I decided against calling this “a reflection on a reflection on the death of Steve Jobs,” because it’s wordy and poncy, but that’s basically what this is.
I don’t have anything to say about Steve Jobs. I think it’s poor form to speak ill of the dead, especially the newly dead, and I’d hate to be the guy who in an uncareful moment became fixed in someone’s memory as they guy who metaphorically stuck a post-it on the Gandhi painting [link]. By the same token I don’t think I can add anything to what’s already been said online in praise of Jobs’s maverick spirit, etc. Several years ago when Cyrus Vance died, I heard CNN lead off their obituary with “Cyrus Vance was a good man…” and it made me cringe. So I’ll do my best this one time to leave the cringeworthy comments to others.
Jason Calacanis posted a tribute to Jobs on his blog yesterday [link]; this one quote gave me pause:
Of all the amazing things Steve said, the one that will always stick with me, was a quip in a 2 a.m. email to one of the meaningless critics, from one of the many meaningless publications that traffic in cynicism, criticism and hate in the name of pageview growth — and that most of us subject ourselves to daily.
“By the way, what have you done that’s so great?
Do you create anything, or just criticize other’s work
and belittle their motivations?”
– Steve Jobs
It gave me pause because blogging so easily lends itself to cynicism, criticism, hate, and belittling generally, and because I deal with sensitive issues here (namely, religion and occasionally politics) that this is a temptation I constantly face and don’t always resist.
I prefer to think I’m looking for case studies, trends, and guidelines, and I’m less interested in condemnation (“I think Kenneth Copeland is a crook; I think Chris Rosebrough is a blowhard.”) than in analysis (“Watch how Kenneth Copeland Ministries relates to secular authority; listen how Chris Rosebrough argues by illustration.”) but sometimes it’s hard for a casual reader (or even the author) to tell the difference.
A few weeks ago over at Phoenix Preacher in one of his Linkathon postings Brian Daugherty asked why we don’t see more “Why I Am Not A Calvinist” or “Why I Am Not Reformed” postings on various blogs. It’s a fair question, and one that has been much on my mind.
It isn’t a subject I want to wade into very deeply now, but I think if I had to I might start with something like “because I would go out of my mind hearing a sermon out of Romans every Sunday.” But that’s hardly an adequate answer, and it’s not what I want to talk about today.
If instead I had to put together a list of reasons why I’m not a Missouri Synod Lutheran, I might start with a couple of recent sermon reviews from Issues Etc.:
- A review of what appears to be a sermon from Saddleback Church on “The Daniel Plan” diet program [mp3], featuring Chris Rosebrough
- A review of a sermon by Brent Kuhlman on 1 Corinthians 2:1-12 [mp3, link]
I’ll give you a clue up front: Wilken and Rosebrough hate the first sermon, while Wilken doesn’t just love the second sermon, but recommends it as a pattern for every sermon.
The first sermon (if you can call it that) is a discussion by Rosebrough and Wilken of Rick Warren’s endorsement of a diet plan based on the story of Daniel and his fellow captives and their choice not to eat the king’s food, but to eat only vegetables and drink only water (Daniel 1). Let me be clear: I think it would be a great idea for many of my fellow Christians (including myself) to get a grip on their calorie intake, be mindful eaters, etc. I think it’s a great spiritual discipline, and a defense against the sin of gluttony. That being said, I can’t agree with Warren’s approach here. I don’t think this is appropriate use of the pulpit, and I’m embarrassed for Warren and Saddleback.
But I can’t take the tack Rosebrough and Wilken take here; I don’t hear Warren suggesting that losing weight gets a person into Heaven, and that’s what they say he’s saying by responding to this with the neat soundbite “there are lots of skinny people in Hell.” They’re right to call Warren out for connecting God’s blessings with our “blessability,” or whatever, but their analysis is all wrong. I think they’ve misunderstood what he’s saying, so their response is unhelpful. Fleeing various sins is part of the process of sanctification, not a part of salvation, and I’m surprised to hear them responding to this as if Warren were saying it is.
I hesitate to mention that when Wilken has a Roman Catholic guest on Issues Etc. he doesn’t cover this same ground, where it would seem to be more appropriate. But I digress.
