Expressions I Don’t Recognize, The Coming Evangelical Collapse, I Kings 22

1.  Zosia Zaks, Life and Love: Positive Strategies for Autistic Adults, page 167:

Keep a log book of common expressions and conversational patterns.  For example, if you keep hearing people say, “She’s having a bad hair day!” or “He’s ill!” write these phrases down.  Privately ask your Work Buddy or someone you trust what they mean or look in an idiomatic dictionary and write the definitions nearby.  In this case, “bad hair day” means someone is frustrated, and “ill” means someone is cool.

I thought that “bad hair day” meant someone’s hair looks bad, and that “ill” means sick.  I guess I’m behind the times!

2.  When Michael Spencer was alive, I never read his blog, “Internet Monk.”  It wasn’t that I had anything against him.  There were just so many blogs out there, that I never clicked on “Internet Monk” whenever I saw it on somebody’s blogroll.  I already had enough to read!

With Michael Spencer’s tragic passing, there have been a number of tributes to him on people’s blogs.  The one that really made me want to read him was K.W. Leslie’s post, R.I.P. Michael Spencer, in which K.W. linked to Michael Spencer’s post on the coming evangelical collapse.  My initial perverse thought was, “Wow, sounds good to me!”, so I decided to read Michael’s post on this.

Here are Michael’s posts: The Coming Evangelical Collapse: Part 1The Coming Evangelical Collapse: Part 2, and The Coming Evangelical Collapse: Part 3.

I had three reactions to the posts: perverse pleasure, disappointment, and interest.  Let me start with my perverse pleasure.  Michael predicts that the younger generation will leave evangelicalism in droves, saying “Good riddance!” as they walk out the door.  Eventually, evangelical institutions will lose their power and influence because of the lack of funding for their endeavors.  Michael states: Evangelicals will become synonymous with those who oppose the direction of the culture in the next several decades. That opposition will be increasingly viewed as a threat, and there will be increasing pressure to consider evangelicals bad for America, bad for education, bad for children and bad for society.  And, while Christian conservatives will respond to this with their typical “cultural war” rhetoric, most people won’t listen to them.

Why my perverse pleasure?  Because I would love for conservative evangelicals to realize that not everyone cares for their judgmentalism and narrow-mindedness, and to feel the brunt of that backlash.  Still, I don’t want society to take away the right of evangelicals to practice their religion, for that’s what pluralism is all about.

The whole part about “bad for America, bad for education, bad for children and bad for society” brings several things to my mind.  There’s the evangelical movie Tribulation (starring Margot Kidder of Superman fame), in which society under the Antichrist refers to Christians as “haters.”  I think of conservative opposition to passing out condoms in public schools.  I respect conservatives for endorsing a view of sex that honors people as human beings rather than as objects, while upholding marriage and family.  But are they placing teens at risk by withholding from them the means to protect themselves from pregnancy and STDs?  And, while there are plenty of friendly evangelicals out there, there is also a host of closed-minded ones.  Frank Schaeffer once said that the home-schooled kids of yesterday grew up to become the right-wing agitators at Tea Parties and health care forums of today.  I’m all for criticizing the government, but I have problems with the way that some Christian conservatives dehumanize their opponents (and, yes, liberals do it too).  Then there’s the pain that homosexuals have experienced in evangelical Christian households.  Some of those households are accepting.  Some are not.

Where’s my disappointment?  Michael Spencer believes (if I’m reading him correctly) that Christians need to emphasize doctrine in order to avoid irrelevance.  He criticizes mega-churches and the prosperity Gospel as part of the problem, and he says that the younger generation of evangelicals is illiterate in the Bible and Christian doctrine.  Several of my readers will appreciate Michael’s points here.  But, personally, I laud the Christian churches that are trying to become more relevant to people’s day-to-day problems.  I mean, how do a lot of these doctrinal debates help anybody: predestination vs. free-will, substitutionary atonement vs. other models, etc.?  They’re interesting, but do they speak to people’s struggles and desires for a better life?  Often, they degenerate into shouting matches.  If Christianity is trying to become more practical, then I applaud that!  And this doesn’t necessarily have to entail dumping doctrine, for there are some (such as Tim Keller) who are able to show how Christian doctrine relates to people’s lives.  But, unlike Michael Spencer, I feel that an over-emphasis on doctrine is why so many are leaving evangelicalism, not a path to saving it.

