Overcoming the Dark Side – A Review

Dark Side

(Disclaimer: If you’re a Star Wars fan and have come here looking for more fuel for that fire, turn away, my young padawan: it’s not that “dark side.”)

A BOOK REPORT ON

Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership

(Gary L. McIntosh and Samuel D. Rima)

by Brett Best

June 2017

THE USEFUL MAIN THOUGHT

Whatever it is that makes a leader effective is a two-edged sword; those who are not careful in wielding it may cause self-inflicted wounds on the backswing.

THESIS STATEMENTS

“It was during this research that it became clear that a paradox of sorts existed in the lives of most of the leaders who had experienced significant failures: the personal insecurities, feelings of inferiority, and need for parental approval (among other dysfunctions) that compelled these people to become successful leaders were very often the same issues that precipitated their failure.” (p. 13)

“Because it is a part of us that we are unaware of to some degree, lurking in the shadows of our personality, we have labeled it the dark side of our personality.  However, in spite of the foreboding mental image the term dark side creates, it is not, as we shall see, exclusively a negative force in our lives.  In almost every case the factors that eventually undermine us are shadows of the ones that contribute to our success.” (Italics by the authors, p. 28.)

“The aspects of life that push us in a positive way toward success can also exert a negative pull, destroying our effectiveness.” (p. 33)

“In short any behavior that seems to overpower us, as well as any urge or motivation that seems to uncontrollably drive us, is a possible sign indicating the presence of our dark side.” (p. 71)

“Though expectations are necessary to a degree, they can also be a two-edged sword in our lives.  These healthy expectations can motivate the people toward whom they are directed to behave and achieve beyond their current level.” (p. 185)

QUOTABLES

“We live in a culture obsessed with both having and success.  True success is a state of being not having.” (Italics by the authors, p. 19)

“For, all too often, when the lessons of the dark side are never learned, it drives even successful leaders to make unwise, impulsive, unethical, or immoral choices that may ultimately lead to the forfeiture of the very success it created.” (p. 91)

The authors quoted Abraham Lincoln: “All human beings have their weaknesses, but not all of us realize them, come to grips with them, or offset their negative impact.  As a group whose primary endeavor is interacting with other people, leaders must accomplish the paradoxical task of managing their darker sides.”  (Italics in text, pp. 150-151.)

“The purpose of examining the past is not for the assignment of blame, but for self-understanding.” (p. 174)  I chose this quote because it is the sole balance against repeated exhortations to engage in the dredging of one’s past for the purpose of finding where the corpse-like seeds of self-destruction may lie.  It read to me like a call to psychotherapy.  As we live in a culture predominated by lawyers and therapists (evidence of our national self-destruction), I found myself wishing for more balance.  Blaming dad and mom can serve as a mechanism for not taking ownership of the person we’ve become.

“Our legalism is well-intended; nevertheless it is also quite repressive and destructive for those who must live and lead under its weight.” (p. 184)

“We must come to the point where we recognize that our value is not dependent on our performance, position, titles, achievements, or the power we wield.  Rather, our worth exists independently of anything we have ever done or will do in the future.” (p. 213)  This is the best quote in the book and should have been in the introduction.

MY OPINION: PRAISEWORTHY PARTS

The authors precisely identified their aims and assumptions in the opening sections of the book.  They numbered them and set them aside to make them obvious instead of making use delve into the text to mine them or discover them by accident.  I appreciate assisting the reader by making the important bits obvious.

I read the revised version of the book; the original was published in 1997, the revised version in 2007.  I mention that because that time frame overlaps the rise of popular study of “emotional intelligence” in our culture.  Although the authors reference little or none of the fruits of this research, they ran on a parallel track.  Students of “EQ” will recognize the strands of thought shared with psycho-social observers of the time, purveyors of emotional sophistication in our intellectual processes.  In fact, with repeated references to Maslow and Jung, the greater portion of their teaching is based on social sciences than Scripture.

It is helpful to identify leadership styles and explore the light and dark sides of each.  A “Cosmo”-style self-evaluation is offered as a means of identifying one’s predominant leadership style.  Of course, the names assigned to the styles are negatively-oriented to their dark side: the Compulsive Leader, the Narcissistic Leader, the Paranoid Leader, the Codependent Leader, and the Passive-Aggressive Leader.

A five-step program is offered to aid leaders in overcoming their dark side, whichever form it may take.  If employed, I can see where this basic level of organization may help someone whose score in any of the dark sides was eight or more points.

MY OPINION: SHORTCOMINGS

The authors too frequently resort to generalizations like “many in the Christian community.”  How many?  What statistical data or anecdotes or other evidence can you offer to support such a contention?  To me, this is not scholarly; it is a lazy kind of writing that asserts as truths non-facts that are unproven and probably unprovable.  While I trust McIntosh and Rima as observers, it is simply not helpful to toss these sweeping generalities around as if they were self-evident.

This is a book on leadership among thousands.  It makes a point that may be examined in a more scholarly fashion elsewhere, but it is an important point to be made.  My concern is that the authors have given us an inoculation but not the cure.  The book successfully alerts the reader to the important point about the double-edged nature of leadership qualities, but, in spite of its length, does so superficially.  I would advise the reader who is concerned about their own dark side to turn to more competent sources of information on emotional intelligence.

The self-evaluation is an example of a double-edged nature.  While it is the backbone of the book, there is no more science here than one of the hundreds of quizzes on Facebook.  Science would establish a database on responses to these questions and create a sense of how commonly each aspect of the dark side occurs.  Science would trace connections to discoveries about emotional intelligence and explore linkages between these components of the dark side and established mental illnesses.

Having said all this, it would appear that I’m arguing that the book needed to be longer, to include more information.  Actually, my biggest concern about the book is that it is too long because it is filled with the wrong kinds of information; the author’s summations, generalizations, and exercises of imagination that stand in the place of genuine research.

To me, DARK SIDE is an example of a “padded book.”  There is enough new and useful information here for a journal article.  The rest is padding added to increase it to book length.  The authors make profuse use of historical/biblical examples of leadership meltdowns.”  While anecdotes are useful rhetorically, in this case their profusion indicates a shallowness of substance.  Another example of padding is extensive use of quotations.  It amused me to see multiple quotations from Sue Grafton.  I was under impression she is known as a popular author of fiction.  Is leadership theory part of her publishing resume?  The book is simply a mile wide and an inch deep.

MY OPINION: FINAL GRADE

If I wanted to be cute, I’d give DARK SIDE a “D” for “dark.”  Instead, I’m giving it a “D” for the shallowness of scholarship and the addition of too much padding to stretch a viable journal article into a salable book.

