Posts Tagged ‘Michael Newnham’

Mark Driscoll sees things, etc.

August 17, 2011 3 comments

Let’s just take it as read that I’ve seen this five-minute clip:

Because I have; and I owe Michael Newnham [link] the usual debt of gratitude.

I’m reserving judgment until I can see the clip in context; it’s five minutes from an unknown source. It looks like it was shot with a single stationary camera, and Driscoll was speaking to a small audience; I couldn’t even tell you what his source text was. So until I can see the source (hour? half-hour? whatever) I’m going to reserve judgment.

Well mostly. I am a pretty poor New Testament scholar, but I couldn’t identify which of the Pauline gifts Driscoll is referring to here. Surely he’s not going off-text and inventing a gift out of his own experience, etc.


Categories: Media Tags: ,

a quick note about Charles Bowden

August 17, 2011 1 comment

I am still looking for someone who can explain the ongoing unrest in Mexico in terms that make sense to me. Because Michael Newham thinks so highly of Charles Bowden, and on the basis of a couple of things I’d read by Bowden, I thought he might be that guy.

I heard an excerpt of the presentation above on an ABC Radio National podcast first [link], and if I heard him correctly he said some pretty sensible things (e.g. there are things about the dominant media messages about the Mexican Drug War that don’t make much sense; the narrative in the right-leaning press that people entering the US from Mexico on foot are vectors for drugs and violence doesn’t make much sense; etc.).

Unfortunately he also seems to talk about the social cost of alcohol and the imagined social cost of legal marijuana as if they were the same thing, and he talks about the legalization of drugs generally as being the solution to the Mexican Drug war without dealing with any differences between the legalization of marijuana (which, I understand, isn’t really the drug being sold by Mexican drug lords anyway) and the legalization of heroin (which, I understand, is). If he really doesn’t personally make these distinctions, and he’s not just saying these things because they make for stronger talking points, I have to wonder (wait for it) what he’s been smoking.


some early analysis on Detwiler, Mahaney, Harris, et al

July 12, 2011 1 comment

I was waiting for a conference call to start when I visited Michael Newnham’s blog Phoenix Preacher and found his article noting [link] that C. J. Mahaney is on hiatus and offering that it’s because the Brent Detwiler paper trail is now available for download at Scribd [link].

Peter Smith offers a perspective piece in the Louisville, Kentucky Courier-Journal [link]. This is a good-not-great piece; Smith appears to be focusing on Al Mohler’s take on the situation and the Sovereign Grace Ministries position on male church leadership in a way that clutters the narrative, but he manages to identify most of the major players and distill their contribution into a soundbite.

I would recommend downloading the Detwiler archive, despite the fact that Scribd requires signup for download. It’s 600+ pages of PDFs; I may cache a copy here if I get time to read it closely and offer more opinion. At first glance it’s pretty sloggy stuff: I have a hard time imagining that grownups in the 21st Century really speak to one another this way. There’s a lot of Christianese, for lack of a better term, and sometimes it’s hard to tell how it would correspond to plain English if it could be translated. If you are (as I am) the sort of person who considers stuff like “you invalidated my feelings” mumbo jumbo you’re in for some rough sledding here.

I am only marginally interested in this particular scandal. There are no SGM churches in New Mexico, and while I believe modern evangelicalism has a sickness unto death I think the new Calvinist movement is at best retrograde, so I can’t imagine ever attending an SGM church if one were to be planted here.

That being said, I am inclined to say this sort of crisis, for lack of a better word, was probably inevitable. The Young Restless Reformed cultural movement, for lack of a more euphonious term, isn’t a return to the roots of Protestantism; it’s a new movement, and as such it needs to learn things the hard way in the same way all new movements do. It’s no surprise that this would be their crisis, either: Reformed types take most of their theology from Paul the Apostle, and tend to be a bit authoritarian. That SGM is a “church network” rather than a denomination solves some problems and creates others; in particular, because it has a lean (not to say opaque) authority structure invites bad behavior on the part of leaders. Those are the choices they made; these are the consequences of those choices.

