A Week Without Opinions, Days 6 and 7: Reflections, Links, Driscoll

Quote of the Day: “I’m ready for the old Rachel to come back.” – Dan Evans

So today is the last day of my week without opinions, and honestly, midnight could not come soon enough!  Even Dan, who seemed to really enjoy the first few days of my fast, seems to have grown tired of all the silence around the house. I think we both realized this week that my propensity for self-expression can have both negative, hurtful l effects and positive, life-giving effects. As the famous Proverb states, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”

My hope is that, after this week, I will continue to exercise more control over my tongue,  that I will get into the habit of humbling myself and listening better, that I will have more patience and peace with ideas I do not like, and that I will prioritize love, servanthood, and friendship over points, counterpoints, and opinions. My hope is that I will continue to learn how to harness the power of my opinions so that they build up and not tear down.

Though I’m already looking ahead, I still have a few more opinion-less items to report.

First of all, I often use weekend posts to provide links to articles I liked on the Web. But, in the spirit of the fast, today I thought I’d include the perspectives of folks I wouldn’t normally agree with.  (As you will notice, these links relate to the subjects I covered during the week.)

Ron Paul argues that healthcare is a good, not a right. John Piper shares a few thoughts on free will.  And John Starke of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood weighs in on the gender debate

Also this week, I pledged to read an entire Mark Driscoll book. I chose The Radical Reformission: Reaching Out Without Selling Out (Zondervan, 2004), which I finished this morning. I tried to read with an open mind, looking for insights from which I could learn.  I found this quote particularly convicting:

…Deconstruction is easier than construction, and deconstruction with without a rebuilding plan leads to homelessness…This sense of homelessness pervades those who have undertaken to deconstruct God, Scripture, gender, sin, the meaning of life, and anything else they can find...Christians, especially young Christian leaders, are often so influenced by all this postmodern whining that their faith becomes, in large part, defined by what they are against rather than what they are for…Many of the critiques of modern Christianity are legitimate and desperately needed. Every movement of God to redeem a culture begins with frustration and as a reaction. But those reactions and frustrations are seasons that must be quickly passed through, like puberty, so that maturity, vision, mission, and the hope of the gospel can become the primary issue for God’s people on reformission. We must remember to do more than critique the work of others; we must help cultivate a kingdom counterculture where we live.(p. 169-170)

Ten more hours to go!

So, what did you think of this experiment? Did you take a break from opinions this week? How did it go? Got any links to share about healthcare, gender roles, or Calvinism? What do you think of Mark Driscoll’s quote?

Those of you who have always wanted to give me an earful should proceed now, before it’s too late!  (Believe me, I’ve gotten one or two of those this week already!) :-)

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A Week Without Opinions, Day 5: Calvinism

So my final interview during the week without opinions was with a local Reformed pastor about Calvinism.  I was most nervous about this interview, mainly because discussions about predestination, salvation, limited atonement, and sovereignty tend to elicit strong emotional reactions from me.  I actually cried while writing up the questions!

Fortunately, no tears were shed during the interview itself. Carter, the pastor, could not have been more kind. He even brewed a pot of coffee for the occasion.  We sat in two comfy armchairs in the foyer of his beautiful, brand-new church building, and for over an hour talked about Reformed theology. I learned a lot—about the theology itself, about common misconceptions, and about why it can be so meaningful to some people.

Carter has been a pastor for 24 years, and with this particular church for 18 years. He said that the majority of the people in his congregation did not come from a Presbyterian background, but were drawn to the church because it is a place where the Word is being taught and where the people genuinely care for one another. Indeed, the church has a reputation in the community for being a tight-knit and loving family.

Carter himself was raised in the Reformed tradition. However, because he attended the non-denominational Columbia Biblical Seminary, he had the opportunity to encounter a wide variety of theological perspectives, which actually helped him work through and refine his own views.

Ultimately, Carter felt drawn to Calvinism because he says he found it to be the most biblical approach to Christian theology and because he appreciated its history. (“Calvinism is much older than Arminiainsim,” he noted.) As a Presbyterian minister, Carter believes that what the Bible teaches is summarized best by the Westminster Confession of Faith, although he acknowledged that, as a system of doctrine, the confession is not inerrant.

“Calvinism keeps us from compartmentalizing our faith in that we recognize the sovereignty of God over all things,” Carter said. “We know that the earth is the Lord’s and that it exists for his glory... So wherever there is truth or beauty, we embrace it as God’s. We know that all people were created in God’s image and have the stamp of God upon them.”

