Thursday, August 30, 2012

Thoughts on Seminary Week 2

1 Most of our struggles exist not because of the difficulty of the whole but because we fear the first step.
2. We all talk about how isolated we are in our culture but we never seem to change it. In two weeks I've butted into conversations with dosens of total strangers and to my great surprize everyone seems to have enjoyed it.
3. Some of the most profound conversations will happen with the people you least expect it from.
4. I can't drink coffee and walk at the same time.
5. I can however endure the inquisitive looks of those who notice a somewhat conspicuous coffee stain on my shirt.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Thoughts on Seminary: Week 1

Obviously starting out this new season of life, time for writing has given way to reading for assignments, reciting Greek paradigms and late night theology cramming. Nonetheless this is my little attempt to keep my mind above the mire of assignments, papers, discussions, chapels, presentations, and books, to share just a few thoughts on little moments of insight each week of my seminary experience.

1. Learning a new language is tough, but not nearly so tough as I thought. I wish fear hadn't kept me from trying to learn the biblical languages earlier
2. I've been way too cynical in the past. I've seen that Christian community when truly attempted, truly works. It's not perfect, but by God's grace it is glorious.
3. Why didn't anyone in South Dakota tell me that cock roaches are that stupidly big in real life?
4. When surrounded by those with the same skills, I'm am remarkably unremarkable.
5. Being remarkable really has nothing to do with happiness.



Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Does it work?: Discerning internal hurdles to sharing the gospel

When I was in middle school I remember particularly hating the day when the school counselor would stop by our homeroom for "critical thinking and personal development". "Critical thinking and personal development" consisted largely of asking odd and confusing hypothetical questions; If you were stranded on a desert Island what 3 items would you take with you? Which is more important to take into an unknown cave the match book or the spade? Who walked into the bar first, the priest, the rabbi, or the minister? Ok so that last one wasn't really one asked me in middle school, but you get the point. Theses questions were supposed to develop our critical thinking skills. Most of us remember them as foolish because they're content was so distant. The likelihood of flying on a doomed fedex freighter and becoming best friends with volleyball for 4 years is the stuff of Hollywood, not daily life.

The ridiculousness of these questions isn't the only reason I hated critical thinking questions growing up. Unbeknownst to me at the time I was growing up in inchoate postmodernism. Now before you scream "buzzword!" lets take a step back from what postmodernism has come to mean to where it began, or more accurately before it began.

Modernism grew out of the industrial revolution, as society in the west suddenly found unprecedented control over our environment. In the space of one generation we went from regional mobility with the proliferation of the automobile around 1907 to putting a man on the moon in 1969. In less than one lifetime we mastered nationwide electricity, the proliferation of indoor plumbing, massive jumps in health and wellness, and just a few years later the beginnings of the information revolution. Walt Disney's "Tomorrowland" became "Todaysville" and a quaint "Yestertown" almost overnight. With man gaining so much unforeseen power so quickly it was inevitable that self confident optimism would emerge as home, car, work and play became decidedly "modern".

Irony of ironies, it was this optimism in human achievement that would become fatalism in less than one generation. As technology was exploding and making more things work, western thinking largely followed along those same lines. That which was important, was that which could make things work. It was in this time that we saw the birth of the centrality of math and science in our curricula, a role philosophy and rhetoric held in earlier models. Philosophy and rhetoric do not invent washing machines, microwaves, and automobiles. As we dove deeper into the 20th century however our very thinking became inculcated with the pragmatism our technology dependent lives demanded. Soon the gatekeeper of our thinking was changed from the cardinal question of philosophy "Is it true?", to the cardinal question of science "does it work?".

This change in large part explains the amazing agnosticism of our age. I refer not only to the agnosticism toward belief in God, which has grown massively, but toward everything in life. The babies of the babyboomers and beyond have proven to be later and less likely to get married, less involved in their communities, in essence less likely to care about anything. The problem lies in the fact that the gate-keeping question of "does it work?" is insufficient to the task of the kinds of questions we face everyday. Pragmatism, the technical term for "does it work?" thinking, is not sufficient to answer whom should I marry? what community involvement will have the greatest value? why do I exist?. The pragmatism that was necessarily born of modernism left an entire generation believing these questions simply could not be answered. It was this absence of an idea, rather than a presence of one, that was dubbed post-modernism.

It was this ideological vacuum that I found myself in as a middle-schooler trying to answer those "critical thinking" questions. Without knowing it at the time, the reason myself and my fellows hated those questions so much was because we didn't have a philosophy in which to answer them. When framed, as they so often were as "what would you do if...?" questions, the "does it work?" philosophy aborts if the question is not immediately applicable.

