December 1, 2020

Open Forum – April 2, 2014


The other day we invited everyone to the table here at iMonk and set down some simple guidelines for interaction. Today we’ll give you room to have your own conversations.

An Open Forum means you get to talk about what is interesting you at the moment. This is your chance to get together with others and bring up topics you would like to discuss, rather than being forced to respond to my blab and bluster.

Please remember what we said Monday —

  • Know that you are welcome here. You don’t have to agree.
  • Be respectful of others.
  • Be concise and clear in your comments.
  • Stay on topic. (doesn’t apply in quite the same way today, obviously)
  • Don’t dominate the discussion.
  • Please listen.
  • All good things must come to an end. You got to know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em, if you know what I mean.

The table’s yours today. Enjoy God’s gift of conversation.


  1. I’ll just toss one out here I was talking to a friend about recently.

    What is the best form of church governance? All forms have drawbacks of course, but what is effective and the least susceptible to instability or abuse? I’ve mostly come to the conclusion over the years that a clear open hierarchy such as we see in Anglicanism, Orthodoxy, or Catholicism might be the strongest – not because it’s the best way, but because it at least tends to reflect reality.

    I think that in theory the Presbyterian system with a plurality of elders is the probably best governance model and probably the one with the most raw scriptural backing. But, frequently – not all the time, maybe not even most of the time, but substantially often – the elder board is just a front for the one Big Guy who is actually running the whole thing. Everyone else is more or less a ‘yes man’ and dissenters soon find themselves removed. If you want to run your church with just one Big Guy in charge, that’s fine, but don’t pretend like it’s all carefully vetted by rich oversight. It’s essentially lying. Just call the chief elder the CEO and be done with it. Then at least you’ll be above board. In the same way, if you have a small home church, it’s probably not a secret who the de facto leader is so there is no need to dress it up.

    For stability and honesty’s sake, in the long run I’d rather take a priest, a bishop, and an archbishop, with their names printed clearly. Even if one of them is a stinker, at least it’s not a mystery. Thoughts?

    • Has anyone tried to mix the two?

      I would go for a plurality of elders (priests) in the local church, with bishops having oversight across multiple congregations.

      • Dana Ames says

        A group of Campus Crusade leaders tried this in the ’70s-’80s, after many months of prayer and discussion, not only among themselves but with the people they were leading. They formed the Evangelical Orthodox Church. Most of them were received into the canonical Orthodox Church in the mid-’80s. There were some bumps along the way, mainly because of church culture-type differences, but on balance the transition was relatively smooth. My godmother was part of this group.


    • I tend to agree. In my experience this also gives kind of a counterfeit intentionality , in that, PAstor’s defer to the group, when in fact, the group is just going to defer back to the pastor. It makes it seem as if the power is decentralized, when it’s not.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says


        And the hierarchy is also ineffective in doing what a hierarchy is good for – policing.

        Call upon the Free Methodist ‘Bishop’ when the pastor is clearly going off the rails… wait for a response, yeah, nothin’. I’ve seen so many of these loose hierarchies in “action” – it is almost comical to describe it as “action”. The feedback loop nature of the thing becomes apparent.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      I’m with you. Strong formal hierarchy or “clear open hierarchy such as we see in Anglicanism, Orthodoxy, or Catholicism” as you put it. The autonomous hyper-democratic-but-not Evangelical / free-church model really appealed to my in my youth…. but with maturity I see that it just does not work, for obvious reasons every politician or Organizational Behavior, secular or not, could explain in a freshman OB class. While I may not agree with the RC on every issue, it is at least an organization I admire [not perfect by any means, but maturity also teaches one not to expect that, or to be shocked by failure].

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        As I understand it from my catechism, church hierarchy formed pretty early, probably because the church was growing beyond the point a couple apostles & deacons could work directly like they did in St Paul’s letters. (Most likely congregations grew beyond the human troop-size limit of 150 or so.) At that point, organization higher than just the local churches came into being just to administer the larger groups of Christians in a city and hierarchy, chains-of-command, and bureaucracy followed. It’s a size thing.

        Come to think of it, could early small churches with no fixed organization (such as all the “New Testament Churches” of Evangelical legend and imitation) have encountered the same problems we see in Evangelicalism today? A lot of St Paul’s letters seem to indicate so — infighting, power tripping, weird tangents. In such a case, a chain-of-command hierarchy (Bishops, Priests, Deacons, Laity) may have been a solution to the chaos. Priests as specialists within the congregation, taking on ceremonial duties (Ekklesiastica) as well as being the go-to-guys for the group (Presbyteros). And Bishops becoming more and more powerful as they administered more and more churches (called “franchises” in Mega-Churchspeak) spanning wider and wider areas and more and more people.

    • Patricia Stewart says

      I think that regardless of structure, all church governance would be improved if those called to leadership positions would have the same attitude as Jesus. He did not come to be served but TO SERVE and GIVE HIS LIFE for others. And not just “certain others” but everyone in the flock. Imho, this is sorely lacking in many congregations as pastors maintain the distance between the pulpit and the pew.

      • I was in a church for 15 years. (too long it turns out) This was what was proclaimed. It was only when a few crisis’ came up, some small, one very large, that the hypocrisy came out. And still most of the church stood by the pastors. Their mindset was “the pastors are in charge and this evidence just can’t be true”. No matter what.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          Statements like “have the same attitude as Jesus” are far too nebulous and lofty. Guidelines need to be clear and pragmatic and oriented toward practice.

          “have the same attitude as Jesus” is a Vision statement, from vision one needs to create policies, rules, and practices. Churches far too often believe they can skip policies and rules and jump right from vision to practice – which will always fail.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            If all you have is a vision, you’ll end up doing an impression of Carl Sagan at the helm of the Spaceship of the Imagination in the original Cosmos.

            And what happens when Vision(TM) conflicts with reality, or requires breaking eggs for the Visionary omelet? Or both? At that point, you’re taking a step down the road of the French and First Russian Revolutions, where the people were collateral damage of the Visionary Ideology.

    • cermak_rd says

      My shul has a set of committee people that were elected by the members of the shul. They oversee the finances, physical plant etc. The rabbi is on contract and can be renewed or chosen not to renew. And occasionally a whole vote of the membership might be called.

      This works well in a system where the members are members who have paid a membership fee that way the guys we haven’t seen in 3 years all come to the membership vote event. By and large when folks quit at least yearly attendance, they stop paying membership fees.

      I think though, that some kind of democracy whereby a religious organization can get rid of a bad religious leader is necessary for the health of the organization and the membership. And I think congregations ought to be able to select their leader.

      • This is the old style evangelical congregational model in general. Flat democracy. And while it can lead to issues, (there’s always a member or few who think they “own” the church) in general it works. And it’s best attribute is that dirt can easily get exposed to the light.

        Where it can really fall down is when some of the strong willed members control the lives of others outside of the church. Small town employee/employer relationships and such.

        As best some of us can tell the Baptist (and other?) seminaries have been instilling a hierarchical patriarchy of the local church mindset for a few decades and that has led to a total reversal of these congregational models. And not that many who attend Baptist seminaries go on to pastor churches in other denominations. This change seems to have occurred with the liberal/conservative seminary control fight of the 70s/80s when the conservatives won.


        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          Flat democracy is far to prone to cultural moods and cult of personality. In practice works actively to exclude experts whose views actually have more merit than some-guy.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            That’s where the phrase “the USA is a REPUBLIC, not a Democracy” originated.

            The structure of a Republic adds a shock absorber to a Democracy, preventing wild swings of policy depending on what’s POP-U-LAR at the moment. Or as Kipling put it:

            “Whether The People be led by The Lord,
            Or lured by the loudest throat:
            If it be quicker to die by the sword
            Or cheaper to die by vote—”
            — MacDonough’s Song (full poem

            “We know that Ones and Ones make Twos—
            Till Demos votes them Three or Nought”
            — Bonfires on the Ice (full poem

    • Matt J,

      I asked a similar question on the Open Forum of February 5th. I was interested in the pros & cons of elder government because my church is beginning to explore a move in that direction. In fact, our annual meeting will be this coming Sunday, when the congregation will be briefed and begin to discuss it.

      The discussion here in February was very helpful and it’s at:

      • The biggest problem with a closed elder church led governance setup is that the elders get to pick who’s on the elder ballot. And after a while no dissenting voices are around. And when problems come up the echo chamber tends to never even see the issues, much less address them.

        • I have experienced this, and frequently observed someone I didn’t know (maybe they went to the “early service” and I went to the “late service”, or maybe they just weren’t on my radar) being put forth as elder. I have often conscientiously abstained from voting. How can I vote for someone I don’t know? I don’t give a fig what the “elders” think. I’m not going to vote for someone that I don’t know, and haven’t been able to observe.

          • At a church were about 2500 attended most Sundays over 3 services and Sunday School a Saturday night service was started. It lasted about 4 or 5 years. My family attended. When we had to go back to Sunday mornings I felt like a visitor to a strange land. I knew very few of the people I saw.

            This was the start of my decision to avoid a church with more than 1000 in regular attendance. Then 500.

            Toss in my avoidance of closed elder led systems and we have basically decided to not join a church at this time.

      • Hey, thanks for pointing that out Ted. I’ll take a look at the previous thread. Some good comments here too.

    • Richard Hershberger says

      I think this discussion can be much clarified by distinguishing between secular authority (roughly meaning, who controls the money) and spiritual authority, and then looking into how the two interact.

      Financial transparency is non-negotiable to me. I cannot conceive giving any non-trivial amount to a church if I don’t know where it is going. By “transparency” I mean both that there are solid controls on the cash, and that the budget is freely available. Ideally the budget should be voted on by the congregation as a whole, though this would not necessarily be a deal-breaker for me.

      The financial side is easy. The problems are mostly the same as you would find in any organization with a bank account, and the solutions are well understood (though all too often not implemented). The spiritual side is far harder. The Scylla is the laity (or some faction of the laity) insisting that the pastor tell them what they want to hear or he is fired, while the Charybdis is an authoritarian pastor versed in the tools of emotional extortion. Neither is a path to sound preaching of the Gospel. Having a priest appointed by the bishop is less of a solution than it first appears. It makes it harder for the locals to fire him, but the situation can still get out of hand in either direction, especially the authoritarian side. And if he is of an authoritarian bent but isn’t very good at it, you end up with the people voting with their feet, which may be a solution for the individual but isn’t for the institution.

