A Reflective Christian

All for God’s Kingdom

The Macrostructure of Paul’s epistle to the Romans

Romans, as one of the most oft debated books of the Bible, suffers from a plethora of interpretations that can often times confuse the would be Bible Student more than inform. While I feel there are many reasons for this. In principle, I think tactics to try to understand Romans fall generally under the very broad frameworks that expand beyond the book of Romans (such as Paul’s theology, the grand Biblical narrative, etc.) or to the minutiae of the text of Roman’s. The former doesn’t really take Roman’s on its own terms; the latter struggles with making sense of everything. Thus, while discerning a macrostructure in Romans entails pulling both from the details within the text and from the larger story that transcends the epistle, I feel that a focus on the structure on the letter to the Romans is the most optimal way to get into the thought of Romans.

One fatal mistake I feel in understanding Romans in the tendency of people familiar with rhetoric to outline the thesis as simply Romans 1:16-17. This treats the topic of God’s wrath in 1:18, with a similar structure to v. 17, as simply a secondary point that is not really at the heart of the Gospel. Instead, I think it is more appropriate to take 1:16-18 as a whole as Paul’s overarching thesis, where God’s wrath is in fact an integral part of the power of the Gospel and Paul’s argument.

Given that, I think that Paul’s argues in reverse ordering, arguing about God’s wrath, then God’s righteousness, and then God’s power in the Gospel. The breakdown is as follows:

Romans 1:19-3:20 – The Wrath of God

Romans 3:21-5:21 – The Righteousness of God

Romans 6:1-8:39 – The Power of God

Furthermore, the discussion of God’s wrath serves as necessary to demonstrate the revelation of God’s righteousness in the following section. Both ideas also, with more emphasis given to the latter, becomes important in the final section on God’s power. In other words, God’s works from two particular points of revelation, God’s punishment of the sinful world and the righteousness of God in Christ to develop an general view of soteriology and eschatology in chapters 6-8.

One caution needs to be added. These argument while universal, are not focused upon timeless, abstract, spiritual realities. Instead, it is focused upon the very particular reality of God being the God of Israel, and yet somehow also being God of the Gentiles (perhaps even a “mystery” as to how this universality works out). Therefore, there is a particular Jewish flavor in Paul’s statements, but it is a movement towards a more universal view of God’s relationship to the world, while preserving the Jewish particularity. Thus, the discussion on nomos in chapters 7 and 8 is about Torah.

While painting a broad overview of God’s wrath, righteousness, and salvation, Paul quickly sidestepped some objections littered through chapters 1-8, particularly concentrated in chapters 3, 6, and 7. All those objections seems to be rooted in Israel’s historic relationship with God. Having developed a broadened view, Paul must use his conclusions drawn through 1-8 in discussing Israel’s history and future more specifically to show that his interpretation does not make God unfaithful. Broadly speaking, each chapter focuses has one of the three themes as its focus:

Romans 9 – God’s wrath in relationship to Israel

Romans 10 – God’s righteousness in relationship to Israel

Romans 11 – God’s power in relationship to Israel

One might say that Romans 9-11 is Paul’s attempt to validate his statement of “to the Jew first and also to the Greek” in 1:16 of the thesis. However, I am currently mixed on that point as 9-11 seems to be focused centrally on Israel, whereas the discussion of Gentiles seems to be a minor and overlooked point till the middle of chapter 11.

Finally, as Paul moves into chapters 12-15, he gets into what is known as the ethical section. What is most characteristic about this section is the relative lack of language that is particular to Israel’s distinct culture and life, after Paul spent 11 chapters make repeated references to various parts of Israel’s life, such as the patriarchs and the Torah. It seems more broad and general, as if Paul is speaking in a universal way.

Comparing the three sections with each other, Paul seems to be moving towards a general view of soteriology in Romans 1-8, but is engaged in the Jewish particularity. Romans 9-11 is steeped in that particularity and there is relatively little development of God’s universal work until the end of the section. Finally, 12-15 is broad and universal with only scant reference to Jewish particularity.

