Tuesday, September 30, 2008

General (Dis)Assembly Part 2, Take 3: The Statement in Question

Alright, before I move on to part 3, one more shot. Here is the actual statement that was in question at the General Assembly, with some of my comments and questions (sometimes a bit sarcastic, i mean, rhetorical) in italics. Those just checking in after my recent slowdown might be interested in looking in the comments to the last post for my "rebuttal" to some of the previous concerns raised. Otherwise, moving on . . . . .

(From the Manual of The Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada, 2006, page 63)


THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN MINISTRY

From its inception the Alliance leadership has interpreted Scripture to affirm the woman’s right in the apostolic church to be the channel of spiritual gifts for the edification of the local assembly.


Furthermore, Alliance leadership has historically affirmed a restraint upon the woman’s role in the government of the local church. The Board recognizes that the Holy Scriptures teach
the following principles.

BASIC SCRIPTURAL PRINCIPLES OF WOMEN IN MINISTRY

1. Authority and Submission. It is recognized that God has sovereignly ordained, in the order of creation and redemption, relationships of authority and submission. “Christ is the head of every man and the man is the head of woman and God is the head of Christ” (I Corinthians 11:3). The nature of authority is modelled in the humility and self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:5-11). The goal of authority is to build up the household of faith (II Corinthians 13:10). Submission
to authority is noble and gives substance to unity (Ephesians 4:1-6).

There are other ways to understand 1 Corinthians 11:3 here which do not read headship as necessarily requiring hierarchical orders of submission. For one thing, if this were a hierarchically designed statement, why is the last phrase not put first? How is God the head of Christ anyway? The word "head" here may just as likely mean "source" or "glory" as "authority". It is inappropriate for this one interpretation to be in the manual as if it is self-evident and "recognized" by the denomination as a whole.

2. Unity and Diversity. It is recognized that in the church, men and women share a common spiritual standing and unity in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:28, I Corinthians 12:12-13). It is a unity enhanced by interdependent, complementary roles, and varied spiritual gifts (I Corinthians 1:11-12; Romans 12:3-8).

How easily the "common spiritual standing" is further qualified by roles based on two passages which say nothing about gender as a consideration in the delineation of those roles! If maintained, this statement desperately needs to be updated and better explained for the sake of the people of the denomination.

3. Equality and Submission. It is recognized that equality and submission are compatible as seen in Jesus Christ. He is equal to the Father and yet submissive to Him. There is no inferiority implied in submission, either in the Father-Son relationship or in the man-woman relationship (John 5:16-23; Genesis 1-2).

Does the Father not in turn exalt the Son to the highest place (Php 2)? Why does the man not submit to the woman (as per Eph 5:21ff)? How is Genesis 1-2 used to support this point? It says absolutely nothing about submission.

4. Eldership. It is recognized that the historical and biblical pattern has been that elders in the church have been men. The weight of evidence would imply that this pattern should continue.

What makes a pattern? Don't the thin lines have as much to do with plaid as the thick solid stripes? Should the biblical and historical "exceptions" (especially in even more patriarchal societies than our own) be taken into consideration of any "pattern"?

Furthermore, does this point choose to ignore the prevalence of female leadership in the earlier half of A.B. Simpson's own years in leadership of the Alliance? Does it choose to ignore also the new pattern of female eldership that has emerged in the Alliance since 2000? Where is the weight of evidence and why should it continue? The last sentence of this point alone is the reason this statement should now be removed from the Manual.

5. Ministries of Women. Alliance women are aspiring to a deep walk with God and are exploring the full dimension of ministry possibilities within the church structure worldwide and in their private lives. Therefore, it must be recognized that the responsibility of the elders in each church is to give careful attention to the encouragement, equipping and utilization
of women in the accomplishment of ministry.

"The full dimension of ministry possibilities within the church structure worldwide?" I'd like to know: Is the deminsion of ministry "fuller" in a church that allows women to be elders or in one that does not? Does this statement imply that those wishing to exercise the full dimension must become missionaries or move to cities where the churches accept female teaching and leadership?

6. Affirming Actions. The licensing of women accredited for ministry in Canada shall be according to ministry function. The local church leadership is responsible to prayerfully affirm ministry functions for women in the local church.

It is unclear to me what this last statement really means. Do "affirming actions" include "limiting" ones?

Amendments
This Statement may be amended by a majority vote of General Assembly, written notice having been given prior to General Assembly.

I find it strikingly and tragically ironic that the 2008 Assembly saw fit not to remove this statement from the manual precisely to avoid detracting from the momentum of church planting initiatives. Who would want to plant a church in Canada today with such an inadequate statement on women in ministry as this? If I were planting a church today I'd be praying that no one bothered to look this up so I didn't have to detract from the momentum of my church plant by having to explain it.

