Friday, October 24, 2014

Heroes, Antiheroes, and Us

Over on CT Alissa Wilkinson offered some questions for thought and discussion on the idea of female antiheroes--you know characters like Olivia Pope from Scandal. She asks
Where do we get the idea that protagonist ought to equal hero?
Protagonist technically means "first sufferer" or in other words: the character whose perspective you most closely follow as they encounter conflict. Wilkinson also asks a series of other questions
are there uncomplicated, unironic heroes on TV today? And were there ever really in the past? And do we want uncomplicated heroes? Could they be dangerous in any ways? How much of this is distinctly American? Are there ways that heroism outweighs the danger of presenting unmitigatedly good guys (other than Christ himself)?
I encourage you to read the whole article here.

She also references a couple other pieces.

This one which spurred her own thoughts.

And these two which she offers for reference.

You can read my response below:
I think we get the idea that protagonist equals hero from our own subjective viewpoint. As embodied humans we view ourselves as the "main character" of our life. 'Life's a movie,' and the camera follows me: it watches how I interact with situations and people and gives its overwhelming approval of (nearly) everything I say and do. Even when we lose an argument or flail in clumsy (or sinful) behavior we console ourselves: "If I had said _______ then they would have agreed! And if the circumstances had just been a little different I would have done right." We blame our failings on the externals... I'm the hero of my story.

When we then turn to the screen, we see the protagonist and imagine: "Ah. This person is the main character (like me). So s/he is the hero (like me)." And even though 'relatability is a trap--[a] cage for artistic ambition,' most viewers try to relate or see themselves in the shoes of the hero. When the character breaks out of that mold by doing something *I wouldn't do* then we react like pushing a parasite out of our body. We don't have to be taught to treat protagonists as heroes, it's simply our disposition. Something Disney reinforced by following our dreams in the shoes of one-dimensional princesses/kings. And something parents and teachers reinforced in the stories they told: children's stories like Aesop's, or retelling stories in child-fashion (eg. Sunday school Noah/Jonah/Gideon/David).

The truly phenomenal stories are the ones that develop a dozen (complicated) characters so well that you don't view any single one as *me* or as *hero*, but you view them as a cohesive whole. Playing to one another's strengths and weaknesses. Acting wisely even in moral ambiguity--since there is often more than one 'good' action to be taken. Stories like these are found in Tolkien's works, Doestoyevsky, Jane Austen, Alexander Dumas, Shakespeare. These stories teach people to analyze virtue and wisdom in the context of relationships and circumstances.

And certainly, if someone is going to make a character all-good, that character will have to be God... or else they will be bound by human limitations (or quasi-human limitations) and will fail to be all-good at a moment need.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Common Christian Misunderstanding: Don't Judge

Perhaps I should stop saying that [this] one or [that] one is popular. After all, that is part of the point of the ‘common.’ Nonetheless: this one is widely believed and thought true by many Christians and countless unbelievers too.

“Don’t judge” comes in many forms including:
“I don’t mean to judge, but ____________________”
“Only God can judge me”
“Stop judging me! You can’t tell me what ________________!”

In fact just typing them gives me a bad taste in my mouth, and I feel I should cleanse my palate with ginger and water.

Where does the idea come from? In my honest opinion I think it comes from gross individualization, and overpronounced postmodern existentialism. In simple terms: selfishness. It’s sad that such arrogant self-focus can be shoved onto the teachings of Jesus, but that’s what happens. Already convinced that “my way is most important” and that “nobody can tell me what I can/’t do” indoctrinated into us American people by our psychologized parents, we read passages like Matthew 7.1-6:
“Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.
And we automatically assume it means. Never tell someone “no.” Never correct someone. Never rebuke someone. A lot of good that would do our corporate world—with no just grounds for employee evaluation or dismissal from jobs; indeed with no grounds for ethical legislation. You’d see a lot of… well, what we see now: people suing others left and right (and the very reason that they sue discredits their own case). We would see legislation that attempts to make everything acceptable except for deeming something inacceptable. We would see the intolerance of so-called ‘tolerance’ which demands (not just coexistence, but) co-agreement while pulling the trap-door lever beneath them. All the while remaining positively blind to their own illogic.

“First walk a mile in his moccasins” or some variant of the Native American proverb assumes a ‘second’ action. First walk… then talk. And the same with Jesus words: first remove your obstruction, then remove theirs.

The Bible constantly teaches that there is judgment we must make in everyday life. Judge this day whom you will serve. Does the passage actually say “choose”? Maybe, of course if you don’t know Hebrew, how would you know how closely related choose and judge are? The fact is every decision is an act of judgment: I choose this thing which means I choose against that thing. Sometimes there is no choice which is ‘more right’ than another, but sometimes there is. And removing the possibility of judgment across-the-board will absolutely help no one.

What if Jesus is talking about condemnation? What he means: Don’t condemn someone because they will condemn you. And don’t even try to remove their speck. At least not until you’ve removed your plank. After you’ve removed your plank, then help them remove their speck. But make sure you do it with the right person--the one who won't trample your gracious correction and then attack you with condemnation (and violence). The idea of judgment-condemnation in this passage is distinct: it entails an upfront, unapologetic criticism. But Jesus invites us to judge. He invites us to judge-discern whois a worthy recipient (v.6). He tells us that are responsible for choosing rightly. He tells us that we are to correct our sinful neighbors. He tells us that we are responsible for judging amongst Christians because we will one day be set as judge over his messengers (poss. angels). He tells us that he is the ultimate judge. And one day he will judge! Oh, that we would accept the judgment of our neighbors before we approach his judgment throne! Oh that we would accept the correction offered by his servants before the great judgment when we cannot turn back. Judging rightly is a blessed gift that God has given his rational, moral creation, and Oh, that we practiced it rightly instead of maintaining our state of insolence with the wrath of God hanging over our head.

In the words of my friend Alex, “You would so much rather me judge you than God.”

Other articles in this series:


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Book Review: Chance and the Sovereignty of God

Vern Poythress sets out to instruct (mostly) Christians in the coherence and randomness God has given us in this world. I say ‘mostly Christians’ because he allows room for unbelievers to read and follow his arguments, but his book is quite explicitly theistic; and while Poythress offers sound mathematics and logic, this book is only an Apologetic, not an Evangelistic—and although I was convinced of the Theo-centricity of his arguments concerning chance, probability, coherence, and harmony, I am also in his same camp and cannot properly evaluate how ‘an outsider’ would respond to his depictions.

Book thesis: We need to look at the nature of chance not only to address personal questions that we have about the meaning of everyday events in human life, but to address the issue of what confidence we should have in the sciences and their claims. (15)

Poythress includes several common reasons people are interested in the idea of chance and the sovereignty of God as a stimulant: “Why did my family escape the mountain highway accident? Why did another person suffer from a ‘chance accident?” “Is God in charge of these ‘accidental’ events or not?” Of course, these are excellent questions, and fortunately I believe Poythress well answers them—at least to the extent of which our human knowledge is capable, a point Poythress is astute to frequently return to. In fact, there are several ideas Poythress often elucidates that could be said form the core of his presentation:

  • God is infinitely knowledgeable and wise.
  • Man is finitely knowledgeable and wise—patterned after God’s own.
  • There is harmony between the world and our thoughts because God created it, and we think his thoughts after him.
  • God has created laws of chance and probability which he controls.
  • We cannot expect God to alter outcomes for personal benefit/detriment, though he can.
  • If God does not control chance, then another god must—whom materialists call Chance.

Of course, with nearly 350 pages, Poythress fills in all the gaps, supports, and draws further conclusions such as the probability that God exits—a mathematical question; the futility of gambling—though many of us want to doubt his veracity; classic math problems like the game show and the same birthday questions; and the ‘just so happens’ serendipity that influences so much of our life.

I’m aware that some reviewers have claimed that the mathematical portions are too full of calculations and not for the average reader. While it’s true that the math will not make sense to all, I believe Poythress made the math as accessible as possible. In other words: if you failed your college math class and aren’t willing to spend time trying to understand, the math sections will be disappointing; and since the math sections are what give support to Poythress’ claims, you will be left slightly unconvinced.

Poythress is thorough. In fact, that’s the only thing I would have had changed. Poythress offers equation after equation after equation and chapter after chapter after chapter elaborating on the major principles time and again. By the end, no one will have said he left anything out; but some will never get to the end for that very reason. I’m aware that in mathematics, it’s necessary to prove everything in ways that logic might mistakenly call “circular,” but it may be too much for the non-mathematician to handle with perpetual excitement. That being said, I believe the book is excellent in all categories, and it certainly deserves some time: perhaps just not all that it requires.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in mathematical philosophy, as well as any apologist in a collegiate setting. And perhaps the pastor in a college-city.

10/10 in Theology, in Math, in Accessibility, in answering Thesis

Comparable to no books of which I’m aware, though it’s closely related to a series by Poythress on the sciences: “Redeeming…”

I hope that you walk away with deeper assurance in the loving hand of our sovereign God and delight in the mastery of his creation.

[[This review is crosslisted on Goodreads and Amazon]]
[[[This book was received through Crossway's Beyond the Page program]]]

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Common Christian Misunderstanding: "Jesus Hung Out with Sinners"

This one’s pretty popular: “Jesus hung out with sinners, so we should too.”
Sometimes they get more specific: “Jesus hung out with tax-collectors and prostitutes, so __________________” in order to justify whatever it is they’re doing. Like hanging out at strip clubs… or going to frat parties… or dating an unbeliever.

You’ve heard it before too, haven’t you?

Well, before we affirm what’s true in the thought and statement, we first need to call out what’s wrong.

