BRAIN DRAIN IN THE CHURCH: PART ONE

I am featuring guest posts this week, and this one is by my friend Dr. David Caddell.  David is a university professor and sociological heavyweight.  One of the most viewed posts on the Pastor Greenbean blog was one he wrote back in 2012 called Political Insanity.  I’ve broken this blog by David into two posts because there is more information in here than one post can handle in here.  This is Part One.  Click here for Part Two.

I was excited when Jamie asked me to contribute to his blog once again. As one of my dearest friends, Jamie

Sociology Stud
Sociology Stud

has a way of sensing when my head is about ready to explode because I have not had the chance to write about a particular issue we have been discussing. As Jamie always had plenty of ideas to write about on his own, I can only assume he is allowing this for the sake of my own mental stability. Regardless of Jamie’s motives, I hope you benefit. If not benefited, I pray you are challenged.

That Awkward Moment…

Just prior to Thanksgiving last year, I was sitting in our Bible study group at our church, accompanied by my wife and my in-laws. The topic of the day was Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus in John 3, where Jesus instructs the religious leader that he must be born of the Spirit in order to see the Kingdom. Of course, Nicodemus finds Jesus’ logic confusing—after all, who wouldn’t?

What surprised me was how quickly the group’s attention became fixed on the following passage from John 3:9-12:

Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?

My surprise was not at the quote itself, although the rest of the first twenty verses of John 3 carry so much freight for consideration in terms of Christian theology and lifestyle. Instead, my discomfort came from how several of the group members (while others remained silent) used this passage to demonstrate how intellect and education obscures one’s ability to see and understand spiritual realities. One brother expounded on this sentiment by stating that this is especially true of people who are educated in “those northern universities.” He was very intentional to point out, however, that the problem related to “thinking too much” is nearly universal.

It might sound odd, but I was neither surprise or offended by his comments. I hear these sentiments frequently within the church, as I have for the past twenty-five years. I would find it amusing if I was not so saddened by what this anti-intellectualism means for the future of the church. Much of the writing that Jamie and I have done over the past few years has grown out of our concern over this anti-intellectual bias, or perhaps a non-reflective approach toward studying the scriptures that has dominated much of evangelical Protestantism, leading to the “de-skilling” of Biblical and doctrinal teaching in the churches. Those who have little intellectual preparation to teach the scriptures are routinely placed in positions where such preparation is necessary.

Wait just a minute! If a faithful member of the Body feels God’s call to teach, should she or he not be allowed to do so, trusting that God will give them all the preparation they need? I think not. I would suggest that if someone truly senses the call of God, they will certainly not resist any opportunity to gain the requisite preparation for whatever calling they have envisioned. If someone who plays no musical instrument at all were to feel God’s call to play the guitar on Sunday morning during worship, it’s laughable to think that person would be handed a guitar for the worship service and expect God to reward a lack preparation and practice. Yet, we do this very thing when it comes to the vital function of teaching in the church.

Elitist?  Oh I Hope Not

Does this sound elitist? I would be surprised if it did not. It even offends my own egalitarian sensibilities. Yet, I am unrepentant. While we may prefer the democratic, egalitarian social notions that all individuals are equally valuable to God and His work, we need to examine these notions in a more Biblically nuanced way. First of all, we may like the idea that God considers us all equally worthy, but nothing could be more unbiblical. According to the scriptures, any value we have is not inherent or natural, but bestowed on us by God Himself. Nowhere in the Christian Bible is it even implied that God loves us because we are indeed worthy of love, or even have any inherent value. Quite the opposite. God loves us because God is love. Thus, whatever value each individual possesses resides in God, not in persons. This hardly gives any scriptural grounds to suggest that all individual gifts or talents are equal. In fact, C. S. Lewis proposes that the inequality we experience within the Body of Christ is as much redemptive as it is part of God’s plan. Besides suggesting that the authority of the learned over the simple is as part of the original plan as the authority of man over beast, Lewis gives a wonderful analogy when he suggests that

Equality is a quantitative term and therefore love often knows nothing of it. Authority exercised with humility and obedience accepted with delight are the very lines along which our spirits live. Even in the life of the affections, much more in the Body of Christ, we step outside that world which says “I am as good as you.” It is like turning from a march to a dance. It is like taking off our clothes. We become, as Chesterton said, taller when we bow; we become lowlier when we instruct. It delights me that there should be moments in the services of my own Church when the priest stands and I kneel. As democracy becomes more complete in the outer world and opportunities for reverence are successively removed, the refreshment, the cleansing, and invigorating returns to inequality, which the Church offers us, become more necessary. (C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory)

So, while I would suggest that all in the Body should be extended the same love that God, in Christ, has shown us, I also propose that a more realistic (if less romantic) view of the relative giftedness of all of our individual members.

Click here for Part Two

A CURRENT PROJECT: ROMANS

In the wee hours of the morning I worked on a forthcoming book my friend David Caddell and I have been working on for a couple of years.  We hope to have it published this year.  This morning’s post is the section I wrote today on the issue of sufffering from Romans 8:31-36. 