By way of contrast, Wilken highly recommends Kuhlman’s sermon. The core of the text is Paul’s quote that when he was in Corinth he was “determined to know nothing among you except Christ, and Him crucified.” Wilken interprets this to mean that every sermon should be about Jesus’s death on the Cross as the sufficient sacrifice for our sins. This is apparently orthodox Lutheran teaching, at least in the LCMS. I tend to understand this text as being a description of Paul’s description of his intent when he was visiting the young, vulnerable, worldly, etc. Corinthian church and not as a basis for a universal directive applicable to all believers at all times in all places. It’s indicative, not imperative. Also, I think this reading is contrary to the spirit and intent of Paul’s letter; I consider his letter to be a sermon, since it was meant to be read openly before the church, and Paul deals with many issues in addition to soteriology.
Beyond that, Kuhlman’s sermon makes me cringe. He trots out straw men, and lousy ones at that. He belabors familiar and accepted points in a funny voice. And Wilken’s analysis of Kuhlman’s sermon compounds the problem by drawing a false dichotomy between Kuhlman and straw men of his own. I have to suggest that when Wilken suggests that the only choices for preaching style are either what he and Kuhlman have to offer and ear-tickling consumer-driven pablum he’s at best oversimplifying and at worst condemning other Christians on the basis of the teaching of men.
I have to admit that if I had to sit through a sermon like this every Sunday I would go out of my mind. The only rationale I can imagine for doing this week after week would be the mistaken (and I dare say mystical) belief that simply hearing Scripture read is a means of grace, and the text itself doesn’t matter, etc. Wilken suggests that he has been accused (conveniently by unnamed accusers) of creating fat, lazy, spoiled Christians by preaching the same sermon every Sunday. Let me be one of them: I believe preaching the same thing every Sunday dulls the soul and stunts spiritual growth. I can’t imagine why anyone else can’t see this too.
I needed to be in Scottsdale for a few days a couple of weeks ago, and my wife was kind enough to extend our visit long enough for us to visit Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church (PRBC). This is the first of several posts from that visit.
There was a church within walking distance of our hotel in Scottsdale, the oddly-named Mountain Valley Church [link], but I wanted to visit PRBC, a twenty-minute drive away, mostly because it’s the church where James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries [link] is an elder.
I am naturally inclined to take a dim view of anyone who hangs out his shingle as an apologist, especially someone with no professional affiliation supporting their claim to being an apologist. The people you meet on the apologetics circuit fall into one of the following categories:
- Former pastors who have turned pro
- Seminary faculty
- Retired pastors
White sort of falls into two categories: he was for a while adjunct faculty at a branch campus of Golden Gate Theological Seminary, but now he’s more in the “Other” category, since he is an elder at PRBC and occasionally preaches but isn’t so far as I know ordained or paid by the church.
“Apologist” is a title anyone can claim, and I’m always leery of anyone who calls himself an apologist. There’s sort of a taxonomy of apologists from credentialed, accountable people who are on a speaking circuit and support themselves and their families by speaking and selling books on down to the online discernment (ODM) crowd and the local preacher who takes off a Sunday or two a year to debate someone or some group safely out of sight of his congregation. And then there are of course the miscellaneous muckrakers, bloggers, gadflies, cultists, name-callers, theological ambulance chasers, grumblers, hobbyists, and the mixed multitude. I am not entirely sure how one would go about arranging all of them sensibly; I’m pretty sure they’re all the children or grandchildren of (say) Walter Martin somehow, but not all of them would do him proud. I’m tempted to arrange them by dollars earned, or publishing record, or business of schedule, but what I would really want is an objective measure of breadth and depth of quality work. The former measures are really just apologetics Q scores [link]; the latter is mostly unavailable without lots of work.
I mean if you had to arrange Josh McDowell, James White, Hank Hanegraaf, David Cloud, Fred Phelps, Chris Rosebrough, and Ken Silva on a single line how would you do it? Alphabetically?
During the recent Ergun Caner flap the question of White’s actual accountability (namely, how accountable could he be if he’s the only elder at his church?) was raised as part of the counterattack, and just out of curiosity I looked up the church he attends and looked at it using well-known online software that provides a street view of an address. I was a bit disturbed to note that the parking lot only had room for 12-15 cars, and the building seemed quite small, so I was concerned that PRBC was some sort of separatist group, single-extended-family church or even a cult. So when I got a chance to visit I jumped at it, hoping to catch PRBC on a Sunday when White would be preaching, and hoping they’d be friendlier than some other small churches I’ve visited. In particular, I was hoping we’d get in the door without someone wanting to search our diaper bag.