The Psychology and Theology of Halloween: The Collected Writings

As long time readers know, I've written a variety of Halloween-themed meditations over the years.

Some of these reflections have been about monsters.

Many have been about the existential aspects of Halloween.

In fact, many of these reflections made their way into Unclean, where I talk about monsters in Part 2 and about how mortality fears fuel body ambivalence in Part 3 (which, I think, is a lot of what is going on in Halloween). And some of this material has made its way into my upcoming book The Slavery of Death.

Have a blessed and Happy Halloween. A collection of reflections for the day:

Shame and the Schisms of the Church

Sometimes there are passages in the bible that come to dominate your imagination, for a season and even a lifetime. A passage I keep reading over and over, and reading to audiences over and over, is 1 Corinthians 12.21-25:
Corinthians 12.21-25
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 
I want to focus on that last phrase "that there should be no division in the body." The Greek word for division is schisma, where we get the word schism--a rent, tearing or ripping of the body of Christ.

The thing that totally rocks me about this text is how these schisms are created. In most of our churches, and throughout church history, schisms are due to doctrinal differences and conflict. But here Paul gets to something that I think is absolutely critical:

The schisms of the church are schisms of honoring and shaming.

What was creating schisms in the church at Corinth wasn't doctrinal. What created the schisms was the shaming of members of the church, the shaming of "weaker" members who were considered to be "unpresentable," members who lacked honor in the wider culture.

Paul's whole discussion about the spiritual gifts in 1 Cor. 12 isn't about getting you or I to inventory our talents. The chapter isn't meant to be a personality test for Christians. The point of discussing the gifts isn't that the gifts exist and that we each need to figure out our respective gifts.

The point in all this isn't that the gifts exist and that you and I have different gifts, but in how those gifts are honored or shamed. It's the shaming of gifts that is the issue.

The healing of schisms for Paul, then, is about learning how to honor properly. Christian community is learning how to honor less "honorable," "weaker," and "unpresentable" members. Division is healed when "the members have equal concern for each other." And this requires rehabilitative action in how we honor. The less honorable members require, according to Paul, "special treatment." In this we imitate God: God gives "greater honor to those who lacked it."

So that's the message I keep preaching--over and over--wherever I go. I'm a theological Johnny Appleseed about this. What is causing schisms in our churches isn't doctrine or theology.

What causes schisms in our churches is how we honor.

What causes schisms in our churches is how we shame people.

What causes schisms is how our churches fail to give "special treatment" and "special honor" to the "unpresentable" and "shameful" members of the church, those who lack honor in the world.

Beautiful Failures

The most important thing for us is to live our lives as if the gospels were true...We try to live our lives by the story of Jesus, but that story is not a success story; it is, rather, a failure story...

In the end, our vision concerns the one who loses in a way that is eloquent and beautiful because it has a consistent integrity with the sublime vision of scripture. It is called grace.

--Jeff Dietrich, from Broken and Shared

Best Comment Ever

Now I want you to know that I love all your comments, but a comment that just came in is so awesomely epic that I just had to share it. It may be my all-time favorite comment.

It came in on an old post where I reflect about the intersection of shame, neurosis, and clothing in Genesis 3 and point to some research about the dating of when humans first started wearing clothing. That will help clarify the references to pants in the comment.

Anyway, prepare for some awesomeness. Best. Comment. Ever.:
It's staggering how people with remarkably anemic historical background presume to comment on a subject they so demonstrably know nothing about, but that is indeed typical of so called "mental health professionals," members of an illegitimate occupation who invent names for fictitious "disorders" and who attempt to awe the credulous by projecting expertise in areas where they have no background beyond assumptions. Blending behaviorism with Christianity certainly does yield a bastardized hybrid of profane idiocy. That this guy is on a university faculty is a disgrace. I have a porch glider which is more knowledgeable about history than this tragicomical parody of an educated man. There is no need to post specifics about pants here because a well full of poisoned water cannot be used as a repository for clean H2O. Further contact will be refused as any linkage with behaviorists leaves rational people soiled. This puffed up imbecile would also prove to be a sex-typer of apparel when that has no biologic basis. He lives in Texas and has no cognizance of the equestrian causation of pants. God help his credulous scholastic listeners.
Many thanks to Charles from TX, a man who cares a great deal about the origins of pants. And God help you, my credulous scholastic listeners.

You've been warned.

Strange Fire in the Churches of Christ

This is not the post you think it is.

The Internet has been buzzing about John MacArthur's Strange Fire conference and the angst he has created with Reformed leaders, like Mark Driscoll, who are Charismatic.

This isn't a post about that conflict. To be honest, and to reveal just how little I know about and pay attention to Reformed Christianity, I had no idea who John MacArthur was before this brouhaha. I do recall seeing his name on the spines of books in bookstores, but I've never read anything he'd written or watched any sermons of his. But apparently he's a pretty big deal in Reformed circles.

And he's also a cessationist, which is what I want to talk about. Because my tradition, the Churches of Christ, is also cessationist. This is the view of the Holy Spirit that I grew up with.

To catch everyone up, cessationism is the view that the miraculous workings of the Holy Spirit ceased (thus the label "cessationism") after the apostolic era, generally the first century of the church. There are many aspects to this view but a few common ideas appear a lot. I'd like to mention the ideas that dominated in the Churches of Christ when I was growing up and how these ideas shaped how we viewed the bible and the activity of God in the world.

The central idea had to do with the relationship between the charismatic gifts and the bible.

Cessationists often argue that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were necessary during the apostolic era because there was no New Testament on hand. Thus, direction for the church had to be given through direct divine intervention, mainly through the apostles, but if one of those guys weren't on hand then through the members of the church exercising things like the charismatic gift of prophecy.

However, once the bible had been "completed," it is argued, there was no longer any need for the charismatic gifts. The bible, rather than prophetic utterances, would guide and correct faith and practice. Evangelistic persuasion would no longer require miraculous displays but be rooted in the proclamation of the gospel, using the bible to convict the heart and mind of sin.

Basically, the bible displaced the charismatic gifts.

Where did this idea come from? When I was growing up this argument was made by an appeal to 1 Corinthians 13:
1 Corinthians 13.8-10 (NASV)
Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.
The gifts will cease when "the perfect" comes. So what's "the perfect"? Well, any cogent exegesis of this passage would say that love is this perfection. That love is the gift that pushes all other gifts to the side. That's Paul's whole point in verses 1-3: if you have all this supernatural power but don't have love it profits you nothing.

But that's not what I was taught growing up. I was taught that "the perfect" was the bible. That when the bible came the charismatic gifts would cease.

This interpretation was supported by other passages that identified the activity of the Holy Spirit with the bible. For example, passages like this were used to defend a bibliocentric--nay, a biblioexclusive--vision of spiritual warfare:
Ephesians 6.16-17
In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
It was pointed out that the only offensive weapon for spiritual warfare mentioned in this text was "the word of God," which is also the "sword of the Spirit." Thus, it was argued, the way the Holy Spirit "does battle" with demonic and satanic forces is through proper use of the bible. If you want to call upon the Spirit pick up the bible, "the sword of the Spirit." The prime example of this was Jesus's own battle with Satan in the desert temptations. In each instance Jesus resists the Devil by quoting Scripture.

All of this, you can imagine, had a very deflationary effect on any robust charismatic vision of spiritual warfare. The battle with evil became about exchanging bible verses.

Spirituality was reduced to cognition, memory and rational argumentation.

Charismatic Christians, we were told, would object to all this, they would decry limiting and restricting the activity of the Holy Spirit to bible study. But we had a great proof text for them:
Hebrews 4:12
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
The Spirit working through the bible wasn't a dry academic exercise. The bible was alive and active. The bible cut deep.