With having that flow of thought and focus in mind, I believe that the meaning of Paul’s letter to the Romans will become more apparent when the purpose of Paul’s communication is discerned, which I will write on in another post.

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December 27, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Guess who’s back, Jack (or Jill, to be gender inclusive)

After a 9 1/2 month hiatus from blogging, I feel like it is an appropriate time for me to jump back into blogging on Bible, theology, and the various other topics I addressed on this blog. While I had another blog that I updated every now and then in the interim, I largely desisted from blogging for reasons other than lack of motivation.

One of the problems that I have noticed with many bloggers in the past (won’t name names, but I am sure some of you might know some persons I am referring to) is that there is a high level of narcissism in blogging. While it can very well be used as taking part of a larger conversation, a dialogue if you will, it frequently is a chance for people to take part in monologues that puff up their own view of themselves. This motivation was becoming subtly more a part of me, as I wished to demonstrate my genius (which I later found to be naive). For many bloggers in the Biblical studies and theological world, it was a more sophisticated version of the angsty teenager complaining about the world and thinking everyone wants to hear what they have to say on any topic. And for me, that was becoming true also. I was digusted with that attitude (I have had a conflict in the past over it) and I got disgusted with myself as I noticed it.

I hope and pray that God will keep me confident, yet humble, in blogging. I wish to participate in the larger conversation and present any thoughts that I have that may be of use so that others may reap the benefit from it. However, there is a thin line between doing that in service others and doing that in obtaining honor for oneself. The narcisstic blogger ceases to be the salt of the (blogging) earth.

The other reason I desisted from blogging is that I was at a point in which I was learning a lot about everything, but my language was utter insufficient to adequately express myself. Blogging was getting harder for me, almost a labor directed towards my own ego instead of a joy offered in service to others. Therefore, while having the motivation to blog, I really lacked the capacity to, without being even more verbose than I generally was.

With that said, hopefully I am at the point in which I can be consistently involved in the blogging world in a holy and healthy way. To that end, the help of you readers in comments and emails (if something is needed in private) would be very helpful in maintaining that posture

Anyways, there are many ideas stirring in my head.

PS Another, incidental reason, is that I just received the whole collection of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics and I took a course in Romans this fall. I have plenty of theological and Biblical studies material to write on!

December 26, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Why the US health care reform could work, but probably still won’t

In the recently passed health care reform in the United States, you have the usual amount of confusion, lies, misperceptions, etc., etc. that serve to detract from the discussion of health care in general.

Probably the biggest misperception is that the health care bill is transferring health care to the government. By in large, this is not the case. Insurance companies and already present Medicare and Medicade programs are still being relied upon to provide medical care. However, the government is more involved indirectly in the health care system.

If I could boil down what the bill attempts to do is to subsidize, subsidize, and subsidize health care insurance (though, this is a gross oversimplification). Secondly, it mandates health insurance for all individuals, or one must pay a penalty. Before looking at the negatives of this, I think it is important to see the potential positives and then weigh it against the negatives.

One big part of medical costs (one of many which I outlined here) is the inability of many to pay for services, which translates those costs getting passed on to others who can afford to pay. As it is, those who can afford medical care are already paying for it for others to a degree. That doesn’t mean a person who couldn’t afford health care themselves can receive all the health care they wanted, but certain services, such as emergency health care, would still be provided.

In getting rid of the cases of people who can not pay for their medical care costs, you are theoretically going to reduce the costs of health care across the board. Furthermore, by providing care across the board, you would allow more preventative services to be provided by those who couldn’t afford it in the first place. Therefore, more expensive procedures wouldn’t be as necessary, placing less of a burden on the health care system.

But there are some vast negatives, from an economic perspective, in this bill. First off, medical insurance companies are required to cover those with preexisting conditions. One might think this is morally good, but a moral good doesn’t have to be economically feasible.

Medical insurance succeeds largely based upon one principle: the costs of medical care of the few who need it are covered by the many who pay for this insurance. For many people, they are actually going to pay more through insurance than they would if they had kept their money and then invested it. However, the benefit is the loss of risk on the part of the individual.