      There is a balance that can and should be struck. There is a hierarchy which ensures minimum training standards for the clergy, and provides common doctrinal understandings in this training. (This is why, for example, it would be very weird to find a Lutheran pastor teaching five-point Calvinism.) The individual congregation chooses its pastor from the approved clergy roster. Clergy can be disciplined by the hierarchy, with the ultimate penalty of removal from the roster. (If this happens often, though, then there are deeper problems to be addressed.) Should the clergyman prove unsatisfactory to the congregation, there should be a procedure for it to remove him. It should not be trivially easy, such that it could be done on a whim, but neither should it be impossible.

      Additionally, there is much benefit from a tradition of clergy moving around from time to time: five years in place is fine, but ten years is usually too much, leading to complacency and ossification, and to trauma when a replacement finally becomes necessary. This should be a tradition rather than a rule, as there are exceptional cases where such longevity is the lesser evil.

      The interaction of the financial and the spiritual is that no one should control both, and neither should anyone have absolute control of either. The laity controls the money, but the pastor has (and should have) influence in financial decisions. The pastor is in charge of spiritual matters, but both the laity and the hierarchy have oversight roles.

      • cermak_rd says

        I don’t know about the short time though. In the parish I grew up in, the priest had been there forever. I mean, he had baptized most of the adults present in the church. This led, I think, to a healthy attachment. Father was able to overlook the flaws most of his flock possessed and his flock was able to overlook Father’s flaws (I’m talking about flaw as normal human beings have them, nothing criminal or anything) because of this relationship based on time and familiarity.

        But, as you stated, it did cause trauma when he unexpectedly died in a car accident. None of the priests sent since has been able to replace him in any sense of the word. My sister and her family have left the church as have a lot of other congregants (of course, Catholics leaving is a trend across the US so how much is that and how much is due to this). I don’t think she would have had Father still been there due to those bonds of family.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Just call the chief elder the CEO and be done with it.

      I prefer the term “Pastor/Dictator”. Wartburg Watch and other spiritual abuse blogs have been keeping an eye on a lot of Celebrity Pastor/Dictators for some time, and a lot of them rule their ministries/megachurches like Third World Tinhorn Dictators.

    • For 10 years I was in a church where we denied there was an hierarchy. We would not even give our pastor the title senior pastor. He was the team leader.

      Toward the end of my time I uncovered that the real power lie with a few strong women in the congregation who were deeply involved.

      I now realise that leaders always arise in human life, it makes no sense to try to deny it. Power will accrue to somebody. It is better to know who that is.

      • Randy Thompson says

        Good point, Ken.

        Wherever there is “no hierarchy” in a church or “no human head,” you’ll end up finding somebody with a lot of power and control.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          There’s an anecdote about students assigned to draw (1) the organization of their churches and (2) how things REALLY work there.

          The classic is the (1) with the official highly detailed organization chart and the (2) with a big “BOB” at the top and everything else in one big mass below.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Toward the end of my time I uncovered that the real power lie with a few strong women in the congregation who were deeply involved.

        i.e. The REAL Power behind the Pulpit: The Church Ladies(TM).

        My regular writing partner (the burned-out preacher) tells me this de facto power structure is REAL common in his denom; he refers to the Alpha Church Lady of a congregation as “The Gatekeeper” who can make or break a pastor on her say-so.

  2. Pope Francis’ homily on confession and himself going to confession is on my mind. He is a glimmer of light in an otherwise quite murky world of Christianity.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      Absolutely. A Christian leader that is admirable and kind, it is sad that it is so shocking.

      • Christiane says

        an act of ‘kindness’ is as far from ‘truth in love’ as the East is from the West

        an act of kindness does not depend on the status of the one(s) receiving it, but it is a free gift given for the good of the ‘other’ without expecting something in return

        the concept of ‘truth in love’ comes from a place of judgment and involves condemnation;
        although many say it is ‘loving’, the impact is often perceived as ‘hate’ and rejection and contempt from the person administering that ‘truth in love’

        the kindness of Pope Francis is given from a humble spirit . . . and that makes all the difference

    • +1

  3. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is on my mind. I think his writings are a bridge over the current chasm between religion and science.

    • Robert F says

      I don’t think there is any merit to Chardin’s idea that evolution will lead to the critical mass of the Omega Point, which he identifies with the parousia of Jesus Christ. In fact, I think that his confused thinking about the relationship of the transcendent to the immanent muddles both. He also seemed to raise the evolutionary mechanism of natural selection to a process of sanctification, which, if taken seriously, could lead to a kind of spiritual Darwinism.

    • Robert F says

      In fact, I think any attempt to spiritualize biological evolution, like Chardin’s, inevitably reverses the reversal of the gospel’s graceful mandate that the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.

      • He states that the law governing the universe is love, which I think is compatible with the gospel, in contrast to religious conservatives who are currently promoting social Darwinism, as if the universal law governing creationism is survival-of-the-fittest.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          I have no idea what something being “the law governing the universe” means. And is it Love? The universe is a vast, ancient, and astonishingly violent place. I have no idea how this describes Love in any way like the concept is generally understood. The Law Governing … means I should see it everywhere I look.

        • Robert F says

          Divine love is not a law, and it is especially not like a scientific law.

    • Richard Hershberger says

      Where I, on the other hand, do not believe that such a chasm exists. (Neither do lots of scientists. Visit the local churches in a college town and you will find the science faculty well represented, though not necessarily evenly among the various churches.)

    • I found PTdC interesting at one time, but like Robert F, tend to view his ideas as a bridge too far today. He most definitely is, however, a fascinating figure, being up to his elbows in paleontology while also bearing the burden of obedience to his Jesuit superiors.

      So his thought is certainly worth a look, but I’ve found other writers like the RC John Haught (“Deeper Than Darwin,” etc.) or the Anglican John Polkinghorne (“Faith of a Physicist”) to be a bit more focused theologically and for that reason better able to integrate evolutionary thought into the traditional framework.

  4. The finale of “How I Met Your Mother” is on my mind. As state by Donna Bowman over on A.V. Club:

    “If there’s a message here—and there doesn’t have to be, it’s a sitcom for crying out loud—it’s that chance only takes you so far. Choice is finally the story of a life. The options we get to choose from have are dictated to us by the universe, but we decide how to respond.”

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      For a sitcom the ending was not comedy. I think your reading is accurate.

    • cermak_rd says

      I never liked the show. I couldn’t find a single character who was actually likeable in it. Especially the lead who was immature and grating.

      • Cedric Klein says

        I always liked Barney in spire of himself, but I loved Marshall & Lily, especially Lily, but I’ve had an Alyson Hannigan crush since BTVS.

      • Richard Hershberger says

        The maturation of the characters is the overall arc of the show. I can understand not wanting to watch nine seasons to see it, but the immaturity is pretty much the point.

      • I was just discussing this with my wife last night. Barney is clearly the star of the show, the comic relief whose genius dominates the main plot. The fans all adore him, but if they ever met a real life Barney Stinson, they would utterly despise him. I find this irony quite striking.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          Nothing new there. We love him precisely because he is not real. Much the same way people love Darth Vader; nobody would like him in real life. I don’t know how this is “ironic”. A fiction character and an actual person is an apple and an orange.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Classy villains (especially those with a mysterious past) attract their own fan followings. Darth Vader is just the best-known example. We have a similar phenomenon in Brony culture with Nightmare Moon.

          • Well, maybe, but Darth Vader to Barney Stinson? One is the embodiment of evil (who turns out to be good in the end) and one is Don Juan. Barney is more analogous to C-3PO. He’s the comic relief, not the villain. Comic relief is usually the adorable person you wish you actually did know.

    • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

      Aw, corn. I forgot to watch it! I think my wife’s Amazon Prime account has it for us waiting to go though. I always really liked the show. I think it speaks to a lot of the issues that 30-somethings deal with in terms of trying to get into “real life” after college, but having troubles *really* growing up into the roles that society says we’re supposed to fill. The movie “Fight Club” was similar for me, albeit specifically in terms of what it means to be a man these days.

      There was one episode (I think it was called “Unfinished” and was from 2010) that I found very profound in it’s Aesop moment, but one of my close buddies found to be infuriating to the point where he stopped watching the show. Lily is trying to get Robin to delete an ex-boyfriend’s number from her phone, and Robin turned the tables by trying to talk Lily into dropping the number for the karate dojo she hadn’t visited in years from hers and Marshall to drop the number of the booking agent for his all-lawyer funk band that hadn’t played in years from his.

      The Aesop, was of course, that as we grow up there are things we need to just let go of. We should give ourselves permission to let go of some of our unfulfilled dreams. That really struck of chord with me regarding doing music recording. I did one crappy live album in 2007, and had been working on a decent studio one ever since. Over the next five years I had managed to lay down everything but the vocals for two songs… and all that work I did in the course of a week or two in 2011. No progress at all since then. And, to be honest with myself, I didn’t really care that much anymore. That just wasn’t me anymore. And while I haven’t yet sold or given away my recording gear, that episode allowed me to give myself permission to give it up.

      My buddy, on the other hand, saw that episode as advocating for mediocrity, and he hasn’t watched the show since. But, he’s the kind of guy that has a zillion projects on the back burner at any given moment and never quite finishes any of them.

      • Aw, man. I would have liked to hear your recordings. I’m still hoping to carve out time to do some myself, but it looks pretty bleak. Not throwing in the towel, though.

        Did you ever finish the Evening Prayer setting? Our parish is still using your Lord’s Prayer.

        • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

          That *is* still in progress, and not in the same way as that recording project was! I’ve got a setting for the Lord’s Prayer, the Magnificat, and the Nunc Dimittis done at this point. Been SLOWLY working on the Gloria in Excelsis.

        • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

          Oh, and it does my heart good to hear that y’all are using that setting 🙂

          • We’re currently using it as part of the liturgy for our Lenten mid-week services. I love your compositional style. It’s like halfway between Taize and Anglican chant. We’d use the other two if I could ever convince my congregation to actually do an evening prayer service. Every time it’s like, “Oh yeah, let’s do evening prayer. …and we could have communion too…” And so it winds up being a Eucharist and not a daily office.

            I’m not gonna complain that we can’t seem to worship without communion, but I would really like to explore the liturgical use of the NT canticles eventually. 😛 Maybe we can get yours in for Lessons and Carols this year.

          • That’s how my last parish used ’em, also. That was a neat thing for me, ‘cuz they didn’t let me know they had been working on it. It was a total surprise, and the first time I’d heard a composition of mine performed by someone who’s not me.

    • The ending wasn’t a pithy happy-ever-after. It was messy, with divorce and death, just like real life. I found a redemptive theme, free of fairytale endings. That’s something I rarely see from evangelicals, where pragmatism ties up everything with pretty bows.

  5. Big Big Train’s English Electric is the best Genesis album since Wind And Wuthering.

    • Radagast says

      … that’s because Steve Hackett left after Wind and the Wuthering……..