In short, even all the dynamic language of God's activity in the world was located in the bible. To suggest that the Holy Spirit was somehow constrained or limited by the bible was deemed to be a lack of faith. See Hebrews 4.12.

All this added up to a couple of big conclusions.

To be spiritual was to be biblical.

To engage in spiritual warfare was to quote Scripture.

And perhaps most importantly of all, the only way God acted in your life and in the world was through the study and use of the bible.

And thus, the Holy Spirit became the bible.

That's a sketch of cessationist teaching in the Churches of Christ. But things have changed a lot over the last few decades. In the late '80s and early '90s a mild charismatic wave rolled over the Churches of Christ. No one began to speak in tongues or anything, but there was a growing realization that God was doing things in the world beyond our memory verses. Prayer and worship, in response, became more emotive and hands began to be raised.

Still, it's pretty mild stuff given our cessationist roots. I actually like where we are right now. Still very rational and generally suspicious of charismatic excess, but open to being interrupted by God and confessional about treating the bible in idolatrous ways.

And a final note, given that Halloween is upon us. 

You could tell in the '80s and '90s when the Churches of Christ starting thinking that spiritual warfare might, well, be spiritual (rather than biblical) warfare. It was when we stopped having Haunted Houses in our churches. I remember these well as a kid, putting on a Haunted House in the basement of our church. But those Haunted Houses are thing of the past.

The world has become increasingly enchanted for the Churches of Christ.

And, thus, a little more spooky.

Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 64, Strive To Be Loved Rather Than Feared

Chapter 64 of The Rule of St. Benedict has to do with the selection and election of an abbot. As this is the most powerful position in the monastery Benedict spends a lot of time describing the character traits an abbot should and should not possess.

Humility, obviously, is foundational:
8Let him recognize that his goal must be profit for the monks, not preeminence for himself.
Mercy is another key trait, especially in dealing with disciplinary issues:
10He should always "let mercy triumph over judgment" (Jas 2:13) so that he too might win mercy...15Let him strive to be loved rather than feared.
That might be one of the best leadership and management mottoes from The Rule: In a leadership role, strive to be loved rather than feared.

As far as traits to be avoiding in selecting leaders, Benedict offers up this list:
16Excitable, anxious, extreme, obstinate, jealous or oversuspicious he must not be. Such a man is never at rest.

Some Contrasts Regarding Gender Roles in Evangelicalism and Catholicism

Rare double post today. But I wanted to add some thoughts in light of my two recent posts Let's Stop Calling It Complementarianism and Hierarchical Complementarianism Implies Ontological Ineptitude.

The observations have to do with contrasts between how evangelicals and Catholics conceive of gender roles. Specifically, many of my characterizations and criticisms of what I called "hierarchical complementarianism" were aimed at evangelicals. Readers coming from Catholic perspectives felt that my descriptions of "complementarianism" or "hierarchical complementarianism" missed the mark in their tradition. Which isn't too surprising, because I wasn't thinking about the Catholic tradition. I should have made that more clear.

So I'd like to try to add some reflections to sort through, mainly for myself, some of the relevant issues and locations of contrast between evangelicalism and Catholicism regarding gender roles.

To start, both evangelicals and Catholics have patriarchal authority structures--men hold the offices/roles of "authority"--but there are some key differences and distinctions. And in many ways, the Catholic vision of gender roles is "better" than the evangelical vision if you have egalitarian sensibilities like mine.

In the Catholic vision authority is given to a celibate male priesthood. And to be honest, most priests at the parish level don't have a lot of authority. They administer the sacraments, to be sure, but they aren't deciding a lot of things for the church. Basically, priests do more service than leading. That in and of itself is an important point of reflection. And the celibacy allows the priest to be available and free to do this service.

The priests are celibate in that they are "married" to the church. In this relationship, the (male) priest and the (female) church represent a marriage union, a union that functions sacramentally as the union between (Father) God and the (Mother) Church or (Husband) Christ and the (Wife) Church. Consequently, the gender of the priest is symbolically and sacramentally important. As the priest stands in for God/Christ he sacramentally represents Father/Husband.

There are two aspects about this that are important contrasts with evangelicalism and how it conceives of gender and authority in the church.

First, becoming a priest is costly, a life of celibacy. But given the sacramental imagery involved (a marital/familial union with the church) the celibacy is critical. And in return for making this sacrifice "authority" is given to the male priest (or, more precisely, the priesthood). Though we should keep reminding ourselves that, outside of the Vatican, most priests live lives of service--radical availability to the parish--rather than exercise authority.

All that is a stark contrast with evangelicalism. In evangelicalism there is no cost--like lifelong celibacy--for being given authority. All that is required is that you are, biologically, a man. Consequently, "authority" in evangelicalism is less about vocation than birthright, being born with the correct anatomy. In evangelicalism merely by being a man you have the spheres of authority automatically opened to you. In evangelicalism authority is not, as it is in Catholicism, associated with notions of calling, discernment, equipping, training, discipline, submission, vocation, sacrifice and service. Authority is given, and held in perpetuity, solely on the basis of anatomy.

The second contrast has to do with the clergy/laity distinction. While it is true that males have authority in Catholicism the laity is comprised of both males and females. Which means, crucially for our purposes, that both males and females are being denied positions of authority. In this sense, the exclusion is egalitarian in nature. Both males and females are being told "No."

Something very different happens in evangelicalism. While there is no overt clergy/laity distinction in evangelicalism there is a functional distinction. Men get to serve in the priestly and pastoral roles. Functionally, men are the clergy. And women are the laity.

That's a part of the problem in evangelicalism. Evangelicalism makes every female a member of the laity and makes every male a member of the clergy. Irrespective of calling, vocation or aptitude.

Which means that while Catholicism is patriarchal, at least its laity is mixed gender. In Catholicism both men and women get the "No." But in evangelicalism the laity is solely women and the clergy are all the men, with one entire gender telling the entire other gender "No." The clergy/laity divide is split right down the gender line, with no remainder.

In a related way, the clergy/laity divide in Catholicism is also a domestic/church divide. The priests exercise authority in the church but not in their homes. Because the priests are unmarried.

But, once again, the situation in evangelicalism is very much different. And more sinister. The clergy/laity divide exists (men function as clergy) but the home/church divide is eradicated. The male authority dominates both spheres, at home and at church. Male authority, thus, effectively dominates every sphere of life.

All that to say, these differences are so significant that when I say "hierarchical complementarianism" I am not referring to the Catholic situation. I'm picking out how gender roles are typically described and defended in evangelicalism.

And as I hope you can see, as patriarchal as Catholicism is, I think evangelicalism is much, much worse.

Hierarchical Complementarianism Implies Ontological Ineptitude

I'm hesitant to write more about gender roles and complementarianism, but I'm puzzling through some of the responses to my post on Monday Let's Stop Calling It Complementarianism.

The most provocative part of that post was that I claimed that a belief in ontological ineptitude sat at the heart of the hierarchical complementarian position. In describing this I wrote:
Hierarchical complementarianism is founded upon the belief of ontological ineptitude. To say that men and women are "complements" of each other and that men are given the gifts of leadership in this arrangement is to argue that women are ontologically inept when it comes to leadership. That is, women are permanently lacking and incompetent in leadership spheres (ineptitude) because of the kinds of beings they are, namely women (ontology). That is the belief at the heart of hierarchical complementarianism...
In hindsight the word "ineptitude" might not have been best, a bit too strong. But ineptitude does mean "lacking in fitness" and "ill-suited to the situation or occasion." And those are the main ideas I had in mind in picking that word.

Regardless, it's not surprising that many evangelicals objected to the argument of my post.