This system can only work when many people are not prone to sickness. By including persons who are highly prone to need medical care, you are essentially forgetting the primary reason any insurance works. Thus, either a greater number of healthy people are necessary to balance out the high risk persons, or higher insurance premiums become a necessity.

Now, one thing the bill does is that it mandates medical insurance for everyone, healthy or unhealthy, provided largely through subsidies. Most of the uninsured are still relatively healthy. It is possible that healthy insured, as they are “paying” health care premiums, will balance out those with preexisting conditions and other high risk persons. That itself is a partial gamble.

However, the real problem in this system is that there is even less competition in the health care insurance. As it is, there isn’t a lot of true competition in the health care industry, and the reason isn’t what most people would think. The idea that the free market with anti-trust and anti-monopoly laws in place ensures competition is a fallacy. It is very possible for corporations in the same industry to refrain from competition without making any explicit agreements.

As a demonstration of how, take the USA and the USSR during the Cold War. Both had massive nuclear armaments. At one level, this cause massive suspicion in the other entity. However, this level of suspicion and fear also acted as a preventative on both sides from using the weapons against each other, because of the fear of revenge. To initiate a war with the other would have been costly. They had much to lose. In the same way, established companies who have a lot to lose will be much less likely to act competitively because of the the possibility that competition could ruin their own company.

(It does need to be stated, that in part, Reagan acted “competitively” with the USSR, but it would have been through making the US a greater perceived risk forcing a response, and not by directly competing in war with the USSR)

However, insurance still wasn’t a necessity till the bill was passed. Insurance companies had to compete with the option of refraining from getting insurance. If the costs were too high, a person might refrain from getting insurance. Now, that is no longer possible, as there is a high cost to the individuals for refraining. In other words, a barrier to higher insurance premiums was knocked down.

To act as a check then is a government board that has to approve premium increases. This might act as a check to prevent government greed, but it could also act as a check to prevent appropriate and necessary rise of premiums for the system to continue to work. As a society, we tend to work under the assumption that higher prices are due to greed rather than as a necessity. Such a skepticism may also take place in the entity that oversees health insurance premiums and may deem necessary rises in premiums and unjustifiable and greed.

Placing price controls in an entity other than the one who is immediately affected by the decision is a potential disaster. Just as persons misread the intentions of other persons, so one entity can misread the perceptions of another group. Additionally, giving that power to an entity that will thrive regardless of the rightness or wrongness of the decision is a dangerous proposition. In part, this is why Communism failed; they were unable to adapt prices to the current actual needs of the market for various reasons.

Last for this post, but not the last of any possible criticisms, is that real reason for the costs of higher health care I feel are due to inherent mortality of human life and the increasing difficulty of providing medical care. I addressed these somewhat in my post that I previously linked to, so I will refrain from thorough explanation. I will simply say two things:

1) The higher the supply of medical care, the higher demand will increase. The more people get sick, the more likely they will be to get sick in the future. One may cure an illness, but the illness affected the body in ways that may not be treatable or detectable.  So, by providing life saving care, which is morally right, those people will continue to need medical care and at an increased rate.

2) Even in provided preventative care, you are only delaying the inevitable. Given the human lack of willingness to die without fighting, you are simply delaying the high costs associated with health care to a later date when the population gets older.

In short, the medical care bill addresses a few factors in health care, but it fails to adequately address all the various factors, in part because it is humanly impossible. At best, in my opinion, the health care reform is merely treating the symptoms and not the real problem, and it is a large possibility that no human effort can actually address the deep rooted illness in our health care system, along with all others.

April 1, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Paul’s Usage of sarx in Romans and Galatians

In setting up a rather essential idea of Paul in Romans, that of the “flesh,” grasped the overall intent in his usage of it will give us perhaps a clearly relationship of the different parts of the letter as a whole. This is not intended to be a detailed analysis of every usage of sarx, but rather to see the big picture of how the word serves Paul’s purposes.

