re all staying fairly busy.

There are a dozen or so people sitting up here in the food court, most working on laptops, one writing longhand on a legal pad.

I’m mostly through my venti Americano and watching Leo DiCaprio playing J. Edgar Hoover. So far so good. By the time it finishes up the sun should be rising and my flight will be only a couple hours away.


4:21 am
The morning crowd is starting to show up and the food court is starting to smell good as the breakfast sandwiches start cooking. I suppose there are 5 am departures that people are showing up for, and they seem remarkably perky.

I’m in line to grab a Dunkin donuts breakfast and then to walk over to my gate. Three hours until departure.

I replied to some work email over the last hour, too, including a note telling my boss I wasn’t planning on coming in on Friday. I don’t think he’ll object.


4:43 am
At my gate. The status board still says those two blessed words: “On Time”. Put on my one remaining clean shirt just to make it feel like a new day.

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Here goes nothin’!


5:44 am

Kudos to American Airlines for having gate agents out in force this morning. They knew they were gonna have lots of people to deal with and they appear at least reasonably equipped to handle it. Very glad I got a seat assigned and a boarding pass last night so I’m not standing in one of those lines, though.

Bought a real newspaper for the first time in years just to give me something light to read. The Chicago Tribune is up to $1.50 for the daily but feels thick enough that it might be worth it.


7:06 am

Boarding the plane. Thus endeth the Liveblog.

They Took the Post Down

As a follow-up to my last post: Leadership Journal last night took down the controversial post, replacing it with this note:

A note from the editors of Leadership Journal:

We should not have published this post, and we deeply regret the decision to do so.

The post, told from the perspective of a sex offender, withheld from readers until the very end a crucial piece of information: that the sexual misconduct being described involved a minor under the youth pastor’s care. Among other failings, this post used language that implied consent and mutuality when in fact there can be no quesiton that in situations of such disproportionate power there is no such thing as consent or mutuality.

The post, intended to dissuade future perpetrators, dwelt at length on the losses this criminal sin caused the author, while displaying little or no empathic engagement with the far greater losses caused to the victim of the crime and the wider community around the author. The post adopted a tone that was not appropriate given its failure to document complete repentance and restoration.

There is no way to remove the piece altogether from the Internet, and we do not want to make it seem that we are trying to make it disappear. That is not journalistically honest. The fact that we published it; its deficiencies; and the way its deficiencies illuminate our own lack of insight and foresight, is a matter of record at The Internet Archive (https://web.archive.org/web/20140613190102/http://christianitytoday.com/le/2014/june-online-only/my-easy-trip-from-youth-minister-to-felon.html).

Any advertising revenues derived from hits to this post will be donated to Christian organizations that work with survivors of sexual abuse. We will be working to regain our readers’ trust and to give greater voice to victims of abuse.
We apologize unreservedly for the hurt we clearly have caused.

/signed/
Marshall Shelley, editor, Leadership Journal
Harold B. Smith, president and CEO, Christianity Today International

I offer my thanks to the editors for making this decision, and encourage them to examine the processes that led them to publish it in the first place, in hopes that they won’t make a similar decision next time.

Take down that post?

As if it had been too long since the last evangelical church sex abuse scandal, Leadership Journal (an imprint of Christianity Today) posted a long online article this month titled “My Easy Trip from Youth Minister to Felon”. Tagged as an article on topics including “adultery”, “failure”, “sex”, and “temptation”, it’s a long-ish first-person account of a youth pastor describing his progression into what sounds like an extramarital affair. Then on the last page you find out the “other woman” in question was a teenager in his church. Suddenly a cautionary tale about temptation turns out to be a story about a pastor grooming and abusing an underaged girl in his congregation. Disgusting.

My intent here isn’t to provide a full summary or address the article – RawStory.com reported on it and many Christian bloggers have chimed in. The Twitter hashtag #TakeDownThatPost quickly sprang up, and I found myself sympathetic.

But then my friend Randy chimed in with a slightly different approach:

And that led me to a different, more interesting question. Rather than calling for the editors of the publication to reconsider and take down the post, might it be more appropriate to simply raise awareness that the publication has chosen to post such content, and then let people form their own opinions of the publication and its editors?

Now that’s a conundrum.

What’s the right approach?

Because on one hand Randy’s proposed approach seems pretty attractive. It allows me to just state the facts. If anything, the factual headline (RawStory.com: “Ex-Youth Pastor describes felony sex crimes as extramarital friendship in Christian Journal”) draws far more attention than a “#TakeDownThatPost” hashtag. And let’s face it, if some organization with which I didn’t expect to align did something like this I wouldn’t be campaigning for them to self-censor – I’d just point out where I thought they went wrong and leave it at that.

But this is Christianity Today we’re talking about. I typically respect them quite a bit. Only two weeks ago I recommended their editor Mark Galli’s recent piece on sanctification. Their executive editor Andy Crouch wrote one of my favorite books from last year. I’d like to think there’s some restorative action I could encourage rather than just throwing them under the bus. And to simply draw attention to their unwise action and let others draw conclusions seems an awful lot like I’m trying to drag Christians’ names through the mud, which also doesn’t seem like a good idea.

If you can’t say something nice…

I suppose there’s another option: just don’t say anything. It’s not like the world is looking to me for comment on every issue, right? I was starting to feel that way and then I saw the story going around Facebook and local friends personally looking into it. Now I feel some amount of compulsion to comment, if only to let them know that they’re not alone in being upset about CT posting this article.

So where does that leave me?

I’m not a CT subscriber, so I can’t vote with my feet by cancelling a subscription. I sent an email to the editor of Leadership Journal this morning expressing my concern. I don’t feel like there’s a lot of value in actively joining the Twitter crowd and propagating the hashtag. So what else do I do? (Do I need to do anything?) Pray for the situation, sure – for the victim, the jailed man, the countless other victims out there. But other than that I’m not sure there’s much to do, or much more to say that others aren’t saying more eloquently than I would.

If the abuse scandals of the Catholic church, Sovereign Grace Ministries, Bill Gothard, Vision Forum, and others haven’t yet made it clear enough to us in the evangelical church: covering up, weasling around the topic, addressing it as only sin/repentance and not as a crime, characterizing pastor/youth sex as ‘relationships’ rather than predation – this has got to stop. Let’s not bring even more disrepute to the church than the abusers already have. Let’s again call our elders to be above reproach, and hold them to it.

While we may all personally want to shy away from casting the first stone, God is not mocked. As a church body it’s well past time that we find the pile of millstones and remind ourselves how Jesus advised they might be used.