October 20, 2020

Open Forum – Feb. 5, 2014


It’s winter wonderland here in the Midwest and in many other parts of the U.S. Tonight on BBC News I saw that folks across Europe are having a hard winter too. If you’re in the northern hemisphere, chances are you’re hunkered down. Just the right day for an Open Forum on Internet Monk, I’d say.

We haven’t done this for awhile, so let me remind you what it’s all about.

Simply, an Open Forum means the floor is all yours. This is your chance to get together with others and bring up topics you would like to talk about, rather than responding to my pontifications.

The usual rules apply —

  • No name-calling.
  • No questioning of salvation.
  • No food fights.
  • You break it, you buy it.
  • You mess it up, you clean it up.
  • You get it out, you put it away.
  • Flush.
  • Wash your hands.
  • Say “please” and “thank you.”

Oh, and have fun. Enjoy God’s gift of conversation.


  1. Since this is music related, maybe it would be better for a Ramblings post, but….
    Nickel Creek is back together and touring this spring! Yeah!
    (And Emmylou is touring for her ’95 album Wrecking Ball. And Sarah Jarosz is finally visiting my neck o the woods. Concerts this spring just got much, much better…)

    And I have deep, deep concerns about the salvations of the monkeys in the picture….

  2. I forgot what I wanted to say.

    And I had been rehearsing it over and over in my head…preparing for just such an opportunity.

    Oh crap.

  3. This is timely. I’m up past midnight doing a search on the pros & cons of adding elders to our baptist church, which has traditionally held a diaconate, a church council (made of dept heads) and a congregational form of government.

    Anyone in a church that has made such a move? Any caveats? Blessings?

    I’m interested also in the reasons a church might have for such a move. Reasons spoken or unspoken.

    As Chaplain Mike instructed, try not to throw things. And I’ll follow the rules by saying Please and Thank you.

    • What would be the elders responsibilities? Would they preach, visit hospitals, and things like that, or would they basically be a decision making board?

      • Probably all of the above, but it’s barely into the brainstorming phase. I’m probably jumping the gun bringing it up.

        A lot of good comments here, though. Thanks to all.

    • In my experience, “elder led” churches break down the structural rigidity created by more traditional congregational polity. The end result is often a church where all the elders are something like rubber stamps for the pastor. This can be especially disastrous when it comes to making decisions, because many pastors really aren’t qualified to make business or budget decisions. At the very least, the spiritual leadership of the elder board should be balanced by committees that handle professional aspects of the church, especially if it commands significant assets. I don’t know how large your church is, but I would also recommend you retain legal council and if you are a 501C3 that ask a business lawyer about changing governance and legal implications.

      • This sounds like a worst-case scenario, and thankfully, we’re not an independent baptist church.Thanks for the word about balance.

    • Clay Crouch says

      What is the size of your congregation?

      • About 125 to 150 on most Sundays.

        Our diaconate is currently an 8-member board, male and female, and acts in an advisory, encouragement and prayer capacity to the pastor. Church council is made up of chairpersons of various boards, such as Diaconate, Christian Education, Missions, Trustees, etc. The Board of Trustees oversee the physical grounds and building. All accountable to the congregation, under the direction of the pastor, who has been a model leader for 23 years.

        I’m wondering if a few people aren’t trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.

        • It appears from your comment that your church has an effective governance for it’s size and culture. I think the point about fixing a problem that doesn’t exist is a very good issue to address with the decision makers. It’s important that everyone understand why a change is being made.

        • Honestly, I can’t see any reason to change the setup you’ve got now. It sounds as if the congregation has a lot of input, which is very important.

          The church council setup is pretty much how things work in my Lutheran church, and though it can work better at some times than others, I don’t think it’s changed much (in terms of how it works) in my hometown church since the 1960s.

          Stable and effective. Members are free to attend council meetings, and some members do pastoral work as well. (For which there’s training and certification, offered by the denom and more specifically, on the local level through the diocese and then each congregation.)

          I’ve only ever seen abuses and misuses of “elder-led” stuff, all boiling down to “”This is what God told us and now we’re telling you” – all about how things were meant to work. No congregational input whatsoever, although lip service was paid (sort of).

    • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

      Elder boards can fulfill a number of possible functions, and it seems different churches and different traditions treat them differently. I think this has to do with the desire for folks to follow the NT mandate for elders (presbyters/priests… all the same word in Greek), but vastly different interpretations as to what that means. I remember reading a book about “biblical eldership” during my graduate studies that seemed (to me, at any rate) to neither really be biblical nor about elders!

      At any rate, in congregationalist circles, I’ve seen the following:
      – Elders are elected by the congregation to be representative of them in governing, kind of like secular legislators. In this case, the pastor is often hired primarily to preach and take care of spiritual matters, but not to govern the church.
      – Elders are appointed by the pastor to be his advisory council. They’ve really got no governing power above that of any other congregation member, and are there to help the pastor only.
      – Elders act similar to the vestry in Episcopal/Anglican churches. I.e. they take care of business and money matters, but the pastor and/or congregation make other policy decisions
      – The pastor is one of the elders, and all the elders together make all governing decisions, and are often the board of trustees in the church’s legal setup.
      – I’ve seen elders elected by the congregation, appointed by the pastor, appointed by the other elders, and any variety of this combination.

      One of the questions that a Baptist church will need to deal with when it comes to elders is how the presence of elders will affect the essentially congregationalist polity of the Baptist church. I.e. how committed to being congregationalist is the church? Often the presence of elders effectively changes the polity to presbyterian polity instead of congregationalist.

      Then again, I know several Presbyterians who tell me that due to the dichotomy between ruling elders and teaching elders combined with regional presbyteries, their polity is often effectively episcopal. But having never been a Presbyterian, what do I know?

      • Thanks, Isaac. Very interesting and helpful.

      • Richard Hershberger says

        I’m not sure I understand how you are using “congregationalist” and “presbyterian.” In my usage, “congregationalist” contrasts with “episcopal” and refers to whether control of the higher-level church hierarchy runs from the bottom up or the top down. In the extreme version of congregationalism, there is no higher-level church hierarchy at all. (And the Episcopalians, BTW, aren’t as episcopal as their name would suggest.) It looks to me like you are using the terms to describe internal congregational organization, with “congregational” meaning that the congregation as a whole controls policy and property, presumably through some sort of meeting and vote of the entire congregation, while “presbyterian” means that the congregation’s clergy runs the show. Did I get that right?

    • The problem with an elder governance model is that for it to work well you need: 1) full implementation of the model (more on that below, and 2) people in office whose character qualities have been observed and tested over time (more on this, too).

      With regards to #1, my association, which has roots in the Plymouth Brethren movement (but that was 40+ years ago), believes that the roles of elder, pastor and overseer (aka, bishop) are different facets of the same office. In other words, all our pastors, myself included, are also elders and overseers. We define elder as the governing role (to include deciding on doctrinal matters), pastor as the shepherding role (to include teaching, counseling, visitations, etc.), and overseer as the administrative role (which is channeled mostly through deacons and deaconesses). A good reference for this Biblical Eldership, by Alexander Strauch.

      With regards to #2, we apply 1 Timothy 3.1-7 and Titus 1.5-9. In our opinion, proven and tested character qualities trump academics. Also, virtually all of our elders/pastors/overseers are raised up from within the local church. When necessary we will bring someone in from an associated church.

      I realize that we are in the minority in this respect, and we are often criticized by those who believe in an episcopalian or, at the other end, a congregationalists model. Even the pastor-led/elder-governed is different from what we do. And to be sure, what we do has its drawbacks, and challenges–but which model doesn’t? And for the most part this model has served us well over the past 40+ years.

      • Sounds like a well thought out model. I like how it differentiates roles of governing, shepherding, and administration.

    • Richard Hershberger says

      What do (or would) these various groups do? This seems rather a lot of leadership groups. This is an honest question. My tradition organizes congregations quite differently. How the various functions are divided up is not obvious to an outsider.

    • Based on my experience, I’d be very wary of anything that concentrates power in the hands of a few people. It seems that what you have now allows the congregation as a whole to serve as a check and balance should anyone try to accrue undue control or power to themselves. With an elder rule model, that check and balance could easily be greatly reduced or even eliminated.

      Of course, one always hopes to have the right people in place because that eliminates a lot of problems. But governance models should be structured to prevent worst-case scenarios by providing checks, balances and internal controls, because one never knows what the future holds.

