How to speak and write postmodern

How to Speak and Write Postmodern
by Stephen Katz, Associate Professor, Sociology.
Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada
Here is a quick guide, then, to speaking and writing postmodern.

First, you need to remember that plainly expressed language is out of the question. It is too realist, modernist and obvious. Postmodern language requires that one uses play, parody and indeterminacy as critical techniques to point this out. Often this is quite a difficult requirement, so obscurity is a well-acknowledged substitute. For example, let’s imagine you want to say something like, “We should listen to the views of people outside of Western society in order to learn about the cultural biases that affect us”. This is honest but dull. Take  the word “views”. Postmodernspeak would change that to “voices”, or better, “vocalities”, or even better, “multivocalities”. Add an adjective like “intertextual”, and you’re covered. “People outside” is also too plain. How about “postcolonial others”? To speak postmodern
properly one must master a bevy of biases besides the familiar racism, sexism, ageism, etc. For example, phallogocentricism (male-centredness combined with rationalistic forms of binary logic).

Finally “affect us” sounds like plaid pajamas. Use more obscure verbs and phrases, like “mediate our identities”. So, the final statement should say, “We should listen to the intertextual, multivocalities of postcolonial others outside of Western culture in order to learn about the phallogocentric biases that mediate our identities”. Now you’re talking postmodern!

Sometimes you might be in a hurry and won’t have the time to muster even the minimum number of postmodern synonyms and neologisms needed to avoid public disgrace. Remember, saying the wrong thing is acceptable if you say it the right way. This brings me to a second important strategy in speaking postmodern, which is to use as many suffixes, prefixes, hyphens, slashes, underlinings and anything else your computer (an absolute must to write postmodern) can dish out. You can make a quick reference chart to avoid time delays. Make three columns. In column A put your prefixes; post-, hyper-, pre-, de-, dis-, re-, ex-, and counter-. In column B go your suffixes and related endings; -ism, -itis, -iality, -ation, -itivity, and -tricity. In column C add a series of well-respected names that make for impressive adjectives or schools of thought, for example, Barthes (Barthesian), Foucault (Foucauldian, Foucauldianism), Derrida (Derridean, Derrideanism).

Now for the test. You want to say or write something like, “Contemporary buildings are alienating”. This is a good thought, but, of course, a non-starter. You wouldn’t even get offered a second round of crackers and cheese at a conference reception with such a line. In fact, after saying this, you might get asked to stay and clean up the crackers and cheese after the reception. Go to your three columns. First, the prefix. Pre- is useful, as is post-, or several prefixes at once is terrific. Rather than “contemporary building””, be creative. “The Pre/post/spatialities of counter-architectural hyper-contemporaneity” is promising. You would have to drop the weak and dated term “alienating” with some well suffixed words from column B. How about “antisociality”, or be more postmodern and introduce ambiguity with the linked phrase, “antisociality/seductivity”.

Now, go to column C and grab a few names whose work everyone will agree is important and hardly anyone has had the time or the inclination to read. Continental European theorists are best when in doubt. I recommend the sociologist Jean Baudrillard since he has written a great deal of difficult material about postmodern space. Don’t forget to make some mention of gender. Finally, add a few smoothing out words to tie the whole garbled mess together and don’t forget to pack in the hyphens, slashes and parentheses. What do you get? “Pre/post/spacialities of counter-architectural hyper-contemporaneity (re)commits us to an ambivalent recurrentiality of antisociality/seductivity, one enunciated in a de/gendered-Baudrillardian discourse of granulated subjectivity”. You should be able to hear a postindustrial pin drop on the retrocultural floor.

At some point someone may actually ask you what you’re talking about. This risk faces all those who would speak postmodern and must be carefully avoided. You must always give the questioner the impression that they have missed the point, and so send another verbose salvo of postmodernspeak in their direction as a “simplification” or “clarification” of your original statement. If that doesn’t work, you might be left with the terribly modernist thought of, “I don’t know”. Don’t worry, just say, “The instability of your question leaves me with several contradictorily layered responses whose interconnectivity cannot express the logocentric coherency you seek. I can only say that reality is more uneven and its (mis)representations more untrustworthy than we have time here to explore”. Any more questions? No, then pass the cheese and crackers.

Paperthin Hymn!

Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted

Stricken, smitten, and afflicted,
See him dying on the tree!
This is Christ, by man rejected;
Here, my soul, your Savior see.
He’s the long expected prophet,
David’s son, yet David’s Lord.
Proofs I see sufficient of it:
He’s the true and faithful Word.

Tell me, all who hear him groaning,
Was there ever grief like this?
Friends through fear his cause disowning,
Foes insulting his distress;
Many hands were raised to wound him,
None would intervene to save;
But the deepest stroke that pierced him
Was the stroke that justice gave.

You who think of sin but lightly
Nor suppose the evil great
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed;
See who bears the awful load;
It’s the Word, the Lord’s Anointed,
Son of Man and son of God.

Here we have a firm foundation;
Here the refuge of the lost;
Christ, the rock of our salvation,
His the name of which we boast.
Lamb of God, for sinners wounded,
Sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded
Who on him their hope have built.

REFLECTIONS

This hymn was written by Geistliche Volkslieder and first published in 1850. This version in particular was recorded by Scott Krippayne in 2009 and is part of his exalted worship album. I think he did a wonderful job of updating the melody a bit and giving the vocals a contemporary edge. As it were, this song is loaded with scripture, and a reference to a bible verse pops out at almost every line. But the depth! Oh what depth there is to a song like this. It bleeds Christ and the gospel with every word whispered or sung. You have the theology of the cross laid out clearly,  the shame of our sin, the beauty and horror of penal substitution, the mercy of his forgiveness. The song is practically a creed! I think my favourite verse is “Many hands were raised to wound him, None would intervene to save; But the deepest stroke that pierced him- Was the stroke that justice gave.” I listen to songs like this and I am blown away, and it is precisely why so many modern worship songs drive me insane, because I can just…feel the difference when I sing them. When I worship to songs like this, I feel awe and wonder and dread and relief and thankfulness bubble forth from my lips when I consider the great cost and the agony that was meted out on Christ for my behalf. When I sing 7-11 worship songs [7 verses sung 11 times each] I find that my soul cannot submerge. I can’t connect. And I can’t help but keep my guard up because I can’t trust that the next lyric I’m about to sing is biblically sound. I like a lot of modern worship songs, but so long as I continue to find treasures like this, I will always be captivated by these primary, and the truth they proclaim [Christ-centred and cross-focused absolutes], will always be my chief aim in worship.


