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Mars Hill Albuquerque?

October 31, 2010 6 comments

I’ve gotten so far behind in reading blogs that my Google Reader article count just says “TILT.” I got a few minutes a few days ago and found a month-old Linkathon from the BrianD blog [link] that mentioned that Mars Hill Church has opened a campus (their term, not mine) in Albuquerque [link, link].

I have mostly ignored Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill; I don’t think they’re doing anything special. They’ve surfaced twice in my reading: once in Andrew Beaujon’s book Body Piercing Saved My Life [link], and again in Lauren Sandler’s book Righteous [link]. For the record, I think Sandler asks better questions and gives better coverage of Mars Hill; Beaujon’s is the friendlier, more readable book.

Anyway, everything I’ve read about Driscoll/Mars Hill suggests to me that they’re a by-the-book megachurch with a Reformed sheen, and like most megachurches they’re personality-driven, and will probably face a terrible crisis when Driscoll dies or does something awful.  Please note: I’m not wishing anything evil on them (any more than I do say Crystal Cathedral), I’m just saying I think I’ve seen this movie before, and this is just the first reel.

I’ve read through the article at the second link above, the one BrianD actually linked to, and I can’t see anything in the justification for starting this new enterprise that doesn’t sound like management-speak larded with Christianese. What they’re actually doing at the Lobo Theater, in the Nob Hill neighborhood (not actually downtown, but east of UNM) three times each Sunday is watching the service from Seattle on a one-week delay. So this isn’t a church plant; Mars Hill, for all its use of language out of the Book of Acts, isn’t recognizing a calling for a young pastor and sending him out as a missionary. Instead this dynamic new leader will be a branch manager of a new franchise that isn’t just marketing the same message, but exactly the same words the folks at Seattle are hearing.

I’m not a fan of video campus churches generally; I think they tend to make the pastor of the home church less accountable to the people who attend the church in the  same way a radio or television ministry would have twenty-five or fifty years ago. They tend to weaken the church as a local church and make the preacher more of a media personality. I don’t understand why if the folks at Mars Hill thought so highly of Dave Bruskas and had such a burden for Albuquerque they didn’t sponsor him as a missionary.

And I can’t figure why they’d pick Albuquerque; it’s not like Albuquerque doesn’t already have its fair share of big impersonal churches and forward-thinking church-concept churches. It already has Calvary Albuquerque, Hoffmantown Church (formerly Hoffmantown Baptist), Sagebrush Community Church, Legacy Church, First Family, and a number of places with names so interchangeable I can’t remember them from the last time I saw them on a billboard on I-25. Rio Rancho already has an Orthodox Presbyterian church and Albuquerque has Redeemer (Reformed). I really do wonder what deep spiritual need Mars Hill thought was going unmet in the Albuquerque metro area that could be met most effectively by seeing Mark Driscoll once a week on a movie screen.

Regardless, simple curiosity demands I hie myself down to the Lobo Theater one Sunday morning soon and see what’s going on. I’m still open to the possibility that Mars Hill is the new wine and I’m an old wineskin, or whatever.

Harold Camping: Family Radio

October 30, 2010 4 comments

I have spent some time in New Jersey recently on business, and ended up listening to local radio as I always do. I’m fascinated by the American Christian media matrix generally and I’m always grateful for a chance to dip into the local media landscape outside my home turf here in the Southwest. Sometimes my rental car comes equipped with a satellite radio receiver, and I’ll dip into the religious programming on SIRIUS/XM. There’s FamilyNet [link], which is typically as bland and corporate as can be; it’s sort of the Wal-Mart of evangelical radio. There are two Roman Catholic channels: The Catholic Channel and EWTN. And there’s occasional programming with religious discussion on OutQ Gay Radio, POTUS Politics, and SIRIUS Patriot, but it is rarely worth chasing, and it’s more about “what does group X mean for public policy?” anyway.

Sometimes however my rental car doesn’t have satellite radio and once I’m more than ten miles from Newark-Liberty International Airport the media landscape thins out a bit and I can pick out WFME 94.7FM Newark, a Family Radio station [link]. This is the New York City market station for Harold Camping’s Family Radio.

