Ladies: R. C. Sproul Says COVER YOUR HEADS!!!!!!!!!!

Yes, friends, this really is a thing.

It has been said that conservative, reactionary evangelicals can be described as “Trinitarian Muslims”.  Today I give you an example of that:  The Head Covering Movement.

Sadly, this is far from being just your run-of-the-mill rogue evangelical fringe movement.  They have the full backing of evangelical theological heavyweight R. C. Sproul, who on the front page of the organization’s website states:

The wearing of fabric head coverings in worship was universally the practice of Christian women until the twentieth century. What happened? Did we suddenly find some biblical truth to which the saints for thousands of years were blind? Or were our biblical views of women gradually eroded by the modern feminist movement that has infiltrated the Church…?

Here we see another glaring example as to why systematic theology, at least as practiced in the Neo-Calvinistic universe, is on my shit list.

Sproul and other head-covering proponents make an egregious error in their reading of this particular Pauline directive:  They assume that Paul’s letters are open letters addressed to all Christians everywhere, in all places, times, ages, cultures, and other possible situations.

They’re not, people.  Paul was writing to specific churches in specific places in a specific age, facing specific challenges which he felt the need to speak to.  Paul had not even the foggiest notion that those letters would ever make it out of first century Rome, let alone make it into our present-day Bible.  By the grace of God those letters were preserved and we get to listen in on the conversations Paul was having with the churches he planted.  But get the notion out of your heads that Paul was sitting down to write the New Testament and he knew he was sitting down to write the New Testament when he wrote those letters.  Because he wasn’t and he didn’t.

As to the head-covering thing:  Some say that in first century Rome a woman’s hair was intimately tied up with her sexuality, so much so that the modern equivalent of going with uncovered hair in first-century Rome would be going topless.  In first century Rome the only women who went with uncovered hair were prostitutes and slaves.  Prostitutes in all places and ages are generally treated as subhuman, as objects and products instead of people.

In light of that, Paul’s head-covering thing is actually very pro-woman.  Paul is basically saying “Hey ladies:  You are not a product or an object, but a person who has value to God and others.  So do not dress like a prostitute or a slave because I do not want anyone treating you like that.”

Yet the head-covering proponents do not see Paul’s directive in that light.  They wrench it out of that context and bring it into our day and age as a club with which to quash a modern cultural/political movement which threatens their preferred status quo, demeaning and subjugating women in the process.  Sproul makes this clear in his quote on the Head Covering Movement website:  “[W]ere our biblical views of women gradually eroded by the modern feminist movement that has infiltrated the Church…?”

Here we see what this is really all about.  It is about a certain view of who and what women are and ought to be in the home, in church, and in the world.  A view in which it is men who call the shots and woman can do and be nothing more than what men will allow.  In short, it is about the dehumanization and objectification of women at home and in the church.  It is about bringing back a practice which reinforces said dehumanization and objectification, despite the fact that the original intent of this practice was to give worth and dignity to women.

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Luther Never Wrote a Systematic Theology

One of the chief selling points of Martin Luther is that he never wrote a systematic theology.

Neo-Reformed Calvinism is the new black in evangelicalism.  One of its big selling points is that it offers a rigorous, intellectually satisfying way of looking at things.  One has to admire the rigor of thought produced by John Calvin and his heirs, how it all fits together into a tidy system which explains everything there is to know about God, life, and faith, all with chapter and verse to back it up.

But at the end of the day, this way of looking at things is too divorced from the reality of human life.  The vast majority of us are real, flesh-and-blood people who do not live in a universe where truth is precisely defined and the path of obedience explicitly delineated, all with chapter and verse to back it up.  We live in a real world with real struggles, real doubts, and real messiness.

Luther understood this.  He started and stayed where all theologians should:  in the pages of the Bible and in the mess of day-to-day living.  His earliest preaching assignments were from the Psalms, which captures the full range of human emotion.  In the midst of divine majesty there is also human darkness, doubt, and despair.  Luther insisted that Scripture must be taught pastorally and only in ways which lead to Christ.  The example of Luther shows us that theology is worthless unless it begins and ends with the messiness of human life, in the world in which we all live.

Is the Vegas Shooting a Sign of the End Times?

Seriously people, why are we even talking about this?

Jack Wellman at Christian Crier, in a very complex convoluted piece of exegesis and yet another piece of evidence that the bar at Patheos is low enough that I could have a blog there, opines that it is.

We’ve been through this before and you know where I stand on end times stuff.  We don’t know the day or the hour.  In any historical era, including ours, there is enough stuff going on that the people living in that era could reasonably believe that they are in the last days.

Most churches outside of evangelicalism have very little to say about the end times other than what is in the historic Christian creeds:  “He [Jesus] will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end” (from the Nicene Creed).  We would do very well to adopt a similar tack.

Can I Have My Patheos Blog?

Mark Driscoll is now on Patheos.

Yep, that Mark Driscoll.