A Saintly Stepfather

(Please read Matthew 1:18-25 in your favorite Bible.  I have used the NIV as a basis for these remarks.)
There was the little boy who approached Santa in a department store with a long list of requests. He wanted a bicycle and a sled, a chemical set, a cowboy suit, a set of trains, a baseball glove and roller skates.
“That’s a pretty long list,” Santa said sternly. “I’ll have to check in my book and see if you were a good boy.”
“No, no,” the youngster said quickly. “Never mind checking. I’ll just take the roller skates.”
A less materialistic little fellow came closer to the real meaning of Christmas. A store owner was doing some last minute Christmas shopping with his young son when he saw another store owner with whom he had been friends for some time. The two of them exchanged greetings and spoke with each other about what a financially profitable season it had been for their respective stores. The small boy overheard his father say, “This has been the best Christmas ever.”
As the store owners parted company, the father and son continued their shopping, but the father noticed his son had become very quiet. He inquired as to his son’s silence, and his son replied, “Dad, you just told Mr. Johnson that this was the best Christmas ever.”
His dad replied, “I did, son. The economy is great, and people are really spending.”
“O.K.” the son replied, “It’s just that I always thought the first Christmas was the best one.”
<Retrieved from http://www.tonycooke.org/holiday-resources/christmas_illustrations/ on 12/2/16.>
More than any other holy day, Christmas has been co-opted by our culture, turning it into something irrelevant to the event itself. We know from church history that the church took Dec. 25th away from the pagans who were celebrating the winter solstice. Now it seems they want their
holiday back.
The important thing to we who believe is keeping our perspective in order. At Christmas, we celebrate one of God’s signature events. He became one of us. Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man at the same time is a fact that taxes our knowledge and our imagination, but is wholly necessary for a saving faith.
Whatever reason others may have to observe Christmas in their own way, ours is to look to the Incarnation, the in-boy revelation of God, and rejoice that He came. This is why we return to the biblical texts year after year, reaffirming the faith we have received as a heritage and work to pass along as a legacy.
Last Sunday we looked at the family tree of Jesus. There we saw an important if neglected figure in our history of faith, a man named Zerubbabel. He set an example of perseverance and devotion to doing the will of God that we would do well to follow.
Which leads us to today. At the top of that family tree we found the name Joseph. Joseph, we should observe, was NOT the biological father of Jesus. While Matthew includes Jesus at the very top of Joseph’s family tree, this is not for the usual reason. It is not a relationship of blood that bound Jesus to Joseph.
As we shall see, God is the Father of Jesus. One of the persons of the Trinity would, from Jesus’ birthday forward, be known as “God the Son” because he accepted a human body that God the Holy Spirit made for Him in cooperation with a brave little lady named Mary.
Out of convenience and respect we refer to Joseph as Jesus’ “father,” but it would be more accurate to say that he was Jesus’ “stepfather” or “adoptive father.” I do not make this point to take anything away from Joseph. He too is a great man of faith who sets an example for us to follow.
1. Joseph made a wrong but kind decision (1:18-19).
It was a wrong decision because he did not know the true means of Mary’s pregnancy. Verse eighteen clearly tells the reader the cause of Mary’s pregnancy: THROUGH THE HOLY SPIRIT. Since he believed that Mary’s pregnancy was disgraceful, Joseph decided to DIVORCE her.
It was kind decision because he did not want to expose Mary to disgrace or harm. Joseph writhed on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, he was FAITHFUL TO THE LAW. The Law had a very strict penalty for adultery; death by stoning (see Leviticus 20:10). On the other hand, Joseph wished to spare Mary of both kinds of suffering if he could. If he extended her mercy, that outcome could be avoided. However, there was still the court of public opinion and the DISGRACE Mary would face in the community.
Joseph resolved his dilemma by his decision to keep the DIVORCE and its cause quiet. He wanted to keep Mary and her pregnancy out of the public eye as much as possible. In this instance, Joseph is an example of the classic struggle between law and grace, between holiness and love. Knowing how to balance these sometimes complimentary virtues is one essence of wisdom.
2. God’s messenger changed Joseph’s mind (1:20-21).
The word “angel” literally means “messenger.” The ANGEL OF THE LORD APPEARED TO JOSEPH IN A DREAM to deliver God’s message about the truth behind Mary’s pregnancy.
Let’s note the specifics of the message.
The angel addresses him as JOSEPH, SON OF DAVID. Especially in Matthew’s Gospel, it is essential to note that Jesus came as the fulfillment of God’s promises in the Old Testament to send a Messiah. One aspect of the Messiah is that he would continue the dynasty of David, being one of His descendants. We looked into this last week. Though Joseph is not Jesus’ father, it is still important that he be a descendant of David, and that fact is affirmed again by the angel.
DO NOT BE AFRAID TO TAKE MARY HOME AS YOUR WIFE. Of what was Joseph AFRAID? Based on the context, we can assume he was afraid of violating the Law. He may have also feared public ridicule or retribution.
This statement is puzzling if we don’t understand that culture’s wedding traditions. When the marriage was arranged and agreed-upon, the couple was considered to be married in every way until the wedding day. Then the wedding was held and the union consummated for the first time. What looks to us as an “engagement” is a different relationship in their culture. In this case, as Mary’s “reputation” was already under suspicion, Joseph was told to move up the wedding date and immediately include Mary in the home he had made for the two of them.
WHAT IS CONCEIVED IN HER IS FROM THE HOLY SPIRIT. Mary was not, as everyone assumed, guilty of adultery. She had not cheated on Joseph. Just the opposite; she had been faithful to both Joseph and God. The truth of the matter was that her pregnancy was a miraculous act of God.
SHE WILL GIVE BIRTH TO A SON…YOU ARE TO GIVE HIM THE NAME JESUS…HE WILL SAVE HIS PEOPLE FROM THEIR SINS. HIS PEOPLE are the Jews. Jesus’ own description of His mission was to the nation of Israel first.
FROM THEIR SINS = Jesus came to save people. Sin leads to death. The sacrifice of blood is God’s cure for the problem of sin and Jesus’ blood would be shed for that purpose.
3. Interlude: explaining prophecy (1:22-23).
As we’ve observed, Matthew is very concerned about Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy, so, no surprise that 22 verses into his Gospel, we have the first citation of fulfilled prophecy. This is not part of the angel’s message, it’s an aside delivered by Matthew. Let’s note the specifics.
THE VIRGIN WILL CONCEIVE AND GIVE BIRTH. This is obviously a supernatural, miraculous occurrence. Both Matthew and Luke go to lengths (as we’ll see in v. 25) to let us know Mary’s pregnancy was this miracle.
To be clear – the conception of Jesus was supernatural; a miracle. The birth of Jesus was completely natural and typical. Mary shared the experience of every mother from Eve onward.
SHE WILL…GIVE BIRTH TO A SON, just as the angel predicted to Joseph in v. 21. As we see later in the passage, this is exactly what came to pass.
THEY WILL CALL HIM IMMANUEL might, at first glance, seem contradictory with the angel’s instruction to Joseph to name Him Jesus. Note that THEY, not “you” will call Him Immanuel. This is a name others will bestow on Jesus. The meaning of this name or title is literally “God with us;” Jesus was God present in the flesh. What is more significant than the name itself is what it tells us about Jesus; He would be GOD WITH US.
4. Joseph completely obeyed God (1:24-25).
WHEN JOSEPH WOKE UP means he didn’t waste any time. Joseph was obedient in time and in the fullness of the angel’s instructions.
It’s my pet theory that the wedding date was moved up and perhaps it was observed without the usual fanfare and the customary week-long party. I speculate that it was early enough in Mary’s pregnancy that no one else knew about it and a quick wedding might mislead others into thinking Jesus was Joseph’s son.
This theory has only a little support in the Bible. In Matthew 13:55, when Jesus returned to Nazareth after beginning His ministry, the people of Nazareth remarked, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” If they had ever known about Mary’s pregnancy before consummating her relationship with Joseph, they forgot about it. I like to think that Joseph was such a kind-hearted man that he was willing to endure a slur on his character rather than let Mary take the heat for something she clearly had not done; be unfaithful to him.
Joseph is such a faithful man he took the command of God one step further and did not insist on his conjugal rights: HE DID NOT CONSUMMATE THEIR MARRIAGE UNTIL [after] SHE GAVE BIRTH TO A SON. This, of course, fulfilled the prophecy entirely, maintaining Mary’s virginity until the birth of Jesus. Also, Joseph followed through on all the angel’s instructions and GAVE [Mary’s son] THE NAME JESUS.
For all kinds of reasons, Christmas has occasionally been a tense, hotly contested holiday. One of the recurring stories is non-Christians complaining about how the holiday gives Christianity too much of the spotlight.
You may remember that our former governor Bill Janklow was not one to let complaints bother him too much. When criticized about having a nativity scene on display, Janklow prepared to let every religion put something on display in the Capitol, and even set aside an “empty corner” for the use of atheists.
Tony Cooke and David Beebe came up with a cute and insightful look at the conflicts of Christmas. They took a popular poem and wrote their own version of it. The titled it ‘Twas the Fight Before Christmas.
‘Twas the fight before Christmas,
And all through the house,
Not a creature was peaceful,
Not even my spouse.
The bills were strung out on our table with dread,
In hopes that our checkbook would not be in the red.
The children were fussing and throwing a fit,
When Billy came screaming and cried, “I’ve been bit.”
And Momma with her skillet, and I with the remote,
She said, “You change one more channel and I’ll grab your throat.”
When on the TV there arose such a clatter,
I sat up on the couch to see what was the matter.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
The cable was out, it was my worst fear.
“The Cowboys, the Celtics, the Raiders, the Knicks,
Without the sports channel I’d soon need a fix!”
And then in the midst of my grievous sorrow,
I remembered the times I had promised, “tomorrow…”
“Not now, my children, but at some soon time,
Dad will play with you, and things will be fine.”
Now under conviction, I looked at my wife,
Where was my kindness? Why all the strife?
My heart quickly softened; I now saw my task,
Some love and attention was all they had asked.
I gathered my family and called them by name,
And told them with God’s help I’d not be the same.
We’ll keep Christ in Christmas and honor His plan.
No more fights before Christmas—on that we will stand.
My children’s eyes twinkled; they squealed with delight.
My wife gladly nodded; she knew I was right.
It was the fight before Christmas, but God’s love had come through,
And just like He does, He made all things new.
<Retrieved from http://www.tonycooke.org/holiday-resources/christmas_illustrations/ on 12/2/16.>

