Figuring Out Fighting

I remember reading Mark Driscoll’s blog a few months ago about his trip to Vegas, and while on the whole it was an interesting play-by-play of his vacation, there was one particular line that caught my attention, spoken about MMA fighting:

I would strongly encourage all pastors and Christian leaders to spend some time familiarizing themselves with the fast-growing sport that is capturing millions of young men and ask yourself why.

This really caught my attention, for some reason. I think it’s probably because, as Driscoll usually laments/jokes about, a lot of churches today do seem as if they’re run and decorated by and for women. The church where I grew up, for instance, has light purple paint on the walls, darker purple/magenta carpet, and an assortment of flowers and plants all over the place. So I do think that this is part of something that sees guys my age avoiding the church. It just seems like heterosexual, firm-wristed men don’t belong there.

Earlier in the same entry, Driscoll does in fact explain why he thinks MMA is so popular (and consequently, in part, why the church isn’t):

Curiously, it is most popular with men ages eighteen to thirty-four–the exact group that most churches are abysmal at reaching and retaining, in part because most churches and pastors have no idea what to do with men who are not motivated by a weepy worship dude(ish) singing prom songs to a Jesus who is presented as a wuss who took a beating and spent a lot of time putting product in his long hair.

I think his caricature here is not totally unfair; like I said, I’ve been in some of these churches, and sang the same songs. It’s not that these churches are feminine in the fullest sense of the word, because that doesn’t have to connote mere cheesy sentimentality and mauve decorating schemes. But they are feminized. And that’s part of the problem.

I’ve really been wondering about this whole MMA deal as my own fascination for it has slowly grown as well, and so I’ve been asking that question Driscoll recommends to myself periodically since late September. Why are guys my age so fascinated with this? I don’t really remember any other organized fighting being all that popular, other than pro-wrestling (har). But, something else I’ve been reading has started bringing some light to why guys are into UFC et al.

 

“Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.”

 

This is part of Paul’s indictment of depraved humanity in Romans 3. This observation first hit me as I was talking to a guy I sometimes work with who described a bar fight he’d been in the night before over an inconsequential thing he couldn’t remember. These verses leapt to mind that I’d been reading around that time. It seems to me one of the biggest reasons that young men flock to this sport is because evil hearts love violence. I mean, even look at the secular hip-hop culture. The violence glorified there isn’t just competitive–it’s murderous. The way of peace they have not known, and they have no desire to walk in it.

So I do agree, part of the reason men are so uncomfortable is because what happens at a lot of churches isn’t something they can respect, or feel like they maintain a distinctive physiological difference from girls while doing it. But, part of it is that they’re evil, animal-like creatures in their lusts. Obviously we don’t see any great mystery (or compelling methodological conviction!) in the male mass-fascination with sex and pornography. Men are just crooked. And what they need is a simultaneously masculine presentation of what it means to know the universe’s king, and a strong challenge to be meek and lowly like him.

The Greatest of These

John Calvin on 1 Corinthians 13.7:

Love believeth all things—not that the Christian knowingly and willingly allows himself to be imposed upon–not that he divests himself of prudence and judgment, that he may be the more easily taken advantage of–not that he unlearns the way of distinguishing black and white. What then? He requires here, as I have said, simplicity and kindness in judging of things; and he declares that these two virtues are the invariable accompaniments of love. The consequence will be, that a Christian man will reckon it better to be imposed upon by his own kindness and easy temper, than to wrong his brother by an unfriendly suspicion.

One of the messages that has most impacted me in recent months was several weeks ago when my pastor preached through 1 Corinthians 13:1-7 in his series on spiritual gifts. Hearing him explain and apply the depth of Christian love was one of the more humbling (even humiliating) experiences I can recall having in years. Very seldom do I feel like a sermon examines me, but this is exactly what happened. It made me quiet (that is to say, it shut me up from self-righteous talk), aggravated my conscience, led me to repentance, and made me marvel at Jesus. As I grow older and by grace am able to subdue my flesh, big, obvious sins are less frequently found. But this only allows me to pay attention to the much subtler, and much more deadly, attitudes of the heart, which causes me to pant for deliverance from this body of death. Love eludes me. It isn’t my default setting. I’m frequently quarrelsome, sarcastic, wrongfully critical, and severe. I don’t believe, hope, or endure all things. I don’t consider others better than myself. I’m no Epaphroditus.

