Monthly Archives: August 2014

The One-Handed Backhand

The U.S. Open is underway this week, the final major championship event of the tennis year. The New York Times had a marvelous article on the increasingly lost art of the one-handed backhand. To me, there is a handful of beautiful athletes to watch — their motion is gorgeous. Fred Couples hitting driver comes to mind, as does Roger Federer hitting his one-hand backhand.

Credit: Gallo Images

Credit: Gallo Images

I’d have to agree with this article, however, that almost no one hits the shot as well as Wawrinka. It was devastating when he won the Australian Open in January and it’s helped him climb in the rankings to number four in the world.

Here’s the article, and here’s an interactive video presentation focusing mainly on Stan Wawrinka’s effective stroke (scroll down to go through it).

Forgive Mark Driscoll?

Mark Driscoll’s recent troubles have been well-documented. It seems that he is facing the consequences of his behavior and mode of discourse over the last decade or so.


A few weeks ago, Jonathan Merritt wrote about forgiving Mark Driscoll and then several days ago about not celebrating his downfall.

I think that Merritt’s impulses are good ones. There’s nothing good about delighting in someone else’s suffering, even if self-inflicted. And it’s destructive to hold on to bitterness and to refuse to forgive.

Yet I don’t think that the responses Merritt suggests are appropriate.

Forgiveness is something that must take place between parties that have a relationship or some kind or share a covenant bond. It is up to Mars Hill Church members and staff to decide whether or not to forgive Driscoll. It isn’t up to me or Jonathan Merritt or anyone else who isn’t part of that church.

Further, the alternatives of whether or not to delight in my enemies’ calamity likewise confuse the situation. Mark Driscoll isn’t my enemy. He isn’t anything to me other than a well-known media figure in Seattle.

I think that a more appropriate biblical response to much of what has happened is found in Proverbs where the young person is urged to observe and to learn. “Critically examine and observe carefully what happens when a person behaves like this.” “Take note of the lazy person and see how he has nothing to eat in times of need.” “Look at the ant and learn from how it stores up for when there is nothing.” “Identify the angry man and do not associate with him. Those who hang around him become angry, too.”

The father in Proverbs exhorts his son to develop wisdom by clear-eyed observation of life. He teaches him to sharpen his skills in critical analysis, taking note of what happens to people who act honorably and dishonorably, people who are generous and those who are stingy. How do things go for them? How might it have been otherwise?

Watch carefully and learn.

Without having destructively critical spirits, we can critically examine the dynamics of the situation and learn from what we see. We can quietly but closely observe how Mark Driscoll’s behavior and speech has affected others and learn from the consequences.

What happens over the short term and long term to people (ministry leaders and pastors) who act like Mark Driscoll did? What are the dynamics of the celebrity pastor and the high profile ministry? Is it inevitable that they are internally destructive while outwardly impressive?

I think Merritt’s motives are right for commending forgiveness and rebuking a self-assured and smugly celebratory spirit. But the postures that Merritt suggests are misguided. To follow them would be to miss a good opportunity to learn.

I won’t be exulting in Mark Driscoll’s trouble nor do I need to forgive him. But I’ll quietly watch and store away some lessons from what I see.

Final Family Summer Fling

This week our daughter, Maddie, returns to school, and next month our older son, Jake, heads off to college. As a final summer fling, we camped this past weekend at Muskallonge Lake, on the shore of Lake Superior.

State Park

On Saturday, we hiked the 10-mile long Chapel Loop, which took us through beautiful forest, a few waterfalls, a river emptying into Lake Superior, and breathtaking views of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Chapel Loop

Chapel Falls

Chapel Rock


Kids at Pictured Rocks

The trail winds along the shoreline through thick forest that constantly opens up to amazing views over the lake.



Riley & Maddie


Pathway along the edge

Sunrise, Lake Superior

All in all, a wonderful final weekend of a very satisfying summer.


The Gift and Its Obligations

Many Christians have trouble with the paradox in Paul whereby salvation is both a gift and involves obligations. Salvation as divine gift makes sense, but the demand for human response raises the specter of “works righteousness.”

