At the end of the film Seven, Morgan Freeman’s character opens a box and declares, “John Doe has the upper hand.” That admission characterizes my experiences at the seminary thus far. I thought I knew.
When learning about God, there are apparently many, though not infinite, key terms. Many of you know these. Omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, benevolent. Some people have thought they were really witty and thought they really proved something by asking if because of these attributes God can make an rock that is so heavy he cannot move it. H. Ray Dunning writes, “Both [Martin] Luther and [John] Calvin vigorously resist all speculation about God beyond what is revealed. Each, with a great deal of seriousness, tells the same anecdote about anyone who would raise a question about what God was doing before He created the world. The answer: He was making hell for curious people.”* Ell-Oh-Ell.
If I may indulge in my own assessment of the passing scene, it is that the Adversary, the great Satan himself, had a hand in creating Microsoft Powerpoint and the idea that preachers should use it. If there is one thing God, in the person of the Holy Ghost, cannot do, it is overcome the trappings of Microsoft Powerpoint presentations. Perhaps my belief stems from my indoctrination at the hands of the US Air Force which had me reciting “death by power-point” when describing what a Training Day would entail to new officers. Or perhaps it is historical reality. In either case, I have yet to see this supposed communication tool be employed without embarrassment in any situation, let alone one as dynamic as a sermon. To be clear, MS Powerpoint is simply a better way to pass around a picture. Put the image on the screen. Tell us to look at it. Then take the image down and move on. Publicly tying yourself to an outline is a sure way to detract from any possible benefits unseen forces–whether holy or unholy–can add to your presentation.
I saw Creed on Thanksgiving. It was simply fantastic. My brother mentioned that he was going to show his wife the first six movies before taking her to see this, the seventh. I told him that just wouldn’t work. Rocky can’t be “got” in 12 hours. The critics seem to agree. What is so special about Rocky? For me, Rocky is the ultimate example of man who lives without a hidden curriculum. My attempt to do the same is to share that I am taking the courses I’m taking at an Evangelical Christian Seminary because I can’t tell if I like Christianity because I was taught it at a young age or because it is historical reality in this time-space universe. What is odd, to me, is that while these days I definitely credit Jesus et al. with keeping me alive, I have no problem ceding that Stallone’s Rocky has had more immediate impacts on my everyday life. “Like” this post if you would have never attempted a one-armed push-up if it wasn’t for Rocky.
If you’re looking for a Christmas gift for anyone who you think resembles me regarding their pursuit of self, get them James K. A. Smith’s How (Not) To Be Secular. Charles Taylor wrote a very long book that Smith summarizes succinctly. Taylor’s longer book is, Smith says, a map of our history and attempts to account for how in the year 1500 atheism didn’t exist and in the year 2000 theism is probably more difficult to maintain (yet people do). Taylor’s book is apparently 900+ pages. Smith’s is 139. One sentence is not going to do justice to Taylor’s ideas, but, again, it is a solid attempt to explain how the Protestant Reformation (a re-forming of worldviews), despite Christian designs, led to what Taylor calls “exclusive humanism” and atheism.
One of the main “hidden curriculums” that Taylor’s long tome exposes (according to Smith) is that it isn’t cold, hard scientific realities that have replaced the Christian story, but the appeal of being able to tell the story of how little ol’ me has now, through maturation and age, gained the courage to stare down the fact that life is without meaning.** And it’s a great story. But is it true? I don’t know.
One thing that has my interest today is the idea of the inerrant nature of scripture. We’re learning Koine Greek and no one has any problem saying that the New Testament’s grammar isn’t inerrant. I can’t explain why, but upon hearing this my mind immediately went to the fact that grammar is itself only a convention. It’s not like God cares about whether sentences end in prepositions. So then I think about what written language is anyhow. Obviously it is communication. But this whole inerrancy thing seems to rapidly become merely a fight picked by *some* Christians. It causes lines to be drawn in the sand that perhaps allow for rightful displacing of heresies, but it also seems to fulfill prideful desires to be “right”. Do I believe the Bible is without error or contradiction? I certainly believe that many aged and mature Christians make that argument. And I trust their judgement. But, for me, inerrancy means that I believe the Bible, Old and New Testaments, is the final authoritative revelation of God’s word. I love Leo Tolstoy and Mark Twain–love them, probably idolize them. But where they disagree with the writer or Matthew or Luke or Paul or Moses, I concede that the canon of scripture wins.
And, yet, before any bible verses, some of the first quotes I have taught H- to recite are (relating to piano) Immortal Beloved’s, “A mistake is nothing. A lack of passion is unforgivable,” and relating to life, Tolstoy’s, “Happiness is not the realization of desire.” Then again, perhaps I’m not the most orthodox of Christians. Who knows?
*Dunning, H. Ray. Grace, Faith, and Holiness: A Wesleyan Systematic Theology. Kansas City: Beacon, 1988, 113.
**Smith, James K. A. How (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor. Grand Rapids: WM. B. Eerdmans, 2014, 77.