Bonus Round Review

Tuesday I reviewed Harry Lee Poe’s biography trilogy on C.S. Lewis. Over the past weekend I viewed the movie The Most Reluctant Convert: The Untold Story of C.S. Lewis. To simply say that the movie ended up being almost exactly what my, somewhat low, expectations were would short circuit  this review. While remaining brief I will expand a bit on what I thought about the movie.

It is competently made. There was really no aspect that came across as shoddily done. The acting, particularly from Max McLean, is quite good. The locations are visually lush, especially the night shooting which is clear and natural looking,* the period costumes are also not bad, if a bit idealized.** All of which shows just how far “christian” or “faith based films” have come. And therein lies my prejudice. For all of the quality on the screen the story is entirely predictable. Now charity dictates that it be remembered that I already knew how the story would end. Yes, but part of my persnicketiness in this comes from the subtitle, The Untold Story of C.S. Lewis. This particular tale has been told many time, by many biographers. I have two shelves worth in my library to prove it. The point is that any complaints I would raise about the film are small but numerous. It is, death by paper cuts.

The story itself is very, very broad in its brushstrokes. Loosely based on Surprised by Joy, Lewis’ autobiography, with a few passages from other works mixed in (The opening monologue is from chapter one of The Problem of Pain). Since the thing is barely over an hour long it is understandable that omissions had to be made. But in omitting certain people from the biography makes Lewis less complex. He comes off as the idealized Lewis who possessed enormous character despite any of the people or events that built him. As such the schoolboy days are idyllic, Mrs. Moore never existed. The same goes for Arthur Greaves, even Warnie disappears half-way through the film. Lewis’s doctor and fellow Inkling once said Surprised by  Joy should have been titled Suppressed by Jack. That is an apt description of this film.

Essentially this is not a movie for the serious Lewis scholar. It is better than Shadowlands, which makes up characters out of whole cloth among its other glaring issues. And Reluctant Convert is infinitely superior to the recent Tolkien bio pic travesty. There is no heavy handed writing about fellowships or germans morphing imaginatively into orcs, At no point does Mr. Tumnus wander past the Kilns.***

Essentially this movie is exactly what you would expect to find from a distributer called PureFlix. It is inoffensive, clean, decently made, but not particularly moving. Particularly for those who have more than a passing acquaintance with the source material. Perhaps it is a good starting point, or early step for those beginning their journey with Lewis. It is like a Story told to young children about David. It’s all knocking about Goliath but never a word breathed about Bathsheba. It has it’s place, but left me wanting more meat.

*This is hard to do and the budget conscious way historically is to film during the day and add a dark blue filter or to show night sky but have the actors lit so brightly from the front that is strains credulity.

**Lewis was a notoriously shabby dresser often described as resembling more of a local butcher or wealthy farmer. 

***Though Lewis scholar Michael Ward does pop up as the priest at Holy Trinity Church.

Becoming, Making, and Completing C.S. Lewis, A Book Review

I am not sure why but I was not expecting to like Harry Lee Poe’s biographical trilogy on C. S. Lewis: Becoming C.S. Lewis, The Making of C.S. Lewis, and The Complete C.S. Lewis. It likely has something to do with the scope of the thing just looking daunting. Or with my growing concern with most recent biographies showing more interest in Lewis’ flaws than enjoying the man himself. And at first I did struggle but quickly began to enjoy and ultimately enjoy and deeply appreciate the work.

The books are nearly exhaustive. Owing to the length of the work it was always a surprise to realize what had been left out. Generally little anecdotes but nothing is lost by the omissions. Poe seems to think there is enough Lewis to go around so he generously leaves things for other biographies to remain interesting with. The books are at their best when Poe is bringing to light new material that had hither to been unavailable or ignored. The first volume, Becoming C.S. Lewis, is a bit of a slog but not for Poe’s lack of writing ability. The reason is simply that young Lewis was, in his own words, “A prig.” But Poe insists, and by the end of the entire series you appreciate him for doing so, that the formative years are essential to suffer understand in order to fully enjoy the man we love. Lewis himself said so and focused his own autobiography largely on these years. Poe humanizes the young Lewis without indulging in the tabloid like reading into letters and journal entries in order to excite the specter of scandal. Which leads to the second trait of the series I appreciated.

Poe does admirable work debunking recent Lewis myths, largely postulated by A.N. Wilson. Unfortunately, while it would appear the damage is done and Wilson fans are more than happy to perpetuate the slanders* Poe does yeoman’s work in putting theses absurd speculations to death. He does not touch on the Lindskoog absurdity, which surprised me but was probably for the best to continue to let her and her bizarre theories fade into the ether. 

A real delight was Poe’s discovery of a lost recording of Lewis sent to Iceland during the British invasion, before control was handed over to the Americans. A delightful find that I hope will be digitized and uploaded to the internet for further listening. Poe wonderfully notes every example of Lewis’ recorded voice along with pointing to other sources and materials that can be accessed by the armature Lewis scholar. It was a real pleasure to find resources that I hither to had been ignorant of and my gratitude is enormous.

