Saturday, October 28, 2006

The "mark of the beast" -- my speculations

Revelations 13:16-17

"He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the number of his name. This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is a man's number. His number is 666."

Here are my speculations and extrapolations on this:

Though it is possible for a society to be temporarily conquered by an invader who imposes his will without regard for the will of the majority of people, as a general principle, the leaders of a society tend to grow out of the soil of the populace that they come from. In other words, as the old adage says, a society gets the leaders it deserves. This does not mean that every person in a society is in collusion with its leaders. Rather, it means that a critical mass of the population in a society has the cultural attitudes and values that either agree with or at least allow for the leaders that it has.

It is for this reason, among others, that I think that the mark of the beast will be less the result of the will of the one anti-christ imposing his will on a thoroughly unwilling populace. Rather, it will be a leader who codifies the will and/or the acceptance of a critical mass of the populace enough so that he can suppress any of those remaining who disagree. I think that the power of the anti-christ will operate more like that of a vampire than that of Atilla the Hun, in the sense that one must first invite a vampire into one's home before he can have power over someone. In the case of the anti-christ, he will be invited in by enough people to where he can take the others by force.

As much as anything, the anti-christ will be the leadership face of a movement that is already powerful and underway throughout a vast swath of the society. It is for this reason that the "anti-christ" will as likely be many leaders with dominion over a large and developing infrastructure as much as the "anti-christ" will be one leader in particular. When I speak of the "anti-christ", I think in terms of the likely occurance of both the one and the many.

It is my speculation that, in addition to other signs and wonders, the anti-christ will be a great economist, and he will take the allegiance that people already have to the marketplace in order to consolidate his power. The anti-christ's use of the marketplace as the tool to solidify his/their power will not be incidental. Rather, having people emotionally, spiritually, relationally and materially bonded to the marketplace will be part of the anti-christ's agenda. For this reason, the power of the marketplace will be a seamless extension of the anti-christ's, which many people will accept because they will already have an insatiable appetite for all that the marketplace provides them.

To the extent that people will be having their emotional needs, relational needs, social needs, and identity needs met by what is provided in the marketplace, I think that the mark of the beast will be enforced as much by the tacit social pressures to be "cool" and "hip" as much as it will be enforced by the power of law. I think that the society where it has become the law of the land for one to need to have a mark of one's covenant with the marketplace for one to buy or sell will have gotten there because a critical mass of people have allowed their identity to be wrapped up in whatever it takes to succeed in the realm of buying and selling. The existence of this critical mass, and other factors, will allow the anti-christ leadership to consolidate the collective idolatry of the marketplace into a regime where it is impossible to be economically viable without joining the idolatry.

Getting the mark of the beast on one's forehead or wrist will be the sign of a covenant wherein if one meets the demands of the marketplace, one will get one's needs met -- and if one fails to meet those demands, one will be cut off from the marketplace. This "branding" of people with the mark of the beast will be both pratical and symbolic. It will be practical in the obvious sense that people will not be able to buy and sell without it. It will be symbolic in that it will turn the very skin of people into a market currency, thereby marking people as belonging to the market and to the antichrist as much as any coin in Jesus' day belonged to Ceasar.

Some may allow themselves to get the mark of the beast reluctantly. To the extent that people are unwilling participants in the mark of the beast, they may allow themselves to be marked by it reluctantly in order to get their basic material needs met in the marketplace. For them, they will be like Esau who gave up his inheritance for a meal. However, many people will already be getting their emotional and relational needs met from the marketplace to such a degree that the mark of the beast will be yet another sign of their ongoing and developing allegiance to the marketplace. For them, they will be like those who bent the knee to Baal. For those who had an initial reluctance in accepting the mark, the convenience of being able participate in the marketplace will make it so that any initial reluctance will be swept away with a "What can you do attitude".

The specific mark of the beast, as in "What will be the 666?", is not necessarily of particular interest to me. Numerologists, conspiracy theory buffs, pre and post millenialists and others who obsess about dissecting Revelations can debate that. What I am interested in is answering what is is the essential symbolic meaning of the mark of the beast and what are the "signs of the times" that are leading to it. It is my speculation that those who are allowing their identity to be wrapped up in the marketplace now, in whatever form they are doing it, are laying the groundwork for what will eventually be the infrastructure for the anti-christ. I argue that this groundwork that is being laid for the mark of the beast, is, in a way, the mark of the beast in its penultimate form.

