Archive for October, 2011


Kenton Sparks on Fundamentalism

October 23, 2011

“At its heart, each of these [fundamentalist] movements views modernism as a threat to the stability of culture and to the predictability of life. Fundamentalists yearn for a world in which all is fixed and certain. For this reason they militantly eschew anything and anyone that introduces doubt, uncertainty, or ambiguity into their worldview. This ideology puts fundamentalism into direct conflict with modernism because modernity is the product of a world gone international and intercultural. But modernity is not the creator of pluralism, as fundamentalists often suppose. Modernity’s pluralism is instead the inevitable consequence of human diversity — and it is contact with this diversity, and its ‘pollution,’ that fundamentalism fears.

“Fundamentalism’s response to modernism is a kind of ideological paranoia that features two interrelated defensive strategies. First, every fundamentalism secures the uniqueness of its worldview by claiming access to an inerrant text or authority that provides perfect knowledge. This assertion not only secures the validity of the community’s beliefs but also ensures that the beliefs of outsiders are in error. Nothing is more important to a fundamentalist than being right and being sure of it. Fundamentalism’s second defensive strategy erects a thick cultural wall between the community and those outside it. The primary purpose of this wall is to prevent contact with opposing views that might challenge or raise too much doubt about the community’s worldview. As a rule, this barrier is constructed by forbidding or greatly discouraging the study of materials that come from those outside the fundamentalist guild. For instance, while Christian fundamentalists are quite likely to read descriptions of modern evolutionary theory that have been written by other fundamentalists, they would rarely study a book that was written by an evolutionist, or study evolutionary biology in a university setting. For most fundamentalists, such pursuits would be a waste of time at best, and downright dangerous at worst.

“… [T]he difficulty in circular reasoning is that it includes far fewer pieces of reality than it should. It juggles a few balls successfully when there are many other balls that should be juggled. Fundamentalists attempt to perpetuate this illusion of hermeneutical success by denying the existence of the extra balls. But so long as Christian fundamentalists live in the real world, they will face an almost constant barrage of evidence that does not fit their view of things — evidence that the universe is very old, that evolution is true, that languages were not created at the tower of Babel, that there was no worldwide flood, and so forth. This is a list that could be easily extended. It is pitiful and even painful to watch as naive fundamentalist students nervously and fearfully traverse their first year university Bible classes, flailing desperately to keep their heads above the water in a sea of evidence that neither they, nor their parents and pastors, suspected could exist. At the same time, it is truly exciting to see thoughtful and healthy Christian students, fully committed to the theological orthodoxies of the Christian tradition, who are able to traverse those same seas with a spirit of enthusiasm for discovery. Fundamentalism fears the evidence that challenges its views; healthy Christian orthodoxy revels in the evidence, since it believes that all evidence, properly understood, will lead to a healthier view of life and faith.”

-Kenton L. Sparks, God’s Word in Human Words, pp. 307-08




Driscoll and the God of Hate

October 10, 2011

It was only a few days ago that Roger Olson offered these thoughts on why he could not be a Calvinist:

It seems to me that most 5 point Calvinists I know seem bound and determined to believe anything they think the Bible says regardless of how horrific that may be.  In other words, IF they became convinced that somehow they had been overlooking something in Scripture (as they think I do) and, in fact, God and the devil are actually the same being such that God is evil, they would believe it because the Bible says it.  I, on the other hand, presuppose that God cannot be evil; that goodness and being belong inextricably together or else there is no ground for basic trust.

That’s why we cannot be Calvinists–because IF WE believed what Calvinists believe God would not be good and therefore could not be trusted.  We realize that Calvinists (at least most) do not believe God is a monster, but we are saying if WE believed what they believe we would find it necessary to think of God that way–as indistinguishable from the devil.  I find most (all?) Calvinists simply sweep that aside as unworthy of consideration and fall back on quoting isolated Bible passages that they think prove their view of God and salvation, etc.