Just had a meeting with Pastor Ed Drewlo

I just got back from a meeting with Pastor Ed Drewlo, who is the transitional pastor for the Alliance church, and I have to say that I had a fantastic time. Few things in life make me as happy and excite me as much as talking theology, and the gospel, and talking about spiritual things with a brother or sister in Christ. This is the first time we met, and we devoted time to sharing my background story, my interest in the faith, salvation, sermons, vision, discernment, church discipline, Tim Keller, small group bible studies, divorce, Jeremiah 29:13, homiletics, and most importantly, the impact of the gospel message for Fort McMurray. Doesn’t that sound like a wonderful way to spend an hour? As well, I found him very open and engaging. We talked about the church some, and he asked my opinion on a few issues, which I was glad to do.  I’m hoping to line up an interview with him sometime in the next few weeks, and so hopefully that will occur. All in all, I hope it was productive, and that much good will come out of it- to the glory of God.

Sermon Review. Alliance Church. Val Johnson. Nov 29, 2009.

The sermon starts off talking about the approach of advent season, and how the word “advent” is Latin for arrival, or coming. In like manner, she says that “this is the season where  we look at the arrival or coming of Jesus, and not only the arrival we think of at Christmastime…. We also look forward to the future coming of our Father, of our Lord Jesus Christ coming back to fully redeem the earth, to fully redeem the world for the last time. And that’s another arrival and coming that we look forward to. And everyday we have the arrival and the coming of the Holy Spirit, coming into our hearts and coming into our lives and redeeming us and purifying us. And so this idea of advent is looked at during Christmas season because of Jesus coming to earth, but the concept of Jesus coming and the arrival  should be a concept that we have all the time because Christ is continually coming to us, the holy spirit, and God will come to us in the end.”

She talks about how we begin with the idea of hope and expectancy, and that we need to refine our idea of hope. In order to add a particular dimension of hope which she wishes to emphasize, she uses the word hope in Spanish, which translated  means “to wait”…and has the sense of expectancy coupled with patience. It is said that hope involves forward thinking; or what’s to come, and that to dwell in the past is to totally negate hope. At this point she uses an analogy of a rower who was rowing and rowing, and he realized that he wasn’t going anywhere and the scenery wasn’t changing. This consternated him for a moment, until he realized that he wasn’t going anywhere because he was still tied to the dock. Val uses this analogy to give the picture of dwelling in the past- so that despite our best efforts we won’t go anywhere because we’re stuck [In the past].

To nail this down a bit, we are told that the first step of taking hold of hope is letting go of the past. She makes the claim that “Jesus said I’ve forgiven your sins, as far as the East is from the West.” and that we have to let go of our sins so we can look towards the future. She spends a but of time distinguishing between dwelling vs hoping, and that hope is not a happy, cheery idea that good is to come. She says that  “Hope is God’s power in you to look past that and know there’s a future coming. That there is good and that God has a purpose for you. Because in Jeremiah 29:11 God says “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” that’s what hope is; it is that power to look past the now, and to look past the past, and into the future and know that God is coming.”

Turning a corner, she quotes from 1 Corinthians 13;12-13.   “ For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” and says that when we read about hope, it’s often coupled with faith and love, and that in a way it’s a Trinity of sorts, each functioning intermingled and yet distinct from each other. And this is an excellent point, as this theme does indeed come up quite a bit in the New Testament. [Note. We see this in Romans 5:1–5; Galatians 5:5–6; Ephesians . 4:2–5; Colossians l. 1:4–5; and 1 Thessalonians. 1:3; 5:8.]

To wrap it up, she then spends a fair amount of time reflecting on the relationship between the three, using two analogies. One analogy is that of a creature in motion, whereby faith is the vision and purpose and goal, and that it is our road. Hope is the power to get us to our destination, and love is the action of moving and the action that we expend to get to our destination. She says that hope is our endurance, that Christ is who he says he was. She further elaborates, saying that if someone has hope and excitement and endurance, but no faith, they don’t go anywhere and run themselves ragged, because all they have is a bunch of action and energy with no direction. The other analogy is that of the internal combustion of engines,  how it all works, and how without love, it would be like your internal combustion is happening, but your rod and crank are broken. or that if you have faith and you have hope, but you do nothing with it, then you will go nowhere and you might even explode. When we look at hope in our lives, the more compression we have in our lives, the more pressure we have,  that’s when the hope is more powerful.

REFLECTIONS

This sermon starts off with a bang.  I’ve quoted her at length because I found what she said to be true , and yet at the same time I’m not sure what she means. That is to say when I put the best construction on things, I want to pump my fists and let out an “amen”. But when I look at the statements themselves, I see telltale signs of imprecision. For example; does the Holy Spirit daily” arrive” in our hearts and lives, or is he already there, and arrived there when we became regenerated? What does it mean to “arrive” in this context? Or how is he daily redeeming us? Hasn’t Christ already redeemed us from the curse of the law and regenerated us? Why do we need to be daily redeemed, and why is the Holy Spirit the one doing it? I think the Holy Spirit had it’s hand in that initial act of regeneration, but I’m not sure I would understand how he redeems us everyday. Nor do I understand how Christ continually comes to us. I believe the Holy Spirit is daily active, stirring up all sorts of things inside of us, such as affection and love for Christ, and that the Holy Spirit is bearing witness to Christ- but how that practically translates to Christ coming to us is not something I understand. I would understand and agree with those points a lot better if they were worded justs a little bit differently, but I think the language is a little imprecise, and it took a second listen to catch, and it threw me off. But  that is a nitpick. I think most people understood exactly what she meant, as did I in a greater scheme. But I just think there is the blurring of a few categories there, not on purpose, and so it caused me to do a double take. But the point about Jesus coming back, and how we are to wait expectantly for him, and for a this daily interaction between us and God and Jesus through the Holy Spirit, that was quite excellent.