We redeem the days of Advent by following the faith example set for us by Joseph.  In addition to being faithful to God’s will, Joseph showed grace.  He demonstrated personal holiness in his full devotion to God and gracious love in the sacrifices he made for Mary and by adopting Jesus as his son.

The King’s Kin

(Please read Matthew 1:1-17 in your favorite Bible.  I have used the NIV for my remarks.)

Matthew, author of the first of the four Gospels, lived and wrote in a time when it was an important question who your ancestors were.  His purpose in starting with the genealogy of Jesus is cultural; it answered the question of who His kin were.  On the historical side, it establishes Jesus’ place in history and His descent from Abraham and David.

Theologically, Jesus’ connection to David is important for the fulfillment of prophecy: God had promised that the dynasty of David would be unending.  Of course, there would be no one man who could keep that promise himself as we all must die.  But Jesus, who lives forever, reigns forever.  In Him the line of David and the rule of his descendants continued into eternity!

The first two-thirds of Matthew’s genealogy come from various OT sources.  The remaining one-third is information not included in the Bible, but there is good extra-biblical evidence that public records of ancestry were kept at least throughout the first century, AD.  People like Matthew could have researched these sources for this information.

There are 42 men mentioned and four women mentioned.  Usually genealogies were exclusively male; Matthew including women implies that he had a point to make.  The explanation I prefer is that Matthew wanted to show in some of these women and men is the family tree of Jesus included some grafted-in branches and some twisted limbs.  He is showing how the King of King’s kin included a few foreigners and some notorious sinners.  The implication is that God is so powerful He uses whom He chooses; a sparkling-white pedigree is not necessary for us to be used by God.

The passage is organized according to Matthew’s three eras of Jewish history, from Abraham to Christ.

  1. Set #1 = From one family to one nation (1:2-6).
  2. Set #2 = From nationality to captivity (7-11).
  3. Set #3 = From captivity to Christ (12-16).

BACKGROUND = The BABYLONIAN CAPTIVITY.

Warning & Fulfillment.  Through the prophets, God had repeatedly warned His people Judah that their sin would land them in grave difficulty.  In fact, He specifically said that they would be conquered and carried off by a pagan nation for 70 years.  (See Jeremiah 25:8-14 and Jeremiah 29:10-14.)  In 597 B.C., the Babylonians invaded Judah, sacked the city of Jerusalem, and destroyed the temple.  They carried off to Babylon the wealth of the city and the temple as plunder, along with the strongest and best of the survivors.  The biblical accounts of Daniel, Esther, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego all come out of this period of the history of the people of Israel.

