Friday, October 31, 2008

Review: Rome Sweet Home

I recently completed a critical book review of Rome Sweet Home for a seminar in church authority. I don't plan to regularly post my academic work here, but I thought this might be of interest. Between Bill Cork and Colin Maclurin there seems to be a Catholic theme in the Adventist blogosphere this week, so I thought I'd chime in, too.

One disclaimer: Please bear in mind that the assignment was to write a critical book review, and that brings out my Adventist bias. I do realize I am not immune from the problems I point out in the authors of Rome Sweet Home.

Scott and Kimberley Hahn were a spiritually motivated, theologically conservative, intellectually brilliant, and strongly anti-Catholic couple who individually converted to Roman Catholicism less than ten years after graduating from a Protestant seminary. This review of Rome Sweet Home, the autobiography of their journey from cradle to Catholic, will critically assess the Hahns’ theological reasons for conversion. Scott Hahn’s covenant theology and its implications for justification by faith and ecclesiology led him to convert before his wife. Kimberly Hahn, who eventually accepted her husband’s reasoning, was able to convert only after overcoming her objections to Marian devotion.

Covenant Theology
Covenant theology is the motif that binds together Scott Hahn’s half of Rome Sweet Home. Hahn first mentions it in the context of his undergrad experience when, having read the Bible several times, he “was convinced that the key to understanding the Bible was the idea of covenant.” One wonders, though, if this theological hermeneutic is more the result of his Young Life mentors, who may well have imparted the basics of covenant theology as they taught him Calvin, and less the outcome of personal study.

Justification by Faith
Hahn’s study of covenants during his M.Div. lead him to conclude that the Protestant understanding of justification by faith alone was unbiblical. He determined that in the biblical sense a covenant was not just a legal transaction but a transaction involving people for the purpose of establishing familial relationships. He concluded the New Covenant establishes us a children in God’s family, partaking of “divine sonship”, which means that sanctification, not just justification, is a part of God’s saving grace.

Hahn’s discovery not only put him at odds with his Calvinist denomination, but also laid the synergist framework that gave him common ground with Catholic soteriology. It is significant that he does not present justification by faith, the key doctrine by which Calvinists distinguish themselves from Catholics, as a major issue during his study of Catholicism. On this point Hahn leaves many questions (e.g. predestination) unanswered, and one may wonder whether he considered the Arminian tradition on this point and how his story may have been different had he joined an Arminian/Wesleyan denomination.

Hahn’s theology of God’s covenant family was a theological hermeneutic with implications for ecclesiology as well. He once told a high school class he was teaching that his ideal church organization “would be like an extended family that covers the world, with different father figures at every level appointed by God to administer his love and his law to his children.” The class realized that Hahn was describing the Roman Catholic Church; he did not.

This story illustrates a weakness in Hahn’s theological method: He often made analogical application of Scripture while harmonizing passages that contradict this application to his theology. Protestants have used covenant theology in this way to justify Sunday as the Christian day of worship against Sabbath as the Jewish day of worship. In the same way, Hahn likely harmonized and, for the purposes of his book, ignored the injunction against having earthly “fathers” in the church (Mat. 23:9) in favor of an analogical application of his covenant theology.

After finding other points on which his interpretation of scripture agreed Catholic theology, Hahn began to question another sola of Protestantism: “Where does Scripture teach sola scriptura?” At issue was the interpretation of Scripture itself. With “twenty-five thousand” Protestant denominations following “the Holy Spirit and the plain meaning of Scripture” Hahn realized that Scripture alone and Scripture interpreting Scripture was not enough to bring God’s covenant family into unity.

Hahn decided that the church must also be involved in communicating God’s Word. It wasn’t enough for the Heavenly Father to speak through his Book, because His erring children were liable to misinterpret or ignore it. The Heavenly Father needed fathers at every rung of the hierarchy, delivering the final and distinct word of authority to which the true children would submit.

Marian Devotion
During the time Scott Hahn was converting and for a few years after his conversion Kimberly Hahn’s story was one of resistance. Although she could not win her arguments with him, she completely closed her mind to the possibility of becoming Catholic and hoped that someone would be able to persuade her husband to turn from his course. It was not until Kimberly Hahn’s father, a Presbyterian minister, advised her to pray a prayer the committed her to following Christ no matter what, that she began to consider her husband’s religion with an open mind.
After committing herself to following Jesus regardless of past loyalties, Kimberley Hahn began a study of Catholic doctrine that led her to similar conclusions as her husband, and she began to feel a strong connection with God during Eucharistic/sacramental worship. From that point the only major theological obstacle to Hahn’s conversion was Catholic Marian devotion.