    • Josh in FW says

      My understanding of how my church’s Elder Board works is this:

      The Elder Board mirrors the Board of Trustees of the non-profit corporation. The Elders must meet character and doctrinal requirements very similar to what CalvinCuban described. Each Elder serves 3 (or maybe 2, my memory is foggy) years and can serve a maximum of 2 consecutive terms before taking at least one term off. Every year 1/3 of the Board is up for election/confirmation. The candidates are chosen by the existing Elder Board and then presented to the congregation for approval. The Pastor and Executive Pastors are non-voting members of the Elder Board. The Elder Board makes all the governing decisions of the Church. The part that makes our Elder Board different from others is that all decisions must be unanimous. This has worked very well for our relatively young church (~30yrs) which has grown to ~3000 members, but I think the guidance of the Holy Spirit and quality of the men on the Elder Board are more responsible for the success than the system itself.

      • Every year 1/3 of the Board is up for election/confirmation. The candidates are chosen by the existing Elder Board and then presented to the congregation for approval. The Pastor and Executive Pastors are non-voting members of the Elder Board.

        This seems to be more and more popular lately. But in many cases the pastors vote. And if you think it through it makes it easy for the pastor and/or elders to make this a system where a small group of elders basically take over the congregation. This type of setup was implemented at a church we almost joined while these changes were being implemented. What we discovered was that while the congregation got to nominate new elders the ballot was determined by the existing elder board. So only potential elders who agree with the existing elder board get to even be on the ballot. And reasons for people not making the ballot were not revealed “to avoid embarrassment”. Once a few elders get elected who agree with something, say, strong Calvinism or YEC, then you wind up with an elder board that is continuously all strong Calvinist or YEC. Even if this makeup doesn’t reflect the congregation. And in many cases leads to a non trivial number of the congregation “walking” as suddenly issues that were never important now become foundational issues of this church. Add in that many times money issues become more and more hidden from the congregation and dealt with only by the elders and you have situation ripe for abuse down the road.

        In my opinion going from a open congregational model to an elder model is usually about a small group or new pastor wanting to “fix” or “take over” a church in a particular direction.

    • Yeah, I’ve seen this several times. There are usually two reasons for this: Moving in a Reformed direction that is convinced it is the one true Biblical form of polity, and streamlining the decision process so that the Pastor has less hoops to jump through to get things done. Once the Elder board is given the keys, the congregation at large is reduced to electing elders, if they are lucky. It goes from pure democracy to a sort of representative system. Generally, if you’re in a Baptist tradition that has a history of congregational polity, I’d respect the tradition and be leery of anybody trying to overturn it. And I hate congregational polity. I just hate the careless discarding of tradition more. Usually when a pastor gets in to his congregation’s bylaws and starts tinkering, he has an agenda. It all depends on what his goals are, because polity changes are usually a means to an end.

      • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

        At my previous Anglican parish, we went through a period of confusion over this also. Traditionally, what with having Episcopal polity and all, Anglican parishes have clergy in the form of priests/presbyters and deacons, the pastor/rector is one of the priests (assuming a plurality of clergy), a lay vestry is elected by the people, and among the vestry is a Sr. Warden (aka the Rector’s Warden) who is appointed to the position from the vestry by the Rector, and a Jr. Warden (aka the People’s Warden) who is elected from the vestry by either the people or vestry. And all of this is under ultimate supervision of the bishop who we may see a few times a year at most. Well, some more Evangelical-minded parishes were experimenting with also having an elder board. From our tradition’s perspective, this is really a stupid thing, as the priests/presbyters ARE the elders. Our rector, taking some bad advice, appointed an elder board, and the confusion over their role almost split the church. Needless to say, we went back to our tradition’s model and never looked back.

      • Miguel, you may be describing my church. There is a growing men’s ministry that seems to moving in a reformed direction.

        And I know you dislike congregational government in a church (we’ve had this discussion) but I appreciate your respecting that tradition where it’s been working well (and I think it has been, in our church). A change in this case could very well make one leery.

        Your suggestion of an agenda, a means to an end, is exactly what I’m concerned with, but not on the part of my pastor. He does seem to be exploring it, but I have confidence that he’ll do a careful study and process. There may be one or two others with an unspoken agenda however.

        My concern is that the women not become second-class. They have been instrumental in our church at all levels, including diaconate. In fact, not much would get done without them.


  4. What about Canada? I hope our friends to the south remember that Canada to the north exists and it’s a harsh winter here too!

    I dunno what to talk about beyond that. Other than I’m so glad I found your site. Nice place to get a breath of faith, with a post-evangelical filter, air before entering the real world. My one concern is that I can’t seem to find a church that’s close to the post evangelical viewpoint and the emerging church hasn’t really made inroads into Canada. I hope that changes soon.

    What do you guys think about postmodernity? I guess you assume it can’t be all bad as post-evangelical emerged out of postmodern but never hurts to ask.

    • I’ve never really found a post-evangelical church, though it could be said I haven’t looked very hard! I tend to stick with evangelical churches – it is the style of worship that I am used to and ‘works’ for me – and bang my head occasionally (and then pray for humility).

      Postmodernism? Dunno if I would say that post-evangelicalism emerges from it, as I think they have somewhat different emphases – I may be spouting truisms, but I think post-evangelicalism emerges from evangelicalism. Postmodernism has rather too broad a subjectivist streak for me to be happy with it as an overall theological approach. I also wrestle with scepticism – there are occasions when it is good and even necessary to be sceptical, but it can definitely also be a hindrance in drawing near to God – speaking for myself, but too great an emphasis on scepticism leads to me sitting in church or trying to pray, very aware of what I don’t believe rather than what I do.

      • I read it from Dave Tomlinson’s book “The Post-Evangelical.” It’s one of my favourite books and really helped me come to terms with how I was growing as a Christian, which was slowing moving away from the evangelical tradition in many ways. He did talk much about how post evangelicals emerged out of postmodernism, cause we’re more integrated in the postmodern culture, while evangelicalism emerged out of modernity.

  5. I just washed the Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye debate. My analysis:
    Ken Ham got the Bible wrong.
    Bill Nye got the Bible wrong.
    Ken Ham got the science wrong.
    Bill Nye got the science wrong (though not nearly as much as Ken Ham).

    In other words, no surprises.

    • I saw the debate also and was pleased because both men were respectful and intelligent. Nye’s best point was when Ham pulled out the old “You can’t know what happened because you can’t see into the past” to which Nye responded “Every time you look at the night sky you’re looking into the past.” But I thought Nye looked plain ignorant when he tried to get “Theological.” I thought both men made a number of logical blunders, but at least a few good points. It certainly wasn’t the debacle that everyone was predicting. It is still available at livedebate.org for anyone interested.

    • My 16 year old watched:

      His take away 1: Incredulous that Ham thinks that historical and observational science are mutually exclusive.

      His take away 2: He did think it was note worthy that Bill Nye did not use the word theory/scientific method once. He felt that it was deliberate.

      His summary:
      Bill Nye: We thought this might be so and we went and looked. There it was. What predictions could you make Mr. Hamm?
      Mr. Hamm: We don’t need to predict; we need to prove the Bible right.

      • I remember that 16-year-old from an earlier discussion. Give him lots of encouragement.

        • He felt that Bill Nye did the “debate” so he could have a voice to an audience that wouldn’t hear anything like a sane discussion. He said something along the lines that if we, his parents, were dead and he was being reared by his grandparents he would be “in the closet” as a person who believes in God but also evolution. He thought that was who Bill Nye was trying to reach.

  6. “watched” not “washed”
    It is way past my bed time.

  7. How did ya’ll think the Nye-Ham debate went this evening? Was your mind changed? Could your mind have been changed? Was is a useful exchanged of ideas? Was it a long commercial for the Creation Museum?

  8. How about those Seahawks!

    • I live in Seattle. Great Super Bowl!!!

      • The first play said it all…. I do wish it was a closer game but Seattle’s defense was awesome!

        • Yes, indeed. My motto for the Seahawks all year was, “Just don’t let any weird things happen to us.” I thought as long as they could avoid the “weird” plays (defined loosely as anything that leaves you scratching your head, like strange bounces, missed extra points, penalties you’ve never heard of, etc.) they’d win most of their games. I told folks at our Super Bowl party before the kick-off, “I just hope we don’t have a weird game.”

          Well, imagine my surprise when the weird stuff happened to Denver…AND ON THE FIRST PLAY! I knew we’d be okay from that moment on.

          • That Other Jean says

            It’s not often that a team gets a safety scored on them on the first play and the game goes downhill from there, but Denver was having a very, very bad night. The Seahawks outplayed them six ways from Sunday.

      • Super Bowl parade going on right now. Reported estimates – 700,000 people have turned out to cheer the team. Amazing!

      • (R.R. – Same environs. Would enjoy linking up with you if that is determinable. Enjoy your comments)

    • I find it interesting that both teams were from states that now allow recreational use of Marijuana, Perhaps if the Broncos had waited until after the game to indulge? just saying.