      I will give English Electric a listen…

  6. Mississippi Senate Bill 2681

    There seems to be a lot of talk about this bill, called the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Those opposed believe it could be a licence for discriminatory practices against woman, gay people, people from other faiths, while those for it believe it is a necessary prevention against Christians being discriminated against for following the dictates of their faith.

    As an geographical outsider (Scotland), I am a little confused. Can anyone explain clearly the purpose of this bill and its attendant risks, and whether the rewrites, amendments and conferences have diluted its force?

    • melissatheragamuffin says

      Mike D, in the US Christian photographers have been sued for declining to photograph gay marriages. This past week, the new CEO of Mozilla is being pressured to step down because six years ago he donated to support Proposition 8.

      • cermak_rd says

        Being sued is one thing. Being pressured another.

        Even being sued doesn’t imply a judgement. You can pretty well sue anyone for anything. Doesn’t mean you’ll win, in fact, in some states, you might lose and have to pay the winner’s court costs depending on how egregious your claim was.

        Being pressured is just about being criticized. He doesn’t have to step down. He is simply being criticized for a free action he took. Nothing wrong with that. You can be anti-gay or anti-Christian, but you don’t have any right not to face criticism for that attitude.

        • Richard Hershberger says

          Also, are these real lawsuits? I honestly don’t know. They might be, but I see this scenario mostly presented as a hypothetical. This makes me wonder if the whole thing isn’t an urban legend. Anyone have an actual case number? If so, did any get past a motion for dismissal? Finally, as a practical matter this would be a hard case to prove, if our hypothetical photographer says “I’m so sorry, but I’m not available” without going into a harangue about the evils of gay marriage.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            > Also, are these real lawsuits? I honestly don’t know.

            Mostly NO. Or they are actually about something very technical but people interpret [deliberately?] them to be about something else. Research commonly exposes these court cases as urban legend or misinterpretation.

          • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

            Now, I have not researched all of these, but I found this list of ongoing lawsuits. I’m sure some Googling would show us the details:

            Sweet Cakes by Melissa (Oregon)
            Just Cookies (Indiana)
            Masterpiece Cakes (Colorado)
            Victoria’s Cake Cottage (Iowa)
            Fleur Cakes (Oregon)
            Elane Photography (New Mexico)
            Aloha Bed and Breakfast (Hawaii)
            Arlene’s Flowers (Washington)
            Liberty Ridge Farm (New York)
            All Occasion Party Place (Texas)
            Wildflower Inn (Vermont)
            Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association (New Jersey)
            Hands On Originals (Kentucky)
            Dr. Angela McCaskill (Gallaudet University, Maryland)
            Crystal Dixon (University of Toledo,Ohio)

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          > Being pressured is just about being criticized. …You can be anti-gay or
          > anti-Christian, but you don’t have any right not to face criticism for
          > that attitude.

          +1 And criticism, even being unpopular, is not *persecution*.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > Can anyone explain clearly the purpose of this bill and its attendant risks

      No, at least I can’t. It will take court cases to be able to answer that. Many of these types of laws are designed mostly to make court cases as courts are the real battle ground of the culture wars. And it is very hard to call in advance how those will go.

      This bill is part of the “big sort” that occurring is the USA as New England / Yankee culture concentrates in the mid-west and north east and Appalachian culture concentrates in the south. These cultures are have always been around but the birds-of-a-feather effect is occurring – people migrate towards where people like them live.

      Note the language of the banner of the bill “BASED ON STATE ACTION SHALL NOT BURDEN A PERSON’S RIGHT TO THE EXERCISE OF RELIGION; ” Not only does a person have rights, but the state should not take any measure that would possibly *burden* the practice of said rights. This is a huge distinction; the Appalachian culture [which religiously meshes well with Evangelicalism] is a hyper-individualistic ‘warrior’ culture that views the individual as the sole and supreme moral agent – so anything that impinges on that moral authority is very suspect. This is in contrast to the Yankee concept of the “citizen” which recognizes the moral authority of both the citizen and the society [expressed by the state] and that both must make accommodations.

      Much of American politics is currently riven through with this confrontation of cultures; and it is often hidden behind religious rhetoric, but it is not in truth a religious conflict.

      • Your characterization of Appalachia’s cultural product is loaded with discourteous descriptors. There is no data pointing to their collective view as the individual being the supreme moral agent, rather their very religious culture suggests that God is, in their mind’s, but that they have divinely given charges and liberties to draw those lines personally and as a community.

        To miss the communal form of Appalachia and its extended cultural impact is to reveal a basic lack of understanding its historic and present state. Its form may not be strong inter dependence but they, indeed, live with an understanding and affirmation of the cultural collective as a valid part of their lives.

        Hyper-individualistic? Because when we add “hyper” to anything it is complimentary. Very? Maybe, but in reality that characterization would be rare in the last 40 years. What you might mean or people mean is that they are not very tribal as a community, though clannish indeed but not even as much now as ever in a mobile Appalachia.

        Generally they do depend on government programs and aid for their area seeing Appalachian cultures still lag in wealth and income averages.

        I lived in Appalachia so I can speak from my experience and though it is anecdotal I found it typically gracious, certain of their views and yes, not interested in government intrusion where they believe they are able to make their own collective and individual decsions. But that is just as true in Texas as it is in N. Dakota.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          > There is no data pointing to their collective view as the individual being the
          > supreme moral agent, rather their very religious culture suggests that God is,

          And the interpretation of God’s will is that of every individual via a very strong reading of the priesthood-of-the-believer meme. The difference is no difference – (A) I am the sole moral authority, (B) God is the source of all moral authority and speaks directly to me [or my community]. A is B and B is A.

          > Hyper-individualistic?

          All American subcultures, except perhaps Mennonites and the like, are strongly individualistic. Appalachian culture is so in a more profound way than others. So, yes, “hyper”.

          • I would amend “all” to “many”; for one, there are plenty of non-WASP ” subcultures” that are far mor community-minded. For another, this trait does seem pretty WASP-centered.

            Spend some time with many Jewish, Latino, etc. etc. etc. folks and you’ll see what I mean.

          • You make bold assertions without even a contemporary anecdote. This absence betrays any seriousness of such claims.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            There is plenty of research into the subcultures of America; these subcultures have been recognized by social scientists since the era of the civil war [see Joel Garreau], although they did not have the term “cultural anthropology” yet. There traits and tendencies are remarkably consistent.

            For an approachable intro check out American Nations by Colin Woodward.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            numo, yes it is very White centered, as the history of the USA, with the exception of the west, has been strongly dominated by the cultures of the european colonists. Other sects have been present since the beginning – but have not, until *very* recently, held many prominent positions or had much influence or even regional policies The New England region is a possibly exception to exclusive whiteness – but one of the NE’s cultural hallmarks dating batch to Dutch commerce was openness and cultural laissez-faire; all those culture wars and religious fights get in the way of commerce – and now we have Manhattan.

          • Yes, but you still provide nothing to support your extreme characterizations. “Go read” isn’t an argument. Your characterizations still stand as naked assertions.

            Appalachia officially extends through 13 states and much of it quite modern. Where you ideas come from about modern Appalachia might describe (that is a big might) some deviation from the norm but it certainly is not the norm.

          • Adam, you lost me re. your statement about New England, unless you actually mean Boston. I can agree that the NE Corridor cities are very diverse, but once you get into central/western MA and most of CT, Vermont, New Hampsire and Maine, it’s a whole different world. Ditto for. Providence vs. the rest of the state, though certainly, a lot of immigrants settled there in the late 19th-early 20th c. But that’s true of NYC and Phila. as well.

            I’m from PA, which was much more culturally diverse in its early days (Dutch, Swedes, Germans, Swiss, English, Protestants from Ireland) than it is now, large cities and the coal mining regions excepted, along with the recent influx of Latin American immigrants in SE and central PA. The colony was started by Penn and family, and was a haven for many people of very diverse religious beliefs.

            I think you are overgeneralizing, as is Joel Garreau. No blame attached to that, but I kind of grind my teeth whenever I see gross oversimplification in books like his.

            As for diversity, visit Miami…

          • What do you mean by “exclusive whiteness” re. new England, especially per earlier history?

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            By “exclusive whiteness” I mean, exactly that, the halls of power were effectively limited to whites. Other than in the west and some districts with strong French influences the dominant culture was [self-]exclusively white european.

            By New England most of the anthropologist types mean a pretty small strip of land around what is today New York and Manhattan, not extending inland more than a hundred miles; the area with a strong dutch influence. The inland north east would be predominately Yankee with an emphasis on cultural conformity and well-organized communities. Also distinct from the Quakers and the region to the south [which Woodward refers to as the Midlands], but different people have used different names.

            Cultures are always generalizations, but the existence of the culture and its tendencies holds up over time and through multiple analysis of the data. The historical maps of expansion line up shockingly well with by-county voting patterns. Cultures never describe individuals, but individuals acting en-masse exhibit consistency.

          • I think New York (very much including the area around NYC) is not part of New England, culturally or otherwise. I know it has NE states bordering it, but then, Ohio and some other Midwestern states share borders with Mid-Atlantic states, too. (Though I realize that borders don’t mean much when it comes to cultures, local and regional.)

            As for religion, I think you’ll find it hard to make a case for NY ever having been a predominantly Calvinist/Puritan colony or state. It was settled by people who were quite different than the Pilgrims and Mass. Bay types.

          • Honestly., that definition of New England strikes me as wrong, both historically and culturally. And even though I disagree with much in the book Albion’s Seed (too many generalizations about PA and other Mid-Atlantic colonies, for one), he has some good points.

            But I’d need to check out some recent stuff on all of this to refresh my memory… Aside from that, I think the misuse of the term “Yankee” would irritate most New Englanders no end!

      • Excellent observations.

    • In Canada we have human rights commissions. If a person believes they have suffered discrimination they can file a complaint. If you are called to defend yourself, you have to pay costs out of your own pocket, including legal fees. These can mount up and bankrupt you. In addition you may have to pay fines levied by the commission for things like hurt feelings.

      The complainant has all costs paid by the state.

      The human rights commissions have been used extensively by certain groups against religious people (Christians and Muslims that I know of).

    • Danielle says

      If there is a lawsuit, I bet it’s a stunt meant to prove a point, and it won’t be repeated.

      Let’s say you could force a photographer to photograph your wedding.

      Why would any sane person do it? In order to get bad photos from an angry photographer? So that I have to look at him frowning in the corner through the whole ceremony? So that I can support his business and make him more prosperous?