Idolatry of the marketplace, in any form, is the result of people who are trying to meet their social, emotional and material needs through their participation in the marketplace and through their allegiance to the marketplace. Idolatry of the marketplace is based on people acquiescing their emotional needs to what is provided in the marketplace according to pressure in the form of a covenant that contains a carrot and a stick: if one conforms one's identity to what is accepted in the marketplace, meeting one's social, emotional and economic needs will be so much easier -- and if one doesn't, meeting one's social, emotional and material needs will be so much harder.

I am convinced that this pressure to conform to marketplace idolatry is already operating in our society now and will continue to increase in incremental degrees. I am extrapolating from this observation to arrive at the idea that the sign of the beast will be the ultimate manifestation of a marketplace idolatry that is already underfoot. Going back to the covenant with the carrot and stick, the mark of the beast will simply be the result of the anti-christ raising the ante by a couple notches: if one conforms one's identity to the marketplace with an outwardly visible sign, one will be able to function in the marketplace to get one's material needs met -- if one doesn't, one will be consigned to the threat of deprivation and possible starvation and death.

Idolatry of the marketplace is something that is already present in force in this society in 2006. If there is not yet a sign of the covenant with marketplace idolatry like the mark of the beast in Revelations 13:17, I see that there are lesser forms of this covenant all around. It is my overall anaylsis that brand marketing that it is an emotion based form of advertising that is particularly interested in linking a product not merely to its ability to fulfill a material need, but rather to fulfill a relational/emotional need in people. In this way, a brand marketer encourages people to make emotional bonds with his products.

On the surface, brand marketing appears to be the result of an organic free-for-all of advertising competition between companies, but that is only a "trees" view of it. From a "forest" perspective, each participant in the enterprise of brand marketing sells the same essential "brand marketing worldview" on human identity and relationships which can be summed up as follows:
a) Times always change, and you must keep up in order to be socially and sexually viable
b) Buy our product in order to better fulfill your need to be an individual who is a winner among the crowd. If you don't, you will either be a sociall unviable loser or you will simply be one of the unindividuated crowd. You will avoid both of these bad fates if you consume our product now before others get to it.
c) Stillness and boredom are bad things that our products will save you from.

Underneath the chimera of products that come and go and companies that come and go, there is an increasing influence of this essential brand marketing worldview. With the help of advanced technology and other factors underway in our society, brand marketing, as a whole enterprise, is succeeding in creating an evermore powerful bond between people and the marketplace. As this worldview gains more and more of a monopoly on how people operate, it is evermore representative of a covenant that people have made with the marketplace to get their relational and emotional needs met.

The brand marketing worldview is connected to being socially and sexually viable. As anyone in an urban environment knows, this has a profound effect on one's ability to succeed in the workplace and to provide materially for one's needs.

Whatever sense of individuality of "sub-group" identity that one gains as a consumer of products is a very superficial form of individuality that is only available to one after one has conformed to the brand marketing worldview. This loss of depth and vapidity that is connected to the brand marketing worldview is connected to other casualties that occur both in people's own personal maturity and in the society at large. The brand marketing worldview facilitates a loss of emotional and intellectual depth that is connected to people having an increased desire for disposable pleasures. In brand marketing, old must be old so that new can be new. It is the brand marketing worldview that makes stillness the enemy that people are to be saved from by purchasing products and services. In advancing the brand marketing worldview, people are encouraged toward having a certain perpetual attention deficit. The opportunity cost of putting one's energy into disposable pleasures is that one does not invest in more lasting forms of joy wherein more lasting and active emotional, spiritual and intellectual investment is demanded.

To the extent that the marketplace is the servant of disposable pleasures, people return the favor by having an adulterous emotional bond with the products and services provided by the marketplace. This allows those who influence the marketplace and the political realm to be evermore able to consolidate their power without scrutiny. As this continues, people increasingly vote and buy what feels good based on politics that is retailed to consumers and not to citizens. It is this retailing of politics to consumers and not to citizens through mass media that is politician's verson of brand marketing.

As this continues, checks and balances and anti-trust laws will diminish, as those who control the marketplace and political realm will continue to consolidate their power. It is my sweeping speculation from what is happening now that this consolidation of power will happen in fits and starts and may at times take one step back before it takes two steps forward. Nevertheless, this gradual consolidation of power will lay the infrastructure for the anti-christ leadership as the masses of consumers are kept continually distracted by being kept continually pleased and titilated by what is new and shiny in the marketplace.

Of course, there are many other coinciding factors involved in the laying down of the infrastructure for the anti-christ and the mark of the beast that would take a much longer essay to elaborate on. However as a general attempt to "read the leaves on the tree", it is my assessment that the mark of the beast will be facilitated by the love of pleasure and lack of depth that will coincide with the wholesale embrace of the brand marketing worldview which will coincide with the consolidation of political and economic power. In the confluence of these forces that are already operating to a large degree, the mark of the beast, the "666" -- in addition to being implemented with force -- may also be the ultimate in brand marketing.