Promise & Fulfillment.  With the warning, God promised them that their captivity would be for a limited time (70 years) and at the end of that time, He would restore them to the land.  In the interim, they were to remain faithful. During the course of their captivity, the Babylonian empire was absorbed by the Persians.  In 538 B.C., the Persian Emperor Cyrus named Zerubbabel, a prince of Judah, as governor of Judah, which they considered a “colony.”

CHARACTER STUDY = ZERUBBABEL

Why bother to look at this man’s life?  Both Matthew and Luke list him as one of the ancestors of Jesus.  That alone makes him important.  But more to the point, God promised to use him in a great way in Haggai 2:20-23:

20 The word of the Lord came to Haggai a second time on the twenty-fourth day of the month: 21 “Tell Zerubbabel governor of Judah that I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. 22 I will overturn royal thrones and shatter the power of the foreign kingdoms. I will overthrow chariots and their drivers; horses and their riders will fall, each by the sword of his brother.

23 “‘On that day,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

The person bearing the signet ring carried the authority of the person who normally wore it.  It was pressed into a lump of hot wax to seal a scroll or at the bottom of such a document to serve as a signature.  This designates Zerubbabel as an important biblical figure, someone who directly represented God’s will to the people.

Who is he?  His name means “descendant of Babylon” and is probably the Hebrew version of a Babylonian name.  It seems strange to me to name one’s child after the nation that conquered you.  But the people of God were living in captivity in Babylon at the time and his name may simply indicate this.

Without getting into the complicated particulars, his parentage is not as simple as it appears in Matthew’s genealogy.  (The Bible cites two different men as his father: Shealtiel is the usual name given (i.e., Ezra 3:2+8; MTW 1:12), but in 1CL 3:19 the name Pedaiah is set forth.)  This is one of many examples in this list where God uses someone whose family history is less than squeaky-clean.

What did he do?  Most of what we know about Zerubbabel we read in Ezra and Haggai.  He was named governor of what was left of Judah; he returned to Jerusalem to lead the Jewish refugees in building the second temple.  This was no easy task.  In addition to all the logistical challenges, Zerubbabel faced active and even violent opposition from neighboring nations.  The enemies of Judah did not want to see Jerusalem’s walls or the temple reconstructed.  They were so successful in convincing the Persians, construction was stopped and building suspended during the reigns of several Persian emperors.  In 520 B.C., Emperor Darius allowed construction to recommence.  This time, it would not be interrupted until the second temple was dedicated in 515 B.C.

After the second temple was built and dedicated, Zerubbabel was not mentioned again in the Bible.  However, among the Jews of Matthew’s day, he took on a heroic kind of image, a man who stood against seemingly insurmountable challenges to do what God asked him to do.  One explanation of this admiration is that Zerubbabel was singularly devoted to accomplishing the rebuilding of the temple.  He did not use that responsibility or achievement as a springboard to fame, but quietly receded to the background once his objective was accomplished.  Zerubbabel showed a dedication to the house of God and more importantly, to the will of God, that caused him to persevere and complete the work God had set before him to do.

Zerubbabel did not do this work alone; he was supported by the prophets Ezra, Haggai, and Zechariah.  Nehemiah brought support from the king and the people labored to construct the building themselves.  His name is often mentioned with Joshua the high priest, so they were partners.

Over the years, Zerubbabel came to be identified with the Messiah the Jews were awaiting.  They believed that the promised redeemer would be a man like Zerubbabel.  This makes him an important but lesser-known biblical figure and connects him with Jesus in ways other than mere ancestry.

Zechariah 4:6-10 give us some appreciation of the importance of Zerubbabel.

So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.

“What are you, mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!’”

Then the word of the Lord came to me: “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands will also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you.

10 “Who dares despise the day of small things, since the seven eyes of the Lord that range throughout the earth will rejoice when they see the chosen capstone in the hand of Zerubbabel?”

In this brief passage we read very familiar words and very comforting promises.  This shows us how important Zerubbabel is in the history of God’s people and what a potent example he sets for us today.  God’s message to us through Zerubbabel is one of encouragement: DON’T GIVE UP!  In God’s time God’s plan will be enacted.  Stay faithful.

This is especially important when trials or periods of stagnancy or feelings of inadequacy arise, as they inevitably do.  Drive through Atlanta, Georgia today, and it’s nearly impossible to picture the aftermath of the Civil War, when the city smoldered after a relentless, 36-day shelling from Sherman’s Union troops.

The shelling finally stopped on Aug. 9, 1864, and a handful of people sorted through the burned-out embers, wondering how in the world they might possibly rebuild the city. In the early days, it must have been impossible to think that within a century, Atlanta would be one of the largest cities in America, and on its way to becoming one of the best-known cities in the world.

No, the heady days of the 21st century were far beyond the imagination of those living in the lean times of Civil War Reconstruction. For them, finding enough food, and finding good shelter, took all their work, all their time, and all their emotional energy. In those days, imagining a mega city in its steel and glass glory was simply not possible. And yet Atlanta would rise from the ashes, bigger and more fantastic than ever.

I am going to ask you to take some time this week to ask yourself where does God want you to be in 12 months?  What will be different about your situation by Thanksgiving Day, 2017?  What steps will it take to get you there?  How can you start today?  Between now and then, remain true to your vision by following the example of Zerubbabel.

(If you’d like to see this message delivered, the video is available on YouTube at “EBCSF.”)

Self-control Starts at the Top

This month is the conclusion of the Year of Jubilee.  To recap, that is an OT commandment that every 50 years, a time of rededication to the Lord and restoring the nation to respect the ancient ways.  It has been from September to September because the Israelite calendar is based on the moon, while ours is based on the sun.

Here at Emmanuel, our observance of the Year of Jubilee has been to spend these nine months studying the Fruits of the Spirit.  We conclude by looking at the Fruit of Self-control this Sunday and next.

Though it is listed last among the Fruits in Galatians 5:22-23 it ought to be first; for it is in the exercise of self-control that we know love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness and gentleness.  These Fruits come from the Holy Spirit. They do not appear at all in human nature except by means of self-control.

Self Control Test

“THIS TESTS YOUR ABILITY TO CONTROL YOUR OWN BODY!

“While sitting at your desk make clockwise circles with your right foot.  While doing this, draw the number ‘6’ in the air with your right hand.

Your foot will change direction!”