  7. I just started reading My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer by Christian Wiman. In his preface he mentioned an essay he wrote that got a lot of attention. I found it on if anyone would like to read it.

    I am enjoying the first part of his book that I have read so far. Thanks for the recommendation, Chaplain Mike.

    • Thanks for the link. That’s a wonderful essay. The book is somewhere in my “read me next” pile; perhaps it needs to be dug out and placed at the top.

    • Deb4kids says

      Hi Joanie,

      Glad to see your post. Just yesterday I was thinking that I haven’t notice you posting recently and was hoping all is well with you. You seem to have such a gracious spirit and your posts are always filled with encouragement for others.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the book. One can never have too many good book recommendations! I tend to get anxious when my Amazon Wish List gets too short 🙂


      • Thanks for your kind words, Deb. The conversations here just tend to get so many comments that I do well to skim down through them, never mind think through things well enough to feel I have something worthwhile to contribute.

        I have maybe 10 books right now in my Amazon Wish List. I don’t actually plan to buy them…I just keep them there to know what to get next through the interlibrary loan program I use! I try to intersperse “heavy” reading with some “light” reading. For the light reading category, I just finished Fannie Flagg’s The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion’. I enjoyed that. I like that Fannie Flagg has so many likable characters in her stories. Another book that was not so light but that was a good novel is The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. She really has insight into the thoughts and feelings of people and made me really feel for Harold and his wife. I can see that book becoming a movie and it would be great to see all the English countryside in the movie. I am a Downton Abbey fan although I thought this season was less captivating than the others. Such great acting by all those folks!

        • Deb4kids says

          Ha! I do the same thing with my Amazon Wish List and the library. I used to buy more fiction books when my daughters lived at home. I guess when four people were reading them it seems less extravagant 🙂

          The Hubby doesn’t really share my fiction tastes.

          I also enjoyed “The All-Girl Filling Station…”

          I generally only buy the non-fiction books which I think I will want to reference again or share with others.

          I was a little disappointed when Downton Abbey skipped past Edith’s months of pregnancy. I wish the writers had allowed us to take that journey with her. I think it would have been an eye-opening and fascinating glimpse into the lives of women who found themselves in that situation at that moment in history.

          • Deb…my sister has a theory about something involving Edith that I never really thought about, but I think she may be right. Should I tell you here?

            And yes, if I am going to buy a book, it will be a non-fiction book. I like memoirs.

            I like Rob Bell’s Love Wins but I may be in the minority in this group of folks here. I liked two of his other books I read as well. I also like Father James Martin’s books.

            I was a little surprised that they skipped right over Edith’s months of pregnancy too. It’s quite amazing to realize it’s basically one man writing all the Downton Abbey shows.

        • Hmm. I watched this season of Downtown Abbey and thought it was a lot *better* than previous seasons, less soap opera-y (for the most part), with Maggie Smith *finally* getting something beyond zingy one-liners. But then, I’m not really a fan. If anything, my loyalties are with Upstairs, Downstairs (the original show), as characters were much more developed and, imo, the scripts and acting were much better than Fellowes’ work on Downtown Abbey. Though to be sure, UD had some silly/soapy episodes and plotlines from time to time.

          • I definitely *am* a Maggie Smith fan and doubt I’d watch DA if she wasn’t part of the cast.

          • numo, Maggie Smith is great! Her expressions are priceless.

          • OK, what is your sister’s theory about Edith?

          • btw, I also liked Love Wins, though mainly for the ideas, not his writing style. You might also like Robin Parry (aka Gregory McDonald) – check out his books under both names, plus his bog at theological

          • OK, numo, here we go. My sister thinks that Edith is not actually the daughter of Robert and Cora, but instead is their niece and that her mother is actually Lady Rosamund, Robert’s sister. She thinks this way because Edith always feels like she doesn’t really fit in her family and she is not dark-haired like her two sisters, but is light like Lady Rosamund. She thinks Lady Rosamund became pregnant without being married and gave Edith to Robert and Cora to raise as their own. Lady Rosamund is someone who ended up marrying a businessman which is something the family looks down upon and Edith shows tendencies different from her family’s as well. Plus, Lady Rosamund took Edith right under her wing to support her through the pregnancy and made sure that the family at large treated her well when she was in the beginning stages of her pregnancy without telling them that Edith was actually pregnant, although grandma figured it out.

          • Joanie – that *totally* makes sense to me, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out to be true. Hmm…

          • OTOH, I wonder if it’s just a family resemblance plus concern and sympathy for Edith? Her aunt certainly understand what it’s like to be the odd man out, and somehow I can’t see Cora tearing herself away from the manor for any length of time…

          • Maggie Smith was a natural redhead, back in the day… Which might argue for a simple case of family resemblance. Still, your sister’s ideas are more than plausible!

  8. Definitely my main thing is Protestant reformation. I originally was impressed by Tillich’s “The Protestant Era” ( it’s real title should have been the end of the protestant era). Not by the theology, but his description of the RESULTS IN SOCIETY still hold up today( and they were written in 1949), and they are gloomy( I should list them for emphasis, but it discourages reading because so long). Drawn to the internet because of interest in “emerging church” , that topic as described on Wikipedia is still an INTERESTING OUTLINE for me, but I have no interest in the many in that stream who have gone after “new” doctrine. Today, I am interested in new options for CHRISTIAN SOCIETIES. I’m in the wilderness because there aren’t very many in churches we go to who are even close to the same wavelength. I should always say the PROTESTANT PRINCIPLE is stamped within me- philosophically, don’t absolutize the relative,,, theologically that means we all are inclined to idolizing. Theologically I most like Clark Pinnock, who isn’t on many people’s radar either. Not because of what first comes up- open theology( although I’m open to open theology), but his TRINITARIAN drawing on Pentecostal, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, and Roman Catholic influence. An UNBOUNDED LOVE is the best way to me he described what becomes a very inclusive and good news approach. These are main topics that I would like to discuss, since the question was asked.

    • Protestant Era is one of my favorite books. The Protestant Principle applies within evangelicalism as well, where often absolute statements defying reason are forced upon its members. Courage to Be is another good book on that subject by Tillich.

  9. cermak_rd says

    I got my contra alto clarinet back after it’s overhaul. Oh my goodness! She’s like a new instrument. I had to take her back once for some teething pain correction (in my experience typical after an overhaul). I am enjoying her. She sounds righteous on “Dust in the Wind” as well as the more serious etudes and classical music I’m playing on her.

    I’ve also added an electronic keyboard to my practice area for the purpose of doing some relative pitch ear training exercises. I’m hoping the first one is the hardest as I learn to train my voice to hit a note with the piano. The tuner frequently pegs me at the moment as a semitone or so off. The idea is to sing perfect fifths up and down. Once I get that working then perfect fourths, major sixths…

    I’m not a musician, but I’m having fun.

    • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

      I did a little clarinet back-in-the-day. I had a borrowed alto clarinet that had a leak somewhere and consequentially whirred something fierce.

      • Richard Hershberger says

        My six-year old has declared that she wants to play the clarinet. I have no idea where she picked this idea up from. It’s not that I think it unreasonable, but it is a mystery how she hit on that particular instrument. She has been constant in this declaration for about half a year. If she sticks to this when she is closer to being of age for school band, then I will spring for renting one.

        • cermak_rd says

          I would be curious to know how she hit on the clarinet and not the flute or sax or drum or sousaphone or… A friend at school who has a sib that plays clarinet? There’s not a lot of popular or even classical music where you can actually hear the clarinet apart from other instruments. Or is she a closet Benny Goodman fan? If so, she’s got taste.

          I’ve never met anyone who regretted playing in their school band. I’ve met those who regret not playing and those who regret quitting. Of course, how much of that is about the road not taken?

          At any rate, I’m saddened when I meet adults who seem to think they’re too old to learn to play an instrument. I’m pretty old, but I’m improving on the clarinet. I may not live long enough to master it, but I’m having fun with it.

          • Richard Hershberger says

            Alas, her taste in music generally is appalling. She hears classical when I have control of the radio, but given a choice she favors bubble gum pop. I figure it is my job to expose her and her younger sister to classical music and substantive books, but such things can’t be forced. The surest way to make a kid hate reading is to insist she read the books you think she should be reading, rather than the ones she wants to read. I figure the same principle works with music. (It is going very well on the book front. She is in kindergarten, but reading about two or three grades above her age.)

            I was a band geek through high school and into college. I still have my tenor saxophone, and I have been threatening to get back into practice. My town has an old-style municipal band, which would provide a venue. I would have expected this to attract her to the sax, but she is adamant that it is the clarinet she wants to play.

      • cermak_rd says

        Oh yes the leaks! I have a repair tech that I trust, which for a wind instrument player is like saying I have a mechanic I trust. I met him through my music teacher.

        The alto has a gorgeous voice in her low register and especially in her high clarion register. Just where the soprano Bb gets funky in its throats, in those tones, the alto sounds beautifully.

        My alto is a vintage instrument. She’s been dated as from the Eisenhower era. She only goes down to low E (most modern altos go down to low Eb) and doesn’t have plateau keys on all her keys (plateau keys are the keys that cover the tone hole rather than having the player’s fingers cover the tone hole). Because I’m used to playing soprano Bb, the open tone holes don’t bother me.

        • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

          They switched me to a standard Bb later in the year (I was basically drafted into stage band as a senior in high school), and that was the thing that took the most getting used to: open tone holes.

  10. Great idea this open forum, ideal for me who enjoys talking about my thoughts. When the group was discussing the Gothard and other “bossy” movements in the church I wondered why put up with such an unreasonable way to live. CM wondered that my age (maybe too young) kept me from understanding what it was like to be caught up in thesetypes of movementst led by charismatic people. Actually I am 82 and lived thru various “phases” of the church earlier. “Modernism” in the 50’s caused us to scrutinize every word of our church literature; listen suspiciously to pastors; denounce leaders for even thinking about associating with a council of churches, etc. Later, Billy Graham was included with the bad guys. Due to my really dysfunctional early days, tho, I was always skeptical. I was (am) not a trusting person . I am so glad that being a Christian is not about me.


    • cermak_rd says

      Do you mean modernism as in the way Catholics (usually traddies) use it as the synthesis of all heresies or do you mean modernism as in wanting to be modern?

      I’ve never really understood what the traddies mean by modernism. I mean they’ll describe it as the synthesis of all heresies but never seem to nail down what it actually is and how something might be a symptom of modernism.

      I see nothing wrong with being suspicious of your pastor. Are Christians not called as individuals to rightly divide the Word? Just as Jews are called to individually read, study and understand Torah. The rabbi is just a scholar. At one time, he (always a he back then, now I’m glad to say s/he) only was required to deliver one lecture a year, the rest of his time spent in study and judgement. Of course, now the judgement part is largely gone (other than refereeing an occasional dispute between congregants) and s/he usually delivers a sermon weekly.

