Big Scary Topic: Feminism, Part One

This first post is pretty timely, it seems. You see, prizewinning and bestselling British author Hilary Mantel recently gave a talk entitled “Royal Bodies” for the London Review of Books’ winter lecture series. It’s one of the more fascinating things I’ve ever read on famous women and their bodies and how we view them, and I encourage you to read it in its entirety. It’s also turning out to be the talk that launched a thousand rhetorical ships: of course every British paper had an opinion, most of them pretty well to be expected (The Daily Mail’s coverage could be summarized, as usual, as WE ARE HORRIFIED BY WHAT WE ASSUME WAS SAID); even the Prime Minster waded into the fray, missing the point rather spectacularly. Twitter has been ablaze with the question of was-it-ironic-or-wasn’t-it (hint: yes), and NPR highlighted the controversy during their main news broadcasts today.

All that to say, a lot of people are thinking about big issues right now — women and how freely we comment on their looks, fame and beauty and objectification and otherness and what exactly these bodies of ours mean. Those are important topics, and I guess I’m about to tackle some of them.

But I think I need to issue a few denials before I forge ahead, and maybe a couple of affirmations. So here goes.

I believe men and women are different, and that any effort to flatten out gender distinctions is going to end in… absurdity. But I also believe that there are any number of ways to act and be feminine or masculine, not just one (more on this later).

I’m no Marxist; I think it takes a lot of blindly clinging to one’s assumptions in the face of evidence to the contrary to look at human history and deduce that hierarchy is the problem that must be overcome in order for people to thrive. Some hierarchies are awesome and some of them are terrible, but the existence of abusive, exploitative power structures doesn’t invalidate the hierarchy as A Thing. And honestly, does anyone over the age of 35 who has ever read a history book still believe that a human society completely without hierarchy is even possible on any kind of scale or for any length of time? So no, I’m not going to be arguing that women need to rise up and overthrow some mythological worldwide Illuminati patriarchy so that society can progress toward its next evolutionary incarnation.

I don’t believe that “society” as some abstract entity has an agenda to “keep women in their place.” I don’t think that what this country needs, necessarily, is more women in ________ industry or field. I do think that looking at a circumstance — say, the fact that women are underrepresented in the sciences — and failing (or refusing) to consider that the reasons for that circumstance might be incredibly complex and even, perhaps, tied to the innate strengths and weaknesses of the genders, is just head-smackingly stupid. I think it’s lazy-minded, thoughtless, callous, and just plain rude, on the other hand, to dismiss all such disparities as merely representative of gender differences rather than societally-influenced.

I don’t think “feminism” as a worldview has any real solutions to the problems of society. But I think traditionalism, for most of us in the Evangelical camp, poses a far greater danger. It’s a prettier poison for many of us, and a subtler one. We need to be able to hear past the talking points and bumper-sticker slogans and strawmen of the feminist vs. traditionalist shouting match and get down to what the Bible actually teaches about women and their value, about objectification, about bodies. And I am convinced that we’ll have an easier time locating Biblical Christianity in the syncretistic miasma of modern traditionalist religion if we spend some time looking at feminism’s critiques of traditionalism.

So there you have it, I suppose: a bit of an introduction to the Big Scary Topic of feminism.

In the coming weeks or however long I feel like writing about this because it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want, GOSH, I’ll be looking at such topics as Plato, Augustine, and the body; big ugly traditionalism and its little ugly cronies; objectification and othering; and, Lord willing, really scary topics like sexual identity, orientation, and even (gulp) rape and sexual abuse — and how feminism and Christianity intersect at those points. Fasten your seatbelts.

Fandom, or Pageview-Grubbing

People have always been drawn to others who share their tastes and preferences, but it seems like the last few years have seen a pretty remarkable expansion of the whole “fandom” concept. Between social media (especially Twitter and Tumblr) and fan fiction, fans of shows, movies, books, authors, actors, and characters can interact with those alternate worlds in a completely new way. Transmedia projects, which go beyond standard episodic formatting and tell parts of their stories using social media platforms, are increasingly successful, and storytellers of all kinds have taken to social media to build communities around their work.