The problem is as Christians we have to be able to answer the questions a generation doesn't have the philosophical base to ask. God is not God because he works, but because he is true. Because he is true, he does work, but the latter is not sufficient to precede the former. We cannot allow our inherited and insufficient philosophical scaffolding prevent us from building a robust view of the God who is, and whose being is not dependent on his doing.

If we shy away from asking the deeper questions of life because of "does it work?" frame of reference is painfully stretched, we will be ourselves insufficient to the task of applying the gospel to our own lives and the lives of others. The gospel will "work" in that it will show the fruit of righteousness, however it will not "work" in the sense of pure pragmatism. The gospel will not make you monetarily richer, easier going, or better looking. (eg. yours truly)

In truth we are seeing several generations of people who are already tired of hearing the answer to the question "does it work?". They've lived through broken homes, families, churches, and friendships that didn't work and now they're searching for something more. We as Christians must be the people who can tell them what that is. We must be the people who can see beyond "what works" to "what is true".


Monday, August 29, 2011

The Top 20 Albums You Never Thought to Buy

I thought it would be fun to take a break from my usual writing on theology and Christian living and take a few blog posts to talk about my other great passion music. Ever stumbled upon an album and wondered where this artist was your whole life? The fact of the matter is modern music promotion isn’t designed to promote the newest and hottest not the classics and greats; even less so albums that are hidden gems that don’t immediately sell well. Often great albums are overlooked by the masses because they are out of their time or just simply because they didn’t advertise well. Well no longer! Here they are (in no particular order) the top 20 albums you probably never thought to buy.

1. Unforgettable, with Love- Natalie Cole

Genre: Jazz, Big Band

Year: 1991

Label: Elektra

Now arguably this album shouldn’t make this list at all. After all an album that has sold 7 million copies hardly qualifies as an “album you never thought to buy” however I never cease to be amazed by how many people under 30 have never even heard of it. Natalie Cole released the album to pay homage to her father, jazz legend Nat King Cole. As such the casual or new jazz listener may hear many songs they know, but didn’t know were Nat King Cole standards.

The Youtube age has given the title track “Unforgetable” a great deal of staying power, and the track is deeply touching as father and daughter do the duet they never had the chance to do in life. However, listeners who only explore this title track will miss some of the best this album has to offer. Natalie does wonderful covers of “Orange Colored Sky”, “Smile”, and oft overlooked classic “Avalon”. Natalie made her career in throaty R & B but she proves she has the pipes for Jazz, with a tender handling of “Mona Lisa”.

In addition the band arrangements are perfect big band. Never simple, but not too ornate to cover the singer, these arrangements give the listener the feel that “this is what big band should sound like”. Even more so, the players do the tunes great justice, showing particular mastery on “This can’t be love”.

This album offers some hidden benefit as well. If you’re new to Jazz and big band, this album is a great primer. It offers 22 big band vocal classics with great players and arrangements, for less than the price of a pizza. And to top it off it’s all new recordings so it will be easy listening for the casual listener who has a bit of trouble listening to older jazz albums due to their recording quality. All around an album that shouldn’t have been forgotten.

… next week R&Bappella?

(c) Jamin Eben 2011

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Momentary Geek Out

The blog has slowed down a good bit lately because of my graduate studies. Learning Hebrew doesn't leave much time for waxing eloquent about the theological flavor of the week. In the long run I hope it will make me a much better thinker and writer over all. So in lieu of doing my own good thinking I divert to an entirely non-theological thought on film making from very possibly the most underrated film maker of our time. Irvin Kershner. Most well known for directing "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back", 'Kersh' as his friends called him never made it big in hollywood. For the person willing to seek out his movies however he made some amazingly moving and thoughtful films. His perspectives on film making are almost lost on hollywood today, so I thought it might be refreshing to air a few of them out here. From an interview with sound and vision magazine ( Kershner talks about what really makes movies good, and where Star Wars (read all of Hollywood) has gotten off track....

Were you chosen to direct specifically because you would give more humanity to the characters?

We never talked about that. I was just supposed to make a terrific film, one that was better than the first one. But how do you make a terrific film? Do you put in more action than the first one? No, action is not what it's about. It's about characters, and caring about them. And that's where I wanted to put the emphasis - on the people.

Do you think that the new Star Wars films have moved too much toward the technology and away from the characters?