View this document on Scribd

February 3, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Limitations and Proper Usage of Rhetorical Criticism

In preparation for what I hope to be a continuing series of posts (much as my friend Michael Halcomb has done with the Gospel of Mark) on my most studied book of the Bible, Romans, I am going to be doing a few preliminary posts on some issues that I feel need some addressing separately.

Before I go diving into a piece by piece study of Romans. Considering my education up to this point, perhaps the most fitting point to start is on the topic of Rhetorical Criticism based upon my exposure to and engagement with the work of Ben Witherington. Here goes for only my second real research paper ever in the field of Biblical Studies.

Thanks to Michael for the info on Scribd. Makes things a whole lot easier! And now I changed my notes to those blessed footnotes instead of those wretched, God-forsaken endnotes.

February 1, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 2 Comments

Why I do not like to go to church (Part 3)

Lack of meaningful fellowship

One of the major metaphors in Paul’s language to describe the church is the “body of Christ.” He envisions an organic teamwork that fuses together to act as the incarnated Christ in the world since Jesus had ascended.  However, in order to do that, there must be a deep sense of fellowship within the confines of the assembly of Christians.

The problem is, the societal rules and habits that determine our behavior in society in general are also the same rules we tend to live by in the church setting. One principle that holds true in social gatherings for ages where most people are single is that “attractive” people tend to spend time together. Another one is intellectuals gather together.  In other words, the old adage “birds of a feather flock together” describes the primary (though by no means exclusive) determining factor for social groups. Unfortunately, this hold true for the majority of social contact in the church setting.  Commonly known as cliques. But the problem isn’t with cliques per se, but rather it is a symptom of a deeper problem within the context of the church.

I have witnessed one exception to this rule. And it isn’t even really an exception, but it is an uncommon cause of group cohesion. However, it is also witnessed outside of the church in select pockets. Activist minded people also tend to clump together, despite their social, behavioral, and physical features. The thing that is held in common amongst these people is a mission. When this intangible, immaterial thing that does not describe a people directly is the cause of unity, the proverb “opposites attract” seems to play out as true. In reality, there are opposites in many regards, but they are united in their common cause.

And this isn’t truly THAT infrequent. Corporations work under this model. Many person who, at least in theory, work together to research, plan, create, and sell goods and services. These corporations accomplish things that those people could never accomplish apart from them holding a common goal, broadly speaking,  in mind. However, what distinguishes this from activism is that corporations are largely the function of extrinsic motivation, such as a paycheck, whereas group activism is caused by in large by intrinsically motivated persons.

The church as it stands, lacks this cohesive cause to fellowship. Particularly in Protestant churches, the word of unmerited grace stands as a major motivating factor for church attendance. While this notion is certainly biblical, the Bible as a whole in the First Testament and the Second, testifies to God’s reward for the faithful and punishment of the faithless.  However, where preaching emphasizes the unmerited grace pole, the most that tends to be help in common between the majority person in the church is a individualistic reception. Social groups within the church, then, form not because persons perceive they have received grace. Instead, the rules for unity go back to rules and habits they learned in their social upbringing.

The mission of the body of Christ is barely served then. Social pressures from the pulpit and from the pews is a motivator for the occasional service, but it lacks any motivation that is strong enough to give people a strong sense of mission, which leads to a unity with other persons with the mission.

There is no reason, then, for persons in the pews to actively seek other persons, either in finding fellow Christians to serve the living God and in actively seeking places of personal service to others. If they already have a group of persons that serve their other needs, there is little reason for unity across the entirety of the church. There is little in common.

However, the problem goes a bit deeper. Frequently on Sunday mornings, there will be a time alloted to give a little exchange of words to other persons around you.  The average time for these moments of fellowship? A couple of minutes. Partly, this goes back to the pragmatism of trying to finish the service within an allotted amount of time. However, it is also a factor of “social awkwardness” that inevitably results when times go longer with people are rather unfamiliar with each other.

When persons who are not familiar with each other are not talking but yet they stand looking at each other, there is that “awkward” feel to it. While there are many things that go into new people getting to know each other, having a topic where both people will engage each other is a very important consideration. But what do random persons in the church have to talk about when they aren’t there because of commitments to God and the Christian mission? Talk about their own experience of God’s grace, a major reason persons might come? Essential to a certain degree, but topics that revolve around oneself can not serve as the sole foundation of growing fellowship between persons.

