Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Jim Palmer: Three Responses

Just when I thought it was time for me to take a break from the whole "discernment blogger" thing, I ran across a post that I couldn't help but grow burdened over. While I'm sure that such writings are plentiful throughout cyberspace, this post in particular really summarized for me what the main issues are that we need to resolve before seeking the truth.

I've gotten glimpses of Jim Palmer's writing before and my opinion of him has remained pretty consistent. He typifies the mindset of the postmodern, post-christian culture we live in. Yet at the same time, like many I've read before, he still seeks to hold on to some remnant of Christ and tries to attribute his thoughts to Christ.

After seeing a friend quote him recently, I thought I would take a look at Palmer's Facebook wall and see if he had any recent blog post worth reading that might clarify how he thought. My search was successful. I quickly found this post.

It is here that Palmer points to three things that religious leaders say in order to control us with fear. I thought I would give my two cents on each of these sayings as well. Since I find Palmer's worldview so backward on these matters, I will respond to the statements he brings up in reverse.

Controlling Statement 3:
“The Bible clearly states that you’re beliefs are wrong, and you are in danger of God’s judgment.”


After expressing his frustration over this kind of talk, Palmer writes:

"Basically this erroneous view goes like this, 'My interpretation of the Bible is the correct one… because I say so… so there!' There’s a saying that goes, 'Just because it’s on the Internet, doesn’t mean it’s true.' Well guess what? Just because some religious leader tells you that the Bible means something, doesn’t mean that’s what it means."

Fair enough. I'm more than happy to agree that there are good and bad interpretations of scripture. It's no wonder that so many books have been written to ensure carefulness on these matters. However, I struggle to find just what Palmer's ultimate point is in bringing out the obvious. At least I did before he wrote:

"Just a cursory study of the history of Christianity shows a diversity of views on the most fundamental matters of the Christian faith. The notion that there is one “orthodox” view of Christianity that has persisted through time (and is therefore correct) is simply not true."

Ultimately Palmer seems to want us to follow him to a conclusion that all disagreement in the history of the church proves that conclusive interpretations in matters of the Christian faith are a hopeless pursuit. Of course, he doesn't even bother to bring up some of the disagreements in Church history. He doesn't bother talking about the councils that wrestled over God's triune nature or the deity of Christ. He doesn't talk about the lives that were lost during the Reformation in order to recover glorious truths such as sola scriptura, or justification by faith alone through grace alone through Christ alone to the glory of God alone.

Apparently those who thought that scripture actually had a clear message concerning these matters were simply waisting their breath... and ultimately their lives.

Of course by avoiding the specific issues in church history and creating a false confusion, he is able to insert his own message without the heavy lifting of defending it... and don't be deceived, Palmer has a strong message. More on that later.

How should we feel about these disagreements in church history? Are we really to jump to the conclusion that all theological understandings are equally valid (or invalid) for the sake of peace?

In order to understand where Palmer is going, one has to pay attention to his concluding sentence:

"Stop externalizing authority and repair your relationship with yourself. You already know the truth inside, and you don’t need anyone to tell you."

It is clearly this sentiment that drives Palmer, and it must be kept in mind to make sense of the other two "controlling" statements he brings up.

Controlling Statement 2:
“You are deceived. You are following false ideas that sound hopeful and beautiful but they’re darkness masquerading as light.”


Palmer expands on his objection to this kind of talk by writing:

"You have to get straight in your head and heart that God and fear do not go together… ever. If you hear any religious teaching or idea and induces fear, dismiss it swiftly and entirely. God never stirs feelings of shame or fear to motivate people on the path of truth and freedom."

This of course completely ignores the necessity of healthy fear before a Holy God that is expressed in scripture when it says such things as "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Prov. 9:10). Of course there is an unhealthy fear that can come once we have peace with God, at which point scripture certainly dismisses irrational fear of judgment. It expresses this by saying, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love" (1 John 4:18). However, to apply this to those who have rejected Christ's saving work is to take John's words wildly out of context.

Of course Palmer could easily respond by saying my interpretation is invalid or that there is a diversity of perspectives on scriptural authority, but again, spouting vague truisms without defending his own perspective gives me no motivation to doubt my interpretation.

What is amazing to me is that after Palmer encourages his readers that they have nothing to fear, in spite of what religious leaders say, he immediately contradicts himself by writing:

"The above condemnation is projection – you are actually exploring and embracing the truth. Meanwhile, the religious views that induce fear and shame are the teachings that are 'darkness masquerading as light.'"

Palmer clearly does believe that it's possible to be deceived by false teachers, just so long as we don't dare think he's one of them. You really do have something to be afraid of, it's those nasty religious control freaks, not our dear friend Jim Palmer.

As I pointed out before, this method of writing cleverly keeps Palmer from defending the strong assertions he makes while making an opposing view's self defense immediately look like religious fear mongering. Yet why should we take Palmer's side? In the words he uses to mock his opponents, "because he says so… so there!"

Controlling Statement 1:
“Self-realization is idolatry; you’re supposed to be worshiping God and not yourself.”


Here lies the ultimate issue. Palmer expands by writing:

"The truth is that self-realization is why you are here, and every step in your personal evolution brings glory to God. The image, likeness, and being of God is the fundamental. underlying, and unchanging nature and essence of who you are."

This is a fascinating interpretation of what it means to be made in the image of God. Does Palmer defend it? No, just as he accuses religious leaders of doing, he dogmatically asserts it.

Rather than dealing with the bleak picture that Paul the Apostle paints of the state of humanity in such places as Romans 1-3, Palmer encourages his readers to dig deeper into their own souls with the promise that they will find the very being of God.

This bears a striking similarity to pantheism. This is the spiritual perspective that ultimately rejects any distinction between creature and creator. God is ultimately understood to be in everything and can be found and worshipped just as easily by looking at a tree or stream as in a Holy book. As we will see, scripture does speak of seeing God's glory in creation. However, I have a hard time avoiding the fact that Palmer goes far beyond this idea. He makes the essence of our being and the essence of God's being one and the same. Does Palmer defend this interpretation of God as he demands his opponents do? No. He continues with dogmatic statement after dogmatic statement as he writes:

"The point of your human existence is to discover this and bring full expression to it through your humanity or human personhood. This is what Jesus did and was, which is why he said, “I am the truth.” Self-actualization is the most spiritual and sacred endeavor of our human experience. The religious notion that your relationship with yourself and self-actualization is somehow a selfish pursuit and diversion from true godliness is a false notion that is not supported by Jesus or founded in the Bible."

For Palmer, Jesus calling himself the truth had nothing to do with Jesus being God. In fact, we can say the same of ourselves and our own hearts. This, no doubt, is the philosophy that was behind Palmer's words, "Stop externalizing authority and repair your relationship with yourself. You already know the truth inside, and you don’t need anyone to tell you"

Sorry, as I've argued in a very recent blog post, I trust an ancient writer like the Apostle Paul, who saw the glory of Christ for himself, far more than I trust a postmodern blogger. Paul had a very different view of these things than Palmer, and I will close with his words concerning how we aught to view both God and ourselves apart from grace. "Interpret" them as you will,

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen." (Rom. 1:18-25).

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Reflections on "Blogfrontation"

It's been over a week since the controversy started and what a fascinating little journey it's been.

Some of you might not know how the process started for me or what was going on in my brain as the whole thing went down. Some of you might not care. That's fine. I just thought it might be my turn for a little soul searching.

For me, it started a little before the actual open letter. I had looked at a few of his initial posts and thought the paths he was going down might be worth addressing. So, without naming names, I typed up this little post and called it a day.

I was surprised at the positive feedback, but thought that would pretty much be the end of it. It was then that a close friend that I love and trust pointed out the public nature of what was being said in these blogs. He pointed out that it just might be fair game to address our friend in question directly and to respond point by point.

I kept the idea in mind and jotted a few things down, but really wasn't sure if I was up for the conflict. The motive measuring began. The pros and cons of being "the discernment blogger" began to bounce around in my head. I knew some people would retweet me. Some people wouldn't shy away from a nasty comment here and there. I knew my ego would get stroked and swatted at.

When I was about ready to say "why bother," I was informed that "the big post" had just been written. I was given some info about the content while I was at work. If what I was told was close to being true, I knew the time had come. When I finally sat and took it all in, my heart began to beat faster, my hands began to shake. My motives, which were certainly mixed, ceased to be the issue.

My open letter was written and posted within a few hours...

For the most part, the feedback was positive, though I mostly hoped that the man I was writing to would have something to say himself. No such luck... at least not yet... at least not directly.

When his initial reply to all his feedback was posted, I was pretty surprised that he didn't even begin to touch on the objections I'd made. "Oh well," I thought, "maybe it's just egotistical to think my objections are the ones people should be focusing on... I'm sure someone else has said the same stuff to him."

Nevertheless, I still thought some people might need some help sifting through his ideas, so I wrote up a quick response to his second post and called it a day. This one came much easier and didn't have nearly the amount of emotion behind it.

