Why I’m Leaving the Evangelical Theology blog wars

I’ve had my adventures growing up in the church. In 35 years of church attendance I’ve been a part of a C&MA church, a fundie homeschooling church, two independent Bible churches, two Conservative Baptist churches, and now an EFCA congregation. My family has also been highly influenced by Mennonite and Bretheren folks along the way. We’re an interesting crew.

Let me tell a little bit of my story in order to set things up.

In my mid 20s I was getting involved in leadership at the first church I joined as an adult. Somewhere along the line I got acquainted with Mark Driscoll and started listening through every sermon of his I could find. This led me into what has since been termed the neo-Reformed camp.

One year I went with my pastor to a Desiring God pastor’s conference and heard John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Don Carson, Justin Taylor, and Voddie Baucham. I listened intently as Piper encouraged me to not waste my life, and I still have my Moleskine notebook wherein I hurriedly scribbled Driscoll’s 14 non-negotiable points of the faith. I read C. J. Mahaney’s book on living a cross-centered life and heard his friends tout his credentials to write on humility. I was young, still learning my theology (I’m an engineer, not a pastor!) but had found a place I liked.

But then somewhere along the line things started to change for me.

I read N. T. Wright’s Surprised By Hope and came to realize that the dispensational, Left Behind view of the end times didn’t make as much sense as I had once thought. I read Peter Enns Inspiration and Incarnation and realized that the “literal” reading of the Biblical text wasn’t always the right way to read it. My book pile got overwhelmingly Catholic and Anglican, and the Calvinist I found most winsome ended up being an Iowa essayist named Marilynne Robinson.

I resigned from the church plant I was helping lead because I was completely burned out and had no other way to find rest. I eventually saw that church plant transition to leadership of a young pastor who turned it into a real Acts 29 church plant.

Over the past couple of years I’ve seen a lot of other bits of the system that I once idolized come crumbling down.

I saw Mark Driscoll systematically run out the folks at Mars Hill that disagreed with him, and then spend more money than some of my churches have spent in an entire year’s budget just so he could get “New York Times Bestselling Author” added to his resume.

I saw C. J. Mahaney resign from his denomination over allegations that they covered up child abuse and that he was, ironically, one of the least-qualified people to write a book on humility.

I saw Justin Taylor warn authors against interviewing with a Christian radio host who accused Driscoll of plagiarism, with no word of repentance or apology when her accusations turned out to be correct.

I saw Doug Phillips, the head of Vision Forum (a fundie pro-homeschooling organization) and ministry partner of Voddie Baucham, resign from his ministry after confessing to having an inappropriate relationship with a girl young enough to be his daughter.

What I didn’t see was a lot of public acknowledgment of sin or calls to repentance from those folks surrounding my one-time heroes. The talk was all on the “watch blogs”, where people wrote from perspective somewhere along the spectrum between “godly concern” and “reckless rabble-rousing”. What I did see was a lot of wagons circling, and defensive statements that were factually incorrect and either closed to comment or removed when the comments got loud.

I saw Gospel Coalition teachers define the Gospel in such a way that anyone outside of their little group was probably on the outside looking in. One of Driscoll’s 14 non-negotiables I wrote down that day was penal substitutionary atonement. Al Mohler says that Young Earth Creationism is key. For Wayne Grudem, Owen Strachan, and others in the CBMW, complementarianism is up there at the Gospel level.

What I didn’t see was any acknowledgment that there have historically been various understandings of atonement theory, the age of the universe, the role of women, etc, within the accepted bounds of the church. What I didn’t hear was an acknowledgment that there was a lot of room for negotiables within the bounds of the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds.

And I’ll be honest: it made me angry.

I’ve spent too much of the last couple years being worked up about these topics. I’ve written angry posts about neo-Reformed Calvinism, young-earth creationism, Biblicism, and gay marriage. And what have I learned? Primarily this:

It’s not worth it.

These online debates have perhaps won me a few cheers but also caused me a few headaches with people within my own church who didn’t understand my attitude or thought I was just trying to cause trouble. They’ve given me a feeling of righteous outrage and truth-telling, but have also helped cultivate in me an attitude of adversarial cynicism that infected my relationship with my own local church.

What it’s taken me a decade to work through and realize is that an awful lot of it is just noise, just hot air. Yes, there are injustices that need to be addressed, but is my blogging actually doing anything productive there? Not really. Does anyone at my church outside of a few of the pastoral staff care about most of these topics or find them worth arguing about? Probably not.