As well, to get all bibley, at one point she says ““Jesus said I’ve forgiven your sins, as far as the East is from the West.” That statement is not true, however, as it was not Jesus who said it but rather it is a quotation from King David. He was the one who wrote in Psalms 103:12 “As far as the east is from the west,so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” Now I of course believe that statement to have been divinely inspired by God, and is an absolute truth about the nature of forgiveness and the character of Christ towards forgiveness, but that doesn’t change the fact that he did not say it. But again- I know full well what she means, and I know and appreciate the truth she is desiring to communicate, but in the interest of accuracy and precision that had to be pointed out.

Lastly was her thoughts on the relationship between faith and hope and love.  I definitely learned something here, which was how often these three seem to come up as a theme in Paul’s writings. I knew of a few spots where they were mentioned together, but I wasn’t aware of the extent in which they are used. At first I wasn’t sure, and so spent about an hour doing word searches and using a concordance and finding the links between these three, and I definitely learned a lot in the process. And I think this came through very well with her second analogy, about the internal combustion engine. I enjoyed this part tremendously, if for no other reason than that she is a very gifted communicator. Unfortunately as I am not car savvy I don’t think I was able to appreciate the analogy as well as the rest of the church seemed to, nor was I able to understand it very well [because I don't even know what a crank is or does, much let a piston or a rod] The majority of them did seem to understand it though, and they seemed quite amused by her describing the process, which she in turn had been taught by her dad. And when I roll through the intermarriage between faith hope and love, this was bang on, as much as I understand it anyways. I think I had more luck with the former, though even then it was a little less defined, but because I get the concept it sank in with me.

Though one thing which threw me off a bit was her definitions of faith, hope, and love. This is mainly because while we were provided with her definition of hope, we weren’t with faith and love. And these are such big words, with such a broad range of meanings and understandings, and if we don’t nail them down then people can take them anyway they wish. Even with myself, I know I took them to be the way I  though she meant, which made them fit, but without those boundaries I could have taken them to mean something else, in which the whole idea would be misguided at best and heretical at worse. I don’t think for a second though that she meant to convey them in that way, but the result is still the same. When you preach a whole sermon on faith hope and love, you need to attach to those terms clearly delineated definitions, otherwise you’re prone to end up with a jumbled mess of confusion, and you end up working with these vague, amorphous, undefined terms and ideas and people will attach and apply whatever they want to them, which is not what you want happening. As well, when looking at those verses and the relationship between faith and hope and love, we see that they themselves are not always used the dame way. What they take for faith one one verse means something completely different in another, and so that lack of…clarity….is liable to throw people off, including myself.

As well, I would have like to see the understanding between faith hope and love elaborated and rendered in practical way. That is to say, what steps can I do, or what can I learn, or what can I pray that Christ refines in me so that I can see this played out in a practical, earthy, nitty gritty way? How can I apply these revelations to my heart and life, and to my interactions with God? How can I make this relevant to me, and what tie-ins does this have with the hope, faith and love of the Gospel? This was a good sermon, but I felt like I was missing the last 10 minutes where she applies it to the Christian walk so that I might be able to prayerfully consider my own actions and attitude when I am confronted with a situation where I have hope but no love or faith, or when I have faith but no love or hope. It’s almost like I was given the tools, but no explanation on how to use them. The sermon was only 22 minutes long, and I think if she had the usual 45 minutes that this would have been fleshed out a little better, and I would have had more to sink my teeth in.

To conclude, I enjoyed this sermon quite a bit, though I just felt there were a few components missing that would have rendered this a fantastic sermon. And while it’s true that  some of my critiques were  nitpicks [except for the not defining the terms- that one stood out as posing a legitimate problem and one which I think was my biggest and most problematic critique] I think she did a good job nontheless.

The Myth of Jeremiah 29:11-13.

I have been thinking about this verse today, mainly because I am doing a sermon review where it was quoted. This tends to be one of the big verses that everyone has an affinity for, and it show up on coffee mugs and t-shirts and other trinkets. This also seems to be many people’s “life verse” and this is the one they cling to in times of troubles or when they are despairing and when they are faced with trials and tribulations. It seems to function as a mantra, almost, as sort of a cornerstone promise that if they put their faith in it, and affirm it’s eventuality, they will ultimately get through. That is one of it’s uses. Another is by prosperity preachers and prosperity preacher-lite, who assure us that God has great plans to bless us and see us overcome our trials. They would say that God desires to see us wealthy and happy and debt free,  that more than anything he wants to bless us and heap upon us all sorts of material and relational excellence. Then there are the preachers who say that this is God’s intention to the world at large, to the heathens and the pagans. They would say that this verse was meant for all of humanity, that God has good plans for them to give everyone a hope and a future-“So why don’t you come up here and ask Jesus into your heart so you can experience those good plans and that hope and future and all those wonderful blessings he has for you?”

I suppose I could go on forever on this, but the point is that everyone wants a piece of this verse, and that this is always about them and for them and etc. There’s only one problem with that; Jeremiah 29:11-13 isn’t for them and neither is the rest of this chapter. This is not a verse that people can claim as a promise to them directly, nor is it for all people at all times. This chapter was written for a specific people, at a specific time, for a specific purpose. Allow me to explain. First of all, we see in the very first verse who the words are being addressed to, which are the elders, priests, prophets and captive who were exiled thousands of years ago. In verse 4 it gets even more direct when it says “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all who were carried away captive, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon”.  This should be our first sign that what is about to proceed is not for us, at least not directly. We cannot force ourselves into the context of what God is about to say, nor would we try to weasel our way in so that we can be the recipients of some beautiful words that God has for those people.

