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The Wild and Dangerous Jungle of Religious Blogging

In all my days I have never had to look behind me before saying anything.

-Shabbos 118b

Lashon hara (gossip or slander) is not necessarily untruthful. The Torah forbids saying something derogatory about a person even if it is completely true.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
from “Growing Each Day” for Shevat 30
Aish.com

The primary reason I was compelled to close comments on this blog was the startling amount and frequency of (sometimes) true but disturbing, harassing, and occasionally derogatory comments being made by others.

whisperIn reading Rabbi Twerski’s commentary on Lashon Hara, I was reminded of those times many years ago when my wife would say something truthful about me that nonetheless was painful to hear. On occasion, she’d make these statements in front of others, which was certainly embarrassing, and when I would complain about this, she’d say, “Well, it’s true, isn’t it?”

According to Rabbi Twerski and the Talmud, it doesn’t matter if the statement is true or not if it also causes pain.

Derek Leman, who describes himself as “a rabbi, and speaker at the intersection of Judaism and Christianity,” recently wrote a blog post called The Infamous Incident at Antioch. While I generally agree with Derek’s “take” on the topic at hand, a large number of the 80 plus (as I write this) comments different people have composed in response to Derek’s blog (and to the other people commenting) are disturbing.

Yes, each person is telling the “truth” from their point of view, but the debate for some has gotten quite personal. It seems in this case, as in many or most other cases in the religious blogosphere, that “truth” always trumps kindness.

More’s the pity, for we are also commanded to love one another:

I am giving you a new mitzvah: that you love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. With this all will know that you are my disciples: if love dwells among you.

John 13:34-35 (Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels)

From many of these blog commentaries, it would be very difficult for an outside observer to determine who the disciples of Messiah are based on this commandment.

Of course, at least one person commenting on the aforementioned article is Jewish and not Messianic, so I suppose this commandment does not apply to him, but to the degree that Shabbos 118b does apply to Jewish people, what does that say?

bullyingI should mention that the litmus test for Lashon Hara is whether or not you’d make such a statement in public. Since all these dialogs are incredibly public and available to anyone with an Internet connection, does that mean anything we’re willing to write on a person’s blog, regardless of the lack of kindness, cannot be considered gossip, slander, or hurtful just because we dare to press the “Post Comment” button? I hope the answer is abundantly apparent, but just in case it isn’t, the answer is “no”.

Targum Yonoson states that the center crossbar was made with wood that came from the trees that Avraham planted. I heard Rabbi Mordechai Mann of Bnai Brak comment on this that these trees were planted by Avraham for the purpose of doing kindness for travelers. The center crossbar was placed right in the middle of the tabernacle to remind us that even when we are devoting ourselves to serving the Almighty we should never forget to have compassion for our fellow men, who are created in the image of the Almighty.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Even when serving the Almighty remember to do acts of kindness for people,” pp 207-8
Commentary on Torah Portion Terumah
Growth Through Torah

I don’t doubt that each and every person commenting on Derek’s blog, or who have made problematic comments on mine in the past, sincerely believes they are serving God in what they say, trying to straighten me and many others out, so to speak, correcting the “error” of our ways.

However, in (from their points of view) serving God, they are forgetting that some of what they say and write is not kind at all nor acknowledging that the objects of their criticism are indeed made in the image of God.

Some are even a little smug about it:

You could be 90 years old, standing right in front of me and I’d still tell you to your face that you need to be more mature in your online interactions. It’s the truth.

“It’s the truth.” As if that is sufficient moral justification for tearing down another human being.

But I suppose this could also make me guilty of Lashon Hara for I’m also trying to tell the truth at the cost of the dignity of other people.

If I am guilty of this, I ask forgiveness, but it would have been even better had I never written and published this missive.

So what’s my point?

If you want to serve God, is the best way to go about it to charge into battle or to do kindness and show compassion?

