Monday, February 13, 2012

You're Going To Hell

Coming to terms with the nice people in Hell.

I just thought I’d let you know,
because it really looks like you don’t know,
you’re going to Hell.
Now I’m not talking to the drug dealers,
the pimps, the whores, the murderers.
I’m not talking to the gays, the lesbians,
or the dude cheating on his wife with his coworker.
I’m not even talking to the wealthy Wall Street tycoons
who get rich through shady deals and insider trading.
No, you all already heard that you’re going Hell
and you either don’t believe it,
don’t care,
feel like you don’t have a choice
Or think you’re already there.
No, I’m not talking to them,
I'm talking to you.
You church-going, upstanding citizen,
you tithe paying, board member,
sunday-school teacher who lets
missionaries on furlough stay at your house,
you’re going to Hell.
But you think you won’t because you’re a nice person.
But you don’t stay out of Hell by being a nice person.
Hell is chock full of nice people.
The Devil himself is an absolute angel
and he’s going to Hell,
and so are you.
Jesus is the one who can keep you out of Hell,
and he’s not one bit impressed by nice people.
I remember one time when Jesus went off on a bunch of nice people.
I remember he called them, white-washed tombs, and vipers and fools
and asked them “How will you escape being condemned to hell?”
He insulted them and berated them up one side and down the other.
And do you know what they did?

Well, they did what you’d do.
They were nice people, like you.
They took one look at Jesus:
Jesus was standing up all straight and tall,
his arms al buff with muscles from 30 years of carpentry
during which time he never used a wimpy power tool;
his muscles were the power for his tools.
Sawdust that never seemed to come clear out of his bushy beard,
not the nice, well-kempt, well-oiled beards of the nice people:
no, a great, full, amazing beard of a guy who is not impressed by nice appearances.
And carrying a great big hammer in his hand,
a hammer that he uses to knock boards in place
that they could tell he’d like to use to knock the nice people in place
by looking in his eyes.
And those eyes were not like nice-people’s eyes.
Those eyes look like a creator of black holes and grizzly bears and hurricanes.
And if that weren’t enough, he’s got twelve guys with him who are equally tough.
Some of them would pull hundred pound nets up out of the water all night long,
And they were armed, mostly with the tools of their trades,
but one guy at least had a sword, maybe more did,
the nice people didn’t know.
And these guys were nuts.
They were ready to take a beating, or even die for this guy,
so, for sure they were ready to deliver one.

Then behind the twelve guys were a bunch more.
Criminals, drunks, brawlers, murderers, gangsters, you know,
the type of people Jesus likes to hang out with.
Those people really didn’t care one bit about Jesus,
but if there were a throw down,
they’d have been all over that.
The nice people would have made nice greasy spots in the dirt road.

So, yeah, the nice people went and did what nice people do.
They did exactly what you’d do.
They called the cops.
They got the government involved, got Jesus prosecuted,
all nice and civil.
They alerted the media,
got all the other nice people in the town behind them,
the rotary club,
the Masonic lodge,
even the PTA,
and made sure that when the sentence was handed down,
all nice and legal,
that it was the maximum.
Because you just can’t go treating nice people that way.

So now, you think that being a nice person is going to impress him?
If he wasn’t impressed by nice people then, he sure isn’t impressed by them now!
He’s the type of guy who will back you in a fight if you need him
and he’ll give you the shirt off his back
and ask if there’s anything else you need
and when you’re in trouble, he’s the only one to call.
But he isn’t impressed with nice people,
and he won’t do jack for you because you are a nice person.
That just doesn’t hold up for him.
So, yeah, you’re going to Hell.

Is there a way out?
Of course there is.
It’s the same way out for you
as it is for the drug dealers,
the pimps, the whores, the murderers.
The same as for the gays, the lesbians,
or the dude cheating on his wife with his coworker.
It’s the same way out for the wealthy Wall Street tycoons
who get rich through shady deals and insider trading.
You’ve probably heard what it is,
but you might have to give up being a nice person
if you really want to accept it.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Kairos and the changing of minds.

Coming to terms with changing my mind.

It is weird when you change your mind about something, especially about something where you had strong, logical convictions once. It is weird when you suddenly realize, "I disagree with myself." On one hand, the ability to move people's minds, not just to sway opinion but to actually change people's beliefs about what they think are "facts" is one of the things that really got me interested in rhetoric. Bryant's definition of rhetoric as "Adjusting ideas to people and people to ideas1" always appealed to me. The fact that a person could adjust people to ideas was somehow heartening in a world where so many seem so ossified in in their belief structures. Still, when one is on the receiving end of a rhetorical intervention, one is given a unique glimpse into what happens in our rhetoric.