(Within Calvinism, this perspective is commonly referred to as “common grace.”)

In addition to recognizing common grace, Calvinism acknowledges the reality of a “common curse,” said Carter, in that “man is fallen, man has a bent toward evil, and man is not capable of creating utopia on his own.”

“Calvinism represents the Bible well in that it keeps man in his rightful place,” Carter said. “It recognizes both the greatness and fallenness of man.”

...which brought us to the first petal of T-U-L-I-P.

I wish I could include our whole conversation about these five tenants of Calvinism—total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints. In the interest of space and time, I’ll focus instead on some of the points that Carter clarified.

  • Total depravity refers to “pervasive sinfulness, in that no part of our being is touched by sin,” explained Carter.  It does not mean that people are incapable of good.
  • Unconditional election means that “God chooses those whom he will save unconditioned upon anything they do themselves.”
  • Limited atonement means that Jesus' death paid for the sins of the elect alone and by it secured their salvation. Carter explained that Christ’s atonement was “sufficient for all, but efficient only for the elect.” 
  • Irresistible grace means that grace always works in the manner in which God desires.
  • Perseverance of the saints refers to the fact that those who are saved are eternally saved. They cannot be lost.

At this point, we got into some of the nitty gritty, as I asked him about things like the Problem of Evil and the preordained damnation of the non-elect. Here are some of Carter’s points:

  • Regarding the damnation of the non-elect, Carter pointed out that both Calvinists and Arminian’s share a “problem” in that most Arminians still believe that God permits people to be damned. “Is it any more fair for God to leave the salvation of so many people in the hands of Christian witnesses than it is for salvation to be foreordained?” Carter asked.  Whether we use the word “preordain” or “permit,” we end up with God knowing ahead of time who will be saved and who will not be saved. 
  • That God will keep people out of heaven who want to be in heaven in violation of their free will is a misconception about Calvinism, Carter said. “If man is left to himself, he will never desire to come after God. No one deserves salvation.  We are all on death row. It is by grace that God pardons a select few.”
  • Regarding God’s sovereignty and the Problem of Evil, Carter noted that this is also a “problem” shared by Arminians and Calvinists, in that even most Arminians believe that God knowingly permits things like genocide, rape, and war. Carter acknowledged a distinction between God’s moral will and his sovereign will, in the sense that things like genocide, rape, and war violate God’s moral will because they run contrary to his nature. However he maintained that such things do not happen outside of God’s sovereign will. The Problem of Evil, though difficult, should not lead us to despair, he said. “It’s like reading the first part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and stopping there because Gandalf dies,” he said. “Though we haven’t experienced the end of the story yet, we know that God will ultimately win and that his purposes are good.”

As we talked, it became clear that Carter found Reformed Theology not only intellectually satisfying, but personally enriching. 

“God is sovereign. God is wise. God loves me,” he said. “Knowing this enables me to rest in the mess and to hold on to hope no matter what may happen. It brings contentment, peace, and excitement for life because I know that God is in complete control. Reformed Theology acknowledges that despite the brokenness of this world, God can be trusted and he will make all things new.”

Because I could not include our interview in its entirety, I asked Carter what reading material he would recommend for a basic understanding of Calvinism. He suggested Putting Amazing Back Into Grace by Michael Scott Horton, The Reformed Faith by Loraine Boettner, and What is the Reformed Faith? by John R. de Witt. Regarding T-U-L-I-P, he recommended The Five Points: Define, Defended, Documented - by David Steel, Curtis Thomas and S. Lance Quinn.

Josh, a friend of the blog and a (mostly) Calvinist, recommended this link for a comparison between Calvinism and Arminianism.

What has been your experience with Calvinism through the years? What do you see as the greatest strengths and weaknesses of Calvinism as compared to the greatest strengths and weaknesses of Arminianism?

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A Week Without Opinions, Day 4: Politics and Health Care

So yesterday was the first day of my week without opinions in which I didn’t break a single rule! This gave me a little extra confidence this morning as I embarked on what I knew would be a particularly challenging day.

I had two opinion-less interviews scheduled for today—one with a conservative friend regarding politics at 11:30 a.m. and one with a Reformed pastor concerning Calvinism at 4 p.m. (I’ll let you know how my talk with the pastor goes tomorrow.)

"Sabrina" on Politics:

My first interview was with a dear friend, who for the sake of anonymity, would prefer to be called Sabrina.  Sabrina is married to a longtime friend of my husband’s and is the mother of two beautiful little girls. 