While generous to Papist, among other beliefs, Poe is unreservedly Protestant and it shows which was a real pleasure. This brings a clarity to the work criticizing where it is helpful Romansh or Anthroposophist or the occultic beliefs that surrounded Lewis and caused frustrations. This kind of writing is especially clear in contrast to the rapturous way Papism is described by the Zaleski’s in The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings.

If there is a weak spot it is that not many of the people jump off the pages. One of the reasons I have such great attachment to Jack by George Sayers is the it conveys the feel of the man. The only character that can not seem but to jump off of the pages of Poe’s work is the old battle ax of Mrs. Moore. And quite frankly it would be hard for her not to do so in any work. Tolkien is more rounded than any other Lewis biographies and that is a feat in itself. While a genius in his own right, Tolkien was not a particularly colorful personality. Poe does a good job of displaying the sometimes odd juxtaposition of Tolkien’s pride and unassuming presence. more blame is put on Tolkien’s work on straining the friendship with fantasy purism and resentment over Lewis’ success than other biographies which usually blame Joy Davidman and Lewis keeping their marriage a secret. 

Second the books can be hard to follow on occasion. In order to make a larger point on a topic Poe will cover expanded periods of time but then the next section will “reset” to a year or so prior. This has the effect of occasionally being disorienting. It happens regularly enough to be a feature which effects the natural flow of the text.

Those two minor criticism aside should not be enough to deter anyone from buying and being throughly educated and edified by the trilogy. While the start was slow going for me they picked up and moved along and a solid pace, never becoming dull.

*At the month of this publishing Trevin Wax of TGC (naturally) repeated the lies in a banal article.

Your World as I See It: Go Go I Would not Wish You Back Again

Editors Note: This is this is a continuation of a series within the impromptus section. I call it, Your World as I See it by Astor Clement. Similar to Doug Wilsons No Quarter November, I will, under the pseudonym, be offering my unvarnished opinions at will. As to that nome de plume, if you are a child of the 90’s the Jim Varney reference will be clear.

I am tired of being lumped in with the Crazies. And I am tired of being told that these people are our “brothers” when they manifestly are not. As Mark Driscoll used to say, “I’m praying to Jesus you are praying to Satan, this is not a conference call!”

The problem arrises when the categories used by media, both secular and christian, are as broad as they are. Hence why we at told things like Evangelical Christians are the largest voting block for Republicans. Which I suppose is in a general sense right. But it begins to break down when say a bunch of stupid people and Pentecostals aggressively tour the capital carrying confederate flags and Bibles. We get told that this all Evangelical Christians think this way. The only time distinctions are made is if extra negative connotations can be heaped up with words like straight, white, and male. So for political reasons I think we need to loudly shout the distinction between the Evangelical and the Pentecostal. If other groups (Mainline Protestant, Catholic, African American Protestant, etc.) get their own carve outs we need to start demanding one. Let the loony toons have their Jericho marches and we can roll our eyes and be glad that we aren’t in the same boat as Kenneth Copeland any longer.

This has the additional advantage of removing from our intramural discussions an enormous amount of baggage of people who heavily disagree with our doctrines but couldn’t articulate why if it bit them in the face. They can go off as the blind leading the blind and we can evangelize them from a place of not having to pretend that they are obviously already saved. There are a lot of cults in Pentecostalism, there is a lot of idolatry of pastors and politicians, there is a lot of worship of emotion and no spiritual fruit. There is a lot of people getting “healed” by Hinn coattails because they wrote a check. Why we keep accepting that we are alike is beyond me, it just seems like we are giving the devil(or media) a stick to hit us upside the head with.

Here is the kicker for me, pretty much all reformed people agree with this, but they won’t say it. Our theology shows that pentecostals are wrong, but we don’t seem to have the courage of our convictions to be honest. Rather than being able to roll our eyes because the dim and dispensational are making fools of themselves on the governments front lawn. We shake in our boots and hope Russ Moore makes it all better with some self flagellation of an article on how we need to be more winsome and anyone who voted for a particular orange man is going to hell. This is absurd behavior. And bear in mind it is not as if the Pentecostals are dying to be lumped in with us. They think we are uptight stodgy sorts and don’t like it when we bang on the ceiling with a broom for them to pipe down. And we want different things, they mostly seem happy to just vote republican for some platitudes. We actually want our representatives to represent us. Which we will not get if we are not a distinctive voice. 

So as Elizabeth Bennett would say, “Go, go, I would not wish you back again.”

The Wolfe Unsettling the Flock

I’ll be honest every time I think this whole Stephen Wolfe The Case for Christian Nationalism thing has died down I keep finding the praise or vilifications steaming away like the express is running late. And the crew on this particular train is a motley bunch, and I am not particularly interested in describing them. But it occurs to me there are several broad things that I think it is apparently plain and it would behoove us to all take a deep breath and admit. Therefore, my thoughts:

Not that Many People will Actually Read it

Let’s just be honest while sales have apparently been brisk most of that is due to a near flawless marketing campaign by Cannon Press that capitalized on the shrill shrieks of horror coming from most people to the left of them. But it is one thing to get excited, pop over to Amazon, plunk down your twenty odd bucks, and then smirk over the thanksgiving turkey as that nephew raises his eyebrows in panic at what is prominently displayed on your coffee table; and actually reading the thing. 