Who am I to comment when the audience loves them? But I feel that maybe George is sacrificing some of the potential for drama - the interior drama that that kind of film needs - for the terrific technology. I mean, he's getting giant scenes, thousands of robots rolling along and things flying around. They are amazing. To me, though, they're nothing to do with emotion. And I also wonder about Yoda. I think maybe Yoda should have been kept a little bit closer to what I had, a man who says, "Don't get angry. If you get angry, you're going to lose." Now he gets angry. This is a different interpretation. But nobody knows the subject better than George, so if this is what he feels it needs, that's it. The audience likes them, the kids love them, and they do have a look that no other films have.

You know Kershner, may he rest in peace, was right. He was right, the fans liked them, but not nearly in the culture shifting way the original films were received. And I think he's right in his assessment. A culture that constantly sees things bigger, faster, angrier, and more powerful, doesn't necessarily understand itself better.

I'm done geekin out. Time to go study vowel points.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Doing good to get to Good News

What is the best way of sharing the Gospel? Everyone involved in missions needs to be asking this question. The bible mandates that all Christians be involved in missions in some light, so it follows that every Christian should be asking that question. In our time my generation (20-30-somethings) have found a new and broad answer to that question. Call it emerging, call it missional, call it ywam or venture or anything you like. The model is basically the same; Meet needs, emotional and physical, to gain the right to present the gospel. It certainly is a good model and one that has seen beautiful work being done from the plains of Africa to the streets of New York. Here's the catch. It isn't the only way, our brothers and sisters from times past haven't always seen it as the dominant way, and it's arguably not the most widespread biblical way. So it becomes worth asking, How can we best use God's resources to spread God's news? It behooves us to take some time and a good dose of humility as we answer.

The bible shows many different models of presenting the gospel. Some of them involve meeting a felt need, others ongoing relationship, and some with almost no prior contact and only proclamation. In our generation a great deal of emphasis has been placed on a model that emphasizes a certain introduction. Usually involving some form of building relational capital, be that through friendship, or some sort of good will gift (feeding programs, schools etc.) These programs are absolutely wonderful, but as in all human endeavor not without the presence of indwelling sin. (Is 64:6) Knowing our greater temptation to blindness and pride when we are doing God's work, we shouldn't be too defensive to examine even our Gospel sharing method.

You may wonder why some, especially older, pastors seem less gung-ho about this new missional movement then most of us twenty-somethings. First this in itself should give us pause. God gave us generations in the church not so the younger could correct the older (though in a fallen world there is a place in humility for that to happen) but mostly for the older to correct the younger. The command to honor our parents carries to our spiritual elders and doesn't stop magically at age 18. I'm sad to say "young missional emergents" have often been guilty of making broad sweeping statements about "the church" often making unfair generalizations about the very people who taught us what we know of the Gospel. So first, if many faithful Christians of the past generation have hesitations with the missional movement, we need to stop being prideful and at least listen. No you aren't smarter than your parents, and yes God still expects you to listen to old folks even if you have been through 4 years of DTS.

Secondly there is always a temptation to pride in any movement. Movements are not evil. In our age it has become somewhat vogue to be part of "non-movement" movements. Just like the non-conformist t-shirts of a few years back, someone had to get a bunch of non-conformist to buy them all alike, in the same way our "non-movement" missionalism has a tendency to at times look an awful lot like a movement. That said there's nothing neccesarily wrong with that. Many of the most wonderful changes in the church have come out of bonified self proclaimed movements (eg. the reformation). With organization however comes temptation; specifically to pride. For example: you feel called to go on a missions trip. You send out letters to folks in your home church and circle of influence, and by God's grace you raise enough money to go. You go to Africa (picking on myself here) and there see some of the terrible poverty that ravages the third world. Holding children and meeting these foreign faces breaks and rebuilds your worldview. It's a wonderful God given experience. Then you go home. After a few weeks you find you now have a judgmental streak you never noticed before. You notice the guy at church who drives a hummer rather than a hundai like you. He must not understand poverty. Why does the preacher wear thom's rather than tom's, doesn't he know there are people without shoes? And without knowing it you and I can slip into a judgemental attitude toward many of the same people who sacrificed to provide for our mission work. With just a few days watching God work, we've now tried to take his job.

Thirdly, and perhaps most dangerously there is in emergent missionalism a temptation to be ashamed of the Gospel. Let me explain. In the first century after Christ has risen from the dead the apostles start working out the implications. This rabbi Jesus has proven that the kingdom to come won't be based on this kingdom. The implication is that everything in this life pales in comparison to the importance of the next. They sell their property and explode on the world giving up everything they have here to gain a life where Christ is going. They give their lives, proclaiming the world, dying in poverty or by the sword. Fast forward to our day and age. We often see missions more categorized by program than proclamation. Why?