I have to admit I don’t have high hopes for the trouble here being resolved correctly. I’m not a fan of Josh Harris, and I don’t think he’s up to the task of leading SGM through this crisis. Everything I’ve read by or about him has led me to believe that he’s shallow and immature, and he’s the sort of person who would say all the right things from the pulpit while permitting all the wrong things to be done offstage, not least because he’s the leader and the most important thing to him is continuity of operations. I hope I’m wrong: that he has a depth I haven’t seen, that he’s teachable, and that he’ll learn and do the right things during this episode.


Kevin Roose on Ted Haggard

February 10, 2011 Leave a comment

As I’m sure everybody knows by now Kevin Roose interviewed Ted Haggard and wrote a substantial piece about it for GQ Magazine [link], and Sarah Pulliam Bailey has written a pretty good summary at GetReligion [link]. Bailey correctly points out that Roose has done good work here in going back and filling in some gaps in our understanding of what exactly caused Haggard to leave New Life Church in Colorado Springs.

Let me say first of all that even though Haggard was head of the National Association of Evangelicals he didn’t mean much to me as an evangelical. This is something that folks in the media don’t seem to understand about evangelicals: we tend to get our themes and talking points top-down, but we don’t follow our so-called leaders in a way that fits the popular political narrative. But that’s another topic for another day. Instead, I had heard of Haggard in an episode of This American Life [link], and I’d seen his bizarre appearance in the already bizarre documentary Jesus Camp. It wasn’t entirely clear to me from those media appearances that Haggard was actually a Christian, much less an evangelical. In retrospect I’m willing to chalk that up to editing, narrative restrictions, etc.

But when Haggard left New Life I felt I’d seen that particular movie before, because the plot seemed so familiar:

  • Pastor gets caught up in scandal that’s distasteful enough that nobody will actually say what he did
  • Church leaders fire pastor; important aspects of severance agreement are undisclosed
  • Many rumors rush into information vacuum; various stories fail to completely line up
  • Former pastor, church leaders repeatedly claim the other side is misrepresenting him/them
  • Church broadly divides into four camps: loyalists to each side, the don’t-cares, and the disillusioned
  • Two camps stay, two camps go
  • Pastor re-enters the ministry, possibly with a triumphant return to his old church
  • Both the former pastor and his former church soldier on with mixed success

We definitely got most of this basic template in this story, especially when Gayle Haggard resurfaced with her book and Ted appeared to contradict some of the established story, saying that he never did some of the things the leaders at New Life said he did. I don’t know where you saw this, but I saw some of it at Phoenix Preacher [link], see also [link]; unfortunately Haggard’s appearance and comments are no longer available, having as best I can tell been archived with the old Phoenix Preacher site.

The facts of the story, as best I can tell, go like this: Haggard was in Denver and asked his hotel concierge to recommend someone who could give him a massage. The concierge recommended Mike Jones, who turned out to be a prostitute and drug dealer. Haggard purchased drugs from Jones on a handful of occasions, as well as receiving one or more massages from Jones that were not strictly speaking therapeutic massages. Haggard also took  crystal meth.

As best I can tell Haggard and his wife are aggrieved at his dismissal by the church leaders. It has never been clear to me what the Haggards expected was going to happen when his behavior came to light. He never actually says that he expected to be retained at full salary as pastor while having sexual encounters with both his wife and at least one man and at the same time experimenting with hard drugs, but I can’t figure how else to interpret his actions and comments over the last several years.

Roose focuses more on the sexual side of this story than he does on say the drug issue or the church organization issue. This isn’t surprising; Roose is at some level aiming for a gripping read rather than doing a longitudinal study, or whatever. And he took a somewhat similar tack in his book about Liberty University. I’m left with the impression, however, that Haggard isn’t actively addicted to crystal meth: this many years of heavy use would have damaged his smile, for example, and Roose notes that while rectangular Haggard’s smile is apparently intact.

I am personally more interested in the church organization issues surrounding the Haggard story. I can’t figure how a man with as many responsibilities as Haggard must have had (dealing with both NAE and New Life matters) had enough unsupervised free time to carry on a relationship with a masseur in Denver when he lived in Colorado Springs, more than an hour away. I’m also a little surprised that he knew who to ask when he wanted a particular kind of massage, and didn’t have a church functionary/handler/flunky/whatever around to serve as a deterrent. There must be a lot about the lifestyle of a high-profile preacher I don’t understand.