I realized late last night that I no longer quite agreed with myself regarding the writings of a guy named John Eldredge. Eldredge is someone you hear about in Evangelical circles, especially among men. He writes books that attempt to define a Christian masculinity. I first interacted with Eldredges work in around 2004 when an evangelical group of which I was a part decided to divide us along gender lines. I am not sure what the women used as curriculum, but the men were to read Eldredge's book Wild at Heart2. We read the books and discussed it, and the more I discussed it, the more I really did not like it. I found it simplistic, mysogynist, even barbaric! At the time, it seemed to me that Eldredge was arguing from some Rouseauesque misinformation about noble savages to a belief that men should reclaim their role as cavemen, begin hunting and gathering for food and finding their life-partners by killing their fathers and dragging them back to the cave kicking and screaming. Of course, that is not really what I thought, but that was a pretty good picture of the visceral reaction to the book.

My dislike was so profound, that it spawned some pretty good scholarship on my part. In 20053 , I presented a paper explaining that Eldredge's work contained a hidden mysogyny in that he talked a great deal about the unique qualities of men, and claimed that these unique features of men came from men being made in the image of God. I problemetized this by pointing out that if these qualities were unique to men and not women, and the source is being made in the image of God, that Eldredge is latently arguing that women are not made in the image of God. Then in 20064 and again in 20095 I wrote papers attempting to deliniate the various intellectual currents of the Evangelical mens movements. In both of these papers I argued that there was an undercurrent of paganism in Eldredge's work and labled his work as "syncretic." By the time of the presentation of the 2009 paper I may have begun to change my mind. I still called his work syncretic in the paper, but in the presentation I said that if I did further work on the subject I would call it "anthropological" and that instead of saying it was tied to paganism, I'd tie it to "cultural universals," or Jung's "collective unconscious." [Maybe I'll still write that paper someday, because now instead of seeing what I called a "Jeremiac," "therapeutic," and "syncrestic" division in the Evangelical men's movements I am now seeing a Platonic, Freudian and Jungian distinction.]

So, when a men's group was being formed at my church that was going to be using Eldredge's newer book, Fathered by God,6 it was with great reluctance that I purchased it. I'd already made up my mind about Eldredge and while I did not disagree with him on everything or entirely, I felt like the areas of disagreement were strong enough that they would make me mad too often as I read this new book. I just wasn't interested. I was, however, interested in bonding with the other men of my church so I reluctantly and with entirely the wrong attitude bought the book. I became extremely irate later when I found out we were not actually going to use the book as a guide, but just that it had influenced the discussion leaders. I felt like I had been lied to and tricked into spending money that I really couldn't afford to spend on a book we were not, now, actually going to use as curriculum. I am still a little miffed about it, to be honest.

But then I started reading the book. I am not even sure why. Maybe I was looking for more ammunition to shoot Eldredge down. When he said it was merely a "repackaging" of his Wild at Heart book, I just rolled my eyes. "Go ahead, Johnny," I thought, "rob more people in the name of the Lord by selling them a second book that is exactly the same as the first." It is a serious repackaging. I'd like to think that some of my critiques got back to Eldredge and that he seemed to take them into account in this book. Gone are the statements that seemed to imply that men are different that women because they were made in God's image. This book uses the life of David (from the Bible, Son of Jesse, that David) to draw a picture of the various stages of a man's life: 1)shepherd/cowboy, 2)warrior, 3)lover, 4)king and 5)sage. He continues with his anthropological bent, finding further evidence from literature and mythology for his description of a man's life, but the syncretism that seemed to reveal itself in Wild at
has at the very least lessened and perhaps disappeared as Eldredge uses metaphors and rituals primarily from Hebrew sources and only further evidenced by other mythologies. So, Fathered by God is different.

Or is it? A pretty big thing happenned to be between 2005 when I first read Wild at Heart and reading Fathered by God in 2012. Since that time, I have fallen in love and gotten married and stayed married. People say that marriage changes a person. Of course, I always agreed in the abstract; how could it not? In many, many ways, where the rubber hits the road, it has changed me. It hasn't necessarily changed me in the ways my wife hoped it would. I did not become enamoured of the "place for everything and everything in it's place" philosophy that guides her life. In fact, I bet some of the ways it has changed me are ways she would not have always wanted me to change. I am more scheduled, better budgeted and more precise in my speech because someone else has to come on board with what I'm saying. I am more dominant. I am less passive. I am less angry at everyone in the world because I've realized more than ever before how little many things matter. I used to write papers and study books and teach classes because it was awesome. It's still awesome. Now, however, there is an urgency. I need to expand my borders and control my kingdom because I need to take care of Jamie (my wife). On the other hand, I need to be home at 5:30 to make supper, no matter where I am in my writing or lesson prep. I need to put down the sword and take up the plowshare with increasing frequency. I also need to weild the sword with more ferocity. I think it's going to be even more intense when we have kids (pray for us to have kids). The end result is that right now I am more masculine in a traditional sense than ever before. And Fathered by God touched a soul that wasn't the soul I had six years ago.

