Origen to Appear on NOOMA Video, or Al Mohler Likes Boobs

This really isn't about Rob Bell and his orthodoxy. I simply don't care if he believes in hell, that hell will be full, or that hell will be empty. Seriously don't give a shit. I don't attend his church, buy his books, watch his NOOMA videos, and I don't live in the frozen north, nor would I. What fascinates me about this process, though, is the way communication works in the "body of Christ," which, if I were to pull up an appropriate analogy, resembles the body of Osiris after Set completed the dismemberment and burial of the parts around Egypt. Oh, beloved, there are so many layers to that metaphor...sorry, I felt like Spurgeon there for a second.

For those of you who don't follow Christian MSM, all of the realm is atwitter (ha!) with news of Bell's yet to be released book Love Wins. I wrote a previous post at the request of friends, but I have no intention of reading this book (unless someone gives me a free copy to review). In a brief promo video, Bell makes some provocative statements about what Christians believe about atonement, hell, and God's character. I'm all about taxonomies these days, so let me explain the fracas via categories of evangelical importance.

Well-known Calvinist blogger Justin Taylor was able to assess Bell's universalism (for the non-theists out there, that means everyone gets saved, even if they don't want to) simply by watching the video. He blogged about it, and set the douchey side of the Reformed blogosphere on fire (ha!). Bloggers, including myself, are the lowest form of writing life on the internet. We're merely narcissists or bitter or lack love in our lives, so we pound away on keyboards for catharsis from our miserable lives. That's what I've been told. But the Is Rob Bell a Universalist question didn't remain in the blog world though.

The next category is Christian rockstar, and none other than John Piper, the hack who hangs on Calvin's ballsack (it's the only rhyme I could come up with...) and pens nonsense about Christian hedonism and God killing Jesus and how Calvinism really does make sense (unless you have a vagina or a brain, and the first is related to the overwhelming number of young men who like this shit), tweeted "Farewell Rob Bell." So, I thought, fuck it, if he likes rhymes, I can use them too. Maybe I don't have enough followers on twitter because I don't use rhyming couplets. Anyway, Piper also hadn't read the book, but he felt qualified to speak on Bell's farewell-ness, and I think it was related to Bell no longer being a Christian or orthodox, as if Calvinists are. There's a howler.

Finally, and we're skipping the category of hard working pastor (sorry, friends), we have Christian policy maker or prophit (that's a conflation of pundit and prophet, folks. I can spell, and if you use it, I get credit!). Al Mohler, the SBC luminary responsible for more shitty ethical deliberation than Norman Geisler and J.P. Moreland combined, compared Bell's promo video to a "theological striptease." Sigh. Bell never took his dong out, for the record. I watched the whole thing. Dong-free video. But I think Mohler was using a similar metaphor to the old C.S. Lewis one wherein a strip club is compared to young men sitting stage side while a steak dinner is unveiled. Yeah, I'm sure that's it, as I'm pretty sure most evangelical ethical thinking at the populist level has to pass the Lewis test.

Bell is provocative and smart. He also seems to genuinely care about getting at "the truth." He's also in a long line of Christian thinkers who have tried to do justice to the horns of the altar dilemma here: God's love and God's justice vis-a-vis last things. An Onion-style press release is probably in order in which the mouldering corpse of Origen is set to appear in a NOOMA video to quote from his Origen de Principiis. I dusted my copy off this morning and found this quote, which I think illustrates that Bell is in good company:

But in the meantime, both in those temporal worlds which are seen, as well in those eternal worlds which are invisible, all those beings are arranged, according to a regular plan, in the order and degree of their merits; so that some of them in the first, others in the second, some even in the last times, after having undergone heavier and severer punishments, endured for a lengthened period, and for many ages, so to speak, improved by this stern method of training, and restored at first by the instruction of the angels, and subsequently by the powers of a higher grade, and thus advancing through each stage to a better condition, reach even to that which is invisible and eternal, having traveled through by a kind of training, every single office of the heavenly powers. From which, I think, this will appear to follow as an inference, that every rational nature may, in passing from one order to another, go through each to all, and advance from all to each, while made the subject of varying degrees of proficiency and failure according to its own actions and endeavors, put forth in the enjoyment of its power of freedom of will. de Principiis 2.6.3
Silly Origen. The fallen angels can't be saved. Just ask John Piper and Al Mohler. A little theological context is warranted folks, and some historical context wouldn't hurt. Many called Origen a heretic for this view while completely ignoring the ways in which his Neoplatonism undermined Christian doctrines. See, I think the NOOMA video would be amazing if we could just get Origen to debate Piper, but perhaps God in his foreknowledge didn't plan for that. Alas.

This is HAL, your pastor's avatar. Welcome to church? Part 2.