Not only were these words directed to this group of people at that time, but these words are also to a people under a specific and unique covenant that we can never be under. It is in the context of covenantal theology, to the Jewish covenantal people, who existed in a framework of direct punishments and blessings from God in relation to their obedience and disobedience. If they followed the law, God blessed them. If not, God purposefully sent enemies to kill them and their families and raze the lands and bring them low as punishment for their disobedience and harlotry. At this time, they were in exile because of the consequence of one of these covenant breaks, and it was a holy punishment from God. And so the context of these words in that respect give us even more reason for us to be excluded from this. The next verse is verse 5, and we see, unsurprisingly, that no one is claiming those words. No one living in apartments are reading verse 5 “Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit” and thinking to themselves that they must do that, that they need to get houses and plant gardens. They’re not thinking “I have to get out of this loft and plant myself some carrots!” No, in fact they disregard that verse and that commandment from God- that directive, because they hopefully] understand that those are God’s instructions for those people at that time, and not for them.

And here is the crux of the matter. Verse 11 starts off with the word “For”. What does that tell us? That the preceding verses set the context for this one, and that this one is understood in light of the former. Its so disingenuous to start it off at verse 11 and not pay heed to verse 10, which explains how verse 11 is being understood. “ This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfil my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Reading that should be enough for people to put the brakes on their use of this verse and carefully consider how it should be used and spoken of. To draw a comparison, it would be like hearing “After I take off your saddle, brush you down, and clean your hoofs and feed you some oats, I’m going to declare my great love and affection for you, over all the earth, so that the nations might see how blessed you are and how much I value you” and saying “ Man….that guy really values me and blesses me.” No. It doesn’t work that way. You’re not a horse, you’re a man. Likewise you’re not an ancient Jewish captive  exiled in Babylon and living under a covenantal judgement; you’re a Christian living in the present age, and you have enough legitimate promises from God, and enough legitimate words and assurances of love and affection from Christ that you don’t need to go off and try to jack those ones and pin them to your shirt.

Touching up on verse 12-14,  and including the last part of verse 11, we read “…. plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” Again, right after the “money verse” is a direct reference that if and when these people seek God, he will bring them back from captivity where they were banished and killed, and bring them to that place they were  before they were exiled. I don’t see anyone claiming that verse and trying to insert themselves into that footnote. Four verse later in 17 and 18 we see God saying “Behold, I will send on them the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, and will make them like rotten figs that cannot be eaten, they are so bad.  And I will pursue them with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence; and I will deliver them to trouble among all the kingdoms of the earth—to be a curse, an astonishment, a hissing, and a reproach among all the nations where I have driven them” It would seem that these verses don’t work well as an embroidered wall-hanging, because I have never heard someone speak of God’s wonderful and just and terrible wrath in the same way they do of the verses just a few sentences back.

The point is that we need to utilize extreme care when we take an individual verse out of context, and we need to ask ourselves how it would look if we did the same to other verses.  The takeaway from  passage like this is not God’s totally awesome and radtastically cool plan for you, but rather God’s radical faithfulness to His people [which translates into deliverance] even in spite of their unfaithfulness to Him [which always results in judgment from which they need to be delivered]–a common theme running through the prophetic writings. Of course, this [calling as it does for radical obedience, that is faithfulness, to God] is much more sobering than the well-meaning but ultimately vacuous high that a contextless Jeremiah 29:11 produces, and thus such considerations are not nearly as popular. Look- If Jeremiah 29:11-13 applies to you and all Christian, then by the same logic Jeremiah 44:27 should also apply to all Christians. It reads, “I am watching over them for harm and not for good, and all the men of Judah who are in the land of Egypt will meet their end by the word and by famine until they are completely gone.” There’s just no other way to look at it. 

I’m not saying that the whole chapter of Jeremiah 29 isn’t useful or beneficial. Indeed, I think it is and monumentally so. While those promises are not for us directly, I think they serve as an incredible reminder to us of God’s nature and character. Because we find these verses reflected elsewhere. In Deuteronomy 4:29 “But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.” in  John 6:37, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” We know that Christ loves us, and has died for us, and that we are adopted sons of God and friends of Jesus and that there is a legitimate, deep relationship there whereby we depend on him and cling to his mercy. And we also know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Even the hard, painful, moments and seasons of agony and distress- there is assurance that God is working those things out to give us a hope and a future. And so I think if you’re looking at those verses in terms of “These verses reflect God’s character- that he had plans for his people to take them out of exile once he had finished punishing them . We see that as they turned to him, his wrath was assuaged and his mercy was on display, and his loving kindness was made manifest” And I definitely think we can and should appreciate the beauty of those verses, and give glory to God for them. But we don’t step in and say that God was speaking those verses to us, in our situation, and that we are the objects of this particular proclamation. These are not promises to us.  These verses are not about us and for us, and because of this, unless we are ready to start accepting the other verses directly before and directly after these verses,  and unless we are ready to start accepting the whole chapter and book of Jeremiah as formative and binding on us, we’re going to be deceiving ourselves. We need to start being honest, and looking at scriptures in an honest way, and not trying to be the center of every chapter or verse.

Alliance Church. Pastor Ed Drewlo. December 20, 2009.

Alliance Church. Pastor Ed Drewlo. December 20, 2009.


So it seems to me that Ed Drewlo is an interim pastor that is overseeing the transition in the Alliance Church as the head pastor steps down and the new ministry takes form. During his introduction he mentions a survey that he intends to give his congregation to get an idea of where they’re at and in which direction they’re pulling and so forth, and I actually think this is a good idea. It’s an effective way to get a bead on the pulse of the congregation  and to serve as an important step in addressing the needs of the sheep, and so I really hope that works for them.

In any case, Pastor Ed starts off talking about how tradition has embellished the story of Christmas. He talks about the misconceptions regarding the story, such as barnyard animals, angels singing, the amount of wise men, etc. Once this has been dismantled, he breaks down the actual biblical record and keeps it simple and recounts the facts that we know for sure. This is done in a straightforward manner, and from an actual bible translation, [and not The Message Bible] which was nice to see. In this though, the direction he’s heading is calling attention to the shepherds who were watching their flocks, and how they shared the word and news of Jesus. As this is his focus, he draws a comparison between us and the shepherds. In this case, angels had the privilege of announcing to the shepherds,  the shepherds had the privilege of announcing to the world the good news about Jesus’ birth, and likewise we have the same honour and privilege now of announcing it to our fellow man.