Besides the interpretive brush strokes that it so misleadingly swipes across the canvas of this complex issue, this statement neither adequately defends a complimentarian position nor accurately represents the current state of the issue in the denomination. If it survives General Assembly 2010 it will render the manual nearly irrelevant on such matters and bode poorly for the unity and integrity of the denomination in the years to come.

Adopted – General Assemblies 1984, 1988.

Notice that this statement was adopted in the heart of the 80s. Sound like a reaction to feminism to anyone? Certainly I oppose some of the tenets of secular feminism (abortion rights being the most serious of them), but can we admit right now that it had/has some good things to say and overcome a merely reactionary stance (especially now that the militance has long died down)? By the way, there is a great Master's thesis out there by Alexandra Meek that traces the influence of feminism on these Alliance decisions---it is very insightful.

Last Amended – General Assembly 2004 (amending formula)

General (Dis)Assembly Part 2, Take 2: Painting the Issue Again

As should be clear by now, arguments can be made from Scripture on either side of the church gender roles debate.

Some will say that in 1 Timothy 2 Paul sets out a universal and timeless rule which restricts women from teaching and holding positions of authority, basing it in the order of creation (man first, woman second). Others will say that here Paul restricts women in Ephesus due to contextual circumstances (be they predominant societal norms or local church concerns).

Some will say that the woman was created as the subordinate helper to man and that the Fall into sin perverted and worsened what was to be a complimentary relationship of distinct roles. Others will say that the woman was created as the ally to man and that the Fall into sin added enmity to their relationship of mutual submission and put into effect the seeds of Patriarchy and the patterns of domination/enmeshment that would come to typify gender relations.

Some will say that the Son's submission to the Father presents a pattern which is to be reflected in the female to male relationship and others will say that the Trinity is characterized eternally by mutual submission and that this sets the trajectory of redemption for human relationships male and female.

Some will say that the patriarchy of the Patriarchs is based on a godly foundation and others will say it is one of the ways the Israelite law reflected cultural norms and yet pushed them forward ever so slightly toward higher ideals.

There are arguments to be made on both sides and anyone who has taken the task of figuring this out seriously will be well acquainted with the depth of detail to which interpretive disputes can go. There comes a point, however, where a decision has to be made. The denomination is stuck between a preliminary decision regarding women as elders and the surmounting obstacle of what this means for ordination. Besides this practical consideration, theologically this article is right that a new way forward in the discussion needs to be found.

As John Stackhouse has well argued, both sides of the gender-roles debate need to come to grips with the fact that the other side has difficult texts to contend with. At points in biblical history there have been restrictions placed upon the participation of women in ministry and at other points in biblical history there have been exceptions to these restrictions. Instead of parading one side over the other, a reading that makes sense of both must be sought and, if found, embraced.

Crucial to this more holistic reading will be our understanding that male and female were created to image God in communion, that with the Fall the situation on earth became messed, and that God nonetheless sustains life and works for redemption even within systems of sin and enmity.

Despite the fall, we understand that people die and get sick, work is difficult, childbearing is painful, and male/female relationships have fallen into unhealthy patterns, but we also understand that God saw fit to allow life to continue and to work redemption in time. Thus we strive to make medical advances, to overcome obstacles, to alleviate pain, and to seek healing, even while we wait for the complete (physical, emotional, and relational) healing and redemption to come.

Importantly, however, within a Christian worldview we submit our redemptive goals to the primary calling which is to live for God's overall redemption plan, even at the expense of ourselves.

God had a long term plan for the redemption of humanity: In Christ.

Slavery was not abolished immediately. Instead, the Hebrews were given laws that added dignity, security, and hope for freedom into the societal structure by degree. Even in Paul's day, when one might have expected an immediate cultural revolution initiated by the gospel's promise, instead converted slaves were instructed to stay in whatever situation they found themselves and to take freedom if the opportunity presented itself. Either way, they were to honour Christ by the way they worked and submitted to their master; to the cultural system. Christianity would spread through self-giving love.

Patriarchy was not abolished in biblical times either. Instead, laws and traditions led (at the best of times) to mutually compassionate familial relationships within the gender roles of a nomadic, agrarian society. Even in Moses' day, the daughters of Zelophehad were granted an exception to the rule for the sake of keeping family going. In the time of the Judges Deborah was called to lead the people. She managed to do so, and exemplified her submissiveness at the same time. In Jesus' life it is clear that women held an elevated importance, and yet there was not a feminist revolution going on either. In Paul's day, the cultural norm was maintained and women were asked to continue to be submissive, but exceptions arose and the trajectory was laid for further redemption in this regard.

One must not read Scripture simply to proof-text one's way to a timeless universal law that does not stand up to the very complexities of Scripture itself. Feminists and egalitarians must confess that mutual submission is the highest goal and that some contexts will call for incredible patience and self-sacrifice on the part of women whose interests are primarily for the larger redemption plan (even over and above their own interests or the more immediate and visible redemptive goals that they might rightly hold). Complimentarians likewise must confess that male and female were to be in a relationship of mutual submission, that gender roles were not universally binding in biblical times and that the trajectory of redemption is for there to be no "male and female, Jew and Greek, master and slave" in the experience of Christ's salvation.

In a society that is increasingly accustomed to women teaching and leading, what could be the purpose of restricting them from such activities in the C&MA in Canada except by the same restrictions that are placed upon men (to ensure that properly called, gifted, educated, and humble teachers and leaders are in place)?

Is it not high time to grasp hold of and steer appropriately the societal movement that has as its very impetus the Judeo-Christian values that are so embedded in the western psyche?

Is it not time to further love our wives and mothers and sisters and daughters like Christ loved the church---by empowering them to use their God-given gifts with the leadership and teaching roles that fall within the trajectory of redemption laid out in Scripture?


The Christian & Missionary Alliance in Canada is a denomination divided about this. Thus what we need is informed debate and careful movement on this issue. If this is done wisely and with compassion we will be about Kingdom business. If this is stalled by inaction and tainted by power-plays we may only turn out to be more divided and less Kingdom-oriented in our business. Hence I make the upcoming proposal as to how we as a denomination might move forward in this issue while submitting our movement to the priorities of the gospel call to self-giving love and care.

Monday, September 22, 2008

General (Dis)Assembly Part 2: The Gender Roles Issue

Well, at the time I post this I must confess I am disappointed with its length. I had hoped for something a little more lucid, but what I have here is something which I will have to refine before turning into a letter or proposal of some sort. But it is late, and I've run across a busy week, and really do want to move this conversation along. So please do take this as a work in progress. Forgive its length. I appreciate any feedback or push-back you might offer. And let us continue to be gracious in the process. Thanks a lot!

Obviously a biblical/theological discussion of the "gender roles" issue could take many pages. (And you can see some of my previous elaboration regarding the key biblical texts on gender roles issue here.) It is difficult to know how to address this in one letter. One might hope for something provocative enough to move a denomination out of stagnation and yet fair enough to avoid the pit of mere reactionist rhetoric. But that is a lot of pressure to put on one letter! I can't imagine I'm capable of writing another 95 theses here.

First of all, let me make something clear. I have no interest in seeing our denomination change its stance on the gender roles issue simply to "get with the times". I want the denomination to remove its limitations on women in positions of authority only because together we have discussed it and found that we agree that the Scriptures support such a move.

It seems to me that the denomination has already decided (or conceded) that the Scriptures leave room for women in eldership, else it would not allow any of its churches to vote to allow such a thing. One practical question I would ask is why we do not simply remove the obligation to vote for the concept of women in eldership in each church and just let churches vote in a woman if they want too.

The answer? Because we don't want to make it personal. A church's first vote on this issue should not have a woman's name attached to it. Keep it abstract so no one gets hurt. That's wise, right? Well, yes and no. In one sense it may seem prudent, but in another sense it is also just a way of keeping the issue at bay; of keeping it impersonal and abstract; of denying what is really at stake.

How many women in our churches today are actually way more ready to be elders and preachers today than were the women in Ephesus or Corinth at the time of Paul's epistles? They are not trying to "usurp authority" (as in Ephesus) and are not interested in carelessly disrupting a church at worship (as in Corinth). They are servant leaders who do not consider equality something to be grasped (what a great line), and yet their talents, gifts and servant hearts are held back because of their gender. If we are going to continue to hold them back (and potentially suffer as churches and witnesses in our society for it) then we better be very strongly convinced that the Bible tells us to do so.

Are we so convinced? Our denomination is very inconsistent on this. Missionary women are in positions where they teach and lead churches in other cultures. Many women here in Canada are now elders. Many also teach. Why in some countries and churches and not others? Is it simply a matter of pure democracy? Why can they teach Sunday School and not from the pulpit? Paul was more clearly limiting teaching and spontaneous utterances than he was ever limiting preaching.

Frankly, we are a denomination confused and divided. How we can put this issue off in order to preserve unity is delusional at best and manipulative at worst. Whether we stick with our current situation or seek to change it, the denomination needs an explanation. No, it needs a discussion and a decision.

So what would I raise for discussion? There are many angles one could take.

Often this debate comes down to choosing a "control text" and telling the other texts to fall in line. The egalitarian chooses Galatians 3:28 (there is no male or female) and takes no ifs, ands, or buts; and the complimentarian chooses 1 Timothy 2:12 (I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man) and says the case is closed.

Then, the rebuttals ensue: The egalitarian points to judges such as Deborah and teachers such as Priscilla and the complimentarian to Deborah's attempt to get a man to step up before she had to, or Priscilla's accompaniment by Aquilla.

Neither case wraps up very neat and tidy.

As John Stackhouse's excellent little book entitled Finally Feminist explains, it seems we are going to get nowhere until we admit that Paul did at least in some cases limit the roles of women in church. But we must also admit that women lead and taught in the Bible. Deborah (for instance) was a judge and prophetess who is painted by Scripture in a very positive light. She is one of the more admirable characters amongst a slew of bad ones.

We must also face the fact that Paul limits women in one church (Ephesus) and yet has them hosting housed churches in another (Philippi); has them not prophesying in one and yet prophesying in, well, the same one (Corinth). We must pause to consider the fact that Jesus had no female disciples in his select twelve, but that he had no Gentiles or slaves either. We must stop to ask: Why does God wait until after Jesus' ascension to give Peter a vision about accepting Gentiles? Could he not have covered that ground a little more clearly shortly after Emmaus? Why the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 and not in Acts 1 before Jesus decides to ascend to heaven? It would have been nice to have the King there to convene such an important assembly. Did Jesus really intend for the church to figure so much out as it went? To progress within a trajectory of redemption? To seek for the Spirit to guide them into truth?

I believe that on all three accounts the answer is "yes".

Even then, of course we know that the Scripture sets the trajectory for our understanding of redemption, and that the Spirit will not guide the church to a truth that is outside of the realm of Scriptural direction. We're clearly very reliant on the Bible. So does it support a trajectory that sees women in leadership in the church?

I would like to ask: Control text or no control text---what makes most sense of the biblical evidence?

I believe that what we need is something similar to what William Webb and Stackhouse have argued in books that have come out since the denomination's last full-on discussion of this issue. We need an understanding that explains why we see women limited in Scripture and why we also see them breaking tradition and cultural norms and even those very limitations. Ideally this understanding will have its roots ultimately in the core of what we know about God as revealed to us in Jesus Christ.

In order that I might outline that view a bit more in detail, allow me to comment on three texts which have been misleadingly used (or unused) in the pattern of traditional understanding. Two of them make up the backbone of the complimentarian argument and involve some pretty misleading translations, and one of them is perhaps the most improperly located verses in the entire history of English Bible translation.

First of all, when we have a "helper" created in Genesis 2, the word used unfortunately suggestive of subordination when it would only be context that could give it any such notion. The word is actually most frequently used of God when he helps the Israelites. For this reason it might be more properly translated as "ally" or "cooperator".

Without later extrapolations I do not think we would find much in regard to gender roles in Genesis 2. In fact, the first real hint of any subordinate gender comes in the throes of the fall, which would be a dicey foundation for timeless complimentarianism to say the least.

So what are the control texts that force us to go to Genesis 2 in search of gender roles anyway? This brings us to the second text in question: 1 Timothy 2. Here another misleading translation occurs. The word we have in our NIV Bibles as "authority" is probably best put in the KJV with the verb "usurp". It is a word found nowhere else in the NT, and when it is found outside the NT it sometimes has violent, murderous connotations. Timothy's church was not only susceptible to the influence of goddess cults (something of the nature of 1980s militant feminism) but was also inundated with false teaching that was spreading largely through the seemingly over-zealous women of the congregation. If there was ever a church where a pastor might be justified in telling the women to learn quietly at home it was Timothy's.

It is rightly pointed out, however, that Paul does support his instruction with reasoning based in Genesis 1-3: "Adam was formed first, then Eve." But does this mean that men are to be the leaders and teachers of church and home for all time? Or is there some other way to take this?

Could not Paul be referring to the fact that Adam was the one given the instruction about the tree of knowledge of good and evil and was supposed to have helped Eve to overcome false teaching? Is it not true that Adam failed to be a "helper" to Eve precisely when she needed him, and Eve failed to consult her partner precisely when she actually struck out on her own? Like Eve with the snake, it appears that the women in Ephesus were being done in by crafty false teachers rather than being taught by the partners God had given. The backhanded side of that important passage is that the men were not properly caring for the teaching and leadership ministry of their church and needed to start teaching the women of their homes.

If I may, let me point out that already this brings us to a major problem today.

In our society we do not have women held back from educational opportunities like they would have been in Ephesus. We also have them commonly leading and teaching in the public sphere. Even in our own denomination we are constantly training women for ministry, yet we continue to exclude them from many of the ministries we are equipping them to take! There is very little reason to put the same restrictions on them that Paul did then, unless of course those reasons are also applied evenly to men. Uneducated and power-hungry men should not be allowed to speak or have authority in church either.

But let me come back now to the third text I have in mind. To be honest, if I had to choose a control text in all of this it would be the one verse most often misplaced and omitted in the entire Bible: Ephesians 5:21. Right before the classic and oft-quoted text where wives are told to submit to their husbands, Paul writes to all men and women of the church: "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ."

To me, if we are looking for a verse that makes sense of all the evidence it is this one. The reason Paul might not seem to have been in a hurry to turn the tables on patriarchy would be because the situation was only going to be ultimately redeemed by the submissive, humble, patient, self-giving, and even self-sacrificing means of Christ and not those power-hungry, individualistic, self-asserting means of the world. The redemptive movement would be slow, and by the grace of God the church would spread even within flawed systems, but it would be there nonetheless.

I think we face an opportunity today to take that redemptive movement a step further and really be a light for Christ through an equality of mutual submission and self-giving love rather than the individualistic and self-asserting equality that is the backbone of our society's supposedly "progressive" thinking.

I do not think we should pass up this opportunity. Not only is it an opportunity for our church to embrace rather than fear difficult biblical/theological dialogue, but it is an opportunity to seek further redemption of a broken situation and to shed light on gender roles and community in a time where things are not so clear as people make them out to be.

I think that from the daughters of Zelophehad to Galatians 3:28 we have plenty of reason to buy this "redemptive movement" idea from an exegetical standpoint.

I think that from our missions practices to our divided stance on eldership we have plenty of reason to discuss this from a pragmatic polity standpoint.

I think that from our understanding of the Trinity to our understanding of the self-emptying Saviour we have plenty of reason to change perspective on this from a theological standpoint.

I suggest that our denomination needs to continue to resist simply conforming to the culture's idea of egalitarianism, but it needs to do so precisely by conforming our understanding of gender roles to the biblical notion of mutual submission rather than to an idea of submission that has it going only one way.

Furthermore, as I've already argued, I think that if we do not discuss this with care we do a disservice to the many many people who have grown accustomed to female leadership and are thus perplexed by our practices; a disservice to the women who are gifted and ready to teach and lead but are being stifled nonetheless; and a disservice to their churches who are not only missing out on their fully-utilized giftings but who are also missing out on the theological ramifications of a change of perspective in this regard.

In a phrase, we are tragically missing an opportunity for some very important kingdom business, and it is precisely that kingdom business that in our time we cannot afford to ignore.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

General (Dis)Assembly Part 1: What is this Kingdom Business?

This summer the General Assembly of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada convened for its bi-annual business meeting to discuss and potentially refine policy issues, elect a president, and chart the course for denominational initiatives. Among other things, one of the items on the table this year was the motion to remove the "women in ministry" disclaimer page from the denominational manual. (You can find links to that page and some more comments on Assembly here.)

Instead of this motion being discussed, accepted, or shot down, another motion was made, seconded and then voted through (within a matter of minutes) to postpone indefinitely the discussion of said topic. According to numerous people who were there the reason given was that the denomination had found momentum in a new church-planting initiative and that this discussion would threaten unity. Thus it should be postponed so as to not distract from Kingdom business. As far as I know, the business in question is an ambitious numerically-measured goal for future church-plants.

In this three part series of posts I wish to share a theological perspective on women in ministry and a proposal for how I think the C&MA should handle this in the future. But first I want to address something that should deeply concern Alliance members of all kinds--no matter where they come down on the gender-roles issue.

"'Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace" (Jeremiah 8:12).



If one of the reasons for this postponement of an important theological discussion in our denomination was the concern to preserve unity, then ours is a fragile unity at best, and certainly not one that is found in Christ. Those united in Christ come together to discuss their differences and celebrate communion despite their diversities. Those united by vision statements, music styles, or strategic targets at the expense of this fuller Christian community are in danger of being little more than a club. Clubs are fine, but that is not what the gospel is about. There is a deep-seeded misunderstanding of Christian unity inherent in this postponement.

Furthermore, when someone moves to postpone a discussion because it is a threat to unity (and the vote to pass said motion is nowhere close to unanimous) than what they are really saying is that the discussion is a threat to the powers-that-be. Right from the get-go it paints those in favour of putting off the discussion as the glue keeping the church together and those in favour of carrying on debate as threats to the work of the Kingdom. It is a power-play of the worst kind (and it would seem that the original motion itself was probably a power-play of another kind: trying to slip one through without any prepared defense or rationale to be given).

Ultimately, this was a move toward the false peace of conflict avoidance rather than a deeper experience of communion in Christ.

"All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation" (1 Corinthians 5:18-19).

The irony in all of this is that General Assembly is precisely the place where this crucial component of Kingdom work (discussion on policy issues) is supposed to take place! This motion to postpone the issue was the absolute neglect of Kingdom work!

I would suggest that this is also true on an even deeper level. What was the kingdom work that this discussion would distract us from? The planting of numerous churches? I am not going to argue that this is not the work of the kingdom, but I would suggest that it sounds like one more example of a bunch of evangelicals being caught up in a church vision with measurable and impressive goals at the expensive of other (less impressive and tangible but no less important) aspects of kingdom work.

The Assembly chose the false peace of conflict avoidance over the reconciliation process and the presence of God's peace that can be had when Christian people come together in their variance and speak the truth in love. If we can't do this kind of Kingdom work at Assembly, how are churches ever going to do it? Instead of our denomination leading churches in the important process of interpreting Scripture together for our time, we succumbed to one more power play and got caught up in one more strategic goal instead of actually trusting God and each other enough to practice the very ministry of reconciliation that we are supposed to be about.

These are all the scuff-marks on the surface of what I think may be an even deeper problem within evangelicalism today. In an age that is desperate to see people who are able to come together from across fences and have real discussion and communion despite diversity, we are failing to be that very witness that Christ intends to make of us. We are unified by strategic goals, music styles, and demographics and we are failing to be ambassadors of reconciliation.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Trying to Think Clearly

Having put it off long enough, in the next post I will begin my three part series regarding the recent (non)decision regarding women in ministry at the General Assembly of the Christian & Missionary Alliance in Canada.

If you are not a part of the C&MA, it may be somewhat irrelevant to you, but I do welcome any perspectives "from outside." If you are a part of the C&MA, however, I would especially like to hear from you. I am trying to decide how to address my denomination, and since I have already written letters to our Board of Directors previous to Assembly I am wondering what might be a more effective way of addressing this. So I am using this forum to hone my thoughts, and maybe spread those thoughts a bit too.

At times it may read like an "open letter," because I am considering writing something of that nature to email around. I don't know. I welcome input on that. (There was a facebook group that started up but I'm the only one who has made a comment.)

So yeah, feel free to interact. But for my own benefit I need to ask us all to be gracious. I can get pretty riled up about this issue and I need you to help me keep this from being a massive mud-slinging. I do speak out of a committed love for this denomination which I have been in my whole life. I do not want to leave it. That is why I am taking this so seriously. But before I get to it (sometime next week), here are a few quotes I came across this week while researching for my phd applications. I found them to be good reminders of how to think well within the faith.

"Research is not a defense or apology of my own convictions. . . . Research seeks truth; it does not hide---for any reason---what may disagree with esteemed ideas. If the position being maintained is tenable, research can defend it; if the position is not based on truth, it is defended in vain. We cannot allow ourselves to use unsound arguments, even for a good cause. Likewise, research is not polemical. Its objective is to clearly present truth, not to fight others' positions, even if those may be erroneous." - Nancy Jean Vyhmeister, Quality Research Papers for Students of Religion and Theology, p. 5.

Now, obviously blogging is not quite the same as research (it is more conversational and often does involve defense of one's own convictions), but I am still challenged greatly by the principles put forward in these lines. Another important reminder comes to me from the example of Colin Gunton, in the introduction to his important book, The One, the Three and the Many:

"For all its unifying vision, the era of Christendom was dearly bought . . . at the expense of certain dimensions of the Christian gospel which became effectively submerged. But in reacting against Christendom, the modern world has bequeathed equal and opposite distortions of human being in the world. It is for this reason that I am attempting in the book neither to react against modernity nor slavishly to follow its lead.

Modernity is like all cultures, in being in need of the healing light of the gospel of the Son of God, made incarnate by the Holy Spirit for the perfecting of the creation. But it is unlike some in that the distinctive features of its plight derive from its rejection of that gospel, albeit for some understandable reasons. The gospel will therefore not be served by the mere denunciation of modern rejection, but by probing how it came to happen. Christianity is indeed offensive to the natural human mind; and yet it is often made offensive by its representatives for the wrong reasons."

I think the conversation that needs to take place in the C&MA in Canada has an importance that falls in line with what Gunton was trying to do, and thus needs to find some of the perspective that he and Vhymeister offer. I do not wish to overstate things, but I think this is a potential turning point in the history of the C&MA, and I feel that both the process and the outcome of this debate each in their own way sit at crossroads that could lead either to dire straits or exciting horizons.

As a member of the C&MA I can not simply sit by and leave this to fate. Too many of us have done so in the past, simply biding our time until we inherit the positions of leadership that will eventually come our way. But if we continue to do this we may not have a denomination worth inheriting. That sounds polemical, but that is an expression of what I feel is at stake here. Let's not beat around the bush here. This is what they like to call "Kingdom business."

Sunday, September 07, 2008

33 Films That Have Stuck With Me - #33

Last year, for my own birthday, I posted the 32 films that have impacted my life the most. The list did not necessarily describe what I thought were the best, or even my favourite films (although those lists would probably be pretty close), but the films that I felt I have taken with me ever since I saw them. Some of them dipped way back into my past and some of them I had seen very recently.

This year I am a year older, and figured I ought to add a movie to my list. (I also toyed with re-ordering the list somewhat, but I'm not going to bother this time around. Maybe every few years I will do so, but not this time. For instance, I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark again this year and some of its feel and flare wore off for me. But maybe lists like this are supposed to stay fairly solid so that I remember).

Last time around I had some honourable mentions, including Saving Private Ryan, Misery, Meet Joe Black, and even Erin Brokovich. Since the last time I have also seen some movies that have really stuck with me, including older ones such as Dekalog, Diary of A Country Priest, and Apocalypse Now, and newer ones such as The Savages, There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men, and Gone Baby Gone. Of these, the latter two have really run through my head a lot since I saw them. Maybe time will tell that they, or others, become still more important to me.

However, this year I also saw M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening. It was a horrendous film. But what is notable about it is that I got home from my date with my wife that night and my friend Terry, who had been babysitting for us, had just slipped in Shyamalan's The Village.



As the three of us sat and recovered from The Happening, I realized that I had forgotten what a wonderful movie The Village was. A few people have rightly criticized some of the potential plot holes, but I never found them that devastating. What impressed me with this picture was the beautiful cinematography, the eerie feel, the magical violin soundtrack, and the mesmerizing plot. Joaquim Phoenix and the supporting cast didn't hurt at all either. But let me tell you why it is one of the top 33 films to stuck with me in my life.

The Village explores the power of fear upon a community. In it [insert spoiler alert here] a group of shell-shocked individuals come together, recoiling from the tragedies of life, and try to start a new village from scratch---one where they are able to hide away and protect their children from the disasters they might encounter in the real world. In one sense it is a noble idea, but in another sense it is built on a premise that can itself only lead to disaster.

This village is founded on fear. To keep their children from wanting to explore the regions beyond, and thus discover evil and harm, they have to invent fantastic stories to frighten people into staying in the village. I love how Shyamalan is able to present this in a way that makes the viewer empathetic, while also showing the holes in that way of thinking.

It just brought up so many thoughts for me of the type of evangelicalism that I'd been raised in that I consider it to be one of the most valuable thought-experiments and cathartic movie-going experiences of my life. I have struggled for many years to make sense of and emerge from the twin motivations for Christian faith that I picked up on as a young evangelical: guilt and fear. I became so dependent upon these things as motives for loving God that it is still difficult for me to mature beyond them to the truer and more everlasting values of, and motivations for, the faith. There is something other than fear upon which a loving and genuine community can be built. It is hope. That community doesn't really exist yet, but we are trying to establish outposts right here in the real world. God be with us.

Incredibly, The Village brought all this stuff to mind for me; and its images, music, and story-line continue to provide me with the fodder for these further thoughts. Hence, it is 33rd in the list of films I take with me.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Blog Update

I have been pleased to add a couple more links to my blog lately. My professor at Briercrest has started a blog called Theommentary, which promises to be worth a regular visit. I have also added some sites from a couple photographers that I've met and really appreciate: See Nathan Davies, and forrestasaurus.

In the music category, if you check out the Matthew Wilkinson music link, again you will find your way to a new EP he has released, which is entirely free for download on myspace. It is well worth a listen. Anyone in the Calgary area should check out The Young Wire Wicks page as well. They are performing live there with Nathan Carroll on Monday night. My inside sources tell me there will be a whole lot of glockenspiel.

I have also added a couple songs to The Seminarists myspace page, which were written and recorded by a couple friends of mine at seminary. We had always talked about making a few of our songs available for each other, and about encapsulating some of the memories from our times together as a chapel community as seminary, and so that's what that space is all about. My lament is there as well. Take it for what its worth.

I have also updated my film reviews. I was finding the 5 stars to be too limiting. Too many 3s should have been 3-and-a-halfs, and so on. So it is now a rating out of 10, and hopefully I never have to bump it up to 100! We don't need to be that specific. In light of some of the stuff I was thinking about in that last post, I've also put an asterisk, a disclaimer, and a website to check in regards to movie ratings. Some movies will be more appropriate in some contexts than others, and I don't want my score out of 10 to be taken as an unequivocal recommendation for all people and all contexts. Fair enough?

Anyway, thanks for reading. I have noticed that other blogs pay attention to their visit-statistics more closely than I do. I have not looked at my stats on google analytics for about a year or so (maybe because I was afraid to find out that no one was reading), but I just looked and it appears I get about 30-50 hits a day, and had over 800 visits in August. I don't know what that means. Far as I know half of those hits could be me checking my own blog for comments. Those 800 visits could easily be the half-dozen people who regularly comment here.

Regardless, I continue to blog for three main reasons:
1) Interaction with people who I no longer live near, but am glad to continue talking to about this or that. I love hearing from you regulars, and occasional commenters. It is awesome. Thanks for the good times, the challenges, the encouragements, the insights, and the feedback. I love it.
2) Practice writing and expressing and articulating my views on culture. A big part of this depends on the feedback and readership, but part of it I would still want to do to some degree even if I had no readers. Sometimes I slack off in this regard and don't bother being very grammatical, or spell-checking, and so on. Some posts are more important to me as written pieces than others. Some are just conversational.
3) Its fun. I like editing and layouts and writing. I also like having a convenient "home page" from which to access the other, better, blogs and websites out there that have caught my attention.

In regard to number 2 above, I have been inspired lately to be a better writer by a magazine that you might not expect to provide such inspiration. My subscription to Sports Illustrated runs out pretty soon, and this caused me to reflect on the one thing I will miss most about it: The writing. I love that they are able to combine two things I love: Sports and intelligent writing. The articles, even about sports I have no time for, are always well written, enlightening, and even inspiring. Good job, SI.

Anyway, as another blogger said recently, this narcissism is getting to me. Enough about the blog. Just trying to keep it fresh. But I don't blame you if you haven't read this far!

Monday, September 01, 2008

On Art, Art Criticism, and the Art of Avoidance

From the previously quoted essay "Have the Artists Gone Mad?", by G.K. Chesterton, here's an interesting line, regarding the question: How do we revive a popular interest in art? According to G.K. the solution "does not lie in increasing the number of artists who can startle us with complex things, but by increasing the number of people who can be startled by common things."

I am not totally sure of the context of that; or how sweepingly he means it; or precisely against what he says it---but I feel like it touches on my likes and dislikes in movies these days.

I'm tired of the elaborate action scene and I'm aghast at the depths of visual insanity which will be summoned up to provide the latest shock. Anyone can think up the craziest thing imaginable and then CGI it onto the screen for a scream. I'm bored of it. Maybe I'm getting old, but I'd much rather be startled by common things, and I think it makes for better art. But I'm not sure Chesterton is right that this will revive a popular interest in art. I think it can only rescue the populace from where the arts have gone.

But hold on now. While we're on the topic, here is a quote that takes it even further and really got me thinking. Especially because I can spend so much time debating (somewhat objectively) the craft of film-making, the subjective preferences of one film over another, and whether a film was rightly and properly entertaining or not. This is found in Dale Ahlquist's Common Sense 101. These are his words revolving around something Chesterton said:

"There is a famous saying that there is no disputing about taste. And it is true. But that refers to our relatively minor likes and dislikes that are simply personal preferences and cannot be changed by the argument. But in matters of art, the problem is that there are people who 'prefer to dispute about taste, because they do not want their disputes settled.' They are avoiding the things that can be argued about and the things that are really worth arguing about because they do not want to face the consequences of losing their arguments."

This one really gets me because I am a person who enjoys disputing about the ins and outs of movie making, my likes and dislikes, and such. It is fun, and somehow feels worthwhile because, well, we watch a lot of movies, and we might as well talk about why it is we like some and not others. But sometimes there is this nagging question in the back of my head: Why am I taking entertainment so seriously?

Part of the answer, and what I think Chesterton is not addressing fully, is that entertainment has become very important. It is, like it or not, from the stupidest pop-movie to the most artsy bio-epic, the most common and accessible medium for Western ideas. It is where worldviews collide and are presented. These are the stories that form our psyche, or at least pull at it from all directions. You can also express things in movies and music that you can't put so well in words.

Furthermore, because we need to be aware of the tricks and methods that can be used to get us to feel or think this or that, I would argue (against the Chesterton of 1927, who, let's be fair, was living in the very early years of cinema) that the finer points of story-telling, film-making, and audience-response are worth discussing because they enable us to think more clearly about those things which have moved us or bored us and why. The medium is worth discussing for the same sort of reason that epistemology is worth discussing. Besides that this can also be a legitimate past-time. Something to talk about, just because it is enjoyable.

But we should not write off this challenge too quickly. I should allow Chesterton's comment to ask me some questions. First of all: Do I watch movies simply to be stimulated? What does it take to stimulate me? How much of that do I need? How much is too much? Is entertainment itself worth taking this seriously?

Taking it deeper: Am I simply disputing matters of taste because I am afraid to dispute anything that could actually be settled? Do I only dispute that which can end in everyone saying "well, that was fun, now I've heard everyone's opinions, and now I leave unchanged and as rigidly fixed in my own"? Am I avoiding the things that can be argued about and are worth arguing about because I do not want to face the consequence of losing?

Lest I cop out and only ask questions, let me venture to say something: As much as I love movies, and the arts, and discussing them, I think that ours is a culture that is absolutely overdosing on entertainment for entertainment's sake. At its best, art is expressing and sharing and inspiring and moving. It is getting us to face the questions, and is startling us again with common things. At its worst this is our way of avoiding the questions.

I am reminded to limit the extent to which I allow arts and entertainment to simply be a mindless escape. I think this is okay to a degree and I'm not judging its existence as a form of leisure. But I don't want the overdose. I don't want the E-Talk lifestyle. If I am going to watch so much film, read so much fiction, and admire so much musical and visual art, I had better not let it be my avoidance strategy. I had better be willing to discuss what the art is saying and not merely how it said it.

This goes for philosophy and theology as well. You can only discuss epistemology so long. At some point you have to talk about something. What do you think?