(There were also objections from those working from a Catholic framework, but traditions with celibate priesthoods are not working, in my estimation, with a "complementarian" position. I elaborated upon this today in a companion post: Some Contrasts Regarding Gender Roles in Evangelicalism and Catholicism. Consequently, when I speak about "complementarianism" I'm speaking of the view held by many evangelicals.)

The basic rejoinder I heard from evangelical readers was that gender roles are rooted in a creational account rather than endowment, that the issue is more about roles, vocations and calling than competencies and giftedness. The hierarchical complementarians who objected to ontological ineptitude were quick to state that they knew women to be very capable and competent in a variety of leadership spheres, but that this didn't really have any bearing upon the roles God set out for men and women at Creation.

I've been pondering that response. I actually wrote a whole post addressing this objection from a completely different direction. But thinking some more I've decided to say something more provocative. This:

I don't think those who are raising these sorts of objections actually believe what they are saying.

Well, they might not believe it consciously, but ontological ineptitude is implicit in the hierarchical complementarian position. So those endorsing the view will need to make a reckoning.

We all believe things we don't think we believe until it's pointed out to us. So let me point some things out.

If you really believe that God's assignment of men and women to their various roles/vocations has nothing whatsoever to do with intrinsic competencies then you are basically claiming that the only reason God assigned the genders to their respective roles is genitalia. Because if there are no competency differences--no relevant distinctives between the genders regarding their psychological and physical makeup--then the only reason left to assign the roles to the genders is anatomical differences. If the relative endowments of men and women aren't relevant to the role assignment then all that is left is the genitals.

Basically, the assignment of gender roles was, in this view, arbitrary. Definition of arbitrary: "Based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system."

To sharpen this point, if the hierarchical complementarian rejects ontological ineptitude--like many are rushing to assert--then they are endorsing the view that God could have changed the roles given to men and women with no real change in how men and women reflect back the image of God. Phrased another way, what is critical in this view is that someone (anyone) needs to be in the "leader" role while the other person (doesn't really matter which) is in the "submissive" role. What reflects the image of God, in this view, is this relationship--a superior/subordinate relation. And the assignment of this relation--who is superior and who is subordinate--is arbitrary, a cosmic flip of the coin. It just happened to be the guys who were given the job of being the leader/head.

Now as should be clear, no hierarchical complementarian actually believes that to be the case, despite their protestations to the contrary. Hierarchical complementarians don't believe that the role assignment was arbitrary and, thus, potentially reversible with no loss of meaning or symbolism. Hierarchical complementarians believe that the genders are "fitted" or "suited" to their roles. The roles aren't reversible. And this means that more is going on and being reflected in gender roles than the role itself. It's not just a superior/subordinate relation arbitrarily assigned by a flip of the coin. The genders are suited to those roles. It's not arbitrary. 

And yet, if hierarchical complementarian endorse this view they face the unpleasantness of my earlier post, that they are, like it or not, endorsing ontological ineptitude. They are endorsing the view that there are ways men are suited for their roles of leadership and, thus, ways that women are ill-suited for those same roles (even though, here and there, there will be exceptions to the general pattern). Ergo: ontological ineptitude.

And yet, some hierarchical complementarians claim they don't believe in ontological ineptitude (see reactions to the prior post, here and online), despite it being implicit in their belief system.

Again, I don't think these hierarchical complementarians actually believe what they are saying. Because if they really believed what they were saying they would be claiming that gender role assignment was arbitrary as well as denying that the genders were created by God to be suited and fitted to their respective roles. I don't think any hierarchical complementarians actually believe that, and if they did it's a very bizarre theological position, bordering on nonsensical. And you can verify that hierarchical complementarians really don't believe what they are saying by asking a diagnostic question: "If God left men and women as they are and simply reversed the headship role nothing would change in how the genders reflect the image of God, correct?"

Across the board hierarchical complementarians would say something very much would be lost if there was a role reversal. Because, despite their protestations to the contrary, there is more to their view than a claim about created roles and vocations.  Hierarchical complementarianism, if it is to avoid being nonsense, is also a claim about how the genders are suited to their roles.

Like I said above, hierarchical complementarians might claim they don't believe in ontological ineptitude. But they actually do. And again, by "ineptitude" I mean "lacking in fitness" and "ill-suited to the situation or occasion."

And let me end by saying something conciliatory.

I'm not trying to bash hierarchical complementarians. I'm trying to explain why I, personally, don't believe in it. And one of the reasons I don't believe in hierarchical complementarianism is because I see implications in the position that are untenable for me, on theological, biblical and experiential grounds. It is my considered opinion, partly outlined in the case I make in this post, that hierarchical complementarianism implies things like ontological ineptitude. Which is one of the reasons I reject the view. Others, of course, are entitled to accept the view and all that it may or may not entail.

The Kingdom is Mad

Alice: But I don't want to go among mad people.

The Cat: Oh, you can't help that. We're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad.

Alice: How do you know I'm mad?

The Cat: You must be. Or you wouldn't have come here.

Alice: And how do you know that you're mad?

The Cat: To begin with, a dog's not mad. You grant that?

Alice: I suppose so.

The Cat: Well, then, you see, a dog growls when it's angry, and wags its tail when it's pleased. Now I growl when I'm pleased, and wag my tail when I'm angry. Therefore I'm mad.
1 Corinthians 1.20, 25, 27
Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.
The kingdom is as mad as any hatter's party, but it is divinely mad.  --John Caputo

The Orthodox Prayer Rope

"I like your prayer rope. Are you Orthodox?"

Over the last year I've written a few times about my use of Anglican prayer beads. Many of you have written me about how, because of those posts, you've begun to use prayer beads and that they have been a great help to you and your prayer life. To receive notes like those is extremely touching.

In some of those posts about prayer beads a few of you, my Orthodox readers, have pointed me to the use of prayer ropes in the Orthodox tradition. Following your lead, and curious as always, I began investigating Orthodox prayers ropes.

Basically, prayer ropes work like prayer beads with knots working like the beads. For the Orthodox the knots on a rope are generally used to count the number of Jesus Prayers: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner."

The most common lengths of Orthodox prayer ropes are 100-knot or 150-knot ropes, though you can get ropes of 33 or 50 knots up to 300 or 500 knots. Similar to how the smaller week beads are separated by larger Cruciform beads on a string of Anglican prayer beads, the knots on a prayer rope are also separated by beads at regular intervals (usually at 25-knot intervals in the longer ropes).

The ends of an Orthodox prayer rope can differ. The Greek style ends with a knotted cross. The Russian style ends with a cross and tassel.

The traditional material and look of an Orthodox prayer rope is black wool, though ropes can be made from other materials and in other colors.

Finally, the knots of an Orthodox prayer rope are complicated, with many crossings and very symbolic. For an online tutorial in tying the knots see here.

Prayer ropes are carried in your pocket, but they can also be worn on the wrist.

Intrigued by the suggestions of Orthodox readers, last year I ordered a 100-knot, black wool, Greek-style prayer rope from St. Paisius Monastery.

I began to wear the rope on my wrist as a prayer reminder and as a prayer aid (taking it off and using it to pray 100 Jesus Prayers). But just to make sure that this would be okay (I didn't want to be offensive to the Orthodox, a non-Orthodox wearing an Orthodox prayer rope) I emailed our local Orthodox priest, Fr. LeMasters. He gave me the green light stating that, from his perspective, anything that promotes prayerfulness is very much encouraged.

As so I wear an Orthodox prayer rope on my wrist. Most people just think it's a bracelet of sorts. No one knows (well, until now) that it's a prayer rope. There aren't many Orthodox in West Texas.