Harold Camping has recently gotten a lot of attention online and elsewhere for having called a date for the Rapture [link] in 2011; I believe he has also called a date for the end of the world in 2012.

The programming on WFME is an interesting mix; without its focus on 2011 it might have come right out of the 1950s. The music is very conservative, mostly settings of Scripture passages with piano and organ accompaniment; conservative refugees from the worship wars might find it refreshing. There’s traffic and weather in the morning, and in the evening there’s Open Forum, where Camping himself takes questions from listeners, mostly in written form, and on most topics Camping’s responses are a bit authoritarian but otherwise conservative and orthodox. He tends to take a very literal approach to Scripture and presents fairly linear arguments sprinkled with appeals to authority, as one might expect from someone with a background in the Christian Reformed Church [link], a Dutch Reformed offshoot, and a degree in engineering.

His otherwise linear, fairly modern approach to Scripture makes his Rapture call, based on his own numerological calculation [link] surprising.

As a modern Christian, with as I’ve noted elsewhere, a foot in the premodern world and a foot in the modern world, I’m put off by allegorical teaching (e.g. taking as the basis for a sermon the idea that Noah’s dove is a representation of the Holy Spirit) and numerology. I realize, though, that many other orthodox believers throughout Church history have found it helpful, etc. so I tend to leave it alone unless and until other believers attempt to make it definitive and normative. In other words, I’m inclined to say Camping’s entitled to his own opinion until he starts declaring those of us who disagree with him apostate.

Which is pretty much what he’s done. I happened to catch an 11PM show earlier this week where another voice (not Camping; I have no idea who) was dealing with the objection that “no man knows the day or the hour” of the Rapture. He also gave a date for the end of the Church Age (coincidentally it was in 1988, the same year Camping left the CRCNA) and said that everyone who is affiliated with a local church when the Rapture comes will be left behind. In other words, now that the Church Age has ended anyone who is still in church is apostate.

I suppose that would be an explanation for why it’s so difficult to find a good church these days. I doubt he’s right, though.

 

William P. Farley: Gospel-Powered Parenting

October 29, 2010 Leave a comment

I got a few hours on a couple of planes yesterday and was among other things able to finish Farley’s book, so I have a better perspective on the whole thing than I did when I wrote my earlier post. In some ways I’m not sure I’d be as hard on him as I was earlier; in other ways I’ll probably be harder on him knowing what he said in the whole book. I’ll apologize in advance if this turns out to be dull, but I will probably be camped out in this rather minor book for a while.

Back in the Seventies, the last time current trends in child-rearing mattered to me, there was an ongoing dialogue in the churches my family attended between the pulpit and its portrayal of Dr Spock and other similar modern theories of childhood development. They basically went like this: “The culture will tell you that your children are basically good, but they’re not. They’re little sinners. So you need to spank them.” There were variants of this, but that was the most basic. Others included “and the government will try to stop you” or “it isn’t the school/church/government’s responsibility to raise your kid,” but the basic message was that we as conservative Christians believed that people were basically evil; the corrupt culture surrounding us believed people were basically good; corporal punishment was our right and responsibility.

In the intervening time this basic message has been tempered somewhat with “don’t abuse your kids;” even James Dobson in revisions of Dare to Discipline [link] takes pains to point this out, going so far as to offer examples of things that are abusive.

So I guess I should have not been surprised to see Farley declare early “I’m not going to give you parenting techniques” (page 69) yet recommend spanking repeatedly over the course of the last hundred or so pages of the book. He also name-checks “provoke not your children to wrath” but like most conservative commentators doesn’t really explain what Paul was getting at, choosing instead to focus on obedience and discipline. He also repeats his own version of “the culture believes kids are basically good but we know better.”

I’m going to have to suggest here that neither of these claims is helpful. As Christians we don’t believe that man is basically evil; we believe that the human race is fallen and that every individual needs a Savior. We say we believe that a Christian undergoes a lifelong process of sanctification, while non-believers do not. We occasionally pay lip service to setting boundaries around individuals because of their tendency to sin, but we don’t apply that standard uniformly. In other words, we tend to think that people are sinful and for that reason they need a Savior.