This concept of the Chinuch is a basic one for becoming a better person. Even if you are not able to have elevated thoughts at first, force yourself to behave in the way in which you hope to eventually become. If you want to become a giving person, even though you are inwardly very selfish you will eventually succeed if you continue to behave in a giving manner.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“You create yourself by your behavior. This allows you to become the person you wish to be,” p.168
Commentary on Torah Portion Bo
Growth Through Torah

closedI suspect if this principle were applied to becoming kinder human beings while in the service of the Almighty, the comments made on various religious blogs would be quite a bit more gentle, or maybe these comment sections would become astonishingly quiet.

Since it is unlikely that such a principle will ever become a reality among many religious people who comment on blogs (see my rants on this topic here, here, and here), and given that there is a significant overlap between Derek’s readership and mine, I’m convinced I’m doing the right thing by continuing my “closed comments” policy.

Addendum: Sunday Morning I’ve gotten a number of encouraging emails this morning and also a link to the definition of Insult at Jewish Virtual Library. That definition re-enforces the idea that even if you feel responsible to rebuke someone, you are required to do so in a manner that causes no embarrassment or other emotional discomfort. That’s pretty rare in the religious blogosphere. I’ve also been reminded that in 170 comments on this blog post of mine, no one tried to turn it into the “wild west shootout” that has recently occurred on Derek’s aforementioned blog article. So I’ll try a little experiment and temporarily reverse my decision by opening up comments on this one blog post and “take the temperature,” so to speak, of this matter. Can we be civil and non-exploitive in dialog?

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See You in the Funny Papers

As for people not playing on your blog as you want… quit writing a blog if you want to keep things neat and tidy and simply how “you” feel. Publish a newsletter and ignore the private responses which you disagree with. I have to be honest, I believe you think and write wonderfully. I like the discourse here. However your premises bring with them a perspective that is often open to question. If you do not like the questions, it seems odd you would post things which are so open to critical analyses. In all love, it is like going to the South Pole and questioning why it is cold.

-from Rockey in his January 29, 2015 at 12:24 p.m. comment

Okay. I take the hint. I could use the break.

By the way, that was a pretty diplomatic way to get your point across, Tim.

Thanks. I revisit this idea every now and again and then the comments back off, I receive some encouragement, and I’m writing again.

But not this time.

I’m sure it’s me. I’m sure I’m just being an unreasonable blogger, especially given I’m writing in the religious blogging space. D. Thomas Lancaster mentioned in one of his recorded sermons that he doesn’t maintain a personal blog, and I think for some of the reasons I’m encountering.

As I face various matters in my personal life (in spite of what many of you may think, I really don’t share everything that’s going on with me on this blog) as well as issues of continuing in my faith, I realize I don’t want the additional “drama” that sometimes happens in the comments section of my blog. I rarely comment on the blogs of others (at least compared to a few years ago) for the same reason.

So I’m closing comments on my blog. I was going to publish this blog on Friday morning and later on close comments, but that could seem like I’m just trolling for sympathy or whatever. It makes more sense to come to a clean stopping point this evening. Close comments and publish this blog post at the same time.

I may still write as Tim suggests without providing a venue for feedback. That may be frustrating to some, but not all blogs allow comments so there’s no rule that says I have to. There’s a process that lets anyone who really, really needs to say something to me to email me from within the blog, but that takes a few more steps than writing a comment and I don’t anticipate much of a response.

After some time, I may open the place up for comments again, but I’ll have to see what the experience is like with comments disabled for a while. For all I know, I may get used to the peace and quiet, and even to not having to write about everything that pops into my head.

I’ve actually been toying with the idea of doing a completely different blog, something not involved with religion at all (I do have a couple of other interests). I feel like a Don Quixote who has decided he doesn’t have to tilt at windmills any longer. I want to stop fighting “religious wars” for a while. I’d just like to spend some time enjoying being in the presence of God. There’s a certain freedom in that.

