Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Sound My Brain Made When It Melted…

One of the blessings of my job, other than the primary benefit of taking care of my family and allowing my wife to stay home with our kids, is the fact that I have the liberty to listen to pretty much whatever I want throughout the course of my day. For the first few years, my regular diet of audio intake was Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, and Joe Soucheray. In other words, I listened to a lot of conservative political talk radio. However, after the election of 2004, I became less and less satisfied with the content of the programs. My views on social, political, and moral issues are still very much the same, but I became increasingly unable to listen to Medved and Prager be very openly inclusivistic as it relates to their views on religion and God.

My growing dissatisfaction with political talk (of any stripe) came about because of a few contributing factors. The major one is that during that time my only real desired topic of conversation was quickly becoming Christ, the gospel, and the Bible. Again, not that politics are unimportant, but I felt that my time and energy would be used more effectively if they are not consumed by politics. Furthermore, I have a theory about general conversation and people’s willingness to listen at all. I believe that everyone in every relationship (whether it is a long time friend or someone you just met) has a certain degree of conversational “capital” that you can choose to spend in conversation with that other person. In other words, normal social niceness will allow you to bring up a subject or talk about things for a certain length of time even when the hearer is opposed to what they are hearing. So, if I used my conversational capital primarily discussing budgetary issues, immigration, the war in Iraq, abortion, poverty, taxes, or any other important issue (and they are important political and social issues), I would not have any left to spend on talking about the gospel, Christ, salvation, and eternity.

So while this transition in my own thoughts was occurring, I found a talk radio program called “Talk the Walk” on a local AM Christian station. This program had many focuses, but primarily it was on the proclamation of true doctrine (Theology Thursday’s), calling out false teachers (False Teacher Tuesday’s), and evangelism (Witness Wednesday’s). I came to greatly enjoy this show, even if I did not always agree 100% with the host or guests. But then, about two years ago, the program started to change a bit. I didn’t know why, but I believe in January of 2006 the program was taken off the air, and a newer show that is much less critical of modern Christendom has taken its place. “Talk the Walk” morphed into “Way of the Master Radio” that still has the same goals as the previous show, but with a different name and a sharper focus, primarily, on evangelism but without losing doctrinal clarity or calling out false teachers when they pop up.

However, this is not an article about Way of the Master Radio, but it is focused more on AM 980 KKMS and the show “KKMS Live – with Jeff and Lee”. “KKMS Live” was the show that replaced “Talk the Walk” on AM 980 KKMS and I didn’t listen to it a lot at first because the style was a bit different from what I was used to. My first real exposure to Jeff and Lee was at a John MacArthur conference in mid January of 2006, and I had no adverse thoughts about them because of this experience. However, since then, I have heard snippets and segments of their program and I have become increasingly uneasy with some of the programming choices that they are making and some of the theological views that they choose to give air time to in order to promote them. This was no where more profoundly evident than when I heard them interviewing Tony Campolo.

Tony has written a book recently (honestly I don’t know or really care what the title is), and he appeared on this show in order to promote this book. I will mostly quote what Tony had to say as my critique and the subject of contention that I have with the show and its hosts. In his book, Tony apparently talks a lot about different forms of prayer, and he encourages practicing them. One of the forms is called Lectio Divina, and Tony explained what that type of prayer is,

“Take a passage of Scripture, read it. Now close the Bible; be still and let the Spirit of God apply what you have just read to your own personal existential situation. Go to the Scriptures and there are two ways of reading them. One is the scholarly way. “What did Paul mean when he wrote these words? How do the people in the social context who receive these words understand them?” That’s’ the scholarly way, but there is another way of reading Scripture in which you read some Scriptures and say, ‘Ok Holy Spirit, what do you want to say to me through these verses?’ We see the Scriptures as a vehicle through which God speaks to us, not in generalities, but to our individual needs. I am sure you have met people who have said, ‘I was going through a very difficult time and I was reading some Scripture and suddenly a verse that I had read over 100 times spoke to me in a way that it had never spoken to me before. And suddenly it addressed my need; at that hour it was exactly what I needed to hear from the Lord. That’s called Lectio Divina.”1
After hearing this, to their credit, one of the hosts of KKMS Live voiced a concern that using this type of prayer would and this type of studying technique with the Scriptures would lead to misunderstanding the meaning of the text. I think that this was a valid question to raise, and it gave me hope that the hosts would stand firm against such inductive and subjective methods of Scripture interpretation. Tony responded by saying the following,