Some solutions to this apparent contradiction diminish the human agent (“it’s not really you acting, but the Spirit”) in some way that does violence to the character of Paul’s texts. Others stress the passivity of the human agent’s reception of the gift in ways that overshadow the attendant obligations.

I suspect that this is an ongoing theological problem because of the conceptual frames in which we wrestle with the tension between divine and human action (e.g., human action must in some way marginalize divine action).

The relation of divine and human action is one of many issues riding under the surface throughout the essays in the fascinating volume Apocalyptic Paul. Reckoning with this tension (between divine and human action) within Paul’s apocalyptic frame of thought opens up fruitful avenues, and I found John Barclay’s essay illuminating in this regard.

Apocalyptic Paul

He notes that Paul shows no reticence to speak of gospel obligations inherent in the divine gift. This is so because believers are made alive from the dead and brought into an alternative cosmic sphere of existence. Their participation in resurrection life is a participation in Christ, a field or matrix of divine power and presence that is also an enjoyment of new creation life. Paul can, therefore, speak of believers as responsible agents and of their obligation to obey without worrying that he’s lapsing into some sort of monergism or “works righteousness.”

I’ve been thinking about pursuing this further in future posts, arguing that for Paul reception of the divine gift is not merely passive. Reception of the gift is embodied through obedience to the new lordship of Christ in his reign of grace. To receive the gift is to live into the fullness of the new life granted by God in Christ. For now, however, I’ll just cite this paragraph from Barclay’s essay:

The theological logic of the Pauline imperative is to live the life that has been given. Paul is not requiring them to turn theory into practice, or possibility into reality: joined to Christ in baptism they really and actually share his risen life. Nor is he requiring them to turn an “objective” truth into a “subjective” reality since they are “alive to God” in every dimension of their subjectivity by participation in Christ. Nor is the imperative the supplement to the indicative in the sense that something incomplete has to be completed in further degrees. The theological logic of indicative and imperative is in one sense much simpler than all of these inadequate conceptualizations. They have been given a new life which can be lived only in activity and practice: this “newness of life” is essentially and not just contingently a matter of peripatein (6:4). Practice, action, and obedience are the mode of this new life. In every move they make, believers are either living this new life or living according to the flesh (8:13), the latter still possible because, for as long as they live in the realm of mortality they can fall back into the force-field of sin and death and repudiate the power that tugs them towards life. The imperative is thus to practice (and thereby demonstrate) the new life given, which cannot be said to be active within them unless it is acted out by them” (pp. 74-75, emphasis added).

Making the Stranger Human

This is excerpted from Roger Cohen’s column in the New York Times this past Sunday. I found his account of his friend Andy Bachman compelling on several counts, especially the persistent effort to resist the temptation to give in to fear and hatred:

THERE are good people and bad leaders the world over, but perhaps nowhere more so than in the Middle East. Plenty of Israelis and Palestinians work to build bridges, but their voices are lost in the stampede of zealots schooled in hatred and cynics adept in the manipulation of fear for the consolidation of power.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I talked to Andy Bachman, an American rabbi and friend. He is just back from two weeks in Israel. “I hear vile stuff,” he said. “My job is hope.” Never, he believes, has it been more critical for moderate Israelis and Palestinians to raise their voices in common cause. If Hamas is to be disarmed, as it must be, the only way in the end is to win the hearts and minds of other Palestinians through economic progress and justice.

Bachman, reflecting on the war’s moral dilemmas, cited the biblical story of Samuel. As Samuel ages, people see that his bribe-taking sons are not leadership material. They ask him to find them a king. Samuel consults God, who laments that “they have rejected Me, that I should not be King over them.” If the people only followed God’s law, they would not need a ruler. Samuel warns the people of the future predations of any king, but they will not be swayed. They insist “that we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.” In the end, God acquiesces.

For Bachman, the tension between living in a divine world of perfect justice and the violent human realm of imperfect choices is captured here. Zionism was just that: the desire to be “like all the nations,” a normal people with a leader — but that also means, in Bachman’s words, “making pained and sometimes horrible choices.” He said, “As a parent, I mourn so greatly the loss of innocent life. And equal to that feeling is one of horror and shame that Hamas ran a campaign knowing that would happen, making it part of their strategy.”