But when I travel out of state I've had an Orthodox person notice, every one in awhile, the prayer rope. Last time I was buying something at a store and the young man who was the cashier remarked, "I like your prayer rope. Are you Orthodox?" I explained, as I do, that I'm not, but that I owe a great deal to Orthodox theology and the prayer ropes of the Orthodox have been a great blessing to me spiritually.

And maybe, now, for you as well.

Let's Stop Calling It Complementarianism

I'd like to share a thought reflecting on Rachel Held Evan's recent post Will the Real Complementarian Please Stand Up?

This is a reflection on the label "complementarian" and why I don't think it's precise enough.

Complementarianism is a label for a softer, nicer version of patriarchalism when it comes to traditional gender roles in marriages, families and churches. But the label "complementarian" obscures that connection because it's not precise enough.

Generally speaking, complementarianism has two parts. The first part is that, according to complementarianism, a man and women are endowed with certain gifts and skills that, when combined in a heterosexual marriage, "complement" each other, two puzzle pieces that fit together to make a whole that reflects the image of God.

This aspect of complementarianism--that a husband and a wife "complement" or "complete" each other--isn't inherently hierarchical/patriarchal because there are egalitarian arrangements where this sort of thing happens all the time. The Apostle Paul's famous body metaphor for the church comes to mind. We can also think of any team or organization where our various gifts, skills and interests are lined up in a way that is "complementary"--you do that and I'll do this because I'm good that this and you are good at that--to get the best result for the group.

If that is all complementarianism was naming then it would be well named. But that's only half of the complementarian position.

The other half of the complementarian position is this: men and women have different gifts that combine to reflect the image of God and God created the man to have the gifts of leadership. That's the critical part. That is, when God divided up God's nature between the genders God gave the attributes of leadership to the male, putting him "in charge."

(Incidentally, I don't think this notion of "dividing" God's nature between the genders is cogent or biblical. Jesus, as a single, reflected the full image of God. Thus, in conforming to the image of Jesus every person, of whatever gender, is called to reflect the full image of God.)

It is this additional bit, that God gave the gifts of leadership to men rather than to women, that carries us well past the boundaries of what might properly be called "complementarian." Because as I've noted, every egalitarian marriage is complementarian in some form or fashion.

So what's the better term? The better term, the one I prefer, is hierarchical complementarianism.

Of course, many hierarchical complementarians might object to this label, but it is more accurate. Specifically, it distinguishes between the sort of complementarianism that egalitarians believe in, what might be called relational complementarianism, from the kind that hierarchical complementarians believe in, a complementing that isn't organic to the relationship (the relative gifts of the husband and wife) but is, rather, a fixed and preordained power-relation with men placed in leadership over women.

This is why hierarchical complementarianism is a form of patriarchalism. Hierarchical complementarianism is founded upon the belief of ontological ineptitude. To say that men and women are "complements" of each other and that men are given the gifts of leadership in this arrangement is to argue that women are ontologically inept when it comes to leadership. That is, women are permanently lacking and incompetent in leadership spheres (ineptitude) because of the kinds of beings they are, namely women (ontology). That is the belief at the heart of hierarchical complementarianism--ontological ineptitude--that reveals its patriarchal nature.

So maybe we step away from the labels egalitarian and complementarian and start speaking of relational complementarianism versus hierarchical complementarianism. A complementarianism that is organic to any given relationship versus one mediated by a fixed hierarchical power arrangement.

Addendum to Original Post:
As this post moves around the Internet it's getting some particular pushback so I'd like to add some clarification.

Specifically, some have argued that many complementarians don't believe that woman are inept in areas like biblical teaching, pastoral care, or administration. Thus it is argued that I'm attributing a belief (ontological ineptitude) to complementarians that they don't endorse.

Two responses.

First, many complementarians actually do endorse ontological ineptitude. They may not explicitly endorse it, but the belief is implicit in their argument that God differently gifted the genders, that men and women "complement" each other based upon matching competencies and incompetencies rooted in their natures.

Now of course, many complementarians do recognize the empirical reality that women can effectively teach, offer pastoral care and administrate organizational structures/teams. But if that is the case then why are the roles in patriarchal churches and homes assigned the way they are? That is, if it's not based on relative competencies why are men the sole teachers, pastors, and administrators?

At this point, an appeal will be made to a divine and created order, that God placed men in a leadership/headship role and that God did this not to offset/match competencies in men and women but to reflect a divine order or pattern.

In response I would simply say that I don't think that particular view is best described as complementarian. In the comment thread I've floated the label "creational hierarchy" for this view. The view being that men are the "head" not because they are "better" leaders (they often are not), but by virtue of their being men and, thus, creationally assigned to that role. This "headship" is not based on mirroring competencies (the general understanding behind the label "complementairan") but upon a created hierarchy that reflects the nature of God.

Either way, the goal of the post still stands. We need to stop using the generic label "complementarian" for these distinct views.

Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 63, The Treatment of the Elderly

Chapter 63 in The Rule of St. Benedict deals with rank in the monastery, which mainly determined the order in which the monks received the kiss of peace, received communion or led worship.

How was rank assigned? Not by age, but by how long you had been at the monastery. Thus, a younger monk who had been a part of the monastery longer had a higher rank than the older monk with less time in the community:
1The monks keep their rank in the monastery according to the date of their entry...5Absolutely nowhere shall age automatically determine rank...
And yet, the chapter goes on to describe all the ways the younger monks are to defer to and respect the older monks:
10The younger monks, then, must respect their seniors, and the seniors must love their juniors. 11When they address one another, no one should be allowed to do so simply by name; 12rather, the seniors call the younger monks "brother" and the younger monks call their seniors nonnus, which is translated as "venerable father"...13Wherever brothers meet, the junior asks his senior for a blessing. 14When an older monk comes by, the younger rises and offers him a seat, and does not presume to sit down unless the older bids him. 17In this way, they do what the words of Scripture say: "They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other" (Rom. 12:10).
Reflecting on this, I think age discrimination is a big problem in a lot of churches. Reflecting the idols of the American culture, youth, energy and vitality is prized, honored and worshiped. Old age is shunned, pushed to the margins. Once your hair greys you aren't much use to a hip, vibrant, young church.

I think you can tell a lot about a church by the way they treat, yes, the poor and the disabled, but also the way they treat the elderly.

I Rest in the Grace of the World

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

--"The Peace of Wild Things" by Wendell Berry 

Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt

For those of you interested in criticisms of capitalism and the rise of corporate imperialism let me point you to Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco.

Hedges is a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and Sacco an award-winning cartoonist. Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt combines Hedges' investigative exposé with Sacco's graphic novel skills to tell the stories of four "sacrifice zones" of late-modern capitalism. Sacrifice zones are places and populations that have been locally exploited--sacrificed--for capitalistic growth and corporate greed elsewhere. Media attention rarely, if ever, dwells upon these sacrifice zones, thus the vast majority of Americans are wholly unaware of the costs of capitalistic greed and the rise of the market state, what we might call capitalistic imperialism, where markets and corporate profit are seen the highest goods in a given society.

The four sacrifice zones described in Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt are the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota; Camden, New Jersey; Welch, West Virgina, and Immokalee, Florida.

These are four the poorest places in America today and they tell the story of four different ethnic groups and how each has been exploited and sacrificed for corporate profit: the Native Americans, inner city blacks, rural whites, and Mexican immigrants.

The story of the Native Americans is a story about land and mining rights, how the Native Americans were pushed off their lands and quarantined on reservations so that corporate American had access to silver and other mining rights in places like the Black Hills, a place sacred to the Native Americans like Jerusalem is to the Jews or Mecca to Muslims. The Black Hills were given to the Native Americans in official US treaties, ratified by Congress, to be theirs forever. As in...forever. That is until silver was found in the hills. Corporate greed then set the genocidal wheels of the American government and its military in motion. Guns and government in the service of capitalism. The effects of this profit-driven genocide are still being felt on Indian reservations which have some of the high addiction and suicide rates in the nation.

