Saturday, January 31, 2009

Ecclesiology and Ted Haggard...

Some of you may have heard about (or have seen) the new documentary on HBO about Ted Haggard's life, post-scandal. Regardless of what one thinks about Haggard, this event has led to some interesting responses. One recent editorial on Christianity Today's website featured a former church member at Haggard's former church. In the article, he made the following comments:

"Church members mourned the loss of their beloved pastor and forgave him; many sent him personal messages to that end; many hoped for an eventual reconciliation. But the overseers of New Life Church — four pastors from other churches — asked Haggard to sign a contract agreeing to keep quiet and leave Colorado in exchange for a generous parachute: a year's severance for Haggard and his wife, a vehicle, counseling expenses, and moving expenses. Haggard took the deal.

Many at New Life Church grieved over the decision to ask the Haggards to leave the state. But the overseers forced his hand for a very good reason: The church community needed a chance to pay the debts of Haggard's mistakes. We needed to deal with the consequences of his actions. He had been our spiritual authority for years, and his duplicity twisted and tangled the church. We needed a season of strict separation from the man who had been a dominant force in our lives."

A few thoughts in response to this: What does it say about a church when the pastor becomes a "dominant force?" I suggest that such a paradigm is hugely problematic and fundamentally anti-Christian. Why? Because it, knowingly or not, slowly replaces God with a person who is able to represent God to us - and it is not an accurate representation. In other words, churches who allow their pastors to become dominant forces are creating an idol.

Of course, this often happens quite naturally, because we all look for another who can serve as an example to us... here I agree with some of Girard's anthropological theories... but the problem is that no other person can fulfill that which we are looking for - a source of real meaning. As Christians, we are just as guilty of this idolatry as anyone else, but we easily forget this and defend our idolatry because of the pragmatic results seen in our ministries, which we interpret as "fruit" or "God's Spirit" blessing us.

Don't misunderstand (and this is something I'm struggling with at the church I attend!): God certainly can and does bless churches in/by growing them. A big church is not necessarily evil -- BUT, it does create many more opportunities for idolatry, and learning to deal with this idolatry will, I think, become more and more necessary as we keep moving into this era of "megachurches" and "satellite campuses."

This doesn't excuse Ted Haggard's sin; that isn't the point. The point is that many of the problems created by situations like Haggard's are not solely the fault of the pastor, they are our fault as well. We (the typical "average" Christian) have a responsibility to each other, and that includes the people we look up to. We do them a dis-service every time we distance them from ourselves.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Mark Taylor on signification and Altizer on nihilism...

"The distinction between signifier and signified is actually a product of consciousness itself. Though not always aware of its own activity, consciousness attempts to give itself a criterion by which to judge itself... That to which consciousness points is always already within consciousness itself. This analysis of the relationship between signifier and signified overturns the traditional understanding of signification... the signified is a signifier. Consciousness, therefore, deals only with signs and never reaches the thing itself." - Mark Taylor

"When the heavens are darkened, and God disappears, man does not stand autonomous and alone. He ceases to stand. Or, rather, he ceases to stand out from the world and himself, ceases to be autonomous and apart. No longer can selfhood and self-consciousness stand purely and solely upon itself: no longer can a unique and individual identity stand autonomously upon itself. The death of the transcendence of God embodies the death of all autonomous selfhood, an end of all humanity which is created in the image of the absolutely sovereign and transcendent God." - Thomas Altizer

Saturday, January 24, 2009

First in-class lecture on postmodernism...

I'm TA'ing for a class this quarter, as I mentioned... and yesterday I gave my first in-class lecture... on the development of modern and postmodern philosophy! Needless to say, I spent several hours trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to say, compiling notes from previous classes I had taken (Jeff let me organize this one!) and adding my own thoughts. I really wasn't sure what to expect, but it went well, and everyone seemed to "get" what I was saying, so I felt good about that.

Essentially, I gave a brief overview of Platonic and Aristotelian thought, then jumped to Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Derrida. I am not an expert on any of these philosophers, but Hegel and Heidegger were especially difficult to explain, at least for me. Hegel, especially, was really brief -- all I did was describe some basic points and try to explain the purpose of his "dialectic" (although that still took more time than any other section!). Derrida is just as confusing to read as Hegel (IMO), but it seems as though his basic ideas can be distilled to pretty basic statements. Luckily, Jeff was there to chime in when I really got stumped by questions. :-)

But, praise God, I survived! Actually, I really enjoyed it and I'm thankful to Jeff Keuss for giving me the opportunity. I get to lecture again in a couple weeks on the "hermeneutics of suspicion." A couple things I took away from the experience: Come up with examples beforehand and write them down! Finding simple ways to relate concepts to others isn't easy, and having them available in my notes would be very wise. Also, I'm glad I decided to use a handout/outline, but powerpoint would have been even better. Just lecturing with no additional visual materials doesn't seem to work well, at least from my experience, and the comments from classmates/students. Third - and this will take time - I have to learn to get comfortable responding to questions. I still struggle sometimes to formulate my thoughts since I have no idea what questions to expect.

Anyway, I like lecturing! That's basically the distilled version of this post. :-)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

it's that time again...

Yep, that's right, time for submissions to the Pacific Northwest division of the American Academy of Religion. I hope I get to present a paper again this year! Here's the abstract for my paper topic:

Soren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling is well-known for its examination into the perplexing story of Abraham’s decision to obey God’s command and sacrifice his son Isaac. Kierkegaard suggests that Abraham’s decision involved a “teleological suspension of the ethical” which cannot be explained by Abraham to anyone: it is an act of faith.

Slavoj Zizek, in several of his forays into Christian theology, attempts to appropriate Kierkegaard’s insights for his own project of dialectical materialism, even suggesting that Lenin’s Communist revolution might be viewed in similar terms. Is Zizek right? What are the implications of his thesis? In this paper, I will examine the relationship between Kierkegaard’s ethical suspension and Zizek’s interpretation of that suspension, and consider the theological implications of both – and how that may affect our ideas of a truly Christian ethic.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Joe Biden may say some dumb things...

but this quote is, I think, quite good (from his last speech to the senate). Let's hope the new administration really intends to strive for such noble goals.

"Friendship and death are great equalizers. Death will seek all of us at some point, but we must chose to seek friendship. Our ability to work together with people with whom we have real and deep and abiding disagreements, especially in these consequential times, I believe is going to determine whether or not we succeed in restoring America. I think it is literally that fundamentally basic."

Saturday, January 10, 2009

So it begins...

Well, 2009 is off to a running start... I moved into my new apartment (another small basement studio, but I'll survive) on Jan. 3, my alternator went out on Jan. 4, started work again on Jan. 5 (thanks for the chauffeuring, M.W.!), got the car fixed on Jan. 6, and began TA'ing on Jan. 9. All in all, things are going well... but I'm thankful for a relaxing weekend!

I'm excited about the class I'm TA'ing -- it's called "Postmodern Theology and Contemporary Culture," taught by Jeff Keuss. Should be a lot of fun, and a great experience! If you're curious about exactly what "postmodern theology" may mean - let me know! I'll be glad to talk your ear off... :-D