In the broader culture, however, it’s a stretch to say that it is widely believed that people are basically good. Most people I’ve actually asked the simple question — “Are people basically good or are they basically evil?” — will claim they have never thought about the question before, don’t understand what it means, etc. In other words, the broader culture does not think about this basic question, rather than thinking the opposite. In the conservative Church our primarily narrative starts with the idea that each individual needs a Savior; that’s the Gospel. In the broader culture the primary narrative starts with the rights of the individual, or personal freedom, or some such.

Farley doesn’t really take on the issue of abuse. I think it would be more reasonable to say his book isn’t really about parenting (it’s about theology and some of its implications, with some of his own insights added), so he doesn’t deal with lots of parenting questions. He mentions that a child is probably too young to understand the Gospel before the age of five, and he says he regrets having spanked his daughter when she was fourteen, but he doesn’t offer any real definition of abuse.

And he doesn’t touch “spare the rod and spoil the child.” Go figure.

Categories: Books Tags: ,

William P. Farley: Gospel-Powered Parenting

October 28, 2010 Leave a comment

One of the great puzzles for me as a modern Christian is in connecting the theological (the way I think as a Christian) and the practical (what I do because I am a Christian). This basic problem surfaces everywhere: with money; with interpersonal relationships; with politics; etc. but it seems like one of the areas where there’s the most discussion (and where the most books are written) is in the area of parenting and child-rearing. I wouldn’t dare hazard a guess whether this is because parenting is so difficult, or because it’s often so hard to tell good advice from bad, or because it’s such a profitable market.

I sometimes wonder how people raised children before Dr Benjamin Spock, because it seems like everything I hear nowadays is several battles along in an ongoing war with Spock and his successors. From the conservative Christian side there is a narrative that takes it as read that when Spock arrived on the scene there was a kind of Copernican revolution, where the discussion went from centering on God (and His nature) to centering on the child (and his nature, growth, and development), and it is the duty of every conservative Christian parent to get back to the God-centered way of doing things. The problem being, of course, that it’s not that simple, and it is unhelpful to pretend that it is.

I wish I could remember where I heard about Farley’s book Gospel-Powered Parenting: How the Gospel Shapes and Transforms Parenting. It must have been from some Reformed source, since Farley has all the trappings of a modern West Coast Reformed type: the title of his book has the word “Gospel” in it, he starts his discussion of proper parenting with a description of the sovereignty and holiness of God, his church has “Grace” in its name, and he’s based in Spokane. I picked a copy of his book from Amazon [link] because I keep hoping that someone will do a good job of getting the two things (the theological and the practical) to connect, and e.g. follow through on the promise made in Farley’s book.

Have you seen a parenting book recently? The secular ones are massive things with lots of detail, guidelines, answers to specific questions, etc. The Baby Book, by William and Martha Sears, weighs in at over 750 pages; What To Expect The First Year, by Arlene Eisenberg, over 650 pages. Farley’s book, on the other hand, is 233 pages, including endnotes. That should have been my first clue that either Farley isn’t talking about the same things the Searses and Ms Eisenberg are talking about, or he isn’t delving into them in the same detail.

Sure enough about 30 pages in Farley hauls out the “God-centered” vs. “child-centered” distinction and gives it his own gloss. He goes to the trouble to draw us a picture of “God-centered” and “child-centered” families, as concentric circles with in one case the children in the center, the parents the middle circle, and God the outer circle (that’s the “child-centered” family) and in the other case God in the center circle, the parents in the middle circle, and the children the outer circle. Oddly he doesn’t explain the enclosing circles case by case, but instead describes the family that stops going to church so the kids can be involved in activities as a “child-centered” family and a family that requires their kids to schedule activities around church as a “God-centered” family.