The story of inner city blacks is the story of Camden, NJ, once a thriving multiethnic working class community. That is until cheap manufacturing labor was found oversees, breaking unions, shuttering factories, and creating chronic unemployment in many local communities. With massive job loss middle and working class class communities like those in Camden were destroyed, creating ghost towns where libraries and schools were boarded up.

The story of rural whites is the story of how coal mining in the Appalachia mountains has destroyed forests, poisoned water supplies, and covered small towns in coal dust. More, as the labor in the mines was increasingly mechanized rural Appalachian communities suffered massive unemployment hits. Some of the poorest people in the nation along with some of the highest drug use rates are in these rural mountain communities.

The story of Mexican immigrants, legal and illegal, is the story of the Big Agriculture, where cheap labor is being so exploited that it borders on slavery. In many cases it is slavery as workers are locked up and supervised with men holding guns. Florida is ground zero for slavery in America today. Let alone the fact that without unions and collective bargaining power these workers work in some of the most chemically hazardous workplaces in America today (due to pesticides and fertilizers). All to keep labor costs cheap so that corporate profits can be increasingly maximized.

Hedges' narrative keeps the book moving with facts but in each chapter Sacco's artwork is used to tell, graphic novel style, more personal and intimate stories of loss, devastation and despair. Each chapter and the human stories leaves you will a feeling of rage--this book is not for the faint of heart--but Hedges and Sacco season this with anecdotes of people fighting for and recovering their dignity and humanity in the midst of capitalistic ruin and rubble.

The book finishes its tour by visiting Occupy Wall Street in Liberty (Zuccott) Park, New York. The book ends with the hope that the OWS movement, in the wake of its evictions from city parks, is the beginnings of a movement that will grow in both strength and numbers as the people try to reclaim an America where the collective and public good of the 99% is valued more highly than the corporate profit and greed of the 1%.

I'll end this review with the statistics cited by Hedges and Sacco at the start of their book to highlight American exceptionalism. Yes, we are #1:
Among advanced Democratic nations, American has....

The highest poverty rate, both generally and for children;
The greatest inequality of incomes;
The lowest government spending as a percentage of GDP on social programs for the disadvantaged;
The lowest number of paid holiday, annual and maternity leaves;
The lowest score on the UN’s index of “material well-being of children”;
The worst score on the UN’s gender inequality index;
The lowest social mobility;
The highest public and private expenditure on health care as a portion of GDP, 
yet accompanied by the highest:
  • Infant mortality rate 
  • Prevalence of mental health problems 
  • Obesity rate 
  • Portion of people going without health care due to cost 
  • Low birth weight children per capita (except for Japan) 
  • Consumption of anti-depressants per capita;
The shortest life expectancy at birth (except for Denmark and Portugal);
The highest carbon dioxide emissions and water consumption per capita;
The lowest score on the World Economic Forum’s Environmental Performance 
Index (except for Belgium), and the largest Ecological Footprint per capita 
(except for Belgium and Denmark);
The highest rate of failing to ratify international agreements;
The lowest spending on international development and humanitarian 
assistance as a percentage of GDP;
The highest military spending as a portion of GDP;
The largest international arms sales;
The most negative balance of payments (except New Zealand, Spain and 
The lowest scores for student performance in math (except for Portugal and Italy) (and far down from the top in both science and reading);
The highest high school drop out rate (except for Spain).

The Prayer of Jabez

In the prison bible study we were working through 1 Chronicles and we came to the prayer of Jabez:
1 Chronicles 4.9-10 (NKJV)
Now Jabez was more honorable than his brothers, and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, “Because I bore him in pain.”

And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying,

“Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!”

So God granted him what he requested.
A lot of you, when you hear "the prayer of Jabez," think about the best-selling Christian book The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life by Bruce Wilkinson. The Prayer of Jabez took the evangelical world by storm in 2000 when it was first published. But it also drew a fair amount of criticism.

Specifically, some felt that Wilkinson took the phrase in the prayer "Bless me, and enlarge my territory" in a prosperity gospel direction. You pray the "prayer of Jabez" so that God might bring you success and good things in life--the expansion of your "territory."

But that's not how the men in the prison study heard the prayer of Jabez. They heard something quite different.

The men didn't focus at all on the "expand my territory" line. Rather, they were drawn to the fact that Jabez means pain (or sounds like pain in Hebrew).

A child named pain.

Apparently named so because of the pain he caused his mother in childbirth: "His mother called his name Jabez, saying, 'Because I bore him in pain.'"

Given the life histories of the men in the study, they could identify with a child named pain.

And the child named pain grows up to pray a prayer about pain. A prayer that he might be protected from pain or that he might not be the cause of any more pain.

There appears to be some interpretive ambiguity on this point. Most translations have the prayer being a request for protection from pain and harm:
that you would keep me from hurt and harm

that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain

keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain 
That seems to be the consensus view, that the one named pain requests to be protected from pain.

But for some reason, the New King James Version goes against the flow and gives a different meaning:
that I may not cause pain
That might be a bad translation, but most of the guys in the study carry the NKJV so that was the line that most of them read in the prayer of Jabez. And that was the line that most affected them. Most profoundly affected them.

A prayer that I might not cause any more pain.

These men have caused a lot of pain. A lot of pain. A pain that goes on and on. In the lives of their victims. In the lives of their loved ones and families. In their own lives.

More, it's a daily struggle not to cause more pain. To not add pain upon pain.

Such a great, sad, awful, soul-crushing weight of pain.

These men, their name could be Jabez. Their name is Jabez.

And the prayer of Jabez that night in the prison was not "expand my territory." The prayer of Jabez was something different. Something full of sadness, loss, shame, regret, guilt and sorrow.

I pray, Dear God, that I might not cause any more pain.

This was the prayer of the children of pain.

This was the prayer of Jabez.

Will Campbell: Jesus was a Radical

Ya'll know I'm a big fan of the late Will Campbell. I'd say I'm a Campbellite twice over.

First, as a member of the Churches of Christ, a founder of which was Alexander Campbell, we are often called "Campbellites," a moniker that Wikipedia calls "a mildly pergortitive term" for members of the CoC.

And, second, I'd say I'm a Campbellite as I'm a devoted student of the life and witness of Will Campbell.

To further your own exposure to Will Campbell, some selections below from his rhetorically epic address to the Whitsitt Society in 1995. Campbell was a Baptist so in parts below he levels a lot of his critique as his own tribe at the time of the speech. I'm unaware of what those particular issues were. But Campbell's indictment of replacing the gospel with intramural denominational squabbles, witch-hunting and power plays seems universally applicable:
The first thing I feel disposed to share is what is apparent to us all, namely that if Jesus Christ had been a Moderate he would never have been crucified...Jesus Christ was a RADICAL! And for that he died. Died so that we might be free. Free from religiosity for certainly he was not a religious man. Far from it. Free from the Law. Free from tyranny, especially religious tyranny. Free from piety to save us. Free from certitude and thus free from creedal strife. Jesus was a RADICAL!
Jeremiah said that it was not good to be too sure of God. Today we are bombarded with a theology of certitude, and even cocksureness. A creed that might well begin, "My god can whip your god."

On one occasion Kierkegaard observed that God may take Christianity away as the one way of convincing people of its truth. That is what the prophets called living under judgment. It would seem clear, to any discerning reader of Scripture, that judgment is the only term that can be applied to the absurd, conniving, farcical, nonsensical, mean-spirited schoolyard scuffle that has raged in Southern Baptist circles for more than a decade. Some would prefer to call it Diaspora. But Diaspora infers that there are somewhere the righteous, the faithful, living outside the tribal boundaries. Where do we see the righteous in this depraved imbroglio?