Veneration and Worship
Apart from feeling marital jealously towards Mary and finding it hard to identify with her as an intercessor, Hahn does not elaborate on her objections except in the context of the Catholic reasons for Marian devotion. That she felt praying the rosary would be offensive to God indicates that her theological issues had to do with what she perceived to be the worship of Mary by Catholics. Hahn knew the arguments regarding the difference between worship and veneration and between prayer and intercession, but it was not until she realized that for Catholics, worship was the sacrifice of the Eucharist, whereas for Protestants it was songs and prayers, that she was able to make a distinction between the veneration and worship of Mary.

Mother of the Church
I believe family covenant theology had an impact on Kimberley Hahn’s acceptance of Marian Devotion. First, Hahn was predisposed to accept her husband’s theology because she understood him, as the father of their family, to be her spiritual leader, who, although he did not force the issue, was nevertheless someone to who’s authority she should submit. Hahn portrays the psychology of her conversion story as resistance followed by acceptance to her husband's spiritual leadership.

Second, within the analogical structure of Scott Hahn’s covenant theology, it was logical that Jesus’ father (God the Father) and mother (Mary) would be her Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. In this context, the Communion of Saints is our heavenly and earthly brothers and sisters to whom we may go for intercession, and our earthly father and mother are the Pope (and his bishops and priests) and the Catholic Church, respectively. Viewing Mary as her mother also helped her overcome the objection to the “vain repitions” of the rosary, because, as a nun told her, mothers love to hear their young children say “I love you,” no matter how many times they say it in a day.

Scott and Kimberley Hahn’s Rome Sweet Home is a compelling story told in an engaging manner, and though this review found fault some of their reasoning, the reviewer appreciated both their intellectual and moral honesty. The central and most frequent fallacy in their theological thinking is an analogical application of biblical concepts in a way that contradicts the limitations Scripture itself places on those concepts. This reviewer believes that Hahns’ story would have ended differently had they, when faced with these contradictions, challenged their theological hermeneutic rather than explaining scripture to accommodate their theology.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Adventists = Contrarians

Adventists are contrarians. Most Christians go to church on Sunday; Adventists go on Saturday. Most Christians think you go to Heaven or Hell when you die, Adventists believe you go to sleep. We're a conservative denomination that promotes vegetarianism, for goodness sake!

I don't think Adventism is contrarian in principle. It's not as if our pioneers set out to believe or practice the opposite of other Christians. They just believed you shouldn't do what everyone else does just because that's what everyone does.

Nevertheless, I think Adventism attracts contrarians, because it takes a special personality to go against the flow. The problem comes when those contrarians have children and raise them in Adventist churches, schools, and institutions. Contrarianism is nonsustaining, because the second generation is born with an above average desire to be contrary to the mainstream, which for them is their parents' religion.

The loss of the Adventist converts' second generation is almost guaranteed after their Adventist religious training. Adventist religious training has traditionally focused on imparting reasons the Adventist religion is correct rather than Adventist religious experience. The problem with this is that the primarily cognitive religious training of Adventist young people equips them with intellectual tools they can later use to tear down their faith. Cognitive reasons for faith make no sense without the experience of faith, so when the reasons for faith are divorced from experience of faith, reason ends up being used against faith.

I suggest a twofold solution: (1) That the first generation devote more focus to imparting the experiential as opposed to primarily cognative aspects of their faith. Ellen White was onto something when she talked about Adventist youth needing "experimental" (that's 19th century for experiential) religion.

(2) The first generation should channel the contrarian impulse of the second generation into semper reformanda, the principle that the church should always be in the process of reformation. The first generation is often deceived into thinking that because they have traveled so far against the mainstream there is no farther to go. Adventists have leveled this critique against other protestant denominations, while ignoring the implications for their own. Instead of pretending perfection and leaving the second generation to turn their contrarian impulse against their faith, Adventists should encourage their children to refine, expand, re-express and appropriate their parents' faith.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Review: Half-handed Cloud

It sounds like a really smart Sunday-school class on a sugar high let loose in a music store.

-iTunes album review of We Haven't Just Been Told, We've Been Loved
Half-handed Cloud is my new Friday night favorite. When praise and worship, choir and organ, gospel quartet, and holy hip-hop have lost my musical interest, it's time for HHC, because John Ringhoffer, the man behind the project, takes "Sing a new song to the Lord" into a new dimension. I can only describe the musical genre of HHC in phrases: Juno soundtrack, indie-rock, sound experiment, high school band, and music my wife will only tolerate in small doses.