A central concept in rhetoric is the concept of kairos. It is the idea of speaking at the appropriate time. Now I also travel in Evangelical circles and hear people talk about kairos as "God's special time," but I don't think that's accurate. It could also be the Devil's special time, when he realizes everything is just right to send you a temptation. Or it could be a used car salesman's special time to sell a car. What it is, is the belief that history and what is going on in the world both constrains and summons particular rhetorical acts. Effective rhetoric is not just good arguments, put in the right order, delivered well, using compelling, memorable language. It also has to be done at the right time. The right things have to be going on in the audience's life. In Bitzer's terms, there has to be the right "rhetorical situation"7. I can't really tell whether it is really a more compelling argument or if I am in a place to be differently compelled. I can't tell whether Eldredge has improved as a rhetorician, or if I have just changed as a person or if it is a little of both. I do know that I think differently now. I know that I am seeing more anomalies in my old worldview and fewer anomalies in my current one8, but is that me or Eldredge?

The truth is that we can't entirely know. When we change our minds or when others change their minds, there are a confluency of factors. Some are under the control of the rhetor. Some are under the control of the auditors. Some are under the control of outside influences.

1Bryant, D. C. (1953). Rhetoric: Its
function and scope. Quarterly
Journal of Speech
, 39, 401-424.

2Eldredge, J. (2001). Wild at Heart:
Discovering the secret of a man's soul,
Walker Large Print
Waterville, ME: Walker

3Cline, B. J. (Nov 2005) Empowering Women
by Empowering Men? The Rhetoric of John Eldrich.
Paper presented
at the
National Communication Association convention, Boston, MA.

4Cline, B. J. (Nov. 2006) The
Rhetoric(s) of the Christian Men's Movement(s)
. Paper presented
at the Religious Communication Association convention, San Antonio, TX.

5Cline, B. J. (Nov. 2006) Masculinity as a Communication Process:
Stability and Change in Evangelical Christian Conceptions of
A paper presented to the Religious Communication
Division of the National Communication Association, Chicago, IL.

6Eldredge, J.(2009). Fathered by God. Nashville, TN:
Thomas Nelson.

7Bitzer, L.F. (2000) The rhetorical
situation. In C. R. Burghardt Readings
in rhetorical criticism
2nd edition. State College, PA: Strata
Publishing Inc. 60-68. (originally published 1968. Philosophy and Rhetoric1(1)

8Brown, W. R. (1978). Ideology as
communication process. The Quarterly
Journal of Speech
, 64. 123-180.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Phronesis and Sophia

Coming to terms with phronesis and sophia

Let me start out by being clear. I am no scholar of the ancient Greek dialects. I did try to learn the Biblical (Koina) Greek language in my Christian high-school. I believed I passed all the appropriate tests in that class in order to receive my language credits. I am a scholar of communication, a tradition that began in ancient Greece. I am a follower of Jesus whose instructions have been handed down to us primarily in Greek. Finally, I am the son of a pastor whose understanding of Greek is much better than most pastors. So, I know a little bit about ancient Greek languages. I know the differences between the Greek of Plato and the Greek of the Apostle Paul, but my Greek of either era is not good enough to make a real difference. True scholars will talk about how they can read the Greek of one or the other of these eras, but usually don’t consider themselves experts in both. I am an expert in neither. I and can fumble through a passage from scripture or from Aristotle with about the grace of a seal on land. It isn’t pretty but I get there, usually.

Still, when I read the New Testament or the old Greek rhetoricians, the vast majority of the time I do so in English translation. Those translations are put together by real experts, often by teams of experts, and they know what they’re doing whereas when I read things in Greek I am picking words out from context and etymology and turning regularly to a dictionary which is itself a translation. Besides, I am lazy and it is always easier to read in one’s mother tongue. I’ve been doing better since I got my android tablet where I can switch back and forth between the Greek and a bunch of English translations and commentaries with ease, but really, I mostly just read in English.