“See you in the funny papers.”

attributed to Walt Kelly
Creator of the Pogo comic strip

The Broken Saint

James, you are the most confusing person. I think sharing your confusing life on a blog is doing more harm than good. I’ve seen you change more directions than the wind and I’m convinced you still don’t know where you’re going. My advice, do what I did, shut down the blog until you can get a grip on your own life before sharing with others. Or, stick with things your 100% sure of and write on that. You have a wide reader base and writing articles for FFOZ has gained you even more. This is the kind of stuff that causes confusion and arguments in MJ and frankly it’s embarrassing. Based upon this article (and forgive me if I am wrong), I would say, make sure you don’t keep the Sabbath. Go out and mow the grass just to make sure you’re not resting on that day. Also, eat pork at least twice a week, preferably in public, so you’re not keeping kosher. Go to church, keep your mouth shut and be a good christian. I’ve cut down my visits to your blog to about once a week. Now, I think I’ll be un-bookmarking this site and I’d suggest the same for others as well. I’m a very nice, easy-going guy, but somethings just light my fire. Sorry you were the match, James. Much love, my brother. Just think about it.

-Keith
Comment on one of my blog posts

While I tried to take this comment in the spirit it was written, I have to admit, my first response was to want to “bite back” a little bit. I probably communicated some of that “sting” in my actual reply, which I regret, but my reaction must mean Keith has a valid point. After all, did I create this blog just to whine about what could be called first world problems in Christianity?

My reply (since I should be honest) to Keith was this:

I’m not “required reading,” Keith. People who think I don’t make sense (sometimes life and living don’t make sense and people experience dissonance and contradiction) and who are disturbed by that don’t have to read my blog. As of 2013, there were an estimated 152,000,000 blogs on the Internet. I’m only one of them.

It’s not my intention to do harm, it’s my intention to illustrate a real, lived experience as a person of faith. I’m not a textbook and I’m not the Bible. I don’t live a linear life and I’m not trying to say that I’ve got it all together. Clearly, I don’t.

However, I suspect most, real, live, human beings who are disciples of the Master (or anything else) don’t have life completely settled, either.

I appreciate that you are commenting for my sake, and maybe at some point, I’ll stop blogging, but when and if I do, that will be a decision I make in relation to my understanding of God and who I am in him.

Cheers, Keith.

Too snarky?

walkingI hope not. But I think I make a really valid point, too. Unlike most other, similar blogs, I didn’t create “Morning Meditations” to just be about my theological and doctrinal conclusions, but rather, about my theological and doctrinal journey.

A journey implies a changing landscape as one progresses in their travels. If I were to take a road trip from Boise to New York City, I’m sure the scenery, what I’d see and experience, would change, sometimes rather dramatically, as I was moving along down the road.

I believe that’s true of any journey in life, particularly one in the company of God and God’s (imperfect) people.

But I can see Keith’s point. I often toggle between some review or assessment of a theological “product,” such as a book, sermon series, lecture, article, whatever, and my personal reactions and responses to what it’s like being a “Messianic Gentile,” dealing with other people’s expectations, dealing with my own expectations, as well as just kvetching and complaining.

The downside to reading such a blog is that it can seem like I’m terribly inconsistent. The upside, or so I’ve been told, is that my writing can seem raw, authentic, real, and relatable by (many) others who are going through the same or similar experiences on the trail to “faithland”.

“You don’t need to be perfect to be impressive.”

-Anonymous

That isn’t a direct quote. I derived it from something I read in an article by Marc Chernoff called 12 Common Lies Mentally Strong People Don’t Believe which was posted on Facebook. I generally avoid inspirational blogs, stories, and speakers because the effect they create is like eating a spoonful of sugar. You get an immediate boost but soon afterward, there’s a profound let down as well as the realization that what you’ve eaten is nutritionally deficient. I looked up the “About” page for the article’s source, Marc and Angel Hack Life, and the youthful appearance of the authors made me question if they’ve experienced enough life to qualify them to suggest how to “hack” it to others, especially “old guys” like me.

But if nothing else, I found several other quotes and “quasi-quotes” that were useful and applicable to my current situation and perhaps a new project.

In order to avoid the confusion Keith speaks of, I’ve been toying with the idea of creating two “environments” in which to write, one for more uplifting commentaries, reviews, and the like, and the other being more gritty and human, a place specifically designed for me to be able to “let my hair down,” so to speak, “tell it like it is,” and yes, to kvetch.