<Retrieved from http://atworkandbored.com/jokes-inc/jokes.php?joke=self-control-test-7261 on 9/16/16.>

“In Galatians 5:23, ‘self-control’ (temperance, KJV) is the translation of the Greek word enkrateia, which means ‘possessing power, strong, having mastery or possession of, continent, self-controlled’ (Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, “Galatians,” p. 160). Vincent’s Word Studies of the New Testament adds that it means ‘holding in hand the passions and desires’ (vol. IV, p. 168). The word thus refers to the mastery of one’s desires and impulses, and does not in itself refer to the control of any specific desire or impulse. If a particular desire or impulse is meant, the context will indicate it.

“Another Greek word, nephalios, has the same general meaning, but it generally covers a more specific area of self-control. It is often translated as ‘temperate’ or ‘sober.’ Even though its root condemns self-indulgence in all forms, the Bible’s writers use it to refer to avoiding drunkenness.”

<By John W. Ritenbaugh, Forerunner, “Personal,” December 1998 cited at http://www.cgg.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Library.sr/CT/PERSONAL/k/230/Fruit-Spirit-Self-Control.htm, retrieved on 9/16/18.>

Please read James 3:1-12 in your Bible.  I refer to the NIV in this post.

Gentleness is a Fruit of the Spirit and evidence of true discipleship.

  1. Teachers, for example (1-2).

Being a teacher in the Church is not for everyone.  By TEACHER James meant a person authorized to interpret and apply Scripture.  A frequent problem faced by the early Church was false teachers who authorized themselves and spread lies.  James warned them that teaching is not for everyone because teachers are judged more STRICTLY.  He singled out teachers as they are the best example of people whose words must be carefully chosen.  Their words reveal the truth about their teaching.

Control of one’s tongue is the acme of perfection.  James summed up human nature when he wrote, WE ALL STUMBLE IN MANY WAYS (aka “No one’s perfect”).  The word STUMBLE means to sin, to make mistakes.  IN MANY WAYS can also be translated, “on many occasions.”  However, if it were possible for someone to be perfect, their perfection would be revealed by their NEVER being AT FAULT in what they say.  Such a person would be a PERFECT MAN, ABLE TO KEEP HIS WHOLE BODY IN CHECK.  This is James’ way of saying that the very highest form of self-control is tongue control.

He is not saying this is the only kind of self-control or the only kind that counts.  Instead, he’s saying that control of speech is the hardest form of self-control to achieve.  As we’ll see, this also means that the sins of the tongue are the easiest to commit and the most commonly committed ones.

  1. Taming the tongue (3-8).

James offered other examples of the difficulties of tongue taming.  The point of the first three examples is that something small has a big effect.

– Big horses are turned by something so small it’s called a “bit.”

– Big ships are turned by little rudders.

– Whole forests are set ablaze by a tiny spark.

The bit, the rudder, and the spark are tiny in comparison to the thing they control or start, but that doesn’t make them meaningless.

The fourth example is that while people can tame wild animals, they can’t tame their tongues.  People in that society took pride over the way they tamed animals just as people in our society take pride over the way we invent new technology.  James was deliberately popping their bubble.

When he wrote that the tongue is a RESTLESS EVIL, we can easily imagine a wild jungle cat that is very threatening in its lethality.  Like a rattlesnake, the tongue is FULL OF DEADLY POISON.

Physically speaking, the tongue is not a large part of the body, BUT IT MAKES GREAT BOASTS; which is another way of saying it causes a lot of trouble. Psalm 73:9 describes the godless in this way – THEIR TONGUE STRUTS THROUGH ALL THE EARTH.

The meaning of all these metaphors is this: tongue-taming must be attempted because our tongue can cause a world of hurt.  We tend to underestimate the weight of our words; the effect our speech has on others. Sometimes that’s a product of genuine humility; we just don’t think we have that kind of influence over others.  Most of the time it is an excuse we offer to cover our laziness and/or lack of love.  For whatever reasons, we just don’t care what our words do to one another.

To correct this, James went to great lengths to explain that our words DO have serious effects, wide-spread consequences, and even fatal results.  Here are the consequences of wagging tongues:

– A GREAT FOREST…FIRE (5).

– A WORLD OF EVIL (6).

– CORRUPTS THE WHOLE PERSON (6).

– SETS THE WHOLE COURSE OF HIS LIFE ON FIRE (6).

Just in case all of that is not enough to motivate us to guard our words or just stop talking altogether, James identifies the ultimate source of our terrible tongue wagging; it is ITSELF SET ON FIRE BY HELL.  In John 8:44 Jesus similarly identified Satan as the father of all lies.

  1. Talking the Talk IS Walking the Walk (9-12).

James condemned the fact that our tongues are used for contrary purposes.  James set up a contrast to show how our tongues, like the rest of our bodies, have potential for the highest good (praising God) and the worst evil (cursing people).  What’s ironic is that both of these extremes can come from one mouth.  That is contrary to God’s original plan; He created our voices to be used to express love for Him and for each other.

The tongue betrays what is really in our character; that’s the point of the three mismatches in v. 12.

– A fresh water spring will not produce salt water; neither will the opposite be true.

– Fig trees do not produce a crop of olives.

– Grapevines never produce a crop of figs.

This gives us another good motive to mind our words, doesn’t it? Our words betray our secrets, our inner life.  We are constantly telling our story and it is right out there for anyone who’s learned to listen.  The way we speak (non-verbals) will either prove or disprove our sincerity.  The motivations and attitudes we attribute to others are projections of our own motives and feelings.  Be careful what you say and how you say it – you don’t know what you’re giving away about yourself!

Travis Bradberry co-wrote the bestselling book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and co-founded TalentSmart.  On 9/17/2012 he published an article titled “The Six Secrets of Self-Control.” He wrote:

“What is it about self-control that makes it so difficult to rely on? Self-control is a skill we all possess (honest); yet we tend to give ourselves little credit for it. Self-control is so fleeting for most that when Martin Seligman and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania surveyed two million people and asked them to rank order their strengths in 24 different skills, self-control ended up in the very bottom slot (for the record, self-control is a key component of emotional intelligence).”

The article lists these six “secrets” that aren’t really any more secret than common sense.

Self-Control Secret #1 – Meditate

Self-Control Secret #2 – Eat

Self-Control Secret #3 – Exercise

Self-Control Secret #4 – Sleep Self-Control Secret #5 – Ride the Wave

Self-Control Secret #6 – Forgive Yourself

<Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/travisbradberry/2012/09/17/the-six-secrets-of-self-control/print/ on 9/16/16.>

If we swap out “Pray” for “Meditate,” these six things are disciplines Christians can endorse as reasonable means to self-control.