  9. Christiane Smith says

    Hmmm, what to do?
    . . . open mic, picture of sad-eyed monkey fur-people huddled in the cold, . . .
    so how can I respond to this ?

    My first thought:

    FOR those to whom the deep winter has not been kind,
    here is a great remedy for coughing and congestion . . . blessings to all:

    Old German cough remedy:

    1 sliced lemon
    1 thumb sized piece ginger, cut into chunks
    Fronds and stems of a fennel bulb
    1/4 c honey
    1tbsp whole cloves
    4 cups water
    Boil then simmer for 1 hour and sip throughout day as needed (it’s delicious and it works)

    there may be someone out there in monk-land in need of this recipe, and hopefully, it might do some good for them 🙂

    (I so wish I could nurture those sweet monkeys in that photograph;
    but since I can’t, this recipe to help sick folks will have to do as substitute for now.) .

    • Peace From The Fringes says

      Old Stressed Person Cough Remedy:

      1 small tumbler
      4 medium-sized ice cubes
      3 glugs of George Dickel 12 Year Bourbon.

      Sip and repeat throughout day as needed.
      Nap liberally.

    • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

      Heh, for coughs and general throat issues, my default position is gargling a shot of Crown Royal very so often. I’m told I should add honey and lemon to it, but that seams like a mean thing to do to honey and lemon.

      On a related note, I received as welcome-aboard gift from the rector of the parish at which I’ve been hired to be the part-time assistant rector a copy the old Priest’s Manual, and there’s a really neat blessing for throats mini-service in there.

  10. 4 out of 5 dentists recommend sugarless gum for their patients who chew gum.

  11. A curiosity, which has exercised my mind a bit…

    When I was a young Christian (quite a long time ago now!) I was very impressed by a book called “From Witchcraft to Christ” – if you’ve never read it, you can probably guess its contents quite accurately from the title! Recently, I obtained a copy of the book to see what I made of it now, and came to the conclusion that the book is probably not particularly trustworthy.

    But I find myself wondering – if, as I suspect, the book is not true, how has the author (Doreen Irvine) come to believe that she was once a Satanist and witch (assuming that this is the case, and that she wasn’t in fact lying – having heard her once in person, I don’t think she was deliberately deceiving)? Was she (and others who have written similar books) delusional? Did she come to interpret her life in terms of Satanism because of e.g. drug use? Did over-zealous Christians persuade her that this was the case when she came to Christ?

    Any thoughts?

    • It’s entirely possible she was making the entire thing up out of whole cloth. That’s what turned out to be the case for another, more (in)famous “ex-satanist”, Mike Warnke…


      • Yes, I’ve read through the Cornerstone expose of Mike Warnke, and it is certainly possible that Doreen Irvine was a plausible liar (and/or compulsive story-teller). Like I said, she didn’t appear to be: but I guess that’s the thing about plausible liars – they don’t appear to be lying…

      • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

        You beat me to it, Eeyore 🙂

    • I have noticed the testimony culture of evangelical circles leads to exaggerating or even fabricating stories for effect. Over the years it has gotten to where I almost never trust a testimony of any drug use, alcoholism, or satanism. The problem now is some of them may even be true, but I am so jaded I never trust them.

      I know it always isn’t true, but most people who did really bad things don’t want to talk about them on a regular basis.

      • Recovering alcoholic. I used to give testimony, telling tragic story of past life, and found the focus always started to point to me instead of Jesus. It’s a part of the disease, I suppose. So now I don’t mention it unless I run into a situation where I can help (more often by private prayer) a person I know of with an addiction issue.

        And you are right Allen, the past can be painful enough some time without flaunting it. Matthew 5:16 gives me peace, and a better perspective.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I have noticed the testimony culture of evangelical circles leads to exaggerating or even fabricating stories for effect.

        Especially when “Can You Top This?” and “JUICY! JUICY! JUICY!” come into play. And the pressure to have a Spectacular./JUICY Testimony.

      • “Personal testimonies” are the gospel of my personal experience. They seem to imply “Jesus worked for me, you should really give him a try!” This is a general misrepresentation of who Jesus is and what he does for us. I believe they rose in popularity with revivalism.

    • There are so many people I know whose lives were destroyed by some terrible influence and have since transformed with the grace of God. Just go to any AA meeting or talk with combat veterans. What I have realized is that, after knowing them for many years, they have often recovered from a worse state than you initially thought. Yes some people exaggerate their past depravity, but many also intentionally understate it.

      • We can also look at the lives destroyed by some terrible influence and never found the transforming grace of God: Philip Seymour Hoffman being a recent prominent one, Amy Winehouse being another semi-recent one. There are people all over the place who COULD have great testimonies, but are unable to shake their addiction demon.

    • Cedric Klein says

      I read her book, may even have it somewhere. Don’t recall if she ever made any claims to have had powers, like Warnke did. IIRC, she was called “Queen of the Witches” tho even at the time, I wondered if they said that to all their female recruits. I know I’ve never seen her rebutted as with Warnke.

      I did once hear an ex-Wiccan speaker testify at my church. Except for one claim to have experienced levitation, she never said anything that was unbelievable- no claims at sacrificing babies or anything like that.

      • Richard Hershberger says

        The thing to keep in mind is that Satanism isn’t really a thing. This applies even to those guys who want to put up the Satan statue in Oklahoma. They aren’t actually Satanists. They are some combination of performance artists and political activists. Whenever someone claims to be an ex-Satanist or otherwise to have personal knowledge of Satanism, they are at best misinterpreting events having run them through a cultural filter, and at worst they are outright bearers of false witness, often using this as a marketing tool for some product.

        Wicca, on the other hand, really is a thing. Exactly what thing it is is subject to debate. Any reality-based interpretation pretty much excludes the possibility of its being a survival of pre-Christian northern European pagan religion, or of any unbroken connection to Medieval/Early Modern witches (even assuming they actually were a thing). At most it is a modern reinterpretation/revival of what little is actually known about pre-Christian northern European pagan religion. Probably a better take is that it is a modern Romanticized reimagination of such. I have personally known many neo-Pagans, both Wiccan and other flavors. Many of them are very nice people, and I enjoy their company. Rather fewer of them would I entrust with a position of responsibility.

        • Final Anonymous says

          +1 on the Wiccan / Pagan info. Seems to vary greatly from group to group and individual to individual also. My exposure is more limited than I’d like, but the practicing Wiccans / Pagans I’ve known have also been upstanding people, and very respectful of my Christian beliefs.

        • Folklorist/historian Ronald Hutton has written extensively on how various schools of modern “witchcraft”” (Wicca and otherwise) were pretty much made up out of whole cloth in his book The Triumph of the Moon. He’s an interesting guy, and knows whereof he speaks.

        • Two words: Gerald Gardner. (See Ronald Hutton et. al.)

          it’s a reinvention and recasting (sorry for bad pun, couldn’t help myself!) of some old and odd its of folklore and new rituals and beliefs.

          • Final Anonymous says

            Numo, I’ll put Ronald Hutton’s book on my reading list. I’ve seen some of the rituals, and the folklore angle seems to fit. Nothing scary to me, more attention to nature and seasons; I imagine some Native American rituals are similar.

            (On the other hand, there are some celebrations I’ve purposely not been invited to, that supposedly involve a lot of wine and a lot of whatever. Love the one you’re with kind of theme. So I don’t want to give the impression that they’re all sitting under the stars whittling wood and singing songs to the trees all the time, either)

            Either way, definitely a far cry from the Satanic horror stories we heard as young uns.

        • Lol on your characterization of wiccans. The last one I had a conversation with, after finding out I was a Christian, exclaimed “Oh, I LOVE Jesus! It’s too bad the Roman Catholics had to murder him….”

      • My own experience is that I hung around with a neo-pagan crowd for about 6 years after I temporarily left the church, suffering from something a bit like burn-out. My experience of real life pagans (including large numbers of wiccans of just about every stripe) and the fact that there really is nothing to back up Irvine’s story convinced me that, in all probablility, her story was false.

    • “Charity believeth all things.” From Chapter 1 (A Mute Goes Aboard a Boat on the Mississippi) of “The Confidence Man,” by Herman Mellville.