Broken AngelI have a couple of options in mind. The first is administratively the easiest. I can just create an additional page to “Morning Meditations” (It would appear as another navigation tab across the top) called something like “The Broken Saint” and write separate content in that venue. The other would take a greater investment in work and a few extra bucks but be more creative. I could make a second blog, solely for the purpose of expressing my humanity as a person of faith, and actually call that blog something like “The Broken Saint” (I’ve yet to settle on a final title). I could place “buttons” on each blog, linking to the other, so readers could navigate easily between them if they desired.

It’s still the middle of the week as I write this but approaching Shabbat, so I’ll give myself the weekend (maybe) to mull things over. What do you think? Would you visit two related blogs, reading uplifting and informative commentaries on “Morning Mediations” and pursuing my personal humanity in living faith day-by-day on “The Broken Saint”?

“If religion is a crutch, who isn’t limping?”

-Anonymous

Hiatus or Something Like It

Walking outRabbi Meir Hagar of Viznitz related that one of the great chassidic rabbis was once praying with much enthusiasm. His evil inclination came to him at a moment he was praying with the height of fervor, and whispered in his ear, “How can you be so insolent as to pray in such a manner? Yesterday you did improper things. You are unworthy of such prayers.”

The righteous man was not thrown by the evil inclination and mentally replied, “It might be true that yesterday I have erred. Moreover, it is possible that tomorrow once again I might err. But right now I am in the middle of praying, so get away from me!”

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Make the Highs Even Higher”
Aish.com

It is said that for every descent spiritually, there is an ascent. This blog and a good many other things are going into hiatus, or at least a significant slow down, for an indeterminate period of time which may be a few days to a few weeks, or even longer. Frankly, I’ve recently been reminded of my humanity and my fallibility (I came to this conclusion before my recent Nanos blog post, but the mess I caused didn’t help). I’ve always been concerned about putting my thoughts, feelings, and opinions about God, the Bible and everything out on the Internet, since I am only human, when the rest of the religious people in my space (and in all other religious spaces) in the blogosphere seem to be so “perfect” (not that anyone is perfect, of course).

I’m far from perfect. Very far.

I’ll miss the daily writing. I really enjoy it. But discussing theological issues should be less about personal enjoyment and more about enlightenment and truth. I told a friend over coffee last Sunday that I was stuck on the level of content as far as my faith goes. I like reading and writing about “stuff,” about opinions, and doctrine, and information.

But that’s not all that a life of faith is made of. A life of faith must be lived faithfully.

For however long I’m away, or however infrequently I visit, I bequeath the religious blogosphere to those of you who want it or need it. I’m going to see what life is like without living it on a daily basis. At one point, I thought blogging was a way to get closer to God, but now I see that it has become a barrier between me and Hashem, like many other things I have in my life.

Oh, just in case the “apostasy police” or anyone else is “concerned” by what my decision means, no, I haven’t lost faith or walked away from Jesus. I’m walking away from a public online discussion of my faith right now, thank you very much.

When will I be back? I don’t know exactly. I still have one more episode of First Fruits of Zion’s television program A Promise of What is to Come to review, and I know I’m going to watch it, but when will I write the review and post it for all to read? Soon I hope.

Even if I return to this blog in a few days or a few weeks, it’s pretty unlikely that I’ll return to daily blogging.  It’s more likely, though nothing is decided yet, that I could just stop by every once in awhile and share a few thoughts or insights or even a review on an irregular basis. Just a brief, intermittent presence.

What will I be doing now that I’m not regularly writing online? Praying, reading, studying, pondering, meditating. Who knows what else? God knows what He wants of me. I just have to discover what that is and then do it.

Lord, Thou knowest that I am growing older.

Keep me from becoming talkative and possessed with the idea that I must express myself on every subject.

Release me from the craving to straighten out everyone’s affairs.

Keep me from the recital of endless detail. Give me wings to get to the point.

Seal my lips when I am inclined to tell of my aches and pains; they are increasing with the years and my love to speak of them grows sweeter as time goes by.

Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be wrong.

Make me thoughtful but not nosy; helpful but not bossy.

With my vast store of wisdom and experience it does seem a pity not to use it all. But Thou knowest, Lord, that I want a few friends at the end.