Where’s my interest?  I was intrigued by Michael’s statement that many evangelicals will flee to the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodoxy, impacting those forms of Christianity.  That reminded me of the time that Frank Schaeffer became Orthodox and put the pro-life cause on the church’s plate (or so some criticized him for doing!).  Michael also predicted that the emerging church will get absorbed into mainline Protestantism, and he expressed hope that missionaries from the Third World will come to America.  While we’re declining spiritually, the Third World Christians are experiencing the Holy Spirit and becoming grounded in Christian doctrine.  Maybe they’ll have something to teach us, Michael thinks!

Michael also said that the decline of evangelicalism will not mean that God is not at work.  For Michael, if this decline takes place, God could use it to strip evangelicalism of a lot of its garbage (e.g., the prosperity Gospel).  And, as the non-committed leave, a hard-core faithful few will remain.

3.  For my weekly quiet time this week, I studied I Kings 22.  King Ahab of Northern Israel wants to go to war with Syria to take back the city of Ramoth-Gilead.  He gets the support of the righteous King Jehoshaphat of Judah, who encourages Ahab to seek the LORD before he undertakes the battle.  Ahab then consults 400 yes-men, who prophesy that Ahab will triumph against Syria.  Jehoshaphat asks Ahab if there is a prophet of the LORD whom they can consult, and Ahab brings in Micaiah, whom Ahab hates because he always prophesies evil about Ahab.  Micaiah predicts that Ahab will die in battle, so Ahab puts him in prison.  But Ahab does die in battle, even though he disguised himself as a common soldier to prevent the enemy from recognizing him.

I want to comment on why Ahab was wrong to go to war for Ramoth-gilead.  I mean, God had blessed Ahab in a previous battle against Syria (I Kings 20).  Why not this time?  Was it because Ahab was a sinner?  Perhaps, but Ahab had repented in I Kings 21; plus, if God wanted to kill Ahab in battle for his sins, why did God allow Micaiah to warn Ahab that he would die if he went out to fight Syria?  (But, maybe I shouldn’t blow off that possibility too easily, for Micaiah did say that God sent a lying spirit to the false prophets, so perhaps God wanted Ahab to die as punishment for his sins.  As a prophet of the LORD, however, Micaiah had to tell the truth, so he gave Ahab a warning.)

I think part of the problem was that Ahab was about to conduct a war of choice.  In I Kings 20, Syria was threatening Northern Israel, so Ahab’s war in that case was one of defense.  In I Kings 22, however, Ahab is the aggressor.  I Kings 22:1 says that there were three years of peace between Israel and Syria.  The Assyrian king Shalmaneser III records that Syria and Ahab’s Israel were actually allies in fighting Assyria at the Battle of Qarqar in 853 B.C.E.  But Ahab decided to interrupt that peace between Israel and Syria in order to take back a city that the Syrians owed him.  It was an important city, for Ramoth-Gilead was a city for the Levites, a city of refuge (Deuteronomy 4:43; Joshua 20:8; 21:38).  But Ahab probably had broader ambitions.  The Jewish Study Bible states that Ahab’s interest was “weakening the Arameans so that Israel could reassert its authority in Galilee and north Transjordan while Judah could strengthen its influence in Edom and other parts of southern Transjordan.”  And, since Syria was worried about Assyria to her north, Ahab felt that his opportunity to pounce was ripe!

Some may consider Ahab’s move to be a fine example of thinking ahead: he wants to prevent Syria from becoming a power that can threaten Israel in the future, so he tries to empower Israel by retaking land that used to belong to her.  Others may see Ahab’s act as treacherous, as unnecessary, or maybe even as an indication of his lack of faith.  Here God had protected Israel from Syrian invasion in I Kings 20.  There had been peace between the two countries for three years, perhaps due to God’s blessing.  And here Ahab wanted to throw all that away.  He wasn’t even thinking about God when he came up with the idea to fight Syria for Ramoth-Gilead, for Jehoshaphat is the one who suggested that he seek the LORD.  Perhaps Ahab was about to conduct an unnecessary battle of choice, rooted in pride and a distrust of God.  Ahab was picking a fight. 

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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2 Responses to Expressions I Don’t Recognize, The Coming Evangelical Collapse, I Kings 22

  1. Yvette says:

    I’m with you on bad hair day and ill. I did not know those meanings either.


  2. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Yvette, good to see you!


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