He notes that in Luke 2:8-12 it was the angels who passed the good news to the shepherds,and that God could have used angels again and again if he wanted to, but instead he left it to us to do, and this is a sacred responsibility. [Matthew 4:19, Matthew 19:28, Acts 1:8]. [Great point, btw!] Pastor Ed then waxes eloquent on the magnitude and the profound significance of Christ coming to earth, and how there is no greater news than that, and that is what is really important in this world. [See notes in Reflection]

He spends a bit of time talking about why it’s important for us to be displaying the incarnation of Christ when we share and live this good news, and then delves into the history of the world a bit. He talks about there are many ways to share the good news [ 4 spiritual laws, romans road, bridge illustration] and that in the last 30 or 40 years we’re being confronted with  post-modernism, and so we need to know how to share the good news in a post modern world. He talks about the three era’s of the world; pre-modern, where God was the centre of all things [think Christendom up until the 17th century. The modern era, where man was the centre of all things [rationalism, age of enlightenment] . And then early in last century we have post modernism, where self became the centre of all things. This is marked by a rejection of absolutes, such as morals and beliefs and a belief that there is no truth, or that truth cannot be known. As it relates to religion, there would be a rejection of structure and authority, and they would say that all religions are equally valid and true. Post moderns would argue this even if they are contradictory, or they might say that something may be true for one person, but not for the other. This makes this worldview very pluralistic, and one where the only sin is that of intolerance.

Which begs his question; how can we tell this good news about Jesus in a post modern world? He says that true Christians know that the good news of Christmas  is good news for the whole world, and that we cannot be intimidated, because the world of Jesus’ day wasn’t receptive to the good news either, and that it’s always been a challenge to share the good news. In any case, we can share the good news because there is opportunity in this, and that as a result of living in a postmodern world there are a few advantages. These would be things like the fact that people are open to spiritual stuff, science as all knowing has been dethroned, people are interested in stories and the big narrative, people are hungry for relationships, and that they are looking for reality and despise superficiality, which Christianity lived out well  offers.

Because of this, the reality of the Christmas story is being authentically demonstrated in the lives of believers. Like the shepherds of old, we are the messengers. It’s the best news in the world and people will want to be associated with that if we share it and live it our incarnationally, and so we ought to do so, and rejoice that like the angels and the shepherds we can share the good news.

REFLECTIONS

As a whole, I found this a pretty good sermon. From a quick homiletic point of view, I found him engaging and his words carefully measured, which tended to make his points very salient. Furthermore, I like that he stuck close to his text, though I would have preferred a bit more interaction with it. Nonetheless, there were no rabbit trails and he seemed to follow a well-conceived outline that enabled him to hammer away at a central thesis, and I appreciated the organization it brought to the sermon. It was very…uncluttered…and made it so that I was able to recall it a few days later in a fair amount of detail. That is actually somewhat of a rarity these days, and so props for the skillful preaching.

As for the content itself; it was good stuff. I like that he went after all the myths and placed the birth is a stripped-down historical sense, free of the silly  traditional constraints that we’ve imposed on it.  Though a critique I would of the greater sermon is that he never really expanded on the good news of the Christmas story, which was that Christ came into this world to die and save us from our sins so that we may be pardoned from hell and rather live eternally with him. The fact that Jesus came to earth is great news, but that’s only part of the story. He’s arguably been here before, in the form of various theophanies, and so that in and of itself is not radical. The good news is not that he’s come to earth, but rather why he came to earth. Luke 2:11 “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” It seems like this was assumed, but I would have preferred this to have been expanded upon and incorporated as the climax, so that people know what they’re sharing and why. As well, this will help us have a firm grasp of our soteriology, which is of paramount importance in sharing the gospel. The birth of Jesus isn’t the best news in the world, rather his death and resurrection, and why, is.

Two more tiny points, was that he said at one point that “We settle for less engaging pursuits like simply sending money so others can do it for us.” Not all people are called to do certain work, and  as a result sometimes giving money is an incredibly engaging pursuit and should not be classified as a “lesser pursuit.” The call on a man to support the missionary is no less honourable or noble or engaging or virtuous as the work of the missionary and the missionary himself. Secondly, he stated that systematic theology was developed in the modern era, which is not true. People were understanding and classifying theological ideas far before then, especially with the Patristics and the Nicene and Ante-Nicene fathers [Irenaeus, Origen, Dionysius] in their Christology and their defence against the gnostic, as well as other theological matters This carries on for centuries, where we see it blooming in the pre-modern era, with two notables such as  Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin. And so it was already developed and in full swing before then, so I’m not sure why he would make the comment.

Though I did like his brief synopsis of post-modernism. I think it’s important for people to know about this, and to be able to see what’s going on under the surface of people’s minds. As well, his thoughts on our need to live incarnationally are right on. We don’t have a dead faith, but rather we have been made alive in Christ and have been regenerated, justified and are being sanctified, and so we ought to reflect the work of the Holy Spirit inside of us. People are going to see that, and respond to it, and when we preach and share the gospel they will see the gospel lived out in us.

And so other than a few minor quibbles, this is a sermon worth listening to, especially for it’s enthusiasm and earnestness for sharing the good news of Christmas, which is really the good news of the gospel. As I was taking a few days to think about it, I wondered about my own passion for the gospel, and for sharing the good news. I wondered at my level of excitement, if I was more like the angels and shepherds who received it and promptly rejoiced and shared it with others, or if I take for granted my own salvation and keep it hidden and on the quiet side. I suppose don’t keep it hidden, but I’m not out proclaiming the good news as much as I should or could, and I think this sermon served to stir that up in me a bit, for that desire to me more active and engaged in that sense.

