Saturday, February 04, 2017

Blackaby in Small Group

Our small group at church has elected to read a Henry Blackaby book, Experiencing God. We did a video series of his at my previous church, and I recall quietly exiting and wandering around after the first session.

I have not reacted well to the study.  This is not uncommon for me - I am not much at home in popular evangelical culture. (Nor sadly, any other culture. I like visiting many places but have a home in none.) When so many people I am fond of like something and I do not, however, I like to give it a try, and at a minimum, try to understand what it is I object to. I liked the group discussion of the introduction and first two chapters. Sometimes a study hits the right notes, even if it plays them badly, and the choir can pick out the melody. But I found the third and fourth chapters so infuriating I could barely force myself to skim them. I ground my teeth today and started chapter five and found I agre3ed with a great deal of it, thought that it provided timely reminders I needed to here, and...and hit a wall two-thirds of the way through.  He makes suspect claims, and makes them with great assurance.

I decided that the tone, the style, were what were grating on me, but significantly, those were not mere accidents, but indications of the author's underlying attitude.  It is an old fundamentalist style, very midwestern and southern, which is highly declarative.  God wants us to...(Epistle 17:4);  Jesus always...(Gospel 12:1-3);  Without faith we can never...(Bible 4:11). The meanings of words sometimes shift subtly between what I think the scripture intends and what the preacher insists is the meaning.  In studying cults and how to answer them, the redefinition of words is one of their primary errors. Blackaby and all the fundie preachers are not that bad, but they are on that road.  They know the meaning of the word.  They insist. I find this level of assurance worrisome. I discussed this last year in terms of intelligence.If you are above-average but think yourself a genius, you will quickly expand into making pronouncements that are stupid.  You will not drop to your actual level of intelligence, you will drop below that.  this is why there are some things that are so foolish that only intellectuals can believe them.  The same holds true with music: if you are a competent musician but think you are actually a superstar, you will create music that sounds like crap, and you won't know it.

I don't want to confuse this with being good at something and hoping to be better, or of trying something out because it just might work.  that's all fine, because the humility is built in.

I think this is what is happening with Blackaby.  He knows a great deal.  He thinks he knows everything, and thus becomes not merely irritating, but damaging.

In contrast, my friend Dale Kuehne is much more humble in his approach, and it shows in his delivery. He preached last Sunday (1/29/17) on the topic of Silence/Solitude at my home church while I was returning from Quebec.  I recommend it highly.  My travel partner went to the church Dale used to pastor in Nashua, and Dale came up in reference to our discussion about focus on community rather than individuality in the Bible and in the church.  A touch ironic, but the faith is filled with paradoxes.  As Chesterton was fond of noting, sometimes one can only learn about oneself by observing others, about East by traveling West. To my eyes, something similar happens in physics, in which the structure of the infinite universe of impossible distances can only be understood by studying the smallest particles.

Dale is an interesting cat.  He is a PoliSci professor at St Anselm College and a pastor in the Evangelical Covenant Church. He...well, Q Ideas gives a good summary with links to his book and content. What they don't record is that he was out of commission as both professor and pastor for a whole with throat cancer. That had an enormous impact on his spiritual approach.  He gives liberals far too much credit for goodwill than I would like, and is too quickly suspicious of conservative motives, but these are differences of degree, not of kind. He used to be center-left, but his unpopular (even at a Catholic college) views on sexuality have left him more in the center, without his having moved. He is my age - his son came to HS boys Bible study at our house years ago, and he was on one of my wife's Romania trips.

1 comment:

james said...

I like "detoxing from Holywood"

I have never been to a retreat like that, but I've long thought there was a need for such a thing in evangelical circles, and wondered how it could be made available more widely. As it is those who can afford it wind up piggy-backing on Catholic or Orthodox facilities.

That may wind up being unavoidable, since you probably need a permanent cadre of "professionals" to provide the environment. Though maybe those who've been there for 3+ weeks already would provide the proper environment for the newbies. (Numbers issue: how many newbies per pro can you stand before the environment changes too much? The devil is in the details, so to speak.)