The one who built the Mars Hill empire out in Seattle and then ended it all in a horrific grease fire in late 2014, only to skip town, head to Phoenix and reboot.  Though there were serious charges of plagiarism, serious concerns about his leadership style, serious concerns about his handling of church finances, serious concerns about his message and tone, he nevertheless moved on to a new city, pronounced himself fit for ministry, and got right back into the saddle.  And now he’s on Patheos.

So when do I get my Patheos blog?  Because if Mark Driscoll gets one then the bar is clearly low enough that I ought to qualify.  If any of you, dear readers, knows somebody over at Patheos, could you hook me up?  Please?  Pretty please?

Jonathan Aigner at Ponder Anew gives his thoughts on Driscoll’s move to Patheos.  Heads up:  He’s not too impressed.

Is the Bible the Only Tool in the Toolbox?

Today we are going to look at a controversy that has been playing out at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary over the past couple of weeks.  A Christianity Today article entitled “Has Christian Psychology Lost Its Place at Southern Seminary?” reports on the firing (very thinly disguised as an early retirement) of Dr. Eric Johnson, a longtime professor of counseling at SBTS.  The Wartburg Watch has a summary which you can read here and here.  Dustin Messner at Kuyperian Commentary gives his commentary here.

Here is the TL:DR version:  Johnson was fired essentially because his vision of what Christian psychology ought to be is substantially different from that of Al Mohler and SBTS.  Some observers blame the firing on Heath Lambert, another professor of counseling at SBTS and the executive director of an organization called the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors.  There is belief that Lambert leveraged his organization, the ACBC, against SBTS, threatening to steer students away from SBTS if Johnson remained.  (SBTS is one of five Reformed seminaries among the ACBC’s certified training centers.)  There is a video clip on Youtube in which Lambert reads from Johnson’s work and calls his approach to counseling “dangerous”, “slander”, “corrupt”, and “a mockery of God’s word”.  Mohler denies all of this, and Lambert has since apologized to Johnson.  Mohler and SBTS are not offering anything at this time in the way of clarification or explanation for Johnson’s departure.

Now I am a blogger, and as such it is part and parcel of my life’s vocation and calling to offer my unsolicited opinion on subjects about which I know nothing and am unqualified to speak.  But it is not my intention today to opine on internal politics and hiring/firing decisions at SBTS.  Instead I will comment on a couple of larger themes that I believe are in play here with this story.

The first is what I believe to be one of conservative evangelicalism’s worst tendencies:  to take the approach that we are the faithful side, the Christian side and the other side is the faithless, godless side and every issue is a fight to the death between the forces of light (us) and the forces of darkness.  There is a lengthy essay by John Frame entitled “Machen’s Warrior Children” in which Frame argues that conservative Reformed evangelicals have continued the fighting spirit shown by J. Gresham Machen in resisting the incursions of liberal theology in his day, taking it into every political/cultural/theological dispute thereafter, no matter how trivial.  The most recent presidential election cycle is an example of this par excellence.

The second is a view of biblical inspiration which is pervasive in evangelicalism and, I believe, far more at home in Islam or Mormonism than in anything even remotely resembling biblical Christianity.  This is at the heart of the issue as to why Johnson was forced out at SBTS.  Johnson believes that the wisdom of Scripture combined with insights from the science of psychology ought to form the basis of one’s approach to counseling.  Mohler, Lambert, and the rest of SBTS believe that the science of psychology has nothing whatsoever to say on the subject of counseling, that the Bible is the only tool in the toolbox and to believe otherwise is to denigrate the sufficiency of Scripture.

As Christians we believe in the sufficiency of Scripture.  But sufficient for what?  To lead us into a growing and meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ?  Okay.  Much of evangelicalism is unwilling to stop there and, instead, insists on making the Bible into the final authoritative word on subjects about which the ancient writers knew absolutely nothing.  Such a view turns the Bible into a “magic book” and is squarely in line with the idea of the Koran dictated to Mohammed by an angel while he was in a trance, or the Book of Mormon inscribed on golden tablets brought to Joseph Smith by an angel.

Such a view, when applied to the discipline of counseling, leads to the idea that there is no behavioral/psychological problem so severe that it cannot be solved by just throwing some Bible verses at it.  You and I both know that is simply not the case.  Insisting on the Bible as the only tool in the toolbox and closing one’s ears to anything whatsoever that secular science might have to say does people a grave disservice.

A Tale of Two Christians

Today we are going to look at a tale of two Christians.  The contrast between the two is, I think, very illuminating and instructive as to where we are and what is valued in American Christianity nowadays.

Both are public figures, very public and very outspoken in their Christian commitments.  Both are professional athletes who excelled in their sport, though neither is actively playing now.  Both are active in philanthropy and in giving back to their respective communities.  Both have drawn massive amounts of public and media attention, though for different reasons.  Both were known for kneeling publicly at key moments in their games, though for different reasons (more on this later).  That is where the similarities end.

One is revered in American Christianity; the other is reviled.  One knelt publicly as an act of private prayer; the other as an act of public protest.

I think you can see where this is going.  One is Tim Tebow; the other is Colin Kaepernick.