I think fifteen years ago, if you’d had a dream about two brothers who live 1800 miles apart  turning their weekly life-update-style videos into a wildly successful educational YouTube video series, an extremely popular conference for web-content creators, and a community of a couple million smart, curious millennials who’ve not only put one brother on the New York Times bestseller list several times, but who’ve funded dozens of charitable projects around the world — including wells, wildlife sanctuaries, and at least one school… well, I think you would have dismissed it as a really cool (and weirdly specific) dream that could never, ever happen. And yet John and Hank Green have almost a million subscribers on their Vlogbrothers channel, half a million each on their CrashCourse and SciShow channels, and 150,000 on Hank’s update of Pride and Prejudice, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries; they helped raise close to half a million dollars last December for their charity Project For Awesome; John’s book sales have numbered in the millions. Oh, and they’ve added vocabulary to the American vernacular, coining the terms “nerdfighter” and “nerdfighteria” and making the phrase Don’t Forget to be Awesome common enough that the President referenced it in his post-State of the Union fireside hangout on Google+.

That’s a crazy extensive fandom right there: an empire, one might say. But not a media empire in the traditional sense — this isn’t Ted Turner cosseted in some downtown panelled office calling shots and fighting to dominate a timeslot, it’s an interactive, participatory, collaborative, extremely postmodern empire that celebrates the other fandoms of its own fans. In a recent sold-out appearance at Carnegie Hall, for example, John and Hank brought other well-known YouTubers onstage — people who, in a different era, would have been seen as competitors, not potential collaborators. They frequently give shoutouts to other fandoms, and are avid Whovians, Potterheads, and Sherlockians themselves.

I’m interested in where we go from here. What happens to the traditional content distribution model for movies and television when the Starkid generation, that grew up on Twitter and fanfic sites and Tumblr and meme generators and charlieissocoollike and transmedia and YouTube adaptations of classic literature and Vlogbrothers and CrashCourse, starts making decisions about a household budget and decides that cable is stupid and pointless? How are networks and moviemakers going to adapt to customers who are demanding a more immersive experience and more responsive content creators? And, most importantly, how can I convince you to watch The Lizzie Bennet Diaries? IT IS SO GOOD, YOU GUYS.

That’s all I’ve got for today on this topic. Watch this space for upcoming Big Scary Series on feminism. Peace out.

Reasons/Excuses/Fear

So. I started and stopped and started and stopped writing a series last year about feminism and the church and Christians and how we’ve historically been so opposed to the negatives of feminism (and caricatures of feminism) that we’ve thrown out the stuff we could really stand to learn from feminists and ignored the beliefs we share with them. I would read something exciting, get pumped to write the series, do some research, and then freak out because… well, for the following reasons in no particular order.

  1. The Internet is not known for its ability to understand subtle, nuanced arguments; trolls are no fun to deal with.
  2. I don’t want people to think I’m some lefty wacko, or that my views on this subject mean I’ve abandoned historic Christian teaching on God’s will for human sexuality and gender.
  3. (REALTALK:) I don’t want dudes to read this and say, “Ew, I don’t want to marry some man-hating feminazi.”
  4. Not a lot of people want to read about things like sexual abuse, objectification, the male gaze, and other five-dollar terminology that tends to populate the syllabi of Women’s Studies classes at universities across the country… no matter how much I absolutely believe they need to believe rightly about those things.
  5. It’s easier to write about Downton Abbey and the Bible study Methods class I’m teaching and the fun stuff I do on a Friday night (HA!) than about deep, complex issues.

Are those reasons? Are they excuses? Are they nothing but manifestations of my own fear of man? Am I basically permanently walling myself off from marriage by writing about feminism? (No, seriously, am I?)

Anyway, I feel really strongly about this stuff, and I think I’m going to go for it. So I guess the alternate title of this post could be “In Which Laura Psychs Herself Up.”

My Thrilling Friday Night

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I’m a homebody at heart. My dream weekend involves books and movies and records and cooking. But I too often spend most of my leisure time doing nothing — clicking around from one website to another, checking this or that blog, distractedly half-watching an episode of something while facebooking or instagramming on my phone. And that’s a huge part of why I love Lent. It’s a time when I give up some of my online distractions AND give more attention to things I’m often distracted from. Tonight I’m singing Psalms 7, 8, and 9.