Friday, October 13, 2006

A Crisis of Cultural Hermeneutics

Just underneath my link to the Habits for the Journey with Jesus, I have added a link to a paper I have spent the last several years thinking about, and the last several months writing. It is called A Crisis of Modesty in the Evangelical Church, and I am sure that it will be very controversial to many readers.

What is it to dress in a sexually suggestive way? What does it mean to be modest? Why does modesty matter? To what extent is any idea of modesty/sexual suggestiveness a convention subject to change and re-negotiating and to what extent is it not? How are the wider culture's justifications for what it wears connected to other powerful trends and ideas? It is my overall thesis that far too many people in the church are not even equipped to ask these questions. While I assert that immodesty is a problem, I also assert that the problem of immodesty is the manifestation of a far deeper problem within Evangelical Christian discipleship.

As I explain in A Crisis of Modesty in the Evangelical Church, the problem of sexually suggestive clothing in the culture at large that has crept into the church is related to a larger crisis in the church. This crisis involves the question of how the church should relate to the ideas that are encoded into the trends that have arisen in the wider culture.

It is my thesis that sexually suggestive clothing has found its way through a crack in the church that exists between a) the "culture warrior" tendencies of the church to fight and resist the wider culture and b) the "seeker sensitive" tendencies of the church to want to hip and relevant to the "times" in order to function within and relate to the wider culture. In this crack between these two tendencies within the church lies an inability to truly take the trends and ideas captive -- to extract any claims to truth that exist within these sundry ideas and trends while avoiding the rest.

It is my overall thesis that many within the church have employed "street postmodernism" (also referred to in my essays in March and April 2006 as "primalism") to negotiate change because they have not developed a Christian discipleship that is capable of negotiating change from a Godly, disciplined perspective. It has been the Evangelical Christian tendency to fight culture wars without seeking to find the kernels of truth in sundry trends. This culture warrior tendency has created a void in the intellectual aspect of Christians' discipleship to know how to take the complexity of life captive to Christ. In this void of knowing how to confront complexity, many Christians have adopted street postmodernist ideas.

Street postmodernism is summed up as a populist attempt to handle complexity by having individuals abdicate their individual perogative to think and to judge by looking at what the "times" are doing. "Who's to say?" and "Times change" are the key slogans of this belief system. It is my thesis that the intellectual undisciplined "culture warrior" approach to the culture and the intellectually undisciplined "street postmodernism" have been allowed to co-exist together in the minds of many Christians because neither approach to the culture demands very much intellectually from the individual. Many Christians harbor elements of both "culture warrior" and "street postmodernism" without having the mastery over their thoughts to reckon with the cognitive dissonance that exists between these two approaches to the culture at large.

It is my thesis that immodest clothing among Christians-- clothing that has not been the target of culture warriors and clothing that is considered a staple of human, secular freedom by postmodernists-- has not been met with the proper "net" within the church whereby it can recognized and held captive for examination. Even as I am trying to grasp the problem of immodesty, it is my goal to construct the "net", where the questions of modesty and sexual suggestiveness -- and any other question under the sun relevant to Christian discipleship-- can be held captive so that the issues can be examined properly from all angles.

A Crisis of Modesty in the Evangelical Church is constructed around a long series of objections to my assertions about what is modest/sexually suggestive. All of these objections have come from fellow Christians, and all of them emanate from a street postmodernist secular worldview. I want to explore the roots of this worldview and the claims to truth--and therefore to power-- that it has. As I deal with these objections, one by one, I am confronted with what one iMonk describes as a "post-evangelical wilderness". In this "wilderness", it has become clear to me that many Christians have lost their way in the endeavor to take all of life captive to Christ. To point the way out of this wilderness, I want reconstruct a Christian approach to examining the culture on the ruins of the "culture warrior" approach and the failed strategies of phallanx style political and culture warfare that have accompanied the culture warrior approach.

For the particular issue of immodest clothing, I want to recognize the wilderness of street postmodernism that has crept into Christianity, and carefully extract any pieces of truth that exist within street postmodernism, "seeker sensitive" and "culture warrior" approaches to handling culture, change and complexity. Upon doing so, I want to argue for what I consider to be a reasoned and Godly way that these pieces of truth fit together into a prescription for Christian modesty and Christian liberty and sound Christian intellectual inquiry into the issue.