I was introduced to Half-handed Cloud by my brother-in-law, who knew Ringhoffer from the Seventh-day Adventist community around Chattanooga, TN. Today John lives in a church basement Berkley (except when he's turing with Half-handed Cloud or as the trombonest in Sufjan Stevens' band), where he's the janitor in exchange for his diggs. He does not describe himself as a Seventh-day Adventist, but does attend an Adventist church among others on weekends.

Listening to an HCC album is in some ways like reading the Bible, you will not get everything the first time through, nor the second. The tempo is generally fast, and the lyrics are just as quirky and dense as the music. The 50 second opera, "Pup Tent Noah", is an exception to the fast and dense rule but it's two-line libretto nicely illustrates John's unique take on Bible stories: "If your father's getting naked in the pup / Walk in backwards and cover him up."

From a theological perspective, I see an Adventist influence on the themes addressed in two Half-handed Cloud albums I own, We Haven't Just Been Told, We've Been Loved, and Thy Is a Word, and Feet Need Lamps. Thy Is a Word deals primarily with Old Testament stories--the ones Uncle Arthur didn't tell--that challenge the our notions of God's loving character. And six early tracks on We Haven't Just Been Told are about Sabbath beginning with "Our First Full Day Was Spent In Rest" and including my favorite line: "I got a-rested so I'm free...."

I think what keeps me coming back to HHC is Ringhofer's sensitivity to truth in paradox. His childish vocal stylings render lyrics of profound spiritual meaning; serious yet silly music accompanies his summaries of the most brutal OT tales (e.g. "Everyone Did What Was Right in Their Own Eyes"). There's something essentially real about these juxtapositions that resonates with my own experience of following Christ.

I recommend Half-handed Cloud to anyone who's up for something musically new. You don't have to be a Christian to appreciate this music, as John's popularity with the progressive music scene proves, but I find his work is best appreciated in its scriptural context. I myself plan to get some more HHC albums when I'm tired of the ones I have, but so far, that hasn't happened.

Check out this interview John did with with Relevant Magazine.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Interview: Joel Klimkewicz

Joel Klimkewicz is a colleague of mine at the Adventist Theological Seminary, with whom I have enjoyed several classes. It wasn't until a few weeks ago that I realized that he is the former US Marine who had received media coverage (Adventist links are the only ones still up.) a couple years ago for spending time in the brig on account of his non-combatant convictions. After talking with Joel about his experiences, I asked him to do an interview with me for apokalupto, and he agreed.

a: Did you have religious faith when you joined the Marine Corps?

JK: No. I was confirmed in the Lutheran church but wasn't a practicing Lutheran. I believed in God, don't get me wrong. And I would go to church in boot camp to get out of activities--Catholic church, because it was the longest.

a: How did you become a Seventh-day Adventist?

JK: I was scheduled for a deployment in 2002, a scheduled deployment where you float around in the Mediterranean and wait for something to happen. However, due to September 11 we knew we would probably go to Afghanistan or someplace else. But I wanted to get out of this employment to be home for the birth of my child.

I tried everything, but nothing could get me out of this deployment. While at sea the only way I could contact my wife was to use the email service on the ship, and with 3,000 people wanting to use those computers, you had to wait in line a long time. But there was this Bible study in the computer room, so I would go to the Bible study in order to get a computer to email my wife without waiting in line. But after two Bible studies I began to pay attention.

The chaplain teaching, who was an Adventist, was combining history and the Bible, Daniel and Revelation stuff, without mentioning the Adventist church at all. And I was able to look these things up and come to the conclusion that the man was teaching Biblical truth. He wasn't only teaching prophecy but also commitment. And when I committed myself to the Lord I was able to overcome some besetting sins like smoking and drinking. And that's how I became an Adventist.

The first time I was baptized was in the United Arab Emierates, but the night before I was out drinking and partying with my friends. The second time I made a full, wholistic commitment to the Lord and was baptized in the Seyshelles islands.

So I was still on this ship with this Adventist chaplain, and we became good friends.

a: What led you to conclude that you could not take a human life in combat?

JK: It wasn't the teachings of this chaplain, who is not a pacifist in any way.

My wife is a cultural Buddhist from Japan. She observed the changes in my life, and became interested in Adventism. She took Bible studies by correspondence from the Voice of Prophecy in Japan and joined the Adventist church.

Now my family was a new Christian family, and as the spiritual leader of my home, I wanted to be an example to my family. At this time I knew the Iraq war was very close at hand, as we had advance knowledge of that. I also learned that what we'd actually been doing in Africa was establishing relations to get the military a base for bombers--Camp Lemonier.