Over the following days, my predictions came to pass. My ego was stroked by some. Some nasty remarks were made by others. I questioned my motives at times. I felt pretty darn good at other times. I never really questioned whether I had done the right thing, but that didn't make it any less difficult to figure out how to feel.

On one particular night, I became surprisingly frustrated. I had seen some positive results of what I'd done, but I had also seen some people speak of the blogs I was addressing as if they were just what the church needed. Even though I had questioned my own methods and tone multiple times, I knew then and I know now that this isn't true. I'd seen this kind of writing throughout college and even into the present, and I knew what it meant for the local church. I knew it had to be addressed.

In my frustration, I thought maybe I should get the message across another way. So I pieced together a comic summarizing what I had already tried to say (just with a more satirical edge) and posted it. THAT's when the whatnot hit the fan. I was called some nasty names. I was told that the devil was winning. I tried to defend what I'd done... I probably still could since I find satire to be a biblical category. That didn't matter... deep down I felt pretty foul. There were enough people who agreed with my point but were much more grieved than angry over the present situation. It was for them that I removed the comic.

To this day I continue to have conversations with invisible people in my head. One blog comment... leads to a response... leads to a back and forth in my head that lasts for hours.

Me: "they can't talk to you like that! You're a seminary grad!"

Other Me: "Cut it out... this isn't about a piece of paper... just think about what they're saying."

Other other me: "But if I take that kind of response seriously, then truth has no meaning!"

Other other other me: "I think I want a sandwich"

Whether you believe me or not, this kind of process leaves me more drained than energized. Whatever it looked like, It turns out I don't thrive on conflict. I really just want people to have the light of truth turn on for them. I want them to know that light of truth does exist. That "AHA!" moment is really what I long to see in peoples' eyes.

Since the blogs have been written I've been contacted directly by the blogger in question. We may get together and talk sometime soon. I still pray and hope for his repentance. No, I've never changed my mind about whether that's what he needs.

For those I've helped, I was happy to oblige. Take the truth you've gained and spread it with the love God has commanded you to walk in.

For those I've offended, I hope it was mainly for the right reasons. If you didn't like my tone, you may or may not have a point. God will have to judge my heart. My advice to you is that you do your best to find the points I was trying to make and wrestle with them. I'm just a struggling sinner who's learned some stuff over the years... and yeah I think some of it's true. If certainty is the worst sin I can be accused of (I'm sure it's not), then I can live with that.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

A Brief Exchange with Matt Drake

Here as an initial exchange that took place between me and Matt Drake. We'll see where things go from here:

Matt:

Hey Eric,

Hi! How are ya?

I'm sorry for the slow reply to your blogs about me. I'm not ignoring you! I read each of them and I've been thinking about how best to respond.

The truth is, I'm not sure how to respond. You raise a lot of fair points, points I'd love to talk about with you. But I wasn't sure about whether or not talking with me would be the sort of thing that would help you out.

You seem to be very frustrated with me. And you seem to have a very low opinion of me too. And it's fine if you do, but if that's truly the case, I'm not sure you'd really want to talk with me anyway.

I sort of got that sense in your posts. That maybe it wasn't so much that you were interested in talking with me, but maybe you were concerned for some people you know and love, and were worried that some of the things I had said could really hurt or confuse them.

I don't know if that's true, but if it is, I think it's pretty cool that you care about people so much. It seems like you have a real passion for the truth too, and that's awesome!

But I think the thing that I appreciate about you the most is your gift for organized thought. You have a strong, clear mind, an attention to detail, and an ability to fit ideas inside of boxes and to build those boxes into systems of thought, and then to evaluate their implications. I love that! Whenever I find that talent in someone I truly admire it because it's a talent that I always wished to have but I lack the organization of mind.

You're also a strong communicator. You have a no nonsense approach and its very appealing to some people.

I'm confident that one day you will be a great defender and champion of our faith. I look forward to that day, and I will be a great fan of yours. I hope you have the opportunity to debate influential people, to publish important ideas, and to provoke us all toward the fact that not everything is subjective and pick-as-you-like. When that time comes, I will count myself lucky to have been among the first whom you challenged.

But here's the thing. I'm just a guy, and it seems like I'm a guy that you really don't like. So my hunch is, I won't be the guy who you want to eat lunch with. I hope that whoever that guy is, he is a gentle guy who is very different from you in all the right ways.

I'm rooting for you Eric,

~ Matt

PS – You’re welcome to do whatever you like with this note. You can reply or ignore it or you can publish it on your blog.