Pray for the Tabernacle of Praise

The Tabernacle of Praise is having a shindig this weekend; a sort of revival meeting with special guest speakers and music and the whole deal. As such, I would ask everyone who reads this blog to pray for that church; or more specifically, to pray for the members of their congregation that they might break free from the bondage that they find themselves in. Furthermore, pray that this recent campaign would be unsuccessful, and that God would close their ears and hearts to the preaching and that he would in some small way guard them from the deceptive and demonic preaching that is being thundered from that pulpit. I don’t say this to be cruel or judgemental, but unless this church has had a massive shift in theology in the last few weeks, and have repudiated their former beliefs and have adopted Historical Biblical Judeo-Christian Orthodoxy, then I don’t want anyone to take to heart anything that might be said during this thing. I just don’t. I have written about them a few times, and I fully intend to do a full review of their weekend messages once they post them. Unless what is being preached from their pulpits this weekend is an utter and complete repudiation from their current statement of faith, then nothing good will come out of it. The whole event, instead of being a spirit-filled revival, will be nothing more than the wholesale slaughtering of sheep.

For this reason I enjoin everyone to wage spiritual warfare on their behalf, because in the end we’re not fighting against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, and against spiritual wickedness in high places. Pray deeply and pray fervently that they might discount the heresies that coat the walls of that very building.  Pray that God would give them repentance and faith, that they would come to believe by grace alone through faith alone in Christ’s work alone. Pray for the ones trapped inside this system, that they might start to see cracks in the walls, the hypocrisy of their leaders, and the pureness of Christ and of sound doctrine which doesn’t look anything like what they are being taught now. As well, pray for their pastor, that God would either silence him or that he would repent of his idolatry and false gospel and his works-based righteousness, and turn to Christ and beg his forgiveness and mercy. Because I want this man to become my brother, and I want him to teach what is in accordance with sound doctrine, and I want him to be rightly dividing the word of truth, and I want him to be a shephard to a flock, and not the spiritually abusive goat herder that he now is. I know these are strong words, but souls are at stake. Souls are at stake. And that is why we pray.

Beloved Father, My heart breaks for this congregation and what they are being taught. I desire so badly to see people free from this yoke and living in the true freedom that your Son brings. I lift up this church and the people in it, and beg you that their so-called revival would not penetrate deep, but that it would be useless and powerless. I pray that they may be silenced, and that in our great mercy you might reach down and rip them out of this cage of deceit and put them in your field of grace, and draw these lost souls back to you and to the cross of your Son. They need you so bad, and I pray that they would find you. At the same time search my own heart and prune away the branches of my disobedience. I know that there’s enough sin in this very prayer to damn me to hell if not for your kindness towards me, and so help me keep my affections turned towards you, and help me to have a right heart towards those I come confessing. I pray that my sinful pride would not rise up, but rather that my prayers might come out of a genuine ache and desire to see the lost rescued, and not out some wicked bid on my part to elevate myself and parade the security I have in you. In your holy and good name I pray, amen.

Alliance Church. Pastor Bonnie. November 15, 2009. Paradigm shifts.

Pastor Bonnie. November 15, 2009. Paradigm shifts.

So this is essentially a sermon on having a change in perspective in regards to Christianity; or as she puts it- having a paradigm shift so that we don’t have a Christianity that does not make a difference. This is the main thesis of her sermon, and early on she reads from 1 Corinthians 1:5-9 , reading those passages from the Message Opinion Bible.

She starts off by asking the question “Does Jesus’ life and teaching matter? Does it make any difference or is it enough that we simply trust in the saving work of his death and resurrection and think “oh, we’re fine. We’re on our way to heaven”? Is his call to follow simply an instruction to the church and the individual Christians to tell others how to get saved by believing in Jesus or does the path of obedience require compassionate identification with all who suffer at the margins of society, or in deep agony of their losses”…

She then makes several points that it’s not about “me and the church body” but it’s about the “collective we”, that is to say everyone around us, including people who are on the fringe of society and those who are on the fringe of making a commitment to Jesus. She talks about the reality we’re faced with that people around us aren’t being transformed in the way they should, nor are people being healed, marriages being restored, society shifting towards God, etc. But she believes that they can be, and to make this happen we need paradigm shift.  In her definition, a paradigm shift is a sudden change in perception and point of view. In a theological sense, during a paradigm shift our core beliefs don’t change [such as faith in God, view of scripture, fundamental convictions and creeds] , but the way we express those things needs to change.

She goes on a bit about the rich young ruler in Luke 18:18, and wonders how the rich young ruler led his life after that fateful encounter with Jesus, ad if he ever felt like he made a mistake and missed something. She says that he thought he was living a good life and doing what he ought, but Jesus gave him a different perspective. ” he went to him and said “good teacher, tell me more. What can I do?”  And he got complimented for the things he was doing according to what he was always done, according to how he lived his life. And Jesus went a step father and asked ‘are you willing to give up all your wealth, and then you can follow me’?” She says that Jesus wasn’t saying that money was bad, but it had to do with who he was. In culture back then money represented a social status. [ I like that he mentioned this and discussed the social implications of not having wealth.] “It meant that you would no longer be who you are, and Jesus was saying ‘are you willing to give up who you are to come follow me’? and I’ve often thought about what that means to give up who you are to follow Jesus”

NOTE. I’m going to address this here and now. First of all, she paraphrases the man’s question, which sets the stage for her answer. He does not say “what can I do?” but rather “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” We need to keep that in our purview if we even want to understand what’s going on. And there’s so much to say here. First, in response, Jesus does not let the ruler’s superficial view of “goodness” go unchallenged. Instead, he directs the ruler’s attention to God, in whom ultimate goodness resides, thereby showing that only in understanding God as infinitely good can he discover that human good deeds cannot earn eternal life. Second of all, Jesus does not compliment him! That’s a typical error that most people make when reading this passage. They assume that Jesus is agreeing with this man that he has kept the laws since his youth, but he hasn’t! No one keeps the laws of God perfectly, and so this man was being self righteous. So what does Jesus do? He exposes the man’s claims to be false. When Jesus says “one thing you lack” he’s not talking about some higher piety, but rather the kingdom of god, salvation and eternal life. Jesus shows that the ruler has not really kept the commandments, and he clarifies the meaning of true repentance, involving treasures in heaven.  When Jesus says “follow me” it involves denying oneself, taking up one’s cross, and following Jesus as a disciple. And we see the efforts of Jesus to expose this man, which is that he was very sad because he was extremely rich. He loved his riches more than God, showing that he had kept neither the first commandment nor the tenth, for riches were his god and he desired them more than God. Jesus was calling to repentance and faith, not saying “You’re doing good so far, but I need you to do more” END NOTE

Turning the corner a bit, she begins to recount her internship many years ago, how she worked in the inner-city working at night and doing missions; and how her experience working with prostitutes changed her perspective on grace and ministry.