Sing the Psalms with Me During Lent

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Lent’s not just a time for giving things up. As one of my pastors said this morning at our Ash Wednesday service, Lent is a time to make room in our lives to remember God. So I’m embarking on a project to sing through all 150 Psalms during this season of Lent. The book of Psalms is the hymnal of God’s people, and the psalms themselves were written to be sung, so I’ll be singing them from a Psalter, which re-sets the words of the psalms in meters that work in English, and fits them to tunes that match their meters. You can get Kindle and online editions of classic Psalters for free or very inexpensively, buy one from a Christian bookstore, or do what I did… and swipe one from a Presbyterian church.

Not a musical person? No worries. YouTube is packed with videos of Christians singing through the Psalms, which will help you with the tunes if you can’t read music (be aware that there are many different Psalters).

I invite you to join me in delighting in God’s word during this season. You’ll need to sing about three Psalms a day, which should take between 15 and 20 minutes. Spread them out, if you like: one in the morning, one after work, and one before bed. Or start or end your day with a longer time of singing. Recruit your spouse, kids, roommates. And sing the songs of God’s people.

Today’s Psalms: 1, 2, and 3.

Believe It or Not, the Opposite of “Inerrancy” Isn’t Always “Errancy.”

The other day, a guy I run across in the blog-world was talking about how he sometimes gets fired up by what he termed the “Three E’s” — Errancy, Egalitarianism, and Evolution. These were my next thoughts:

hghiludfjkdfjsfhf iouwfhj oijoijdwwa

Coherent, eh? The implication is, of course, that anyone who doesn’t affirm inerrancy is an “errantist,” believing that the Scriptures are actually full of error. Yargh. I have a pretty big problem with that view (not to mention the attitude behind it), and I’ll tell you why.

*rolls up sleeves*

Preliminary data: inerrancy, which is the doctrine that the Scriptures are without error in everything they affirm, has been a pretty major battle ground over the last few decades and has been settled, one way or another, to the point that affirmation of inerrancy tends to be one of the identifying characteristics of Evangelicals. Inerrantists (I think rightly) believe that the absolute truthfulness of Scripture is an extremely important issue, and not one to be given up or compromised, so they use terms like “non-negotiable” and “essential” to describe the doctrine. Got all that? OK.

It’s true that the most vocal opponents of the concept of inerrancy have been people whose commitment to a modernist, materialist worldview precludes belief in any sort of divine character to Scripture. To them, it’s not divine, not authoritative, not inspired except in the way that, say, Shakespeare or Ovid were “inspired.” But this whole debate is quite new, and there are entire great big groups of Christians who just didn’t get involved at all — people like confessional Lutherans, Anglicans, and other folks on the higher-church end of the spectrum. They never absorbed the language of “without error in its original manuscripts” and the like. And that’s where the problems start to arise.

Some inerrantists steadfastly refuse to differentiate between people whose ultimate desire is to undermine the authority or divine character of Scripture and people who, say, don’t feel comfortable with the sometimes sterile-sounding language of inerrancy. Some use the term itself as a sort of shibboleth of orthodoxy, badgering people to sign on the proverbial dotted line of inerrancy (“No, just tell me. Are you? It’s not a hard question. Just answer.”). Some point to it as the test of, if not orthodoxy per se, then at least membership in the Evangelical community.

But there are a great many Christians who have never had this conversation, and who simply believe that the Bible is true. There are many who belong to denominations and traditions where the truthfulness of Scripture is taken as an article of faith, confessionally, rather than as a matter to be handled with lengthy treatises on exactly which documents can be given which terminology. Many more, while submitting to the authority, truthfulness, and sufficiency of Scripture, simply find themselves uncomfortable with a doctrine they see as a Procrustean bed, as restrictive rather than expansive. I don’t necessarily agree with all these objections, but I understand them. I recognize that my conscience cannot dictate the consciences of other believers, and I also recognize that, though some believers, just by personality, take great comfort and find great freedom in meticulously-delineated doctrines, others do not. Being Type A is not a prerequisite for membership in the family of God.