Sabrina readily admits that she is not an expert when it comes to politics. In fact, she generally avoids politically-charged conversations altogether because people like me tend to get impatient and talk right over her, which has led to hurt feelings. This is precisely why I chose to interview Sabrina. In the past, I have not extended to her the basic courtesy of listening attentively to her point of view. I felt that she of all people deserved the chance to take advantage of my undivided attention, something I hope to give more willingly even after this experiment is over.

Sabrina describes herself as a conservative who generally votes for Republicans, although like most of us, she rarely agrees with a candidate on every single issue. She says she grew up listening to Rush Limbaugh, and that she gets most of her information regarding policy and politics from Fox News and Sean Hannity. In the 2008 election, she voted for John McCain because she preferred his positions to Barack Obama’s on the issues that were most important to her, such as abortion, taxation, and health care. 

“Obama is a good speaker, and he comes across as really polished and well-educated,” Sabrina said. “I can see how he could easily sway people. But I had a lot of questions about his policies.”

Sabrina said that because she was pregnant with her second child during the election, pro-life issues took on a whole new dimension.

“I believe that life begins at conception both biblically and scientifically,” Sabrina said. “I fear that many women are simply not provided with enough information about their options, and so they choose abortion because they think it’s the only way out of a difficult situation.”

Sabrina acknowledges that even judicial intervention would not end abortion completely, but says she would still prefer a president who at least shares her conviction that life inside the womb is worth protecting.

Regarding taxation, Sabrina said she would like to see much less of it, even to the point of getting rid of the IRS entirely.

“Why should a person who has worked hard to earn a living be forced to give money to those who do not work as hard? Why should the government decide that I owe money to the guy going to Health and Human Services every afternoon to pick up his unemployment check? The Bible specifically says that if you don’t work, you don’t eat. I think that if the government were taking less out of our paychecks we would be more inclined to give to charities and other organizations that help others.”

Sabrina said her biggest concern presently is that congress will pass a health care bill that will “socialize medicine.” She said she believes that health care is a privilege, not a right, and that the government should stay out of health care entirely—no government subsidized plans, no government regulation of the insurance companies.

“America has the best health care system in the world,” she said. “Government intervention will just bring the quality down and put doctors and insurance companies out of business. People should be responsible for getting insurance on their own, and if they don’t have insurance, they can go to the ER to get care.” 

Although the interview with Sabrina went well, I did slip up right at the end. As I was about to leave her house, I reached the front door to find the doorknob encased with a plastic guard. “Boy, do I hate these childproof doorknobs!” I said as I struggled to get out. “Oh shoot! That’s an opinion!”

We both laughed. I managed to get through an entire conversation about politics without interjecting a single opinion, but was thrown off course by a piece of plastic!

***

O’Reilly on Health Care:

Knowing that I would be interviewing Sabrina, I committed to spending the first few days of the fast breaking from my normal news-gathering routine in favor of exposing myself to those news sources and TV personalities that Sabrina prefers. I must admit that this was difficult at times.  However, in the spirit of the fast, I thought I’d share what I found to be the most compelling perspective on health care presented on Fox News this week. It’s from Bill O’Reilly.

In his talking points on July 16 (saw a re-run on Sunday night), O’ Reilly admitted that we desperately need to fix health care because people are getting hosed by insurance companies and high costs. He said that he did not think that Obama’s plan would work because it costs too much and that paying for it through higher taxes on Americans making $280,000 + per  year is just part of Obama’s plan for massive wealth distribution. According to O’Reilly, such a tax increase could possibly raise the overall income tax rate for millionaires to 45 percent— the highest since 1986—and that it still couldn’t pay for universal health care.

In presenting an alternative, O’Reilly pointed to Switzerland, where all citizens are required to have health insurance, but the government does not pay. Instead, the government regulates the industry to make sure there is no gouging and that prices are fair. Swiss citizens who cannot afford to get insurance are provided healthcare by the government.  O’Reilly argued that the key to health care reform is oversight on costs, punishing frivolous lawsuits, and setting up clinics for the poor. Having been to Switzerland himself recently, he said that the Swiss system “worked much better than ours.”

***

So, what do you think? Everyone’s talking about health care these days. Do you think health care is a right or a privilege? Do you support any government action in response to rising costs and the increased number of un-insured Americans? If so, what kind of intervention? What do you think about the bill being discussed on the House floor right now? Have you encountered a particularly intelligent, comprehensive approach to dealing with health care?