      • Hi Cermak, “Modernism,” and the fear of seemed to arise in the late 30-40’s. Fear of higher criticism, fear of neo-orthodoxy creeping in and diluting the scriptures; fear of association or even seeming to with those who didn’t leave their churches. This is well documented. G. Gresham Machen was dismissed from Princeton Seminary, new seminaries were formed. Francis Schaeffer said they acted and talked in ways they were sorry about years later. Carl McIntire a leader in the movement was a Presbyterian pastor, very divisive. I will say that it all seemed very exciting to we newer Christians and we said some ugly things too. Sort of like the Southern Baptist “holy war” which started in the late seventies. Always something.

  11. I find myself, somewhat to my surprised, being suspended from comment on a Christian women’s blog for a) defending Jonathan Edwards as causing a suicide, and B) saying “surely suicide is a sin.”
    I believe I was banned for lack of compassion but does not the Roman Catholic Church say suicide is not simply a venial sin but is, indeed, a mortal sin?
    So we have compassion on the one side vs Roman Catholic dogma on the other. I’m a guy, I think dogma first.

    • cermak_rd says

      Well for a sin to be mortal the person committing it has to be free to make either choice and also has to know that one of the choices is sinful. In suicide, because there is frequently a mental anguish involved that can impair judgement, it’s difficult to know if the person was actually free to choose to commit suicide or not. That’s why suicide victims are usually given Catholic burial, it is usually assumed that the person did not have the full freedom not to choose suicide.

      • Thank you for the insight Cermak

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        He’s talking about the trouble he got into on Wartburg Watch for repeated Trolling and nasty/belittling comments about victims (“Yawn…”). You can confirm this with Dee over at Wartburg Watch; he’s been Trolling there for some time.

        Here’s Dee’s most recent comment to and about him; the subject of the sub-thread was suicides in Jonathan Edwards’ congregation:

        dee UNITED STATES on Tue Apr 01, 2014 at 01:30 PM said:
        Seneca “j” Griggs. wrote:

        ( Surely taking your own life is a sin.)

        This comment is a disgrace.

        Seneca, this is a warning. I have friends and family who have contemplated suicide. Your words are condemning. This stops with this comment. Do it again and you will go on ice for a long time.

        In fact, do me a favor and stay away for a couple of weeks and wise up.

        Here’s the entire thread:

        • cermak_rd says

          Hmm, I wouldn’t have refered to Wartburg Watch as a Christian women’s blog. It seems to be more about calling out bad behavior and authoritarianism in the evangelical Christian community.

          • Vega Magnus says

            Seneca constantly brings up Dee and Deb’s gender on WW and talks about how different masculine “linear thinking” is. He is kinda like Mule raised to the billionth degree as far as his hyper-gendered views are concerned, but instead of Mule’s super-dense Eastern Orthodox writings, Seneca spouts passive-aggresive evangelical catchphrases. Oh, and he LOVES to defend whatever megapastor WW is discussing no matter what.

          • Well put –

            I still find it interesting that you can get kicked off a blog for saying suicide is a sin.

            Inconvenient truth? (Certainly politically incorrect in our time).

  12. Something I’ve been mulling over in preparation for a blog post is the relative nature of truth. Now before anyone jumps down my throat, what I mean is that the context in which the truth is practiced (and yes, I believe truth is embodied, rather than propositional) determines the telos and meaning of truth. For example, Jesus quoted the prophets in saying, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice”. Is that because God did not desire sacrifice? Jesus condemned the religious hypocrites of his day for tithing “mint and dill and cumin” while “neglecting the weightier matters of the law”. Is that because tithing was wrong? Instead, I believe these teachings illustrate the essential nature of a healthy context for the application of truth. Just because someone is “right” on one point does not mean they aren’t an ass, and they may be missing the bigger picture. That’s as far as I’ve gotten so far; I need to put a point on it.

    • I think embodied vs. propositional is a false dichotomy. The fact that God communicates via language says something about the propositional nature of truth, even if that isn’t the end of it. Ultimately, God’s Word (Truth) is both propositional (Scripture) and embodied (Incarnation), so we need to hold the two in a balance of perfect synergy, which is Christ.

      • I agree Miguel. The written word and the Word Incarnate are an inseparable entity, similar to the hypostatic union of being both man and God. When Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5.17) it appears to me that the Law and the Prophets was fulfilled in His own Person, not just in what He said and did, which is how this verse is often interpreted.

      • Miguel, it was not my intention to separate embodies from propositional; rather my statement was about nature (necessarily truncated for a blog comment). Jesus said, “I am the truth.” This is an epistemological statement that is very difficult to reconcile with a great deal of recent systematic theology, which is founded upon other (often empirical-rational) epistemologies. The way I understand Jesus’ words is that truth has to be lived out in a person. A truth-as-proposition isn’t actually true, because it is incomplete. It is like arguing that a heart is a human. You can’t have a human without a heart (setting aside modern technological innovation for the sake of illustration), but a heart by itself is not a human. In the same way, if truth never “gets off the page” it is only a part that is intended to be part of a greater organism. As a heart, it may serve for interesting clinical study. As a human, it totally sucks.

    • Even a real ass got it 100% right at least once. I refer to Balaam’s ass which made an ass out of Balaam (Numbers 22.21-30)

    • So much of what I hear Christians label as “truth” these days appears to me only to be “strong opinion.”

      Strong opinion shaped by:
      -Interpretation of scripture, which may or may not be TRUE interpretation or may have come from hearing someone else’s “poor” interpretation of scripture.
      -Because “so-and-so” said so, and he’s a smart, long-time theologian.
      -Because my denomination says so.
      -Upbringing and childhood experiences.
      -Traumatic experiences.
      -Personal encounters with God/Jesus.
      -The Holy Spirit “tells me” aka the “gift of discernment” – which might make the opinion valid, but perhaps not. (Just because the Spirit tells you so, doesn’t mean it’s so.)
      -Feelings and emotions.

      All of these can lead people to an UNHEALTHY application of Truth, as THEY perceive it. Again, it may or may not be truth – and is probably not – but it sure gets presented that way.

  13. I appreciate the different voices and perspectives that I encounter here on iMonk. I’ve been pondering limited atonement – that most unpleasant doctrine from my Calvinistic background. If one is not a Universalist and believes that some will ultimately be eternally lost – how do other Christian traditions wrestle with and explain Christ’s sacrifice not being efficacious for the damned?

    • Without getting into a debate about soteriology in general it is hard to give a really good answer to that.

      In short, though, it isn’t about efficacy of Christ’s work on the cross, there’s no question of that. It is about the freedom of will to reject the life won for us in that action.

      • …to which us Lutherans reply, the will that rejects the life won for us is not truly free, but remains in bondage to sin, death, and the devil.

        • I like how in Lutheran theology one gets to person and work of Jesus very quickly. I find that in my Calvinist tradition we linger too long on the sovereignty of God. Let’s get to the good news already!

          • Rick Ro. says

            ->”…in my Calvinist tradition we linger too long on the sovereignty of God. Let’s get to the good news already!”

            That’s my main puzzlement with the Calvinistic approach, that the sovereignty of God seems to trump the Good News of Jesus Christ. I’ve told my Calvinist friends that my main “issue” with what they tell me is that theology appears to be “good news” to them (the elect), but offers very little Good News to the non-elect, which seems so counter to what I see from Jesus in the gospel accounts.

          • Rick Ro., I don’t find this to be true either of me or my Calvinist friends. Just because we believe in the sovereignty of God does not mean we trump the gospel. Quite the contrary, actually. I believe that there may be a “perspective distortion” thing going on here. I believe that a more cogent explanation of what you mean by “the sovereignty of God seems to trump the Good News of Jesus Christ” needs attention here.

          • Rick Ro. says

            Calvin, you yourself just posted that Christ shed His blood “only for His saints.” How is that “Good News” for a non-saint? (And please don’t pull out the “because Jesus knew who would accept Him, thus He knows which non-saints will become saints.”)

          • Rick Ro., if you limit my response then my response will be “limited.” But if you grant me “free will” to freely response then I believe I can address your question.

          • Rick Ro. says

            The parenthetical was probably snarkier than I intended. My apologies for it.

          • CalvinCuban – I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on ‘perspective distortion’.

          • Paul, I must admit that I am not familiar with this term. Is there another name for it? I just now Googled it and came up with photographic stuff. I even Googled “perspective distortion theology” and came up with nothing.

            But you have peaked my interest…

          • Calvinism vs. Lutheranism in a nutshell: God-centered vs. Christ centered. Calvinist go through the glorious sovereignty of God to get to a crucified Savior, Lutherans go through a crucified Savior to get to a glorious, merciful God.

      • Christiane says

        I like your response a lot. Perhaps one ‘proof’ might be that ‘innocents’ . . . infants, young children, and people who are mentally and emotionally disabled . . . these are considered to be under the protection of Christ. The point of difference here is that those ‘innocents’ cannot make a free choice to reject what they cannot comprehend, and so they are under the wing of their Creator in a special way.

        I have read articles where some five-point Calvinists talked about the ‘God of Wrath’ in the Old Testament who killed babies and used this to justify a belief that only some were chosen and some among the innocents would perish for the ‘glory of God’, which I could never grasp (it is so far from my Church’s teaching about Christ and God). I don’t even think the ‘God burns babies’ crowd really buys into that doctrine . . . it’s just a kind of ‘group-talk’ they put out so they feel accepted among their own kind. Who could believe God kills babies for His glory? I don’t understand such a mind-set at all.

        • What?! Where did you get that? I have studied Reformed theology closely for over a decade and that’s the first time I ever heard that one.

          • Christiane says

            I can steer you towards the right direction:
            if you go to blogs of Southern Baptists who include Calvinists among them, you will find articles like this one:


            that should get you started . . . (be sure to read the comment section there, also)

          • Christiane, thank you for pointing this out. You have helped me learn some new things and enriched my life and faith as a consequence.

            It appears that John Calvin himself was very much open to the possibility that some infants were elect while others were not. But both the Synod of Dort (1618) and the Westminster Assembly (1643) affirmed the salvation of infants. And in this regard I would admit that the Remonstrants at Dort had a positive influence on the Calvinists in this respect. And it is also true that some post Westminster Calvinists such as Jonathan Edwards were more likely to agree with John Calvin’s original assessment of infant salvation, I would argue that Calvinism, like any other Christian tradition, is a “work in progress,” and that some beliefs have changed over time.

