Get Behind Me Satan

So I watched the Nightline debate that aired last week on the existence of Satan. If you haven’t watched yet, you can watch the long edit here, which in my opinion is much more compelling than the short edit that aired on TV.

My first thought while watching was that I wish both Annie Lobert and Bishop Carlton Pearson could have been replaced by more knowledgeable panelists. Not that they both don’t have interesting histories and worthwhile stories to tell, but they didn’t seem able to articulate their positions as well as the other panelists. I think this is especially the case with Annie. She has a great story and is doing great work now, but I struggle to find why she’s on this panel other than the whole idea of “Hookers for Jesus” along with her appearance were found to be a bit more “TV ready” by the producers of Nightline than many others who could have added significantly more strength behind the “Satan is real” position. How nice would it have been if instead we had NT Wright and Elaine Pagels on their perspective sides of the issue? But maybe I’m expecting way too much from ABC News.

I suppose that my position on the issue is probably more aligned with Deepak Chopra’s articulation of his argument with a little bit of Driscoll’s perspective thrown in. I believe that a large chunk of Chopra’s perspective is still reconcilable within Christianity. I agree with much of his main points but he really seemed uninterested in articulating his view in a way that was more relatable to Christians. Not that he was uncharitable, but he didn’t go out of his way to connect to those who are on the other side of the issue. Driscoll, on the other hand, seemed charitable and kind. I did think it was painfully ironic that Driscoll cracked on Chopra for being “demeaning” to other perspectives. Pot, meet kettle. Driscoll also criticized Chopra for saying that he had a more “enlightened view” than those on Driscoll’s side of the debate, which again, it’s funny to no end for those of us who’ve kept track of Driscoll making a career out of the exact same practice. Would Driscoll not call his theological view more enlightened than Doug Pagitt’s or Rob Bell’s? Give me a break, Mark. It’s like Barry Bonds complaining that the other players are taking steroids.

One of the main thrusts of Chopra and Pearson’s argument was to critique the mythology within Christianity, as evident by the commonly held belief in a literal Satan figure. I second this critique of the mythic, exoteric nature which is widely found in Christianity today. In moving forward, this is going to be huge hurdle for Christians to move beyond. Myths serve a purpose and myths have value, but we must move beyond the common myths prevalently found within Christianity. In my view, Satan as a literal figure of any kind is a myth. He serves as a visual symbol that represents the evil found in the human experience. I disagree with with Chopra and Pearson that acknowledging the existence of Satan is inherently dangerous to one’s spiritual development. It all depends on how we use the image of Satan in our understanding of evil. If Satan is a figure “out there”, separate from ourselves, causing us to participate in evil behavior, then I would agree that view would be unhelpful and invalid. But if we acknowledge that Satan represents our own personal and corporate capacity for evil, an evil that is found within, then giving that evil a physicality is often helpful in confronting that evil and moving beyond it.

Another interesting moment was when Annie was talking about how the Bible is “the standard” and how we can’t deviate in any way from what it teaches…..while wearing gold earrings and no head covering to be found. When Pearson pointed this out, Driscoll defended with the “you can’t judge her.” Again Mark, take a peek at your blog archive, por favor.

Another moment of interest was when Annie got emotional at the end. She had clearly been affected by Chopra and Pearson’s side of the argument. She made the appeal that “God is love” and he’s not about arguments but then in the same sentence she reiterated HER argument that Satan is real and that is that. I have no proof of this but I think her emotion is a reaction to her beliefs being firmly challenged rather than the argumentative nature of the debate. If you can’t handle having your ideas thoroughly challenged, then you should probably stay away from debating your view. But when our hallow certainties are challenged with well thought out positions, a panic can set in. All I can say is may we embrace and move through our doubts. It’s so much more fun on the other side. 😉

Thoughts on “Original Sin”

Recently I’ve been fascinated by Tony Jones’ blog series regarding the doctrine of original sin over at Both Tony’s thoughts and the blog comments have really stimulated me to think about the issue. I’ve never given it much thought and I’ve never cracked open the writings of Augustine or Calvin. It’s relatively foreign to me but I think I have a decent grasp of the basic premise as it relates to the doctrine of original sin and how that doctrine informs Calvinist theology.