But more than that, I’d be more interested in figuring out how to avoid people (preachers) like Haggard generally, and I’m not sure how much we can learn from this story that’s helpful. I mean, everyone is tempted to terrible sins, but not everyone succumbs. And there are lots of preachers who are in positions not very different from Haggard’s at New Life, and certainly not all of them feel entitled to boyfriends and recreational drugs, much less partake of either one. Surely there must be visible warning signs, and they can’t all be as remote from the final result as, say, Haggard’s fascination with “grid praying.”

Nazario Moreno, John Eldredge, and “muscular Christianity”

December 21, 2010 2 comments

I do not pay a lot of attention to the Mexican Drug War, in spite of the fact that it qualifies according to most people who pay attention to this sort of thing as a real war [link], is in danger of causing Mexico to qualify as a failed state, and is just a five-hour van ride from my house [link]. Michael Newham, owner and sole proprietor of the Phoenix Preacher blog [link] pays a lot more attention to these things than I do, and keeps up with much of the news coming from the conflict.Michael and I tend to disagree on how the Mexican Drug War should be viewed; he sees it as primarily a spiritual conflict with public policy implications; I tend to see it as a public policy problem with spiritual implications.

Over the weekend an article from The Economist [link] surfaced in my news feed that mentioned the death of Nazario Moreno, until recently the head of La Familia/La Familia Michoacán [link], a drug gang noted partly for their brutality and partly for their embracing of the works of American evangelical writer John Eldredge [link]. Eldredge for his part does not return their admiration, as articles on the connection take varying degrees of care to state [link, link, link]. In its simplest form, the relationship between La Familia and Eldredge goes like this: Moreno was both a professed Christian and a drug lord, read at least one of Eldredge’s books on what is sometimes called “muscular Christianity,” appropriated at least some of Eldredge’s concept of the Christian man as a (dominating) man of action, and applied it to his chosen field of work as drug lord with brutal consequences.

For the record I don’t think this one little point necessarily means my analysis of the Mexican Drug War is better or worse than Newhham’s: I think he suggests that some sort of Christian revival would end the drug war; I’d be inclined to claim that it wouldn’t if the various believers involved in the revival didn’t leave and resist the drug trade. I mean, I don’t really believe anyone can be both a Christian and a drug lord, but I’m not sure I’d make that claim foundational to my soteriology.

Also, for the record, the modern “muscular Christianity” shares a name and some characteristics with a Victorian movement [link], but the two aren’t closely related: one was primarily a mainline Protestant phenomenon, the other is primarily evangelical/nondenominational. There’s probably no good reason to bring up Tom Brown at Oxford when discussing e.g. Mark Driscoll. Teddy Roosevelt yes, Mark Driscoll no.

Various authors have taken Eldredge to task for recasting God in his own image and for presenting a loosely-defined “biblical manhood” that doesn’t really start or end with the Gospel. From having read a couple of his books (Wild at Heart and The Journey of Desire) I think I’d have to suggest that Eldredge also tends to adopt biblical stories that are historical as illustrative without good reason. Of the three points mine’s probably the palest.

Anyway, the strange case of Nazario Moreno gives me pause; it seems crazy on its face to read books on biblical masculinity and apply the lessons learned to running a drug gang, but honestly I have a hard time seeing it as anything other than a weird isotope of Jesus CEO [link].

podcasts: good, bad, and ugly

September 10, 2010 1 comment

It’s finally time to talk about podcasts I currently listen to. Please remember that as a former fundamentalist I don’t feel the need to listen only to content I agree with. Here they are in more or less alphabetical order by name:

  • The Dividing Line with James White; this is the only one of the bunch that isn’t primarily a radio show. White is a self-styled Reformed Baptist apologist and is apparently making a living as an author and speaker; so far as I know he isn’t compensated for his work as an elder at his church, and he isn’t currently teaching anywhere. White is probably the most plain-spoken of this bunch, the least given to jargon, and the least caught up in his own worldview. He’s a self-taught expert on Mormonism, Islam, Roman Catholicism, “KJV-Onlyism” (Ruckmanism), and textual variants. He’s also kind of a jerk, and his harangues can get a bit old after a while, especially when he’s playing excerpts from one of his upcoming debate opponents and offering commentary. On the other hand, he does at least listen to his opponents, which sets him apart from much of the field, and makes an attempt to understand their point of view. And he seems to understand that he’s part of a tradition, too.
  • Issues Etc. with Todd Wilken. This is a former LCMS media product that got turned loose a couple of years ago; I’ve only heard the IE side of the story, where they claim to have been let go because they’re too Lutheran, not on board with creeping seeker sensitivity in the LCMS, etc. Wilken mostly follows the hidebound Lutheran line that not much interesting has been said since Martin Luther died, and sometimes his guests are even more conservative than he is. I tuned in after hearing repeatedly from Lutherans at Michael Newnham’s Phoenix Preacher blog that the LCMS had it all sorted out. Wilken rarely surprises me since I know where he’s coming from: he doesn’t ask fair questions, he only asks questions that lead to a Lutheran response. In that way he reminds me of some of the people I hear on Sacred Heart Radio. I really don’t understand why Christians who aren’t Lutherans appear on his show. He apparently dislikes evangelicals generally, and rarely represents their views fairly and typically refers to them as “Pop American Evangelicals” or what they believe as “Pop American Christianity.” I get the impression he doesn’t know any of these people he labels and doesn’t understand them at all. I dislike Wilken and think he gives the LCMS a bad name, but he has interesting guests and creates a safe place for them to say things I’m surprised anyone says.
  • Renewing Your Mind with R. C. Sproul; Sproul talks a fairly straightforward Reformed line and lightly covers a wide range of topics. Each episode is 26:25 long, and the first 6 and last 5 minutes can be safely skipped because they’re either pleas for money or announcer boilerplate. In the remaining 15 minutes Sproul can be relied on to vary very little from the standard Reformed line. He’s up front about the fact that he’s Reformed, but (unlike James White) doesn’t seem to realize just how deeply into his own tradition he is. Virtually every episode gives me a real take-away, a morsel to chew on, but most of the time is spent waiting for that morsel. His son R. C. Sproul Jr. creeps me out; I don’t understand why Sr. has Jr. on his show, and I consider Jr. to be Exhibit A in an argument against sons following their fathers into the ministry.
  • Unbelievable? with Justin Brierley; this is an hour-long debate-format show from the UK that traditionally pits a Christian against a non-believer of some sort: an atheist, someone from another faith, an apostate or a self-styled eclectic whatsit. There are typically four segments: introduction, a basic, typically civil back-and-forth between two parties, the addition of a third party that is sometimes on one side or the other, sometimes not, and listener mail/comment. I rarely listen to an entire episode. There’s definitely a UK focus to the show, and lots of attention is given to issues involving and surrounding Richard Dawkins and the other UK New Atheists. Rare among Christian podcasts in that Brierley lets non-believers speak for and explain themselves.
  • The White Horse Inn with Michael Horton et al. This is the dreaded preacher’s roundtable show, featuring men from several Protestant traditions, at least a couple former evangelicals. I tend to agree with Horton that there is something terribly wrong with contemporary American evangelical Christianity, but I’m not sure that he’s got it entirely (or necessarily accurately) diagnosed as “moralistic therapeutic deism.” Because this is a pastor’s roundtable they rarely really disagree with one another, so there is typically a lot of finger-pointing at absent parties, and not surprisingly the solutions they propose tend to involve more people attending their churches, listening to and agreeing with them, accepting their authority, etc.

There is definitely a Reformed/Calvinist/Lutheran flavor to the items above; I guess I would have to say that across this spectrum there’s a common belief that something’s terribly wrong with contemporary American evangelical Christianity (especially where it intersects with Charismatic and Pentecostal traditions), and that it can be fixed by leaving evangelicalism for these traditions. I tend to agree that there’s a problem, but that they’re definitely not the solution.

I hate to say this, but I get the impression that I’m hearing a monologue from a dead church directed at a dying church, and I don’t know what to make of it.

BrianD blog

July 8, 2010 1 comment

Brian of BrianD blog was kind enough to link here after I commented over there the other day and I’m returning the favor.

Brian and I go back a couple of years from our shared time at Phoenix Preacher, a blog run by former Calvary Chapel pastor Michael Newnham, and a home for wayward (and occasionally not-so-wayward) current and former evangelicals. I like Brian a lot and have had some good exchanges with him online; if I remember correctly he’s a former evangelical, and he’s increasingly Reformed. Me not so much.