So while it may be exciting to jump on the bandwagon du jour, I’m not sure it’s all that profitable, at least for me right now. There are a lot of other things I can write about and very positive ways to do so. It’s also more peaceful.

So, there are folks I’m unfollowing on Twitter. There are blogs I’m unsubscribing from. There are debates I’m just going to stay out of. And that’s OK.

It’s not that I’m getting less opinionated; I’ll just be sharing my opinions less, and hopefully in more meaningful ways and circumstances. It’s not that I’ll be less upset by injustice and misconduct by church leaders, but instead I’ll stop thinking that my blogging is doing more good for the situation than my praying would be.

Not having the ability to magically make peace for all of America’s evangelical theological battles, I’ll content myself with striving to blessedly make peace and demonstrate love in ways that are meaningful to the people around me. That, for me, is choosing the better part.

To those of you who have been hurt or offended by these posts of mine over the years, my sincere apologies. Let’s talk over coffee sometime soon. I’m buying.

And to those of you who do feel called to continue that sort of blogging, please continue. Go and shout from the rooftops. But also try, as much as it depends on you, to live at peace with all men. Give the benefit of the doubt. Quote accurately instead of selectively.

Loving and defending the innocent and helpless doesn’t mean you always have to be an ass to the oppressor.

That’s not me!

OK, I’ve heard stories before about people having their email addresses added to unsavory mailing lists by pranking friends or malicious enemies, but what about the times when someone is apparently unintentionally using your email address for their legitimate purposes? Such is the odd frustration I’ve been dealing with lately.

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I’ve had a Gmail account with a username in the format of firstname.lastname@gmail.com ever since Gmail was invite-only. (Remember those days?) It’s worked great for me, though eventually I’ve semi-retired it for email in favor of using Fastmail and an email address based on my personal domain. For the past six months, though, I’ve been getting a string of non-spam emails that appear to be intended for somebody else.

It started out innocuously enough, with a subscription to a mailing list of Cobb County, Georgia first responders. I requested an unsubscribe, and a real person wrote me back, a little confused why I was asking to be removed. I explained and was eventually removed from the list.

But then I started getting other emails. Over the past 6 months or so I’ve gotten the following:

  • Royal Caribbean cruise itineraries and payment receipts
  • Hudl.com notifications
  • Follow-up emails from car dealers saying “thanks for test driving, let’s talk!”
  • Survey requests

Then on Monday came the one that made me think about this a little more seriously: an email from LifeLock with the salutation “Dear LifeLock Wallet User:”.

Now, I’m just deleting these emails, but there’s nothing that would prevent me, were I malicious, from going to the websites in question, using the email address (which, remember, is my email address) and the Lost Password routine to set up a new password, and I’d have access to that person’s account.

Which is one level of bad if it’s your hudl.com account (which appears to be some sort of sports training website), but an entirely different level of bad if it’s your credit monitoring service.

What I really don’t understand is how this person continues to make this mistake, when s/he clearly isn’t getting the emails in question. (I have Google 2-factor authentication active on my account, and I track my Google logins closely, so I’m ruling out the thought that this person could be actually getting to those email messages.) If it were you, wouldn’t you start questioning why you weren’t receiving emails, and then eventually correct your mistake?

If this were, say, work email intended for another Chris Hubbs at my employer (such a person used to exist!), it’d be easy enough to look up that person, forward the email to their correct address, and let them know to clarify things with their contacts. But in this case I’ve got very little idea who the right recipient is!

Basically all I can do is say this: if you’re Chris Hubbard from Atlanta, you should be aware that chris.hubbs@gmail.com belongs to a guy in Iowa who would be happy to not keep getting your email. Or if you’re gonna keep sending it to me, at least have the decency to send me the cruise tickets and not just the receipts.

Which artist had the impact?

This interview with Rich Mullins’ producer Reed Arvin is months old now, but I thought of it again the other day and wanted to share one revelation in the interview that particularly impacted me.

[Interviewer:] When I was a kid I would just pour over the liner notes to each of Rich’s albums, and I was always surprised to see how few of the instruments he actually played on the recordings. Obviously, he played the hammered and lap dulcimer, but usually you were the one listed as playing piano and not him.

[Arvin:] Rich was incredibly soulful musically but he possessed a particular quality many singer-pianists share: he played all over the instrument, all the time. He was used to accompanying himself, you see. He would hammer out double bass notes even if there was a bass player and things like that. So, when you added other instruments, it didn’t quite mesh. Live, this didn’t make so much difference. But on record, it didn’t really work. Also, he had a very elastic sense of time. Making a record is just a different enterprise. But just to sit around the piano while he played and sang by himself, this was beautiful. And we did that sometimes, just for the pleasure of it.