If you have seen the story about Ed Young, Jr., yet, you need to read it before this will make any sense. I asked friend and reverend Todd Littleton if I could share his post yesterday, and he pointed me to another Christian response at Beliefnet by the always thoughtful Scot McKnight. I appreciate that some in the Church are talking about these things, and I'd like to point out again that we started talking about them around here years ago. This morning at breakfast, I remembered that one of the first columns I wrote in my weekly Faith and Culture column for the Daily Oklahoman in 2002 was about Fellowship Church changing their name to Fellowshipchurch.com. Pretty sure I didn't use the word stupid, but I wanted to.

Fellowship Church, no longer just .com, has made the news again for...well...hmm...CNN helps out the truly obtuse by putting the piece in their technology section with the tag/label "innovation." Thanks, CNN. No wonder American news watchers get stupider every year. It's a network that literally makes you dumber just by watching it. To their credit, CNN includes at least one naysayer, and he brings up an important issue, one Todd touched on himself, and one that is critical to actually doing theology and ministry: presence or embodiment. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

CNN probably shouldn't do a piece like this unless they are capable of parsing what is actually said as if they are religion insiders. Sure, do the technology angle, but why enter into the fray about church growth models or evangelistic methodologies? You're not going to do them any justice. Example. Naysayer talks about the importance of embodiment. Ed Young, Jr., is allowed to respond with this howler:

Young, the Texas pastor, also invoked the New Testament to support his method of preaching. Young said Biblical church leaders like the Apostle Paul wrote letters that were then distributed to churches across the Roman Empire. The church leaders weren't physically present when those letters -- some of which were later included in the New Testament -- were read aloud, but that didn't make the message any less profound, he said.

Kill. Me. Now. A reporter who is also a religion insider might have responded: Ed, Paul sent letters to the churches on an ad hoc basis. He was responding to issues, announcing his arrival, and answering questions. There was actually a pastor or elder or deacon present in those churches. Paul was an Apostle. It's kind of an important distinction. Are you called to be an Apostle, Ed? A savvy reporter might also have said something like this: The very methodology of multi-site ministry demands the devaluing of embodiment and the elevation of doctrinal communication packaged as pithy sayings and practical exercises above every other component of the actual ritual of worship. In other words, you don't think embodiment is as important as the proclamation of the "word," and I say that with gross reservations, even as a non-believer, because the "word" you're preaching, just like the word at every other hydra-headed cult of personality, is packaged fatuity. It fails to grapple with the larger issues of faith and doubt and life and death with the required complexity or nuance necessary when a pastor is part of the blood and sweat and shit of everyday life in a parish. It is pop self-help; it is not, decidedly NOT, what Barth envisioned as a Word of God event.

How is it I'm so offended by this idiocy when I don't have a dog in the fight? I think it's because I have brilliant friends--Todd, Elaine, Dani, Jon, Kevin, Tim, etc.--who have contended faithfully for a robust faith that is both open-minded and open-ended, as well as complex, thoughtful, reflective, and redemptive. The proof of the superiority of their message is that they still love me. Profane, cynical, often obnoxious, relentlessly critical me. Their theology allows for the loving of the truly other because they are embodied in a community where saints, dickweeds, fucktards, rednecks, and the truly humble congregate every week. I will contend for their form of Christianity as long as I breathe because it makes people into fully functioning human beings who love, really love, the other. I don't care about the mythology that animates their belief; I reject it almost completely.

What I can't defend is the commodification of inanity that markets itself as a gospel that can reach the postmodern world. It's so ignorant of its own vanity that a pastor can justify spending millions of dollars to create false embodiment after rejecting the very principle of embodiment. Catastrophically stupid doesn't do justice to this sort of spiritual blindness. It's predicated on equivocation: what does "reach" mean, after all? I got to hear your canned, 22-minute spiel? That's reaching me? Fuck you. I got to see a hologram talk about the theological implications of a recent movie by flattening all the metaphors while the sycophants who are really there because they think it's a cool place to be think it's a deeply spiritual and philosophical presentation? Say it with me: fuck you. You told me how to manage my money and live debt free while you knock down six figures by "serving" a congregation whose faces you never see except on a monitor and allegedly modeling your life after Jesus and Paul, men who ultimately lived on the edge of poverty and died for their convictions. Nearly every justification of the expansion of the technology budget comes down to this claim: it will help us reach more people. The move is a clever one, actually. How is any true Christian supposed to be opposed to evangelism? It's a justification of the pastor's vanity in the form of coercive speech. Please, please tell me why any church needs a hologram. To quote the hhdw: It's evil. Why? Because the world needs redemption (however you understand that word), and your pastor just got technology chub by buying a hologram generator. Seriously. Glad you got a hologram. The gospel is way more interesting when a rich white guy appears in virtual form, just like Jesus...

Admin note: in case you haven't noticed, I added a native search bar on the top right. It searches the blog for any old material, and it seems to work pretty well. If you want to find stuff about multi-sites, you can use that phrase, but back in the day, I always referred to Lifechurch.tv as the hydra-headed megachurch, so I'd use hyrda too, just in case.