  12. I am interested to hear opinions on Donald Miller’s recent post:
    ” I don’t connect with God by singing to Him. Not at all…I loved it more for the music than the worship. As far as connecting with God goes, I wasn’t feeling much of anything…I don’t learn much about God hearing a sermon and I don’t connect with him by singing songs to him. So, like most men, a traditional church service can be somewhat long and difficult to get through…Research suggest there are three learning styles, auditory (hearing) visual (seeing) and kinesthetic (doing) and I’m a kinesthetic learner. Of course churches have all kinds of ways for you to engage God including many kinesthetic opportunities including mission trips and so forth, but if you want to attend a “service” every Sunday, you best be an auditory learner. There’s not much out there for kinesthetic or visual learners…So, do I attend church? Not often, to be honest. Like I said, it’s not how I learn. But I also believe the church is all around us, not to be confined by a specific tribe. (tweet this). I’m fine with where I’ve landed and finally experiencing some forward momentum in my faith. I worship God every day through my work. It’s a blast.”


    HT: DB

    • Well, singing ought to be kinesthetic. Perhaps we’re not singing as if the act of singing is good in and of itself. Perhaps we’re trying too hard to “get something out of it.”

      I get that music ought not to be the central focus. And I don’t think ANYONE learns fully by merely hearing. But “learning” might not be the best way to describe what is supposed to be happening at church…

      • I’m with Nate. I’m not sure how often I go to church (worship services, that is) to “learn.” “Learn” implies that I’m expecting something for “me” (i.e. learning) and “what I get out of it” (i.e. knowledge I didn’t have before). Seems a little bit too “me”-oriented a term for how I view worship service (which I think is for us to worship God and offer our sacrifices of praise).

        Now of course you could debate the various “styles” of how worship is done, but I don’t know that I’d debate the “styles” of learning as a part of that.

        • I think you and Nate are right about the “learning” emphasis.
          So the question then becomes: why did someone so involved, and in some ways was a leader of a unique take on things, think that way?

          • Why? My simple answer is because we’re “me-oriented” people by nature. Heck, even as I re-read my reply I can see my own hypocrisy. I DO sometimes go into worship services seeking SOMETHING for myself. I don’t always make it about God and sacrificing praises. And admittedly, as I think about it further, “learning” is something I do seek at times. Learning about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, their grace, peace, comfort, forgiveness, mercy. Learning about how I might try to live better, love better, change. Maybe that’s not a “bad” thing…just maybe it shouldn’t be the priority. So if I consistently attended church expecting SOME sort of learning and never got it, I’d be no different than Donald Miller.

          • Rick Ro-
            ““learning” is something I do seek at times…Maybe that’s not a “bad” thing…just maybe it shouldn’t be the priority.”

            Why do you think he considered it a priority? Is that idea something modern Evangelicalism is promoting (either on purpose or by accident)?

          • I do think the church is failing if people aren’t learning- after all, one of the principle roles of Jesus among his disciples was to teach them. But as for gathered worship, yeah I don’t think learning is the point, per se. Perhaps Miller’s understanding does have to do with some misplaced priorities that have been promoted in certain branches of evangelicalism. I couldn’t go into more detail than that though.

      • Was it St. Augustine who said “He who sings to God prays twice?”

        • If it was, St. Augustine never heard me sing.

          • Heard at confession…

            “Father, does good singing glorify God?”

            “Yes, I suppose that would be true.”

            “Would the converse also be true then, does bad singing not glorify God?”

            “Well… yes, I suppose that would be true true.”

            “If that is the case, then forgive me Father, for I have sinned!”

    • Update: Being surprised by the reaction he got to the post, Miller has written a follow-up


      • We WILL talk about this on IM soon.

        • Final Anonymous says

          Here’s an interesting thought on that note: I’ve seen kids with autism go into a days-long regression after a particularly rowdy church “event” night or holiday-themed service. Our traditional Sunday Service, no matter old-fashioned or modern form, is hell (sorry) on these kids.

          How many people in our midsts today live with mild or undiagnosed sensory disorders? Or Autism, or Aspergers, or some as yet undefined malady that makes church attendance way more stressful than what we neuro-typical think of as boredom? Regular, able-bodied adults who structure their work and daily life to deal with their tendencies (and bless us all in the process, thank you software developers and engineers), and can only deal with the incompromisables of the church service occasionally, if at all.

          Probably destined to become the dreaded SBNRs, lol.

          Not implying Miller is part of this group, but that’s who came to mind when I read his commentary.

      • Nicely written response. Too bad the Church of the Offended jumped all over him. Forgive us, Lord Jesus.

        • Some may have been offended. But some appear to be concerned for him.

          • “Concerned”…as in, “He’s fallen away and we must save him”…? If so, Good grief!

          • If the person think that being part of a local church is what is needed to be spiritually healthy, is it wrong for them to be concerned about him?

            I may be wrong, but it sounds like you may disagree with that thinking theologically, and certainly should voice your thoughts. But I don’t think one should question sincere motives (true concern).

          • I see your point. However, I think the problem with the Church of the Offended is this thought that “because so-and-so doesn’t worship the same way as me, they must not be saved, or they’ve back-slided, or we need to be concerned.”

            I have Calvinist friends who are constantly trying to “convert” me. “Don’t you see that this is true – scripture says it – and that this is true – see, here’s more scripture.” And when I tell them, “No, I don’t believe it’s exactly like that – see here’s some scripture that suggests otherwise,” they shake their head at me. I sometimes get the feeling they wonder about my salvation. They don’t need to.

            I get the same thing from the response to Donald Miller’s original post. The guy clearly believes and has a relationship with God and Christ. It just doesn’t match up with THEIR idea of what a relationship looks like…hence…”we must save him!” No…he doesn’t need saving, at least not through the Church of the Offended.

          • “I have Calvinist friends who are constantly trying to “convert” me.”

            If you have not done so already, you should read Scot McKnight’s recent “Pesky Calvinists” post over at Jesus Creed.

          • Thanks for that heads-up, RDavid. Just read it. Good stuff. What I find curious is that it seems Calvinists have this mission to try to foist their theology on other Christians, while I sense no real “mission” to sway Calvinists toward Arminianism. I’ll debate them when they come at me, but I’m not sitting here thinking, “That friend of mine…I better hit him over the head with free will!”

            And trust me…I’ve had Calvinists do that…sit down with me specifically to discuss Calvinism. Out of the blue. As if I needed to be saved.

          • Funny, no one ever tried to convert me to Calvinism and I myself have not done so to anyone else either. And no, I am not the sole inhabitant of an uncharted island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

            Now, I have heard more than one Lutheran, Catholic, Orthodox, Arminian and “Cafeteria Christian” (your typical Evangelical who chooses the doctrines which they “feel” most comfortable with) either in person or online tell me 10,000 reasons why Calvinism is bad theology.

            So, the moral of the story is this: Whereas I gave no doubt there are pesky Calvinists, there are as many, if not more, pesky Lutherans, Catholic, Orthodox, Arminian and “Cafeteria Christians.

            Can we try to be fair here and stop singling out Calvinists as the bane of Christianity?

            And for anyone who cares to be informed about what Calvinism is and is not, please consider reading “Ten Myths About Calvinism: Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition” by Kenneth J. Stewart. Professor Stewart is Reformed but writes to inform both Reformed and non-Reformed folks, most of whom know diddly squat about Calvinism.

      • I have read two of Miller’s books and some of his blog and enjoy him very much. His response to the people concerned about his not often going to church was interesting. It’s also long, so for anyone with limited time, here are a few of my favorite things that he wrote:

        “Jesus isn’t crying Himself to sleep at night because somebody wants to worship Him by planting a garden more than singing a song.”

        “I don’t think when Jesus told us to take up our cross, he was talking about self mutilation.”

        “He’s not calling us to be sanctified through dutiful boredom.”

        “I don’t like night clubs. And I don’t like lectures and I don’t emote to worship music. And I still love Jesus. It’s shocking, but it’s true. That said, lets stop using the word ‘Biblical’ as some sort of ace card when it comes to how church should be done.”

        “The final issue for me is control. I can’t control you, you can’t control me, and none of us are going to control Jesus. He’s going to do what He wants, and what He wants is to love the world through us, both inside and outside the church.”

        Amen…especially to the last quotation.

        • This fits with what I just wrote, too. Just because we don’t worship the same way doesn’t mean that one of us must not have a relationship with God and Jesus.

        • I guess I am combining here some of what Miller has to say and some of what Jacques Ellul wrote in one of his books. Miller says about Jesus, “He’s going to do what He wants.” One of Ellul’s books said that God gave humans free will, but NOT in regard to them being saved by Jesus. He says that everyone and everything was saved and will be saved by Jesus, no matter what we “will” about it. Interesting thought which I will have to give more thought to. I lean towards being a Christian Universalist or Hopeful Christian Universalist, but sometimes I have problems with the scriptures about Jesus separating the sheep from the goats and some other scriptures. Plus, we are afraid that if people really believed in Christian Universalism then people would think they could do “bad” things and it won’t matter. But it DOES matter and WILL matter. I think that we do suffer for the evils we commit and we become less aware of the presence of God which causes even more suffering.