Still, once in a while I pick something up from the Greek that is important. I think that is something I’ve hit on here (which is why I am sharing it). I was recently looking at James 1:5 which says (in NAS translation) “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” What struck me was the Greek word for wisdom here. The word is "σοφία" (sophia). Now, this is a common word to be translated wisdom so I wasn’t shocked by what I saw, it just wasn’t what I had expected. I really had thought that the type of wisdom James was talking about was probably φρόνησις (phronesis).

There is a difference between the two that is really important to those of us who study rhetoric. Sophia is a type of “wisdom” that deals with ENDS whereas phronesis is the type of wisdom that deals with MEANS. Aristotle and Plato can be summarized in saying that Aristotle was searching for the phronesis, whereas Plato was searching for the sophia. Rhetoric is the phronesis of communication. Dialectic is the sophia. What is good and right and noble is sophia. What is the best way to get there is phronesis. Sophia is about differentiating the good from the bad in general. Phronesis is differentiating the good from the bad in a particular situation.

So it makes sense that I had expected wisdom in this context to be phronesis. James had been talking about how to endure the various trials that we encounter. So, I’d always taken it to mean that when we are in a particular trial, we should ask God for how to deal with it, and He’ll tell us. Furthermore, I think just about every preacher I’ve heard discussing this verse has talked about it in terms of phronesis, not sophia, although none ever discussed the Greek with me. Are you trying to decide whether to rent a house or an apartment? Well, ask God for wisdom. Are you trying to decide whether or not to marry a girl? Well, ask God for wisdom. I am not saying that asking God for wisdom in these matters is bad advice. It is good advice. James 1:5, however, is probably not the verse we can stand on for this. This verse would answer questions more like “is living in a house good or evil” or “is marriage, in general, good or evil?”

I was so sure that the wisdom for which we were supposed to ask was phronesis, that my first thought when reading it was sophia was that perhaps phronesis had died out of the Greek language by the time of the New Testament. I’d found that case before with other words. Eudaimonia (εὐδαιμονία) Aristotle’s central concept in his Ethics, doesn’t even exist in scripture because the term had fallen into disuse. So, I thought maybe phronesis is not a word from Biblical Greek. A quick click through Strong’s concordance showed I was wrong. Phronesis and its derivatives are common in the New Testament and are often translated wisdom. Often, we are commanded to “be wise” and in such cases the word is almost always a derivative of phronesis. In the famous parable of the wise man building his house upon the rock and the foolish man building his house upon the sand, the type of wisdom is phronesis. The sophia of the situation, whether or not it is good and noble to build a house at all, is not discussed in that parable. The right place to build it is the discussion. The “wise” virgins who had oil when their husbands were on the way did not necessarily possess sophia, but phronesis.

So, I am sitting here looking at James 1:5 and I am led to ask myself a question. If this verse does not say that we should ask God for phronesis, where is the scriptural source for phronesis? Now, we know what the source is for “every good and perfect gift” and as I said earlier, asking God for phronesis is still not a bad idea. In fact, Paul prays for the Ephesians that they will receive phronesis (1:8); so it is something God doles out. But does God have a “normal” means of providing phronesis? Sophia seems to come through revelation, but is that the means for phronesis?

The answer might come from a portion of the Bible that we rarely think of having to do with “wisdom” at all. In Romans 8, Paul writes about two kinds of minds, the carnal mind and the spiritual mind. Now, there are different words that are translated “mind” in English from the Greek too, but this one is “φρόνημα” (phronéma), a word closely related to phronesis. It is like the part of the soul that contains, in some way, the phronesis. But apparently the fleshly phronéma is at war with the spiritual phronéma. So, we already have phronesis, and have no real need to ask for it, rather we need to decide which phronesis to act out. To act out the spiritual phronesis, the answer is not merely to pray for it as we pary for sophia. Rather there is a different type of prayer, not a simple request, that seems to unlock the spiritual phronéma and allow us to engage in spiritual phronesis:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind [phronéma] of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God”(Romans 8: 26 & 27 ESV)

Aristotle said that phronesis is the most practical of all the virtues. In fact, the word is often translated “practical wisdom” in ancient Greek philosophy in order to differentiate it from sophia. Here’s the thing though, the type of prayer that on the surface seems the least practical is Biblically the way of releasing this kind of wisdom in our lives. We get the Holy Spirit’s phronéma by praying in the Spirit and allowing Him to translate to God the father. By giving over the words of our language to God and basically speaking what seems to our souls to be nonsense, God is able to cause His phronéma to work, imparting a his practical wisdom. It is paradoxical and strange, but I am thinking that is how it works. If you’re wondering if you should work, ask God and He will tell you. If you’re wondering which job to take, pray in the spirit and spiritual phronesis will be released in your life.