Though it may sound like willpower, self-control is a Fruit of the Spirit, which means it is a character trait that God gifts into us.  It is more accurately understood as an exercise of spiritual power to follow God’s will.  That’s good news – we don’t have to achieve this on our own.  Instead, we rely on the Holy Spirit to motivate and empower our self-control.

A Church Called Emmanuel

I have vacated the pulpit for the last two weeks to make time for special events and speakers, which is why I’ve had no posts.  (If you’d like to see for yourself, please head to YouTube, EBCSF.) As there have been requests for this script in print, I present here in this space the Readers’ Theater written and performed for the 95th anniversary of the founding of Emmanuel Baptist Church.  This was celebrated on August 7th, 2016.

 

FIRST:            We are here today to commemorate and celebrate the 95th

anniversary of the founding of Emmanuel  Baptist Church.  It was on August 7, 1921 that Emmanuel Baptist Church began.

 

SECOND:       Pardon me, but I beg to differ.  While it is true that August 7 was the

first meeting at which we assumed that name, it can also be truly said that this church began eight years previously, when I commenced work as a missionary in this field.

 

FIRST:            The voice of Miss Helen Tenhaven, folks.  Helen, what brought you to

the east side of Sioux Falls?

 

SECOND:      You may call me Miss Tenhaven, sir.  I do not know you so well as to

be on a first name basis.  (Pause.)  It was a train that brought me to Sioux Falls, but the Lord who led me here.  We convened and organized a church to make Christ known on the east side of this city.  A great advancement on this cause came when Mr. Astor Blauvelt gave us land upon which our chapel was constructed.

 

FOURTH:       That’s where I come in.  With the help of the Baptist State

Convention and the First Baptist Church of Sioux Falls, I was constructed on the corner of Second Street and Cliff Avenue.  Though I have been referred to as the “Tar Paper Shack,” I am quick to remind people that I was the first home to Emmanuel Baptist Church.  Without me, where would the church have been?  So show a little respect, please!

 

THIRD:           It was the “LITTLE Tar Paper Shack” until I came along and expanded

our facility and built a parsonage.

 

FIRST:                        That is Rev. L.W. Rogers speaking, folks.

 

THIRD:           I have the honor of being the first pastor to serve at Emmanuel.  God

blessed us so completely that our little chapel was soon too small.  We quickly built an addition and purchased the lot next to us for a parsonage.

 

FIRST:                        Rev. N.L. Haney came next and Emmanuel continued to grow.  He

was followed by Rev. W.C. Erickson.

 

THIRD:           I inherited a building too small for our needs, so we broke ground

for a new house of worship on October 29, 1932.  Compared to the “Tarpaper Shack,” our new church home was seen as palatial.

 

SECOND:       However, the men on the Building Committee did not have the fore-

sight to construct a full basement beneath our meeting-house.  It was not until several of us ladies teaching Sunday School objected to the cramped conditions that a basement was built.  Rev. J.S. Jones was our pastor when this work was done in the latter part of the 1930s.

 

THIRD:           When I came on the scene in ’41, the church was thriving.  In two

years, we burned the mortgage!  What a day of rejoicing that was!

 

FIRST:            The mortgage burning was one of the highlights of the ministry of

Rev. R.C. Krushchwitz, who pastored at Emmanuel from 1941 through 1946.  Under the leadership of Rev. Robert Williams, the congregation purchased a meeting-house formerly used by the East Side Lutheran Church.

 

SECOND:       I remember that.  It was January 1, 1950 when we first moved in.

What a way to start the new year!  Our old building had seen its day and we were ready to move on to a new house of worship.  Outside it was cold, but our hearts were warmed by the excitement of a new gathering place for our growing church family!

 

FOURTH:       There I sat, on the corner of Austin and Cliff.  I didn’t mind the

change in congregations.  I figured, “Well, if I’m not going to be Lutheran, I might as well be Baptist!”  These new folks came in and worked hard to give me a new look inside and out.  This went well with the new spirit I could sense in the worshipers.  I was happy to become Emmanuel Baptist’s church!

 

THIRD:           That move occurred under the guidance of Rev. Williams, my

predecessor.  I am Rev. Harold McMullen and served the east side with Emmanuel from 1952 to 1960.  I guess you could say I was a “visionary”  because during my pastorate we purchased the block between 11th and 12th streets, Blauvelt and Mabel avenues.  It would be almost another decade before that property became our new home.

 

FIRST:                        The lots that make up our current location were paid for during Rev.

H.J. Crandall’s ministry.  But it was Rev. Charles W. Newman who lead the church during the exciting time when our fourth house of worship was constructed.

 

THIRD:           I pastored here at Emmanuel for nearly 16 years but I can tell you                                that building here on 12th was the great achievement of that time.

 

FOURTH:       The excavations that signaled the beginning of my construction

might be considered by some as my “birthday.”  But I figure, who wants to have their birthday be April Fool’s Day?  So I prefer to mark my birthday as a building on January 12, 1969; the first day that the congregation held worship services inside me!  I am mighty proud to sit on this hillside, an example of how God’s people can, with His help, turn a vision into a reality.

 

THIRD:           Following Charlie Newman was no easy task, but I was a man of

considerable personality and made every person feel welcome and valuable.  Like Pastor Newman, Emmanuel Baptist was my last full-time pastorate before retiring.  As I was here on the first Sunday worship, I felt as if Emmanuel and I had enjoyed many happy years together and I kept my ties to the congregation throughout the remainder of my days.

 

SECOND:       That was Rev. Ballard Blount.  We saw a number of people added to

our membership during his tenure, including 27 in his first year!

 

FIRST:            Rev. Roger B. McCarty followed, and during his pastorate, the

sanctuary was remodeled.

 

FOURTH:       You don’t know how good it felt to have my insides fixed up!

 

FIRST:                        During Rev. Kim Liedtke’s time with us a praise team glorified

God in a contemporary way.

 

FOURTH:       When Rev. Randy Rasmussen was here, I got my first big facility

improvement in over 40 years.  The Emmanuel Baptist family came together to add an elevator and a new front entrance.  I guess you could say I got a face lift and the people got a lift too!

 

SECOND:       The elevator makes every part of our building accessible to every

member of our congregation.  It’s an asset to those of us who are just a little less mobile than the rest.  No more having to go outside and around to get to the Fellowship Hall!

 

FOURTH:       Now, with Pastor Brett Best leading our church, we’ve made all these

improvements to my lower level!  I suppose that new carpets and painted walls in a basement are kind of like a new pair of sandals and a pedicure on a person!