“I think that there is that danger, that’s why in this book, we establish certain parameters to make sure that you do not end up with pure subjectivity and end up interpreting the Scriptures in a way that suits your own purposes rather than see the Scriptures as an instrument through which God wants to speak to you in your situation. Now we all know that you can read the same passage of Scripture 10 different times, 10 different months, and every time the same Scripture will speak to you, probably every time it will say something else to you. I’m sure you’ve had that experience?”
When Tony asked this question, both of the hosts gave rather affirmative responses. Now this concerned me, and I was beginning to get rather irritated with this entire program and the dialogue that was going on here. But before I could even catch my breath, Tony kept steamrolling along the same thought line.
“But we always have to be careful; is what God is saying to us through the Scripture in harmony with His will, and there are certain ways of dealing with this, and we feel that John Wesley, and we talk about John Wesley in this book a great length, told us how to be careful so that we don’t end up with subjective interpretations that end up being quite heretical. One of the ways is this; that we must always read the Scripture and ask ‘how do those in the Christian community to which I belong understand these verses?’ To share what I just learned from these Scriptures with bro & sis in the faith is a very important thing. Because if I am out of line, they will correct me. The Scripture sys test the spirits to see whether they be of God. And this is one of the ways that you test; namely you ask brother or sister [summarize what you read and what it “said to me”], and wait for ether correction or affirmation from your brother or sister. The second thing to do is to ask whether, in the tradition of the church, the church has been around for 2,000 years and people have been interpreting Scripture for 2,000 years, is this in harmony w what the church leaders, the fathers & mothers of the church have said about this passage of Scripture over the years. Is it in harmony with that? ‘Check with tradition’ says Wesley. The third thing is; be reasonable. Is this a reasonable understanding of these verse? These are very very important things to do because otherwise we end up with pure subjectivity."2
I don’t think that I’m being too critical of Mr. Campolo here if I think that his method for validating his understanding of the Scriptures is way off. This method may well be good enough for the Roman Catholic system or any other system that holds up tradition as equal to Scripture, but not for someone who claims to be protestant and evangelical. He didn’t once mention that we need to check our understanding of a particular passage against the rest of the council of Scripture. Would it be reasonable to think that Tony was implying this type of Scriptural authority when he indicated that the steps for vetting ideas were to ask other Christians, to check the tradition of the church, and to see if the conclusion is reasonable? I don’t think so at all. It is not nearly the same as stating that the Bible is the single authority for all things pertaining to God and our Christian life. Honestly, he sounds more Episcopalian than evangelical with his readiness to bow to reason and tradition.

One other thing came out in his comments that truly troubled me. He made allusions to what the Bible is, what Scripture is, a few different times, but none of them was more revealing than when he advocated viewing the Scriptures “as an instrument through which God wants to speak to you in your situation.” I do not believe that I am playing a game of semantics when I say that this view of the Scriptures that he articulated is very dangerous, and I believe that the danger is evident in what he further went on to advocate. Let me, clearly and for the record, state that the Holy Bible, the Scriptures, is the container of the objective message from God but it is not an instrument for communicating a subjective message from God.

The differences in what I have said and what Tony Campolo has said are not minor. With Campolo’s interpretive method, it would be very possible (and likely) that based on (selected) comments and thoughts from some of the church fathers as well as utilizing modern reason along with the thoughts of other like-minded Christians that one could conclude that Christ isn’t God or that He isn’t the only way to God. Furthermore, other blatantly universalistic conclusions could be arrived at using this same hermeneutic. Consequently, this type of inductive interpretation is dangerous and deadly to the soul.