          • JoanieD – Likewise I’m in the Hopeful Universalist camp. That’s where I find myself some 50 years into the journey. Balancing univeralism vs. bad things matter because of the sins we commit is one of the “both/and” mysteries I’m presently chewing on. At the moment I believe the Bible tells the story of God’s relentless pursuit of us. We even see how he adjusts His plans every so often in that pursuit. If, from the cross, he saved his betrayer(s), it may be that God’s pursuit will be not be complete until Lucifer returns to Paradise.

        • JoanieD-

          Those are interesting quotes, and I don’t totally disagree with what he said. However, he does seem to want to make it a false dichotomy: worship either in a church body, or outside it. Instead, why can’t it be both.

          If I am not mistaken, you are either RCC or EO. Those 2 strongly tie worship to the local church body. What do you think of Miller’s overall point in light of that?

          • RDavid, I think you CAN worship God both inside and outside of the formal church setting. And yes, I am Roman Catholic with a great appreciation for some of the EO teachings that are not exactly like the Roman Catholic teachings.

            I really am not a good Catholic at all. I love reading and hearing the New Testament, but I think at times sometimes we don’t take into account the particular situations Paul and the other writers were addressing to their readers/listeners. I am, I guess, what would be called a “progressive” Catholic. Not “liberal” because I have come to understand that “liberal” can mean many things, not the least of which is not believing in the things stated in the Creeds. I do believe in the Creeds and I believe in a literal resurrection of Jesus’ body, though in a glorified manner.

            I think that the Catholic Church has some “rules” which Jesus would see as keeping people from approaching God with hopefulness. I love the Eucharist and often think like Michael Spencer thought in that it should be open. I understand the concerns that surround that openness.

            I do not think that God is to be found only with the Roman Catholic Church, but I do think that are many ways people can feel welcomed into the RCC with the liturgy, music, teachings on prayer (including Centering Prayer/Contemplative Prayer), the Charismatic Movement, the emphasis on attending to the needs of the poor, etc.

            I do not attend church much myself and would like to do so more often. Family needs prevent it. If I fully believed what the RCC teaches, I would believe I am committing a grave sin by not attending. I just cannot believe that is what Jesus wants me to believe. Therefore, I am not a good Catholic.

          • Joanie, you’re likely a far “better” Catholic than many who would take you to task for not being one.

            I’m Lutheran, but pretty much in the same boat, and back in the 70s-80s, I knew many RC religious and laypeople who were where you are, including the issue of closed communion. One of the priests I knew felt that he could not in good conscience refuse to serve communion to anyone who truly believed in Christ.

            He’s one of many, many people who have never really fit with the Vatican’s ideas about who is “in” and who is “out.” but these folks strike me as being far more like Jesus in their words and actions than a great many of those in the hierarchy.

          • I don’t know if this will go under numo’s comment or not, but thanks, numo.

      • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

        I’ve been a small part of a Facebook discussion in an Anglican group on these two posts for a few days now. The general consensus among our admittedly-not-at-all-diverse group is that Miller has a pretty low ecclesiology, and despite spending the last few years in an OLD Lutheran church, still primarily sees church through the big-box-Evangelical eyes of lecture-and-a-concert. And that’s what he’s mistakenly calling the “traditional church.” At a truly traditional parish, the way that the vast majority of the world’s Christians worship, all of your senses are engaged. Plus, y’know, robust ecclesiology.

  13. Andrena LeBlanc:
    The gospel in a post-modern context is interesting. Random thoughts.

    Emerging has lost some cred….It is influential in mainline denominations whose progressive people are straining toward a future with diminished numbers. There are strands that continue. Spiritual but not religious( I honestly feel this is part of a philosophy traced back to Schleiermacher). Personally I find young people most attracted in this area to the Taize community model and ecumenism.

    A post-modern ethos could hardly be described by most Christians, be they post evangelical or whatever. They just don’t get the gist of it. I guess that is an example of the slowness of human thought( or perhaps it is best described by social intuitionism’s elephant and rider model). Personally I find young people most attracted in this area to the Peter Rollins approach( and apophatic theology is generally misunderstood, which a casual look at Wikipedia shows).

    Now forgive the attempt here at describing post-modern in a brief understandable way: One’s philosophy of life is ultimately determined by the community or group that most influences one’s life. Other factors, like choice or religion are secondary. For post-moderns, metanarratives( or lately I’ve seen them called scripts) are overarching explanations of reality that embody the central core of a cultures values or beliefs. Metanarratives now need to be deconstructed, in other words exposed for what they really are, myths that give authority to the writers- ideological
    structures for oppression of others and upon domination of the earth. It leads to the question of all authority- history, tradition, morality, science, education, government. They want free discussion of all ideas in a plural society, talk that seems honest and convincing, people affirmed and not oppressed.

    There aren’t many churches anywhere that have thought about communicating the gospel in a post-modern world. My interest in this area started with Lesslie Newbigin. I like the ideas of John Millbank. These are both British, and I’m not.

  14. I read a book called Rocking Horse Catholic by Caryll Houselander. I like her very much! I have her Reed of God on its way to the library. She may become one of my favorite dead writers of God stuff. Wikipedia says of her that she “was a lay Roman Catholic ecclesiastical artist, mystic, popular religious writer and poet.” She died in 1954.

    • sounds intriguing! Thanks muchly for the rec.

      • numo, one of the things I read about Caryll Houselander is that she fell in love with the man who the James Bond character was based upon. But he married someone else. She never did marry.

        • Houselander had a number of artistic talents, including carving from wood. I have been trying to find any photos of her carvings on the internet, but no luck.

  15. Instead of Ham & Nye, I read Ham On Rye by Bukowski, and I’m sure it was far more fun.

  16. Christians (bossy kindle won’t let me put in her first name correctly)……..Thank for the recipe, just what I need, have everything but fennel bulb, but will use seeds. Have VERY bad cold.

    • Michael Tunis says

      Hannity, if you will use the backspace key one time when it mis-corrects your spelling it will then accept your correct.spelling. Christaine, see, it works. (I had to try it to be sure)

  17. As perhaps _the_ post-evangelical-wilderness site par excellence, iMonk discussions naturally involve getting people to become more familiar with what else is going on — or has been going for 2,000 years — in other Christian traditions.

    The Lutherans are well-represented in Steve Martin and Chaplain Mike (who by themselves demonstrate that tradition’s breadth).

    Roman Catholics like Martha in Eire give us a peek into the Vatican’s inner workings, and EOs such as MCB or Fr. Enersto remind us of just how obliviously western most Christian dialogue tends to be in the US.

    Methodist David Cornwell just makes me want to be a better man.

    Michael Bell looks down on us (only geographically!) from Canada. We even get occasional fly-bys of Eagles.

    All in all, there’s a diversity that keeps me coming back. However, one little-studied branch (twig?) of the Christian tradition fascinates me, and it’s never popped up here at iMonk: Christian anarchism a la Jacques Ellul. Would anyone be interested in hearing more from this group? Ellul is best known as a critic of technology’s corrosive influence in society. I realize that “anarchism” sounds starkly political, but Ellul’s thought in The Subversion of Christianity has certainly given me a lot to think about that goes well beyond politics. Anybody else out there with me?

    • David Cornwell says

      Regarding Jacques Ellul: From what little I know I think reading him would fit well with the subject of “Slow Church” discussed yesterday. I would love to know more.

      And Trevis, thanks for the very kind comment. If at the end of my life I had the assurance that this is what I’d meant to people, I’d die satisfied. By the way, although I was born into Methodism and in many ways will always be Methodist at heart, I no longer attend a Methodist church due to a number of accumulated reasons. Part of it has to do with my retirement, and finding a local church home.

      • David,

        I’m sincere in my appreciation of your words over the years, and I wish you many more of them — words and years, both.

    • Ellul is the only thinker I have ever read who offered a cogent argument against the Orthodox use of icons. Rather than just beating us up with the Second Commandment, he parses the difference between a text-based culture and an image-based one, to the detriment of the latter. Good thinking.

      Of course, you gotta love being called a necromancer.

      • Mule,

        Can’t say I’ve ever been called that, though I probably deserve worse.

        As a lapsed EO who’s been taking steps to come back to the fold in recent months, I find my attraction to certain strands of Ellul’s thought rather ironic. To state the obvious, there are one or two things about the EO Church he’d disagree with beyond his apparent Iconoclasm Nouvaeu.