Also, in America, due to the overall scientific, analytical mindset, to speak of an unscientific spirituality is very uncomfortable to more intellectual types. Thus Christian talk becomes largely the realm of the more affective types. Unfortunately, they too go to an extreme where emotional considerations largely determine their topics, their speech, and their behavioral patterns in the Christian community, with little critical reflection on cause of the their affective experiences. Personality, in this instance, largely serves to split the two types in the context of Christian fellowship. So intellectual types only reach their own, and emotional types their own. And each group has their own social mores that finds the persons of the other group as being in violation. For instance, “Why does theology matter, as long as you love Jesus?” Or an intellectual temptation, as I am prone to” is to largely exclude the role of emotions in religious life.  Therefore, the divisions are further reinforced. Then emotional types continue in their way unabated with nothing to bring them to live in the entirety of reality, and the same for intellectuals.

This is why talk and expounding upon the Christian story is important. Story begs analysis at some level, and story automatically incites experience at some level. But where church is centered around either overly abstract, denarrativized propositions or a more ecstatic, emotive aspect, unity between different personality types will not happen.

While I could continue for many pages, the essence of this whole post is that fellowship in the church is largely a factor of person having things in common outside of the Christian mission and story and the unwillingness to preach of God’s actual, and not theoretical, punishment of evil and reward of good even for Christians in lieu of an exaggerated message of undeserved grace. Instead, the social logic and rules of the world seep into the church that is called to be a holy, behaviorally separated, body of believers. The fellowship problem is a problem and causes other problems, but it stands as a symptom of a deeper problem.

January 30, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 1 Comment

The percieved behavior of the church to homosexuality

As I was sitting in United Methodist Theology intensive course the past couple days, our professor Dr. Seamands emphasized that the proper Christian response is both the extreme of zeal for truth, and that of extreme compassion for persons. Another, more cliche, way of talking about this tension is “love the sin, hate the sinner.” Christians feel it necessary to talk about this because we have a sense of perceived guilt in Christianity as a whole in the past and present. And in many ways, some Christians have overemphasized truth.

Nevertheless, I would dare so that we are convinced that i it is such a rampant problem because we have heard about it from so many people and we hear of the occasional instances of hatred towards homosexuals (and others). We are convinced by a few anecdotal instances and then a whole perception that are validated when the occasional instance occurs.

However, this perception is also strengthened by another phenomenon of human psychology. As I have noticed with many of the students who responded in class to this issue in the Methodist church, people were rather quick to emphasize the compassion aspect of dealing with the issue. It is almost an automated response now.  Such an automatic response wouldn’t happen unless we were talking about something that might seem to be contradictory of compassion, either in supposing outside interpretation or our own interpretation of what we are talking about.

Allow me to throw this hypothesis out there. I would say that much of our current perception in the church is subtly reinforced because we have been taught that any response that can not directly be classified as compassionate is immediately construed as lacking compassion. In other words, much of our feeling of corporate guilt as Christians is not because of the extreme reactions of hatred (such as Fred Phelps as an extreme of the extreme), but because we have been culturally taught that any thing that doesn’t fall into the definition of compassionate and loving is immediately contradictory.

Now this isn’t exactly a new brilliant idea that we have taken societies definition of compassion and love. However, in explaining the psychology of our self-perception as a church, I think it is critical to understand that. These, at worst, minor infractions of compassion continue to reinforce our perception of our own guilt, but when we envision our guilt, we  would tend to envision it in it extremes.

The result then, is that we rapidly lose the tension between truth and love, because we constantly perceive infractions against the principle of love. Thus, while the statement that we must hold these two principles is true of our Christian words, actions, and beliefs, the emphasis upon this tension in our cultural context leads to the gradual loss of the pole of truth.