Rich was the formative artist for me as a musician in my teenage years. I memorized his albums, studied liner notes, learned the piano parts note-for-note, played and sang his songs incessantly.

What somehow never occurred to me while reading the liner notes, that never really hit me until reading this interview, is that maybe I owe Reed Arvin a lot more for influencing my piano style than I owe Rich.

The songs and musical ideas were all Rich’s, so it’s not going to tarnish my view of him and his legacy, but it’s still a surprising thought.

A Startling Bit of Insight

I’ve owned an iPhone for 18 months now, but haven’t had a PIN in place to lock the device until yesterday. I’m gaining the ability to put work info on the phone, but to do so I have to have a PIN and an auto-lock on it. So, I set up a PIN and set it so that I’m required to re-enter the PIN after 15 minutes of inactivity.

What’s been striking to me so far (after just one day with the PIN in place) is how infrequently I have to enter the PIN. Most of the time when I pull my phone out to look at something, I’m still within the 15 minute window since last time I had it out.

I haven’t really evaluated yet whether this represents an unhealthy level of attachment / addiction, but it’s been a startling (and somewhat troubling) bit of insight.

Humility

There are days I foolishly think I’m fairly well-read and have thought through good chunks of doctrine and theology; and then there are the days where I’m reminded that I’m a rank amateur.

I’m thankful for the folks who so patiently share their wisdom and experience. You know who you are.

In which I gripe about my home media center travails

You regular readers (all three of you) know that this blog bounces back and forth between theology and nerd stuff with frightening regularity. This is going to be a nerdy post. You have been warned.

Nearly 5 years ago we got rid of our Dish Network satellite TV service and just went to watching what we could get over the air. We’ve evolved the setup slightly over the last 5 years, primarily by adding Netflix as a video source (our kids were 4, 3, and newborn back then, and have slightly more demands as 9, 8, and 5 now) and by adding a 27″ iMac in our living room that gets used as a video-watching device on a regular basis.

The Basic Setup

Basement Family Room: Big LCD TV. HTPC running Windows 7. HDHomeRun networked tuner (still the 5-year-old original version) hooked up to it. 5 TB of hard drive space in that PC for storing recorded TV and other video. Running Plex Media Server to serve files to the rest of the house. Using Windows Media Center to record TV shows and playback video down there. Works like a charm. That’s the most stable, reliable bit of the system.

My bedroom: Ancient Mac Mini running some old version of OS X hooked up to a 20″ monitor, running an older version of Plex’s Mac desktop app. Great for watching recorded TV shows. Not so great for everything else; the Plex Netflix plugin broke months ago, so if we want to watch Netflix most of the time we have to get up and open a browser and watch it that way. The Plex HDHomeRun plugin broke years ago, so if we want to watch live TV we open up the HDHomeRun app and play the video through VLC. Not integrated very well, but it works.

Living room: 27″ iMac running OS X Mavericks. Here’s where the real frustration begins. Playback of HDHomeRun live video streams through VLC is broken in Mavericks. It’s a reported issue between VLC and Mavericks that hasn’t gotten fixed yet. I can get HDHomeRun to work acceptably through the older Plex app if I manually tune the HDHomeRun device first and then kick up Plex to play the video stream.

However, the old Plex app is now causing serious lockups on the iMac when I ping Plex Media Server to watch recorded shows. As in the only way to recover is to do a hard reboot on the iMac. The new version of Plex’s app (Plex Home Theater, they call it) seems to work OK. Which is great, however, as far as I can tell there’s no good way to view the HDHomeRun video in Plex Home Theater. Grrrr.

So at the moment it would appear that for the iMac I’m going to need to juggle multiple versions of the Plex app depending on what I want to watch. Annoying.

At least I’m saving money

When I remember that we were previously spending something like $60/month on satellite, and now we’re paying $8/mo for Netflix, we’ve been saving around $600 a year for 5 years… maybe we should invest a little bit of that savings on improving the infrastructure. (Do you think my wife will buy that argument? Heh.) But what should I do to improve things?

Where do I go from here?

The home media server solution is working really well, and Windows 7 recording the TV shows is reliable, pretty much seamless. Gonna keep it going as long as I can.

I know the HDHomeRun hardware has been upgraded 3 or 4 times since I bought my original device. Don’t know if I’d get any significant improvements from buying a new one, but it’s hard to be motivated to drop $100 on a new one when the old one still works so well.

I think in the living room I’ve basically locked myself into the iMac solution since we don’t have the room for (or the desire for) a big real TV in the living room. If we move to a new house in the next year or two, we’ll re-evaluate.