Monday, October 09, 2006

"...will teach you all things..." from the perspective of 1 Corinthians

Continuing on from the previous post, I have been examining the various passages in Scripture that expound upon Jesus' promises in John that the Holy Spirit will teach a believer "all things" and guide a believer in "all truth". In light of the cessationist/continuationist debate, as a major part of my examination of these texts, I have been paying particularly close attention to the issues of inclusiveness and exclusivity, particularly in regard to the use of pronouns, "you", "we", "us" etc... As I have been examining these texts carefully to see whom they include and exclude in regard to these promises, it has become clear to me that these passages contradict the cessationist idea that these promises were exclusive to the apostles or exclusive to "pre-canon" believers. To interpret these promises as being exclusive to the apostles or to "pre-canon" believers requires that one super-impose an interpretation of exclusivity onto these passages that is not in any way apparent from the passages themselves.

In am interested in the cessationist/continuationist debate because I am interested in the claims that are being made on how the Holy Spirit relates to our minds and hearts as believers. I have been articulating a continuationist position that Jesus'promise that the Holy Spirit will teach his disciples "all things" in John 14:26 is a time-transcendent promise for all believers. With this in mind, I am interested in the relationship that the doctrinal truth of the Gospel and the Bible canon has to our "learning all things". What are "all things"? How do we learn them? What does the Spirit teach? How does the Spirit teach? What does the Holy Spirit help us interpret and how? What is our role in this process? How does this edify us? How does this affect our ministry to others?

As I wrestle with these questions, I want to examine 1 Corinthians 2:6-16

(6) We do, however speak of a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. (7) No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. (8) None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (9) However, as it is written:

"No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no mind conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him"

(10) But God has revealed it to us by His Spirit.

Is the "us" in verse 10 inclusive to all of Paul's readers or is it exclusive only to Paul or perhaps only to the "mature"? The "we" in verse 6 starts out as though Paul is referring specifically to his fellow apostles and teachers, as Paul has just talked about his initial preaching ministry to his Corinthian readers in the verses just preceding verse 6. As the text progresses, the use of "we" and "us" operates in the tension between two tandem division - we, the believers vs. non-believers and we, the mature believers vs. immature believers. The other tension in the text is the idea of "centrality" - that the text can have a central more dominant meaning without necessarily excluding other less dominant meanings.

So what has been prepared? The central meaning of that which has "been prepared" is the glory that God has prepared for those who love him. Paul makes specific reference to what has been "destined for our glory" and that the "Lord of glory" was crucified -- in contrast with the "rulers of this age" who have an earthly, profaned form of glory. The reality of the glory that is a secret that is withheld from the "rulers of this age". This idea of glory is the central, though not the exclusive meaning of "what God has prepared for those who love him".

What is the wisdom among the mature? It is the understanding that this glory has been prepared by God for those who love him. The wisdom informs a believer as to the glory that has been prepared for him, and the very fact that the believer has this wisdom is to the believer's glory. As it will be clearer later, the understanding of the glory that God has provided to those who love him is a central feature, not an exclusive feature, of the wisdom.

To whom has "it" been revealed ("it" being the understanding that God is preparing glory for those who love him)? Who is "us" -- is "us" exclusive to the "mature" among believers or is it inclusive to all believers? The answer is best understood as both/and. Though the wisdom among the mature has been more completely revealed to the "mature" and understood more completely by the mature, the principle has been revealed at least to some degree to anyone who is a believer, because the principle is central to the Gospel.

Moving on:

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. (11) for who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In ths same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. (12) We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what has been freely given us.

In verse 12, Paul is saying that the purpose for a believer having received the Spirit is for him to freely understand "what" has been given to believers. So what is the "what" that has been "freely given"? This "what" would be the glory that God has prepared for those who love him. As I stated above, the "glory" is a central feature of "what has been freely given" though it is not an exclusive feature. "What has been freely given" can be understood to include all of the ways that a believer is endowed with the present and future blessings of a relationship with God.

So what is it about this that "we" may understand? Verse 12 does not preclude the idea that the Spirit of God endows a believer with the understanding, however rudimentary, of the glory of God that has been prepared for him, thereby separating him from the unbelievers who have the "spirit of the world". However, that is not the central meaning. Here, "that we may understand" is not referring to a one time event of one's understanding that neatly separates into a before and after -- as in before one is a believer and then after. Rather, Paul is referring to a continually unfolding process in the life of a mature believer. The central meaning of verse 12, in the context of verses 10 and 11, is that the mature believer learns "all things" from the Spirit of God to ever more deeply understand all that God has prepared for him and freely given him -- as an ongoing process. As Paul will expound on, the "mature" here is synonymous with the "spiritual man".

