The Intimacy of the New Memorials

Over at Marginalia Review of Books, Peter Gardella has written a piece entitled “July 4th and the 9/11 Museum in American Civil Religion.” Particularly interesting is his discussion of the difference between older and newer memorials/monuments. You can read the full essay here. Gardella writes:

One quality all of these new and transformed memorials share is an increase in the intensity of personal experience they seek to induce in the visitor. Traditional monuments — such as the obelisk of the Washington Monument, the Statue of Liberty, the Lincoln Memorial, or Mount Rushmore — gain their power through scale and emotional distance. Evoking greatness by inducing awe, they lead viewers to revere the people and ideals for which they stand.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial changed that dynamic by bringing the names of the dead down to the level of the living visitors, and by writing the names on black granite so polished that the visitors see themselves reflected in it. No distance separates the living from the dead. Visitors respond by leaving items for the departed, as they do on the polished brass of the 9/11 Memorial.

Similar intimacy marks the other new memorials. The Holocaust Memorial and Museum has piles of shoes from victims. Ellis Island sends visitors past heaps of old luggage, to climb the same stairway where doctors quickly judged immigrants’ health.

At the new 9/11 Museum, visitors hear the last messages victims left, calling their loved ones on cell phones and answering machines. Police and fire department radios play their announcements, messages, and requests for help. A bicycle rack stands with bent bikes waiting for riders who never returned. Eyeglasses and shoes, racks of jeans and sweatshirts to be sold on that day, mangled fire trucks and ambulances, all mingle in rooms where televisions constantly play the news of one airplane hitting the North tower, another hitting the South tower, then the news of the plane that hit the Pentagon, the one that crashed in Pennsylvania, and the search of rubble with no rescue. Though I have visited Auschwitz and Maidanek without crying, in this setting the message from a flight attendant on Flight 93 moved me to tears.

Church Leadership: A Noble Task

When you hear the words “church leader,” I wonder what comes to your mind.

Unfortunately, the words probably have negative connotations for many people today. After all, it’s the scandalous shepherds who get all the media attention these days. We don’t often read a story in The New York Times about a pastor who has served in a congregation faithfully for thirty years. We don’t see reports on CNN about the churches with wonderful children’s ministries, where godly men and women are introducing children to Jesus. No, these stories are far too “dull.” We hear about the cases of sexual abuse and misappropriation of church funds. And so, sadly, church leaders have for many people become paradigms of hypocrisy.

For others, church leaders are a laughing matter, the butt of a joke. This is no doubt related to the way pastors are portrayed in movies. Whether a drunken friar (Robin Hood), a creepy demon fighter (insert your favorite horror movie), or a lively mega-church pastor played by an ex-country-music star (Four Christmases), the clergy of the cinema don’t exactly demand to be taken seriously.

But in the midst of all this, the Apostle Paul speaks, and he does not allow us to have a low view of church leadership. Despite the failures of certain individuals in the ministry, and despite the way the world portrays the church offices, the task of church leadership, Paul says, is “a noble task” (1 Tim 3:1). It is a task that is pleasing to God.

In 1 Tim 3:1-7, Paul provides fourteen qualifications for pastors/elders. Paul has little to say in this passage about the responsibilities of elders. But, based on other NT texts, we can sum up the work of an elder in four words: feed, lead, protect, and care. Elders minister the Word of God to the people; they guide the congregation to participate in God’s plan for the world; they do what they can to keep the congregation safe from false/destructive teaching; and they love, pray for, and encourage the members. In Peter’s words, the elders “shepherd the flock of God that is among [them]” (1 Pet 5:2). But we need to be very clear about one thing here. Elders shepherd the church under the authority of Christ. The church does not belong to the elders. Christ is the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet 5:4) who gives under shepherds to his church (Eph 4:11). So if you want to know who “runs the show” or who “calls the shots” in the church, the answer is Jesus.

With that said, let’s look now at 1 Tim 3:1-7. Here, Paul gives us a lengthy list of qualifications for elders. I don’t think this is meant to be an exhaustive list. The NT has other things to say about elders. What is most interesting about this list is that it is not really a “to-do list”; rather, it is a “to-be list.” For the most part, Paul is not here telling elders what tasks to perform; he is telling Timothy what types of people to look for as he installs elders in the city of Ephesus. The idea seems to be that if you get the right kind of person in place as an elder, he will know what needs to be done in the house of God. So, what is “the right kind of person”?