Partly we have adapted to our culture. This is in many ways good. Contextualization without compromise is wonderful. However often I meet young people relying on the program because of a good deal of fear. Fear most of all that without some sort of programatic build up the gospel simply won't be received. I've heard phrases like "if we don't meet their needs they simply won't listen to us" or "we have to build relationship or the gospel won't mean anything". While these are true in many situations they are a far cry from the gospel boldness exhibited by the apostles. They seem to have no stock at all placed in whether or not people respond. Peter proclaims in the synagog imediatly after pentacost, a message saying in essence he doesn't expect them to respond. Jesus himself says some have ears to hear and others don't, even saying the gospel has been veiled from some. Even more the bible itself proclaims the intrinsic power of it's message saying it "will not return" without accomplishing exactly what it was meant to (Is 55:11). With such power at our backs do we need to fear that we need some other in to present this message? Furthermore if all in this life will burn and usher into eternity in the next, have we not every reason to shamelessly point to the Gospel as the only true and enduring need?

I am not saying we should stop using good deeds to usher in and adorn the gospel. Far from it, they will know we are his by our love. However, we need to take great care that in our effort to show love, we don't exalt loving over Jesus. Think with me for a moment, have you ever felt ashamed that all you had to give was the gospel? When feeling led to talk about Christ have you ever felt like you had to earn the right? When seeing photos of those joyful poor in third world countries who seem to have nothing but Christ do you feel sorry for them, rather than righteous envy for their spritual riches? I think there is a great danger in young missional evangelicals becoming ashamed of their gospel. We wouldn't say it that way, but when pressed we're uncomfortable if we can't provide the gospel and something else; The gospel and food programs, the gospel and schools, the gospel and comunity improvement. The world has suckered us into believing that the Gospel isn't gift enough in itself to justify stopping people in their tracks.

Paul specifically warns us not to be ashamed of the gospel. In fact in his ministry he met very few felt needs. He had no feeding programs or improvment projects. He healed some, but not a great many. He traveled, preached, and started churches, and specificaly told people not to be ashamed that the only good they had to give was in the next life not this one. Where does this leave us? Love people. There is no alternative. Give like crazy, if you have internet to read this you are what would technically be called by world wide standards "Stinking filthy rich" but never, never, never be ashamed to present the gospel. It is far more refreshing than clean water, far more saving than medical care, far more important than community improvement. Far more precious than any other service you could ever offer. It is the power of God to salvation. In closing I found these words from pastor Thabiti Anybwile very helpful as we think about this multifaceted and deeply important question.
I once heard a dear brother in the Lord express his ministry philosophy, in part, with this formula:

"Good deeds leads to good will which creates platform for Good News."

I don't think it's original to him; he mention an author I didn't recognize. I suspect he's not alone in holding this veiw of things. And, again, this is a very dear brother in the Lord.

When I heard my brother articulate this point of view, instantly I was thinking, No, it's:

"Good News creates a new people who do good deeds that lead to good will."

In other words, good deeds and good will are not needed to accredit the gospel or give the gospel power. Acceptance of the gospel isn't fundamentally a matter of how well we adorn the gospel. Faith rests on the power of God, not the persausiveness of men. Moreover, the gospel has long had its effect in areas where good will evaporated in the heat of persecution and hatred.--


Romans 1:16
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.


(c) Jamin Eben 2011

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Me-nifesto

We are out for me

I am out for me

I must listen to me

Feel me

look out for me

Why not no one else will

though I do expect them to

I will look to me to make me happy

I will look to me to make me fullfiled

I will look to me to love me

and if I fail to fulfill any of these things,

I will certainly not blame me

I will not see me as selfish

At least not as selfish as he is

at least not as bad as she is

at least not as uptight as he is

Me is just good enough to deserve a good life

Maybe even heaven, tian, or nirvana

what ever I choose

because no one knows better than me

everyone better than me is amazing

everyone worse is a disappointment

I will love me

forgive me

provide for me

and expect you to do so too

Why wouldn't you?

Don't you like me?

I can't see why not?

I like me

well most of the time I like me

and when I don't like me,

I will work to like me

I will spend time liking me

I let me tell me I forgive me and love me

I will let me lead me

After all the best truth is to follow my heart

so me is a perfectly good guide to me

Me is the lord of my domain

me is the captain of my soul

the sovereign of me is me

unless something bad happens to me

then it wasn't my fault.

I wonder why I have trouble finding people to love me

I wonder if they too are looking out for me

Luke 9:23-24 (NIV) Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it."


© Jamin Eben 2011