            For what it’s worth, I do not agree with Calvin or Presbyterians or Reformed churches with regards infant baptism. I agree with C.H. Spurgeon with respect to credobaptism as well as that of the universal salvation of infants. It is interesting to note that Spurgeon, a five-point Calvinist and rabid defender thereof, believed that the number of the redeemed in heaven would be greater than the population in hell. His reasoning? Infants.

            So, and the pun can’t be helped here, let us not throw out the baby with the bath water.

          • Christiane says

            Thank you, CalvinCuban, for the interaction . . . I also have learned from you, as I learn from many here who come from the different faith traditions. It is a good blog for listening and learning and asking questions, and I have always been grateful for anytime and any place that offered that opportunity. Thanks again.

    • To be honest, I haven’t found the “scholastic” approach to these kinds of questions helpful, because it seems to just get bogged down in technical nuance that is entirely derivative. For me it is enough to say, “well, the Bible seems to say such and such.” Does it always “fit together” in my mind? No. But it doesn’t have to.

      • Rick Ro. says

        ->”Does it always ‘fit together’ in my mind? No. But it doesn’t have to.”

        No, it doesn’t. Not until a fellow Christian comes up to you and tells you otherwise, that you mustn’t be much of a Christian if you don’t believe such-and-such. Then suddenly it becomes, “Houston, we have a problem.” 😉

        But I’m with you. While I DO enjoy some of the scholastic approach, for me it’s enough to say, “Yeah, so the Bible seems to say such and such. I know there are other parts that seem to say otherwise.”

    • “Limited Atonement” is the most difficult of the five Doctrines of Grace for many to accept, with the exception of ‘Five-Point Calvinists,” of course. The first Calvinist (on record, anyway) to remove the “L” petal from the “TULIP” was the 17th century French Huguenaut Moses Amyraldus. Others who shared similar perspectives on this around the same time included Richard Baxter, one of the “Great Puritans.”

      Today many of the Reformed Christians I speak to reject the doctrine of Limited Atonement in favor of Universal Atonement, which is to say, Christ died for the sins of all but His atonement is only efficacious for the elect. Even five-pointers such as R.C. Sproul dislike the term and instead prefer to call it “Definite Redemption” or “Definite Atonement” which, in his own words, “…communicates that God the Father designed the work of redemption specifically with a view to providing salvation for the elect, and that Christ died for His sheep and laid down His life for those the Father had given to Him.”

      Me, I’m fine with whatever phrase one wants to use as long as the message is made clear that Christ’s blood was shed only for His saints. Other than that I have no problem, as some do, accepting four-pointers as genuine Reformed. More importantly, I accept anyone who believes in Christ as a genuine Christian.

      And no, I don’t want to get into a “verse war” with anyone.

      • Rick Ro. says

        ->”‘Limited Atonement’ is the most difficult of the five Doctrines of Grace for many to accept…”

        Who says that Limited Atonement needs to be accepted? Jesus didn’t. You make it sound like truth, and that rejection of that concept might be a salvation issue.

        ->”Me, I’m fine with whatever phrase one wants to use as long as the message is made clear that Christ’s blood was shed only for His saints.”

        Why does the message have to be, “That Christ’s blood was shed ONLY FOR HIS SAINTS”? Jesus didn’t give that message. You make that sound like truth, and that rejection of that idea might be a salvation issue.

        • Rick Ro., did I write that it had to be accepted? I wrote that it was difficult for many to accept it. I hope you can see the difference. Such an argument makes it difficult, if not impossible, to dialogue with you. I’m OK with whatever you want to believe; can you extend the same grace to me?

          • Rick Ro. says

            LOL And I’d say it’s impossible to dialog with you! 😉

            I guess when I read, “It’s difficult for many to accept,” there’s an implication that it should be accepted. For instance, if I said, “Losing the Civil War was difficult for many Southerners to accept,” there’s an implication that they should probably accept it. So can you explain how one can say, “It’s difficult for many to accept” without implying that it should be accepted? (And please note…I’m not asking that snidely. I really would like to hear an instance of where you think there’s no implication of acceptance coming with the first statement.)

            And I do extend you grace, Calvin. I was hoping my dialoging with you was being done with graciousness. My apologies if it’s not coming across that way. I will examine my wording and intent more closely.

          • Rick Ro., let me see if I can clarify this. When I write that “It’s difficult for many to accept…” it means, simply, that the doctrine of Limited Atonement is difficult for many Calvinists and especially non-Calvinists, to accept. That’s all. It does not mean that it has to be accepted either to be a Calvinist, as I stated already, and much less to be a Christian.

            Your analogy about Southerners and the Civil War is puzzling to me as I find it to be a non sequitur. I lived in the Deep South for almost two decades and came across many Southerners who still find it difficult to accept the fact that they lost the Civil War. But I don’t know of a single one who thought that all Southerners, much less Yankees, needed to accept loosing the Civil War. Perhaps a different analogy might be more apropos in this case.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Ever since I saw Rick Ro’s handle on these threads, I’ve wanted to do this:

      • I believe the phrase Sproul uses is “Particular Redemption,” if I recall accurately. He has alternate, more theologically precise terms for each point of the TULIP, but since they don’t make a handy acronym, less precise terms will always be furthering misconception.

        Why is it so offensive to believe that Christ’s blood was shed for those who will persist in rejecting Him? What is the bigger offense, the spilling of the sacred blood, or the dead who cannot raise themselves? Honestly, if Limited Atonement be true, you cannot tell any person that Christ has died for them. You can only say that Christ might have died for them. Suddenly, there is not a good proclamation to be believed, but there is a giant “If” to drop with the other food. If you are elect. How do you know if you are elect? Suddenly, we are pointing the person away from Christ and his cross to determine the answer to that question (and yes, even Sproul does this).

        • No where in Acts will you see an evangelist tell anyone “Christ died for you”.

          The Gospel proclamation is “Jesus died for sinners, and if you will repent, that includes you”.

    • CalvinCuban says: “Quite the contrary, actually. I believe that there may be a “perspective distortion” thing going on here.”

      I scooped the term “perspective distortion” from you! I think it was in response to my comment that at times I feel Calvinists (which is my faith tradition) linger a little too long and/or emphasize too much the sovereignty of God at the expense of Jesus and the gospel. BTW, I appreciate your voice on this blog, your very gracious in your responses.

      • Paul, pardon my mental lapse. I need to uptake my intake of coconut oil from one to two tablespoons a day…

        Anyway, I was actually responding to someone else who had responded to you. By “perspective distortion” I mean that the perspective on Calvinism is often distorted by many commenters on this site. There appears to be a bias against Reformed theology in particular from many who comment here. I’m OK with that, actually, but where I take issue is when Calvinism is presented as a heresy or that it is the bane of Christianity and so forth.

        By contrast, you seldom read of other Christian traditions being purposely distorted in the same manner as Calvinism is. Such caricatures lack perspective and circumspection, that is to say, they are narrowly focused and never advance the truth. Rather, they are aimed at bolstering one’s point of view not by way of stating the truth but by by deriding others–and brothers and sisters in Christ, no less.

  14. As to the lost… a theology of inclusivism, it is only those who willfully, persistently, and finally remained indifferent toward or rejected God’s will as He has made it known to them, whether in nature/conscience (Rom. 1&2) or in gospel proclamation. As difficult as it may be for our logic to embrace, the Scripture’s soteriology is that “all are” even though “some are not.” I don’t like the term eternally lost because I believe in annihilationism.

  15. Bruce Harrington says

    Romans 10:9 – 10 (ESV) states that, “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” Does this nullify predestination and make free will the deciding factor in whether or not one becomes a Christian? Thank you for your input and have a blessed day!

    • Rick Ro. says

      That would certainly be one verse that I’d pull out to “defend” the free-will concept. My Calvinist friends would then pull out one that defends their “predestined elect” concept. And so it would begin, the barrage of scripture to defend positions I’m not sure God ever wanted us to battle over. Free-will vs. predestined elect: they aren’t salvation issues. We have to learn to let them go.

      There are a couple other posts/comments here discussing similar issues, Bruce. I’d like to hear/read your opinions on them.

      • Bruce Harrington says

        Thanks for your insights and wisdom as I am trying to determine whether to join a Methodist or a Presbyterian church. After reading Ephesians 1:4 – 5, it seems that Christians are “predestined” and “chosen” by God to become believers so the free will component of faith in Christ seems to be diluted to some extent.

    • Interesting that that you bring up Romans 10.9-10, for that is the passage I read back in 1974 when I first believed.

      I, for one, refuse to take any credit for confessing and believing in Christ of my own free will. Rather, I would argue that “even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2.5) By this I mean that it was by the grace of God that I was made alive together with Christ so that I would confess and and believe in Him. The dead, on the other hand, can only lie there and stink.

      And as I wrote earlier today, we can throw verses back and forth to each other to no avail.

      • Rick Ro. says

        ->”…we can throw verses back and forth to each other to no avail.”

        I like that you understand this, too, Calvin. My pushback with you is more around my belief that we mustn’t tell anyone what they must think/believe regarding theology. When you mentioned that a person must “accept” the idea of Limited Atonement and “Five-Point whatever” and that our message “must be” that Christ’s blood was shed “only for His saints”…well, I just feel this need to say “that’s not so.” And if you notice, my comments with you aren’t trying to convince you that free-will is right, I’m just trying to say, “Don’t foist predestined elect upon people when there’s absolutely nothing in the Bible that says people need to believe in that concept.”

        • Rick Ro., I don’t believe I have stated anything other than my opinions of the Doctrines of Grace. I have never stated, here or elsewhere, that anyone has to accept Calvinism to be a Christian. For the life of me I don’t understand where you get this notion.

          But as for your comment that “we mustn’t tell anyone what they must think/believe regarding theology,” is this not exactly what we Christians do when we proclaim the gospel? If i speak with a non-Christian about Christianity, regardless of their faith or no-faith, am I not then in effect telling them what they ought to believe? Salvation is in Christ alone, therefore I must speak of this with whomever is willing to listen.

          As for the Five Solas of the Protestant Reformation and the Doctrines of Grace, those are secondary matters of the Christian faith which, although I believe them to be true, are not essential for salvation.

          • Rick Ro. says

            I guess I’m really focused these days on the thought “In Christ Alone.” It’s not “In Christ, AND…” or “In Christ, BUT…”, rather it’s “In Christ ALONE.” There are no qualifiers; there are no add-ons.

            Thus, when I read theological statements that seem to have qualifiers and add-ons, my alert system begins beeping. That said, you’re giving me cause to pause and reflect on (perhaps) an overreaction on my part to what I’m perceiving you’re saying, when perhaps you’re not saying it as strongly as I’m perceiving it. Thanks for helping me look in the mirror to see if I have a plank in my eye.