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      . . . Paul’s point is that nothing can separate the redeemed from Christ’s love and allegiance to them.  This, as Achtemeier asserts, should be the end of any belief that hardship and persecution is indicative of God’s rejection.  In fact, it is the love of Christ which makes enduring these hardships possible.

      More is going on here than theology.  Suffering is the one aspect of the human condition that everyone faces.  Sometimes the suffering is in a hospital room or in a bedroom.  Other times suffering is at the hands of oppressors with ideology or religions with theology.  Suffering comes in many different forms:  Physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, and existential.

      In the “happiness is godliness” tradition of the Western Evangelical church we have glossed over this part of our heritage far too much.  As a result, often pastoral ministry has no real answer for those who suffer, because ministers do not think through the issue.  We affirm that God does not create the suffering, but instead he uses suffering that occurs for his purposes.  There are three such  purposes which illuminate our understanding of suffering. 

    The first purpose of suffering is to draw us closer to Christ.  In our suffering we share in the fellowship of his suffering.  This is what Paul describes in Philippians 3, especially in verse 10.  The second purpose of suffering is punishment.  Again, we don’t like to think about this because all suffering is not punishment, but certainly some suffering is punishment.  We must note, especially given the above reference form Achtemeier that punishment is not the same as rejection.  God punishes those he loves.  This is the point the writer of Hebrews makes to his audience as he references Proverbs 3:11-12.

It is for discipline that you have to endure.  God is treating you as sons.  For what son is there whom his father does not discipline.  If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. (Hebrews 12:7-8)

 

It seems to us there is at least one other function of suffering which Christ uses in our lives.  This could be called the ‘weeding out’ function.  In the midst of great suffering people either turn toward the Lord or they turn farther away from him.  Few people in the midst of pain and turmoil remain the same in their attitude toward the Almighty.  We have observed that two Christians who go through similar pain and suffering will come out of the suffering going in different directions.  One will be drawn in deeper fellowship, the other will often walk away, bitter and angry that God allowed such pain to come.  This might be what Peter was getting at when he wrote:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed . . . Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.  For it is time for judgment to begin at the house of God. (1 Peter 4:12-14, 16-17a.)

 

      In verse 36, Paul quotes Psalm 44:22 as an example of the historic suffering of God’s people.  This Psalm is used in reference to an incident described in 2 Maccabees 7, in which an entire family is tortured and executed for their . . .

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I’ll keep you posted on the book in the future.  We are just now in editing phase and should finish before the winter is over.

AN ORIGINAL

Pastor Greenbean spent a considerable amount of time yesterday working on his upcoming book.  It is a collaborative effort with my very good friend, David Caddell.  What we are doing is reading the Book of Romans and then interacting with it from our separate disciplines.  He is a sociologist and an expert in the first century cultural context.  I read it as a pastor and churchman with one eye on our culture today.  The book is, all except for the foreword, finished.  We have close to 380 pages of manuscript.  What I was working on is editing.

I was also doing a little tweaking as I was working with Romans 5.  Particularly troublesome is Romans 5:12, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death, spread to all men because all sinned.  When I write troublesome I do not mean the Bible is in trouble, what I mean is how I understand the passage is troublesome.  This is the classic passage where the doctrine of original sin is defended and taught.

Of course, original sin does not mean creative sinning, but the “origin” of sin.  Everything has a beginning and the beginning of sin is Adam.  That I’m okay with, but what I’m not really okay with is the history of this passage in trying to locate sin as a biological reality.  Sin did not originate with Adam as a chromo-spiritual defect.  I know many fine Calvinist people whom I love and respect would disagree with me, but in my mind that just can’t be what Paul is talking about.

What David and I argue is that the key to unlocking this meaning is not biology or heredity but instead communal solidarity.  The ancient mind, much more than the individual obsessed mind of the western world today, had much more of a group identity.  Adam, therefore, represents humanity as a group the way Abraham represents Jews as a group or President Obama represents Americans as a group.

What I am finding troublesome, and still working through is that both of these—the biological spiritual defect of classic original sin thought, as well as the communal aspects of group identity—let me off the hook as an individual for my particular sin.  If Adam did it then I can claim some sort of spiritual disability but it is truly not my fault.  If it is a corporate identity then I am off the hook again.  One explanation is “He did it” and the other explanation is “We did it.”

But I know that the truth is, “I did it.”  Adam did not think that thought for me, neither did the whole group stand there and listen to that gossip the other day.  I did.

Maybe Paul writes about Adam as a stand in for me.  That is why Jesus died on the cross—to save me, the sinner; not just to save Adam.  He didn’t die for Adam alone, but for me (and you too).

I am the origin of my own sin and as such I bring sin into the world.  In the end, I am no different from Adam.  Perhaps instead of using “Adam” Paul could have just left a fill-in-the-blank with the instructions [Your Name Here].