Narcissism in Ministry

I have been doing a little bit of reading on narcissism recently for various reasons, including a realization that I have some characteristics of this mental condition. There are many ways of defining narcissism, but probably the easiest way to define it is to remember the ancient myth from which the condition gets its name: Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection in the pool. Words like “ingrown,” “egotistical,” “selfishness” will readily come to mind in defining this condition. Being wrapped up in oneself might be the best single description we could use. Another definition I have seen goes something like this: the primary characteristic of narcissism is an inappropriate lack of boundaries between the narcissist and the other person, whom he will attempt to use in some way. The narcissist sees the other person as an extension of himself. So, the other person exists to fulfill the narcissist’s needs.

One of the things that has been interesting in the literature so far is that the authors I have read agree that our culture encourages narcissism. It is a respectable sin. We give huge amounts of both criticism and idol-worship to the rich and famous, and both of these things encourage narcissism. The fact of the matter is that pastors get this at both ends as well. We have people who love to encourage us, and we have people who love to criticize us. It is just as easy to get self-complacent with the adulation as it is to get defensive about the criticism. Without the grace of God, pastors will VERY often allow this two-pronged engine to drive us into full pathological narcissism. The ministry is all about the minister at that point. The minister usurps the place of Jesus Christ. He becomes the personal lord and savior of his flock. You know that your minister has a big problem with this if he both flares up at the criticism and practically fawns over those people who praise him. What is interesting about this mental condition is that the situation is usually encouraged, while the word describing the situation is feared.

However, it can actually be a relief to know that there is a name for this kind of malady. A lot of people cringe mightily when they hear the term “narcissism.” However, the term (in the literature) is used to describe a range of symptoms. Some people, like myself, have some but not all of the symptoms. It might therefore be more accurate to say that such a person has narcissistic tendencies.

For the pastor who has this, the hardest part is admitting it. Once it is admitted, however, in a very real sense, half the battle is over. Most pastors know from counseling others what needs to happen for people to become less wrapped up in themselves: things like attending the means of grace, service to others, evangelism, and simply making up one’s mind that they will be interested in other people’s lives for the sake of the other person, and not for what he can get out of it.

How do you know if you or someone you know is a narcissist? Here are some clues. 1. The person cannot receive criticism of any kind, no matter how gently phrased. Typically, the narcissist will turn the criticism back on the person offering it. The narcissist gets so good at this kind of deflection that the one trying to offer criticism will be made to feel extremely guilty. 2. The narcissist turns every conversation into something about himself. 3. The narcissist cannot converse on topics that do not immediately interest him. 4. The narcissist cannot understand why anyone cannot drop everything and do something for him.

What can a congregation do if their pastor is a narcissist? First of all, and most importantly, pray, pray, and pray some more. Constantly keep your pastor in prayer, especially about this issue, if it is known that he has a problem with it. Secondly, be very careful about how criticism and praise come to the pastor. Encouragement is very important to a pastor, so we cannot go to a position where the congregation decides it will never encourage the pastor, lest he “get a big head.” The Bible itself commands us to encourage and pray for our church leaders. So, this is not an option. The question is this: how do we do this in a way that will both build him up and not feed the narcissism? My suggestion is this: phrase the encouragement in terms of praising the Lord for how He has used the pastor instrumentally. That way the pastor knows that his labor is not in vain, but he is also reminded that God provides the growth and gets the glory. Start the sentence by saying, “The Lord has been using you to…”

Criticism can feed narcissism just as thoroughly as inordinate praise can. There will be times when a pastor needs to be brought up short. However, there is a way to do this and a way not to do this. Most of the time, when a criticism comes the way of the pastor, the congregant simply lashes out without any kind of thinking whatsoever. They are angry and upset, and so they just blast the pastor. The congregant needs to make a distinction in his mind between two things. Firstly, is the hurt caused by a difference in perspective about what the ministry is about? Or is it caused by a genuine offense? These are two very different things. No congregant should ever blast the pastor because they see ministry differently. Instead, they should take up the difference of perspective in a calm, reasonable conversation about it. If the hurt is caused by a genuine offense, then the proper course is to tell the pastor in as calm a voice as possible, what the particular action (or lack thereof) made them feel. Do not turn the pastor’s offense into an offense right back at him. This is done so often these days. The offended person escalates the conflict because they want to make the offender hurt as much as they do. The goal of talking about it is reconciliation. Nothing is accomplished by lashing back. Nothing is gained by attacking the personal character of the pastor because of just one offense. Remember to aim with a rifle, not a shotgun. Concentrate on the one issue at hand, and do not ever broaden the scope of the discussion beyond the one single issue. Oftentimes, when a congregant has a problem, they “pile on.” Everything they dislike about their minister comes out in one unhealthy deluge. This is not healthy, and will usually put a pastor on the defensive, which is best avoided at all costs, especially if the pastor is tempted to narcissism.

I believe that this issue is under-addressed in seminaries, and is certainly under-addressed by Christian authors. I did not find a single Christian book on narcissism. They are all written by secular psychologists. This is a very intriguing fact to me. Can it be that narcissism is so much winked at in our society (and even encouraged!) that the Christian church does not even see it as a problem? I believe, on the contrary, that it is a far more widespread problem than any of us imagine.

Are Sacraments Fundamentals?

It seems rather common these days in the PCA for folks to deny that sacraments are gospel issues. The way the intinction debate went is an excellent example showing us how the PCA tends to think about the sacraments. So many people claimed that intinction does not threaten the gospel, so why should we bother? In fact, rather unkind words were thrown in the face of anyone arguing the opposite case (legalistic, Pharisaic, overly narrow, etc.). I have written a fairly comprehensive (all of the most important secondary literature was consulted) paper on intinction, arguing that the Bible is against the practice, because of the symbolism of separating body and blood being closely connected to death. Even intinction is a matter of the clarity of the gospel being preached in the sacraments.

The matter of the recipients of either sacrament is a fundamental of the system. We obviously hold that this is true with regard to the recipients of baptism, since we do not ordain credobaptists in the PCA. Yet, inconsistently, most of the PCA regards the age of the recipients of the other sacrament as non-essential. Why would the age of the recipients of baptism be essential, whereas the age of the recipients of communion not be essential? The only reason I can think of in this regard is that we have let pragmatics and precedent take over. The single most cited reason why we should allow people to believe and teach this (even if they are not allowed to practice it) is that we have allowed this in the past, and that, going back to Wolfgang Musculus, it has been “part of the Reformed tradition,” whatever that nebulous standard implies. To respond, there is nothing in the BCO that establishes past precedent as constricting future action.

As I have written in the past, there are 17 places in the PCA Constitution that assume credo-communion, such that an advocate of PC CANNOT claim a difference with only one part of our standards. The difference is FAR more fundamental. The PC advocate has a completely different view of how the sacrament works. Reformed theology has always claimed an active component in the reception of the LS, unlike what is required in baptism, which is wholly passive. The PC advocate denies the distinction between the sacraments, ironically demonstrating that he has not thrown off his Baptistic assumptions enough.

If the sacraments are not gospel issues, then why should we not ordain someone who holds to transubstantiation? Consubstantiation? Memorialist? Usually, we’re not willing to go there. But then, that would mean that we view some sacramental issues as gospel issues, and other issues as not gospel issues. Perhaps this is true. I, for one, am not willing to die on the whole grape juice versus wine debate, though since Jesus used wine, I see no reason why we should ever have switched to anything else. But this is a different question from the recipients of the sacraments.

So, this blog post is addressed to the evangelical middle of the PCA: I plead with you to consider the evidence, dig through the material, and recognize that the Reformed tradition has always viewed the sacraments as fundamental to the system. They are not peripheral. Our forefathers were willing to die over differences regarding the sacraments. That is because the sacraments preach the gospel. They are gospel issues.

On How to Treat Islam and Muslim People

From some of the recent stories that have been circulating about how some pastors have treated the Islamic faith, the Koran, and Muslim people, you would think that these people rejoice in the idea of Muslims going to Hell. The Crusades are apparently not so dead as we had hoped. Any story of a Muslim converting to the Christian faith that I have heard of involves two things: 1. the sharing of the gospel; 2. an outpouring of love. Perhaps the one single thing that speaks to Muslims most powerfully of all is the love of Jesus Christ in action two thousand years ago. One thing is certain: we will not see any conversions of Muslims to Christianity through making fun of their religion, burning the Koran, or flaunting our Western prosperity in their faces. Understandably, these actions make them very upset (though I do not mean to imply that the Muslim attack in Paris was justified: if there is one thing that I have learned about the Muslim faith, it is that Muslims are DEADLY serious about their faith, and they cannot laugh about it). They are the incredibly stupid actions of people who apparently think that they do not have enough attention, and want to become martyrs. I suggest a different approach. Build relationships with Muslims, and show them love and kindness. Show them hospitality (this speaks volumes to someone from the Middle East).

Although I don’t tend to get political on this blog very much, I will say that Ron Paul’s stance on the sovereignty of other nations makes a lot of sense to me. He argues that one of the main reasons that Muslims hate the West so much is because we interfere all the time in their political affairs. We would never tolerate the kind of interference from someone else that we regularly dish out to all the world. What makes us think that Muslim countries are rejoicing when we offer to “help?” Ron Paul argues that our interference with Middle Eastern politics is one reason why 9/11 happened. It is difficult to gainsay Paul’s conclusion on this point. Protect ourselves? Sure. Interfere with other nations? I would prefer not.

John 1:14

Whole Verse: Notice the contrast with verse 1: “WAS in the beginning” versus “became”; “God” versus “flesh”; “With God” versus “among us” (Schaff, in Lange, p. 71). Pink has a very helpful comment on the verse as a whole:

Verse 14 is really an explanation and amplification of verse 1. there are three statements in each which exactly correspond, and ht elatter throw light on the former. First, “in the beginning was the word,” and that is something that transcends our comprehension; but “and the word became flesh” brings him within reach of our sense. Second “and the word was with God,” and again we are unable to understand; but the Word “tabernacled among us,” and we may draw near and behold. Third, “and the word was God,” and again we are in the realm of the Infinite; but “full of grace and truth,” and here are two essential facts concerning God which come within the range of our vision (Pink, p. 42)

Chrysostom says “God’s own Son was made the Son of men so that he might make the sons of men the sons of God.” “He who was the express image of the Father should be the repairer of the image of God in us” (Hutcheson).

“And the Word became flesh” This phrase would astonish the Greek (Burge). The word “became” implies pre-existence (Barnes). O’Day says that this is the first time the word “become” has been used of the Logos (previously, it was only “was,” this is the indicator that the Logos has moved from the eternal to the temporal). The term “flesh” is not corrupt flesh, but mortal man (Calvin). Yet, it is still a synechdoche for the whole of human nature (Calvin). Remember, whatever is not assumed is not healed (Gregory of Nazianzen). Why the term “flesh” then? Schaff answers, “Of all the words which express human nature, John chooses the meanest and most contemptible, viz.: flesh, which, in the O.T., denotes the lower, perishing, corruptible part of man; but even this the Logos did not despise, and thus He became man in the fullest sense of the term” (in Lange). This does not mean “changed” into flesh, but rather took on a new existence in a new form, or “added” a new nature. As Calvin says, “The Son of God began to be man in such a manner that he still continues to be that eternal Speech who had no beginning of time.” Practical benefit is clear in Luther’s answer to Satan, “I am a Christian, of the same flesh and blood as my Lord Christ, the Son of God. You settle with Him, devil!”

“And tabernacled among us” This phrase would astonish the Jew (Burge, p. 59).“And the Son of God thus incarnate is the trysting place wherein sinners may draw near unto, and meet with God, as of old they sought him in the tabernacle” (Hutcheson). Note also that the body is the habitation of pilgrims (Hutcheson). Michaels notes that this world is not the home of the Logos, but is rather a “home away from home.” Henry says, “That as of old God dwelt in the tabernacle of Moses, by the shechinah between the cherubim, so now he dwells in the human nature of Christ; that is now the true shechinah, the symbol of God’s peculiar presence.” Even further, the “among us” implies that the disciples were also part of this tabernacle (Lange).

“And we beheld His glory” Almost certainly a reference to the Transfiguration (Barnes). Don’t forget that Peter wanted to make some tents for them. Maybe his thought was better than he knew!

“Glory as of the Unique One from the Father” The word “as” does not express inappropriate comparison, but rather true and hearty approbation (Calvin). Hutcheson is even clearer: “for ‘as’ here is not a note of similitude or likeness, as when we say of a beggar, he goeth as (or like) a king, but a note of suitableness, as when we say of a king, he goeth as (or as becometh) a king.” The word “monogenes” implies that Jesus’ Sonship is unique (as opposed to Israel, Keener), and is the ground of our sonship (Hengstenberg, p. 46). Lincoln notes the background of this term as being that honor and glory was tied to lineage, and an only son would have an incomparably privileged status in the family. As Köstenberger says, “This designation also provides the basis for Jesus’ claim that no one can come to the Father except through him (14:6).”  Schaff is helpful: “The term refers back to ‘children of God,’ verse 12, and marks the difference between Christ and the believers: 1. He is the only Son in a sense in which there is no other; they are many; 2. He is Son from eternity; they become children in time; 3. He is Son by nature; they are made sons by grace and by adoption; 4. He is of the same essence with the Father; they are of a different substance” (in Lange).

“Full of grace and truth” That the coming of God would not be a source of anxiety, but a source of salvation.

Legalism or Law-loving?

It is nearly impossible these days even to mention the word “law” without being accused of legalism. Certainly, any promotion of actually, you know, keeping the law is out of bounds (sports pun intentional here). Of course, that means that we have to shove many biblical passages under the rug, most notably the entirety of Psalm 119. How can David say that he loves the law?

The essence of the law is love. If more people got this through their thick skulls, there might be a good deal less antinomianism. We love love, but we hate law (and therefore we wind up not doing very much loving, either, because we have a completely wrong view of what love is!). This is a contradiction, my friends. How did Jesus summarize the law? Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself. Traditionally, that passage has been interpreted as Jesus’ summary of the entire moral law. What we cannot escape, biblically speaking, is the plain old fact that the law reveals God’s own character. Hate the law, hate the Lawgiver. Antinomians hate God when they hate His law.

I very much enjoy watching sports…on Saturday. I have no animus against sports per se, although I agree with Mark Jones entirely that there are some very big, fat sports idolatries going on in America right now. If you are contemplating watching the Super Bowl this coming Sunday, please, please read Mark Jones’s article on the matter first. You’ll be glad you did.

My Father’s Article on the Exodus Population Numbers

I think this issue has serious ramifications for the exegesis of the numbers of the Exodus. Many if not most commentators simply assume exaggerated numbers. They have not crunched any numbers. My father shows that exaggeration is surely not necessary in order to understand the census numbers literally in the Exodus and Numbers account. What follows here is an abbreviated summary that my father wrote, and the article itself is available here (see attachment near the bottom).

The purpose of this paper was to demonstrate (with a mathematical model) how the population of the Israelites could have increased during their captivity in Egypt consistent with the specific census numbers noted in the book of Numbers. In particular, it was shown that a family size of 6-8 children throughout the time of captivity could easily account for the census numbers without resorting to metaphorical and/or hyperbolic interpretations of those numbers.

The mathematical model was characterized by the relaxing of any implicit extra Biblical requirement that the number of generations of all lines of all the patriarchs had to be limited to five during the entire time of captivity. The model was designed to include such parameters as the average number of children per family, the rate at which the first born and subsequent male children were killed by the Egyptians, the number of live births per family before and after the Egyptian edict, and a variable associated with multiple births, all of which resulted in a range of the total Israelite population being ~1.4 million to ~1.8 million, with the most likely number being around 1.5 million at the time of the Exodus from Egypt. In all cases, the census numbers in the book of Numbers were forced to be satisfied exactly by the calculational mechanism of the model.

The results showed the following:
1. A typical exponential growth pattern of the Israeli population, similar to that of the population of the United States from 1790 to 1870. This without the unreasonable number of children per family of about 30, as a number of commentators would have us believe would have been necessary. In this case, the model (while being considerably simpler than the actual scenario) was able to account for all the numbers noted in Scripture dealing with the Exodus population. This implies that a more complete and accurate descriptive model would strain neither our understanding of Scripture nor common sense in terms of what the Scriptural numbers mean.
2. That the proportion of first born male children killed would have been considerably greater than that of subsequent male children, thus further illustrating the justice of the passover executing of the firstborn of Egyptian people. The model predicts male baby deaths by the Egyptians to be in the order of hundreds of thousands.

In general, future exegeses of Scriptural passages which contain perplexing numbers should be conducted by including questions about one’s implicit assumptions about such numbers rather than about the actual numbers themselves (In this particular case, for example, an implicit assumption made by many commentators is that the number of generations going from Judah to the Exodus was five for all descendants of Jacob). In this regard, it is hoped that this paper will stimulate further analysis of various numerical information contained in Scripture to help clarify any seeming paradoxes centered around such numbers. The results of such analyses likely may well have sermon applications beyond the details of the specific passages in question. For example, consideration of the abortion statistics in the United States as compared to the the number of deaths of Israelite baby boys suggests that a similar judgment of God upon the United States would not be out of line and that repentance as a nation for the crimes of abortion is urgent.

John 1:9-13

9-13. John’s Gospel is a Gospel of rejection. The foundational irony is that Jesus came to the very people expecting Him, and they rejected Him (Köstenberger). We might have expected the opposite: that the Jews would not have shared Jesus with the world. The great tragedy is their rejection of Him (Lenski). It is better to be the poorest child of God than the richest child of Abraham.

9. The word “true” is probably contrasted with the imperfect light of John the Baptist (Barrett). The word “gives light to” can also mean “expose” or “reveal.” This does not mean what the Quakers said it was (some kind of inner light of revelation). Rather, the true Light divides the race (Carson). The phrase “coming into the world” is to be taken with the Light, not with “man.” It is the light coming into the world in this verse, not man coming into the world.

10-11. Isaiah 1:2-3 is a good commentary here: nature knows God, but the people do not.

10. The first two clauses of the verse refer to the time before the Incarnation. The point, then, of verses 9-10 is that both before and after the Incarnation, there was both light and the rejection of light. The bare fact of the Incarnation is not enough to prevent people from rejecting the light. We are not saved by the Incarnation of Christ alone, as important as that doctrine is. “Knowledge” is another important theme in John’s Gospel. Knowledge of God, of course, does not refer merely to knowing things about God, but includes also knowing Him personally. Cf. the biblical use of a husband “knowing” his wife. Not knowing means rejection (Lenski).

11. The first “His own” refers to His own possessions, which could refer either to the entire world, or to the land of Israel. “His own people,” however, refers most definitely to the Jews, who rejected Him. This would favor the latter interpretation for the first “His own.”

12. There is always a remnant (Carson). “Believing in the name” means believing in that person (Morris). The word for “power” means “right” or “authority.” Now this does not refer merely to a possibility being created, but refers to a change in the person.

13. The three negations have in common human agency. The Jews would be the group most likely to see bloodlines and human agency as what constitutes us as children of God (see especially chapter 8). It is probable that John has in mind here an allusion (not explicit) to the Virgin Birth, such that our spiritual births follow the pattern of Christ’s physical birth in being initiated and empowered by God alone, quite apart from any human agency (Barrett). The first negation probably refers to bloodlines (plural for the father and mother). The second negation seems to refer to the sexual urge. The third negation refers to any possible human volition. Chapter 3, of course, is the big commentary on being born of God, which happens through regeneration and adoption. We can then truly say “Our Father.”

At Long Last!

We have been waiting for a long time for this theologian’s major works to be translated. Now, thanks to David Noe, we have an excellent beginning. Junius was an extremely important and well-known theologian during the time of Protestant Scholasticism. His debate with Arminius is not without irony, since, at the time, it was Junius who was well-known, while Arminius was a nobody. Now, everyone thinks it is the other way around. It is time to resurrect Junius and put him back in the mainstream of the Protestant canon of authors. This particular treatise is very important because of two main reasons: Junius clearly and eloquently articulates the archetypal/ectypal distinction in theology. Secondly, it was Junius’s Prolegomena here that formed the foundation for most prolegomena to follow. Tolle Lege.

Quotation of the Week

Here, our quotation is from good ol’ brother Martin Luther. This sounds eerily familiar…

[The devil’s] doctrine is easily swallowed, for it is comprehensible to reason. But here, where I am peaceful and do not seek war but strive to bring salvation to all the world and preach the Gospel, war is already at hand. The devil senses that the people are being snatched from his toils and trap and are being led into the kingdom of the Lord Christ. Therefore he agitates whomever he can, and he himself wakes up and becomes mad and furious. Thus the peaceful must have a reputation as disturbers of the peace; they must bear the blame for creating discord. But those who break the peace and start the controversy boast that they are lovers of peace. Let it go! The devil rages this way to intimidate people, lest they adhere to the Gospel. Thus he slanders Christ, His followers, and the apostles as instigators of strife and discord (Luther’s Works, volume 23, pp. 291-292).

Can anyone say “the state of the PCA today?”

Response to Gerety

Sean Gerety has written a blog post wherein he attacked my blog post quotation of Berkhof in the following way:

It’s hard to imagine a more vicious attack on the integrity of the Scriptures and the Reformed system of faith than what Keister has written above.

Gerety expounds this attack by saying the following:

If the Scriptures were irrational and violated the laws of logic, specifically the law of contradiction, would they still be trustworthy? I don’t see how? Yet, for Keister reason is not a tool by which we can discover the trustworthiness of Scripture and he confuses the laws of logic with errors in logic due to sin.

I would simply say this: go back to the original post and see if I was saying that we can’t prove the Scriptures to be correct. I was NOT saying that we do not apprehend the Scriptures by use of our reason, fallen though it is (the Holy Spirit is required for us to understand the Scriptures: this is God’s answer to correcting fallen human reason). There is a big difference between apprehending (Gerety’s word is “discover”) God’s word by use of reason (which I think is essential), versus proving God’s Word is true by the use of reason (which I believe is impossible).

Let it also here be said unequivocally that I believe that all logic and infallible reason belong to God, and there is not one single contradiction in all of Scripture. Indeed, God, through Scripture, has given us the very source of logical and rational thinking.

The problem here is that Gerety equates my statement of the limited, derivative nature of our reason (which requires an external starting point precisely in order to be valid!) with irrationality. The only thing I was saying in the post (and what Berkhof was saying, as well!) is that Scripture is our starting point, and that we cannot prove a starting point, any more than we can build a foundation under another foundation. The proof is in the pudding, shall we say, and the pudding is one hundred percent logical, when God and Scripture are our starting points.

My questions for Gerety are simple: would Gerety claim that human reason is more foundational to our thinking than God’s Word is? I thought God’s Word WAS truth, the very definition and encapsulation of truth. God’s Word is the very thing that enables us to think truly logically and rationally. Second question: does sin affect fallen man’s logic and rationality at all? I thought human beings were depraved in every aspect of their being, the mind included. Now, I do not claim that unbelievers are incapable of agreeing with a logical proposition. There is such a thing as common grace. However, if Scripture is not the alpha point, the omega point is irrationality. The unbeliever will always start from the wrong place. If you start in the wrong place (i.e., with false premises), then the conclusion will be wrong as well.

In conclusion, I do not believe I have issued any attack whatsoever on the Christian faith, or the Reformed faith, let alone one than which a more vicious attack could scarcely be imagined. Since Gerety is banned from this blog, he will need to respond on his own blog.

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