January 20, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Why I do not like to go to church (Part 2)

Before I dwelve into my second critique, I first want to make sure I do not give the wrong impression about my criticism of church preaching. I am not advocating a particular method of preaching, per se.  For instance, I do not maintain that preaching must take upon a narrative form, though one might get the impression of that when I talked about God’s story as the central basis for preaching. I am not speaking as much to form, except against the forms that require particular types of content, such as an exegetical sermon.

Overly structured worship service

This might seem rather counter-intuitive critique. Either that, or one might suspect me to be very low church and probably charismatic. But my criticism isn’t against particular parts of the worship service that are structured, taking upon the form or a ritual. Rituals are very important in my mind and are incredibly lacking in many worship serivces. Rather my criticism is about the entirety of the worship service. More specifically, the order of worship and the time allotted to it.

Ask anyone who frequents a worship service what they think the ideal time for a worship service should be, and a good percentage of them will say something around an hour.  In that context, when I hear people asking for the Holy Spirit to come down to their worship service, I translate it as “Come within the hour, Spirit.” To be very blunt though, this goes back to the idea of humanity trying to control the nature of spirituality and its time by particular methods.

When we want to have a good visit with a friend, an hour is generally on the low end of the scale for the amount of time people will spend with someone. Why then, when we want to have an encounter with God, do we place the upper limit to within an hour to hour and a half at a worship service?

There are many answers to that question. First, the nature of how worship is set up so that the congregation is relatively passive the whole time does not accord well for an encounter with God, much less to keep at it for over an hour. The attention span fades relatively quickly. But that goes to another critique I have that I will save for later.

Then, with the more popular churches that have their services broadcast on television, they feel the necessity of completing the service in the allotted time because the programming requires it.

Another answer is that we have places we want to be. For instance, there are many jokes after a 11 AM service about certain churches getting out before the others so that they can get to the restaurants. And these are light hearted to a degree, but it does show that getting to lunch is in the back of the minds. Other places we might want to be is on a couch watching the football game during NFL season.

But this is not simply the fault of the congregation though. They have been trained to think that a worship service will fit within the rest of their schedule. It goes back to the methodical way we as worship leaders have  tried to control the worship setting, and accommodated to the schedule and attention spans of others.

In addition to the fact that we have constrained the time in which the encounter at worship can occur, there are other consequences. How can we expect the prayer time of individuals on their own to move beyond a few moments? The rhythm and form of our worship settings is transferred to the individual Christian life outside of worship settings. Instead of practice a form of a “holy inefficiency,” we have been trained to expect results immediately, and that an encounter with God comes primarily based upon certain activities on our part.

Which leads me to the second part of this critique. Almost all worship services have a very recognizable pattern from week to week. For instance, the church I attended this past Sunday has the same pattern it had the couple others times I had visited before. About 3 worship songs, a time for prayer requests and prayer, another worship song, the sermon, then a final worship song.

Don’t mishear me on this criticism. I have nothing wrong with sort of a rhythm to a worship service. Rhythms can and are very important in worship settings and in life as a whole. However, rhythms benefit us humans. But if an encounter with God is an event that involves both ourselves and God, an overly detailed and formulaic rhythm does not allow for us to listen to God, who may come in any way, at any time, for any reason. While God may come in the context of our detailed formulas for worship, God is not bound to that. But if God is trying to speak without coercion, but only with a willing congregation, one that has already set the order of worship down in detail will not be very open to that, but will be looking forward to the next part of the worship service.

Perhaps some believe, or at least feel, that in moving the persons in a certain way, that God is automatic to bring himself to those persons. But this takes away the initiative of God, makes Him simply an automaton, and places his presence under the control of the form of worship. Christian spirituality relies upon two initiatives, and not one.

Now I do not have many concrete ideas as how to restructure the worship setting to keep the benefits of rhythms for us, while allowing for God to speak when He will. Both are essential too, because a rhythm-less worship will be much more prone to the stray wanderings of the mind, that would all to frequently and presumptively be claimed as the leading of the Holy Spirit. Plus church rhythms will help create rhythm for the Christian life outside of the worship service setting.