Let’s not forget Wolfe is an academic, and he wrote an academic book, that comes in at a brisk academic 488 pages. The likelihood that the whole think will be read, comprehended, and acted on is minimum. I am willing to bet the vast majority of purchasers, will start it, put it on the bedside table, and taper off on their reading, while browsing some articles on it while at work. A finished introduction does not a book read make. 

I had a friend who turned me off to Doug Wilson for years, by only reading the introductions to Wilson’s book and then spouting the provocative bits with none of the nuance while claiming he read the whole thing. More likely that not I am willing to bet there are a lot of people pulling that kind of nonsense. So we can all calm down.

We have Bigger Ambitions

There is an old Robin Williams joke about Bill Gates being hauled into a senate hearing where he is asked, “Mr. Gates do you realize you are creating a monopoly? To which Gates responds, “Monopoly is just a game senator I’m trying to control the f***ing planet!”

Quite frankly those who are terrified of a truly Christian nation happening sometime in the future have good grounds to be so. But it’s worse than they think. We intend to take over the entire world. Kuyper was not wrong when he said:

“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” – Abraham Kuyper, Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader

Or as Christ said in Matthews Gospel:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:10-20 (emphasis added)

So everything belongs to him, he reigns, and all his enemies will be put under his feet. That is already, and not yet. So if you are an enemy of Christ there is good reason to fear his coming kingdom. That said…

Wolfe is Jumping the Gun

Clearly. Much of the book is dealing with how Wolfe, a Presbyterian, thinks a Christian nation would look. And for those of us who are not Presbyterian and are not big fans of having our babies splashed, much less by the state if they are going to have any citizenship; I would say he has over baked his cake. Wolfe is tracking things down into the practical details of how he thinks things should be ordered, and while there is some value to musing in advance about the practicalities of the inevitable complete reign of Christ; to quote Elim Garak, “It’s best not to dwell on such minutiae.”

In short, for a book that is promoted on a popular level, the discussions found therein are a little inside baseball. Only slightly more practical than discussions about how many angels can dance on a pin head. There are times and places for such talk. And to try and give Wolfe credit, I am willing to bet that when he wrote the thing he intended it to be an obscure interesting intellectual theological discussion and the Cannon people then flogged it into the best seller list, and he is just riding the wave. That said the time for those kinds of discussions in the broader conversation is not now. As Wilson himself is fond of saying, “It is immanentizing the eschaton.”

There has yet to be a Success Story of Christian Nationalism

Which brings me to possibly to what I see as the biggest flaw (though the last point I see as a real contender) There has never been an example of a “Christian Nation” or even a “Christian City” that was successful. They ended up imploding and they imploded for good reasons. Despite Wolfe’s Aquinas fanboying.

If I push my Irish prejudice aside and just rely on my Puritan thinking, Cromwells republic was a failure. I will grant the good bits but what made it work was Cromwell and he died, and he didn’t exactly rule a “christian” nation as evidenced by what followed his death.

Calvin’s Geneva also had its problems. And while I am first in line to suggest that Servetus got everything he was asking for; there were still things like the guy who had to walk the streets stoping at every corner to kneel and beg Calvin’s forgiveness. 

And these examples are the kinds of magisterial reformers that Wolfe shines a very positive light on. They practically glow in a way that says, “I’m ready for my close up now Mr. Wolfe.”

That does not mean I do not believe that Christ will rule a Christian planet, but I tend to look more to a sort of “eye has not seen” kind of understanding at this point. Rather than looking a period of history I particularly love and cherry picking the good parts and trying to smash them onto the world of today. We live in a fallen world, and mankind is still desperately wicked. Just because Christian is slapped on a political party does not mean it will rule in a righteous way.

The Term is not Worth Saving

Finally, I realize that the attempt is to reappropriate the term Christian Nationalism as a badge of honor. Like how the Puritans did with the word, Puritans. I get the impetus, but I think it is misguided. 

Christian Nationalist can not be simply limited to the, hypothetically, respectable presbyterian circles Wolfe runs in. Christian Nationalism immediately brings to mind the kind of Kenneth Copeland adherent, Q paranoid, barely educated, trailer trash that aggressively toured the capital once upon a January sixth. It is not just a cut and dried term of intellectually rigorous theologians and statesman that Wolfe wants to imagine it is. 

Wolfe is a smart guy, he should apply all that brain power to coming up with a new name that he gets to define. The title of Christian Nationalist would take planet lifting work to redeem (in a world that Christ warned us would hate us flat out to begin with) and it’s just not worth it.

Conclusion

I’m tired of this discussion, I hope that it dies out soon and we the Reformed can say shortly that it was fun ride while it lasted but now we have got it out of our system. And then we can move on to a more effective system without all the baggage that Wolfe is ignoring comes with his preferred system.

It is time to say we have taken stock, he had his say, and we can move on.

A Rant

I’ll just concede on the front end, this is a rant and there will be nothing theological in it. But I wish to vent my spleen about conservatives commentators picking stupid hills to die on to fill time.

I have gone down the Daily Wire/The Blaze, and a few other similar style podcast rabbit hole over the past year to see if it is as bad as my pastor says. And while I can report they are not exactly the cesspool he thinks them to be, there is plenty to wrench at your head over. Mostly I blame the format that is very heavily based out of talk radio. Proverbs speaks of fools and heaping up words and that is the flaw. If you run your mouth daily for hours on end by contractual obligation you inevitably will have to scrape the bottom of the topic barrel from time to time and the odds are not in your favor that you won’t say stupid things at higher rates. 

For example, Matt Wash filled fifteen minutes griping about the new statistic that a quarter of toy sales are to adults. Walsh saw this as a wholesale refusal to grow up. And while I can think of some people whom that would apply, it does smack of a generalization based on very little thought. 

First this is not a new charge, Driscoll was making it nearly twenty years ago. And the basic gripe has not changed or grown, it remains the same flat chest thumping. 

Second the basic premise fails to account for the fact that adults have played with toys for generations, they were just called hobbies and the toys were different. A model train layout or the building of model cars, boats, spaceships or airplanes, were still toys. Even woodworking frequently involved the building of toys. What makes collecting stamps, coins, or baseball cards distinctively adult? So the fact that the models are not manufactured by Lego instead of AMT is not that big of a difference. 

Finally, at the end of the day, it really does not matter. As long as I take care of my responsibilities honestly one of the more mentally engaging hobbies I can participate in is designing and constructing new Lego building as opposed to sitting on my porch with a cigar and whiskey. One is certainly more adult in nature, but also has the potential to lead into mental laziness. 

There is a place for rebuke of sin, but really what most of these news opinion sites are doing is preaching to their own curmudgeonly choir. And that is the problem, feeling put upon and like the only adult in the room is fun for a while, but it makes you into a prig. Matt Wash has said some good things, but they have not stuck with me in the same way this one ridiculous thing has. And this is why I think my pastor and others dread their conservative parishioners who are hopped up on these kinds of podcasts. They may be right most of the time, but they only have a rote understanding of why they want to die on particular mole hills. 

A Little House Keeping

With the new year comes the annual tidying up around the blog. And while there have been no major updates I will at least point to some minor changes. 

The Cigar list has a few new recommendations

The Whiskey list has grown as well

Also I think that drawing attention to the confusingly but accurately titled Un-Asked Questions page is always in order. I also updated my current reading list on that page as well.

The instagram is bubbling away I have almost as many “followers” there as I do here, which is gratifying that my writings are more popular with the bots than my repetitive cigar pictures (there are really only so many ways to take a picture of a stogie, and I am not creative to begin with). Between these two things and the law of clicks vs. actually read I calculate I am up to ten of you who are at least giving me the kindness of reading before rolling your eyes. 

I am open to suggestions on additions to the blog. I have considered a weekly round up like I see a few other guys doing, but due to the nature of my day job there may only be one link of something I thought was great (and it would probably be from the pretty small circles I swim in) and five articles I thought were dumb as dirt. I feel the lack of edification would be unhelpful in these trying times. So open to suggestions, Comments are open at the bottom.

Lastly, we are coming up on 200 articles so send up a little Huzzah for me when it happens, and light up a good stogie paired with a nice whiskey for yourself.

By the Hammer of Christmas 2.0

Editors Note: It being the week of Christmas I am posting a shorter article for all five of you to snicker at then go back to spending time with the actual human beings who are with you. You can read the previous installment here.

It has been a couple of years since I have waxed eloquent on the subject of Christmas and my local watering hole, Hammer & Ale. Happily very little has changed, which suits me just fine. The tables have been moved some and my new “spot” is about five feet from my old spot. But technically it is back to my old, old spot where I originally sat with a better view out the window than behind the bar. I am fine with this change, as it is more of a return to form. 

The weather continues unseasonably warm, which is an improvement over last week which was miserably cold. David is loath to turn on the heat here and as fun as it is to watch snow fall while I write the rest of the experience is a cruel joke. Cold beer, cold air, and I seem to have the only Apple laptop that does not generate the kind of heat that could fry an egg, or warm my fingers while I type.

I should say something about Christmas. Kevin has done his usual all out decorating including all of the hand cut snowflakes hanging from the ceiling. Including the one that is the symbol of the Galactic Empire, and the naughty ones. This is all made more festive by The Obnoxious Dwarf who is holding forth at the bar with his usual monologue. I suppose a dwarf is a poor man’s Christmas elf. He is still upset over the Rings of Power which only makes me want to see he and David (who is Elvenlike in form) in a rock smashing contest. Or possibly a beer can crushing contest.