My church was an Adventist church in a military town, and people were telling me the the historical Adventist position was non-combatancy. I didn't really know anything about that, but at the same time I was reading scripture and concluding that Christian's are citizens of Heaven. And what in combat if I had to kill a fellow Christian?

Plus, before I became a Christian I was an angry person, and I knew that if I took a human life, I would have a guilty conscience and go back to my old way of living. The Holy Spirit was telling me that if I killed someone, it would undo all the positive steps I'd taken since becoming a Christian.

a: What consequences did you face as a result of that decision?

JK: I sought the advice of an Adventist chaplain who didn't fully agree with me but told me I had two options. One was to stay in the military as a non-combatant and the other was to get out of the military as a pacifist. I decided to stay in as a non-combatant, so an investigation was started to determine if my new found belief qualified me for non-combtance.

The investigator told me that I didn't qualify because I re-enlisted after I became an Adventist. But he messed up in that he did not realize that the Adventist church does not prohibit combatant military service. After 18 months I was denied status and ordered to take my weapon to kill human life. Obviously, I had to follow my conscience and told my commander that I respectfully could not obey. I even explained that I would be willing to do any combat oriented task without a weapon, such as clear landmines, a job I was trained to do. Clearing landmines generally does not require a weapon due to the danger of it falling on a mine or seting one off magnetically. My higher ups yelled at me and threatened different things, but I felt that the judgment that God would give me would be worse than what the military could give.

My commanding officer charged me with disobedience of a lawful order, which is usually a non-judicial matter punished with a fine and demotion, that type of thing. But, two months before I would have been out of the Marines, he sent me to a general court martial. General courts martial are usually reserved for serious matters like rapes and murders.

So the Adventist church sent their attorneys and chaplains, and I had a military lawyer. I had the impression that with all these people, how could I loose? The arraignment judge even recommended that it be dismissed, but if a commander wants a court martial, it's their decision. My lawyer fought this issue on the timeline of my conversion, that even though I'd reenlisted as an Adventist, I was still growing in my faith. Therefore, the investigator was wrong in denying my request, because the Adventist church does not prohibit military service.

In military law, the judge rules guilty or not guilty before the attorneys make their full arguments. The judge found me guilty, and then we spent hours with witnesses and arguments to determine the sentence. The prosecutor was trying to get the maximum penalty of 5 years, but the judge sentenced me to loss of pay, 7 months in the brig, and a bad conduct discharge.

Leaving that courtroom was quite an experience. They literally ripped my uniform off me, and that iss a disgrace to all who wear it. It was only by the grace of God that I didn't lash out.

In the brig, I started giving bible studies right away. There was a guy who was baptized with me who was busted for knocking off ATMs and took my presence as a sign that he needed to reform. There was another Adventist in there, and together we started worships on Sabbath

The church meanwhile had started a media campaign. Roscoe Bartlett, who was sitting on a military finance committee also had some meetings with the Commandant of the Marine Corps. Because of their efforts, I got out after four months.

And the Lord blessed me with a very good military appeal lawyer who fought for me at the Clemency and Parole Board which turned my discharge to "general under honorable conditions". The entire time I was going through this appeal process I was doing my undergrad at Southern Adventist University, so when my twins were born prematurely, the military paid the full medical expenses, which were over a million dollars.

a: Do you think that the environment of killing and training to kill impacts ones morality in other areas negatively?

JK: There is some validity to that. In the Marine Corps they would like to pride themselves in their morals. Honor courage and commitment are their core values, and they promote this. Where the immorality comes in is from people who come from dysfunctional lives before they enter the military.

These people come from all over the country, and get discipline in the military. Where their lives used to have no structure, they now have structure. So they become disciplined drunks, drug users, etc. So I don't think the training that they receive to kill impacts their morality so much as it makes them more disciplined about the lifestyle they already had.

a: What is your position with regard to pacifism today?

JK: I don't consider myself a pacifist. I think pacifism itself is somewhat of a naive position. It's a good idea in the ideal sense, but unfortunately we have sin. And since we have sin we need doctors and lawyers, and also police and military. However, I believe that God's last day church has a more specific and bigger purpose to accomplish which is to preach the gospel to the whole word. And we do this because we know that He's coming and in order to fulfill our mission as disciples. This is bigger than the mission some have to carry arms.

a: Are preaching the gospel and carrying arms mutually exclusive missions?