Back in our bedroom I think the solution that would get us closest is to replace the Mac Mini and monitor with a real TV and some version of set-top box – maybe a Roku or the new Amazon FireTv. FireTV is new, but it looks like it would get us Netflix, Amazon Video, ESPN video, and even integrate with Plex. About the only thing it wouldn’t support is the HDHomeRun integration; but I suppose I could always split off a signal from the antenna in the attic and run a TV signal down to the TV and use its tuners natively.

That’s all great, but…

While a nerd can dream, in reality we’ll likely be trying to sell our current house and buy a larger one (3 daughters and only one upstairs bathroom!) in the next year or two. So in reality I suppose we’ll hang on with what we’ve got until we make a move, and then re-assess the entire setup at that point.

A little bit of perspective

Just so I don’t sound like a totally self-absorbed idiot for the entire post, let me note that I remember moving from a black-and-white TV to our first color TV back when I was a kid, and in going to a video rental store for the first time when you had to choose between VHS and Betamax versions of the videos. Compared to those days… I guess our expectations have gone up a bit in 30 years.

We need more neighbors

There’s been a lot of virtual ink spilled in the Christian blogosphere on the gay marriage topic the past couple of weeks after the World Vision U-turn. One of the benefits of not saying anything about it myself is that eventually someone comes along who says things a lot better than I would. Today that person is Jen Hatmaker. (All the emphasis in the quotes below is hers.)

First, she says,

…the reason I’ve always held this conviction [about where she stands on homosexuality] close, inviting only my real friends and family and community in, is because I am loathe to be a pawn in a hateful public war. I refuse to be a point in some win column, used for my influence and lumped into ancillary groupthink I don’t share. I’ve said before that this conversation best belongs in true relationships, around dinner tables, over coffee, in real life, and I still believe that.

And yet for the sake of those following her as a leader, she is willing to lay her cards on the table:

I want you to know that I land on the side of traditional marriage as God’s first and clear design. I believe God’s original creation is how we were crafted to thrive: in marriage, in family, and in community, which has borne out for millennia in Scripture, interpretation, practice, and society (within and without the church).

But wait, she’s not done, and her follow-up point is important.

However, I remain disturbed and pierced at how many Christians have handled the gay community publicly. It is a source of extreme grief. We may share theology, but the application of that truth remains a disconnecting point. While Scripture does command us to “speak the truth in love” (and surely Facebook is the dead worst place to exercise that practice), that is not the end of our biblical responsibility.

She then recounts Jesus’ summing up all the law and the prophets as “love God and love your neighbor”. Powerful stuff. And the man wanted to know “who is my neighbor”? What’s my out? And Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Here’s Jen’s words again:

As I lay in bed, it was instantly and perfectly clear that the gay community has been spiritually beaten, stripped of dignity, robbed of humanity, and left for dead by much of the church. You need only look at the suicide rates, prevalence of self-harm, and the devastating pleas from ostracized gay people and those who love them to see what has plainly transpired.

Laying next to them, bloodied and bruised, are believers whose theology affirms homosexuality and allows them to stand alongside their gay friends. (Again, you don’t have to agree with this, but there are tens of thousands of thinking, studied people who hold this conviction.) The spiritual gutting of these brothers and sisters is nothing short of shameful. The mockery and dismissal and vitriol leveled at these folks is disgraceful.

Also wounded on the side of the road are Christians who sincerely love God and people and believe homosexuality is a sin, but they’ve been lumped in with the Big Loud Mean Voices unfairly. Painted as hateful intolerants, they are actually kind and loving and are simply trying to be faithful. The paintbrush is too wide, the indictments unfounded.

And then she brings it home:

We don’t get to abandon the theology of love toward people; the end does not justify the means. That is not Christ-like and it is certainly not biblical. As a faith community, it is time we relearn what “speaking the truth in love” means. Something that actually feels like love is a start. If the beginning and end of love is simply pointing out sin, then we are doomed.

I am convinced we need no more soldiers in this war.

We need more neighbors.

Thanks, Jen, for a powerful word.

Star Wars music on an amazing pipe organ

OK, this is pretty great. Organist Jelani Eddington performs a suite from the Star Wars soundtrack on a massive pipe organ. The organ was built by Wurlitzer in 1927 for a theater in Omaha, NE, and after restoration has been installed at a museum in the suburbs of Chicago.