 

FIRST:                        We’ve been talking about pastors and buildings, but of course,

Emmanuel Baptist Church has always been about her members and the community around her.  Emmanuel is the people who praised in the pews, cooked in the kitchen, taught in the classroom, and walked the neighborhood serving our neighbors.  Emmanuel is…

 

SECOND:       A little girl in a starched pinafore dress, a pink silk ribbon in her

curly dark hair.

 

THIRD:           Men sweating in the South Dakota summer, working to build and

to maintain the building.

 

FOURTH:       Worshipers with heads bowed in prayer or with faces raised in

joyful song.

 

FIRST:                        We have worn…

 

SECOND:       Our Sunday best.

 

THIRD:           Dirty overalls.

FOURTH:       Choir robes.

 

FIRST:            We have…

 

SECOND:       A proud past.

 

THIRD:           A vibrant present.

 

FOURTH:       A hopeful future.

 

FIRST:                        We are…

 

SECOND:       Emmanuel Baptist Church.

 

THIRD:           Emmanuel Baptist Church.

 

FOURTH:       Emmanuel Baptist Church.

 

ALL:                We are together in Christ.

 

(By Rev. Brett Best, 2016.)

A Review of Heath White’s Postmodernism 101

postmodernism

by Rev. Brett Best, June, 2016

In several years of teaching a class on worldviews, I encountered a few students who, despite being enrolled at a Christian college, had negative views on the Bible.  A few even resented having to take the course I taught because they saw it as the college’s attempt to force Christianity on them.  Fortunately, the way that I taught the course rehabilitated even these prone-to-be-combative attitudes.  We had good discussions and I treasure all those opportunities to teach.

However, I had opportunity to teach during a fourth of the time I have been in ministry.  In the thirty-plus year scope of my service in professional church ministry I have had opportunity to wrangle with an issue that has grown and morphed into a political force: homosexuality.  When it first came up during my ministerial training, my naïveté was in evidence as I was first shocked that confessed Christians supported homosexuality and then immediately wrote a letter to the editor of the paper and wanted to preach on it.  Thank God I sought advice on the subject and received good advice and curtailed an aggressive response.  In thirty years my view on this issue has not changed.  I humbly pray that’s because I received godly instruction and have stuck to it, not because I’ve been stubborn or reactionary.

I mention these two things for two reasons.  One, I’ve come to understand that postmoderns prefer micronarratives to metanarratives and so I’m dabbling in it.  Two, these are two personal experiences with something that has only recently been named: postmodernism.

One of the chief characteristics of postmodernism has been provided for us by Jean-Francois Lyotard in his 1979 book The Postmodern Condition; “incredulity toward metanarratives.”  Some of my students’ views of the Bible suffered deniability of authority and even trustworthiness because of this predilection toward incredulity toward arguably the most pervasive metanarrative in human history.

My colleagues in ministry, activists, and social commentators in the media supported homosexuality because they figured the biblical metanarrative on the subject hand been traditionally manipulated by homophobes.  Of course there are many other strands of thought and motive in this complicated social epoch, but I believe I’ve gained some perspective on people who, to my thinking, had only ulterior motives for endorsing this lifestyle.

Of course, my thinking on this subject is still new, but as I publish my thoughts on White’s very helpful book, perhaps you will benefit in some way from insights I have received.  All that to say, “I pray my processing will help your processing.”

One of the things the text helped me understand is the scope of the worldview called “postmodernism.”  White has a genius for reducing sweeps of history and philosophy to accessible portions and I believe it fulfills it’s goal to introduce the subject to Christians who are intellectually curious enough to read his book.  It’s impossible for me to gauge the influence of postmodernism on our society, but I believe most observers of this worldview would take it as a fact that it is growing and is possessive of the last two generations of Americans.  For example, if you find the dismissive sexual ethic of the last fifty years difficult to understand, if you find the ease with which traditional ethics of all kinds have been left discarded, you have been observing the effects of postmodernism without knowing the name of the litterbug.

In his introduction, “Why Read about Postmodernism?” White introduces the topic with these words, “Postmodernism is not a theory or creed: it is more like an attitude or way of looking at things.  It didn’t drop our of the sky – it showed up at this juncture in history, in Western culture, for specific reasons that have to do with the history of the West.” (White, p. 11.)

He goes on to develop in the book the three worldviews that have dominated Western culture.  “Premodernism” was the prevailing view from year 0 to about 1500 A.D. (or C.E., which, when you think of it, may be another effect of postmodernism).  This view might be described and “retro-evolutionary” because it believed in tradition and antiquity, that the most true things were revealed in the past.  It is our intellectual and moral duty to accept and accommodate ourselves to what our forefathers passed on to us.

“Modernism” arose when the promises of the fruition first made by our ancestors failed to come to pass.  Reason replaced faith as the central aspiration and asset of our species and science increasingly took over dogmatic authority.  Christianity changed during that time, going from the centralized-authority and tradition-driven Catholic and Orthodoxy churches to the decentralized and theology-driven Protestant churches.

These are grand strokes, I grant you.  Exceptions abound, but they prove the rule.  Then, in the last fifty years of the Second Millennium and continuing on today, is “Postmodernism,” a reaction against the failed promises of reason to improve humanity or the condition of our home.

For Christians, White identifies three reasons to study postmodernism.  The moral concern is first.  Postmodernism’s relativism and situationalism are manifest in rejection of the moral absolutes we practice because we’ve inherited them from our spiritual forbears and because they are a reasonable outworking of biblical teaching.

In my personal experience, the evangelistic concern used to be manifest in worship styles and in charismatic renewal.  Then I saw it appear in the “seeker friendly” approach and other forms of the church growth movement.  But now it takes on all of that and more – remaking our churches so that they appeal to people outside them.  Is that what evangelism really requires?  If church is virtually indistinguishable from the outside over-culture, then when is the new convert to be aware that they are a convert?

The theological concern is based on the fact that the newer denominations have their roots in the Enlightenment, an expression of modernism.  But postmoderns are coming along and saying that the exercise of reason in clerical garb has done nothing more to allay the human condition than it’s exercise in a lab coat.  We’re being made to feel bankrupt, and that is understandably disconcerting.  (I wonder if the Emergent church isn’t postmodernism in church settings.)

White’s development of premodern and modern views is well done.  A table that simplifies points of comparison would be enormously helpful here, but I don’t yet have one to offer.  The chapter is well written and I came away with the sense that the Church retains aspects of both views.

