Jesus’ Appeal to Human Emotion and Reason

Some really fascinating thoughts from Richard Beck this morning on Jesus’ appeal to human emotion and reasoning as a part of His teaching:

Jesus also used human experience as a hermeneutical and theological tool. In Matthew 12 Jesus enters a synagogue on the Sabbath and finds a man with a withered hand. The way the Pharisees interpreted the Sabbath laws prohibited Jesus from healing the man.

But Jesus disagrees, and he makes an appeal to human experience to argue for a different hermeneutical approach to Sabbath keeping. Jesus doesn’t appeal to Scripture or tradition, he asks a question about how something would feel.

“How many of you,” Jesus asks, “if a sheep of yours fell into a ditch on the Sabbath, wouldn’t pull it out?”

Jesus asks the Pharisees to imaginatively place themselves in this situation, asking them to consult their feelings, experiences and reactions. Jesus expects this appeal to experience to lead to an affirmative answer: They would grab the sheep out of the ditch, even on the Sabbath.

This intrigues me. The conservative circles I inhabit are fond of dismissing claims to human emotion and reason as a hermeneutical tool. (Or at least when that emotion and reason doesn’t challenge the conclusions of the existing theological framework.) If we are totally depraved, the reasoning goes, our emotions and reasoning are also totally depraved and therefore untrustworthy.

I tend to think that our intrinsic moral reactions, while fallen, still hold the echoes of what it means to have been created in the image of God, and as such, they shouldn’t be easily dismissed. Beck gives me another angle here to consider that thought.


Experimental Theology: Jesus and the Wesleyan Quadrilateral

A Social Media Fast

The holidays aren’t typically a time we think of fasting… but it was time. I’ve been a perpetual user of social media for just about as long as that media has existed. I had an account on Facebook they day they opened it up to more than just college students. I was an early adopter and evangelist of Twitter, and while I don’t tweet as much as some people do (maybe 32k tweets in 10 years… which is still 10 a day, I guess) I’ve had a Tweetdeck window perpetually on my computer desktop and Tweetbot on the front page of my iPhone.

But social media has been wearing on me this year. I’m sure our current political situation hasn’t been helping. Twitter seems mostly to be about immediate response and angst these days, and while it’s helped propel some valuable trends (#MeToo comes to mind), it got exhausting feeling like I needed to keep up. For a while I thought I was doing good things by posting strong opinions on Facebook. Eventually I think though everybody that might’ve disagreed (who I was hoping I would reach) likely unfollowed me or the news sources I was sharing. And so it became mostly just an echo chamber. So Monday morning I closed my Twitter and Facebook tabs, deleted the Facebook and Twitter apps from my phone, and decided it was time for a fast.

This decision is not without trepidation. I’ve had many social media relationships turn into real friendships over the past decade, and many local friendships enhanced by the online communication. I’d hate to lose that. (I am keeping Slack installed, which provides a lower-intensity communication path to several of my closest friends.) Maybe after a detox I’ll be able to find healthier ways to get my fix of online debate and pictures of the nieces and nephew without feeling tied to it.

So in the mean time, if I have something I want to post, it’s going to go here on my blog instead of Facebook or Twitter. The blog will automatically cross-post to those services, but I won’t be responding there. We’ll see how it goes. Mainly I need less mental distractions… and these are the ones that need to go. Here’s hoping.

I have heard it said…

I have heard right-wing types say, approvingly, that if you’re younger than 30 and not a liberal, you have no heart; and that if you’re older than 30 and not a conservative, you have no brain.

However, this tweet captures a sentiment that seems much more true to me:

Love and compassion for a broken world is our calling.

Some Thoughts on Thoughts and Prayers

The familiarity of yesterday’s breaking news alerts almost muted the shock. Half a church dead, the other half wounded. I’m old enough to remember the Luby’s shooting, which at the time was nearly unimaginable. And we can name the shootings that followed in the next 25 years in a horrific litany: Columbine. Sandy Hook Elementary. Virginia Tech. San Bernardino. Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston. The Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Las Vegas. And now, hardly before the crime tape was down in Vegas: First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs.

The online response comes in three stages and is by this point, sadly, completely predictable:

Stage 1: Thoughts and Prayers
House Speaker Paul Ryan called for prayers.

Same from Texas Governor Greg Abbott. And from Senate Majority Leader McConnell. And from the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security committee. And on and on and on.

Stage 2: The Backlash
These range from the political from Senator Elizabeth Warren:

to the full on blast furnace from Wil Wheaton,

(who later tempered his remarks just a bit.)

Stage 3: The Persecution Complex

Christians, offended by the anger against the expression of prayers, start feeling put upon. Such as this example from First Things editor Matthew Schmitz:

And so it goes, back and forth, until the shooting passes from the news cycle either by natural decay or by the violence of yet another tragedy.

I have sympathies on both sides of this one.

I’m a Christian. God tells us to pray. I believe that prayer is effective. I’ve seen it work. Sometimes we pray and God works in direct, miraculous ways. But other times (and in my own limited experience, the majority of the time) we pray, and God works through someone else. Sometimes God even uses us to work out the answer to our own prayers. So I want to be sympathetic with the prayers of Christian political leaders. They go up with my own.

But I’m also sympathetic with the ragers. Wil Wheaton is no Christian. I don’t expect him to believe that prayer is effective. I think he’s angry with Christians like Paul Ryan not because they’re praying, but because they don’t seem to be doing anything else.

I don’t think legislation is the 100% solution to gun violence, but Republican leaders could push for real changes that would help things. To proclaim that you’re praying but then not do whatever else is within your power to address the issue is hypocrisy. And that’s reason enough to anger believers and unbelievers alike.

And to those who immediately start feeling hurt that people are criticizing the church? Maybe it’s time to take a hard look in the mirror. Maybe we deserve that criticism. Maybe we should provide them examples of Christians who are praying and also acting.

As I am finishing up this post, Tyler Huckabee has a twitter thread that captures this a lot more pithily than I have. Here’s how he brings it home:

That’ll preach.

Finished reading: fiction!

Two weeks, two business trips, it was time for light reading. Trolling the fiction shelves found me these:

Price of Duty by Dale Brown

Dale Brown has managed to crank out 21 books in the Patrick McLanahan series over the past 30 years. I’ve read far too many of them. They crossed the line into ridiculousness several books back… and this one is no different. This one reads more like the script for a direct-to-video action movie (a genre, I fear, that has been killed off by Netflix!) than a proper novel.

Tom Clancy – Point of Contact by Mike Maden

Tom Clancy is long dead and buried but his name and book series lives on. According to Amazon, this book is “Jack Ryan Universe book #23”, which is roughly the same output as Dale Brown’s series in roughly the same timeframe. This one was thin enough that, writing this post a couple weeks after finishing the book, I have exactly zero recollection of what this one was about.

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland

Now this one was worth my time. While it starts out seeming to be about ‘the return of magic’, it’s much more an adventure in time travel combined with some humorous observations about how bureaucracy can take over and ruin even the best ideas. I had a lot of fun here.