-found at Aish.com
“A prayer for those growing older”

Blessings on all who have shared in my journey thus far. May it continue by the will and grace of God.

Good Shabbos and Good Night.

The Challies Chronicles: MacArthur’s Strange Fire Keynote

elephant-in-the-living-roomIt’s the elephant in the room, isn’t it? We can’t all be right and we can’t both be right. Sooner or later we have to have a discussion about charismatic (continuationist) theology and whether or not the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit remain in operation in the church today (or, if you prefer, about cessationist theology and whether or not the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit have ceased in the church today). We have wanted to make sure New Calvinism is large enough for both, that it will not fracture along this particular line, and this has delayed the conversation. But at some point we just have to talk about it.

John MacArthur is forcing the issue with a book and a conference titled Strange Fire. The conference is still several weeks away and the book will not be widely available until a few weeks after that. However, I recently received an advance copy of the book and have read it a couple of times now. I want to begin a conversation today, and my purpose is really to get an idea of how people feel about the whole issue.

Tim Challies
“John MacArthur and Strange Fire” (September 26, 2013)
Challies.com

I want to be fair. I imagine that there are some of you out there who don’t believe me, who find me terrifically unfair because I don’t agree with you, but I really do want to be fair. That’s why I’m posting this.

Not to long ago, I aimed more than a little criticism at MacArthur, Strange Fire, and the battle to control the Christian mind on my blog. My Pastor felt I wasn’t giving MacArthur the benefit of the doubt or looking at the positive aspects of his conference. He recommended Pastor Tim Challies and his blog as a good counterpoint to MacArthur’s critics.

If found out that Challies had a lot to say about Strange Fire. As far as I can tell, I quoted from his first blog post on the topic, before the conference even took place. It helps to address this Pastor’s impressions of Strange Fire in a chronological order. I guess he attended the conference and live blogged the different speakers.

I won’t attempt to blog on everything Challies wrote, but I do want to try to get a representative sample, just to get the flavor of what was said. Of course (please forgive me), I don’t expect Challis to be entirely objective (who is?) so part of my analysis will be of Challies as well as of the conference and the presenters who offer their own “fire,” so to speak.

For me, the issue isn’t who is right and who is wrong, but whether or not MacArthur was “playing fair” for the sake of edification and education. Was he being fair or could there have been other motivations? It’s possible the “Challies chronicles” will reveal this, but I don’t know for sure.

Challies’s pre-conference intro to Strange Fire won’t reveal much except at the very end. After Challies wrote his missive, MacArthur reviewed it and asked him to append one brief statement:

Tempting as it might be for my Reformed continuationist friends to read the last chapter first, that would be a mistake. The points in that chapter might seem arbitrary to someone who has not read the preceding material. Those early chapters trace the roots of charismatic teaching; they show the biblical rationale for cessationist conviction; and they demonstrate why aberrant doctrines and practices are not minor, occasional anomalies but the inevitable fruits of charismatic presuppositions. Anyone predisposed to disagree anyway would probably find it easy to be dismissive if they skipped to the end first. The final chapter is simply the logical conclusion to the arguments set forth in all the others.

I suppose that’s also a matter of being fair to MacArthur.

John MacArthur’s Opening Keynote

john-macarthurIn reading Strange Fire Conference: John MacArthur’s Opening Address, I found out I was wrong. Challies did not attend, but listened via Strange Fire site. Unlike Challies, I don’t have time to listen to hours and hours of audio recordings, so I hope he took good notes.

When people ask MacArthur for his view on the biggest issue in the church, he always says it is the lack of discernment since, sadly, a great number of those who profess Christianity are lacking in discernment. The purpose of this conference is to be like the Bereans by looking at the work of the Holy Spirit through the lens of Scripture. He hopes to address it lovingly and compassionately, but in a straightforward way.

I can relate to that. I try to do a lot of studying and judiciously read the Bible. The interesting thing is that, even among people who all have the same intellectual and study emphasis, conclusions about what the Bible says vary, sometimes dramatically. And yet all parties say the same thing MacArthur said in his keynote. The desire to be like Bereans, using the Bible as a lens (then what lens do we use to look at the Bible?), addressing differences lovingly and compassionately…and in a straightforward way.