As if on cue, Mark Driscoll devoted a good portion of his sermon yesterday to proving Olson’s point. Here’s a sampling [skip to 4:30 if you don’t have the time to watch it all]:

The quote at 4:30 is as follows:

Some of you, God hates you. Some of you, God is sick of you. God is frustrated with you. God is wearied by you. God has suffered long enough with you. He doesn’t think you’re cute. He doesn’t think it’s funny. He doesn’t think your excuse is meritous [sic]. He doesn’t care if you compare yourself to someone worse than you. He hates them too. God hates, right now, personally, objectively hates some of you.

I have a few questions:

1) What about the rest of the Bible?

Driscoll tells us that God hates, not just sin, but sinners themselves. In support of this proposition, Driscoll quotes a few verses from the imprecatory Psalms. This is exactly what Olson was talking about – the idea that we’ve no choice but to adopt a view of God, no matter how repulsive, if there are a few isolated verses that appear to support it. Does Driscoll really think that the best place to look for clear insight on God’s character is in the anguished cries of a psalmist imploring God to punish his enemies?

Why should those verses force us to overlook the many passages that describe God’s attitude toward the wayward as one of love:

Proverbs 3:12 “For the Lord disciplines those he loves, just as a father disciplines the son in whom he delights.”

Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Ephesians 2:4-5 “But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you are saved!”

Luke 13:34 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would have none of it!”

The overwhelming message of Scripture is that God’s posture towards the rebellious is one of broken-hearted love, not hate.

2) What is the psychological impact of this view of God?

I worry for the children and young people in this church. What kind of fear-based relationship with the Almighty is engendered by your pastor hollering at you that God is sick of you, that God “personally, objectively” hates you?  If you internalize the message that God hates you, it’s going to be hard to shake those fears no matter how repentant you become. What if I slip up? What if I fall short? Is the terrifying, wrathful God of hate gone for good or is he hiding around the corner, ready to punish me the moment he gets sick of me again?

As Rob Bell has observed, it’s hard to trust a God who can switch between hate and love in an instant.

3) Where is God the Father?

If you’ve listened to Driscoll enough, you’ll know that he frequently draws upon his experience as a father to explain God’s relationship with us. Strangely, we don’t hear any of those analogies here. We don’t hear Pastor Mark explaining how he hates his children when they rebel. He doesn’t mention that his hatred towards his rebellious children is only assuaged by pouring out his wrath on them (or someone in their stead).

Perhaps we don’t hear this from Driscoll because he’s actually a good and decent father. And because the heart of a good father towards a rebellious child is one of love and reconciliation, not hate.

4) How should we feel towards those outside the church?

Let’s be consistent. If God hates sinners, then so should we. I even have a verse from an imprecatory Psalm to prove it:

Psalm 139:21-22 “O Lord, do I not hate those who hate you, and despise those who oppose you? I absolutely hate them, they have become my enemies!”

I guess we have to follow this verse uncritically as well. Seems the Westboro Baptist Church had the right idea all along.

If you believe God hates sinners, it’s going to affect how you treat them.

5) Is Driscoll’s God “good” in any meaningful sense of the word?

Driscoll’s theology makes a monster out of God. He insists that, “God doesn’t just hate what you do. He hates who you are.” In other words, God hates you because of your sinful nature. Remember that thing you were born with? That thing about which you had absolutely no choice? That’s the thing that makes God hate you.

The idea of God hating people because of a nature they were born with (as per Driscoll’s theology) is the moral equivalent of hating people because of the color of their skin. It’s abhorrent.

6) What does vengeance have to do with justice?

In my view, the most telling part of the sermon comes when Driscoll says the following [at 0:55]:

Some of you say, yes, this is the problem with religion. It’s so primitive. It wants things like justice. And might I say, when someone breaks into your home, so do you. [long pause] It’s the wrath of God.

It’s fairly self-evident that the purpose of the pause is to allow Driscoll’s audience of 20-something men to imagine how they’d want to kick the crap out of someone who broke into their house. This is supposed to help them understand why God wants to kick the crap out of them.