She then discusses a book that she read called “unChristian”, which is a book that studies the perception of non-believers  towards Christianity and church and towards church folk. Unsurprisingly they find us hypocritical, anti-homosexual, old fashioned, prudish, weak on social justice, boring, unintelligent. unloving, etc. These are not things though that we should be happy with, as we are everything but, and we need to work on changing that perception of us. She says that  most people have a negative view of the church and we need to offer them paradigm shifts, whereby the core essentials don’t change, but everything else must. In any case, Bonnie says that “We have to question what we’re doing and how we’re doing it if this is the perception if outsiders have of us. “ She recounts numerous paradigm shifts in the bible as Daniel. Jonah. Noah. The flood, early church etc. She speaks a bit more about Christianity that does not make a difference, and then she rightly goes after dead churches, and well as the abuses that occur, as well as apathetic Christians. She spends a bit of time reflecting on this Christianity that does not make a difference, and it is evident that she is fed up with it.

She says that “The church has become apathetic to change in Canada in the last 10 years. Change was needed, and we did not respond quickly enough, and we have become apathetic.” I don’t know which church she is referring to, and I don’t think she can even say that about other denominations, because as many people would disagree with her as agree with her. And so that’s sort of a weird thing to say. But she says that “To experience a paradigm shift, we need revival…. I think we need to be a part of a real focused generational transformational movement of God and the only way that true revival is going to occur is when we take it upon ourselves to say “I want a change in me. I want a paragdime shift in me. I want to see something different……Revival is old fashioned, so why don’t we call it paragdime shift?”

Bonnie then talks about taking a risk with God involving prophecies. She says that they’ve heard many prophecies from God about what God is going to do in the church in Fort McMurray, and she invites people to come to the front and list these prophecies, which they do, most of which invariably involve God working miracles and bringing revival to this city. She says that “God is asking us to challenge the way we do things, and saying ‘put my perspective on it. Don’t lose our theology or doctrine,’ but let’s challenge everything else. And that “God is asking us to put the vision casting back in the congregation.” The sermon with concludes with “We’ve been apathetic and change…and we need to have a paragdime shift, so please God helps us not be apathetic and help us desire change. “

REFLECTIONS

This isn’t a sermon that I found especially motivating nor enjoyable. Not only because there was a woman at the helm pastoring [ which I do not agree with, nor do I recognize that as being an office that God has given her] but because she was preaching out of the Message Bible, utilizing false dichotomies, using scripture illegitimately,  and diagnosing the symptoms instead of dealing with the root of the sickness itself. Which is not to say that there wasn’t anything good or edifying about the sermon, because there was, but these things simply overshadowed and outweighed them. To start us off, let us compare and contrast the scripture she used, which had no real tie in to her sermon. Really now. She spoke for almost 45 minutes and only used two bits of scripture, the first which was irrelevant and the second which was mangled. To show the contrast of versions, let us look at the ESV first and the Message second.

“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus,  that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the  fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord [1 Corinthians 1:4-9. [7-9 bolded]]

In contrast we see her “translation”; “Just think—you don’t need a thing, you’ve got it all! All God’s gifts are right in front of you as you wait expectantly for our Master Jesus to arrive on the scene for the Finale. And not only that, but God himself is right alongside to keep you steady and on track until things are all wrapped up by Jesus. God, who got you started in this spiritual adventure, shares with us the life of his Son and our Master Jesus. He will never give up on you. Never forget that.”

After reading her paraphrase she says  “Don’t you love that? I love it when I read scripture that I’ve read over and over and over and I read it from a different translation and “pow”, it just stands out to me again. “ And this made me laugh out loud! She does not seem to acknowledge, or at least understand that the Message bible is not a translation at all, but rather is one man’s interpretive paraphrase. And so of course it’s going to go “Pow. Wiz-Bang! Ba-zang! Whoah! It’s like reading it for the first time. It’s completely different. Wow! Golly-Gee! What a fantastic perspective.” Uhh…That’s because you’ve added almost twice the words, blurred altered the meaning, and have inserted a bunch of things which were not there, including “He will never give up on you. Never forget that.” Which is not to say that such a sentiment is not true, but what kind of legitimate translation would add that to the end of a sentence? You couldn’t pull that stunt in any other arena and get away with it. You couldn’t add sentences to the end of political speeches, or in translating the Greek classics into other languages. That doesn’t fly in any other literary circles, but for some reason these Christians think it’s all peachy-keen  to add whole sentences which don’t even exist to the rest of our holy, sacred scripture? It’s unbelievable. As well, this verse has no other tie-ins to the rest of her sermon, and so why is she reading it? It’s not like she’s going to do some expository work on it, or tell us what it means in context, or even use it topically. And I’m not against scripture being  read for the sake of the word of god being preached and exalted. Far from it! In our church we always do scripture readings from the Old testament, Gospels, and the Epistles. But somehow I don’t think that was her intention.

As well, relating to her book, what I wish she would have done is offered up some sort of defence and not accept the conclusions so blindly, because I tend to be sceptical about the ability of believers to avoid unbelievers’ condemning caricatures and stereotypes. We know that biblically speaking, unbelievers are not prevented from faith in God by the people of God, but by the human heart, which is “desperately wicked” [Jeremiah 17:9]. While all of our good works are to  be “conspicuous” [1 Timothy. 5:25] before the lost and so demonstrate the transforming power of the gospel, unbelievers hate the gospel and, in many cases, the people who believe it. And so we need to keep the proper perspective. Not only that, but the book has a rather weak definition of “born-again”, and this factors heavily into numerous surveys and assessments. As well, there is  the propensity of the authors to take the testimony of unbelievers about Christians as if it carries no ideological bias or personal prejudice or theological flaws.  For example, 80% of unbelievers can say that Christians are hypocrites because we are supposed to be about love, and yet we judge gay marriages, and that doesn’t make us hypocrites at all. In any case, that is not to say that the book is bad. The book is quite good, and in fact I would recommend it, but those things need to be kept in context and proper perspective.