The odd thing about this, of course, is that he’s substituted church things for God and hasn’t bothered to explain how or why that makes sense. This is a common sleight-of-hand I find in Christian books and I wonder when I find them if I’m missing something or if the author is missing something. But that’s another topic for another post, as is the question of what it means for the “child” circle to enclose the “parents” circle. Farley doesn’t take this topic on directly either, so I may defer it to a discussion of that champion of Christian child-rearing, Gary Ezzo.

I’m not done with Farley, but so far I am under the impression that what he’s done is reduced parenting to a theological exercise. What I’m going to do in the rest of my posts on Farley’s book is try to figure out whether that’s a reasonable thing to do. I suspect that this is a case of Farley believing that because good theology is necessary that somehow good theology is sufficient, so he sees every question as fundamentally a theological question. I’m not sure.

 

Jerry Falwell Jr. vs. The City of Lynchburg

October 27, 2010 Leave a comment

I realize I’ve been talking a lot of inside baseball about Liberty recently, but please bear with me as I’m nearly done, at least for a while. For years I never thought about how Liberty got funded, because it was clear that I would never be involved; now that Jerry Falwell Jr is chancellor and changing how the school is funded I’m more interested, not least because Jerry Jr appears to be more interested in alumni dollars as a funding source.

The outside world tends to see Lynchburg as a very conservative place where Liberty (and Liberty people and their values) is normal. The truth, as it often is, is a bit more complicated. Some of the surrounding area is quite conservative, but Lynchburg itself has been less conservative than surrounding Amherst, Bedford, and Campbell counties for a long time. Light industry and white collar jobs have been bringing Yankees south for sixty or seventy years, and some of them got rich, became respectable, joined the country club, etc. and along the way made Lynchburg a bit more cosmopolitan or modern or liberal or what-have-you than the surrounding counties. I’d encourage interested parties to hunt down local columnist Darrell Laurant’s 1997 book A City Unto Itself [link], where he devotes several chapters to this trend. It’s not just interesting reading; it also gives some depth and context for understanding how Jerry Sr. was able to start a fundamentalist church in Lynchburg and draw thousands of people from the local community long before he started drawing people from outside the area.

There are also two other colleges in town: Lynchburg College and Randolph College, both of them more liberal than Liberty, each with its own subculture and center of gravity in Lynchburg society and politics.

And politics, particularly regarding public money (taxing and spending) is where all this theoretical discussion of relative liberality becomes practical. Jerry Jr as the sort of businessman-in-chief at Liberty is always trying to do what is best for Liberty’s bottom line; the city has its own priorities, and the two don’t always coincide [link]. So on occasion Jerry Jr tries to change the composition of the Council.

Lynchburg has four wards, each with one member representing it on City Council; there are three at-large seats as well [link]. The council chooses the mayor from among its members, so there are seven total seats. When the three at-large seats are up for re-election Jerry Jr tends to swing for the bleachers in an attempt to fill the Council with members who are sympathetic to him, Liberty, or both [link]. Unfortunately for him Liberty students and employees tend to be dispersed in Wards 3 and 4, where they don’t make much difference. Liberty students who live in town do not register and vote in large numbers; Liberty faculty by and large live out in the counties beyond Wards 3 and 4, where land and houses are cheaper and taxes are lower.

This past May Jerry Jr tried to get three seats on the Council, but got less than a thousand Liberty students to turn out to vote (less than 8% of resident students), even after having a special convocation encouraging them to vote and busing students to the appropriate polling place [link]. One recommended candidate, Hundson Cary III, was elected.

It’s hard to imagine the underlying trends changing direction any time soon; there are often tax implications for Liberty students who register to vote in Lynchburg, and there will probably not be enough Liberty faculty who will make enough money to move into the tonier neighborhoods in town to change ward politics. I could imagine that Liberty could grow enough that if 8% of the student population turned out to vote they could swing an election, but the trend at the school is to increase online enrollment rather than on-campus enrollment. Perhaps Jerry Jr would be well-served to learn to play nice with the other six members of City Council.