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A Week Without Opinions, Day 3: Gender Roles

As part of my week without opinions, I’ve made an extra effort to listen more carefully to friends with whom I disagree and to increase my exposure to viewpoints other than my own. I’ve tried to focus on issues that I feel passionate about, issues that normally trigger hot-faced tirades or enthusiastic lectures on my part, so as to practice accepting differences of opinion with more gentleness and respect.

One such hot-button issue is the role of women in the church and home. Being of a more egalitarian persuasion, I focused today on learning more about the thoughts and ideas of self-described complementarians.

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood describes complementarianism as the view that “God has created men and women equal in their essential dignity and human personhood, but different and complementary in function with male headship in the home and in the Church.”

Although there may be some variation on the specifics, broadly speaking, complementarians believe that women are biblically-bound to submit to male leadership in the home and in church life, which means that husbands are ultimately responsible for decision-making on behalf of their families and that women should refrain from assuming leadership positions over men in a church setting. For more information on this position, check out the Web site of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

Earlier this afternoon, I spoke with Hannah, who is the mother of two very sweet, well-behaved, and adorable little boys (facts, not opinions!). She and her husband Ray have been married for five years and are expecting their third child—another boy— in October. Their oldest son Gabe presented me with a picture he drew himself, which I promptly put on my refrigerator.

Hannah explained that, to her, submitting to her husband means assuming an attitude of gentleness and respect. Citing Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3, she noted that submission is one of the few commandments from the Bible given specifically for women. Referencing 1 Corinthians 11 and other Pauline epistles, she said she based her complementarian lifestyle on the Bible’s teachings that “the head of the woman is the man” (11:3), that “woman came from man” (11:12), and that woman was first deceived by Satan (1 Timothy 2:12-14).

“It is obvious that men and women were created differently—both physically and emotionally,” she said. “It only seems natural that we should have different roles.”

Hannah said that, going into her marriage, she was actually a stronger advocate of complementarianism than her husband. She said that rarely does her role as a submissive wife require moving forward with a big decision she does not like. Most of the time it involves deferring to her husband when it comes to everyday decisions—from how to spend a Sunday afternoon to what to name their children to what to wear.

“Most women are in search of inner beauty,” Hannah said. “And the Bible describes what inner beauty really is – a gentle and quiet spirit, which is described as being beautiful to God.  That verse [1 Peter 3:4] is one of my favorite.”

Regarding women in the church, Hannah said she feels strongly that based on 1 Corinthians 11, they should not speak or have authority over men.

“Women are naturally more vocal than men,” she said. “Sometimes I wonder if that’s why God gave us these specific roles in church. Maybe he knew that we women would learn more by listening more... I have found that doing what God intends is always rewarding, even if it doesn’t makes sense at first.”

Having spent the past few days listening more and speaking less, I circled those last few words in my notebook and wrote “strongest point” beside them. Regardless of my position on complementarianism, it would be difficult for me to argue this point after this week.

I left the interview feeling a lot less frustrated and opinionated than I expected to feel. Perhaps it had something to do with being in the presence of a friend who, though she shares a different perspective than my own, approached our conversation with a truly gentle and quiet spirit.

So, what is your position on the role of women in the church and home? Do you consider yourself a complementarian or an egalitarian? How do you respond when you interact with folks who hold to a different perspective?

Women – If you’re like me, then you have a diversity of friends, some with more egalitarian leanings and others with more complementarian leanings. How do you dialog with one another with respect and civility when lifestyle decisions such as these can be so personal?

I know that we’ve discussed this issue at length in the past, so if you’ve commented on the topic before, consider presenting what you think to be both the strongest AND THE WEAKEST elements of your own argument...in the spirit of the fast.

(P.S. – Check out my comment below for an update on how Day 2 went. Tomorrow we will discuss politics and HEALTH CARE!)

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A Week Without Opinions, Day 1: Hair-splitting , Humility, Happiness

Quote of the day: “Quiet people have opinions too.” – Dan Evans

Yesterday was the first full day of my “opinion fast,” and I’m genuinely surprised by how much I’ve learned from the experiment already. It’s been strange to see how changing just one habit can impact so many areas of life—attitude, relationships, group dynamics, even scheduling and time management.  It’s been humbling and enlightening to realize just how much I can learn about myself and other people when I listen more and speak less.