Driscoll’s imaginary critic is quite right. That is “primitive”. Because what Driscoll is describing is not justice – it’s vengeance.

As a criminal defence lawyer, I routinely represent people who have broken into other people’s homes (and worse). Most have tragic stories of dysfunctional families, physical or sexual abuse, abandonment, and drug addiction. The prosecutor will often invite the victim to submit a “victim impact statement” to the court. Some victims are just like Driscoll’s notion of God. They want “justice”, by which they mean that they want the offender to be punished. They were hurt and they want to see the offender hurt in return. In short, they want revenge.

The nobler of the victims respond differently. Sure, they recognize the need for consequences. But they are more concerned with seeing the offender rehabilitated. They want consequences that serve a purpose, namely, to see the offender restored to society. Sometimes they even offer forgiveness, unsolicited.

Justice may require consequences, but by no means does it require the hatred or retributive wrath that Driscoll ascribes to God. [For more on this point, see this thoughtful piece by Steve Douglas.]

Like Roger Olson, I am convinced that the “‘goodness’ attributed to God cannot be totally different from every understanding of goodness (and love) we know of.”

If God is perfectly good, then surely he rises above the human instinct to seek revenge. Surely the Heavenly Father does not hate his children for being what they cannot help but be. Surely he is more like the father of the prodigal son, scanning the horizon for any sign of his beloved child returning.


Did Science Denial Kill Steve Jobs?

October 7, 2011

When a man with a net worth of $7 billion dies after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, you assume that he succumbed to his disease in spite of the best medical intervention money can buy. In part, this is true. Steve Jobs underwent a surgery that rearranged his digestive organs in 2004 and a liver transplant in 2009.

But, sadly, proper medical treatment wasn’t his first course of action. After receiving his cancer diagnosis in 2003, Jobs delayed seeking conventional medical treatment for some nine months. Why? Apparently, Jobs had been taken in by peddlers of alternative medicine. A 2008 article from Fortune magazine reported:

While a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is often tantamount to a swiftly executed death sentence, a biopsy revealed that Jobs had a rare – and treatable – form of the disease. If the tumor were surgically removed, Jobs’ prognosis would be promising: The vast majority of those who underwent the operation survived at least ten years.

Yet to the horror of the tiny circle of intimates in whom he’d confided, Jobs was considering not having the surgery at all. A Buddhist and vegetarian, the Apple CEO was skeptical of mainstream medicine. Jobs decided to employ alternative methods to treat his pancreatic cancer, hoping to avoid the operation through a special diet – a course of action that hasn’t been disclosed until now.

Yesterday, Brian Dunning wondered aloud whether earlier medical intervention might have prolonged Jobs’ life. According to Dunning, life expectancy for this form of cancer depends on how quickly the tumor is removed:

The median survival is about a decade, but it depends on how soon it’s removed surgically. Steve caught his very early, and should have expected to survive much longer than a decade. Unfortunately Steve relied on a naturopathic diet instead of early surgery. There is no evidence that diet has any effect on islet cell carcinoma. As he dieted for nine months, the tumor progressed, and took him from the high end to the low end of the survival rate.

Jobs deserves credit for dumping the advice of the cancer-diet charlatans when it clearly wasn’t working. But one has to wonder whether giving the tumor an additional nine months to grow made a difference is his long-term health outcome.

It would be wrong to call Jobs a science denier. After all, he built an empire by staying on the cutting edge of computing technology. But when it came to the health sciences, for a brief but critical period of time he ignored the advice from the cutting edge of that field. He got conned into buying an abacus when he really needed a MacBook.

I am sad that Steve Jobs has died. I am even more saddened by the scores of unnecessary deaths that result from otherwise intelligent people eschewing clinically-proven medical treatment in favor of ineffective fad alternatives. As Michael Specter puts it (in what is possibly the best TED talk I’ve ever watched), “We hate Big Pharma. We hate big government. We don’t trust the man. … So we run away from it. And where do we run? We leap into the arms of Big Placebo.”

Do yourself a favor and watch the video. Spread it around. It might just save someone’s life.