And this is why it’s important to ask questions rather than make assumptions, especially about our brothers and sisters in Christ. When someone asks, “Are you an inerrantist?” or “Are you a Calvinist?” or “Are you a creationist?” or whatever, the best response, in my estimation, is, “Well, what do you mean by that?” And on the other side, if someone says, “Oh, I could never be an XYZ,” I reckon it’s pretty important to find out what they mean by XYZ and how it affects the rest of their doctrine. And ask positive questions, too: stuff like “So, what do you believe about the Bible?”

Between brothers and sisters, questions like this should be conversation-starters, not conversation-enders. We cannot use these catch-phrases as code words for who’s “in” and who’s “out.” That kind of spiritual arrogance is exactly what got this guy a starring role as a baddy in one of Jesus’ parables.

What I’m Reading Wednesday

Well, folks, I cleaned out my blog reader this week. I took out probably a dozen things — some defunct, others no longer interesting — and added only two! Ah, progress. Although, shoot, that reminds me of another one I need to add.

Fiona is in Chile! At last! And IT IS FULL-ON, YOU GUYS.

Bryan Lilly is a hoot, and also wicked smaht and you need to read his blog (also his wife is so cute I kinda can’t take it — <3 u Sam!). His series on simplicity is fantastic.

Dudes, if you’re STILL not reading The Art of Manliness, what are you waiting for? Get over there and read!

Mike Cosper has a new post up about the tone of political discourse, using the recent Rush Limbaugh “slut” debacle as a jumping-off point. And speaking of that, you also need to read Doug Wilson’s take (although I disagree with him on the helpfulness of certain, ahem, terminology). Karen Tumulty and Kirsten Powers, though rightly condemning Limbaugh’s behavior (as well as his completely unapologetic apology), shine a light on the hypocrisy of screeching about woman-bashing when it comes from the right, while chuckling indulgently at Bill Maher’s sexist diatribes. Those last two have some salty language (mostly quotes) and a few asterisked-out vulgarities.

I really, really wish Doug Wilson would use a different tag/label system on his blog, because he’s been doing a series on 1 Corinthians for awhile, just commenting through verse by verse, and it’s extremely helpful, but there’s no way to get them all together. Of course you can do a search for “The Basket Case Chronicles” but that’s not very efficient. Argh. Anyway, here’s the most recent installment. Really good, sensible, helpful stuff.

Mark Baddeley’s Series on “New Atheism”

At the Matthias Media blog is well worth a read. It’s an eight (!!) part series of articles on New Atheism” (from Dawkins et al), explaining why he doesn’t think it’s particularly threatening in the long term, where its weaknesses are, who its prime targets are, and who does a better job of it than the atheist literati who spend too much time rolling their eyes at everyone who dares disagree with their hyper-empiricist worldview.

Here’s a quote from the first article:

I think the New Atheists are overrated. I find myself underwhelmed at their bus campaigns, their books, the way that journalists throw softball questions in response to their every problematic pronouncement, and their whole position. I have been scratching my head for years trying to work out where all the interest in them comes from, let alone why they are treated as some kind of serious attack on religion in general, let alone the Christian faith in particular.

Recently I discovered that I am not alone. Nathan Campbell on his blog discussed a particularly strong gaffe moment for Richard Dawkins, where Dawkins argued for deliberate discrimination against scientists with religious beliefs, and got taken to task by the commentators who would otherwise be thought to be natural allies. Before that Scott Stephens riffed on the ABC website on a theme covered several times in places like the First Things website—the lack of philosophical awareness and moral seriousness among the celebrity New Atheists. Overall, the movement looks more like a fad than a sober cultural movement.

Read the whole series starting here (all the installments are linked, handily, at the bottom of the first page).

How To Be Awesome, 3.2

Read on to discover how Anonymous Married Dude thinks men should pursue (some interesting stuff here for you fellas who’ve been turned down already!) and how ladies should respond.

How did you decide to ask girls out? Did you just see her and do that cartoon aaa-OOO-gah thing and go, “I need to ask her out like whoa”? Or was there more to it than that?

I didn’t have an MO. It depended on the situation. In one case, before coming to Sojourn, I liked a girl in my CG. I thought things could get weird in that situation, so I asked my CG leaders about it before pursuing the girl. In two other cases during my time at seminary, I became interested in and attracted to girls, and then after being around them in social situations a few times, I told them that I would like to get to know them better. That meant asking them out for a one-on-one event.

What’s the lamest response you’ve ever gotten from a girl you asked out? Best?