Was Kierkegaard onto something when he said that God may take Christianity away as the one way of convincing people of its truth?
Where were we as a denomination in the sixties and seventies when cities were burning, when black Americans were being gunned down for no greater crime than the color of their skin and their quest for freedom? Where were we during those long decades when human beings were denied the ballot, had to drink from designated fountains, could not go to parks, theaters, schools? If you don't recall I'll remind you. We were sitting in silence, minding our own altar fires and tea parties, building tall spires and fine steeples, watching God's world crumble around us. Ah, but now we have apologized for all that. Have we now? If we bump our neighbors off the sidewalk and into oncoming traffic and say, "Excuse me," and walk away, we have served the neighbors not at all. It is only when we bind their wounds and see them through the ordeal that true reconciliation is in evidence. Biblically it is called the story of the Good Samaritan. Politically it is called affirmative action.
How does one behave under judgment? Maybe by just not caring about the things that really, after all, just don't matter anymore. If they ever did. By not agonizing over triviality. Jesus, quoting Isaiah, said that he had come to proclaim the opening of the doors of prisons, and letting the prisoners go free, bringing good news--food and housing--to the poor, seeing eye dogs for the blind. Jesus was a radical. So should I care who the next president of some man-made, yes man-made, convention, fellowship or what have you may be? Does it really matter in the glaring white heat of Isaiah and Jesus' words? I say you nay. Am I going to alter the course by the latest utterance of some institutional pimp who appears to spend most of his time blow drying his hair and in his free time dismisses some of his finest teachers and scholars, seeking to make robots and handmaidens of a once-gifted faculty? I say you nay.
I learned theology from my father's table grace as he said the same words three times a day no matter how meager the fare. The words I heard from the day I was born until I left his table at seventeen summed up his theology, his philosophy, his very life. And after eight years of what we call higher education I never found a more succinct summary of the Christian movement. For his simple words acknowledged the existence of the Deity, they spoke of mercy, of thanksgiving, sin, forgiveness, restoration, and always concluded with the benedictory AMEN. What else is there to our faith? Hear his words and see if anything essential is missing:

O Lord, look down on us with mercy,
Pardon and forgive us our sins,
Make us thankful for these and all other blessings,
We ask for Christ's sake. Amen.
I was a pastor, a university chaplain, an employee of the allegedly most free religious institution in the world. I didn't keep any job for long. But through it all I discovered one thing. All institutions, every last single one of them, are evil; self-serving, self-preserving, self-loving; and very early in the life of any institution it will exist for its own self. So beware out there this week. True soul freedom cannot be found in any institution. That is the guts of my testimony to you today. True soul freedom can never be found in any institution. If they will pay you, let them. I did it too. But never trust them. Never bow the knee to them. They are all after your soul. Your ultimate, absolute, uncompromising allegiance. Your soul. ALL OF THEM. Jesus was a RADICAL! And His Grace abounds.

Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 62, Prideful Priests

In Chapter 61 of The Rule of St. Benedict we return to the problem of priests. Recall in Chapter 60 Benedict had been dealing with this problem, in that instance the admission of priests to the monastery. In Chapter 61 the issue involves allowing a monk already in the monastery to become a priest. In both cases the issue is pride, the ordained monk placing himself above the other monks. Thus Benedict writes:
2The monk so ordained must be on guard against conceit or pride, 3must not presume to do anything except what the abbot commands him, and must recognize that now he will have to subject himself all the more to the discipline of the rule.
One of the things happening here is that by ordaining monks you are introducing into the common life of the monastery the clergy/laity distinction and all that comes with that separation, especially the "conceit" and "pride" among the ordained.

Are our churches any different? Are clergy, priests, pastors, preachers and ministers vulnerable to conceit and pride? I think we have all been exposed to these sorts of cases.

But we see in Benedict a hint of what the best sort of clergy look like. Specifically, the best sort of clergy are those with a strong egalitarian and democratic sensibility, a person who, despite being clergy, will be subject "all the more to the discipline of the rule." No special treatment or indulgences. If anything, holding yourself to a high standard.

The Gospel According to Karaoke

A warm Thank You to the folks at the Mennonite Worker and Church Of All Nations for inviting me to participate last weekend in their Broken Table Conference.

Saturday night after the conference had concluded attendees were invited to meet up at a local bar for some fellowship and Karaoke.

The Karaoke, I found out, was Mark Van Steenwyk's idea. Mark is the founder of the Mennonite Worker and an editor of Jesus Radicals, the online hub for conversation about radical Christianity and Christian anarchism. If you're interested in that conversation be sure to check out Mark's new book The unKingdom of God.

I loved getting to spend time with Mark, talking about his community and the theory and practice of Christian anarchism.

And Mark is, interestingly, also a bit of a theologian when it comes to Karaoke.

Karaoke, according to Mark, is a practice of vulnerability and community. You take a risk when you get up in front of strangers to sing a song. And yet, the quality of your singing doesn't matter. What matters is jumping in and taking a risk. Being exposed and vulnerable is what is welcomed. That's what gets you the embrace, just getting up there and participating. Being an exposed and vulnerable human being.

According to Mark, that's the gospel according to Karaoke. That's how Karaoke becomes a model for the Kingdom of God.

Church, according to Mark, should look more like a Karaoke night at a bar. We should be willing to be exposed and vulnerable in the church. Being the "best"--being all cleaned up and put together--isn't what it is supposed to be about. You're not expected to be a great singer at a Karaoke night. Being "good" doesn't matter. What matters is sharing in the communal vulnerability and solidarity.

You don't get much of that shared vulnerability and embrace in the church. But you do in bars on a Karaoke night.

And so it was that Mark and I and others gathered at a local bar in Minneapolis for some Karaoke.

Mark had never been to this particular bar. But it was close to the church and had Karaoke that night. Plus, it was a dive bar, which is what Mark likes, because dive bars are "third places" that tend to be local, neighborhood establishments that cater to regulars.

When we got there the place was fairly empty, but as the night worn on the crowd grew.

I'd never done Karaoke before so I took some time to see how it all worked. Many among our crew jumped right in. They had some standard songs they liked to sing. I kept flipping through the big binders on the table to find a song I knew.

Finally, after about an hour or so I figured it was either now or never. Time to step up to the microphone in front of a packed house. Time to be an exposed and vulnerable human being.

I wrote down the name of the song I wanted to sing along with my name. I took the request slip up to the lady DJing the Karaoke. Eventually my name got called and I took the stage. My song started and I began to sing...

And you know what? Mark was right. I don't think I sang particularly well. But it didn't matter. Why? Well, you really couldn't hear me sing. Because everyone else was singing along. The whole bar sang. And not just for my song, for every song. It was a shared singing experience.

And I thought to myself. This is where people sing communally when they don't go to church. These big binders are hymnbooks. And just like at church the shared singing creates fellowship and community.

It's also possible that people didn't mind my singing because they were a bit drunk. That's one advantage for waiting a bit before taking the stage.

Anyway, after my song was over, basking in the applause and high fives from strangers on the way back to my table, I knew that Mark was on to something with this Karaoke.

Standing on the outside looking in Karaoke had seemed kind of weird and strange. But on the other side of it Karaoke was found to be fun, communal and very, very human.

The Gospel According to Karaoke.

I told Mark that should be his next book. I hope he writes it.

Oh, before I go, some of you might be curious.

What song did I sing?

After pouring over title and titles of songs in that huge binder I finally landed on one of my all-time favorites.

I sang "Sweet Child of Mine" by Guns & Roses.