Why do the results of such words and intentions turn out badly so much of the time?

What is the scope of the issue? There are half a billion professed charismatics on the planet. He pointed out that we feel great freedom to confront Mormons and Mormonism, though there are merely 14 million of them. Yet we hesitate to address 500 million charismatics.

I live in Idaho and I used to live in Nevada. Both states have a large Mormon population. Even after I became a believer, I never felt drawn to confront every Mormon in my environment, which would be quite a lot. Is that what’s required?

He turned to Leviticus 10 to explain the name of the conference and the heart behind it, showing true and false worship from Leviticus 9 and 10.

The sons of Aaron had been given special privilege and were in line for the high priesthood. They seemed so godly and so secure, and yet God consumed them because they offered strange fire, worshipping in a way he did not sanction. What may have seemed like a minor matter was actually a serious and significant sin. This shows that the most serious crimes against God occur in corrupt worship.

I have to say that one thing about MacArthur that bothers me is that he seems so sure of conclusions he can’t possibly be that sure about. Look at his commentary on the sons of Aaron. Christian theologians have been trying to figure out exactly what happened with Nadab and Abihu (yes, they do have names) for ages, and Jewish sages have been studying the incident of these two sons of Aaron (he had four in all) a lot longer, but no one is sure what they did or didn’t do or what the “strange fire” was that resulted in such a dramatic and fatal response from God.

The fire they offered has been translated as “unauthorized,” “wrong kind of,” “strange,” and “unholy.” Most translations follow-up with something like, “which He had not commanded them,” indicating that whatever they did in making their offering, it was not what God asked of them…or maybe it was that they weren’t supposed to make any sort of approach at all right then. Maybe the problem was their timing was bad.

The Lord also said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments; and let them be ready for the third day, for on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, ‘Beware that you do not go up on the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death.

Exodus 19:10-12 (NASB)

nadab-abihu-fireThe long and the short of it is, “don’t get too close.”

I say all of this because MacArthur carefully chose the name of his conference and his book. In assessing intent, the symbolism involved and how it’s used can be revealing.

He paused to state that he is not discrediting everyone in the movement. He knows there are charismatics who desire to worship God in a true way. Yet the movement itself has brought nothing that enriches true worship.

That’s an important point. Naturally, discrediting anyone’s preferred method of worship is likely to elicit a harsh or hurt response, but that’s still preferable to naming names, so to speak.

In many places in the charismatic movement they are attributing to the Holy Spirit works that have actually been generated by Satan.

Invoking such a sentiment should be done with care because it’s only one small step from a statement such as that, to one saying anyone who is a charismatic is Satanic and even may be worshiping Satan. No, of course I don’t think MacArthur said that, but when addressing such an emotionally loaded topic, you have to pay attention, not only to what you are saying, but to how you know people will interpret (or misinterpret) your words.

I had to establish a comments policy on my blog recently in order to contain some otherwise negative statements being made. As part of my policy, I issued the following statement:

In Jewish religious tradition, Leviticus 25:17 which states “You will not wrong one another,” is interpreted as wronging someone in speech. This includes any statement that will embarrass, insult, or deceive a person or cause that person emotional pain and distress. Even statements believed to be true and factual but that cause another harm are considered wrongful speech.

You can’t hide behind, “but I’m only telling the truth” if you know that what you’re saying will directly result in injuring people. Something to keep in mind, although in both Judaism and Christianity, this mitzvah is not strictly observed for the sake of “truth.”

In the middle of recording the Keynote, Challies inserted his own commentary:

(Note: I am adding a clarifying note (3:57 PM EST). I do not take MacArthur to mean “nothing good has ever come out of the charismatic movement” but “nothing good has come out of the charismatic movement that is attributable to charismatic theology.”)

I found this part illuminating:

And despite this, Evangelicalism has thrown open its arms and welcomed this Trojan Horse, allowing an idol in the city of God. This idol has fast taken over.