 

Liberty University and VTAG

October 26, 2010 Leave a comment

The State of Virginia is putting together a plan for funding higher education ahead of the next session of the General Assembly, and Richmond Times-Dispatch higher education reporter Karin Kapsidelis [link] has been covering it; some of her articles have been syndicated in the Lynchburg paper and drawn a fair number of comments because of their bearing on Liberty University, chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr, and the continuing complicated relationship between Jerry Jr, Virginia politics, etc.

I really appreciate the fact that the Richmond paper has a higher education beat writer, even if that’s not all Kapsidelis does [link]. I wish from time to time that the Lynchburg paper had a Liberty beat writer, someone who devoted their time to the complex and ever-changing relationship between the school and the town. Unfortunately, as News-Advance reporter Liz Barry pointed out here earlier, articles about Liberty in the Lynchburg paper tend to be short and written quickly, if I understood her correctly, because the paper (and its reporters) has other things to cover and only so much print space.

The Kapsidelis article that’s getting all the attention discusses money from a state program (Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant (VTAG)) going to private schools in the state, particularly to schools that are part of or overseen by religious organizations, and Liberty specifically. She is careful to say that the money is going from the state to students who spend the money at schools [link, link], even though the headlines on the articles could be read to suggest that the money is going directly from the state to Liberty University.

It’s easy to get hung up on the amount of money going to Liberty students, by far the largest of the schools listed, and has the largest number of TAG recipients by more than three to one versus the school receiving the next most money. There’s some variability in the amount per student that goes to various schools (from a minimum of $2197 to a maximum of $2916, with a mean of $2737) but Kapsidelis explains this well, too, by pointing out that graduate students receive less money, so the average per student will vary according to the mix of undergraduate and graduate students.

The comments on the various articles have gotten hung up on the question of whether public money should go to religious schools, and of course the question of the benefit to society of these students. I really have no idea what the latter issue means; the question of benefit to the state in terms of money spent by the schools and/or students seems fairly straightforward but is difficult to pin down: if a given student is getting$1500 or $3000 from the state does that student then turn around and spend enough with local merchants for the state to see the same dollars again as tax revenue? Is there some sort of multiplier effect? I really have no idea.

I hasten to point out that while $12 million would be a lot of money if it were in a single paper bag sitting on a street corner, it’s a relatively small part of Liberty’s budget: 3-4% of Liberty’s $300-400 million annual budget. The numbers from Liberty financial aid head Robert Ritz are helpful:

Ritz said Liberty awards $544 million in financial aid from federal, state and university resources, which includes student loans as well as grants. About $110 million of that financial aid last year was from Liberty funds.

I hadn’t seen this big number before, but the small number is familiar to anyone who looked at Liberty’s IRS form 990 last year.

For the record I’m not a big fan of the TAG program; on principle I’d rather see the state offer lower taxes than making strategic investments. But if students meet the criteria of the program (attending a nonprofit, accredited school; participating in a qualifying school program) I can’t figure why Liberty students should be disqualified.

Chapel Sayings of Bob Jones

October 25, 2010 1 comment

I had heard that this little artifact existed but never thought I’d see a picture of a copy [link]. It’s a 14-page collection of things Bob Jones Sr said from the pulpit at chapel at Bob Jones University over the years. A handful of quotes can be seen here [link]. It was published by Bob Jones University in 1976 but is apparently currently out of print. Instead the BJU Press offers a collection of posters with similar sayings [link].

This little document figures as Exhibit A in the case against Bob Jones University in Jeri Massi’s book Schizophrenic Christianity [link]. As I recall she took it to mean something unhealthy about Bob Jones (the man and the school) that such a book existed; her detractors thought she was making a mountain out of a molehill.

As a Liberty grad I feel I must confess that there is a relatively small, relatively mild cult of personality surrounding the late Jerry Falwell, but so far as I know people tend to speak kindly of one or two of the chapel sermons he gave essentially unchanged from year to year, but collections of his chapel sayings [link] are relatively rare and small.

Regardless, I’m thrilled to see that this little artifact exists, but not so thrilled I’d pay $3.50 plus $4 shipping and handling to read its 14 pages.