The chapter entitled “The Postmodern Turn Against Reason” may sound indemnifying, but White’s point is simply that modernism placed its hope in reason and though it took us 450 years to become disillusioned, reason has failed to deliver the goods.  “In the eyes of postmoderns, then, modernism has failed, both as a prediction of progress and as a moral framework for culture.”  (White, p. 45.)  My first reaction is that it is lazy, irresponsible and immature to simply find fault and have nothing to offer as an alternative.  But, to be fair, postmodernism is relatively new and its decentralized and skeptical nature make it difficult to form a more cogent and comprehensive response to modernism, let alone offer a new hope.  White observed that postmoderns can be nihilistic, relativistic, constructivistic, or pragmatic in their approach.  It makes sense that a movement so individualized would have a diversity of orientations within its own fold.

The supposition that guides a postmodern’s incredulity toward metanarratives is the suspicion that they are exercises of power.  As it is usually quicker to dispose of bath water and baby, postmoderns dispose with metanarratives.  Logically, they are loathe to offer any of their own.  As the chapter “Truth, Power, and Morality” shows, these three subjects are objects of suspicion in the eyes of postmoderns.  White develops a thoughtful response by the Church on these subjects, then offers homosexuality as an example of a current issue that exhibits the differences between these worldviews.  I found that particular section to be too brief.  In my opinion, homosexuality has been made THE issue of our time and I fear it is the handle to the club with which an increasingly anti-Christian culture is going to use on the church.  This may be alarmist.  But that conviction left me unsatisfied with White’s treatment of the issue.  It could have been of greater use as an example of how the Church might hope to synthesize, premodernism, modernism, and postmodernism into a viable alternative to our seemingly hell-bent culture.

The chapter on “The Self” did a good job of using that vantage point to compare the three worldviews.  To me, it exposed what I call the “Satanic Conspiracy” of our time, “divide and conquer.”  In my lifetime we have become “atomized;” rendered more alone and lonely by the effects of culture and technology.  Consider an example.  When my parents were teenagers and wanted to be entertained, they joined their community in a movie theater where they received information and entertainment together.  In my growing up years, families were sequestered in their homes as they watched the family television together.  In my children’s years at home, we had multiple TV screens and computers, so we further split into different rooms of the house.  Now cell ‘phones and other devices bring all the entertainment and news we can consume to the individual.  We’ve shrunk from community to family to individual.  Indeed, one of the things about postmodernism that troubles me most is its atomizing effect by enshrining micronarrative and denying metanarrative.

The chapter on “Language and Thought” presented the most difficulty to me.  Not on agreement, but on understanding.  The gist of it is that postmoderns are as skeptical of speech as they are of history.  They see language as one of the oppressor’s tools, a possible infringement on their individuality.  White quotes a paragraph written by French postmodernist Jacques Derrida as an example of the linguistic gymnastics practiced by postmoderns just to upset the linguistic wagon.  It was truly dizzying and meaningless, which may’ve been the point.  A more pragmatic person would dismiss this aspect of postmodernism as “BS.”  I’m tempted…

“Inquiry and Interpretation” is introduced with this thought, “For postmoderns, no knowledge is fully reliable and no concepts are absolutely indispensable.” (White, p. 103.)  Suspicion of what has come before runs deep in this worldview.  More than that, postmoderns’ rejection of reason alone has lead to the embrace of less subjective, more affective sources of information.  As Christians whose life is based on faith (related to reason but not based on it and sometimes existing in defiance of it), this should be a refreshing relief from our servitude to the Enlightenment.  White has a fantastic quote from a medieval monk named Bernard of Clairvaux on page 105 that expresses the premodern view of knowledge and may be an expression of truth many church folk would applaud.

Sometimes premodernism seems smoke and mirrors and attempts to complicate the issue into absurdity.  For example, White summarizes, “postmoderns have lost faith in the idea of objective verification.  Instead, they focus on the persuasive power of the stories we tell…  Thus, for a postmodern all disciplines produce a form of literature…”  (White, p. 108.)

Ever argued about the meaning of a poem?  That’s what our discussions about Scripture feel like to a postmodern.  It’s a matter of indifference to them because it exists only in the realm of opinion, where individuals are free to disagree, even to extremes, because it doesn’t really matter.

One chapter is titled “Culture and Irony.”  Here White rightly reveals the increased exposure to global cultures and the shrinkage of our world through media as part of the fuel that has fired postmodernism.   Part of what defines who we are is what we have experienced.  Premodernism was served by a sphere of experience that was community oriented.  Modernism was served by a sphere of experience that was national.  Postmodernism is served by travel, language and culture that is more global than ever.  When all cultured are viewed as equals, the parts of morality and religion that are harnessed to culture are also viewed as equal by association.

The “irony” part was less clear to me.  I guess that the irony is that when all cultures are equal, my preference for any one is simply that, a preference.  It carries no authority and there is no need for a decision on which is the most true, helpful, or civil.

In the Church, this is manifest in the breakdown of denominations, the structure of authority that mandated and enforced divisions between folk who basically agree with one another.  I’m not ready to accept “irony” as a virtue, but I can see the value in spinning down the difference between the streams of Christianity and emphasizing the similarities.

The chapter “History and Hope” provided yet another helpful vantage point from which to survey the points of similarity and difference between these three worldviews.  One of the downsides to postmodernism’s rejection of metanarratives is the loss of hope.  Premoderns hoped in god, moderns is reason, but for postmoderns, both these hopes are disappointed.  If anything is to be hoped for, it is on an individualistic scale, which lends to the atomizing I have already observed in our culture.

In his Epilogue, White does a good job of assaying the effect of postmodernism and its future as a philosophical system.  He wryly observes that the next philosophical mode will be searching for a name as we’ve covered the permutations of “modernism.”

Near the end of the book White identifies the big idea, the critical issue between postmodernism and Christianity.  This means, of course, that he does not develop the question or offer any answers.  Here, for the benefit of the reader, is the question; “So here is the numb of the issue between Christianity and postmodernism: what is freedom?”  Christianity answers that question theologically and authoritatively while postmodernism answers it emphasizing individuality and irony.  I hope this will be the subject of a future book.

To conclude, I have benefitted personally from White’s book.  I don’t believe I have taken hold of this subject, but have at least found a handle and a reference to orient myself in the discussion.  As I continue to read and study on the subject, I can refer back to Postmodernism 101 for a framework by which additional learning can be organized.  It is a book I recommend reading and digesting.

Sorry for the Delay

I’ve been on a forced sabbatical of sorts – surgery and recovery – that’s the reason for the absence of posts.  We will, with God’s grace, have something post-worthy in a week or less.  Thanks for your patience!