Monday, October 31, 2011

Song of the Week

Pretty cool group I found through NoiseTrade

Daniel Ellsworth and the Great Lakes, "Bleeding Tongue"

Monday, October 24, 2011

Jason Stellman, "Dual Citizens"

Jason Stellman's book Dual Citizens: Worship and Life Between the Already and the Not Yet made my Best of 2010 list. It's a great introduction to the concept of Christians dual citizenship - and its practical too! I disagree with him on a few things, but his overall premise and presentation are really good.


Just found these video introductions to the book. Check em out, and if you're interest is peaked (or ire raised), read the book.

We live simultaneously in this age and the age to come. The Holy Spirit is our engagement ring:



Worship is what we do when we gather as the church. It is holy. Life isn't holy, it's common. Both are done for the glory of God:

Song of the Week

I've been listening to Eric Turners Street Fighting Man all week. Good stuff.

Street Fighting Man, "Shadow"

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How Tech Serves God's Purposes

I've been reading a book by John Dyer, From the Garden to the City, about "the redeeming and corrupting power of technology". I'm less than half way through the book, but it's certainly made me think, especially about how my use of technology is shaping me, not just the world around me. For example, I know (and am convicted by) how easily distracted I am by my phone. Wrestling with Luke, talking with Lynn, on the ball field with the boys - it's hard to ignore the 'bing' of my phone telling me I've got an email or text. I'll think and write more on that later. This post is about God's use of technology to advance his story.

Dyer writes, "In one story, there is a God who is moving humanity along a timeline. He has a purpose and a plan, and there is an end point toward which he is moving all of history. Technology plays a role in this story (emphasis mine), but it is a subservient role, not an ultimate one. The only true salvation offered to humanity comes from God himself, through his Son Jesus Christ."

To be honest, my initial response was a pretty cynical snort - "God doesn't need our cell phones and ipods to advance his story." The more I thought about it though, that response reveals two false beliefs/assumptions: 1) a hyper-calvinistic belief that God will do whatever he will do without any concern for means. I'd want to distance myself from if it showed up in another form (i.e. "We don't need to preach and call people to repentance. If God is calling them, they'll come"). And 2) a very limited role of technology.

It is true that God doesn't need our technology, even when broadly defined, to advance his story. He could meet every person personally on the road in a blinding light like he did Saul. But, God has ordained to work through means, namely his church - his people, to advance the redemptive story, spreading the gospel to the nations. It is possible for God to call people directly through dreams, visions, etc. But, for the most part, he has chosen to call people through his ambassadors (that's us). And while God doesn't need technology, we can't do much without it.

God certainly is using tech to advance his redemptive story - a story that includes people coming to Christ from every tribe and nation. I know of some groups that are being reached with portable radios. The tribes aren't literate, so printed Bibles would be of limited use in the first stages of reaching them. The missions agency has provided radios tuned to one frequency - it broadcasts the Bible, and people are hearing the good news through this technological innovation. I know chat rooms are effective tools for reaching people, especially people who aren't comfortable going to church (like those in closed countries where it may be illegal or dangerous). Or, the Bible software that helps pastors read, research and preach the gospel weekly - all ways tech is serving to advance God's story.

But there's a bigger, more fundamental way God has used technology to advance his story. I remember sitting in class at Covenant Theological Seminary when it hit me, sadly for the first time, that the Bible isn't just about God's mission to the world, it's a integral part of it. God's story is being carried forward as His Word is brought to people (individuals) and peoples. It's not just the container of the drama, it's an actor in the drama. And, it's technology. Maybe from our perspective it's not very advanced technology, but the written word is "“the human activity of using tools to transform God’s creation for practical purposes” (Dyer's definition of technology). At some point, pen and parchment (or papyrus) was cutting edge. Dyer explains, "...the Greek philosopher Socrates expressed concern about the technology of writing. He believed that learning in dialogue was the key to helping people grow in wisdom, and he worried that writing would make people knowledgeable, but it would fail to make them wise." So even before the printing press, God was using technology to carry his story along. Actually, language itself is a form of technology - a human tool we use to shape the world.