I haven’t got any “lame” responses from girls. I’ve had some painful and uncomfortable situations, but I know it’s tough for girls to reject a guy, so I don’t fault them for those painful times. Sometimes things in life just hurt.

What was your typical first-date strategy?

I’ve only dated two girls, and one of them is now my wife. Like I said above, I didn’t have an MO, I was just winging it.

What should a guy’s strategy be on the first date?

Talk! Don’t hog the time to sell yourself, but don’t be a bump on the log. Ask questions and be honest.

Awesomest DTR?

My awesomest DTR was with the woman who is now my wife. After we had hung out several times alone, I told her I wanted us to date exclusively with the intention of figuring out if we wanted to marry each other. Then I asked her if I could hold her hand. [Laura's note: awwwww!]

What do you think you did well when it comes to starting the relationship you’re in right now? What do you wish you’d done differently?

I was intentional and honest from the beginning about where I hoped the relationship would go. I hope it’s not arrogant or naive to say that I don’t wish I had done something differently at the beginning.

Advice to guys for getting over it when a girl turns him down or dumps him?

If a girl turns you down, either move on graciously or continue to pursue in a non-creepy way. In most cases, if a girl turns you down, she’s not going to start liking you at some point in the future, so move on. If you insist on continuing to try to win her over, don’t be a creep. Don’t tell her it’s God’s will for her to be with you, because your conviction is really just a feeling. Don’t ask her out every week. Take advantage of opportunities in group social settings to get to know her and talk to her about things other than your interest in her (she won’t forget that you told her you liked her).

Other general advice for dudes? [Laura's note: brace yourselves, because this is AWESOME.]

Realize that the dating arena is just as tough for girls as it is for you.

Don’t play games with girls.

With few exceptions, the lag time between your awareness of your own interest in or attraction to a girl, and the time you tell her about that interest should be as short as possible.

Take advantage of your singleness. The “gift of singleness” isn’t a curse that God imposes on you for life. It’s God’s good gift just like the gift of marriage. God’s good gifts have great blessings and they will also test you to make you more like Jesus. If you are single the question is, “Do I desire Jesus more than I desire a wife?” And as a married man, the question is still, “Do I desire Jesus more than I desire my wife?”

Advice for the ladies on how not to be unkind or otherwise awful when saying no thanks? Other general advice for ladies?

Be direct and to the point. “I’m not interested,” or “No, thanks,” will suffice. Perhaps you’re thinking, “I’m confused, maybe things could work out, if…” You don’t owe that detail to the guy. If you’re interested say, “Yes,” and if you aren’t or don’t know, say, “No, thanks.” I know that might seem abrupt and terse, but like I said above, some things just hurt. There’s no way around hurting a guy when you’re not interested. If you say things you think aren’t “hurtful,” you are giving him false hope, which hurts him.

Ladies, as Christian sisters, you owe a guy kindness and truth. You don’t owe him an explanation of your feelings, or the reasons why you’re not interested or attracted to him.

Give to the Winds Your Fears (God Will Lift Up Your Head)

Give to the winds thy fears;
hope and be undismayed.
God hears thy sighs and counts thy tears,
God shall lift up thy head.

Through waves and clouds and storms,
God gently clears the way;
wait thou God’s time; so shall this night
soon end in joyous day.

Leave to God’s sovereign sway
to choose and to command;
so shalt thou, wondering, own that way,
how wise, how strong this hand.

Let us in life, in death,
thy steadfast truth declare,
and publish with our latest breath
thy love and guardian care.

Paul Gerhardt, tr. by John Wesley

(And as a bonus, here’s Jars of Clay’s version from their outstanding “Redemption Songs” album.)

How To Be Awesome, 3.1

In this week’s installment, Anonymous Married Dude reflects on how he went from single to married and gives some amazingly good advice to unmarried Dudes everywhere. Read on and enjoy.

So, tell me about yourself, vaguely.

I was raised in a Christian home, but I was not born again until my adult years. I came to seminary single, and did not marry until after graduation. I was single until my 30s.

Current relationship status?

Married.

Dude, what’s UP with the Christian dating scene? Seriously. Diagnose.