I'm hesitant to give the answer because if you're in a position of chaplaincy that's something you can't say, however it seems that without the military perhaps the Gospel would not freely go to many parts of the world. I think scripture clearly portrays that God uses nations to judge other nations, however that doesn't necessarily mean that his believers have to carry arms and do the judging. In fact our battle is not with flesh and blood; it is with principalities, a task that often takes more courage than pulling a trigger. Many have lost their lives in defense of the Gospel.

a: In your opinion, how could Adventist pastors and church leaders better address the issue of military service with their young people?

JK: You would advise Adventists to really pray and search scripture and their own conscience. I personally believe that Adventist religious convictions will be compromised in the military. Really, any sincere religious conviction will be problematic in the military. Because of the nature of the military mission, any conviction you have plays second fiddle to the mission of the military. That's in the oath you take, that your primary duty will be to protect and defend the constitution of the United States.

a: Do you know anything about how many Adventists are serving in the military?

JK: According to the Military Endorser to the Seventh-day Adventist church I was told that there are over 6,000 Adventist combatants serving in the US military and 56,000 SDA combatants worldwide?

a: Don't these numbers say we aren't doing a good enough job upholding our historic position? What advice would you give pastors, parents, or youth workers who want to do something about it?

The problem is that the church is not educating people on alternatives or on the historic position of the church. If you go to the Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries (ACM) website, it's recommended that a young person consider non-combatancy. But from Vietnam up until recently it hasn't been an issue.

There is a movement to educate our young people. ACM is working on a video to be circulated to our churches and schools. I'm in the video, and so are others who've had conflicts of conscience in the military. It's almost impossible to educate people without taking a position, so the church needs to be more clear with it's recommendation.

It may be impossible to achieve, but on our universities, when undergrads are confronted by a military recruiter who is allowed to roam freely on our campuses it supports the idea that the military is a viable career option for Adventists, especially in a bad economy when other job options are limited. So I'd like to see that changed.

The military was good for me. I would not be a disciplined student if not for the military. It was also good to be a part of such a unified organization, although that unity is often imposed by force. But we can offer alternatives to this. And we could adopt some of their methods like physical fitness, teamwork exercises, and bible boot camps to instill discipline, to achieve a level unity with our youth.

a: What are your plans for future ministry, and are you planning to be involved in these issues in the future?

JK: At present I'm sponsored [at the Adventist Theological Seminary] by the Florida Conference, so I'm going to fulfill my obligations as pastor in the Florida Conference. I'm open to any invitation to speak on these matters, and I've given my testimony in several churches. Now that I'm not active duty I'm able to speak freely.

a: When you join the military do you give up your First Amendment rights to freedom of speech?

JK: When you join the military you have limited first amendment rights. For example, you cannot criticize the Commander in Chief, and that means the President.

a: Do you see military chaplaincy in your future?

JK: I'm not convinced that Adventism should do away with service of military chaplains. I think that military chaplaincy serves an important role. One of the unfortunate reasons why we have chaplains is because of abuses that happen to people of faith. One of the roles of the chaplain is to be an advocate for people of faith.

And if it wasn't for a chaplain I wouldn't be an Adventist Christian. Chaplains are able to reach young people who are in desperate need of salvation. The unfortunate thing is that many Christian chaplains see their job as a paycheck and forget the call to make disciples. As an Adventist chaplain I don't think your job is to make non-combatants. I think your job, first and foremost, is to make disciples for Jesus Christ. Daniel had to go to Babylon, and to win some of these people we have to go to Babylon.

If the lord has military chaplaincy in my future, I'm certainly open to that option.

After our interview, Joel sent me the following statment.
I must say that I respect our nation's military and those who are able to serve in a combatant role without compromise of conscience. I don't claim to have all the answers for those who are unsure. I believe a sincere search of God's will and much dialogue with fellow believers will bring about a better understanding of the complex nature of this dilemma. I do know from experience that when God gives a conviction he will provide the strength and courage to stand for it, not so much for self-edification but because He knows the impact it will have on those who are unbelievers, skeptics, or those who are simply sitting on the fence.

I could share several stories, but one seems relevant for this discussion. A few weeks ago a high ranking leader from my former command gave me a late night unexpected phone call. He wanted to apologize for standing against me and explained that he wishes he had made the same choice. He now suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of the things he saw and did in combat. He is looking for away to rid himself of that guilt and looking to the Lord for that peace.

To this an old Japanese Proverb with profound truth applies, “Kokai saki ni tatasu.” Simply stated, "Regret is in the past not in the future." The choices we make today determine our future, hence the reason to submit your choices to the approval of God (Prov. 16:9).
For if you have an interest in these issues, check out the Should I Fight? conference to be held Nov. 6-9 in Oshawa, ON.