I also have no concrete solutions to the time crunch we give in worship. But what solutions there would be, it would not come down to bowing to the concern of television programming. Nor would it bow down to the NFL or other events as a determining factor. Lunch can also be provided in the church (God forbid we eat in the sanctuary!). These forms of accommodation might be more effective in numbers, but that form of pragmatism may very well stifle the chance for an encounter with God if God wants to wait to speak.

January 18, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Why I do not like going to church (Part 1)

Surprising coming from a minister the past two years on hiatus and seminary student? You might think so, but I have met enough of people like me to know that there is a strong contingent of us.

Now when I say I do not like attending church, it is not a cop out to cease to being part of a Christian community. This is not a selfish justification at go-it-alone religion.  Rather, I do something else, which I also dislike: church-jumping.

There a strong sense of discontent about the way worship services function. While I do not have many concrete solutions (nor any that have actually be tried by fire), wisdom comes from seeing where there are problems and moving from there to a solution. Nor am I the first to ever say these things.

What I hope to do then is to give a series of critique of the ways church worship is frequently done, in the hopes that it will move others and me to pursue wisdom.

Lack of good preaching

Probably one of the most thrown about criticisms of worship services. There are about as many styles of teaching as there are number of churches. Nevertheless, in my experience they all suffer from some of the typical elements that I believe make the teaching lack real substance.

First off, many sermons move too quickly to the moral exhortation. While I have the conviction that the reason for orthodox teaching is partly to ensure proper practice, moralizing sermons fail to engage the whole person. It makes a simple moral statement that has likely been oft repeated in that church and other churches and maybe in culture. If people aren’t following it now after the thousands times they have heard it, why would it suddenly move them now?

God and His work is what enables us to live as His Son did. But when we move too quickly to the prescriptive part of a message, we fail to provide the full grounds by which we can fulfill the message. We live by God’s will because we trust God with the concerns of life and death that might force us to choose to neglect our Christian duty. Trust is the essential foundation upon which obedience must be built upon for it to stand. But when in our preaching, we do not focus so much of what God has, is, and will do but on what we should do, we do not stir the trust of God in people’s hearts that is necessary to take upon our own cross

But not all sermons are moralizing sermons. Many are expository sermons that focus on a particular text. The preacher goes through the meticulous details of a particular Biblical text, dissecting it to try to bring its full meaning out. However, these sermons are way to cognitive. They fall upon the Enlightenment mindset where we must validate everything we say. However, the average person gets lost in all the details. How are the supposed to get from A to C when they get lost at A or B?

And even the more intellectual ones frequently get lost into a deep analysis of the text (speaking from personal experience). Furthermore, where analysis is the primary mode of a particular worshiper, they  place the text under their control by their knowledge and goals. How are they supposed to grow when they are lost in the analytical mode and not coming to God with open hands? How are they supposed to be lead by the Spirit, when they fall into purely leading themselves by textual and historical analysis?

While exegesis of the Biblical text is critical on the part of any preacher, it must be a background exercise that gives them a better understanding of the story that is occurring. For those of us who are leaders of the flock, we have an authority bestowed upon us. If we indeed have that trust from the listeners, we need not have to going into a thorough exegetical analysis of the text in the sermon. There are places when an exegetical point might force open a rather closed, selfish, and anachronistic understanding of the text, and there is a place for exegesis in teaching of the Bible itself. But the preachers must act as Jesus did in the Sermon on the Mount, teaching with authority, and not as a scribe who wrestled with the minutiae of the text to derive their teaching.

In addition, much of our sermons rely too much on analogies and illustrations. There are times and places for them, but the more one uses them and the greater amount of time they take up, the more they serve as a distraction. I have remember many a sermon where I learned more about the pastor’s family than I really did about God’s work in the world in Christ through the Spirit.

Also, the proliferation of  emotional material frequently is used to try to get force behind the behavioral prescription. While the emotional life is essential to the Christian life, when the things that drive our emotional responses are not so much based upon what God is doing, but upon our analysis of other stories that we read through our moral lenses of justice, injustice, love, struggle, etc., we are appealing to a form of self-willed morality, instead of one that is energized by the very story and work of God.

In summary, most of the content of preaching relies very little upon God’s story and work beyond a logical justification for a certain moral exhortation. And when we do appeal to God’s side, we appeal to metaphysics, abstract theological concepts, and hidden spiritualities, instead of the actual historical stories and proclamations of God and Christ witnessed to by the Bible. The classic sermon is primarily an exercise in self-will, cheap emotions, and cognition.

There are more criticism I could provide on preaching, but they also fall under other more generic criticisms that apply to places beyond the sermon, so I will leave them for there.

The last few sermons that I have given, I have tried to move towards this style of preaching, but the habits of old are hard to break. And to travel in a dark forest with no made path is seen is also a hard task with many mistakes that come along the journey. May the God of wisdom reveal to us how to truly proclaim Him!

January 17, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Could this be the beginnings of a third political party in America?

In polls by both Gallup and Rasmussen, there are indications that affiliations with the Democratic party is reducing, but it isn’t being followed by an increase in Republican affiliation by the same percentage. Unaffiliateds are apparently getting larger as a group, although I do not know how this compares with the the past years. Furthermore, Rasmussen reports that Republican voters feel Republician politicians are “out of touch” with their political base. Listening to conservative talk radio on the occasions that I do, there is ire towards the Republican party also.

The Republican party is getting into a difficult situation, IMO, with its continued to survival. On the one hand, it has its conservative base hat it relies upon. However, on the other hand, I would take a guess to say that the political spectrum in American is broadening and towards the left, as American culture is beginning to be defined less and less as being opposed to Communism/Socialism once the Cold War ended (although, socialism is not the same as communism, but that doesn’t affect how the public understands them).

Does the Republican party become the centrist party of American politics? If so, it risks alienating its more conservative base. Does it move towards it’s conservative, Regean-esque principles (although, maybe reducing spending, something Regean didn’t do)? If so, it may leave the people who are more centrist voting for the Democratic party. At least, under the former option, there is a higher chance that conservatives vote for Republicans under the “lesser of evils” idea.

There is little option for the Republican becoming a big-tent party. Conservatives tend to be more systematic in their thought, and any major contradiction with it causes problems with offering up support, except when its base is rallied in a fight against “the enemy”, the Democrats. Liberals, on the other hand, are more pragmatic, which is what allows them to be a broad party in recent history.

However, the Democratic party, while it is in a position of power at the moment, has its own problems to face. It too has to face with the fact that the political spectrum in America is broader than it has been in recent history, and even pragmatists have their limits. There is even the beginning of fractures within the Democratic party, as there is a sense of unease with the current medical care reform even within the Democratic party. Furthermore, their own support is eroding, as evidenced in party affiliation and the presidential approval rating. To go continue to go further to the left will alienate the centrist portion. To move towards America’s center will ensure its dominance in America politics in the short term, but will lead to further problems as the political diversity in America continues to broaden further.

Not to mention, the Democratic party risk a future division based upon the fact that there is a chance there can be a split between the different types of “liberals.” In my own experience, people who classify themselves as conservatives generally have conservative ideas in social, fiscal, and governmental policy. However, people who call themselves liberals may be fiscally and governmentally liberal, but social conservative. In my opinion, there are three categories that define American politics right now and they are related to social issues (homosexuality, abortion, immigration, etc.), fiscal issues (how much should the government tax and spend), and governmental issues (how much control should the government exercise). As it is, current the current powers in the Democrat party are operated as more liberal in all three directions, and if that continues, it will chafe other Democrats.

Long story short, the political diversity in America is growing in such a way that it can no longer conceivably have only two prominent parties in future. A “big-tent party” is becoming less and less doable, and so there will be a large portion of the American public that will be so disatisfied with the two current options that will lend their support to other options. Unless there becomes some issue that American as a whole defines itself against in order to produce a smaller political spectrum, a third party is a great likelihood in my opinion. But unlike in American history where the rise of a third party signaled the demise of one of the other two parties, in this context, all three will continue to exist (for better or worse).

September 2, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment