Thursday, September 27, 2007

Good Words Gone Bad

In my study of Ephesians 5 this week I came upon a very interesting word. It is the Greek term eutrapelia. It is translated in Ephesians 5:4 as "coarse jesting." The word literally means "well turned" and was used in the ancient world to refer to a ready wit in conversation. It described the skill of lively utilization of language to spice up conversation. We might say, "he knows how to turn a phrase" or "he's a real wordsmith." This term is almost always used in a positive sense.

However, in the context of Ephesians 5, Paul employs eutrapelia to refer to vulgar talk, obscene conversation. It is found in a triplet of terms including filthiness, foolish talking, and coarse jesting. The idea is that verbal skills which may be employed in a "well-turned" phrase for the enjoyment of lively conversation can be turned in a sinful, obscene direction. This kind of speech would include things like innuendo, hateful sarcasm, and double entendre in which normally acceptable phrases are given vulgar meanings.

As I reflect on this idea, it strikes me that much of what we call "entertainment" today is built on the principle of eutrapelia. How often do we hear this kind of double meaning utilized in sexually suggestive language in sitcoms or improv shows? One can hardly watch an episode of popular TV shows without encountering it. The entertainment industry rewards writers who are "witty" enough to come up with this sort of "engaging" comedy. From a biblical perspective it is a case of good language skills employed for the indulgence of sinful, dishonoring conversation.

How often do we find ourselves engaging in this sort of speech? Probably more than we know if we took the time to closely evaluate our words. The exhortations of Paul on this subject come in the context of the call to live a life worthy of Jesus Christ. We are reminded that this sort of language is "old man" kind of stuff. It is characteristic of the "sons of disobedience" and those who live in "darkness." Believers, on the other hand, are to put on the "new man" and live in the "light."

Chrysostom spoke of eutrapelia as "graceless grace." In other words, the gift of being able to turn a phrase and skillfully weave words together in a pleasing fashion can be utilized in way which is graceless and base. By all means, learn to speak and write well. By all means be a lively conversation partner. Spice up your conversations with great story telling and interesting phrases. But never employ your language skills to dishonor Jesus Christ by being vulgar and obscene. To take this a step further, be careful not to find pleasure in others who practice this sort of speech. We ought never to find humor or pleasure in something that elicits the wrath of God upon those who practice such things (Eph. 5:5-6).

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Pagitt, MacArthur, and Yoga

OK. I admit that the title of this post probably throws some of you. What do Pagitt, MacArthur, and Yoga have to do with each other (or at least MacArthur and Yoga). Well, over at Pulpit Magazine there is a transcript from a news interview which included Pagitt and MacArthur giving their takes on yoga. I'll let you guess who is for it and who is against it.

I have been doing a bit of study on world religions over the past few weeks. When I looked at Hinduism, I discovered that the term yoga actually refers to several paths which Hinduism suggests as ways to pursue moksha (nirvana, enlightenment). Moksha is the state in which all your karma has been eliminated and you can become one with the ultimate reality of Brahman. The physical exercise of yoga is based on putting the body into certain postures for meditation in an effort to empty one's mind and get in touch with the spark of the divine inside yourself.

Efforts to "christianize" yoga seem misguided to me. If a person wants to stretch and exercise, fine. But why import practices of a false religion into your exercise routine. There is a saying, "There is no yoga without Hinduism and there is no Hinduism without yoga." The purpose of yoga is spiritual transformation according to Hindu philosophy. The whole idea of yoga is the manipulation of the physical in order to achieve the spiritual. This just doesn't square with Christianity.

This smacks of one more way that syncretism has infiltrated the ranks of an undiscerning evangelicalism. Pagitt and other emergent types who are on the cutting edge of that movement seem all too eager to boil the gospel and Christian life down to the lowest common denominator. Thanks Dr. MacArthur for putting a gospel-centered answer forward in a clear and compelling way.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Anonymous Criticism: An Inherent Danger of Blogging

Blogging is something I find enjoyable. I enjoy reading blogs about important issues in theology and church practice. I also enjoy occasionally posting my thoughts here on this blog. There are benefits to be derived from the blogosphere.
However, there are dangers inherent in the practice of blogging. One of the dangers is that anyone with a keyboard and a random thought can start a blog. There is no editing. There are, in most cases, no levels of accountability or counsel from which a blogger must receive clearance before he or she voices their latest viewpoint.
Another danger is that a blogger may level their criticism or vitriol at someone anonymously if they so choose. Once it is posted on the web, anyone with a computer and an internet connection may read it. Whether it is true or not, the message can be spread quickly to a large number of people. All the while, the critic may hide behind their anonymity as the reputations of others are systematically eroded. Just such a scenario is being played out today. An anonymous professor posted an open letter attacking the character of two prominent SBC seminary presidents.
I do not begrudge anyone the right to criticize. If you feel that the theology or behavior of another person lacks biblical integrity, then by all means engage them for the purpose of loving correction. However, I do not appreciate anonymous criticism. I think this is called gossip. If you are going to openly criticize someone, have the courage of conviction and Christian courtesy to sign your name to it. I am not commenting on the accuracy of the alleged misbehavior cited in the professor's letter. I have my opinions about it, but the criticism itself is not my issue here. It is the cowardly way the criticism was leveled.

Of course, the world of blogging is not the only place this sort of thing happens. It happens all too often in the church. Anonymous attacks or rumors about people do not promote godliness. Such criticism does not help anyone. Brothers and sisters who truly love each other are willing to take the risk of personal engagement when correction appears to be needed. It is the loving thing to do. Anonymity makes the critic feel larger than life and emboldens him or her to paint the other person in the worst possible light. I admit that it is easier to feel like the "great Oz" when you are pulling strings behind the curtain. But the way of Jesus demands that we come out from behind the curtain and interact with each other on a personal level for mutual edification.

I remember the story of a great preacher (I think it was Moody) who received a note on the platform at one of his meetings. The note simply read "FOOL". The preacher approached the podium and said, "I have received many a note which contained complaints about me with no signature. Today I received a note with only a signature and no complaint." Ouch! Anonymity often fuels foolish words and actions rather than the loving interaction the Bible requires.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Funny in a Sad Sort of Way

For those who enjoy some satire with spiritual lessons, you will like this post from Tom in the Box News. This post reveals the sad truth about the Word of Faith movement.

Remember, this is satire with a spiritual edge.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Appalling Words from Baylor Theologian

While reading this post from Tom Ascol, I followed a link to this post by Roger Olson. Olson is a theologian on the faculty of Baylor's Truett Seminary. Not only do I disagree with Olson's position in his article, I was actually appalled at some of his statements.

Olson was writing in response to John Piper's comments on the bridge collapse in Minneapolis. He took issue with Piper's perspective on the sovereignty of God and suffering. The conclusion of Olson's article states:

The God of Calvinism scares me; I'm not sure how to distinguish him from the devil. If you've come under the influence of Calvinism, think about its ramifications for the character of God. God is great but also good. In light of all the evil and innocent suffering in the world, he must have limited himself.

What? Did he actually imply that the Calvinistic view of God makes God indistinguishable from Satan? Those are strong words indeed. In my opinion, such a statement is foolish at best and blasphemous at worst.

Olson summarizes his view of God and evil in these statements:

In this world, because of our ignorance and sinfulness, really bad things sometimes happen and people do really evil and wicked things. Not because God secretly plans and prods them, but because God has said to fallen, sinful people, "OK, not my will then, but thine be done -- for now."

And God says, "Pray because sometimes I can intervene to stop innocent suffering when people pray; that's one of my self-limitations. I don't want to do it all myself; I want your involvement and partnership in making this a better world."

Many conservative Christians wince at the idea that God is limited. But what if God limits himself so that much of what happens in the world is due to human finitude and fallenness? What if God is in charge but not in control? What if God wishes that things could be otherwise and someday will make all things perfect?

No Calvinists I know would say that God "secretly plans and prods" people to do evil. Scripture is abundantly clear that God is not the author of sin. God doesn't tempt anyone to do evil nor can He be tempted by evil (James 1:13-15). However, God does sovereignly use the evil acts of men to accomplish His purpose. The cross is a prime example of this (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28).

The God described by Olson is indeed limited. He sometimes can intervene in human affairs if people pray. He is in charge but not in control. He wishes that things could be otherwise and someday will make all things perfect. He certainly has limited Himself.

My question is how will Olson's God ever intervene to make things otherwise? If He is powerless to do it now (by self-limitation or other restraints), why should we believe He will ever be able to intervene? What will change to allow or facilitate His intervention? It seems as though Olsen's picture of God is that God would like to do something about suffering and evil, He just can't.

Olson asks his readers to "consider the ramifications" of their view of God in terms of God's character. Good advice. As I consider the ramifications of Dr. Olson's view, I find them discomforting. It doesn't sound like the God who "works all things together for Good" (Rom. 8:28). It doesn't sound like the God who "works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will" (Eph. 1:11). It doesn't sound like the God who "does as He pleases with the powers of heaven and the people's of the earth" (Daniel 4:35).

Ultimately the only hope we have in the face of suffering is that God is sovereign. The idea that God would like to help me but can't doesn't offer any comfort in the face of evil or disaster. The biblical truth that God is sovereign over evil and suffering and that these both fit into His purpose gives me hope that God will ultimately triumph over suffering and sin.