In Israel, Bachman works with Rebecca Bardach on a project called Hand in Hand: Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel. It now runs five bilingual schools with 1,100 students, children learning Hebrew and Arabic and, above all, how coexistence works. The aim is to grow to as many as 15 integrated bilingual schools over the next decade.

Like individual voices of conscience, such undertakings seem flimsy beside walls, blockades, bullets, bombs, rockets and the relentless process of separation and division that pulls Jews and Palestinians apart. They are flimsy but no less important for that. They make the stranger human. They are interceptors of fear. The most useful commodity for the merchants of war and hatred is fear.

The Importance of Redemptive Community

Susan Eastman, in her chapter in Apocalyptic Paul, provides an excellent reminder for Westerners that salvation is not found in life-in-community or corporate identity. We are in a very different world from the world(s) in which the Bible was written, and one of the main differences is how we conceive of ourselves.

Apocalyptic Paul

Yet it’s not that communal identity is the solution for individual identity. Redemptive community dynamics are the solution to corrupted community dynamics.

Eastman shares this conversation with an African woman she met on a cross-country flight:

She told me she had immigrated to the United States. I asked how she found American culture and society, in comparison with her own, and she said that she much preferred it. That surprised me a bit, so I inquired further: don’t you find our culture isolated and individualistic, in comparison with a more communal society? I added that I always had been impressed by the well-known African saying, “I am because we are, and because we are, I am.” “I hate that saying!” she exclaimed. “Don’t talk to me about community! I cam here to get away from all that! Here, I create myself; no one tells me who I am or what I can do. I want autonomy. I celebrate American individualism! I love it! I could never go back.”

Life in community is not always good news!

Eastman continues, in a footnote:

As my colleague Esther E. Acolatse has written about pastoral care with African women, “what is termed ‘relational ethos’ benefits only some of the people” . . . She continues, “[T]he need of the female for connectedness is seen as essential for the survival of the self, and yet this need in certain cases also becomes the source of the death to the self.” Connection may mean death, not life. Acolatse is speaking about a particular gendered cultural experience, but surely her observations can be applied more widely; in any community, social harmony in effect may be maintained by an unequal distribution of burdens and goods. Furthermore, corporate solidarity can issue in violence every bit as much as individualism can. The idea of self-in-relation per se, let alone communal solidarity or corporate identity, is no panacea for humanity’s ills.

God’s Rule Brings Conflict

This passage from Mark as Story wonderfully captures how and why Jesus inevitably conflicts with those in power:

“ . . . God’s rule engenders conflict because God is acting outside the traditional channels of power. From the point of view of the authorities in Mark’s story, God works from the established center in Jerusalem. By contrast, for Mark, God’s rule begins from the periphery, from the edges. The pardon of sins that took place in the temple now appears in Galilee. The interpretation of the law that emanated from Jerusalem now occurs in the village of Capernaum. The authority of the high priest and the Sanhedrin council is now assumed by a woodworker from Nazareth. The rule of God begins among people of little social consequence—not among the rulers but among the people, not with the so-called righteous but with the sinners. So, Jesus comes in conflict with authorities.

In all of this, the rule of God generates conflict because it ruptures the conventional conception of God and creates a new understanding of God. Instead of guarding boundaries, God now crosses boundaries. Instead of remaining in the temple, God breaks out to become available everywhere (signified by the tearing of the curtain). Instead of withdrawing from defilement, God spreads holiness. Instead of working from the center, God works from the margins. God sends an anointed one who does not dominate but who undergoes persecution and death in the service of others. In all of these matters, the authorities are trapped inside the old wineskins of their conventional views, unable to see the new wine in their midst. By judging the new wine by the categories of old wineskins, they destroy the wine—and they also end up destroying the wineskins as well.”

Rhoads, Dewey, and Michie, Mark as Story, p. 79.

Interpretive Patience

As I’ve been finalizing syllabuses for the fall semester and putting together lecture notes on interpretation, these lines from Ernst Käsemann’s Romans commentary have been rolling around in my head:

The impatient, who are concerned only about results or practical application, should leave their hands off exegesis. They are of no value for it, nor, when rightly done, is exegesis of any value for them (p. viii).

E Kasemann