30 June 2012

Good bits.

She ran into me after the sermon. “Wasn’t that great?” she said.

“Yeah,” I said, trying to keep things positive. “He had some good bits.”

She made a face. I’ve seen this face before on different people. It appears when they expect me to be jazzed beyond belief, and I’m not. It’s the “What’s the matter with you?” expression. “Good bits?” she said. “I was like—” and then she mimed eating a sandwich—and then she went away, probably to find someone who was as excited about the sermon as she was.

The disclaimer now: “She” is someone who goes to my church, but this was not at my church. We were visiting another one because of a special guest speaker. He’s a preacher and author who is, to paraphrase a Monty Python sketch, well-known in the places where he’s well-known. Certain Pentecostals in northern California know who he is. All names are withheld, however, because this rant is not about them. Not specifically. I’ve met these sorts before. So have you.

I knew of him. Hadn’t heard him preach before. So I went to hear him preach. Good public speaker. Entertaining, winsome, enthusiastic, clever. Had some really positive, uplifting, encouraging things to say. Quoted the bible out of context like the devil itself, though.

No I am not calling him a devil. Nor an antichrist. Nor uninspired, nor a false teacher, false prophet, false anything. Just really, really sloppy when it comes to interpreting bible. Lots of preachers are. They think if their conclusion is fine, it validates every route they took to get there. Obviously they never paid attention in science class. Or math, forensics, logic, hermeneutics… Let’s just say they spent their college years, if they had any, having fun, and leave it there.

From what I know this preacher earnestly tries to follow Jesus, truly loves him, loves his church, and wants to do right by God. But for every time he interpreted the bible correctly, he likewise interpreted the bible questionably or downright wrongly. And because it was stuff the congregation had never heard before (which stands to reason; he made it all up) they were gasping and oohing and saying “Amen” like he was reading golden plates fresh from heaven.

I make absolutely no claims at infallibility. But he kept picking passages that I have either researched, or at least know fairly well. He spun ’em in all sorts of directions with no respect for literary context, historical context, nothing. I don’t know the dude’s educational background, but whatever it was, he had a lot of fun.

I entirely agree with his conclusion. Problem is, half his premises are entirely wrong. Pick any of your friends who like to discuss politics, but don’t know a bloody thing about how government, economics, or human nature works: Despite their blistering ignorance, they keep coming to the same conclusions. That’s ’cause they start with their conclusions, and work their way backwards, and never happen to notice that cause-and-effect is supposed to work the other way—or that it’s part of the logic process altogether. They don’t know the logic process, and don‘t care—they’re right, and that’s all. The preacher did that. Lots of preachers do that. Jesus is the answer, but they still can’t tell you the question. Besides, what’s the question matter? Jesus is the answer!

There was a kernel or two of wheat in his big pile of chaff. He had some good bits. So I decided to accentuate the positive. Because when I start with the negative—“You realize, he quoted this verse wrong, and this verse, and these verses, and this verse”—people just accuse me of being a skeptic, a killjoy, an egotist, an antichrist. I just harshed their Holy Spirit buzz. All because I insist on, of all things, respect for the scriptures.

Shouldn’t I immediately stand up in the service, shout down anathemas, and rebuke the speaker for misquoting the bible? Isn’t it my duty to point out his many, many errors? Well, yes and no. Yes, if people are actually following his errors, especially if they’re about to harm people. Yes if people will actually listen to me, and not just think I’m some crank. Yes if God orders me to. Otherwise nah.

Because you know how we Christians are: We listen to all kinds of sermons, think, “That was nice,” then go out and apply absolutely none of them to our lives. We don‘t change. We enjoy the Holy Spirit warm fuzzies for a little while, but we bear no fruit. So why warn people about the bomb they might detonate, when they never intend to pick up the package? I can easily afford to be apathetic. ’Cause so are they.

I would like to think this is because the Spirit subtly convinces us to be apathetic whenever we hear a bunch of sloppy teaching. It’s much more comforting than that your average Christian really is that fruitless. I can’t prove that from the bible, though.

Well, anyway: I kept my comments to the “good bits.” My acquaintance, however, swallowed the sermon whole. She only mimed chewing. She’s not gonna go home, look up the verses, and find out what the scriptures really say. She’s just gonna embrace his conclusion. Which is fine: Again, it’s not a bad conclusion. Hopefully, though, she forgets the premises he used to reach that conclusion—or selectively remembers only the good bits. We’ll see.