        By no means are all EOs apologists for what the marriage of church and state brought us lo these past 1700 years, but the tendency to sidle up to the powers that be has historically proven disastrous, whether in the Balkans in the 1990s or the Soviet-era “collaboration” that birthed our ROCOR-rancor this side the Tweed. On the other hand, it’s hard for me to see how one can have Tradition to guide us without some sort of serious hierarchy in place. So power’s role and our attitudes towards it are very much to the point for me, and Ellul has much to say on this.

        Anyway, a Church that has room for Boris & Gleb has something going for it. I’ll kiss their icon any day.

        I also wish St. George would do something about Imagine Dragons.

        • Wish I could sit down over coffee with you, Trevis. I’m chuckling as I read this.

          I think, from the exceedingly small amount I know about Ellul, Fr Stephen would find some points of agreement with him, esp on essentially ignoring government…

          As I was contemplating entering Orthodoxy, and having been “around the block” with regard to church, I asked God to show me the good, the bad and the ugly; I wanted to see what the messiness looked like, because everyone has it. Well, he certainly answered that prayer… What gives me hope is that love and humility are held in highest regard and are very deep within O. consciousness. That’s sort of an automatic corrective, even though it may take some time for it to kick in with whatever the present situation may be.

          Very best regards.


          • What? An Orthodox Christian wanting to drink coffee?

            I’ve long enjoyed your comments here, Dana. A couple of friends on FB also post Fr. Stephen’s writings. I’ll have to make it a point to check them out more often.

            Yes, there’s the good, bad, and ugly. I don’t think it’s any better or worse in the EO, for what it’s worth, and most of the hang-ups people have over Orthodox practice long since ceased to register with me as well. So I’m not bitter or alienated, just lapsed.

            I certainly have enjoyed following the discussion here since ca. 2008. At first it was mostly about catching up with 15 years away from all things Evangelical. (I converted to Orthodoxy in the mid-90s). It’s hard to say if things are really worse or better there now. One phenomenon that is new is Anglicanism in breakaway form. I suspect that had this existed 20 years ago, I’d have gravitated towards it rather than Orthodoxy. But for me now, there’s just no way to be Protestant, even of a very Anglo-Catholic variety. I just can’t do it, even if they drop the Filioque, that source of all the world’s evils of course, including very probably Imagine Dragons. (You think I’m just kidding about St. George, don’ you?)

            But seriously, you’re right about humility and love. Reading again an old book about St. Seraphim of Sarov recently reminded me of precisely these virtues.

            Thanks again for your kind words.

    • I had never heard of Jacques Ellul, but I find what I read about him to be very interesting. I don’t know if I agree with his conclusions as to how we should respond to the governments in which we find ourselves, though.

      I read “For his efforts to save Jews he was awarded the title ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ by Yad Vashem in 2001.” Wonderful!

      In What I Believe, he declared himself to be a Christian Universalist, writing “that all people from the beginning of time are saved by God in Jesus Christ, that they have all been recipients of His grace no matter what they have done.” (page 188) You can read five pages from that book at http://www.tentmaker.org/articles/did-god-create-hell.htm

      He wrote, “Love is probably the most realistic possible understanding of our existence. It is not an illusion. On the contrary, it is reality itself. (Perspectives of our Age, page 107.)

      He wrote, “Modern protestants are in the main prepared to be all things to all men, like St. Paul, but unfortunately this is not in order that they may save some but in order that they may be like all men (The Ethics of Freedom, pages 254-255)

      He wrote, “Men have never been so oppressed as in societies which set man at the pinnacle of values and exalt his greatness or make him the measure of all things. For in such societies freedom is detached from its purpose, which is, we affirm, the glory of God. The Ethics of Freedom, page 251.)
      He wrote, “If I am to continue to be a living human being, someone must come to free me. In other words, God is not trying to humiliate me. What is mortally affronted in this situation is not my humanity or my dignity. It is my pride, the vainglorious declaration that I can do it all myself. This we cannot accept. In our own eyes we have to declare ourselves to be righteous and free. We do not want grace. Fundamentally what we want is self-justification. There thus commences the patient work of reinterpreting revelation so as to make of it a Christianity that will glorify humanity and in which humanity will be able to take credit for its own righteousness (The Subversion of Christianity, page 161.

    • An Ellul sampler from “Prayer and Modern Man”

      “… that prayer is precisely not a means of laying hold of God; that prayer is precisely not made possible by a system, but rather, by a free decision of grace on the part of the one who wills indeed to listen; that prayer is precisely not addressed to one who dwells at a distance, but is addressed to one who comes very close (even into our hearts); that prayer precisely is a miracle and not a technical procedure.”

      “Prayer must be an action of the community, because God wills us to be bound to one another by a tie of love. Prayer is never empty and superficial when it is liturgical, because then it is said by the choirs of angels together with the Church.”

      “Disincarnate prayers, self-satisfaction with our good feelings, prayers for others which permits us not to do anything for them, such prayers area substitute for action, a cheap way of having a good conscience. They are a lie and a hypocrisy whenever we have given up our own effectiveness, our own means, in order to place all in the hands of God. Having done that, we feel justified in not getting involved, in not giving evidence of any effective action, in not concerning ourselves with the welfare of others. . . [ ] . . . Prayer requires that we do ourselves that which we ask God to do.”

    • A minor, if fascinating and controversial, idea of Ellul’s is that it was Western Christendom’s intercourse with Islam from the 800s on that shaped much of the theology of the later Middle Ages. In particular, the austere, fundamentalist sort of Catholicism that arose in Spain owed a great deal to the God-as-Judge image of Allah. One might have thought that the EO church would have been more influenced by Islam, for geographically obvious reasons, but I have to agree this wasn’t really the case at all.

      HUG has noted such themes from time to time, I believe.

      • I wonder about Ellul’s understanding of Muslim Spain, if only because a place that encouraged scholarship, the visual arts and literature is *not* the kind of place where God as Mean Judge is primary. There’s a mysticism to much Spanish Catholicism (you can see it very clearly in religious art, which I studied quite a bit, back in the day) that seems to have (ahem) arisen after the Reconquista (when Ferdinand and Isabella took back Andalusia from the Moors) and the expulsion of the Musims – and *then* came the Inquisition, forced conversions of much of the Jewish population (including many who practiced Judaism in secret; this has a long history that’s still unfolding in countries and on continents where descendants of Portuguese and Spanish converts ended up in the early days of colonization).

        The “purifying” influence in the art is, unfortunately, related to some pretty grisly depictions of the suffering and death of Christ and of various saints. The Spanish still have penitential brotherhoods that process in chains during Holy Week – iirc, some still practice self-flagellation as well.

        This is VERY austere religion and it does not seem to me personally that it has much, if anything, to do with the regime that built the Alhambra, allowed Jewish scholar=philosophers like Maimonides to flourish, and produced great music and art (architectural, decorative, literary, manuscript illumination and more).

        Just my pretty verbose .02-worth…

        • But… that much Spanish culture and many cultural practices are deeply influenced by the Moors, there’s absolutely no doubt.

          it’s a double-edged sword in many respects.

  18. Steve Newell says

    What are your thoughts about having a national flag in the worship space of a Church? I have been member of both SBC and LCMS churches that has the US and Christian flag in the sanctuary. I am troubled by this since the Church is part of the Kingdom of Right and not the Kingdom of the Left? Does it matter that we are in the United States? How would you feel to see the Chinese flag in a Christian church in China or an Israeli flag or Palestinian flag?

    • I’ve never liked it. Smells of nationalism, which in my opinion has no place in a church. We’re about the Kingdom of God, not the kingdom of “place country name here”.

      • I agree with Rick Ro., but churches I’ve been with (baptist and congregational) have always had flags—a U.S. flag and a Christian flag. However, they have never been so much as acknowledged, even on a 4th of July or Memorial Day. No saluting, no nothing. So I keep quiet about it too. Not a hill I’m willing to die on unless somebody makes a big deal out of patriotism and brings the flags to the forefront.

        • I’m a purist on the issue as well. No flags whatsoever, even for the military funeral held in a church. Once the coffin arrives at the church, flags and worldly adornments should be removed. (The deceased has transited the Jordan by this time anyway and has more important, lovelier things to dwell on than national affiliations.)

    • You can cause a church split by suggesting we remove American flags from the sanctuary.

    • The answer lies in your question. William Stringfellow put it best. “My concern is to understand America biblically. . . not the other way around, not to construe the Bible Americanly.

    • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

      I’ve got mixed feelings on the subject. On the one hand, I don’t like nationalism mixed with the Church. On the other hand, the Book of Common Prayer that we use (1928 PECUSA version) is very definitely designed to be used in an American context, especially with regards to our various prayers for our leaders. And the same is true with most BCPs. For some reason, in the context of the BCP it doesn’t bother me, as we acknowledge that local expressions of the faith are all good.