One of the Puritan prayers in The Valley of Vision says, “I long not so much to do, as to be; and I long to be like Jesus.” And if I’m going to be like him, I must love. I John 4:7-8 confirms this:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God,
and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.
Anyone who does not love does not know God,
because God is love.

So here is a severe warning: love is intricately interwoven with the new birth. If one doesn’t love, that one is not born again. I want so badly to image Jesus and be one who loves. To be one who is known for love, who genuinely considers others better than himself, and is willingly and joyfully a slave of all.

I long not so much to do, as to be; and I long to be like Jesus.

Meek Jesus the Lord

Tonight I watched the movie Amistad with a group of friends. It tells the story of a ship bearing slaves that eventually free themselves and then overtake their captors, only to be put on trial for murder and then claimed and counter-claimed by numerous would-be masters. I always find it hard for movies like this to move me, because the whole time I know that what I’m seeing isn’t real. I can see in Black Hawk Down a man whose body terminates at his waistline, dragged to safety by his friends, and be totally dispassionate, and then cut my thumb deeply and (even feeling no pain) nearly faint. Plus, as I get older and learn more of the Bible, I am less moved by movies, and instead ask myself why they would move me, and why they move other people.

All that to say, watching Amistad raised a nagging question I’ve dealt with for a while. Before I started looking at the Bible in a more Van Tillian sense, I would often be perplexed, and even scared, by various criticisms of the Bible that are merely rooted in modern culture. One such criticism would be that the Bible nowhere condemns slavery; it in fact gives instructions to masters on how to be better masters. For a lot of Christians, this can be extremely embarrassing. But as I’ve learned and grown, I now realize I don’t need to fear criticism of the Bible, because those that would attempt such a thing have no legitimate ground for doing it (e.g. a naturalistic culture has no way of justifying human rights in any ultimate sense).

It’s easy to react emotionally to a movie like Amistad, but its hard to find a biblical warrant for such a reaction if we think merely in terms of ‘slavery’. And dogmatism is what I want to avoid. I’ve always been afraid of discussing this idea because I’m afraid people will just think I’m a primate, a sad product of an archaic worldview. But it seems to me that Christians who make merely an emotional appeal and don’t seek for substantial biblical reasons (which I am convinced do exist, btw) they completely empty their argument of any strength. One can appeal to intuition to say that slavery is wrong, and so save face with a skeptic, but that isn’t a Christian defense.

After the movie, I decided to raise the issue, and a really fruitful discussion followed. A real help in my thinking about this had actually come just a few weeks ago, when I read 1 Timothy 1:10, which condemns ‘enslavers’, the literal Greek for which is ‘man stealers’, leaving no room for doubt: a slave trade is out. But when I was in school learning about the glorious outcome of the Emancipation Proclamation, we celebrated the end of slavery. But do we get to this celebration from the Scripture? Yes and no. Like 1 Tim 1:10 establishes, slaves aquired by ‘man-stealing’ are acquired sinfully. Even if a hundred percent of slaves in America weren’t acquired that way, it still seems prudent (props to Scott Nason for this label) to outlaw the whole enterprise. What’s interesting to me is that the master/slave relationship is not outlawed in the Bible, and in fact is analogous to the relation Christians have with God. We pretty up our translations with words like ‘servant’ or ‘bondservant’, but the meaning in Greek is clear: we are slaves.

One of the more interesting instructions to Christian slave-owners is to “stop your threatening,” (Eph. 6:9), and the reason given for this is that their Master is in heaven, and will show no partiality between earthly slave and master in judgment. So a good master doesn’t threaten (and would presumably do this to get obedience). So a good master treats his slave with justice and fairness (Colossians 4:1) and this kind of master is to be obeyed by a slave “with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as [they] would Christ,” (Eph. 6:5). Fear and trembling, but with a sincere heart. They are not to only do what may please the master by way of eye-service, but with sincerity and a fear of the Lord (Col 3:22). I think here it is appropriate to consider the parable of the unforgiving servant, as well.

This is how God would have us understand the relation of master and servant. The master is just and fair, and the servant fears and is sincere. Obviously this is not the full extent of our relationship to God; we could still talk of adoption, especially. But nevertheless, we don’t have to view slavery in itself as evil. Seizing and selling and enslaving are explicitly condemned, but it’s only a Western culture that idolizes freedom above anything else that would condemn slavery with no distinctions. They know nothing of the way Jesus is master. The servant he finds hopelessly indebted, he not only forgives — not only justifies even the ungodly — but he then enriches. He unites them to himself, and they share in his status as heirs of all things, as lords over heaven and earth for all eternity with Christ.