At one point she says “Christianity that does not make a difference is a one where we are able to participate in traditional forms without thinking of the generation to come, and what will be needed to reach and disciple them. This does not mean that there is no room for tradition and ceremony, but to remember that we have a generation following that have no such attachments, and we are called to discover a way to reach them.” In this little bit, and elsewhere, she makes the case that young people don’t care about traditions and liturgy and ceremonies, because they have no experience with them, and so we probably ought to cut back on them so that we don’t weird them out. She says she’s not against them, but you get the picture that she would be glad to get rid of then entirely. And yet how hard is it to acclimate and teach these in our churches? The kids growing up in church are used to them. It’s only the kids coming who have no experience with them, and she acts like these kids can’t possibly care about it or be interested in it. But says who? We teach new converts how to pray, how to take the Lord’s supper, how to confess, how to take and view baptism, etc. We introduce them to a lot of practices that they are unfamiliar with and have no connection with, so is it so much a stretch to say that they couldn’t learn to love these and be interested in them? Keep in mind that many of these traditions and practices  are hundreds and thousands of years old, and many people are drawn to that. And so that stability and that history and that rich stasis is something desirable to them to participate in. At the same time I’m not saying that traditions and ceremonies and liturgy are always good. I’m saying they’re neutral, and so in that sense there should be no push to get rid of them, nor should we necessarily feel that we ought to hang on to them at the expense of bringing in the kids. But I just don’t think that’s a valid choice. That’s both a strawman and an either-or fallacy at the same time. Some churches have them and others don’t, and because her denomination doesn’t, it doesn’t give her a right to say that the Anglicans or Lutherans are doing something wrong, or that they’re dying and are incapable of experiencing her paradigm shifts or in bringing in the coveted 16-29 year olds. Many young people love these churches precisely because of these liturgies and traditions, and so it’s not her place to say that these churches must change if they want to attract the young-uns and make a difference in our culture.

As to the whole prophecies thing, what I don’t understand is that if they believe they have had a bona-fide genuine prophecy from God, then why don’t they write it down in their bibles? I’m dead serious. If they believe there have heard prophecies about what God is going to do in Fort McMurray, and they are positive that it was God speaking, then they ought to open their bibles, skip past the book of revelation, past the book of maps, and write in the margins all that God is telling them and declare it as being authoritative and on par with the rest of the prophecies and the rest of scripture. Because these prophecies have three sources. God. The devil. Or one’s imagination, which if that is the case is evil and wicked because it’s falsely ascribing words to God that he did not say. And so if it’s a word from God, it belongs in his Word. Because I have never heard of God telling us that some prophecies he gives are authoritative and true, while others…are not so much. Or that maybe these prophecies are authoritative and true- but it’s like the book animal farm; all prophecies are equal, but some prophecies are more equal than others. What if I said that I had a vision from God and he told me that one of their prophecies that they had earlier were wrong? Who do we believe? And on what basis are they going to reject my contradiction of their prophecy from God? Inquiring minds wish to know.

In regards to this whole revival business, why is strong, biblical preaching never emphasized as a means of revival and of changing lives? Why is the gospel never emphasized as the answer to every problem? If people are behaving badly, they need the gospel. If they are being hypocritical, they need the commands of Jesus in the gospel. People who are genuinely saved and born again are regenerated and will be sanctified, and they will bear fruits. Not all at once, and not without some gaps in between, and not without a few missteps and backtracks and sins along the way. But if people want revival, they don’t have to pretty themselves up and find a new way to do things, a way that keeps the centre and throws out the rest. A new way to “do church”. Rather, they need to trust  in Christ, repent, beg for Christ to humble them, rest deeply in the knowledge that their sins are forgiven, work out their salvation with fear and trembling, and then if God wills it, he may bring it about. And that’s where she draws these false dichotomies and mischaracterizes people. In her definitions, playing church is putting faith and trust in Christ but not helping the socially marginalized. Playing church is holding unto old traditions and not be willing to change everything. Yet I would consider twisting scripture and not preaching hard the word of God to be playing church. It’s not either or. there’s a balance to be struck and walked in, and for some reason we’re not getting that balance.

Lastly though, this sermon did have a few good points, namely in the passion it represented and in the care that Bonnie took to be clear that she didn’t want to do away with the historical, Christian orthodox teachings that we hold to. Major props to her for that. It’s clear that they desire something deeper, and better, and more real and transformative, and for their sake I hope they find it. I do actually appreciate sermons of this nature, where people can recognize that it’s no skin off our nose if we need to contextualize the praxis of the church a bit so that the theology can be more relevant. I don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel, but it’s also clear that we can reevalute our practices for the sake of seeing the gospel proclaimed. The message never changes, but the means definitely can, and I think that’s what Bonnie is trying to say despite her misfires. What should a church be doing? I can point them to it; which is strong, accurate and deep biblical preaching, Christ-exalting worship, tough-love church discipline, the correct and frequent taking of the sacraments, and a fierce dedication to holiness and the commands of Christ and to proclaiming Christ crucified for our sins. That’s how its going to happen, and not in merely having a paradigm shift and by getting rid of everything that’s not our core. Or perhaps paradigm shift should be more aptly understood as being regenerated and born again. That will give one heck of a paradigm shift; to go from dark to light. I don’t know the inner workings of the church, and only know them by their sermons and their bulletins and so I’m not going to comment too much on it. I also know some of their pastors, and one in particular whom I really admire. But sermons like this are missing the mark. I understand the desire to rid ourselves of apathy. I just don’t understand their means of doing that.

[Relient K. Apathetic]