I'm amazed at how quickly we (maybe it's must me) can turn preferences into principles. You see it in the worship wars. Someone likes the hymns and they act like those Ira Sankey songs were written and song by Peter himself. They baptize their preference for old style organ music and hymns with a principle (God likes orderly worship, we shouldn't be too much like the culture, etc.). We can easily treat technology in the same way. We prefer books to webpages, hardbacks to ebooks, hymnals to projectors, classroom to online learning, etc. As Dyer points out, no technology is entirely benign - it's all shaping us and we need to be aware of that. On the other hand, we can't function and we can't do ministry without technology - primitive or cutting edge. God isn't dependent on it, but we, as his ambassadors, very much are.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Song of the Week

This song got in my head thanks to post-season baseball. Not my typical cup of tea, but I like it a lot.

Tinie Tempah, "Written in the Stars"

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Luke is up to bat

Yep Luke, not Jake or Caleb. Jake's fall-ball coach asked if Luke wanted to try and play in the last game of the season. He was so excited! Thanks Jeff.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Critical Interaction with Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed

I am not one trained in education, pedagogy, philosophy of education or any related field. Freire's book was a required read for my first class in that field. I found it an interesting read and worth some dialogue. Those of you trained in the field, here's my thoughts - don't hesitate to push back!

Paulo Freire’s short book Pedagogy of the Oppressed has shaped the field of education, specifically educational philosophy, since its publication in 1970. As D. Schugurensky observes, “There is ‘before’ and ‘after’ Freire, both in the philosophical approach to adult education, as well as in its practice.” Paulo’s educational philosophy has vast implications not only in the secular realm, and not only for Christian educators, but also for the church as an institution; thus, it is a work which must be engaged critically. That is the goal of this short exchange, to engage critically with Freire, asking which aspects of his educational philosophy should be accepted, which parts should be rejected, which can be modified, and how his work can/should shape the educational ministries of the Christian church.

This short interaction with Freire is organized is organized into four sections, each presenting a theme from Freire’s work alongside a more robust biblical alternative.

The Goal of Education: Transformation vs. Glorification

Freire’s educational philosophy was born from his work with underprivileged, illiterate peasants in South America (which does make it challenging to translate his philosophy into a largely literate and privileged North American context) in which oppression was a tangible reality and Marxist ideas found fertile soul in which to grow. Freire understands that oppression leads to the dehumanization of both the oppressed and the oppressor. In many instances, oppressed people liberate themselves only to find that they have in turn become the new oppressors, and in most cases, the oppressed are also sub-oppressors. To escape this cycle and liberate both oppressor and the oppressed is to allow both to be more fully human, and requires that people develop a critical awareness of their reality so that “through transforming action they can create a new situation, one which makes possible the pursuit of a fuller humanity” (Freire, 47). This is the role of the educator – to work alongside the oppressed “to unveil the world of oppression and through the praxis commit themselves to its transformation”(Freire, 54) so that in time the liberation is a true and permanent setting free and all men are fully humanized.

What should the Christian make of this? Is liberation and humanization the end goal of education? Possibly, if we consider only the horizontal plane of the educational task. But the Christian educator must also me mindful of the vertical plane and our Godward responsibility. If liberation and humanization is the educator’s goal on the horizontal plane, doxology must be the goal on the vertical plane. Or, in other words, Freire’s philosophy accounts for the second table of the law in seeking to promote love for neighbor. But as Christian educators, we have a responsibility to the first table as well, to promote the love of God in the human heart. In this, Freire’s philosophy obviously comes up short. His philosophy begins with and ends with man and our responsibilities to man, not God. Thus, as a fully orbed philosophy of education, it must be rejected. However, as part of an educational philosophy that does not neglect our duties toward God, it has some promise. After all, it would be an equally critical error to neglect our duties on the horizontal plane, our duties to the second table of the law (cf. 1 John 4:20). Several key themes of Freire’s philosophy will be examined in this light.