This is our answer to the skeptic who finds so painfully absent a prescription against slavery altogether. Instead of apologizing, we show them their desire for autonomy is sinful, and explain and exult in the kind lordship of Jesus for those who trust in him.

Owing Owen

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that, when listening to or reading something about the nature of sin and temptation, nearly every theologian I respect has, in the same breath as both of these concepts, mentioned the name of John Owen. The first time I ever remember hearing his name was several years ago, while listening to John Piper’s sermon series, How To Kill Sin. His text for that series was Romans 8:12-13, the main subject of which was to ‘put to death the deeds of the body’. It was then that he mentioned John Owen’s book, On the Mortification of Sin in Believers, which was a collection of sermons of Owen’s own exposition of the same text. I filed the name away, but was never able to find a copy of the book by itself.

Then this summer thanks to an amazing sale, I finally acquired Owen’s works (though I had managed to find a paperback copy of Mortification about a year and a half ago), and finally was able to actually start reading it last month. I made it my goal to read his Big Three, Mortification, On Temptation, and On Indwelling Sin in November, and almost made it, but didn’t quite finish IS (as part of my reading project also included Phillip Schaff’s volume on the German Reformation). But in these three books I found the wealth of wisdom and piety unlike almost anything I’d ever read. All the old theologians that talk about how incredible Owen is aren’t exaggerating.

I’ve read a small smattering of other Puritans (Watson, Burroughs, Venning, etc) but Owen has by far surpassed them all. While they all offer incredible theology with practicality almost unheard of today, they sometimes seem to be almost over-spiritual. They seem to appeal to their experiences frequently, or sometimes their use of Scriptures can leave something to be desired. But Owen is by far the most textual of any I’ve read, while not losing any of the godly sincerity of the others.

I’d never before been urged to such watchfulness. Temptation is almost entirely related to this, and most of his explanation of indwelling sin repeatedly finds itself turning into another exhortation to watch. The majority of the way I had been taught regarding sin and temptation seemed to be to have verses memorized that I could cling to, and to cry out to God when tempted and ask for his help. But from Owen I heard, possibly for the first time in my life, that my main task was to altogether avoid temptation. To scrutinize every action, every thought, every motive to see if anywhere in it lied a hiding place for sin.

I feel like there isn’t a way I could explain even part of what I learned reading these three books in one post. In fact, I feel like I did them a disservice reading them as quickly as I did, even if they are incredibly short (only 320 pages in all). So, hopefully as I keep writing here I’ll from time to time mention a particular point that comes to mind, especially if I reread them as I intend.

But in the meantime, if anyone wants to read them, you can find all three books in one volume with slightly updated language, entitled Overcoming Sin and Temptation, which includes a foreword by Piper. I can describe how much it bothers me that the Puritans have a reputation of either a) being self-righteous witch-hunting theocrats, or b) ivory tower theologians out of touch with reality. Owen is immensely theological, which no one would most likely contest, but also is more practical than any modern author I’ve read. He plumbs the depths of a doctrine and then shows you innumerable ways to live it. Read him!

* * *

Incidentally, I highly recommend that sermon series by Piper. It’s one of his best.

How To Kill Sin, part I

Part 2

Part 3

The Title

Psalm 119 is one of the most glorious passages in the Bible about the Bible, and it contains so much that I wish I could say were actual states of my heart about the Bible. One of the most eye-catching verses in the whole Psalm, though, is verse 99.

I have more understanding than all my teachers,

for your testimonies are my meditation

This sounds arrogant. And not only does this verse sound arrogant, but right after it follows the declaration that the psalmist is wiser than the aged, because he keeps the commands. So, even as one might try to ease the shock that might be found in v. 99, in saying that it is a merely theological wisdom which would obviously be had over against possibly irreligious teachers, v. 100 says that even long life experience is foolishness when compared with a young life that walks in obedience.So, that said, it might be presumptuous to elect this as my blog title. But it would nonetheless be true. Most of my teachers not only don’t meditate on the Scriptures, but in reality have no fear of God before their eyes, and the most basic beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. Therefore, ‘wiser than my teachers’ is simultaneously a declaration and an aspiration. Because it can only be true if I am actually found both meditating and keeping.