The Summary Requirement (vv. 1-2a)

1 If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach,

As I said earlier, Paul speaks highly of eldership: eldership is “a good work/noble task.” Paul probably is thinking here of an “aspiration” or “desire” that comes from the Holy Spirit. We sometimes refer to this as “the call.” It is the Spirit of God who indicates individuals and gifts them for pastoral ministry. Such noble work calls for worthy workers: “Therefore, an overseer must be above reproach.” The idea is that an elder must present to the world at large a Christian life that furnishes no grounds for accusation. He is to be a model for others to follow.

Six Positive Qualities to Display (v. 2b)

First, an elder must be “the husband of one wife,” or the better translation is “a one-woman man” (μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα). This qualification has been interpreted in a number of ways. 1) Some interpret the phrase as a requirement: all elders must be married. This interpretation fails to do justice to the term “one.” 2) Some interpret the phrase as a prohibition of polygamy. This is highly unlikely, however, since monogamy was the norm in the Greco-Roman world. 3) Some argue that the phrase is intended to exclude from eldership those who have remarried after a divorce. But this interpretation stands in tension with those NT texts that seem to allow for divorce under certain circumstances (e.g., Matt 5:32; 19:9; 1 Cor 7:15). 4) Most likely, Paul is speaking here of marital fidelity. A man must over time prove himself to be faithful to one woman. I don’t think this qualification automatically excludes all men with a divorce in their past, but it does exclude those who have not been faithful in their marriages.

Second, Paul says that an elder must be “temperate” or “sober-minded.” He must be a clear thinker, one who possesses the discipline to refrain from any excess that would dull his alertness to spiritual matters.

Next we find the closely related terms “self-controlled” and “respectable.” The idea here is that an elder must have command of his emotions and behavior. He must not be controlled by harmful desires, whether for sex, money, fame, or power, and he must be known for his respectable conduct.

Fifth, an elder must be “hospitable,” a “welcomer” of people of all kinds. His life and home are open to those in need.

Sixth, Paul writes that an elder must be “able to teach,” or “an apt teacher” (διδακτικός). This is the only qualification that is related to a specific giftedness. An elder must be a skilled teacher of God’s Word, a competent communicator of the gospel.

Four Negative Characteristics to Avoid (v. 3)

First, an elder is “not a drunkard.” The word Paul uses here is a compound of the preposition παρά (“by”) and the noun οἶνος (“wine”); the picture is one of a person who spends too much time sitting beside his wine. An elder must be free from addictions.

Second, an elder is “not violent but gentle.” An elder reacts to disputes in the church and in his own family with calmness and gentleness. A hot-headed church leader is a contradiction.

Similarly, Paul next says an elder is “not quarrelsome.” Elders are to be known as the peacemakers, not the troublemakers. The idea of “quarreling” refers not so much to physical fighting (though that would certainly be included) but to a propensity for arguments. In the words of that wonderful, practical theologian, Johnny Cash, elders “don’t take [their] guns to town.” They are not always loaded up and ready for a dispute, on the lookout for an argument to win.

Finally, an elder is “not a lover of money.” He is not greedy, stingy, or even financially ambitious. This is the very opposite of what we find in 1 Tim 6:10: “By reaching for riches, some have been led away from the Christian faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”

Three Final Qualifications, Each with Elaboration (vv. 4-7)

4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

The final three qualifications have to do with family (vv. 4-5), humility (v. 6), and an elder’s reputation in the community (v. 7). An elder must “lead” or “direct” his household. He must be a good steward of all the people and resources the Lord has entrusted to his care. Specifically, he must ensure that his children display consistent (though certainly not perfect) obedience and respect.

In v. 6, Paul explains that an elder “must not be a recent convert.” An elder must have ample time to grow, to mature in the faith, so that he will not become prideful, for “pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov 16:18).

Lastly, in v. 7 Paul says that it is necessary for an elder “to be well thought of by outsiders.” He must have a good reputation, not only in the church, but also in the entire community. He must be a positive example for the watching world.

Final Thoughts

As we come to the end of this list of fourteen qualifications, it is important for me to say that no elder will ever be “perfectly qualified.” There is only one perfect pastor: Jesus Christ, the Great Shepherd of the sheep, who laid down his life for his imperfect flock (elders included!). No elder, no under shepherd, will ever meet these qualifications perfectly. Paul’s point is that people who exhibit these characteristics in high and increasing measure should be leaders who fill the office of elder.

In closing, let me encourage churches to stay committed to the biblical qualifications for church leadership. As people step forward, desiring to be leaders in the church, we need to make sure that these people are measured by 1 Tim 3. The question is not: Is this person charismatic? The question is: Is this person a competent communicator of the gospel? The question is not: Is he the former manager of a Fortune-500 company? The question is: Does he manage his own household well? Leadership in God’s church is a noble task. But it is God’s church. He tells us who is fit to lead.