      I’d like to hear an Eastern Orthodox take on this, as so much of Orthodoxy seems to be tied to the local expression (e.g. Russian Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, etc).

      • I haven’t been to too many parishes besides my own, but I’ve never seen any kind of flag (other than banner icons) in the church.

        There’s an American flag in my parish hall. I’ve just noticed it; it might be new. It’s in a corner and not very visible. I suspect that for very ethnic parishes, the flag of the “old country” might be prominent, but in the hall, not the church building.


      • I don’t have a lot of experience visiting other parishes, but the ones I have been to didn”t have a flag in the church building, and neither does my parish. We do have a flag in the hall; I just noticed it this week, so it might be new, but it’s in a corner and is very unobtrusive. In a more ethnic parish, a flag of the “old country” might be more prominent – I would hope in the hall, but you never know….

        That said, in my Internet wanderings today, I came across a photo of an O. church in VA that has a flag in the worship space, to the extreme left of the iconostasis.


    • Patrick Kyle says

      In the LCMS the flag migrated into the chancel in an effort to show these particular German speaking Christians were solidly on the American side in the two world wars.

  19. I have a question that I have been wrestling with for a few days now. I have recently heard some of my friends (from an evangelical/Southern Baptist background) talk about the promises of God to us, specifically 2 Chronicles 7:14. Then, someone else (whom I respect and value their opinion) later chimed in with the statement that this is a dangerous reading of scripture. That we shouldn’t take the promises God made to a group of people centuries ago and think they are for us. So, my question is…how are we supposed to interpret those scriptures if we aren’t supposed to internalize them? How can we tell when the Bible is speaking to the intended audience or us. I don’t know if others have seen this issue but I seem to keep running into those two opposing ways of interpretation. Is there a proper and trusted scholarly “rubric” that should be used?

    • Steve Newell says

      There is another way to look at these passages. They are promises to the people of God not to a political entity. We know think of a nation as a political entity while a nation in a biblical sense is more of an ethnic group. Our nation is now the Church, or the body of Christ. We cannot apply these promises to the United States since the US is not a “Christian country” since one cannot and does not exist. We can claim the promise of God’s forgiveness when we confess our sins and turn from sin.

      • Steve, I am retired military repentance has been on my mind for a long time. I’ve read about the so-called “solemn assemblies”, but massive Christian take-back America rallies seem a thinly-disguised means of influencing elections and sending a Republican to the White House. And I have found that persons who quote 2 Chronicles 7:14 see national sin as the sole problem of other people; Republican Christians (the only kind) are the good guys. We Christians cannot be held morally responsible for the misconduct of nonbelievers. Rather, the rest of America should be thankful for God’s undefiled people, who stand firm in the breach and assuage God’s wrath as we humbly bring the sins of our nation on their behalf before Him. Analogizing OT covenantal promises with contemporary America is irresponsible, to say the least. America’s sins are many; we may be the Elect, but we are in no way the High Priests of America lacking any responsibility for God’s coming judgment on our nation. Evangelicals should be especially penitent for their role in imposing wars on Iraq and Afghanistan. We were the military’s biggest cheerleaders and we have much death and misery to answer for. “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground”, the Lord said to Cain.

        • Those wars are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to evangelical guilt/responsibility…when I consider it I wonder if we shouldn’t spend most of our church time (at least for awhile, in deep lamentation… but alas – there is no lamentation but lot’s of trying to feel happy, clappy and comfy…)

          • I don’t know of any evangelical guilt/responsibility/penitence regarding those wars. Been waiting since 1991. Most evangelicals think that 2Chronicles 7:14 does not apply here.

          • And to hell with the Christians (although perhaps few) who suffered or perished in those nations during America’s war with them…

  20. Not sure anyone will be interested in this but I’ve just started Tim Suttle’s book ‘An Evangelical Social Gospel?’. I wonder if anyone has read it, whether Tim still is an ‘evangelical’, and, ignoring other theological differences, whether a more appropriately focused evangelicalism might find its way out of the wilderness. To borrow from Michael Spencer’s book, I’m one of those still standing in the doorway trying to decide whether to sit down or turn around and leave.

    • I’m still new to this group – and still an evangelical to boot. So I’m going to transfer this question to the other post by CM.

  21. There’s a great book by Gordon Fee called “How To Read The Bible For All It’s Worth.” It’s easy, and aimed at normal people (not scholars), and it’s pretty thorough on issues like the one you rise. I do believe the method your friends are using is a dangerous one. I’m not a Bible teacher, but I’ll give you my two cents.

    We read the Bible to know God, and to know “historical theology” if you will, or how God in history related with his people (incidentally, that’s what the word “Chronicles” means- it’s the history book). We certainly should internalize it, as you say. But this does not mean every verse, or any verse, is a “personal word” from God to us, now. It means that as we read, chew on, and digest Scripture, we begin to see the stories there as our own deep background, the God-history from which Jesus came, and we as a people came. There is continuity between the people of God in the Bible and the people of God now. But it happens through and because of Jesus Christ. We can’t merely lift a Bible verse out of the Old Testament and apply it willy nilly to whatever current situation we’re in. I don’t hear anyone quoting verses 19-22 as “the promise of God?” Hmmm, that wouldn’t be an arbitrary prejudice in our Bible-reading, would it??

    I’ll take a shot at 2 Chronicles 7, though it’s not my are of expertise: It’s a passage in which God is speaking o Solomon. He is speaking to him about the Temple, which Solomon has just completed. He’s giving Solomon a pair of promises, and He’s tying the building of the Temple, an external act, to the faithfulness of Israel. He’s reiterating his former demand for faithfulness of the people, and promising them healing as a reward for their repentance, and on the flip side he’s promising that the Temple will be brought to nothing without their obedience. He’s also blessing the work Solomon did, possibly the most momentous work of creation ever completed by human hands in the history of Israel, given the Temple’s significance as the Dwelling Place of God.

    A Hebrew in captivity in Babylon reading this (which is when the work of recalling and compiling the OT was begun), would immediately recognize verse 19 as exactly what had happened to the people- they had been “uprooted” from the land, and the Temple had become a heap of rubble. Unfaithfulness had led to devastation. the beloved, historic, God-indwelt place of worship had been torn down by pagan invaders. The living, prophetic nature of the Scripture would have been made very clear in this event. When we moderns reads this, we can begin to become aware of, and enter into, the regret and suffering of Israel in captivity.

    Fortunately, a Christian reading doesn’t stop there. Our minds are turned to Christ with the words “As for you, if you walk before me faithfully as David your father did, and do all I command, and observe my decrees and laws, I will establish your royal throne…” For that Jew in captivity, there is one yet to come, a Messiah, who will “walk faithfully” and deliver his people from bondage. Christ assumed the throne that his Father gave him. It was the throne of Israel, but moreover the Kingdom of God which covers the whole earth. In tracing this story, we’re reading the whole of redemptive history out of one passage. I believe this practice should be commonplace for Bible readers.

    Jesus is discovered on every page of the Old Testament. Re-read verse 16. It’s a description of Jesus. We read the Bible to find him, and in him, we find ourselves. That’s quite a different animal than reaching into the text for a special, hand-selected, encouraging verse, and making it a personal word for ourselves, while ignoring all the others.

    I’m glad you asked, because that’s an important distinction. I’m open to anyone’s correction of my amateur exegesis here, or additions of what I’ve missed concerning how to read the Bible. The Bible became SO much more interesting when I began reading it to find Christ, rather than, first and foremost, to find myself.

  22. David Cornwell says

    Some discussion above about “post-evangelical” and “post-modern.” One could add to that “post-liberal.” Some present day theology has been reoriented by a reading of Karl Barth. Most of the post-liberal theologians I’ve read originally began to find a new orientation through a reading of Barth. His works are massive and not easy to wade through. However a book I’d recommend to anyone is his small book entitled “Evangelical Theology.” It consists mostly of the five lectures he delivered in the United States around 1963. In it he gives a concise version of what he believes to be true. It is very inspiring just to read, and the more I read, the more I want to read.

    His chapter on the “The Spirit” alone is worth the price. In it he addresses the presence and necessity of the Holy Spirit in the history and life of the Church and theology. A brief quote:

    “Only the the Holy Spirit himself can help a theology that is or has become unspiritual. Only the Spirit can assist theology to become enduringly conscious and aware of the misery of the arbitrary devices of controlling him. Only where the Spirit is signed, cried, and prayed for does he become present and newly active.”

    This is just one place in the book. One could even use it as a devotional guide very easily.

    • David Cornwell says

      “Spirit is signed” should read: “Spirit is sighed.” One of the hazards of writing out quotes from books.