The Method of Education: Banking vs. Problem-Posing Education

Central to Freire’s educational philosophy is the distinction between “banking” and “problem-posing” approaches to the educational task. By banking, Freire means an approach to education that sees students as “containers” or “receptacles” to be filled with the knowledge the teacher possesses. The more knowledge a teacher can impart, the better teacher they are; the more a student can retain the better student they are. Freire contends that this approach drives a wedge, an untrue and oppressive wedge, between the student who supposedly knows little or nothing and the teacher who knows everything. Such an approach, contends Freire, is a tool in the hands of the oppressor by which they domesticate the student, teaching them to adapt to the situation rather than to change it (Freire, 74).

This oppressive form of education must be broken down and students as well as teachers must, according for Freire, come to see themselves as col-earners. Freire writes, “Those truly committed to liberation must reject the banking concept in its entirety (emphasis added)...They must abandon the educational goal of deposit-making and replace it with the posing of the problems of human beings in their relation with the world” (Freire, 79). He continues, “Whereas banking education anesthetizes and inhibits creative power, problem-posing education involves a constant unveiling of reality… [so that students] will feel increasingly challenged and obliged to respond to that challenge” (Freire, 82). The result is that students begin to see that reality is transformable and take up the challenge not only to transform themselves but their entire social context.

Two critical observations should be made. First, one should question whether Freire’s problem-posing pedagogy is even possible apart from some prior banking of information which he rejects in toto. Stephen Prothero recalls, “So when I finished graduate school and became a professor myself, I told students that I didn’t care about facts. I cared about having challenging conversations, and I offered my quiz-free classrooms as places to do just that. I soon found, however, that the challenging conversations I coveted were not possible without some common knowledge – common knowledge my students plainly lacked” (Stephen Prothero, Religious Literacy. New York: Harper One, 2007, pg. 5). Can a teacher lead a productive dialogue on, for example, how the Exodus serves as a paradigm for God’s liberating mission if students have no prior knowledge of the events of the Exodus?

Second, even if it’s good pedagogy, believers should ask if it’s Biblical, especially when applying it to the church and her educational ministries. Though we may take issue with the direction of transformation Freire proposes, we can certainly agree that the goal of the church’s educational ministry is real transformation and not winning The Annual All Church Bible Trivia Challenge. However, the quickest of surveys will lead the student of God’s Word to see that some degree of banking is important; there are certain people who know things and are tasked with conveying these things to others who do not know them. Deuteronomy 6:1-7 gives us two examples: Moses has been commissioned by God to teach the Israelites the commandments who were in turn instructed to pass their knowledge on to their children. The Great commission is another example where some people, namely the disciples, with certain knowledge, namely what Jesus taught, are commissioned to go to other and tell them what they would not otherwise know. Catechetical education, which is largely depositing information in a receptacle, has a place in the church. Once the true information has been learned, we must help people see how this truth transforms their existence and can be brought to bear on the reality they find themselves in.

Spiritual vs. Political/Economic Oppression

This brings us to another critique of Freire’s educational philosophy. While Freire speaks of oppression on nearly every page of his work, he sees it solely in terms of socio-political or socio-economic oppression. Freire speaks eloquently on the task of unveiling reality, exposing the currents within our structures that carry people along, debunking the myths that are perpetuated, and enabling people to become part of the process of overcoming their “limit situations”. Yet on a biblical analysis, Freire’s understanding of oppression is shallow in that it leaves off the most sinister oppressor – the sinful human heart. Were all structures of authority and resource distribution to undergo a thorough renovation and all forms of injustice rectified, human beings would still be horribly oppressed. Of course that is ridiculously hypothetical and upon a Christian viewpoint impossible, for hearts tainted by sin will not only oppress their owners, but will inevitably lead to oppressive systems as well.