          • Rick Ro., I very much appreciate that. Part of the reason I affirm the Doctrines of Grace is that the work of salvation is completely and uniquely left up to God. So, when I say, “In Christ alone” I also mean, “by the blood of Christ alone” and “according to the will of Christ alone.”

            To be fair, I understand the Arminian doctrine of Prevenient Grace, namely that divine grace precedes human decision. In such a model God did predestine the elect to salvation, but He did so because He looked through the corridor of time and saw that the elect would choose Christ of their own free will.

            I will go even further to state that the Five Articles of Remonstrance (from the Synod of Dort in 1618), namely, Conditional Election, Unlimited Atonement, Total Depravity, Prevenient Grace and Conditional Preservation, are a coherent and consistent theological argument. And although I disagree with Arminian theology, I find it way more plausible than the “Cafeteria Christianity” pick & choose theology we see in much of Evangelical churches these days.

  16. And I especially don’t like the term damned.

    All are justified freely by his grace.
    God has bound all men that He may have mercy on all of them.
    God doesn’t count men’s sins against them.
    Through His Son, God has reconciled all things to Himself.
    God’s grace has appeared for the salvation of all men.
    Jesus tasted death for everyone.

    I’m paraphrasing from memory from “The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society”……..
    I am exclusive in the sense of affirming the unique truth of the revelation of Jesus Christ, but not exclusive in denying the possibility of salvation for many others.
    I am inclusive in refusing to limit absolute grace, but rejecting the inclusivism that regards religion as the vehicle of salvation.
    I am universal in the sense of acknowledging the gracious work of the absolute in the lives of all, but rejecting the universalism that leaves out human responsibility.

    There is in the gospel the tension between the universal and the exclusive. Breaking the tension is done by humans in two ways. The first is robbing the universal its seriousness by excluding human responsibility( all types of monism, and today called non-dual). The second is robbing its uniqueness by drawing lines of who is in and who is out( in modern culture- the neo-reformed).

  17. The tension between election and free will. To be a Christian is to embrace paradox I suppose. Appreciate your thoughts on this folks!

    • Good question. The tension is real. Unfortunately, it’s man-made. Nowhere in the Bible is there any scripture that says you need to believe in election or you need to believe in free will. These concepts all came about because of a reaction (perhaps OVER-reaction) to an unhealthy application of a concept/doctrine that probably ran counter to it.

      I’m more of a free-will person myself. There are scriptures that support it. I have several friends who election kinds of people. They have scriptures that support it. If intelligent people can read the same book (Bible) and conclude different things about how God operates, then God must be some grand, glorious, indescribable, mysterious mix of all our various “truths.”

      Since the Word (Jesus) is the exact representation of God (from Hebrews), I need only look at Jesus’ life and ministries to understand who God is and how He operates. Free will or election…pfft…who cares? Jesus didn’t die on the cross for me to defend either.

      Here’s a related question, though, and one that I recently tossed at some of my Christian friends:
      -Does how we perceive God change the way He feels about us? Does He care if I view Him in a certain way (say Calvinstic or Arminian), but He’s really not that way? Does misperception of Him change His opinion of me or affect my salvation?

      • Good question. I’m hopeful that not only will I be saved through Christ, but that Jesus will also redeem my flawed, personal theology on the nature of God as well.

        • Paul, here was my answer to my own question. Not sure it’s “truth” or not, but I’ll leave it with you…

          “Maybe it’s not so important how I view God, but how I portray Him to others. Maybe God has no opinion of whether I have a perfectly correct view of Him; scripture seems to suggest of more concern is if I portray Him to others in a poor manner. Potential case in point, just thinking out-loud…let’s look at the “misguided” at Westboro Baptist. They may or may not have a correct view of God, and maybe God doesn’t really care if they are rightly or wrongly viewing Him within their church. However, I bet He IS dang concerned about how they portray Him to those outside the church! I guess I find myself pulsing God/Jesus/the Spirit ever-increasingly on whether I’m presenting the God of hope, light, mercy, forgiveness, love and salvation to those around me. Whether my theology is “right”…God probably doesn’t care, just so long as I’m being a good ambassador for Him, loving and serving others.”

          Another friend said this…

          “I actually wish the church would spend more time teaching people HOW to have a relationship with God and HOW to understand the Bible, instead of telling them what to do, what to think, how to act, when to stand up, when to sit down and when/when not to dance and sing! It took me years of study and praying to learn to pray. No one in the church ever taught me how. Most of the issues in the church would dissolve if people actually came into the presence of God together.”

          • I think it’s very important to strive to be a good ambassador, though I worry that all too often I fail in this regard. Too much emphasis on me and not enough on Christ.

            To your friend, I would suggest that good theology can go a long way in explaining the ‘hows’ in the Christian faith. I’ve never understood theology as some sort of code of conduct.

      • My answer to your question- No, not in the short run anyway. But in the long run, how you perceive God will affect how you behave, and we are judged, in every Scriptural example I can think of, according to our deeds. It’s this long-run consistency of beholding and knowing that changes and cements people’s character- the great saints or the evilest of men.

        Jesus came to put our image of God right, in my opinion. So that, over time, our faulty views of God come around right, and the whole being follows.

      • Maybe I should qualify my answer- certain issues, like Calvinist vs. Arminian, are not issues that one needs to be “on the right side of. ” When I think about it, there are issues about Who God Is that one needs to get right, but usually they are “beneath” the surface monikers like Arminian, Calvinist, traditional, post-modern, conservative, liberal, etc. Those categories are far too broad. Jesus wants us to love, believe and obey him- the Gospel is his life death, resurrection and reign, not limited vs. unlimited atonement. It’s he personally that should judge our view of God, our expectation of the Kingdom, and the trajectory of our lives.

    • I just wrote a rather long piece on predestination. I know they’re not totally the same thing, but they intersect. I’ve never written about it before, and haven’t done a lot of reading about it, but I think I convinced myself that we’ve invented the tension. Basically, I think these words apply to movements/groups….first Israel and then the Church. I believe it’s a mistake to understand an individual Christian as “elect.”

      Just to highlight one of the things I noticed, in the Ephesians 1, predestination appears to refer to the apostles. It has nothing to do with eternal destiny. It has to do with the founding of the church, and the method God uses for that.

      I basically came to the conclusion that we’re looking for personal salvation theology, and the Bible won’t quite give us that, at least not exhaustively. It gives us things that have to be extrapolated into personal salvation theology, which usually leads to some sort of reductionism. It appears to me that the nature of God’s “controlling” of events is a matter of him stepping into history with a particular goal, and particular agents, and getting the job done in remarkably effective, but still natural (or perhaps “creational”) ways. Take Pharaoh’s hardened heart, for example. God hardens it, not by waving a wand and foreordaining Pharaoh’s choice for him, but by commanding Moses to do things that will piss him off, and cause his ego to flare up. He knows that this will happen, because he is (in Dallas Willard’s words) the most intelligent being in the universe. And he’s taking proactive steps to make it happen.

      I admit I haven’t studied this anywhere near exhaustively, though.

      • Interesting thoughts, especially your take on Moses and Pharaoh. I’ve never considered it that way.

        It’s all too easy to become self absorbed when contemplating one’s salvation. When I ponder election, I try to keep it in a covenantal framework – God electing and drawing a community to himself.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        > Just to highlight one of the things I noticed, in the Ephesians 1,
        > predestination appears to refer to the apostles.

        Huh. I remember thinking much the same thing once-upon-a-time. I have not given this issue any serious thought in a long time – but my thoughts pretty much settled on the question being fallacious – it suffers from the fallacy of the disambiguated middle.

        Maybe “freedom” [and it is hard to really define that] is neither uniform nor constant? Dividing something as complicated as this into a toggle leads directly into error, IMNHSO. Like nature-vs-nurture this is almost certainly a many faceted thing.

        I remember my Finnish great and grand parents had no trouble with the notion of Doom; as in some people were ‘called’ to a High Doom [doom being essentially a destiny]. Others were more free, although perhaps less blessed. And others may be acurrsed with a dark Doom, like the hardening of Pharoahs heart. If God is sovereign, then so be it. I doubt this notion troubled them at all. And it seems much more workable than many of the more formal Theological constructs erected around these ideas.

        Certainly there are people in life who seem driven or compelled towards some goal – be it financial success, a religious calling, political leadership … and there are many people who seem more flexible, more blank-slate. Perhaps the notion of finding one algorithm to encapsulate all is the mistake. Our notion of fairness rubs against this, but life is demonstrably not fair regarding much of anything at all.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          I remember my Finnish great and grand parents had no trouble with the notion of Doom; as in some people were ‘called’ to a High Doom [doom being essentially a destiny]. Others were more free, although perhaps less blessed. And others may be accursed with a dark Doom, like the hardening of Pharoah’s heart.

          Or Kullervo son of Kalervo…

  18. Given that this has been declared an Open Forum, I don’t feel bad about starting a whole ‘nother conversation thread.

    This is something that’s been eating at me for a while:

    About a month ago, I was at a church service where one of the elders shared a video about communion by Gregory Dickow of Life Changers International. The message and tone was very much in line with what can be found on his organization’s website. Here’s the link (and I’ll “spell it out” so it doesn’t cause this comment to get hung up:

    www dot lifechangerschurch dot com slash articles slash 80-life-solutions slash 82-the-power-of-communion-receiving-the-favor-of-god

    I found the message very unsettling, It was very high “ick factor.” It wasn’t as over-the-top as John “tokin the Ghost” Crowder, but definitely headed in that dangerous direction (or so I thought). I’m trying to come up with an irenic way of expressing my concerns. Anybody care to help me think this one through?

    • Ok, now I got side-tracked you tubing John Crowder. What a nut job! Relating to your question, though, the biggest problem I had with that article is that the Bible just doesn’t say that these things are our gifts in communion. Forgiveness of sins? I would say yes. Financial success? Huh???

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Yeah. Tokin’ The Ghost Crowder and his Jehovah-Juana, Yoing! Yoing! Yoing!

        Some years ago, another blog had an annual “Craziest Preacher of the Year” competition, with the blog’s commenters voting. Crowder topped the list a couple years in a row.

  19. Steve Newell says

    Recently, the adult bible class at the LCMS church had I attended completed a very detailed study of Revelation. Given the Lutheran understanding of the end times is based an amillennial understanding and scripture interprets scripture, we used books of the Old and New Testament to understand Revelation. We were guarded against using the events of the day to either proven or disapprove either parts or the whole of the book.