Me:

I appreciate you're response and perhaps I will put it in my blog. I also appreciate that you took the time to look at what I've written.

In all honesty I really wanted to address your ideas and not make it a personality vs. personality issue, or make it about whether or not we like each other. I'm sure our personalities would click just fine over a cup of coffee.

Since you haven't responded to the points I've made, I'll leave those issues sit for now.

My biggest concern at this point is the nature of what you try to put forward as humility.

I need you to understand that in spite of the apparent self doubt you express in your blog and even in this response, many people take your words as gospel, and I fear that this just might be your goal.

You do in fact communicate a very strong message through your writing and putting on a self doubting face during or after writing your posts doesn't change that... In fact, in our culture, it makes the message stronger. Again I fear this is your intention.

At best it is inconsistent and at worst it is a bit deceptive.

Again, thanks for the response and perhaps we will meet again in the not too distant future. Feel free to shoot me another message, I'm always open to conversation.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Final Thoughts on Matt Drake

Well, it's been a few days since my initial open letter to Matt Drake concerning his departure from Christianity. I was surprised by the number of views that the post received and I was pleased with the generally positive feedback. I'm still not completely clear on whether or not Matt himself has read it. He mentioned on his Facebook wall that he was aware of it, but in his follow up post today he simply referred to the massive amount of responses he's received.

What I didn't express in my open letter, that perhaps I should have, was that Matt is an incredibly skilled writer. He has a great deal of poetic talent when it comes to communicating the deeper emotions of his heart. I'm more of a doctrine-head myself. I think in cubes and compartments and do my best to lay things out clearly and factually when something is weighing on my heart.

This was the heart that my open letter came from. It's where this follow up comes from too. This second (and hopefully final) post isn't so much for Matt (though he can read it if he likes) as it is for those who have faithfully read him and have considered taking his words seriously.

I have one simple plea to those of you who aren't sure what to do with his writing... THINK.

Thinking clearly and carefully is not a sin. God made you body mind and spirit and expects you to use each of them. Just because a writer uses poetic words that raise the emotion and don't necessarily communicate a systematic theology, it doesn't mean that his intentions are not to communicate a very strong message.

Anyone who wishes to be honest with Drake's writing will find that he has communicated a few very clear beliefs:

1. He does not believe that Christ would have us focus on his divinity.

2. He does not believe that scripture should be read as a fully inspired and inerrant book.

3. He believes that Jesus Christ himself is the one who has lead him away from the historical Christian Faith.

4. He claims that his true desire is to follow this Jesus.

I did my best from my heart to address all of these areas in my first post and Matt has not answered a single one of my objections. I may as well write the same blog post again. He has not addressed the words of Christ that I put forward... words that fully contradicted the Christ he claims to follow.

Even if we begin with the premise that scripture is not fully inspired or inerrant, Matt must be getting his Jesus from somewhere. If Matt's Jesus is not from the writings of the Apostles he distrusts, then this Jesus comes from Matt's own mind and heart. This is the problem. For all of Matt's talk about rejecting the dogmatic teachings of human beings, all he has to offer are his own subjective inclinations. He has attempted to stand in some nebulous middle space where he can both reject the scriptures' account of Christ and hold on to some remnant of Christ at the same time.

Call me dogmatic. Call me a doctrine-head, but at least I can point you to where I'm getting my ideas from.

To sum up, I hope some of you will do your best to maintain some sanity in the midst of all this controversy. One thing that is incredibly clear to me is that Matt has not revealed himself to be an honest seeker, in spite of his poetic claims to the contrary. In fact, I find him to be one of the most poetically dogmatic writers I've read in years. It doesn't matter how many "I could be wrong about all of this" caveats he throws in to help his statements go down easier.

The best way I've heard this methodology described is "hitting someone in the head with a velvet hammer." Doubting the claims you make and expressing this doubt as you make them has somehow become a way of establishing authority these days. I saw this way of writing utilized beautifully by Brian McLaren and Rob Bell only a few years ago. I didn't buy it then, and I don't buy it now.

The only thing that I cannot refute is that Matt has been wounded. This pain is the only thing I can say he's truly honest about. That being said, why should that cause me to listen to him? I've seen church leaders I greatly respect describe incredible struggle, sin, and hurt in their past. Yet they do so in a way that, in the end, shows the truth of the Christian faith. I have great pain and sin in my own past. Why should this cause me to trust Matt's words more?

What I've tried to show is that Matt has displayed incredible deceit concerning Church history and the content of scripture (whether inspired and inerrant or not), so why should I trust his interpretation of his own pain?

Think... That's all I ask.

Eric J.