I have vanquished the Horrible Woman from my spot after a year of battle. We now have a grudging respect for one another. She for me because of my prowess at planting in one spot for hours on end and I for her because it turns our she is a surgeon at St. Jude. I kind of feel like a heel now. Anyway she is sucking face with Kramer under the mistletoe snowflake. Kramer is another regular and they are now an item. It’s gross.

I should address that I still do not know everyone’s names, so I have assigned them nicknames. I think it is endearing and festive.

My brother-in-law works at the new brewery across the street. That is healthy for him. He drinks there all day then comes here to procrastinate about his child that will be born in a month. I should probably check on how my sister is doing…

So Christmas a holly jolly time where The Obnoxious Dwarf comes in to share the gift of Rona with all of us. He is pretty jolly for someone with no voice, perhaps he is no longer contagious. Why do I feel a tickle in my throat. Another round should fix that. A Christmas round that makes any disease a holly jolly time!

Last time I said that this place was my Cheers. And while I have really doubled down on the Norm and his spot theme there have not been any must see TV worthy shenanigans. However, I conclude with gratitude for the colorful cast of characters that make my time here such a blessing. It seems odd to be thanking God for a taproom but here I sit, I can do no other. So thanks be to God for a lovely place and the people around me: Skylar, Michael, Jesse, Robyn, David, Kevin, Mike, The (Apparently Not) Horrible Woman, Toothless Bike Guy, The Board-gaming Couple, Kramer, and Old Mike.

Why Men Hate Going to Church

Introduction

David Murrow popped up on my radar again and since he put out a new edition of Why Men Hate Going to Church I found a copy and went down the Youtube hole catching up. I haven’t paid too much attention to him since I first read his book back in the Mars Hill era. And it is interesting to see what has changed in the interim and how I have changed. 

Problems

Murrow deserves some revisiting but not, in my estimation, to be taken as an authority. A sociologist by training, and media producer by trade he brings many important observations and suggests some interesting points of action. A good example is his thinking on church decor. Which is ironic because it almost seems feminine to think about such things. But He is not wrong in that an aesthetic communicates. Opinions are formed immediately and if the first thing a man sees is a large flower arrangement in front of a pulpit it makes the pastors job an uphill battle to break through being dismissed. And flowers are a decidedly superficial thing, but add to that pink carpet, Thomas Kinkade paintings, soft seats, and a therapeutic sermon, the sum is not one that is a positive for men. Churches put a lot of thought into their aesthetic and have no problem with the result being feminine, and then they wonder where all the men are. Murrow has a point aesthetics matter. 

However, this line of thinking also points to the problem I have with Murrow’s thinking. He wants men in church, good; but all of his strategies operate on the old seeker sensitive model. Build it and they will come, as it were. And the primary flaw in this strategy is that while some men may show up that does not mean they are going to be Christian men. I have written many times that I am convinced that we have church buildings full of non christians who think that they are, but their fruit is rotten to it’s core. And Murrow’s seeker sensitive approach is particularly dangerous in that there is a growing number of young men who are interesting in church, and could easily join and never meet Christ due to a toxic blend of our current non-denominational Gospel light preaching with a masculine centric aesthetic. 

The bigger problem is the ecumenism Murrow holds is far too broad. In the updated edition he tells the story of a Methodist lady pastor who wondered why there were no men in her church. She read the book and did everything Murrow suggested, lo and behold men actually came. Murrow sees this as a great success. He has even made a short documentary on this one example. But the problem is that this is not a church and not a pastor that has such large numbers of men in attendance. A sermon is not an exegesis of a movie clip that applies to life. Murrow’s strategies may work to gather men but they are Christ-less gatherings. What you win them with is what you win them to.

The Harvest is Plenty

The point is the current moment is one in which increasing numbers of young single men are primed for the Gospel. As much as he scares me Jordan Peterson is sending them our way. Or consider this quote from a recent National Review article:

“Mason had been in an abusive relationship in high school. When he asked for support from his friends, Mason was told to “man up” and get over it. The self-help community became his “gateway” to the movement. Jordan Peterson became a source of new confidence, and he eventually ditched his “firm” atheism in favor of Christianity.” – Ari Blaff, The Unseen Faces of the Men’s Rights Movement

It should not be beyond the pale to make new Christians aware of the church. In the past decade we made the shift to being a welcoming place to “hurting” people with “felt needs” well these young men have an actual need for Christ, and they are not welcome in our churches because they don’t want to be feminized in order to be accepted. Muslims are more than happy to welcome and convert them, Andrew Tate a large voice in the manosphere recently converted to Islam. And his comments on why Christians were unconvincing to him are damning. 

The Rubber Meets the Road

So Murrow should not be seen as an authority, but he deserves to be wrestled with. In fact he is one of the voices we need to wrestle with. If for no other reason than he is one of the few people who is actually putting forward a clear map of where we went wrong and is offering practical suggestions for how to get back to where we need to be. If for no other reason then for us to bring solid reformed ecclesiology to bear on his thinking and perhaps work out a better way. Not just to critique but to consider actual ways, things to do, that welcome men into churches without selling out the gospel. For us to know why we do the things we do.

For example, Murrow advocates for shorter sermons. And if I may double down on then maxims that hold true and hold true for a reason: sermonettes make christianettes. the ecclesiology behind how long we preach is important. Sermon length should be based on the answer to why we preach not average attention spans. It is the job of pastors and elders to to teach, this includes expanding attention spans. Active listening, and note taking exist. Puritan husbands and fathers would outline the sermon as they listened to reread to their families during the week to discuss and apply. That is a masculine activity. 

Or to end where I began the look and decor of a building is something that has to be thought through at some point. The pews and carpet didn’t magically become turn to a spectrum of mauve to pink. Flowers arrangements do not spontaneously manifest around sanctuaries and lobbies. Decisions are made at some point. Now again I would not go so far as Murrow recommends by spending a ton of money on rough hewn cedar walls and mounted deer heads in the lobby and flagstone walls in the sanctuary. I am partial to an austere Plymouth Brethren look myself. But when the time comes to consider the look of the church it is not a sin to go for an aesthetic that is neutral or even masculine in feel.

Conclusion 

I think the Reformed space is headed into a, for lack of a better word, reformation. The old guard is on its way out and then up and coming voices are distinctly more manful that the outgoing winsomers. This is an area that needs to be considered as this shift is taking place. Murrow has his problems, but deserves to be listened to and evaluated. Unless someone wants to take the very manly route and think through all of the things Driscoll did right that attracted men, then find ways to update and apply those lessons… No? No takers? Ok Murrow it is then, discuss.

Your World as I See it :”It’s Your Job!”

Editors Note: This is this is a continuation of a series within the impromptus section. I call it, Your World as I See it by Astor Clement. Similar to Doug Wilsons No Quarter November, I will, under the pseudonym, be offering my unvarnished opinions at will. As to that nome de plume, if you are a child of the 90’s the Jim Varney reference will be clear.

In his usual gentle, insightful, and humorous way Kevin DeYoung rocked the boat with his article on The Gospel Coalition, A Plea to Pastors: Don’t Cancel Church on Christmas. This it was not well received is no surprise. I haven’t seen a good rebuttal, but there was plenty of talk about legalistic thinking, impossible logistics, and accusations of heaping up burdens on congregations by their consciences feeling guilty for not coming or resenting the time it took away from their Christmas for coming. And while none of these rejoinders hold any water there is one point that DeYoung overlooked that I would like to make.

This point is not so much a plea to pastors as is it is a statement of fact that should prove the point. I would like to make it with a quote from the great Irish comedian Dara O’Briain: “It’s your job!” 

To be a pastor is to administer Word and sacrament. To not do that is a failure to achieve the base job description. The fact that once every seven years a pastor gets to preform those tasks on the day where the birth of our Lord and Savior is commemorated is more of a delightful novelty, not an excuse to cancel the entire enterprise. 

To meet some objections: It might be said that I am advocating for a pastor to make an idolatry out of ministry and that ruining his children’s Christmas will create bitterness towards Christ. I rejoin that 1. You should have known that once every seven years home Christmas traditions will be jostled a bit. This is not idolatry of ministry, it is frankly one of the easier faithfulnesses. And as for the kids, it is the job of their father to teach them not to be so greedy they can’t be patient an extra few hours for their gifts. But more importantly that since Jesus is the “reason for the season” it is a pleasure to worship him with his people gathered and once ever seven years we get an extra special opportunity to do so!

The logistics thing has some merit in that finding volunteers to fully staff everything on Christmas is harder than plucking a hair from the beard of The Great Cham’s. In response show me the chapter and verse that says we have to have a fully stocked praise team, children’s church team, coffee bar team, greater team, media team, etc. In fact show me the chapter and verse that any of these are required year round… There are two ways to approach this. 1. Christmas falls on a Sunday ONCE EVERY SEVEN YEARS that a a mighty good amount of time to recruit for this one special Sunday. But more importantly none of these are vital, this is a problem created by yesterdays solution to another problem. It is seeker sensitive nonsense to think that if these things are lacking people will leave. If they do, good, those people weren’t there to worship God. In my own church every vital roll (turning on lights, preaching, leading songs, sound board, turning off lights) are all staff positions. So again, it’s their job to be there and do those things, it is what they signed up for. There is only one job that a staff member does not do that a volunteer would be needed for. And that is my job, the slide clicker guy. So to channel my inner YA novel, “I volunteer as tribute!” 

Reader, you may have noticed that the phrase, “once every seven years” making a few appearances. And to me this really is key. It is on the calendar, it’s kind of like a freight train, it is always going to run in the same place, and it doesn’t exactly sneak up on you all stealth like. You know it will eventually be there, it will be running right on schedule, and it will be big and noisy. There really is no excuse outside of worldly pragmatics, laziness, or theological laziness. For the first time in the history of America non denominational churches out number denominational ones. And with that shift comes really bad ecclesiology. There really is no tradition in the Church that it does not meet on Christmas for theological reasons.* The idea of not meeting points more to an idolatry of family, traditions, worldliness, greed, all things that really should be addressed. If only we had a time and place to hear from God what he thinks of all this and what we should do. Or more importantly were we respond to what he has done. But it would appear that place is just not open. It should be somebody’s job to open it can’t think of who though…

*I suppose you could really twist the English Puritan approach of refusing to celebrate ChristMASS and say that revelers might show up so you are canceling. But I have yet to see anyone try and shimmy out on that particularly precarious limb. Though it would be fun to watch.

Trickle Down Theology

Introduction

Back in my days of Semi-Pelagianism I was repulsed by the arrogant attitude of the first “Calvinists” I met embodied in a group of Primitive Baptists. I will never forget the smug smirk on the face of one as we debated the issue. I raised several of the basic objections and verses to support, all of the kind any Calvinist should be able to respond to. And rather than an argument I was asked incredulously, “You actually believe that?” followed by titters of laughter from the rest of the group. It was the kind of condescending flippancy that Screwtape recommends so highly to be cultivated in a patient. No argument or joke had been made but they all assumed it had been. Their favorite word to call anyone who disagreed with them was, immature. Their faces, and eventually their words, all said, “that is all the proof we need in order to assure us that anyone outside of our thinking is not really a christian.” They managed to level up another night when I decided a fruitless conversation along the same lines was being held and just ended the evening. They weren’t done and continued on my front lawn yelling at one of my guests, a young lady, until she cried with them shouting that if she could not affirm the Doctrines of Grace she was probably going to hell. It was the kind of stupid behavior that displayed a fatal failure to understand the concepts of grace, doctrines, and The Doctrines of Grace. Today I would consider them not to be Calvinists but determinist pharisees. They were to put is as kindly as I can, a bunch of assholes. And that is me being kind. It kept me as far away from reformed theology as I possibly could get and remain protestant, until God proved his predestining power in my life and brought me to himself kicking and screaming. My friend who was yelled at joined an Eastern Orthodox church partly because in order to join you are required to denounce the heresy of Calvinism, and she did so with glee.

My point with this story is to point out that a smug, self important, swaggering approach to a topic, no matter how true the facts are, immediately drives people off. My problem is the topic I wish to work through today is next to impossible to consider without my sounding condescending. I have re-written this about three times now and at pains to keep statements that sound arrogant to a minimum, but if the topic is to be discussed then clarity must trump perception. 

My contention is that there are three kinds of people in the average reformed church, the numbers in each group vary by church but they are there. Now there are many ways to skin a dead cat and finding categories to break churches down into are just as numerous.  It is usually thought of along, racial, political, socio-economic, age, marital status, and level of education. that last one comes close to the category I want to consider, also socio-economic status can play into it but perhaps not as much as would seem obvious. We need to think of congregational groups in terms of brain power. I term the groups, from low to high, along a spectrum from: Ignorant, Intentionally Ignorant, and Intellectual. 

Sketching out the Groups

Ignorant: From the offset this could be the most diverse group with many sub categories, such as brand new Christians. But because my gaol is brain power what I am referring to here are the genuine believers who operate on what Teddy Roosevelt would describe as, “0.02 guinea pig brain power.” My point is not to belittle, but we do no one any service by lying to or flattering people. There are Godly people who were made in the image of God and operate on a low level intellectually. This can be compounded by poverty, a lack of education, discipline, substance abuse, and early influences. As a result these people are prone to foolishness, a lack of self-control, and little emotional control. They are constant targets of scams, conspiracy theories, and prosperity heresy. This does not mean they can not learn, but they are not going to become theological powerhouses. Bookishness is simply not on their radar. They serve faithfully with what little they have and at their best serve as conduits for the good kind of Old Time Religion that is healthy for a church from time to time. Usually though they are kept at an arms length from the upper echelons because they can contribute little to the leadership outside of physical labor.

Intentionally Ignorant: This group is a bit stickier. These are the people who tend to be more middle class, have the resources and capacity to use their minds well, and yet refuse to out of a sense of pride masked as humility. The stereotype would be people who live in suburbs, attended good colleges, have well paying white collar jobs, but insist on acting like the ignorant in some way or another. They paradoxically saw their schooling as something to endure in order to make enough money to support their alma mater’s sports program to which they are fiercely loyal. In my area their aesthetic is redneck chic. In others is could be to take on the “old neighborhood” caricature. And in our churches they are the ones who could grow in grace and knowledge, but refuse to because they don’t want to get all hoity toity, it is pride masked as humility. Pop theology books are their jam, and they are prone to read and adopt bad theology or Instagram devotional thinking. Interestingly this group tends to endear themselves to church leaderships because they tend to hit an easy stride when it comes to shepherding. They don’t require a ton of work typically and they don’t like having the boat rocked any more than the leadership does. They are impressed by charisma and with a little pushing can be made useful to smooth operations.