    First, has your church studied this book and how did you study this complex book? How much did you use current events or popular books to understand the book? Did you use other scripture passages to interpret Revelation or do you Revelation to interpret other passages?

    • Dana Ames says

      The last time I was in an adult Sunday School class studying Revelation was in the early 2000s in my PC(USA) church. We used a study guide by Bruce Metzger, one of the translators of the NRSV. Although I can’t remember much about it, I do remember that it helped me detox further from the Dispensationalist/Rapture-oriented timeline view. The most important thing for me that Metzger wrote in the guide was: “Revelation does not mean what it *says*; it means what it *means*.” I find that is so about a lot of scripture.

      Revelation is in the Canon in the Orthodox Church, but it is quoted in no liturgical service, and no doctrine has been formulated from it. Most of our great theologians thought that since we could not be certain about the referents of the metaphorical language of the book, it was best to read it devotionally for strengthening of our hope for the return of Christ and his making everything right. I find this to be a quite sane view.


      • Totally with you re. the Orthodox take on Revelation. Apocalyptic literature is so tough to understand, and Revelation kinda tops the charts as far as denseness and difficulty are concerned.

        I am Lutheran (a revert, actually) and remember being very startled and unsettled by dispensationalist views when I first encountered them in the 70s. Never really got past that initial reaction, to tell you the truth!

      • Steve Newel says

        In the Lutheran hymnal, we sing “This is the Feast” as part of the liturgy and it is based on Revelation 5:12-13 and 19:5-9.

        • Yes, there’s that, and I like it. But Lutherans are amillenial, so the understanding of Revelation is very different
          than in chchurches that hold to dispensationalism.

          • Steve Newel says

            Agreed. I am curious how other churches go about teaching Revelation in a bible study format.

      • Revelation is never quoted in the Orthodox liturgy? That is astounding. Revelation is quite possibly the most liturgical book of the cannon after the Psalms. It also has plenty of music in it, most notably the songs of the saints and angels around the throne comparable to Isaiah 6 but with more eschatological themes. In our church, the song from Revelation 5 and 19 serve as a seasonal alternate to the Gloria.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          It’s also not read in the Catholic liturgical rotation. (Catholic and Lutheran are both Western Rite Liturgical.) I think that dates back to when it was first included in the canon. I understand Revelation had an uphill fight with the church council establishing the canon — there was apparently a knock-down-drag-out over whether including it would send Christians off on weird interpretation tangents. (And from my experience with the Gospel According to Hal Lindsay, those long-ago bishops were on to something.)

  20. cermak_rd says

    The movie “Noah” actually kept the Giants in. The book of Enoch kind of explains the mysterious verse in Genesis that refers to them. If we had an extant copy, it would be awesome to read the book of Giants, too.

    Why is it, though, given that it has been preserved in the Ge’ez language and E&E Oriental Orthodox canon, that 1 Enoch wasn’t made a part of the Catholic or Orthodox canon? I really don’t think being odd is enough to keep a book out. Tobit seems to be nothing but a fairy tale, yet it’s in the Catholic canon.

    • Dana Ames says

      Some discussion of that here: (sorry about having to copy in the link)

      Also, the discussion of “the watchers” and the “angels” is Interesting from a linguistic point of view. This is from 2008, so long before the current Noah movie.

      Remember that inclusion in the canon was a matter of consensus, so if there wasn’t full agreement, for whatever reason, a writing was not included. That’s not to say it had no value, only that it would not be included in any liturgy.


    • Rick Ro. says

      But are there unicorns?

  21. Interesting. If I remember correctly, Jude quotes from Enoch.

  22. What do you make of Jesus’ words here in John 5:28-29:

    “Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. (NRSV)”

    If, according to the Book of Revelation, in the end, every thing on earth and heaven will bow down before God, then who are those who are condemned and what did they receive in their condemnation? And…can they be folks who considered themselves Christians but had not done what Jesus calls “good?”

    • Dana Ames says


      This is a good question, and I think there would be multiple theological views represented among us. I would go with N.T. Wright, who says that in this section Jesus is saying that The Resurrection (as the 1st c. Jews understood it) has already begun, in Him. As to condemnation, many in my Orthodox tradition teach that we have the best help as Christians to be the people God wants us to be, but God is not limited, and all who come to him will come through Christ, even though how exactly that happens is something hidden until the judgment… I suspect Catholic teaching is close, if not the same.

      Glad you are still out there.


      • Thanks, Dana. I have read several of N.T. Wright’s books where he goes through books of the Bible pretty much passage by passage, explaining difficult things. I can’t remember if he did the Gospel of John. I will have to take a look. Yup, just checked Amazon and he did. Time to get that on my list of books to read.

    • I’ve come to believe that judgment according to deeds means that lots of “in” people will be out, and lots of “out” people will be in. Some Christians will miss the cut, and some atheists will make it.

      I think we can see shadows and types of this already.

      As to what someone receives in condemnation: pure speculation, but maybe it’s a community that is a crude parody of the redeemed community: a city in which everyone perpetually dehumanizes one another and themselves in order to attain something which is finally and irreversibly unattainable, resulting in unending reduction of life forms into a less and less sentient state. Or something.

      • Thanks, Nate. I WANT to be a “hopeful Christian Universalist” meaning I hope that in the end everyone is with God because of Jesus. But there are passages that give trouble to that view though I know Robin Parry and some others are still able to deal with those passages.

  23. I’d like to talk about ministry to the people in the pews.

    About 3 years ago my wife moved out because she finds she’s not bisexual as she said when we married, but lesbian. And so we are divorcing. We’re still pretty good friends. But it has been hard. More or less everything tangible I could identify as love left my life, leaving me grasping at whatever I could find, trying to keep belief in love alive.

    The embarrassed silence from my church parish was not helpful, though I kept hoping that, eventually, somehow, it would be. Or that silence would be changed into compassion or something. I’ll freely admit I didn’t have a clear idea of how to access pastoral care, or what kinds of things the clergy could do to help, and talking to them didn’t seem to help clear up that confusion.

    And so, I walked away. Perhaps, some day, after the grieving is more or less complete, I can return, believe that love is something real again.

    There are two program-type things I’ve seen other churches doing that seemed promising. One was a “blue Christmas” service, to explicitly acknowledge that some people in the church are not feeling joyful and triumphant at the holidays. The other was a program called Stephen Ministry, in which a trained lay person is deputized to help care for church members in distress for whatever cause.

    I’m interested in hearing other ideas for caring for our own. “By this all men shall know that you are my disciples: if you love one another.”

    • cermak_rd says

      This kind of support tends to be very ad hoc and varies from congregation to congregation.

      I’ve heard of some churches, mainly Episcopalian (just cause that’s one I’m familiar with) who have a support group for those going through a tough time (loss of a spouse due to divorce or death, death of a parent, etc.) St. Sabina, in Chicago, offers a special Mother’s Day mass that’s for those who have lost their children to violence.

      When my mother died, her second husband got a lot of support form his church. But when he divorced his second wife, he got no support because “God hates divorce”. Perhaps, but I’m not sure the deity was all that in favor of him marrying someone on the rebound after dealing first with the dying and then with the loss of his wife Plus he married a relative of her who liked like his dead wife. Of course they started to have irreconcilable differences when it turned out she wasn’t a lot like his dead wife.

      • Many of these church ministries try to “fix” things.

        What is usually needed is comfort and help and maybe a ready ear to listen.

        CM has talked about this in his life as a hospice chaplain.

    • Randy Thompson says

      As to what the clergy can “do” to help . .

      The most important things a pastor can (and should!) do is to 1)be present and available to you and 2) listen.

      The wonderful thing is, you don’t have to be ordained to do this.

    • Dana Ames says


      So very sorry for your pain and loss. May you find the Lord in it, somehow.

      It’s been discussed here, and this is another example, regarding our inability to mourn, culturally as Americans, and also within many non-sacramental church communities. It’s not only that everything has to be happy-shiny, but also that loss is somehow seen to reflect badly on God’s reputation – how exactly depends on the theological outlook of any particular group. I’m sure there’s more.

      For now, take as much time as you need to walk in your grief. You’re not alone; I think other people are afraid to share their own grief because of the cultural thing. Find help where you can – I believe God’s in that, too, even if it’s not explicitly “spiritual.”


  24. Vega Magnus says

    It is going to be fascinating to observe what will happen to evangelicalism over the next few years. It is pretty clearly entering its final moments as a major force in mainstream thought and culture. I’m guessing that it will continue to live on in the Bible Belt, but it will become more and more marginalized from society until the complete evangelical ghetto/bubble is formed, much smaller than before due to the ongoing mass exodus of younger people, but more fiercely devoted to its ideals and as isolated from reality as possible.

    • I think you might be right on this.

    • One thing I have learned about futurists, whether they “prophesy” from a secular (e.g., economists, ecologists, political, sociologists) or religious perspective is that they are nearly always wrong. So although the demise of Evangelicalism has been on the radar for some time now, so was the demise of mainline Protestantism and Catholicism. And yet, here we all are–still–and are likely to remain for some time to come.

      The problem is that we tend to focus on one of two variables in the equation when in fact the equation, if one even exists, is multivariate to the nth degree, where n approaches infinity. Think about it. It’s why folks like to say, “God knows!” And following that, we don’t know.

      • I think the demise of many things in their current form is nearer the mark. One of the few constants in life is change – it’s necessary for the continuing health and survival of pretty much everything, very much including churches.

  25. Adrian Z says

    Given this is an open forum – could there be a mystical reason why so many of my socks go missing – just one of the two – and never return? 🙂

    • Vega Magnus says

      Most likely aliens. Ancient aliens.

    • Dana Ames says


      you need to get yourself a mesh laundry bag – has the power to keep those aliens and sock-eating dryer monsters at bay…


    • Headless Unicorn Guy says


    • Rick Ro. says

      I think it’s because of George Bush. Everything is George Bush’s fault, right?

    • You haven’t read Left Behind have you…. applies to socks too…

    • Danielle says

      Everything thinks predestination or free will or whatever is the million dollar question.

      But you, Adrian, ask a question with relevance.

      I mean seriously, I’ve moved multiple times and cleaned the living space top to bottom. I never find any of the missing socks. It’s disconcerting.

  26. cermak_rd says

    Could be an unbalanced washing machine. Sometimes socks can go over the lip on one and get trapped in the innards of the machine.

  27. Adrian,

    Have you considered the possibility that unmatched socks are actually *appearing*? 😉

  28. This has been on my mind all week: a simple bill introduced to designate the Columbia Mammoth the state fossil of South Carolina was derailed while a legislator tried to slap a young earth creationism bumper sticker on the bill, stating that the Mammoth was created on the sixth day.

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