But, unfortunately, the madness didn’t stop. Campolo went on talking and now moved on to the second prayer type called centering prayer.
“Centering prayer is an ancient practice, and I think Jesus was into it. He said, when you pray – it’s ok to pray publicly with a lot of words - but if you really want to pray go into a closet and shut the door; that is go where there are no distractions; go where there is nothing around you to pull you away and then center down, focus. And the Hebrew Bible says, to meditate upon His word. To those who wait upon the Lord. I wake up in the morning before I have to, I did it this morning, before the alarm went off I was up, and I say the name ‘Jesus’ over and over again. And people say, ‘it sounds like vain repetition.’ Call it anything you want, there’s something about that name. It drives back dark things; it gets rid of the extraneous thoughts; I have to put things out of my mind, because the minute I wake up my head starts spinning with all the things that are waiting to be done. I have to drive them out and create what the celtic Christians called ‘the thin place’. An atmosphere that is rarified with nothing which I am conscience, save His presence. And in the quietude, and the stillness of the morning, I simply surrender and wait for Christ, wait for the HS to flow into me. In Isaiah 42 we read, ‘they who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength.’ And I ask the listeners, when was the last time you waited for the Lord to flow into you? When was the last time you were quiet and still and just surrendered and said, ‘Christ Jesus, come in, flow into my being, saturate my personhood.’ And then the next verse says, ‘and in stillness He will come into you.’ What a wonderful that we are taught in the Scriptures."3
Again, before I look at what was said, I must again note that the KKMS Live hosts responded in verbal affirmation of what Campolo just said. The truth of Scripture records that Jesus had long prayer times and that He often went away from people to pray, yes, but that doesn’t come close to saying that He was doing “centering” prayer. Furthermore, if centering prayer is emptying one’s mind of nothing save “His presence”, how could He do that if He was the one trying to pray in this way? It makes me want to retch when I hear Jesus’ habits being interpreted as doing centering prayer. That conclusion is only at all possible to come to if you go looking through the Bible for vague references to something that might have been centering prayer.

Also, I think that Campolo’s dismissal of the “vain repetition” (cf. Matt 6:7) objection shows a downright disregard for Scripture. To be fair, whether “vain repetition” is referring to this specific type of meditation or if it is referring to using a lot of big and dramatic words while praying, Campolo dismisses the objection outright! I’m not certain of the specific meaning of this text, but judging from the context it seems to be specifically referring to the quantity of words, perhaps these are in a vain display of intelligence in an attempt to show the severity of a need, as opposed to repeating one word over and over. And if that is the interpretation of this text in Matthew, I still would have a hard time finding anything in the Bible relating to prayer that indicates that we are to repeat one word over and over and over and over in an effort to be aware of nothing “save His presence”. Plus, the taught model for prayer from Jesus to the disciples was not one of emptying or not thinking about stuff, it was praying first and foremost for the supremacy of God, but then the prayer includes things that are in daily life like the provision of daily bread, requesting forgiveness for current sins, and from deliverance from temptation, and this is the exact opposite from a clearing of the mind.