Russell Moore on Engaging Issues with the Strangeness of the Gospel

Below are a few of Russell Moore’s comments from an interview that focused on the issue of gay marriage. You can read the rest of The Huffington Post interview here.

What I often tell people in churches and at Christian conferences is about a conversation I had with a lesbian activist, a secularist, about a Christian view of sexuality. She said, ‘I don’t know anybody who believes the sorts of things that you people believe about marriage and sex and it sounds incredibly strange to me.’ And my response was to say, ‘Yes, and we believe even stranger things than that. We believe a previously dead man is going to show up in the sky on a horse.’ In order to try to say to our people, ‘You know, Christianity didn’t emerge in Mayberry. Christianity emerged in a Greco-Roman environment that found the Christian sexual ethic just as shocking and strange as American culture increasingly does now.’ So what do we do? We don’t run from strangeness. We instead learn to articulate it with clarity and with mission. And also to say you can’t find a shelter to keep you from having to engage these issues.

You’re embracing the idea of strangeness now, but as people learn to articulate more persuasively and winsomely, do you think that strangeness is still sort of an ideal, or is it to transition from strangeness to reasonableness, or however you would characterize it?

No, I don’t think we should ever transition from strangeness. I think we should have a strangeness with clarity. What I see happening in the New Testament is very different from the sort of dime store prosperity gospel that we often see in evangelicalism, which wants to say that Jesus is a means to living a normal Christian life, with all of that and heaven too, which doesn’t make sense of what the New Testament model is. Every time that Jesus is preaching the gospel, and people are starting to respond to his message, Jesus always turns around and clarifies, not clarifying in order to remove the strangeness of his message, but clarifying in order to reveal the strangeness of his message. He says, ‘I don’t think you understand what I’m talking about. I’m talking about taking up a cross and following me.’ I think that’s what has to happen, where we’re not quarrelsome, we’re not seeking to demonize our opponents, we’re seeking to be persuasive and we’re seeking to articulate the gospel, but we’re articulating that gospel without trying to evacuate it of its strange otherworldly message, which is what we believe is the power to save. That’s how people are transformed. coming into contact with something that is radically different from what they’ve otherwise experienced.


Missing the Point of Frozen (Featuring the Voice of “Adele Dazeem”)

Just read this over at The Gospel Coalition:

The bright spot in this insufferably cold winter has been the success of the movie, Frozen, considered one of the best Disney films in decades.

We took the family to see the film on Thanksgiving weekend, fully expecting the common, tired storyline of a princess being true to herself and finding salvation through romantic love. It is the Disney dogma, after all.

Surprisingly, the movie’s storyline takes us in the opposite direction. The princess who is “true to herself” wreaks havoc on the world and leaves shattered relationships in her wake. Her devoted sister pursues her, even at great personal cost. And when all seems to be lost and you hope a prince will save the day with romantic love, there is instead a stunning portrait of self-sacrifice, described as the only kind of love that can melt a frozen heart.

It’s not hard to see the redemptive sketches in this movie. If you believe that love is more than just a feeling, that true love is expressed in self-sacrifice (which flows ultimately from Christ’s willingness to give His life for the world), and that true change can only take place through redemption not self-discovery, then you will find this movie delightful. More importantly, you will find ways to connect this movie’s theme to the gospel…

Well said, Trevan Wax. Well said. You can read the entire article here.

PS – This post is for my boys, who love this film. (Can you refer to an animated movie as a “film”?)

What New Zealand Can Teach the Rest of the World

Here is a fascinating little article on New Zealand, Land of the Long White Cloud. Glad I have had the opportunity to call this place “home” for the past two and a half years. An excerpt:

In New Zealand, many cars are left unlocked, hitchhikers scatter the roadside and the country’s laidback and tourist-friendly vibe hints at the nation’s safety. New Zealand was officially ranked the third safest country in the world last year in the Global Peace Index. It also tied with Denmark for first place as one of the least politically corrupt countries on the planet.


A Biblical Theologian and a Systematic Theologian Walk into a Bar…

In Themelios 39.1, Gerald Bray and Thomas Schreiner dialogue about doing/writing theology. Here is the closing paragraph from Bray’s review of Schreiner’s book, The King in HIs Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments.