This is HAL, your pastor's avatar. Welcome to church? Part 1.

(If you're a regular reader, skip the first two paragraphs, and if you only click one link, make it the last one.) Before I say anything about this, let me give a little background. I started blogging here in February of 2004. At that time I was a pretty serious post-evangelical Christian. I've posted 1075 (including this one) separate entries, including a few word-for-word articles that I sold to newspapers or magazines, but wanted people to read and respond to here. There have been nearly 12,000 comments over the past 6 1/2 years. I've wanted to stop doing this many times, but I've always decided to continue, not out of sheer vanity, but out of a desire to communicate with people about things I think are deeply important. Many regular readers have been around for this entire process. Many have come and gone. Many were drive-by douchebag trolls. Many have read and never commented. I'm grateful for all of them, even the trolls, as they helped me so much in thinking through what communication with fundamentalists ought to look like and how to distinguish when it's pointless. I could list a half dozen names now of people who frequent this blog that have helped shape my thinking in ways they may not even imagine. I am amazingly grateful for that small band.

For a few years this was a moderately popular place to talk about fundamentalistsemergent, post-evangelical, and multi-site/megachurch issues. Many people left when I left the faith, though; I assume because I no longer had anything to say about their particular brand of faith. Fine with me. I've continued to blog about faith, church, culture, language, etc., and a few individuals still find what I say thought-provoking or funny or profane enough that they read it. I'm still grateful.

The reason for this long intro is that many new folks have started showing up, and you need to understand you're listening in on a conversation that has been going on for more than six years. Yes, it's called "the parish," but no, I'm not a Christian. I'm not even a theist. The people that post comments on here are an amazing mix of atheist, Christian, theist, deist, skeptic, agnostic, conservative, etc. I prefer it that way. Most especially because the regulars around here have learned to communicate respectfully amidst disagreement. It's a rare thing in a culture as polarized as ours. I value it. Don't fuck it up.

The other reason for this long intro is that I'm about to link to a blog post by a pastor friend who has stuck with me long after I left the faith. There are probably very few things we actually agree on, but he's too gracious to call me on some of my rants, and we do agree on some really big things. I also appreciate that he's not trying to get me saved every time I see him. I think he knows that I know the options, and he either trusts me to hear God one day, or trusts God to get to me, or he doesn't give it much thought at all. And I honestly don't care which of the three it is; he's just good company.

If you clicked on the multi-site or megachurch link above, you can see that I've been critiquing those movements as long as I've been blogging. I even wrote an article or two about it over the years. As a synopsis of sorts, I think the megachurch movement is bad, but not nearly as pernicious as the multi-site movement. For some reason, the movement earned some press this week, probably because the amazing Mr. Ed (Young), Jr., got himself a holographic image of himself to preach at his various campuses. No, I'm not making that up. And in part 2 of this post, I'll address how utterly stupid I think it is for a pastor to reject embodiment and then spend millions of dollars on a technology that produces the best version possible of faux embodiment. For now though, I think it's only fair to let my friend Doctor Todd Littleton, pastor of Snow Hill Baptist Church in Tuttle, America, have the floor. He's posted a response to the story, and the tone is amazingly snarky for him. He gets the official Christian response. Sometime later today or tomorrow, I'll give the heathen response.

Solid Analysis on Twitter: Finally

I was a little weary of the media hype about twitter. I was trying to listen to Mike & Mike on ESPN radio this morning (the oily Eric Kuselias was sitting in for Greenberg unfortunately--the man is almost as annoying and arrogant as Colin Cowherd), and Golic was tweeting back and forth with Chad Ochocinco Johnson. No. I'm not making this up. They were reading tweets on the air. Note to ESPN: sports radio is a difficult medium in which to deliver a good product; it's only made more difficult when reading tweets from the completely inarticulate Ochocinco. Yesterday someone was saying on another XM station that Lindsay Lohan tweeted her boobs. I'm being followed on twitter by life coaches and motivational speakers I've never heard of, and even if I have heard of them, who the hell pays a life coach? Talk to your mom or your friend or the guy that hates you the most. Their input will be useful. Companies are trying to spam me on twitter. Celebrities and pseudo-celebrities want me to the follow them. I don't care. I have a network of friends on there, and I follow some journalists and editors I think are worthwhile. I also follow good wine bars here in town as well as good restaurants. I've asked for contacts for stories on twitter and received excellent sources. I like the medium. It's young. It has issues. It can be better. But I like it.

Until this outstanding article from American Journalism Review, I had only read good analysis of twitter that focused on technology or business model. This focuses on demographics, journalism, and ethics. It's solid analysis. It's one of the reasons I subscribe to AJR and CJR. I read enough hyped up bullshit about whatever the next thing is. Twitter may be one of the next things, but you may be surprised what AJR thinks it's going to be useful for and who the primary users will be.