Intellectual: The term intellectual is not meant in the sense of a true scholar but in the sense of, again, brain power. Also that that brain power is applied and applied well*. These people know the difference between being arrogant and being confident. They are willing to teach and are eager to be resources. Reading is best done with copious footnotes in their view, There can be a tendency to debate things like angels dancing on pinheads. But more often than not they are more interested in the practical day to day application of Scripture and doctrine to Christian life in stark, clear, and piercing terms. Devotion to them is not just a time in the morning it is a way of thinking, a way of life. Unfortunately, unless they also posses a talent of winsomeness, they are seen by pastors as theological curmudgeons, too brainy and not practical, sometimes even upstarts.**

How the Game is Being Played

These three groups then will all be in a church but are all frustrated with each other. Intentionally Ignorant think the Intellectuals are opaque and brainy. The Intellectuals are vexed by the Intentionally Ignorants refusal to apply themselves. And though compassionate with the Ignorant, they have little in common and difficulty creating friendships over this lack of relate-ability. The Ignorant are similarly annoyed with the incomprehensibility of the Intellectuals preferences and life. And presiding over all of this are pastors and elders who love all these people but don’t tend to like the people on the polar ends. They aim all their efforts and attention at the manageable middle. 

This is also compounded by the fact that the church has become less of a place where we gather to do things and instead is a place where we come for therapy. We have lost the idea that we are coming to worship a holy God and instead it is about us. Instead of us singing we are sung to, by trained pros. Instead of us coming to Sunday SCHOOL we have community groups where we talk about us. The Ignorant and the Intellectuals struggle mightily with this model because they are always going to be the odd men out. For the Ignorant they are invited usually into a much nicer home that theirs, where they listen to comfortable people complain about their middle class feelings and and struggles which seem comparatively small. For the Intellectuals they are similarly not welcome to talk because their hard truths hurt soft feelings and assumptions. Nothing is taught, nothing is learned, nothing is accomplished.

In some churches people are paid to preform the music are employed to lead the children’s church. We do don’t do anything, it is man centered not God centered, we don’t give our time we simply fund a country club and Ted Talks. As a result the Ignorant and Intentionally Ignorant are lethargic, and the Intellectuals are frustrated. 

A Better Way

I propose that a church, or churches, or reformed churches undertake an experiment. 1. Recognize that these separate groups exist. 2. Stop aiming and the milquetoast middle, or the Intentionally Ignorant. 3. Cultivate the Intellectuals to teach the Intentionally Ignorant in order to teach the Ignorant. In other words trickle down theology.

A few years ago I had a student named Joseph. Jospeh was/is a stereotypical Intentionally Ignorant person. He had adopted a true down home, country boy, southern accent. Which was interesting because his parents spoke completely clear english with a small Mississippi accent. But Joseph doubled down. He wanted acres in Mississippi, guns, boots, a honeymoon on a pontoon boat and he earned a masters degree on a full scholarship. This kid possesses brain power and loves Jesus. Here is the kicker, he speaks a language that is foreign to me. He is able to teach and minister to people that I would never have an audience with. But because I taught him, he can translate those principals into a world I would fail to communicate in. He stands with one foot in each world. And that is the key.

The reason this is difficult is that Pastors and elders will, for a time have to do extra work. They will have to engage with, wrestle with, and occasionally admits defeat to the ideas of the Intellectuals. Those theological curmudgeons in their churches that are pushing for uncomfortable things like application not emotional support. But if those guys learn how to teach, they can teach teachers, they can teach teachers who can teach people who are very different from the first source. In other words it is discipleship. Mature Believers producing, reproducing mature believers. 

Practically speaking the best method for doing this is in the context of reviving Sunday School. The emphasis being, school. This can sound condescending, but schools have grades based on the intellectual abilities of children. In an adult church context this can seem sticky. And it would appear historically that the answer has been to have a baseline “gospel class” then age groups. And that is not a bad instinct. But what it should be is the kind of model where Sunday School teachers pay attention to their class and know when to recognize that someone is in over their head. They can then direct that person to a class that is more understandable to them. And if those teachers have been training teachers then they will have an idea of where to send that person.

And just as a side note to assuage the concerns of pastors worried that this means more coordinating work for them. The roll of Sunday School Superintendent (or deacon) is a thing. Find that guy and let him execute this.

Conclusion

Uncomfortable distinctions and conversations are not wrong, they are just not… comfortable. For too long I think that the most marginalized groups in Reformed churches are the ones at either end of the intellectual spectrum. The Intelligent are not utilized and end up leaving trying to find a place that wants them, or they go off into increasingly niche theology and make themselves pariahs. The Ignorant are used for their labor but burn out because they are not fed more than sensitive fluff, cotton candy theology, with not practical application on things like not buying lottery tickets and why not to do that. And in the middle is a lethargic group pridefully sitting in their laziness because, looking sideways at that bookish guy, “I thank the Lord I am not like that uptight runt.”

Is it any wonder our churches are not healthy?

*Here I exclude “Cage Stage Calvinists” because I see them as belonging in group two. In my experience a cage stager has done the minimum amount of learning, just enough to get him hopped up and thinking he is an expert. Akin to a guy I knew once that would read the preface of a book then claim he read it and was an expert on the subject. He could read the rest but he could not be bothered, therefore: intentionally ignorant.