Tim Tebow is the darling of American Christianity and especially American evangelicalism.  Evangelical young women want him; evangelical young men want to be him.  Tebow was a standout at Florida where he played on two national championship teams in three years; he went on to a not-quite-so-distinguished NFL career and is now playing minor league baseball.  Tebow is best known for his Bible verse eye black, his longstanding involvement with his father’s missions organization, and his outspoken commitments to pro-life and sexual purity until marriage.  His signature move, kneeling down in private prayer after a big score, is called “Tebowing”.  These things resonate in many parts of American evangelicalism.

Colin Kaepernick is the villain of American Christianity and especially American evangelicalism.  His name attracts a volume of disdain equal only to that of Satan himself.  It is impossible to speak sufficiently evil of him; the more evil you speak of him, the closer you are to God.  Kaepernick had been a standout at quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers.  But in 2016 he began to kneel during the performance of the national anthem, in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and in protest of police violence against black people.  This attracted a boatload of vitriol; fans posted videos of burning his jersey, he was voted the most disliked player in the NFL, and he even received death threats.  He was blamed for a drop in NFL TV ratings due to fans boycotting because of his protests (NFL ratings were declining long before he started protesting but that’s beside the point).  And when he was cut by the 49ers, denunciation and ridicule among evangelicals was fast and furious.  God opposes the proud, they said.  Look how the mighty have fallen.

If you’re looking for proof that civil religion is back, here it is.  Think about it.  Civil religion has a creed:  the Pledge of Allegiance.  It has a Bible:  the Constitution.  It has a Cross:  the American flag.  It has a Savior:  The American military.  It has a hymn:  the national anthem.  All these things are idols before which all must bow.  Refuse to do so–no matter what your reasons–and you are eternally accursed; your condemnation was written about from the dawn of time.  Colin Kaepernick ran afoul of this dictum and has brought the denunciation of all of American evangelicalism upon himself.

Yet even more than this, the contrast between Tebow and Kaepernick reveals a bifurcation in American Christianity.  There are two distinct variations; each looks with distrust and disdain upon the other.  One is committed to personal salvation and private devotion; the other is committed to public activism and social/political transformation.  One is vehemently opposed to private sins like abortion and gay marriage; the other is equally vehement in its denunciation of public sins like racial discrimination.

The truth is, we need both.  Public activism is fruitless unless it is motivated by a spiritual root and a vital connection with the living God; private devotion is equally useless unless it results in a life of care and concern for others.  As Walter Brueggemann puts it, we should be “awed to heaven, rooted in earth”, able to “join the angels in praise, and keep our feet in time and place”.  We need the reality of a vital connection to God while recognizing that people are the heart of God’s care and concern and how one treats other people matters immensely to God.

Compare this with the American civil religion which is all over the place in American evangelicalism and which doesn’t give a shit how you treat other people as long as you stand when the national anthem is being played.

The Last Post Ever at Everyone’s Entitled to Joe’s Opinion

Funny how time flies:  Seems like only a few weeks ago that we were all thinking this would be the last post ever around here.

So what is it this time?

David Meade is a so-called Christian numerologist who has suddenly gained a great deal of traction on Fox NewsMeade is predicting that a heavenly sign will occur today, with another to follow on October 15, that will mark the start of the Tribulation.  Specifically he is predicting that Planet X, also known as Nibiru, will enter the solar system today, causing earthquakes and tsunamis and all manner of disruption as it passes Earth.  This is a pointer to the sign of October 15, when the planet Jupiter will exit the womb region of the constellation Virgo.  This “birthing of Jupiter” will signify the start of the Tribulation, a seven-year period of distress both natural and man-made which will precede the return of Christ.

We won’t discuss what I really think about Fox News devoting serious airtime and reporting acumen to bullshit like this.

People:  If anyone out there says they have figured when Christ is returning and how it’s all going to go down–they haven’t.  No one knows.  Not even Christ Himself.  Only God the Father knows.

There is no such thing as a “Christian numerologist”.  Sure, there are numbers all over the place in the Bible and they have special significance:  for instance, the numbers 3 and 7 appear frequently throughout Scripture to signify divine completeness and perfection.  That’s first-year seminary.  But it stops at first-year seminary.  There is no discipline of Christian numerology, no place where one can go to study and learn all the numerical principles to unlock all the numerical codes that will make the meaning of Scripture clear once and for all.  That’s because there is no Bible code.

But in the so-called world of “Christian numerology”, numbers mean all sorts of crazy things and everything in Scripture stands for something else which only Meade and others of his ilk can understand.

People, if someone comes out saying that they have a secret numerical code and suddenly everything in the Bible makes sense and it’s crystal clear how it’s all going to go down:  Run.  Run faster than you would from a zombie infestation.  They don’t know what they’re talking about.

For the best responses to this craziness, read what Ed Stetzer has to say on his blog at Christianity Today:

No, the World Won’t End Next Week and There’s No Such Thing as a Christian Numerologist

Fake Apocalypse News Shouldn’t Eclipse Real Tragedy News