At Liberty

Tomorrow I will graduate from the Army Logistics Captain’s Career Course.  It’s been kind of a rough six months for me.  The course was more challenging than I expected.  Nevertheless, as I walk across the stage, no matter what the good general says, this is what I will hear:

You may go, for you’re at liberty,
our pirate rules protect you,
An honorary member of our band
we do elect you!



It was ninth grade, my first year back in public school after four years of homeschooling. My parents had made special arrangements for me to attend a school where several teachers were members of our church. Naturally, they also arranged for me to take the classes they were teaching. So, Mrs. Hinkle for choir, Mr. Torbert for history, and Mr. Calloway for general science.

The science class was probably a poor placement. Other kids at my academic level were taking chemistry in ninth grade, but my mom was nervous about her record as a homeschool science teacher, and Mr. Calloway was considered one of the best science teachers in the state. But the thing he won awards for was his ability to inspire at-risk students. I wasn’t exactly at risk; a lot of the information we covered was stuff I already knew. But I did learn a thing.

So the story that sticks out the most involves an airplane. What we can agree on is that unequal air pressure on the wings keeps the plane up. In eighth grade, reading my science book at home, I learned that the air flows faster over the top of the wings. The bottom of the wing is flat, so the air flows straight across. The top of the wing is convex, so that air has to flow vertically as well as laterally, in order to conserve motion as the plane passes through. That extra distance creates a vacuum and pulls the airplane up.

Mr. Calloway got it backwards, lecturing a class of thirty mildly uninterested fourteen and fifteen year olds. He said that the air under the wing flows faster, creating a high pressure system. Either way, the pressure is lower on top of the wing, and the plane goes up, but I caught the teacher in a quibble. So I thought I’d let him know.

It didn’t go quite the way I’d thought. The teacher held his ground and just repeated himself, as if the problem was my lack of understanding. So I started to explain the difference between what he was saying, and what I understood. But there was this look in his eyes.

Fortunately, I realized pretty quick that the conversation was no longer about science. It was now about me running his class. He might have been wrong, but I was now wronger.

So I shut up, and I never did verify on which side of the wing the air flows faster. But I remember that event every time I’m in a military briefing, and some bright young Soldier takes a moment to contradict his commander.

Lived or Existed

Since then, I have lived or existed as one does at School. How dreary it all is! I could make some shift to put up with the work, the discomfort, and the school feeding: such inconveniences are only to be expected. But what irritates me more than anything else is the absolute lack of appreciation of anything like music or books which prevails among the people whom I am forced to call my companions. Can you imagine what it is like to live for twelve long weeks among boys whose thoughts never rise above the dull daily round of cricket and work and eating?

C.S.Lewis, to Arthur Greeves, 5 June 1914


This is sort of a catch-all of observations on being unemployed. I suppose I could tie it all together into a cohesive essay, but the effort would take a few hours, and those two hours are intimidating enough at the moment to persuade me not even to begin. Thus:

We’ve pretty much decided at this point to move to Knoxville. The reason being that I’m not finding any work here, and that in Knoxville, at least, we can mooch off of relatives rather than testing the eviction laws in the state of North Carolina. The “pretty much” part means that there is still the option of something unexpected happening in the Charlotte area. We’re being strictly mercenary about the whole thing. We go where the money goes. But frankly, in the greater Charlotte metropolitan area, the money has already gone. I think it has something to do with the fact that Charlotte is primarily a banking town. Nearly every company I’ve done any serious research on has been in a perpetual hiring freeze/attrition mode. Quite literally nobody is hiring.

Actually, when looking from outside our situation, the “nobody is hiring meme” is quite humorous. Continue reading “Catch-all”

Mixed Tradition

Alexander Jordan’s disconcertion has become my revelation. Up to now, the Calvinist/Arminian debate was something like Emily Dickinson’s fly – something on the barest horizon of attention, not even worthy to be considered in the light of more momentous things, which suddenly becomes The Point and consumes everything. No, I’m not saying that I discovered Reformed theology, and it was as if I had been born again (again). I mean the realization this particular divide, which seems so academic, tends to be so thoroughly embedded in the church’s worldview

The charismatic movement ruined the divide. Somewhere around the beginning of the worship wars, when churches all over were switching from organs to guitars, something else was happening that sort of rode along with the more visible “praise and worship” movement. Believers from every tradition began to understand the work of the Holy Spirit in a more robust way, a way that included all the activity described in the New and Old Testaments. Perhaps they were witnesses to demonstrations of His power, or perhaps they read the text without the benefit of explanations why these things were no longer models for Christian life.

As believers began to study these things, often there was no voice in their own group teaching about the work of the Holy Spirit. So they had to look outside their own borders, and it’s just the nature of things that as people learned about the Holy Spirit, they also took on the cultural trappings of whatever group it was they were learning from. Continue reading “Mixed Tradition”

By His Stripes

Theologies aren’t merely points on a graph. Every Christian understanding creates a framework on which to hang all the rest. I’ll show you how this works with Arminian Pentecostalism: One of the key scriptures for understanding the basis for supernatural healing has always been Isaiah 53:5, “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,and by His stripes we are healed.” There have been any number of sermons on healing given based on this text, and I’m sure you could do a lot of in-depth exegesis, but the key point is to see that there appears to be a direct connection between forgiveness of sin and physical healing: both are dispensed to us on the basis of what Jesus suffered on the cross. You can make a similar argument from Mark 2:9, “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’?” Apparently, they are roughly equivalent.

Now watch this: An Arminian comes to these texts and sees that healing comes about by roughly the same process as justification. But the Arminian believes that saving faith is made available to all who will come, and ultimately the choice whether to be saved is up to each one of us. If I am going to be saved, then I must take the initiative and believe. I must reach out by faith and appropriate the salvation that has been made available to me. Apply this to healing, and you’ll hear people saying the same thing: God has made supernatural healing available to all who believe. He already paid the price for both on the Cross. All you must do is reach out by faith and appropriate the healing that has been made available to you.

But “which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’?” For Jesus, I suppose it was roughly the same. But for us today, it’s much easier to say “your sins are forgiven.” Continue reading “By His Stripes”

Encultured Theology

Given a choice, I have a tendency to pick the most difficult, most time consuming option, and sorting my theology out has been no exception. For the last 8 years or so, I’ve been assimilating, generally in a haphazard way as I uncover assumptions that seem to contradict each other. Seminary has been very helpful for me in this respect, because it has forced me to be a little less haphazard in the process, and it has put me in touch with the vast array of theological approaches to any given subject. Reading blogs has also helped, ironically sometimes more than the seminary. In seminary I’m presented with bare theological arguments, generally stripped of their encultured form, but if I’m reading someone’s blog and they express the exact same argument, I can see it fully fleshed in someone’s life.

In seminary I learn that Protestant Christians can be divided into two basic camps, depending on their view of salvation: Calvinism and Arminianism. Calvinists (or Reformed Theologians, since the major thrust of the Protestant reformation came through churches organized by John Calvin) understand that man is totally depraved, that he cannot even supply the faith that is necessary to believe on Jesus Christ. Therefore, in order that men might be saved, God has selected some on which to bestow saving faith, essentially guaranteeing that they will persevere until the end. Since ultimately not everyone is saved, this means that other people are… not selected. Arminians generally take umbrage at the notion that God might have especially picked out some people to go to hell, since it seems to make God out to be capricious. (This is good. The first rule of theology should be, “if your theology at any point makes God out to be evil, stop. You’ve done something wrong.”) So Arminians insist that, while God has in fact foreseen who will and will not believe, he dispenses sufficient faith to everyone, and we each have a totally free choice whether or not to believe. The Calvinist replies that Arminian theology allows a person to take credit for making the right choice, turning faith into a kind of work. And the argument goes round and round.

In seminary I learn that the charismatic movement has its roots in Arminian theology. The charismatic movement takes its views on the supernatural from the Pentecostal denominations, and Pentecostals trace their roots back through the African Methodist Episcopal churches (AME). Methodism was founded by John Wesley, who was the probably the biggest proponent of Arminian theology in church history. He did more to promote Arminianism than Jacob Arminius.

These things are interesting, but it was on a weblog that I see how this affects the mindset of the believer: In this post, Alexander Jordan discusses the fact that, even as he’s being recognized as an important voice among charismatic/Pentecostal bloggers, he’s becoming uncomfortable with the whole system. The reason? He’s become a Calvinist. He still adamantly believes that the Spirit still does all the things described in scripture, but he’s “been questioning [his] beliefs about many popular charismatic practices.” To put some words in his mouth, they’re so… Arminian.

This was really an eye-opener for me. Lately I’ve also been settling more comfortably on the Calvinist side of things. To be honest, part of the appeal has been that Calvinists, because of their theology, tend to be more contemplative. The emphasis tends to be on study, on understanding what Christ has already accomplished. Having a worldview that is cohesive and all-encompassing is very important to most Calvinists. Since this is exactly what I’ve been looking for (you might say missing) most of what I’ve been reading, most of what’s been appealing to me, has been Reformed in nature. Arminians, again because of their theology, tend to be more active – the important thing is the working out of your faith, because it is quite possible to fall away.

But it’s been a great frustration for me, because a good number of Calvinists are cessationist. A very good Reformed theologian in the 19th century bought into the semi-deistic materialism of his time, and made a genuine effort at assimilating it into his theology, and the majority of Reformed Christians have been cessationist ever since. I couldn’t understand why these people couldn’t see the error that was right before them. It never occurred to me that it was because Pentecostalism… smelled… so Arminian.

Hold Fast to What is Good

Having a shallow tradition was all very fine until things stopped adding up for me. Acting on assumption “A” in my tradition brought me into direct conflict with assumption “B.” I remember a time at my church when I was asked to give a five-minute message on giving before taking up the evening’s offering. I drew on the teachings I was raised in and attempted to present a shorter version of a message I had heard in another church that I’d been a part of. It was a flop. I don’t remember much of what I said, except that after I’d finished, the pastor came up and took the microphone away from me and, half-jokingly said, “and now if you could just make your checks out to Kyle French…” Obviously something had gone wrong. *That* bit of background didn’t fit with *this* particular church. I resolved then never to say anything again that I hadn’t thoroughly reasoned out beforehand. (You have no idea how difficult this has made teaching Sunday School!)

Typically, I think, when a person comes to an impasse like this, and they discover that they really don’t know what they’re talking about, they normally take one of two options: Continue reading “Hold Fast to What is Good”

Cultural Confidence

Frankly, it seems to me now that I was arrogant when I was younger, to think that I understood my faith. I had then what I call cultural confidence – that is, a confidence that comes from having a lifestyle that is fully integrated with your worldview. It’s easy to talk and act with boldness, because there are so few loose strings that pull at your mind and make you hesitate. You know what’s right to do – you have role models and policies, and systems of thought to guide you.

I suppose a post-modern look at cultural confidence would probably critique it pretty negatively – all those indicators of arrogance, an unwillingness to question presuppositions – but I’m not a very good post-modern. I like to tell myself that the Greeks were post-modern just before the dawn of the classical age, and flatter myself that I can be post-post-modern if I just go one step beyond and be a classicist.

At any rate, I aspire to have cultural confidence again. I learned from doing office work that there’s no real great benefit to thinking all the time. I don’t mean it’s good to be thoughtless, but that you actually make more mistakes at whatever job you’re doing when you’re still thinking your way through it. You only become good at your job when you can do it mostly without thinking. Then your mind becomes free to make incremental adjustments quickly and efficiently. The same thing applies to driving. The worst drivers are the ones who have to think through everything that they do. They’re so busy focusing on what should be habit that they don’t have any mindspace left for anything unusual that comes along.

I think of cultural confidence the same way. The best way to go through life is by having to make as few adjustments to your worldview as possible. Continue reading “Cultural Confidence”


I have a paper due in a few days in my class on worship. The task is simple: say *something* about worship in about 5 pages. Interact with three books. And I’ve been hitting a brick wall. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say about worship. Oh golly. It’s that I’ve got too much. So for the next few days, I’m going to be inflicting you, my dear readers, with some of the things I’ve had to work through in order to get on to writing the paper. It’s hopelessly biographical I’m afraid, so I do hope you’ll forgive me. It’s also incredibly long, so I’m going to be breaking it up over a few days. By the time you get to the part that pertains to my paper, the paper (God willing) will already have been turned in.

Worship has been at the center of how I defined myself for the better part of my life. Worship was who I was. I was the worship guy. Worship is what I was all about. At that time, I understood worship to be a kind of mystical experience. When God meets with man, and man sees God for even a piece of who he is, man is both lifted up and demolished, and this… experience… is what I called worship. I have something of a philosopher’s nature in me, so I parsed theories about how worship worked. Worship could be had in private or in groups of various sizes. Worship could be expressed, as God used people to reveal God’s Spirit, character, and nature to other people. This expression came out in the form of spiritual gifts and various arts which could be used to communicate in worship. However, the soul of worship was ultimately in the experience itself, somewhere between catharsis and illumination. “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). The process of being transformed, as I understood it, consisted of worship.

But in about 1999, my life came to a crashing halt. Everything I thought I had built my life upon turned out not to have enough substance to get me anywhere. It’s very difficult for me to describe this time, because there’s nothing I can point to particularly that was *wrong*. It was just that nothing was particularly *right*. I was training for ministry at a church that had no particular use for my contribution – but why is it exactly that I needed them to need me? I was lonely – though I had never before cared if I had friends. I was going through one of those classic spiritual dry times, and I should have been content to recognize it as such and ride it out. But things just didn’t add up. All around me everything was as ideal as I had ever imagined it, and yet I was discontent – crying, agonizing, discontent. Something in my worldview – my theology – was incomplete. And I didn’t have the first clue what it was.

So I started everything from scratch. Continue reading “Assimilation”