“There is a kind of conversation with God where you say nothing and you hear nothing, but you just sense yourself being connected with Him and He being connected with you; flowing into your being, saturating your personhood. That’s what centering prayer is all about.”4
When he described centering prayer this way, I just about lost whatever sanity I still had left at this point. First of all, how do you have a conversation if no one says anything? I don’t even think that an emergent could understand that or pull that off. Secondly, what does it feel like to “sense” being connected with God in that way? And what does it feel like when God flows into you? What does “saturating your personhood” even mean? I have no idea what he just said. This is ridiculous. And this is supposed to be a way to converse with God? How can we do this and be confident that we are connected to God when we have no way to “test the spirits” to see if the feeling we’re getting is the saturation of my personhood by God Himself or just the leftover bodily reaction to the mocha I had this morning.
I don’t want to minimize making your requests known unto God – we should do that – but we need these other kinds of praying as well: Lectio Divina and I am also mentioning this other kind of praying which is called centering prayer. And there is a third kind that we mention in this book, and it’s the prayer of examine and I do this when I go to bed. I put my head on the pillow and I examine the day from when I woke up until that moment, and I think of all of the good things that I have done, all of the ways in which God moved through me and blessed other people; all the ways in which I did His will, and I thank God for them. Paul writes in Philippians 4:8, “and finally my brothers and sisters” and I could easily read ‘at the end of the day brothers and sisters’, ‘whatsover things you have done that are good, whatsover things you have done that are profitable, whatsover things you have done that are of good report, that are excellent, think on these things.” And the next verse is ‘and then continue to do them.’ Then I go over the day a second time and I remember all of the ways in which I failed God, all of the ways in which I sinned, and I repent, and I ask God’s forgiveness. But I dare not do the second thing until I’ve done the first thing. So often, all Christians ever do is confess their sins and do not recognize the wonderful things that God has done in them and through them. Hence, they end up very depressed because if all you do is concentrate on the negative, you will end up as a negative person. The prayer of examine requires that we do both of those things.”5
It is one thing to examine your day and praise God for how you’ve been used as a vessel to glorify Him, but it is quite another to mangle Philippians 4:8 to do it. I’m sorry, but “Finally my brothers and sisters” is not the equivalent of saying “at the end of the day”. “Finally” is not in reference to a time or date, but in reference to the conclusion of Paul’s letter. But even more than that, the text doesn’t say think on these things “that I’ve done” or “that you’ve done”. It says “think on these things” with no specification as to the person doing them. I tend to think that he’s referring to the good things, and specifically the best way to think on them is to go to God and to His Word and think on what He has done.

As to Campolo’s comment that confessing sin leads one to be negative because you’re only focusing on the negative, I must heartily disagree. I do attempt to confess my sin, as much and as often as I can, and it doesn’t leave me depressed. Why? My focus is not solely on my many and dire failures. My focus and my mind are fixed on the mercy of God. This does not leave me depressed, it leaves me thankful and in awe of Him because He saved me and loves me.

Well, it wouldn’t be fair to not mention that once Campolo was done with this part of his monologue, one of the hosts of KKMS Live responds by saying, “very good, very interesting.” Honestly, I don’t know what would be considered “good” about the content of what he was saying and the content of the book he was pushing. I’m not sure whose decision it was to push this book and give Campolo this platform, but all I can say is that wherever the blame lies, it is a bad sign for a Christian radio station that has included so many faithful Bible teachers.

I have no knowledge as to the motives of either of the hosts for why they were so inviting to Tony Campolo or to his dangerous and sub-Christian ideas of prayer and the Scriptures. That being said, I find it difficult to understand how the two hosts of KKMS Live can “amen” John MacArthur and seem to make overtones to really enjoying his preaching as well as other men like him and then turn around and be warm and fuzzy to a guest who promotes spiritual practices that are exact opposite of so much of what men like Dr. MacArthur have been teaching.

Whether the hosts have little or no discernment concerning the difference in the teachings of a Campolo and a MacArthur, or whether they don’t see a problem with the practices encouraged by Campolo, or if they do see a problem with the practices and do understand the difference between him and MacArthur type teachers but still gave a warm and welcoming environment for him to plug his book I don’t know. Regardless of the real reason for this kind of dichotomy, this does speak well for KKMS as a station, KKMS Live as a program, or Jeff and Lee as discerning and wise Christian “leaders”.

As a side note, this wasn’t the first time that Tony Campolo was a guest on this radio program. He was on near the end of 2006, and I listened to that show too. The thing that made me the saddest concerning that interview when I compared it to the recent one was that both hosts disagreed and brought up points of debate with Tony Campolo regarding his views on the Palestinian people, the state of Israel, social justice, and other conservative political issues. This was shocking and saddening because they were more passionate about the state of Israel and the government’s place in helping the poor than the clear problematic statements about the Word of God and about prayer. Not that the issues of modern Israel and poverty are not something to have biblically motivated thoughts about, but the disparity in passion and conviction between the two subjects was woefully concerning.

(Oh, and by the way, my brain made a gurgling sound when it melted.)


1 Tony Campolo on “KKMS Live with Jeff and Lee” November 26, 2007. http://www.kkms.com/blogs/JeffandLee/11560256/

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.