I can’t speak much to our particular church’s dating scene, because my wife didn’t attend there until we became engaged. I can speak a little about the seminary dating scene, and yes, it’s a little weird. It seems to be one of two extremes. On one extreme is the hyper manly dude who vomits professions of undying love and concrete plans on a girl at the first meeting. He thinks it’s godly and manly to gush forth the plan of God for both their lives – of course, God neglected to tell the girl the plan. If the girl isn’t interested, then he thinks God calls him to be annoying until the girl gives in (this can happen, but it isn’t the norm).

The other extreme is the guy who thinks he has to be best friends with a girl before he can even ask her for coffee, as though, if it’s “God’s will” for them to be together, then that means he doesn’t have to stick his neck out.

What did you learn growing up about this nightmare that is Christian dating? Any particular influences? How have your views changed over time?

I learned that guys have to be honest, open, and intentional pursuers of woman. Pursuing a woman in this way makes good things happen during dating and it leads to the ability to look back on dating with no regrets.

The main ways my views have changed are in the area of “the gift of singleness.” It is not a special curse. It is not a gift in the sense that God gives you special powers to not want sex or not want to be married. It is a gift in the sense that every area and season of your life is a good thing that God can use for his glory. All good gifts are from God.

How many girls do you think you’ve asked out in your life? Estimate.

Four.

Do you think guys can be something besides the stereotypical alpha male, and still be successful?

Guys don’t have to be a stereotypical alpha male, but they do have to man up. They have to risk something in pursuing a woman. Risking and pursuing means something different for every couple. But at some level, be it public embarrassment or merely private “rejection,” a guy needs to risk rejection and pursue a woman. I think ladies are gracious in this area. Most of them appreciate how hard it can be for guys to make a move. A guy may just stumble into a marriage without pursuing the lady, but I think in hindsight, both of them will regret the absence of risk and pursuit.

What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome in the dating arena?

The biggest obstacle I had to overcome in dating was putting too much of my heart into a hoped for relationship before the lady was interested. In other words, I dreamed up big plans before a girl even liked me. I made big plans before I told them of my interest, and even after they turned me down, I kept hoping for something that was never to be.

What was your biggest advantage in this area?

The dating arena is now in my rear-view mirror, but by God’s grace, I can look back and say that I didn’t play games with the ladies I pursued as a Christian, and I was honest with them about my intentions.

Tune in on Monday when Anonymous Married Dude tells us about the DTR he had with his wife and gives a bunch more stellar advice to men and women alike.

Eschatology (Gulp) Matters, Part Two

(Important side note before we get started: how you approach a couple of key passages tends to make a big difference in where you land. If you approach apocalyptic literature in the same way that you do a narrative passage — like narrative, but future tense — you’ll probably land in one of the first two views. If you approach it more like you would the Bible’s wisdom literature or even prophecy — filled with imagery and metaphorical language — you’re much more likely to end up in one of the latter two categories.)

OK, so let’s just do a quick overview of the four main views, in very broad strokes (and for all of these, I’m indebted to this site and particularly this one, which includes some outstanding simplified outlines of these views — if you’re a visual learner like me, you’ll want to click through to see them):

1. Dispensational pre-millennialism. This fairly recently-developed view is based on the idea that Daniel 9 and Revelation 20 are to be read as strictly chronological accounts of entirely future events. Things on Earth will grow increasingly dire, then God’s people will be raptured just before a time of great persecution when a human ruler, the Anti-Christ, will have control over the whole Earth. Jesus will return and reign from Jerusalem for a thousand chronological years, after which the Judgment will take place and all God’s people will be then taken together into glory. People who hold to this view tend to be very watchful for Christ’s imminent return as well as world events that line up with prophetic or apocalyptic passages of Scripture.

2. Historic pre-millennialism. While this view shares some of the chronology of the first view, it tends to see some of the events described in Revelation as unfolding in history, not necessarily in a way that obviously links them to the impending return of Christ. People who hold to this position believe that the return of Christ may be in the very-distant future, and hold that the millennium may or may not constitute one thousand actual years. It’s called “historic” because it has been held in some form since the late second and early third centuries, whereas the Dispensationalist version has only been around since the 19th century.