Borrowing a page from Schaeffer, we can say to Freire, “Your philosophy is good so far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough.” Freire is correct in pushing educators to unveil the systems of oppression and currents that carry people along unconsciously in cooperation with those systems. For the Christian educator that means exposing the sinful streams of greed, pride, lust, etc., that run through every human heart and carries them along individually and unconsciously as well as and prior to unveiling how those streams carry us along and oppress us at the societal level.

Given Freire’s limited understanding of oppression, his limited understanding of education as primarily a political endeavor is understandable. However, those who have a deeper understanding of oppression will necessarily take a different view of the educational task, one that first addresses the inner spiritual oppression of sin, which is the fount of all other types of oppression we encounter.

Objects vs. Subjects of Transformation

One final critique must be made. Freire emphasizes throughout his work that educators must allow students to be full participants in the transformation of society in a more fully humanized one. Freire writes, “It is absolutely essential that the oppressed participate in the revolutionary process with an increasingly critical awareness of their role as Subject of the transformation” (Freire, 127). At one level, that works in the church as well as we call people to the task evangelism, to spread the good news of the kingdom of God, and to live out the gospel in concern for social justice.

On another level, however, it is completely hostile to the gospel. Freire loathes the idea that oppressed might be treated as “welfare recipients” or as objects of liberation rather than subjects who bring about their own liberation. While it is true that believers can contribute to their liberation from external social, political, and economic oppression, it is patently untrue that they contribute in any way to their liberation from their true oppressor, namely sin and guilt. The preaching of the gospel reminds us every week that we truly are recipients of welfare, that before we’re ever subjects of societal transformation, we are objects of God’s liberating work.

Conclusion

Certainly other critiques are valid. For example, Freire’s understanding of truth as something constructed in dialogue rather than something the objectively exists has been rightly criticized. It would, however, be a mistake to dismiss Freire out of hand because of these shortcomings, massive though they are. When read through a biblical filter, there is still much that the church can learn from Freire. It is, after all, easy to turn people in our churches into passive receptacles of biblical information. Freire reminds us that in our teaching the retention of information is at best a penultimate goal. The truth we teach is a transformative truth, and we must treat it as such. Moreover, Freire rightly emphasizes that good teachers will lift the curtain on reality and reveal to people the forces that are working to subjugate them (John seems to be doing just that in the book of Revelation). Also, that this is often best done in dialogue where students and teachers come humbly ready to learn from each other can hardly be doubted. Other points of agreement could likely be found, but in the end Paulo Freire’s philosophy of education is too divergent from a truly Christian approach to education to be accepted on the whole.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Song of the Week

It feels like a punk rock morning.

Discharge, "Free Speech for the Dumb"

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The Sin of Submission

I've been sitting on this post for quite a while, debating whether or not to post it.
Two things prompted me to finish it up and then post it. First is my ongoing study of Galatians for my ACG; and second, a growing concern over the abuse of spiritual authority in the church (no, not at ECC).

It would be easy to write a post about the abuse of spiritual authority by pastors and churches. There's plenty of examples to choose from, the Scripture's which condemn such abuse are easy to find (c.f. Mark 10:42; 1 Peter 5:3), and the stories are often heartbreaking. Certainly those who use authority in an abusive way are guilty of grievous sin. But, Scripture leads me to believe that those who submit to spiritual abuse are also guilty of sinning. I know, that sounds off, and maybe it is, so stick with me and test what I'm saying.