6 comments:

Mary said...

EJ,

Have you ever tried Lectio Divina? If you haven't I urge you to try it. :)

"Lectio Divina", a Latin term, means "divine reading" and describes a way of reading the Scriptures whereby we gradually let go of our own agenda and open ourselves to what God wants to say to us. In the 12th century, a Carthusian monk called Guigo, described the stages which he saw as essential to the practice of Lectio Divina. There are various ways of practicing Lectio Divina either individually or in groups but Guigo's description remains fundamental.

He said that the first stage is lectio (reading) where we read the Word of God, slowly and reflectively so that it sinks into us. Any passage of Scripture can be used for this way of prayer but the passage should not be too long.


The second stage is meditatio (reflection) where we think about the text we have chosen and ruminate upon it so that we take from it what God wants to give us.

The third stage is oratio (response) where we leave our thinking aside and simply let our hearts speak to God. This response is inspired by our reflection on the Word of God.

The final stage of Lectio Divina is contemplatio (rest) where we let go not only of our own ideas, plans and meditations but also of our holy words and thoughts. We simply rest in the Word of God. We listen at the deepest level of our being to God who speaks within us with a still small voice. As we listen, we are gradually transformed from within. Obviously this transformation will have a profound effect on the way we actually live and the way we live is the test of the authenticity of our prayer. We must take what we read in the Word of God into our daily lives.

These stages of Lectio Divina are not fixed rules of procedure but simply guidelines as to how the prayer normally develops.

“Quick example...I read the Wedding Feast at Canna and imagined I was a Disciple witnessing the 1st miracle and how Mary knew that it was time for this miracle even when Jesus said “my time has not yet come” Mary directed the wine steward to do as her Son said. I imagined the disciples walking away and believing. The way that scripture spoke to me was that Christ was showing me that I didn't need to worry about my doubts that I could take them to Mary and she would help to show me the miracle of Jesus.”

The object is to let God speak to us as He chooses. Sometimes this means going over the passage many times. The one thing that is most important is that the person NOT try to make something happen, allowing the Lord to speak when and how He chooses. How we bring ourselves to Lectio Divina is MOST important. Our inner preparation is almost as important as the actual reading. It is most important to let go and not try to accomplish anything. This can be the most difficult part of Lectio for us in our culture. This is not the same as centering prayer.

The Lectio Divina method has been advocated and practiced by a wide range of Christians over the centuries, including the Benedictine monks, Martin Luther and John Wesley.

Tobin said...

Hey Eric,
I don't know if you're circumstances would allow it, but I would also highly recommend listening to some podcast sermons, rather than only radio. I've been exposed to some very challenging speakers over the last couple years - shoot me an email if you'd like some suggestions.

EJ said...

Mary -

I understand why you would be inclined to do lectio divina or other types of prayers like Mr. Campolo has put forth. The main reason is that Catholicism is, by nature, not soley a Scripture based religion. There is as much weight put on what popes, councils, church fathers, and other "saints" that make up tradition as well as thereis on the Bible (I would argue more so, since those interpret the bible).

The problem with these sorts of (easter) spiritual practices and prayer types is that they open wide the door for subjectivity and close the door to tje objective truth message of the Bible.

I wouldn't practice these things if i had a gun to my head.

TOBIN -

Greetings! Yeah, let me know what ones you're thinking of, and I'll check them out.

Mary said...

EJ,

As I pointed out Catholics aren’t the only ones that use Lectio. :)

Also I don’t agree with the other types of prayers recommended by Mr. Campolo, only Lectio.

I don’t think Lectio would be the prayer I would pick with a gun to my head either. LOL

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas with your kiddos!

Mary

EJ said...

Funny - not exactly the frame of mind I had with the "gun to my head comment" but, very true too.

Merry Christmas, Mary.

Mary said...

EJ,

I know. Trying to be friendly and funny! I like reading your posts a lot. They make me think! I don't often agree with you, but I do like reading them. And as I don't have a job right now I have way too much free time!! So I get to read a lot! I need a job, or a baby!

I'd take either!


Mary

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