3. Post-millennialism. Post-millennialists believe that the millennium is best understood as a future period (not a literal thousand years, but a long time) of Christ’s special reign over the earth from heaven, marked by a steady increase of the influence of the Gospel until the entire world has been Christianized. When the whole earth is filled with the knowledge of God through Christ, Jesus will return in glory to judge and to bring all of God’s people into glory with him. This view particularly focuses on the prophecies given to Abraham about all nations being blessed through him, and the passages throughout the Old Testament that refer to the growing and spreading of the knowledge of the Lord in the last days. Daniel and Revelation are seen in light of their original audience (the Exiles and the first-century Christians, respectively), and most, if not all, of the events of the apocalyptic passages of Scripture are thought to have already taken place — i.e. that they are immediately applicable to their hearers and are meant to encourage us by extension, rather than give us a timeline of future events.

4. Amillennialism. Amillenialists believe that Christ ushered in the millennium at his ascension into Heaven, and that we are now living in it. They tend to focus on the tension in the New Testament between “the Kingdom is at hand/among you” and “now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face,” as well as the narrative of the constant expansion of the Gospel to all nations, beginning in Acts. They differ with Post-millennialists on the role of the Church in this “already/not yet” age: where Post-mills see a time when the Church is completely triumphant on Earth before the return of Christ, Amills believe that the Church will continue to be persecuted and suffer until Christ’s return, though there may be times of greater or lesser success as the Gospel continues to go forth to the nations.

Now. That’s a lot. I never realized that there were other views besides the first two until fairly recently, and though I don’t think the first two are untenable, per se, in studying the Scriptures I found myself leaning toward a pretty settled Amillennial position… though with occasional jaunts into Postmillennialism depending on how much Douglas Wilson I happen to be reading and how much the sun is shining and how well things tend to be going in my own life. Personally, I am automatically… not suspicious perhaps, but not really excited to latch onto any view on any Christian doctrine that 1800 years’ worth of really smart believers never thought of, but I don’t think this issue is important enough to argue about too much, so even if you’re firmly committed to the first view, that’s fine. Christians can know absolutely nothing about this issue except to say, “Yup, I believe Jesus is coming back,” and they will be A-OK, and they can disagree with each other about it without breaking fellowship. (I mean honestly, imagine Jesus standing in the room next to you right now: is he cool with you being cold or dismissive or, God forbid, divisive toward your brothers and sisters over the timing of his return? I’m guessing not.)

The bottom line with all this is, the passages of Scripture that talk about persecution or that address eschatology are almost always followed up with an exhortation to the reader to do a couple of things: 1) cling to Jesus, and 2) get off your toches and tell people about Jesus. So whether you think that the Bible teaches that Christ’s return is just around the corner or many thousands of years into the future, whether you see in its pages a literal and eventual thousand-year reign or a time we’re already in, your mission, Christian, is clear: teach your children, your neighbors, your friends, your family about the Gospel. Live it out in your relationships. Don’t spend your time searching charts or pooh-poohing them. Act like you really, truly have been radically transformed by a Victorious and Conquering King who will one day return, on whatever timeline the Father in his good wisdom chooses.

What I’m Reading Wednesday

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes to this brief article by Douglas Wilson on the exceedingly-rare gift of celibacy (not the mythical “gift of singleness”). Best line: “If it needs to be supported by porn, it isn’t the gift of celibacy.” HA! In all seriousness, though, I do wish people would get that the gift of celibacy is rare, usually permanent, and always connected to a specific mission (i.e., you probably don’t have it).

This isn’t exactly something I’ve read this week, but… I guess a new pet peeve as of this week: the tendency, particularly among Christians (even really smart ones), to use the word “ruthless” when we mean “relentless” or “unwavering” or “steadfast” — as in God’s ruthless grace or So-and-so’s ruthless trust in God. Pro tip: “ruthless” means “without pity or compassion, merciless, cruel.”

I LOVED this article from Kevin DeYoung on the grace of assuming the best about people. If you don’t read ANY of the other articles in this week’s roundup, read this one.

A couple more good ones from my pastors. The Midtown campus of Sojourn, my dear church, has an art gallery, and here Daniel explains why (and why not), and here recaps our most recent medical clinic. And on his blog, Mike eloquently addresses the criticism of the practice of Ash Wednesday.