It’s Plainly Untrue

Put simple and clear: the statement is untrue. Give me your evidence if you can. I find it interesting that the people who say this most often are people I wouldn’t trust to know that there are four Gospel books, or that the kingdom is Jesus’ chief theme in three of them. But such people certainly know that Jesus hung out with sinners even if they “don’t care about theology, but the practical stuff that’s relevant to my life” like ‘hanging out with sinners.’ The few who are a bit better versed in Scripture point out the feast with Levi in Luke 5 or Jesus’ compassion on Mary Magdalene (who’s never actually said to be a prostitute, by the way).

But in reality Jesus didn’t ‘hang out’ with these people. He hung out with his disciples. He himself personally selected and called 12 men to be his students and friends. One of them was a tax collector, yes. One of them was a political revolutionary, yes. Most of them looked with lust, I’m sure, but Jesus didn’t spend evenings at the Venus’ Brothel, he spent them with his disciples—teaching them on a boat; he spent them with Mary and Martha dining in communion; he spent them in the Judaic Temple asking questions of the teachers; he spent them praying alone on a mountain or in a garden.

When we say “hang out” we mean “spend time with,” and we imply “participate with.” Jesus didn’t follow Levi or Zacchaeus around helping him extort people; and he didn’t talk with the Samaritan woman at the well about how good the sex was with another woman’s husband. Jesus doesn’t and never has delighted in sin. He didn’t hang out with sinners, he called them to repentance. He didn’t come and lay with sick, he came as physician to heal them. As he walked passed Levi’s tax booth, he told him: “Follow me,” not “See you tomorrow, bro, we’re gonna get rich.” As he talked with the adulterous woman caught, he told her “Sin no more.” Jesus called sinners to repentance. Jesus healed the broken. Jesus brought dead to life. And to say anything less is to minimize the love and power and justice of God. Can you imagine Jesus catching up on the latest Kama Sutra buzz in the brothels when he will sit in his judgment throne in the last day and sentence them to second death? How horrendous; what a moral monster God would be!

Hold up: Aren’t we all Sinners?

Yes. It’s true. We are all sinners. And his disciples were sinners too. And he did spend time with his disciples. But if you’ll let me use some philosophy with you: Jesus is the reference point, not the disciples. In other words: the disciples hung out with Jesus, not the other way around. Jesus was the standard to which they were being called and carried along. They participated in his doings, not vice versa. That’s why Jesus goes on and does his own thing from time to time without his disciples. He often prays by himself. And occasionally he rejoins the disciples on a boat… for which he gave the direction. Jesus didn’t join the zealot, the tax collector, the fishermen, etc. They joined him. Jesus operates on his own time and will—just look at the wedding in Cana: “Woman, what is that to you and me? My time is not yet come.” Even when Jesus calls his disciples friends, isn’t it interesting that he positions it, “I call you friends” and not “I am your friend”(Jn.13.12-17)? The reference point is Jesus; he is whom we must acquiesce to .

But can’t we say that Jesus could have hypothetically spent time in the brothel and still have been the so-called ‘reference point’? Yes, I suppose so, but he didn’t do that. He had a public ministry for three years, and his closest followers recorded that he spent most of his time teaching people… in synagogue, at Temple, on hillside, and more intimately in rooms. Having dinner with his few closest followers.

What’s Good and Right about ‘Hanging Out with Sinners’?

But I must remember that every perversion has a true gene within, and so what is good and right about this idea?

1.)    It reveals, hopefully, a heart for the lost, hurt, and broken
Jesus did come and call the sinners to repentance, but he had to interact with them somehow sometimes in order to do so. I submit that most of them followed him and came to hear him. After all, Levi seems particularly prepared to get up and follow Jesus in Lk.5. Zacchaeus climbed a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse. The adulterous woman came to wipe his feet uninvited. But Jesus did go through Samaria on purpose. And he did spend much time in the slums of Galilee. And he did go to the pool where the self-absorbed cripple lay. And I hope that we too care for those who need care. But we can do so in places and times that aren’t explicitly sinful and debauch.

2.)    It recognizes tension between what is and what should be

Jesus—the perfect man; the holy God—who is light came and dwelt among the darkness. We are all darkness, and Jesus is wholly light; but still he came, and still he called us. It doesn’t make sense… because it shouldn’t make sense: because in the presence of God sin cannot remain and dwell. And so it will be one day. When we are fully sanctified and made perfect, we will dwell with God in perfect harmony. That’s no reason to bash and criticize a Christian because they enjoy church and community groups—that their primary friends are Christians; it’s a reminder that they desire what will be reality in time soon come. And it’s a reminder that it’s not yet that time. And so we refresh and enjoy friends, and we call and welcome sinners… and we are the reference point in Christ. We are the ones who pursue life the way it ought to be lived, and we call the sinner to Christ.

Related articles:

Other articles in this series: