(My apologies for being late on my posts. There is no wifi access at the convention center and the connection here at the hotel is spotty, at best.)
In many ways Resolved is Grace’s version of a young adult conference – and it shows. The burgeoning crowd is overwhelmingly twenty-somethings peppered with boomer-age stalwarts ready to pass the torch. As I mixed with the crowd I met people from southern California, the Pacific Northwest, the deep south, and even a few folks from overseas: The U.K., New Zealand, and Canada (Canada feels like it’s overseas doesn’t it?).
Friday night Rick Holland was the featured speaker and he introduced this year’s conference theme: “Jesus.” I liked how Rick spoke of the “problem of God” in terms of the tension between transcendence and immanence. He effectively gave voice to the frustration experienced by those trying desperately to connect with God, and he did so by first visiting the book of Job and then introduced Christ as the concrete “confluence” of the abstract streams of transcendence and immanence.
Nicely done. I think directing our theological imaginations toward the incarnation is the right direction to go and Rick did a nice job of pointing us toward the inherent vistas of possibility birthed with Jesus as the eternal God-man. I mean this sincerely: I think overall Rick preached a fine message about the unique role of the incarnation and I appreciated it.
However, there were a few bewildering moments for me. For example, Rick took one small passage in Job and used it to pronounce that the book wasn’t an indictment of God concerning unjust suffering at all, but rather the account of one sinful man’s inability to connect with a transcendent Holy God. In other words, Job simply demonstrates the need for atonement (ahem…someone’s penal substitution is showing). Rick also made the curious statement, “Most of what Job’s friends tell him is theologically true – just insensitively applied,” summarizing Job’s freind’s as saying, “God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked – a truism!”
This is what happens when you’re a slave to systematics. When everything in the bible, according to your theological prejudice, by necessity must harmonize perfectly as a factual representation of God’s revealed perfect will, you lose the ability to see the trees for the forest and the biblical narrative becomes a limitation on humanity rather than a liberating story of possibility. The problem with this summary of Job is that there is no harmonizing Job with, say, Proverbs because these writings are at odds with each other – and its best to leave them that way. We’re not just at odds with the consequences of our foolish sin (Proverbs in a nutshell), we are also at odds with a world and a God that frequently makes no sense to our sensibilities (Job in a nutshell). The fact is, the unjust do often suffer and the unrighteous do often prosper. That’s exactly why we have alternative wisdom like Job and Ecclesiastes – to give cathartic lament to the reality of an unjust world and, yes, to indict God for it.
To ignore this is to ignore not only the obvious content of these writings, but to ignore the historical and cultural context of them as well. Job is a semitic version of a well-known Babylonian writing: “The Poem of the Righteous Sufferer,” the point of both is clearly to question the conventional wisdom of divine blessings and curses. Even more tragically, whitewashing the indictment of God in Job effectively silences the voice of those who cry out to God in lament.
Which brings me to my biggest objection from Friday night.
The most egregious thing I heard Friday wasn’t in Rick’s message, it was in his opening welcome tot he conference attendees. After giving a rundown of what to expect from the weekend, Rick made a plea to “watch your witness.” Palm Springs would be watching, Rick said, and we are to be ambassadors for Christ. Then Rick chose one specific thing to hammer home:
“Ladies, when you’re swimming at your hotel pool, please show modesty.”
This nicely demonstrates my problem with fundamentalist-leaning evangelicalism: it is a system of fear, shame, and control. When given the opportunity to put flesh and blood on what it means to be a Christian before a watching world to 3000 young adults, Rick chose to focus on the inherent sin of being a woman and the resulting need for women to be under the control of parochial sensibilities. The more distant implication (and I don’t think this is unfair given his comments about Job) is that when women are the victims of inappropriate sexual attention they aren’t really victims at all, because, as he later said in his message, “God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked – a truism!”
So, never mind being ambassadors of Christ by serving the people of Palm Springs. Never mind brining a message of reconciliation or meeting the needs of the poor in town. Never mind prophetically indicting the powers of conspicuous wealth so grotesquely displayed all around town. After all, it’s hard to find displays of wealth unjust when your theology has fundamentally baptized wealth as an indication of God’s approval. It’s even harder to have compassion for the poor – and there are poor here – when your theology has fundamentally vilified them as a demonstration of God’s just judgment.
No. Being an ambassador for Christ means that women musn’t show too much skin.