My kiddos have been reading some classic short stories as they write their own narratives in Composition (my one complaint about their Humanities curriculum is that it just doesn’t include enough poetry or short stories). A few must-reads: “The Yellow Wallpaper,” “The Lottery,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “To Build A Fire.”

I swiped this from my buddy B-Lilz: Bearded Gospel Men. Cracked me up. That Clement of Alexandria was adamant about beards, man, like whoa. (For the record: I am strongly in favor of the resurgence of full-beardedness — so freakin’ masculine! — but bros, if you can’t keep it neat, or if it’s patchy or otherwise skeevy, shave it off. Love ya.)

This article by Dr. Moore, on the true future hope of the Christian, is AMAZING and you should not only read it but pass it along to everyone you know.

On a less-serious note, this weekend was the Oscars, of course, and so there’s fashion stuff galore to wade through. For the first time, I found myself disagreeing with probably more than half of Heather and Jessica’s assessments on Oscar gowns! But this Slate slide show was pretty accurate, IMO. Oof, Glenn Close and Ellie Kemper. Amazing. In fact, i super-wish there’d been a photo of them together! (Although Gwyneth’s Norma-Desmond-esque caped getup is growing on me the more times I see photos of it — maybe it’s into “awesomely overdramatic” territory rather than “eye-rollingly overdramatic”?)

Back to serious: I came across this video again and thought it was worth posting here. It’s so good and deserves watching and rewatching. What if the Bible is basically about Jesus instead of us?

Eschatology (Gulp) Matters

This week, I talked with my students about eschatology. In case you’re not familiar with the term, it basically refers to one’s beliefs about how this ol’ world is going to be wrapped up, and what happens to people when they die. Does the world end with a bang? Or a whimper? Or something else?

I used to be one of those people who smartly called myself a “pan-millennialist.” It’s all going to pan out in the end, har har har. I didn’t really think much about it for most of my life, and if I did it was with a frisson of panic. I didn’t buy the whole pre-tribulation rapture thing (the idea that God’s going to snatch Christians up out of the world before things get too bad), so eschatology scared the bejeebers out of me because I figured that if I were around when Jesus came back, my life would have sucked real bad for a long time before that. It was not a happy place inside my head, so I just kind of pushed it to one side, comforted myself with the fact that I believed the Scriptures were true and God was kind, and forgot about it.

And then, a couple years ago, I had to teach about it. So I found a few good resources and some good visual aids and summaries of the four major Christian views, and I realized I already believed something about eschatology, and it wasn’t scary at all!

One of the things that came up in the course of my recent conversation with my students was that some of the views of “end times” (though I shudder to use that term) are very optimistic about the world here and now and where it’s headed, and others are very pessimistic. If you think the Scriptures teach that things are getting worse all the time, and that this world is going downhill and headed for destruction, but that believers are going to be zapped out before things get catastrophic and their souls rushed to an eternity-long worship service in heaven… OR if you think the Scriptures point to an age when the Gospel will go forth triumphantly into the nations, and the influence of Jesus’ kingdom will extend and extend and extend until the whole Earth is filled with the knowledge of God and then Jesus will return to judge the world and reign forever on an eternal throne in a renewed creation… how could that not influence your understanding of everything in this life?

So, what do you believe? Is your eschatology optimistic or pessimistic, and why? I’m putting together a quick overview of the four major Christian views, and I’ll tell you why I basically completely reject two of them and bounce indecisively back and forth between the other two. ;)

Downton Abbey: Season Three Predictions, Wild Dreams, and Sundry Other Prognostications

Well, folks, what do we think about next season? I thought it would be fun to do a few polls, so please share this around on your favorite social media things (if you haven’t given it up for Lent!), so we can have plenty of opinions! :)

Let’s start at the beginning:

What about the general contents of the season?

What else? Other predictions in the comments, please!

First Sunday in Lent: Abide With Me

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail, and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, abide with me.

Thou on my head in early youth didst smile;
And, though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me though I oft left Thee!
On to the close, Lord, abide with me.

I need Thy presence every passing hour.
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, abide with me.

I fear no foe with Thee at hand to bless!
Ills have no weight, tears lose their bitterness:
Where is thy sting, Death? Where, Grave, thy victory?
I triumph still; abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, Lord, abide with me.

Henry Lyte, alt. Justin Smith