Dr. James Emery White

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

"Good" Friday (2014)

(Editor’s Note:  This blog was first distributed in 2005, and has been offered annually on or near Good Friday since that first publication.)

good (good) adj. bet’ter, best  I. a general term of approval or commendation 1. suitable to a purpose; effective; b) producing favorable results; beneficial

The amazing thing about Good Friday is that it was - and is - part of the “good” declared by God at creation.  “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31, NIV).  The fall was not good; sin, disobedience, suffering is not good.  But God’s purpose in creation, and the redemptive drama that ensued, was – and is – good.

Some would put God in the dock for placing such a burden on human life – that through our creation and giving us free will He knew the suffering we would experience.  What is less noticed is how God always knew of Good Friday.  In the rapture of creation, the cross loomed large.  Yes, there would be suffering, but none more so than for God Himself. 

C.S. Lewis writes:

God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them.  He creates the universe, already foreseeing – or should we say “seeing”? there are no tenses in God – the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up.  If I may dare the biological image, God is a “host” who deliberately creates His own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and “take advantage of” Him.  Herein is love.  This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.

What an ultimate “good” this must have been; declared at creation, consummated on Golgotha.  But it wasn’t a good designed for God; there is no good to be added, or deficit to be addressed, in His being. 

It was a good for us.

Many books have come out of late portraying the heart of God toward us as a lover pursuing the beloved, a fairy tale where God is the prince, and we are the maiden.  “Suppose there was a king who loved a humble maiden,” begins Soren Kierkegaard, who first fashioned the popular analogy. 

The king was like no other king.  Every statesman trembled before his power.  No one dared breathe a word against him, for he had the strength to crush all opponents.  And yet this mighty king was melted by love for a humble maiden.  How could he declare his love for her?  In an odd sort of way, his kingliness tied his hands.  If he brought her to the palace and crowned her head with jewels and clothed her body in royal robes, she would surely not resist – no one dared resist him.  But would she love him?

She would say she loved him, or course, but would she truly?  Or would she live with him in fear, nursing a private grief for the life she had left behind?  Would she be happy at his side?  How could he know?  If he rode to her forest cottage in his royal carriage, with an armed escort waving bright banners, that too would overwhelm her.  He did not want a cringing subject.  He wanted a lover, an equal.  He wanted her to forget that he was a king and she a humble maiden and to let shared love cross the gulf between them.  For it’s only in love that the unequal can be made equal.

Yes, this is the heart of God, and He is on just such a mission.  But the deeper truth lies in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.  We are not a beautiful maiden.  There is nothing becoming in us whatsoever.  Instead, we are desperately criminal, and the only rescue grace would bring would demand storming the Bastille in which we are rightfully held.  This is precisely what He did.  “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8-9, NIV).

And that’s an even better story.  And it’s the one story that the world does not already have, and most needs to hear.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College Edition.

Lewis, C.S.  The Four Loves.

Hugo, Victor.  Les Miserables.

Kierkegaard, Soren.  Philosophical Fragments.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon.  To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world.  Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

Willful Defiance

The 58-second cell phone clip of a Santa Monica teacher wrestling a student to the floor has gone viral.

Here’s what happened:

Mark Black was teaching science when he admonished a student for walking in and out of his classroom.  He soon learned that it had something to do with drugs.  When Black told the student he was going to call security, the student went up to Black and began to assault him.  Black, the school’s wrestling coach, responded with a series of wrestling moves and restrained the student on the classroom floor until security could arrive.

Initially, the student’s family was consoled by the district superintendent and Black was chastised and put on leave. 

Then came a flood of emails, coupled with an eruption on social media – fed by parents and students alike – expressing indignation over Black’s treatment and support of his forced reaction.  A rally was held on Sunday dubbed “Community Peace Gathering celebrating Mark Black and all teachers who step up for their students.”  Tens of thousands have “liked” a “We Support Coach Black” Facebook page.

It’s seemed to do the trick. 

This past week, police ended up arresting the student for possessing marijuana and a weapon (a box cutter) on campus, and threatening and using “force or violence against a school employee.” 

So what’s the real problem here?

As the Los Angeles Times reported, it’s become a symbol of everything that’s wrong with public schools:  “Defiant students. Overwhelmed teachers. Feckless administrators. Knee-jerk policies with no room for common sense.”

But those are symptoms, not the disease.

Here’s the disease:

Many public schools – including Los Angeles United campuses – aren’t allowed to suspend students anymore for what is deemed “willful defiance.”

If you’re a teacher, you might as well wave the white flag, because it is precisely the matter of willful defiance that shapes a child.  This is Parenting 101.  Children have to be disciplined, and the key to knowing when to provide that discipline is when you do not have mere childish irresponsibility (that’s a developmental issue), but when there is willful disobedience.

If you are not even allowed to address such defiance, then there can be no authority.

It reminds me of an interview with a juvenile court judge I once heard on public radio.  He said that in his court, he had seen violent juvenile crimes triple over recent years.  The reporter asked him why he thought that was happening.  He replied, "First, kids lost the admiration of authority.  Then, they lost respect for authority.  Now, they've lost the fear of authority."

Of course they have.  You can demonstrate willful defiance of authority without penalty.  To be sure, no one likes to see a teacher wrestling with a student on the floor.  But the problem wasn’t with the teacher.

It was with a culture that turns a blind eye to willful defiance.

James Emery White

 

Sources

“Uproar over classroom scuffle reflects a profession under siege,” Sandy Banks, Los Angeles Times, April 11, 2014, read online.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones, is now available on Amazon.  To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world.  Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

Teachability

I’ve written about the five “C’s” I look for when hiring staff or inviting volunteers into strategic leadership roles: competence, character, catalytic ability, chemistry, and calling.

But in various settings, I’ve found myself talking increasingly about the defining character trait of those who pass those five and grow with an organization; the defining mark of someone who truly succeeds.  I don’t mean the world’s definition of success, but those who make a mark for the Kingdom and who stretch out toward their full redemptive potential as an ambassador for Christ.

It’s teachability.

Not sure that’s a word, but it works for me.

It means someone who is, obviously, teachable.  This is more than being able to learn, but being willing to learn.  Eager to learn.  Desiring to learn. 

And what does it take to be teachable?

Humility.

The pride that keeps someone from being teachable is one of the most subtle forms of pride there is, but I’ve seen it take root and keep many people from developing into who and what they most needed to become.

So let’s tease this one out.

Here are a series of questions to ask yourself:

Do you

...eagerly seek counsel?

...have a sense of entitlement – that you should be given position, prominence or platform?

…fly across the country to give a sermon, but not walk across the street to hear one?

…automatically assume you pretty much know everything about what it is you currently do?

…put what you do before others for review?

…work to be genuinely open to new ideas and perspectives, as opposed to simply shutting down or arguing against them?

…look to be intentionally mentored and coached?

Notice what questions I didn’t ask.  I didn’t ask whether or not you are reading the most trendy titles, visiting the hippest websites, or availing yourself of the most cutting-edge blogs. 

You can do all of those things and not be teachable.

My questions were aimed at attitude.  At spirit.  At the humility necessary for teachability.

Because in the end, teachability isn’t about learning.

It’s about knowing you need to.

James Emery White

 

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones, is now available for pre-order.  To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world.  Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

I wrote about my enthusiasm for the film “Noah” in my last posting, and the response was overwhelming.  First, the number who appreciated my take on the film; and second, the genuine desire to dig deeper into some of the issues related to the story, and specifically, questions about some of the dynamics of the film itself.

What was in the Bible, and what wasn’t?  What was fair artistic license, and what was just flat-out contradictory to Scripture?

Here’s a little primer on the three biggest questions that I hope will serve:

1.       What is up with the “Watchers”?

I know, rock creatures that borrow from Peter Jackson’s take on Tolkien’s Ents was a curve ball for any viewer.   This was clearly an area where the movie’s director, Darren Aronofsky took some serious artistic liberties.

But what does the Bible actually say?

The Bible refers to the intermarriage between the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men,” and then shortly thereafter, references that another antediluvian (before the flood) dynamic was the presence of the Nephilim (referred to as the “Watchers” in the movie).

The “sons of God” were not fallen angels, as their intermarriage with human women would not only have violated the created order, but it is highly doubtful that a demon (which is what a fallen angel would have been) would be referred to as a “son of God.”  They would not have been righteous angels, either, for they would not have been sinning against God in this way.  Jesus settled the matter, anyway, when he taught that angels neither marry nor are given in marriage.

Most would see the phrase “sons of God” as referring to godly men, and "daughters of men" referring to sinful women (note they are not called "daughters of God"), undoubtedly women from the line of Cain.  So here you have the intermarriage of the men of Seth with the women of Cain - a loss of the purity of the people of God.  You could also read the "sons of God" as royal figures, which kings were called in those days, who set themselves up as deity.  The key is that here men were crossing God’s marital boundary lines.

So then who were the Nephilim?  The Bible notes that they were the “heroes of old, men of renown.”  Beyond the reference in the story of Noah in Genesis 6, they are also mentioned in Numbers 13 as the people of great size that Caleb and Joshua and the other spies encountered when they explored the Promised Land.

However, the mention of their size was clearly an exaggeration on the part of the spies who wanted to argue against the positive report offered by Caleb and Joshua.  So here were simply mighty men of wealth, strength or valor.  The Hebrew word literally means "the fallen ones" indicating that in the eyes of other men they were heroes and princes, but in God’s eyes they were those who chose a life of sin. 

So where did the idea of the Nephilim being fallen angels, or the offspring of fallen angels and humans, originate?  The pseudepigraphal and noncanonical writing known as I Enoch (6:1-7:6).  This legend was later picked up and promoted by the Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities 1.3.1).  Also, a Greek translation of the Old Testament in the 3rd century erroneously translated “sons of God” as “angels of God.”  And while “sons of God” can refer to “angels of God” in other contexts (e.g., Job 1:6, 2:1 and 38:7), it clearly does not fit here.

So what to make of the rock creatures of the movie?  Let’s just say that of all the options of interpretation, Aronofsky took the most dubious one. 

Now, before we go further, if you haven’t seen the movie, then SPOILER ALERT.

You’ve been warned.

2.       What was up with Noah wanting to kill the twins?

That is nowhere in Scripture, neither Shem’s wife giving birth to twins on the ark, or Noah thinking they needed to be murdered to ensure the total ending of the human race.  That was a dramatic plot created by the writers of the movie.  Now, could it have been true?  Yes.  Noah could have misunderstood God’s end game – and thankfully, the movie makes it clear that Noah did misunderstand the Creator on that point.  But it’s fanciful conjecture on the part of the writers.  This, to me, was artistic license.  There only would have been a problem if, instead of in the misunderstanding mind of Noah, they tried to actually make it the call of obedience from the Creator.  Fortunately, they didn’t.  It was all part of Noah as a tortured soul (and he may very well have been – many biblical heroes were), searching out the intent of God with a resolve to obey.

3.       What was up with the “magic” that seems to run through the antediluvian world?

Rocks that strike and create fire, plants that grow instantly, and Noah’s grandfather (Methuselah) seemed to have powers along the lines of Gandalf.  All in all, it seemed to be offering raw fantasy completely out of synch with the biblical tale.  But as many Christian reviewers have noted, such as Alissa Wilkinson in Christianity Today, the world was different before the flood than it was afterward.  People no longer had the longevity of living hundreds of years; there was a different relationship between humans and animals; it apparently never rained; and snakes walked on legs (at least, one did). 

So yes, artistic license was taken to imagine this very different world that changed so dramatically after the flood.

It should be noted that there is a difference between the Jewish tradition of Midrash, which is using your imagination to fill in gaps, and contradiction, which is purporting something that contradicts your source.  In various interviews, Aronofsky made it clear that he was very much attempting Midrash.  And, of course, he had to.  The account of Noah is quite short, stripped of almost all dialogue, and does not offer long descriptive discourses.  There was some contradiction (unlike the movie’s version, all of Noah’s sons did have wives and brought them on to the boat), but the nature of the antediluvian world was ripe for imagination, and Aronofsky took advantage of it.

So if you haven’t read the original blog praising the movie, you can read it here.  Regardless, if you’ve seen the movie, I hope this helps.  But once you get past some of these issues, wrestle with the biggest one of all the movie puts forward:

Our sin before a holy God, and the issue of His justice in relation to His mercy.

James Emery White

 

Sources

On the Nephilim, see Walter C. Kaiser, Peter H. Davids, F.F. Bruce and Manfred T. Brauch, Hard Sayings of the Bible (InterVarsity Press).

“Movie Review: Noah,” Alissa Wilkinson, Christianity Today, March 27, 2014, read online.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones, is now available for pre-order.  To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world.  Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

About Dr. James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.

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