Obviously submission is commanded many times in Scripture. We're all commanded to submit to God and his law (James 4:7, negatively expressed in Ps. 81:11, Rom. 8:7, Rom 10:3), to the human authorities God has put in place (Rom. 13, Titus 3:1, 1 Peter 2:13). Children are to submit to parents ('obey', Eph. 6:1, 1 Tim. 3:4), slaves are commanded to be submissive to masters ('obey', Eph. 6:5, Titus 2:5, 1 Peter 2:18), wives to husbands (Eph 5:22-24, 1 Cor. 14:34-35, Col. 3:18, 1 Tim 2:11, 1 Peter 3:1-5). Peter also commands the younger (beleivers?) to be in submission to those who are elder (1 Peter 5:5). Indeed, we're all to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph. 5:21) The church at Corinth was commended for the submission to Paul's appeal to gather money to care for the poor in Jerusalem. Later in the same letter Paul commands the Christians there to be subject to the saints committed to serving the church (1 Cor. 16:16). Hebrews 13:7 commands us to submit to those charge with providing spiritual leadership and 'guarding our souls'.

Now that's just a sampling, but it may lead you to ask, 'Can you really be overly submissive?' The answer is a resounding 'yes!'. In fact, you may be sinfully overly submissive. Consider Galatians 5:1, "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." Also Galatians 2:4-6,

"Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you."

Or Colossians 2:16-23,

"Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels...20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh."

Pastors are called to speak the whole counsel of God. Preach the law, Yes! Preach repentance. Preach against sin. But pastors and churches don't have authority to go beyond Scripture in binding the conscience of the people. This is a major implication of the Reformed doctrine of Sola Scriptura. I love this statement from Calvin, "Let the pastors boldly dare all things by the word of God. . . Let them constrain all the power, glory, and excellence of the world to give place to and to obey the divine majesty of this word. Let them enjoin everyone by it, from the highest to the lowest. Let them edify the body of Christ. Let them devastate Satan’s reign. Let them pasture the sheep, kill the wolves, instruct and exhort the rebellious. Let them bind and loose thunder and lightning, if necessary, but let them do all according to the word of God.” (John Calvin, Sermons on the Epistle to the Ephesians).

Pastors should not go beyond Scripture, and parishioners should not let them! For a pastor to do so is a sinful abuse of his power and position. For a parishioner to submit to it is sinful too. But aren't those who suffer under spiritual abuse victims? Yes. But they are victims that are allowing themselves to be victimized supposing that doing so will make them holy or more acceptable to God.

God commands that we ought to submit to authority. Failure to do so is sin. God also commands us that we ought not submit to slavery - to a unbiblical binding of our consciences, even if that slavery comes in the from a pastor or in the name of 'holiness'. To do so is to break God's commands and is thus sinful.

What does this mean practically? It means that if a pastor commands you not to drink a beer, you should have two to spite him (thanks Luther for that). If you're commanded not to date that girl (unless she's an unbeliever), plant a wet one on her lips and take a pic and send it to the pastor. If he commands you not to read a certain book, you invite the author to a book signing in your living room. Ok, maybe none of those are good responses, but neither is submitting to unbiblical infringements upon our Christian liberty. Don't submit, and don't stay in a church that expects you to.

Bizarre

I was looking for this song by Fernando Ortega (it fits with the message I'm preparing on Genesis 22). I love the song, but I just can't figure out what dolphins have to do with praising God in the midst of trials and doubts. It's just weird.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Song of the Week

Last week Rob turned me on to a group called NeadtoBreathe. So, as I was trimming and mounting posters for the womens event last week, I listened to three or four hours of NeedtoBreathe music. Yeah, I like it alot.

This song stood out, partly cause of the music. I love it. But, the first part of the song reminded me of my mom and dad. He's a preacher...he's got a wonderful wife...together they've shone the light of Jesus in the world...they've accused by people who just wanted to hear their own voice...but they're still ministering in the church, even after the voices of criticism have long since gone.

The song also, though maybe (probably) without knowing, conveys a high view of the sacrament of baptism as a 'sign-and-seal' on the believer.

Ok, enough already, just enjoy.