Christ and the Powers: Part 3, To Resist the Powers Means to Deideologize Life

This is the last post of three sketching out some of the arguments made by Hendrik Berkhof in his seminal work Christ and the Powers, published in English 1962 and translated by John Howard Yoder.

In the last post we summarized Berkhof's view that the Powers were initially created by Christ and for Christ and will be, in the end, reconciled back to Christ (Col. 1.15-20). Thus Berkhof argues that the Powers are not inherently and intrinsically evil they are, rather, fallen and in rebellion to the Lordship of Christ.

So how is the church to relate to the Powers in their fallen and satanic state?

To begin, Berkhof makes the argument that the mere existence of the church is an act of defiance and resistance to the Powers. Resistance occurs where there are people confessing Jesus as Lord of all in the face of the Powers. Berkhof:
[T]he very presence of the church in a world ruled by the Powers is a superlatively positive and aggressive fact...All resistance and every attack against the gods of this age will be unfruitful, unless the church is resistance and attack, unless she demonstrates in her life and fellowship how men can live freed from the Powers.
To resist the Powers means that the church is to exhibit in her life the rule and reign of Jesus Christ over against the "gods of this age." In her life the church rejects the Powers of mammon, nationalism, injustice, prejudice, and oppression. These Powers are unmasked, delegitimized and rejected in the church as she confesses Jesus as Lord of all.  In confessing and living under the lordship of Jesus in the face of the Powers the church "builds a new world in the shell of the old." The church isn't seeking the overthrow and eradication of the Powers but is, rather, creating locations where the legitimacy of the Powers is routinely questioned and where new patterns of social, moral, political and economic relations are established under the lordship of Jesus in the Kingdom of God. And when this happens, when the territory of the Powers is circumscribed in the world by the existence of the Kingdom of God, the church creates a crisis for the Powers:
Just by being simply the church, she is the instrument whereby Christ brings to crisis the rule of the Powers even far outside her borders.
All this goes to the point made in the last post. Resistance to the Powers is about idolatry, resistance is about rejecting the divine ultimacy of the Powers where we live our lives under their direction and rule.

How, then, are we to combat this idolatry?

Berkhof argues that we must "Christianize" the Powers.

Now that suggestion might start freaking some of you out as it sounds like the way we might, say, make a nation come under the lordship of Jesus would be to make a "Christian nation." But that isn't what Berkhof is suggesting.

By "Christianizing" the Powers Berkhof means shrinking them down to size. Again, the Powers serve legitimate functions in staving off general chaos and social disintegration. Cultures, value systems and social contracts (laws, politics) have some positive functions. But they only function well when they are, well, functionaries, tools of service that aid human flourishing. The problem is that the Powers are now ascendant and "in charge" of the world. Humans are serving the Powers--nations, religions, corporations, "our way of life"--rather than the Powers serving us. The created order has been reversed. In the language of Paul we have "exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles." As creatures we are worshiping other created things, things we ourselves made, things like America. We built America and now we worship it, live for it, die for it and kill for it. We built this corporation and now we worship it, live for it, die for it and kill for it. We built this religious denomination and now we worship it, live for it, die for it and kill for it.

Just because it doesn't look like a Golden Calf doesn't mean it isn't a Golden Calf. Today Golden Calves look a lot like national flags, political parties, stock market portfolios and church buildings.

So the way you "Christianize" these Powers, according to Berkhof, it to knock them off their thrones, to shrink them back to their proper size, to return to them to their proper function as servants of the greater good. Berkhof's summary of this:
From this discernment there springs forth a basically different way of dealing with creaturely reality. The Holy Spirit "shrinks" the Powers before the eyes of faith. They may have inflated themselves to omnipotent total value systems, but the believer sees them in their true proportion, as nothing more than one segment of creation, existing because of the Creator, and limited by other creatures...In faith life is seen and accepted in its smallness and modesty...

That [the Powers] are "Christianized" means they are made instrumental, made modest; one could even say "neutralized."... [T]he Powers are relativized, made modest. They no longer pretend to offer an inspiring center for all of life...[The church strives] to neutralize the Powers and de-ideologize life...
I like those phrases.

The Holy Spirits shrinks the Powers before the eyes of faith.

To resist the Powers means to de-ideologize life.

Christ and the Powers: Part 2, The Goodness of the Powers

If you think about theology the way I do "the principalities and powers" get blamed for just about everything that is wrong with the world. The Powers are evil, demonic, satanic. And no doubt that's a key part of the NT witness. The Powers were and remain antagonistic to Christ and his Kingdom. Our fight is not with each other but with the principalities and powers (Eph. 6.12).

However, Hendrik Berkhof in his book Christ and the Powers wants us to consider the creational goodness of the Powers. To be sure, the Powers are hostile to Christ. But that doesn't mean the Powers are wholly evil and serve no good purpose. According to Berkhof the Powers give structure and order to creation. And while this order and structure might be satanic in nature, this order is preventing a slide into a greater chaos and disorder.

This is an argument that people like me need to wrestle with (which is why I'm blogging about it!).

Berkhof grounds his creation theology of the Powers in Colossians 1.15-17:
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 
As Berkhof comments, "Usually the expositors of these words have laid all the accent on [the Powers] negative aspect." And yet, if we look for it Paul is saying something positive here about the Powers as well. As Berkhof observes the Powers were created by Christ and for Christ, the Powers were to be in Berkhof's words "instruments of God's love." Berkhof elaborates:
It strikes us as strange that Paul can speak thus positively of what he elsewhere calls "poor and weak powers of this world" or "precepts and doctrines of men." Yet it is not so strange. Divers human traditions, the course of earthly life as conditioned by the heavenly bodies, morality, fixed religious and ethical rules, the administration of justice and the ordering of the state--all these can be tyrants over our life, but in themselves they are not. These fixed points are not the devil's invention; they are the dikes with which God encircles His good creation, to keep it in His fellowship and protect it from chaos...Therefore the believer's combat is never to strive against [the Powers], but rather to battle for God's intention for them, against their corruption.
William Stringfellow would say that the Powers are not evil, they are fallen and thus antagonistic toward God, creation, other Powers and humankind. Our struggle with the Powers is with them in their fallenness. Berkhof continues:
Paul speaks, once, of the Powers as related to the creative will of God. But we do not know them in this divinely appointed role. We know them only as bound up with the enigmatic fact of sin, whereby not only men have turned away from God, but the invisible side of the cosmos functions in diametric opposition to its divinely fixed purpose. When Paul writes that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, not even the Powers, he presupposes that the nature of the Powers would be to do just that, to separate us from love. The Powers are no longer instruments, linkages between God's love, as revealed in Christ, and the visible world of creation. In fact, they have become gods (Galatians 4:8), behaving as though they were the ultimate ground of being, and demanding from men an appropriate worship. This is the demonic reversal which has taken place on the invisible side of creation. No longer do the Powers bind man and God together; they separate them. They stand as a roadblock between the Creator and His creation.

The Powers continue to fulfill one half of their function. They still undergird human life and society and preserve them from chaos. But by holding the world together, they hold it away from God. 
A couple of observations about this. The struggle against the Powers isn't for their eradication. Rather, the struggle is for their redemption, for the Powers to submit to the Lordship of Jesus and regain their proper place and function in human affairs. We'll always need rules, structures, codes of conduct and some semblance of government. We all have to agree, say, to drive on the left or right side of the road. Even anarchist communities have certain guidelines, traditions, mutual expectations, and protocols for handling disputes that if violated or ignored lead to communal dissolution.

The Powers, in short, will always be with us.

The battle with the Powers, then, is really about idolatry. Less about the existence of the Powers than with their existential, moral, political and spiritual ultimacy in human affairs. Phrased other way, the struggle with the Powers is about bondage and slavery, submitting to them rather than confessing that Jesus is "Lord of all." This goes back to some of our observations from the last post. What concerns Paul in Colossians 2 was that the church was submitting to human--Jewish and pagan--moral codes of conduct, treating these cultural codes as the ultimate rule of life rather than confessing Jesus as Lord.