MacArthur then contrasted Reformed theology with the charismatic movement and said that Reformed theology is not a haven for false teachers. It is not where false teachers reside or where greedy deceivers and liars end up.

charismatic-prayerCharismatics, Evangelicals, and Reforms all compared and contrasted in one fell swoop, with Reformed theology coming out on top. But then, anyone holding a conference is going to present their own point of view as advantageous, so I can hardly hold that against MacArthur. Although, being objective and outside of the Reformed theology framework, I wonder how MacArthur can know in absolute terms that there are no “false teachers” within his entire movement, right down to the last man? Also, what’s the difference between a “false teacher” and an erroneous one? Does he believe Reformed theology contains no teachers capable of making a mistake?

Once experience, emotion and intuition become the definition of what is true, all hell breaks loose.

In what seemed to be a brief aside, he called for the restoration of the true worship of the Holy Spirit in the church and said that it is zeal for God’s honor that consumes him here. As he sees and hears this false worship, he feels God’s own pain and wonders why the church won’t rise up to defend the Holy Spirit as it has done with the Father and the Son.

I was selected for jury duty in a drunk driving case many years ago. Part of the instructions the judge gave to the jury was to evaluate just the facts of the case without any emotional bias. And then both the prosecuting and defense attorneys did everything in their power to manipulate the emotions of the jury.

I put those two statements together in the quote just above (they don’t occur contiguously in the article) because I got the same feeling reading them as I did when I was on jury duty. Emotion can’t define truth (and I generally agree with this statement) but here, MacArthur seems to say, ” let me make an emotional appeal promoting my viewpoint by feeling ‘God’s own pain’ (I was also somewhat reminded of one of Bill Clinton’s iconic and often parodied statements) in order to evoke an emotional response from my audience.”

I’m sorry. I really didn’t intend to be this snarky and cynical when I started writing my blog post, but as I’m reading through the Challies report on MacArthur’s keynote, I’m “live blogging” my responses, which include emotional responses. I’ll try to end on an up note.

MacArthur concluded by saying we can see in Christ a picture of the perfect work of the Holy Spirit, for the Spirit has committed to do in us what he did in Christ. The Spirit was the constant companion of Jesus; Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, matured by the Spirit, anointed by the Spirit at his baptism, sustained by the Spirit in his temptation, empowered by the Spirit for ministry, filled with the Spirit so he walked in perfect obedience while displaying the Spirit’s fruit, perfected by obedience wrought in the Spirit’s power, raised by the power of the Spirit, and even in his post-resurrection ministry was in the power of the Spirit. The Spirit is to us as he was to Christ. If you want to know how he works in us, look at Jesus. Ultimately, the work of the Holy Spirit is to take corrupted image bearers and to restore in them the likeness of Jesus Christ.

He ended with this challenge: “I will start believing that the truth prevails in the charismatic movement when I see the leaders looking more like Jesus Christ and I see that they really are partakers of the divine nature.”

tim_challiesKeep in mind that I’m receiving my impressions from a blogger who, as far as I can tell, should see the world in general and Christianity in particular in roughly the same way as MacArthur, so I’d expect his rendition of his experience to be positive and supportive of MacArthur.

At the same time, I keep wondering that if I found it necessary to challenge the Charismatic movement as a matter of principle and truth, and to try to prevent millions and millions of people from being swayed by what I thought was a harmful and error-filled theology, what approach would I take?

The next blog post in this series is The Challies Chronicles: John MacArthur and Joni Eareckson Tada.

Blogging from the Ashes

drowning-in-ashesI am but dust and ashes.

Genesis 18:27

As far as my blog is concerned, I need to have things settled and digested in my own mind, before I impose them on others! I am not saying that this is what you do, as I view your blog more of an exploration of the spiritual and perhaps encouragement for fellow “travelers”, instead of a place for doctrinal pronouncements and apologetics.

-from a private email conversation

Ironically, this is almost exactly what Pastor Randy said to me about the difference in how we write during our most recent Wednesday night conversation. In talking to him and recalling my previous conversation with Rabbi Carl Kinbar about how and why I blog, I realized just how different I am from most people who write on the web, or even just most people who write.