This is ultimately why theology cannot be simply a running exposition of the biblical text, in whatever order it is taken. It must penetrate that text and reveal the foundations on which it is built, the principles that underlie the revelation that it contains. This search for meaning is not a departure from the Bible but an exploration of its hidden depths that will enable us to understand it better. Just as we look at how other people behave and try to work out from that what really makes them tick, so we read of the great acts of God among his people in order to understand better who he is and what his purposes are. The end result will be a systematic theology built out of the evidence culled from many different parts of the revelation and not simply an account of that revelation’s contents. It is here I think that biblical scholars need to rethink their discipline, recognise what its limitations are, and accept that not only is a systematic theology necessary, but that it can be constructed only by using the evidence of the narrative and going behind it in ways that do not contradict but illuminate it better. I hope and pray that evangelical biblical scholars will come to appreciate this and that their magnificent efforts in analyzing the Scriptures may bear fruit in a deeper synthesis of what their message and their ultimate purpose is.

You can read the full review here. (And here is Schreiner’s review of Bray’s book, God is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology.)

Carl Trueman on the Driscoll Fiasco

Over at First Things, Carl Trueman, Paul Woolley Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary, comments on the Driscoll mess. An excerpt:

As an English Presbyterian living in the States, I am never quite sure about whether I am an “Evangelical” by American standards. Back home, I am Evangelical without question, but here it is more complicated. I certainly hold to a traditional, orthodox Protestant faith with a strong existential twist. But American Evangelicalism is more (and sometimes much less) than that. The political commitments of the movement are, on the whole, a mystery to me. And, while the celebrity leadership of the movement is comprehensible to me in sociological terms, I find it distasteful and arguably unbiblical. It too often seems to represent exactly what Paul was criticizing in 1 Corinthians 1.

You can find the full article here.

The Stumbling Block Principle

“The ‘stumbling block principle’ is often erroneously invoked to place limits on the behavior of some Christians whose conduct offends other Christians with stricter behavioral standards. For example, it is argued that if drinking alcohol or dancing or dressing in certain ways might cause offense to more scrupulous church members, we are obligated to avoid such behaviors for the sake of the ‘weaker brother’s conscience.’ The effect of such reasoning is to hold the entire Christian community hostage to the standards of the most narrow-minded and legalistic members of the church. Clearly, this is not what Paul intended. He is concerned in 1 Corinthians 8 about weaker believers being ‘destroyed’ by being drawn away from the church and back into idol worship. Therefore, in applying this text analogically to our time, we should be careful to frame analogies only to those situations in which the boundary-defying actions of the ‘strong’ might actually jeopardize the faith and salvation of others by leading the weak to emulate high-risk behaviors” (Hays, First Corinthians, 145). 

God: Good, Not Safe

Mark Gignilliat, a former professor of mine at Beeson Divinity School, has written an excellent article in Christianity Today. The title of the article is, “Not Just a New Testament God,” and the tag line says it all: “the cranky, severe, Old Testament God is not just an opening act.” Here’s a taste:

The one God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit reveals himself to us in the Old Testament as both severe and merciful. The Bible leans against our tendency to construct a god after our own image. We cannot approach the delicatessen of God’s person like we approach a buffet—taking a heaping of this and a dollop of that, while passing over what we deem unpalatable. Neither God’s severity—”Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger?” (Nah. 1:6, ESV)—nor his mercy—”Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression?” (Mic. 7:18)—can be diminished or pitted against each other in our reading of the Old Testament. As Habakkuk pleads, “[I]n wrath remember mercy” (Hab. 3:2). C. S. Lewis described Aslan as good but not safe. The same is true of God. Just ask Uzzah (2 Sam. 6:7).

You can read the full article here. I highly recommend it!

The Importance of the Public Reading of Scripture (1 Tim 4:13)

Here are the closing words of Phil Towner’s very helpful article, “The Function of the Public Reading of Scripture in 1 Timothy 4:13 and in the Biblical Tradition.”

In view of the diverse media with which modern societies spread their messages today (e.g. television and internet), and in view of the ready access most believers have to these media, the need to ensure that measures are taken in the church to reinforce Christian identity is all the more urgent. We are also called to live out a distinctively Christian witness within the world, not separate from it—so, putting distance between us and the competing messages and values is not an option. But where within the maelstrom will the church find its solidifying and anchoring sense of identity as God’s people? It must come through a shared participation in the symbolic and spiritual activities that we practice when we gather for worship. The lesson to be learned from 1 Timothy 4:13, and the background that informs the exegesis of this text, is that the deliberate public reading of Scripture (according to a schedule or plan of some sort) is one way of rehearsing the acts of God in behalf of his people and his creation and finding and renewing our identity-center in that story over and over again. It takes only a minimal amount of honest reflection to reveal how easily we are attracted to other competing stories (and value systems) for our sense of identity.

The full article can be found here.