As to how we might resist idolizing and becoming enslaved to the Powers we'll turn to Berkhof's notion of "Christianizing" the Powers in the next and final post.

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Christ and the Powers: Part 1, Paul's Demythologization of the Powers

Many thanks to John Nugent for recommending to me Hendrik Berkhof's book Christ and the Powers. I'd like to take a few posts to gather some notes and quotes from the book.

Christ and the Powers was translated from the Dutch by John Howard Yoder. Berkhof's treatment of the Powers in the NT letters of Paul was foundational for Yoder's own treatment of the Powers in his seminal book The Politics of Jesus. In fact, Yoder mentions in his Translator's Epilogue that his own treatment of the Powers in The Politics of Jesus "is little more than an expansion of Berkhof's analysis." In short, Christ and the Powers, published in Dutch in 1953 and in English in 1962, is one of the seminal works in NT studies regarding "the principalities and powers."

In the work I've summarized on this blog I've focused on the pair "the principalities and powers" (archai kai exousiai). Berkhof focuses on the singular word exousiae, generally translated as "Powers." Berkoff starts by noting the nine instances of exousiae in the Pauline letters: Rom. 8.38-39, 1 Cor. 2.8, 1 Cor. 15.24-26, Eph. 1.20, Eph. 2.1-2, Eph. 3.10, Eph. 6.12, Col. 1.16, Col. 2.15.

Having noted these texts Berkhof asks the obvious question: What was Paul imagining when he spoke of "the Powers"?

Important to note here is that Paul didn't invent this language. The Powers feature in Jewish apocalyptic literature (e.g., the book of Enoch). There the Powers refer to categories of angelic beings. And Paul does mention the Powers in lists that include angels (Rom. 8.38). The question Berkhof asks is if Paul shared this conception, conceiving of the Powers as personalized spiritual beings, or if Paul departed in significant ways from the Jewish apocalyptic tradition.

To answer this question Berkhof begins with the famous text from Romans 8:
Romans 8.37-39
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In examining this list Berkhof argues that Paul wasn't conceiving of the Powers in any personalized sense. The Powers are listed with a group of fairly abstract forces, things like space (height and depth) and time (present and future). The key phrase is "anything else in all creation." In short, Paul seems to be listing created realities that exert influence and domination upon earth. Berkhof's assessment:
[A]ll the list is summed up under the heading "creatures." Obviously Paul means to name a number of realities, which are a part of our earthy existence, and whose role is one of domination...It is clear that these realities are not all thought of as persons, much less as angels. The fact that Paul could weave the names of angelic powers into such a list of abstractions would indicate that his emphasis lies not on their personal-spiritual nature, but rather on...the fact that these Powers condition earthly life.
In sum, Berkhof argues that Paul definitely saw the Powers, along with the Jewish apocalyptic tradition, as exerting influence upon the earth, upon human affairs in particular. However, in a departure with the Jewish apocalyptic tradition Paul seems to downplay the personal, anthropomorphic aspects of the Powers.

Berkhof finds additional evidence of this depersonalization of the Powers in the thought of Paul in an analysis of how the Powers relate to the word stoicheia. Berkhof has us consider the relation of the Powers to stoicheia in Colossians 2:
Colossians 2.8, 15-17, 20-21
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces [stoicheia] of this world rather than on Christ...

And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ...

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces [stoicheia] of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 
Notice how Christ's defeat of the Powers (v. 15) is embedded in a discussion of the stoicheia, translated by the NIV as "elemental spiritual forces." Other translations of stoicheia:
"elemental spirits of the world"

"the rudiments of the world"

"the elementary principles of the world"

"the elemental spirits of the universe"
Obviously, there is some interpretive variation here and it goes to the point Berkhof is trying to make. Stoicheia comes from the Greek root στοιχέω, a verb which means to order in rows or to walk/march in a line. The idea here is ordering. Stoicheia is a noun indicating something so ordered, the thing that sets up the order or the first thing in the order. From this idea--the thing that sets up or starts off an ordering--stoicheia could mean something like "fundamentals" or "basic elements" or "governing principles."

That explains translations like "elementary principles" and "rudiments." Where does "elemental spirits" come from? Well, according to many of the ancients the forces that set up and ground the order of the world, universe and cosmos were spiritual beings. Alternatively, the forces that ordered a person's life/fate were the stars and planets. Basically, the stoicheia were the cosmic and spiritual forces that structured and ordered the universe as well as being the forces that determined your fate.  Suddenly it becomes clear why Paul connects the stoicheia with the Powers. The stoicheia are examples of the Powers.

Understanding that the stoicheia are Powers that Christ defeated we can return to the issue of how Paul imagined the Powers. Specifically, did Paul see the Powers as angelic beings?

If the stoicheia are Powers note how Paul characterizes them in Colossians 2. The stoicheia are (verse 8) associated with "philosophy" and "human tradition." The stoicheia are associated (verses 20-21) with moral regulations like “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”.

In short, these stoicheia are ordering the moral/ethical realm. The stoicheia are rules, regulations, traditions and moral philosophies. The Christians Paul is writing to are submitting to these stoicheia, something that Paul describes as a captivity or bondage (verse 8). But Christ has defeated the Powers, among them these moral stoicheia. Consequently, there is freedom from the Powers. Thus Paul's conclusion: "Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day."

The point in all this is to note that Paul's conception of the Powers (like the stoicheia) was fairly abstract. Paul wasn't, it seems, thinking about the Powers as angelic beings. Paul seems to be thinking of the Powers more as structures that ordered the cosmos. The concern in Colossians 2 is with the Powers that structured and ordered human moral affairs, things like traditions, regulations, rules, and moral philosophies.

One conclusion we can take from all this is that Paul's conception of the Powers was different from that found in Jewish apocalyptic thought. Specifically, while Paul agreed that the Powers had influence upon human affairs Paul tended to deemphasize the personal, angelic nature of the Powers. In short, Berkhof argues, Paul was involved in a process of demythologization:
[The Powers are] the framework of creation, the canvas which invisibly supports the tableau of the life of men and society.

[I]t is obvious that for Paul the Powers are something quite different from what Jewish apocalyptic had in mind..Their angelic nature is--to say the least--not emphasized. Romans 8 and the study of the stoicheia do not lead us to think of personal beings...[I]n comparison to the apocalypticists a certain "demythologizing" has taken place in Paul's thought. In short, the apocalypses think primarily of the principalities and powers as heavenly angels; Paul sees them as structures of earthy existence.
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Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 61, When Monks are Trolls

Chapter 61 of the Rule of St. Benedict is entitled "The Reception of Visiting Monks" and deals with how to accommodate monks from other monasteries who are visiting or passing through.

Benedict's directives here are twofold. First, if the monk is not overly demanding and is content with their accommodations and the life of the monastery then that monk is welcome and even encouraged to stay, even long term:
2Provided that [the visiting monk] is content with the life as he finds it, and does not make excessive demands that upset the community, 3but is simply content with what he finds, he should be received for as long as he wishes.
To be sure, the visiting monk might offer some criticisms and observations, but attitude is everything here:
4He may, indeed, with all humility and love make some reasonable criticism or observations, which the abbot should prudently consider; it is possible that the Lord guided him to the monastery for this very purpose.
But if the visitor is rude, critical and demanding? 
8But if during his stay he has been found excessive in his demands or full of faults, he should certainly not be admitted as a member of the community. 9Instead, he should be politely told to depart, lest his wretched ways contaminate others.
Basically, don't feed the trolls.