  23. I just completed Divide by Faith: Evangelical Religion by Emerson and Smith and the Problem of Race in America and have begun Disunity in Christ by Christina Cleveland. The first seems to read a lot like a sociology text – excellent, but dated. The latter is very conversational.

  24. I just wanted to pop in here and say ‘bye’ and ‘thank you’ to the crew here at InternetMonk…

    This place was my refuge as my relationship with my old Church was imploding and I began to take a hard look at the faith of my youth. It’s been a hard five years for me, and I have learned so much and found so much depth thanks to the writers and commenters here; I will be forever in debt to Michael Spencer for making sense of so many things that I had been struggling with.

    Having said that, today, I’m no longer in the ‘Wilderness’. I have been attending an Orthodox parish for the past two months and I think I have found my home with them and in Orthodoxy. I never would have ended up there were it not for Michael Spencer and Chaplain Mike showing me to N. T. Wright, who opened my heart to the words of Orthodox writers both here and elsewhere. But now that I have a church home and, admittedly, a lot to learn, I think my time here at InternetMonk has come to a close.

    So, thank you Chaplain Mike, the rest of the writing crew, and all of you lovely regulars here in the comment section. This place has been invaluable to me, and I hope it continues to be a place of refuge and renewal for those who find themselves longing for something better and deeper in their faith.

  25. I’m not sure a person has to be a broken, post-evangelical wandering the wilderness to continue to come here. I’ve never considered myself one, anyway, and have always enjoyed being a member of this community. Renewed and restored Christians are welcome, I think, so don’t go away!

    • That should’ve been to Umi.

      • Thanks, Rick. Like I said to Josh above, I don’t feel like I know anything to opine on without misrepresenting my new tradition, and I have limited time to read and write, so my time’s going to learning about my new Church and my growing family.

  26. Reading “Days That I’ll Remember: Spending Time with John Lennon and Yoko Ono,” by Jonathan Cott, a Rolling Stone writer who befriended Lennon and Ono back in 1968 and remained in contact with them until Lennon’s death in 1980. I’ve always been fascinated by Lennon, who seems to me to be a “perfectly flawed” individual. Narcissistic, witty, a jerk, a voice for peace, wonderful song-writer, mean-spirited, thoughtful, opinionated…I could go on and on with contrasts.

    Anyway, author does a great job of giving some insight into who Lennon and Ono were, as individuals and as a couple. Touching in many ways.

  27. David Cromwell:
    I have appreciated Karl Barth and also Emil Brunner. They both were raised in a liberal theology( based on Scleiermacher, and came to see its emptiness). I think they both saw problems of theology similarly- I would say the naïve, prescientific supernaturalism of orthodoxy AND the rationalism and idealism of modernist Christianity; there also stands Roman Catholic Christianity with its absolute claims and its subtle capacity for adjusting all religious and cultural values within its own; and ,finally, there is neo-paganism, with its ultimate nihilism( especially existing in national socialism). It’s fairly easy to look up why they disagreed over faith and reason.

    When post-modernism comes up, these neo-orthodox theologians come up because they have sought to set the gospel free from what they regard as the illusions, errors, and false ways of thinking associated with it in the modern period.

    Barth did not like the label dialectical. That is a very ancient idea, never lost, that differences can be overcome in the balance of differences presented. If Barth was not dialectical, I’ll call him post-modern. I personally believe this balance in differences is a primarily pagan method( read Chesterton’s chapter on paradox in “Orthodoxy”). Yet the dialectical method is present in at least four ideas you see predominant in Christianity today- Praxis theology( under the banner doctrine divides but service unites), hermeneutical theology( trying to harmonize the metanarrative with an ever inclusive world of meanings), ecumenical theology( can it be true that our unity in Jesus is not enough?), and narrative theology( voice, structure, code, system, and the like more as determined than determining). In a nut shell, Christianity is not in a balance, but in holding parallel passions simultaneously( Arminian and Calvinist, anyone?) I could give many…..love the sinner, hate the sin; the law is holy, don’t judge; respect for creation, others, disrespect for totalitarians; Be still, do what is right; one can hardly think too little of oneself, one can hardly think too highly of one’s soul; Love one’s life, be willing to lose one’s life; One can’t step in the same river twice, one’s commitments are forever; Be still, do what is right. In the end, theological differences are not between systems, but between people. So you can strive for a balance, or hold the two together as basically different( marriage, anyone?) I say good luck thinking you are going to fundamentally change the other- now with repentance, I see monism or naturalism being changed, when believing the good news.

    • David Cornwell says

      Thanks for your comments. Barth, for me, is like a return to the essentials of evangelical theology, minus the excesses. I also like some of what seems to me to be a reversal Luther’s understanding of “law and gospel”, hence speaking rather of “gospel and law.” I like this better personally, but not being a theologian, I’m not sure why!

      In the little book I mention above, he takes time to explain that any “system” of theology will always be made in passing only, and will therefore always be rudimentary and fragmentary. Time seems to bear out this observation.

  28. I am running out of places to put snow piles! I’m just hoping my clarinet lesson won’t be cancelled tomorrow…again. Is it possible to get spiritual fulfillment from playing music, even secular music? Because it seems to be working for me. Now if I can get to a lesson so my instructor can help me iron out a few things…

  29. Cermak, I find that playing music is deeply fulfilling for me on all levels, and that I feel most comfortable in my own skin when I’m playing and it’s going well – especially when ensemble work is just cooking, though unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to do that in a long time.

    Here’s hoping your lesson will be on, or that, at very least, you might be able to get in a make-up lesson soon.

    How do you keep your instruments healthy during the long winters, given how bone-dry it can get? Do you use a humidifier of some kind (like violinists), or is thee wood thick enough that warping isn’t an issue? I guess I’d be most concerned about surface cracks, but what the heck do I know? I’m a percussionist. 😉

    • Most of my instruments are plastic (fancy shmancy words like resotone, but plastic in essence) that would be my contra alto (rosewood ones are very pricy!); my alto; one of my basses (the other, prof. bass is made of rubber); my soprano B12 clarinet used for playing outside; and now my Eb clarinet. My professional level R13 is a composite material of grenadilla wood and carbin fibers, so no concern about cracking there (it was made for tough conditions). My C13 clarinet is made of wood, and it, I baby. I keep it in a humidified room.

      What I’ve noticed is my skin is flaking off due to the dryness.

      What type of percussion? To learn rhythmic awareness, my instructor had me work through the first 12 lessons of Ted Reed’s Method for the Modern Drummer, with me tapping and clapping. It’s amazing to me to look back in my book and see that this time last year, I was learning to mix 8th notes with quarter notes and this year I’m playing 16th triplets and 32nds as grace notes without any problem.

      • Ah.. That makes sense. (Not real wood.)

        I play non-Western percussion, mostly instruments from various parts of the Middle East and West Africa. All learning is by ear, ’cause Western notation isn’t adequate for the complexities of any of these kinds of music. Some basic things can be notated, but it’s very easy to go wrong with that, regarding time signatures and much else.

        All of the instruments can work in standard Western music (popular and classical), but I feel pretty much spoiled for anything else after getting to do W. African ensemble work.

        I hear you on the dry skin, too!

        • Some of the stuff I’m playing with is folk music from the Balkans. Some very unusual rhythms (e.g. 11/8 and 7/8). I also have a book of klezmer music to start playing. And I’ve been working on my sight transposing by using a Clancy brothers Irish (and Irish-American some of the songs are hard to place due to the movement of people back and forth across the pond) folk music book. Lots of musical fun!

          • Ooh, sounds like great fun! Rhythms from the Balkans can be quite tricky and twisty, though in a different way to the clarinet and violin parts – still, of a piece.

            Are you familiar with the group Veretski Pass? They play a very “roots”-style version of klezmer and have spent a lot of time in Eastern Europe. While I love the more experimental groups (like the Klezmatics), I think Veretski Pass is one of my all-time favorites, partly due to the playing of Cookie Siegelstein (violin) and partly due to their rep plus use of authentic folk percussion instruments picked up Over There. (Still the only place where you can get the real deal; wish I had some contacts, because the bass drum they use is very sweet-sounding and I’d love to have one of my own.)

      • All, I prefer natural skins to synthetic ones, so winter can be tricky. The drums need to be getting some humidity.

    • cermak_rd said:

      Is it possible to get spiritual fulfillment from playing music, even secular music?


      Even Martin Luther agreed with that, and he could be difficult at times.

  30. Whoops, wrong forum.

    Hey HUG headless unicorn guy and others who love 80s crazy and D&D:


  31. I saw that in the past there has been writings here about the “ministry” of Bill Gothard. I would be curious as to what the current “Monk” staff would have to say about the new allegations coming forward against him.



    It seems this man was very good at creating, enforcing rules, but not following them.