In regard to the tandem division of believer vs. unbeliever/mature vs. immature operating in verse 12, the "we" is best understood as being inclusive to all believers in potential but specific to mature believers in practice. In the larger context of 1 Corinthians, the immature Corinthians are not yet operating as mature, spiritual men, in the fullest sense of the idea.

Moving on:

(13) This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.

This "we" in verse 13 is specific to those whom Paul counts as fellow apostles and teachers at the time, though the principle is not limited to Paul's time. In the verses that follow, Paul extends the principle to characterize a generic "spiritual man" -- something that he expected all of this immature readers to grow into.

(14) the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. (15) The spiritual man makes judgements about all things, but himself is not subject to any man's judgement.

(16) "For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?"

But we have the mind of Christ.

Here, Paul is outlining the anatomy of spiritual judgement making by specifically linking together the role of the Spirit to teach "all things" and the spiritual man's role to make judgments about "all things". Here, the spiritual man's understanding of "all things" is the result of a participatory process that involves a) the Spirit teaching and endowing the spiritual man with the capacity to discern what is being taught, and b) the man, in turn, discerning what is being taught and making judgements based on what he has learned. The Spirit is not operating through the spiritual man as an oracle or some other form of "possession". Rather, in this exchange between Spirit and spiritual man, God is engaging and teaching the man as God's Spirit, ie. the mind of Christ, interacts with the man's spirit. While teaching is the Spirit's role, discerning what is being taught is the man's role. This discernment is an act on the part of the man, as he actively and consciously engages his spirit with the Spirit.

It is by his spiritual endowment by the Spirit that the spiritual man is able to discern, and it is the lack of this endowment that an unspiritual man cannot discern. It is in applying his ability to discern on a continual basis that the spiritual man continually discerns to learn things from the Spirit and is able to make "judgments about all things".

Taking this understanding of the verse that immediately follow verse 12 back to verse 12, how is it that the spiritual man's learning all things and making judgments in all things relates to his understanding what God has freely given him? It is my interpretation that the spiritual man learns all things from the Spirit so that he can understand how all things relate to God and how God relates to all things. In this way, the spiritual man understands how God and His glory is woven into all aspects of life, wisdom, circumstances and knowledge. It is in learning all things from the Spirit for this stated purpose that the spiritual man is able to make judgements that correctly contextualize and appropriated the glory of God in the midst of all things. It is this constant process of learning from the Spirit -- aka being instructed by the mind of Christ -- and discerning what is being taught to him, that the spiritual man ever more truly and deeply understands all that God has prepared for him. The fruit of this process is that the spiritual man is edified with wisdom for his own benefit and for the benefit of other believers.

To summarize my interpretation of 1 Corinthians 2:6-16, it is via the Spirit in a spiritual man whereby he is made privy to the thoughts of God, aka the mind of Christ, and is instructed about all things. From this, a spiritual man (or woman) can understand God and his relationship with God in the contexts of all things and can make Godly judgments about all things. With this understanding of the passage, the "wisdom among the mature" is both a) the understanding of the glory and other blessings that God has prepared for those who love him and b) the ongoing process of being instructed in all things by the Spirit.

My extrapolations : Making judgements in all things requires a twofold learning by the spiritual man: a) to learn what the new things are and b) to learn how these things relate to the truth of the Gospel. It is this twofold learning that a spiritual man gains as he is instructed by the "mind of Christ" that allows him to make judgments. This twofold learning requires a particular effort of discernment on the part of the spiritual man to find the synthesis between what is new and the truth of the Gospel that has already been revealed. As the spiritual man engages in this, it is the Holy Spirit who endows the spiritual man with the impetus and the ability to discern along these lines and endows him with the wisdom and insight into all things, which is the reward of his effort.

Connections to 1 John: The "what" that "has been given to us" that Paul talks about in verse 12 bears a similarity to the "truth" that John talks about in 1 John 2:20-21. In their respective contexts, both the "what" and the "truth" were things that their readers already had, and yet they still needed to learn about "all things" from the Holy Spirit. Both texts indicate a process of being illuminated by the Spirit that is centered around helping a believer understand "all things" in the context of the revealed truth of the Gospel. While John, in 1 John, examines learning about "all things" in the context of needing to "test the spirits", Paul examines learning about "all things" in the context of a spiritual man interacting in his spirit with the mind of Christ via the Holy Spirit.

What I will explore later: In regard to Paul's teaching that follows in the passage, this passage of verse 2:6-16 in 1 Corinthians was intended to steer the immature Corinthians away from their immature form judging that was based on elevating one man on a pedestal above another and toward the spiritual, mature form of judging that would successfully and faithfully build on the foundation that Paul had laid among the Corinthians as an "expert builder".