Here are the questions I have: If human beings are inherently depraved and every human enters into an evil world separated from God, then how, if at all, do we find value in a human life? If a person is “unsaved” or excluded from “election” then why would we ever grieve their death? If the life of an unborn baby ends, making way for that potential life to sidestep an inherently depraved state and in an inherently evil world, how would that be a negative occurrence when taking into account the boundaries of the Calvinist doctrine?

My apologies if my understanding of all this is inadequate, which I’m sure it is, but these are the questions that popped into my mind as I processed Tony’s posts. I would love to hear from any of you who would be willing to enlighten me


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Open or Closed Table

There is an interesting thread over at Scot McKnight’s blog on the issue of communion and whether or not it should be open or closed to churchgoers. Scot posted in response to a piece at the Out of Ur blog by J.I. Packer. In it Packer writes:

“Yes, I believe access should be restricted at two points. First, the folk who come to share the Lord’s Supper with the congregation should be people who have shown that they can discern the Lord’s body. In other words, they understand what the Communion service is all about: Christ crucified for us.

The second point of restriction is when individuals in the congregation are known to be living in sin. If the attempt has been made to wean them away from sin according to the rules of Matthew 18, and it’s failed, then the text says, “Let him be to you as a heathen and a publican,” a tax collector, someone beyond the pale. The pastor, with the backing of those who were trying to wean the person away, should say, “Don’t come to the Lord’s Table. If you come, the bread and wine will not be served to you. I shall see to that.”

First, I’d love for Packer to tell us how he would go about determining whether or not one can “discern the Lord’s body.” Where is the line in the sand between understanding and misunderstanding? And I’d be curious what side of the line Jesus’ own disciples, including Judas and “doubting” Thomas, would have fallen when Jesus served them the last supper.

On his second point regarding those “living in sin”, I guess that’s a perfectly understandable position, but again, I must ask Packer how he would begin to measures such things? Aren’t we all living in sin to some degree? What if a pastor drives a huge SUV? Could a congregant make the claim that the pastor is living in sin by not being a good steward of God’s creation? Some may think that is a frivolous claim, but how is it any less demonstrable than Packer’s claim?

I think the motivation to deny a particular person or group of people communion is an attempt to protect this sacred ritual. I get that and it’s a perfectly natural desire for one to have but I believe it’s ultimately useless and unnecessary. Inevitably there will always be congregants that don’t take the ritual seriously. Does that make your communion any less significant? Maybe this line of thought puts me at odds with Paul, but I just don’t see the point in denying anyone, even “wrongdoers”, the opportunity to “do this in remembrance of Me.”

When I was a child, the only reason I wanted to be baptized was because every time we took communion I was denied the grape juice and the cracker. I was being left out on the basis that I had not yet been baptized. I just wanted the snack but God was playing hard to get. So to solve this problem, the first hoop was accepting Jesus into my heart, then I had to take the church baptism class, then the actual baptism, then, finally, I could have the tasty grape juice and the crispy little wafer. It’s a classic example of wanting what you can’t have. Denying a child communion on these grounds ultimately invites misunderstanding on WHY we do this.

But when I look back on this time, I fully embrace this series of events as the beginning of my ongoing conversion. While one could trivialize my childish motives, they ultimately pointed me down the path I’m still traveling. My selfish desire had little to do with faith or love of God, but mysteriously the grape juice and the bread were not just a snack.

Today, when I allow my unbaptized seven-year-old daughter take communion, I trust that there is power in the act itself. I trust that the juice isn’t just juice and that the bread isn’t just bread. I whisper to her to remember what Jesus has done for her and that he loves her no matter what. She takes the cup and the bread and takes part even though her understanding falls short. But then so does mine. And so did the understanding of Jesus’ own disciples when he instructed them to remember him with this mystical, wonderful ritual.