Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A small observation about the Mark Driscoll thing

The Mark Driscoll train-wreck has highlighted a problematic aspect of American Evangelism, that hasn't been much commented on. So in some of the reporting, for example this article from Christianity Today, you'll read about the "Accountability Board" who are a group of people, generally far from Seattle who are meant oversee Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill. Many of Mark's current difficulties were sown when he became part of the Christian celebrity industrial-complex and it was all about promoting and protecting the "brand". In a sense he became the bishop of his new denomination and this Accountability Board was a type of un-elected Synod, but not a terribly effective one. Weirdly, they were meant to oversee all sorts of important stuff from a distance with little actual on the ground contact. Not only is this model of creating a new denomination with a business like "Accountability Board" ineffective, it's also ungodly. Being the leader of a congregation is like being a shepherd (1 Peter 5:1-4).  This isn't a nebulous metaphor, being a shepherd requires gritty regular attention, not fly-in-fly-out oversight. This type of structure also ignores the ancient and limited geographical structure of God's gathered people. Someone on the other side of the country simply has less power and responsibility than someone close by. This is why the Anglican and Presbyterian models of power concentrated within certain geographical areas will survive deep into the future. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Yes, you're entitled to your opinion

Like everyone else I'm for herd immunity, and like some people I believe the Holocaust of six million Jews was a sad and real historical event and that Al-Qaeda organised the September-11 attacks. But when it's appropriate to respond to Holocaust deniers or such like, we should do so with reasoning, not ad hominem attacks. John Dickson linked to this article by Philosopher Patrick Stokes; which was meant to argue that people who have opinions should defend them with arguments. However what Stokes really does is argue for "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." He says as much here: "And this attitude feeds, I suggest, into the false equivalence between experts and non-experts that is an increasingly pernicious feature of our public discourse." No Stokes, amateurs and experts alike can weigh up the validity of arguments.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Jars of Clay thing: logic, gender, sex and culture

Reductio ad absurdum is a useful tool for testing the truth (correspondence to reality) of a premise by seeing if it's true in all cases. However it's also just that, a tool. Logically an argument can be valid (arguments should be valid, premises true and terms clear) if the claim is that 'gender and sexuality should be ordered a certain way.' Firstly, there is no contradiction if an exception is found, for example gay dolphins or consenting adults; because the original argument is contingent, gender and sexuality should be ordered a certain way. But secondly it's a fallacy to say 'gender and sexuality are whatever we want them to be because of those examples', that's making a inductive claim about the whole world based on a limited set of exceptions, an argument from selective observation.

At the moment it's very controversial to link a discussion of gender to the male and female sex organs. This isn't say that the expression of gender is cultural; with lots of regional variation but nonetheless the categories exist and Scripture wants us to affirm the cultural expression of distinct genders. In other words the Christian claim is that God made genetic gender differences and the cultural differences which flow from those genetic distinctions. Regional cultural variations, ambiguous gender at birth and variations in your internal sense of gender are not in of themselves logical arguments against affirming gender distinctions.

Sexual activity, like all of ordinary life has an existential effect on our psyche but like other ordinary activities (such as eating or travelling) shouldn't be the source of our identity. The essence of being human isn't our rationality, appetites, appearance or our sexuality. There are a range of sexual activities, desires and situations that we have access to; that's why those Old Testament laws focus on sex acts and not on sexuality. This is also why "same-sex attraction" is a more accurate term than "homosexuality", which seems to mean a certain set of cross-gender behaviours.

So the front man of Jars of Clay has come out in support of same-sex marriage, you can read out it here. My knowledge of the Christian music genre is limited, but for me they represented the archetypal Christian-band. After the Enlightenment, it seemed the world was divided between the real rational stuff and the esoteric irrational stuff, with the history of philosophy since then defending the primacy of one or the other. The variety of relationships between Gospel and Culture are often an echo of this philosophical history. Jars of Clay represented the impulse to Christianise certain aspects of the real rational world, 'see Christ does speak to the real world, this is a Christian pop-band.' I think this Jars of Clay thing signals the end of that particular approach to Christ and Culture.