A little more about the organ:

Mounted on the wall to the left are the 32′ Diaphone pipes, and to the right are the 32′ Bombarde pipes. A 32-note set of Deagan Tower Bells, the largest of which weighs 426 lb., hang on each side of the room. They are activated by huge solenoids from their own console, the organ console, a roll player, and even the doorbell button. To the rear of the room, the ‘Ethereal’ pipe chamber in the attic echoes softly from the skylight area, while the brass ‘Trumpet Imperial’ and copper ‘Bugle Battaglia’ speak with great authority from the back wall.

The grand piano connected to the pipe organ is a 9′ Knabe concert grand with an Ampico ‘A’ reproducing player mechanism. To the right of the console is a rare Deagan Piano-Vibraharp, which can be played by its own keyboard or from the organ console. Toward the rear of the room is a Spanish art case Steinway model A.R. Duo-Art reproducing piano, veneered in walnut with boxwood, pear and ebony inlay. A remote Duo-Art Concertola roll changer has been adapted to play Ampico rolls on the Knabe, or Duo-Art rolls on the Steinway, at the touch of a button on its control panel.

Crazy. Anyhow, this video itself is impressive:

Bullet Points for a Tuesday Evening

Because hey, I like this format.

  • Just when you think spring was here, we get snow. The ground and roads were covered this morning. Ick. At least it’s melted off by this afternoon.
  • There’s a 60 degree day in the forecast. I’ll believe it when I see it.
  • Of course, next week I’ll be in Florida for work where the highs are supposed to be in the low 80′s every day.
  • You aren’t reading this just to get Chris’s thoughts on the weather, are you?
  • I just submitted a big proposal at work this afternoon. Praying that it is looked upon favorably.
  • I desperately need some other music to get rid of the Frozen soundtrack earworm that’s plagued me the past week. The girls have been singing “Do you want to build a snowman?” incessantly.
  • I did something this morning I haven’t done in ages – turned off my alarm w/o realizing it and overslept past something on my calendar, in this case my Tuesday morning Bible study. Oops.
  • I have fresh brownies on the stove and a chapter of The Hobbit to read to the girls, so this will be my last bullet.

On Being Allowed to Grow Up

There’s a fascinating article on The Atlantic site that’s been making the rounds recently, and it’s well worth a read. Author Hanna Rosin, in her article “The Overprotected Kid”, examines how attitudes toward children and risk have changed in the past few decades. Where in the 70s parents would’ve just turned kids loose, kids are now more frequently monitored, reined in, and protected. She tells about a playground experiment in Britain where they’ve gone the other direction – removing the rubberized, “safe” equipment in favor of lots of raw material, limited adult intervention, and very few rules. Fascinating stuff.

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Now, the article is well worth considering from the sociological and parenting angles, but this bit stuck out at me from a faith angle as well:

One common concern of parents these days is that children grow up too fast. But sometimes it seems as if children don’t get the space to grow up at all; they just become adept at mimicking the habits of adulthood. As Hart’s research shows, children used to gradually take on responsibilities, year by year. They crossed the road, went to the store; eventually some of them got small neighborhood jobs. Their pride was wrapped up in competence and independence, which grew as they tried and mastered activities they hadn’t known how to do the previous year. But these days, middle-class children, at least, skip these milestones. They spend a lot of time in the company of adults, so they can talk and think like them, but they never build up the confidence to be truly independent and self-reliant.

Now I’m shooting from the hip here, so feel free to jump in and set me straight in the comments if you want, but from my experience in the evangelical church it seems that we might be treating our children in the faith the same way. Let me tease that out a bit.

Are our children in the faith, whether new adult converts or children who have been raised in the church, really given the space to grow up in the faith? Or have we simply encouraged an environment that is the spiritualized equivalent of “let me walk you to school” and “stay away from that creek, you might get wet!”?

In our desire to protect young believers, are we unhealthily protecting them from the spiritual bumps and bruises that come from healthy exploration? Rather than wrapping protective material around any potentially difficult or painful spiritual point, should we instead be encouraging exploration, learning, and growth?

In a related vein, Peter Enns notes today that

If you ask me, one reason God might have for different denominations and traditions is they they reflect different stages of the spiritual journey.

Then, quoting psychologist David G. Benner, he reminds us that

…communities exist for the support of others, not their control. Like enmeshed familes or codependent marriages and partnerships, [unhealthy] communities fail to see the other as separate from themselves and to celebrate this fact and then help people achieve this differentiation in a healthy manner.

So, allowing room for exploration and real growth (as opposed to just learning imitation) allows us to celebrate individuals as they grow into their own identity. Certainly gives me things to think on as a parent; there may be a lesson there for pastors and church leaders, too.

[photo credit: stweedy via photopin cc]