For the first few hours of the fast, the biggest challenge was simply determining what should count as an opinion. For example, does saying, “I think you’ve got a pair of kings” to a fellow poker player count as an opinion? What about telling a friend I like her haircut? What about making note of Mark Driscoll’s or Bill O’Reilly’s strongest points in an effort to be more open and receptive to what they have to say? What about a chuckle or a mumble?

I decided that the best way to sort all this out was to focus on the purpose of the experiment.

The goal of the opinion fast is to become a better listener, to learn to think before I speak, and to show more openness and generosity to those with whom I disagree.  The goal is to break my addiction to my own opinions, to redefine self-expression as something other than a need.

With these goals in mind, it became pretty easy to tell when I broke one of the rules and when I was just talking like a normal person. To get an idea of what I mean, here are the two instances when I expressed an opinion worthy of doing penance yesterday:

Slip-up 1: Every week, I look forward to recording or watching Sunday morning news programs like “Meet the Press,” “Reliable Sources,” and “Fareed Zakaria GPS.” But in the spirit of the fast, I decided to stick to Fox News exclusively. So yesterday, while watching a report I didn’t like, I called Dan upstairs and told him to “get a load of this.” Obviously this was a sneaky way of saying, “Isn’t this ludicrous?” I counted it at as opinion because rather than just listening on my own and allowing the information and ideas to exist without a reaction, I called Dan into the room in hopes that I could feed off of his snickers and eye rolls. I counted it as an opinion because I refused to allow someone else’s ideas to go unchallenged.

Slip-up 2: The second rule-break occurred during poker, when a friend (originally from out West) noted that nearly everyone at the table was a Southern transplant, and asked if I too was a Yankee. In a knee-jerk reaction, I said, “hell no,” which of course implied that I’d rather be homeless than be born north of the Mason Dixon.

While the first few hours of the fast forced me to scrutinize my every word, the next few hours forced me to swallow more than one very thick and bitter spoonful of pride.

I’m not sure why, but I had the impression going into this that people would so appreciate my humility and openness that they’d sorta cut me some slack and be all disarmed and touched and stuff. This was not really the case. More than once someone said, “I’m just glad you’re actually going to listen for a change.” Responses like these stung a little, but they were important for me to hear.  I’m realizing that some people—particularly those who are shy or more hesitant to express themselves—can feel utterly steamrolled by me at times. I’m realizing just how insensitive I can be.

Furthermore, as people have taken advantage of the opportunity to tell me just what they think about religion and politics, I’ve really struggled with the idea that they might think they’ve actually changed my mind. For some reason, I don’t want to give them that satisfaction. It’s almost like a control issue. I can’t have them thinking they’ve won me over. This is an ugly truth to confront because it tells me that I’m not as interested in true dialog as I’d like to think. Mostly Im just interested in advancing my own agenda and protecting my own insecurities.  

But after the first few hours of biting my tongue and the next few hours of confronting my own ugliness, a strange sense of freedom and peace began to emerge.

After spending an evening with friends, I began to realize the degree to which my soap box addiction is the result of a self-imposed sense of responsibility. For whatever reason, (probably having something to do with the fact that I consider myself more smart than attractive), I’ve carved out this social niche for myself and almost become enslaved to it. I’m always the one to explain various theological positions to my friends. I’m always the one to have an opinion about which of those positions is best. I’m always the one trying to set people straight when I think they have it wrong. 

But without my regular role to play, without feeling compelled to educate or argue or defend, I was free to sit back and listen. And after a while, holding back began to feel marvelously liberating. I felt like I was off the hook, like I’d suddenly quit a job I never liked that much to begin with.  Before I knew it, folks were asking me for my opinion, even expressing some irritation that I couldn’t give it!

Not only has the opinion fast changed the way I interact in groups, it’s changed how I interact with my husband Dan.  For the first time in a long time, he is sharing more and I am sharing less. I’m stepping back and allowing him to carry conversations. Throughout the process, he’s been incredibly encouraging and supportive, and he’s told me several times how much he respects me for taking on this challenge. I’ve always known that Dan has a lot of good things to say, but sometimes I just drown him out anyway. It’s amazing how much closer we’ve become over such a short period of time.

So at the end of the first day, I felt both sobered and liberated. I realized that it wasn’t my job to set everyone straight or fix every bad idea. I realized that other people have good things to say and contribute. I realized that instead of giving up a privilege, I’d given away a burden. 

I also realized that my guest bathroom was extraordinarily clean...thanks to Fox News and my dear Yankee friends!

So, do you struggle with any self-imposed roles? What do you think would happen if you suddenly stopped playing them?

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