If you’ve read the last few blog posts I’ve published, then you know that I’m backing away from the idea that anything I write, say, or do is any sort of rip-roaring big deal. I keep catching myself in mistakes. No, that’s not right. Other people keep catching me in mistakes. Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s arrogant to think you’ll never make a mistake, but it’s still no great honor, either.

I like the idea of being an explorer and I tend to think of myself and this blog in that light, but lately, I’ve been feeling like less like an explorer and more like a rat in a maze…and I keep finding all the dead ends instead of the cheese.

But in talking to Pastor Randy and turning everything over in my mind, I realized that my purpose in writing this blog isn’t to get things right all the time or to strive to conquer other people’s differing opinions of me and what I think about. Sure, I try to do that sometimes, and that’s when I start getting discouraged.

But while others may only publish their words in print (or electrons) once they’ve fully digested a topic and have come to what they believe is a rock-solid conclusion, that’s not what I’m trying to do. If that were my purpose, it would take me a lot longer to come up with even a single blog post, and these would become weekly or even monthly meditations, not every morning missives.

I’ve said before that as of 2011, there were an estimated 181 million blogs on the web. That makes any one blog (and blogger) seem pretty insignificant by comparison. Whenever I think about “winning,” I start feeling pretty insignificant as well, not just in terms of the blogging population on the Internet, but as far as people, friends, family, and God goes too.

dark_tunnelI’ve thought about quitting. I’ve thought about throwing in the towel because I can’t come up with “perfect” ideas or “perfect” ways to describe them in my blog. I’ve thought about quitting because people can shoot holes in everything I say or do all day long.

Then I realized that of course people can shoot holes in my thoughts. I’m not arriving at conclusions, at least not very many of them. As you read my blog posts, it’s important that you understand how they come into being. How do I write a blog post?

I start with a quote or an idea that has spawned some sort of interest in me. I have an amorphous thought of how I want to pursue my inspiration, but I don’t really have an endpoint in mind. That’s right, even as I’m keyboarding this, I really don’t know how it will end, which is why some of my posts are from 1000 to 1500 words long, and others exceed 3000 words. No outline, no pre-conceived structure, no bullet points or notes (well, sometimes I use notes) to guide me.

What you are reading is my mind in operation moment by moment, or at least as fast as I can type.

I don’t know anyone else who blogs like this. I explained to Pastor Randy that, based on the feedback I get, what I do is appreciated, at least by some folks, because lots and lots of people are processing the same sort of questions I am. It’s just not visible because no one blogs about “half-baked” thoughts. No one likes to serve up raw food unless its sushi, which is the finished product. The way I write is like watching someone trying to develop a recipe for something they’re going to cook in the near future, but you only later get to see some of the cooking and you may never taste what finally comes out of the oven.

I think that’s called “living.” We do it day by day and each day is a little different. God may never change, but our experiences with Him do, because if we’re growing spiritually, we change. Even if there are areas where I’m not changing, what’s reflected in my blog posts are the continuing struggle and engagement with that “stuck” place in my life. I think lots of people have a stuck place in their lives, too. I know a few people who have a hard time letting go.

Yesterday (as I write this), I felt pretty insignificant, very small, especially without purpose. But in talking to Pastor, I came to rediscover that I have a unique perspective or at least a unique way of expressing it. The point of my writing is not to sell you on my perspectives as being “right.” I’m not giving you answers. I haven’t come to many conclusions. I’m not some self-appointed guru out to sell you some form of enlightenment based on my “specialness” as teacher, or leader, or scholar, or any of that.

Well over three-hundred years ago, French mathematician and philosopher René Descartes famously said “cogito ergo sum” or “I think, therefore, I am.” In my case, it’s “I think/feel/experience/live, therefore I write.” That’s really the whole of it. What you see (read) is what you get.

If I had to know every thing and be right all the time, I’d be horribly trapped in a steel box, shackled in chains, imprisoned in my own need to have a carefully designed system that explained everything I write about. But writing as I do, just because I am, just because I live, is very liberating.

soaring_hawk

Being transparent is like flying, soaring up through the clouds. Like a phoenix at the keyboard, I’m blogging from the ashes and rising into the sky.

Yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles.

Isaiah 40:31 (NASB)

Thanks, God. I needed the lift.