Martin W. Bender
With all the hype surrounding Captain America: Civil War and the exceptionally polarizing Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice I thought I’d join the fray and voice my partially informed position on Marvel and DC movies.
People seem to either love or hate this movie. There isn’t a whole lot in between. It’s a lot of fun, but like most Batman films, it is darker in tone than the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I don’t mind the darker film, but it does mean my elementary aged son will not be seeing his favorite superheroes on the big screen any time soon. Batman is extra murdery and Superman is all angsty making the movie very different than previous films. It is Superman’s doubt that brought the movie down.
My experience of Superman is that he is the idealized man. Superman was supposed to be about truth, justice, and the American way, but in DoJ he is lacking conviction. It seems that Superman is a much less mature hero here, taunting Batman, allowing Lex to easily manipulate him, and seemingly flaunting his power. Christopher Reeves would never do it. It is Clark’s lack of experience that makes Batman’s successes possible, something that seems terribly ridiculous as Superman can simply throw him into the sun.
Superman in both DoJ and Man of Steel is not a super man, but a powerful alien trying to understand how he can live in a society of people lacking his remarkable power. Doubt is his most distinguishing characteristic, which makes him the flawed hero our culture currently loves. Captain America, on the other hand, does fill the role of the idealized man.
Ok, Cap isn’t the most powerful character in the Marvel Universe. Far from it, in fact. But while he lacks the brute power of the Hulk and the technical knowledge of Tony Stark, he does have a very clear sense of morality which makes him the ideal leader of the Avengers. Captain America does a better job of maintaining a sense of right and wrong over the course of his character arc that seems to come to a head in his next upcoming film.
Cap, like Superman, is trying to figure out how he fits in the modern world. He also wonders whether or not he should maintain his position as a government agent when he sees the corruption innate within the government he serves. When Superman gets bogged down by the plans of evil men, Cap continually focuses on his moral stance of promoting freedom over security. This will be the basis of his war with Ironman, whose lack of a moral compass leads to his repeated tragic decisions.
Because Captain America has a solid understanding of who he is as a moral agent he is able to identify evil more clearly. Having a hero like Cap is becoming increasingly rare as Western society continually degrades into moral relativism. A relativistic culture has no need of heroes as there is no clear understanding of right and wrong. Captain America is one of those few characters that bucks moral ambiguity and works to promote his ideals in the world.
Cap today is what Superman was when I was growing up. He is the hero who understands ethics and applies them consistently. He has taken the place of Superman as the idealized man and I look forward to the upcoming story.
Martin W. Bender
I enjoy a good system. One of the reasons I liked working at UPS and remained there so long was the very systematic manner in which the work was done. There’s just something comforting about stone cold efficiency.
Now that I am in vocational ministry I find it’s fuzzy nature less enjoyable. My congregation having left its denomination for the vague theological world of congregational independence has me feeling like I’m floating. Not floating in a good way, like when you’re on a raft in the pool. Floating like you have just fallen off the 31 boat and are watching it slowly slip from view (this was a reoccurring dream I would have when on missions). To combat this lack of clarity I’m currently working on a theology of ministry.
My last blog post about belief, belonging, and practice is the jump off point for me. I am trying to merge the normative, situational, and existential perspectives from Frame’s thinking with Natural Church Development’s rather pragmatic barrel analogy. The end result should be a system by which we can assess congregational and individual member’s connectedness to the congregation and develop a plan for addressing most help needed areas.
Presently, the most help needed area seems to be belief. Not belief in terms of saving faith, but belief in terms of congregational identity. This is being addressed with a more robust faith, vision, and mission statements than were held to previously. Over time, as the area of belief becomes more unified practice and belonging will also be addressed as deemed necessary by the congregation’s leadership.
It is my hope that thinking of ministry in terms of the normative, situational, and existential perspectives will help to move away from event based programing toward connectedness based ministry.
Upcoming blog posts:
Defining congregational connectedness
The perspectives explained in terms of congregational ministry (likely three separate posts)
The barrel analogy
Episode 30 is where Justin and Martin discuss how to rebuild trust after it has been lost. They talk about forgiveness and reconciliation while telling stories about county politics and puppies with bladder control issues. Martin spreads some sunshine and Justin exploits some glitches in this action packed episode.
Martin W. Bender
This began with me researching about the Christian understanding of luck and grew into a triperspectival understanding of church membership. In retrospect, maybe I should have stuck with the luck idea.
In 1990 Grace Davie began publishing articles and books exploring the impact of Christianity in post-Christian Europe. Her work looked at how those who lack belief in the Christian faith often maintain a feelings of belonging to the church. Those who identified as such frequently held positions on political and social issues that were in line with their believing counterparts demonstrating a lingering sense of Christian morality grounded upon traditional association with the church while lacking formal acceptance of Christian doctrine.
Challenges to Davie’s work stated such indications should include not only the categories of belief and belonging, but must also include practice. Davie used ‘belonging’ to indicate participation in the life of the church and ‘belief’ as holding to its doctrinal positions. Francis and Robbins argue for an additional category to be added in order to allow practicing habits to also be included in future study. They demonstrate that there are many who identify as belonging to the church without holding to the beliefs of the church. Such are likely to actively engage in elements of church life while remaining doctrinally separate. Their contention is that “the religious climate within Britain today is one of ‘belonging without believing’, and of ‘believing without practising’.” When the category of practice is included with belief and belonging as ways in which people interact with the church they then fit neatly into Frame’s triperspectivalism.
Triperspectivalism (How’s that for a seminary word?) is John Frame’s attempt to develop a distinctly Christian epistemology. It divides the whole of human understanding into three categories: normative, situational, and existential. The normative perspective is that which is reveled to man by God in the Scriptures. The situational perspective is that which is known through community. The existential perspective is self-knowledge. When these perspectives are applied to Francis and Robbins’ categories belief corresponds to the normative perspective, practice to the situational, and belonging to the existential.
At this point you may be like my wife and wondering who cares about nonsense like this? I admit, it’s a nerdy way to think about the relationship people have with the church, but understanding this complex relationship will be helpful in ministering to and sharing the gospel with different types of people. Based upon these categories there are eight different types of relationship with the church.
First are members. These are those who engage in the church’s beliefs, practice their faith with the church, and identify themselves as belonging to the faith community.
Second are friends. Friends do not share the church’s beliefs, but do actively engage in the community and identify themselves with the church.
Third are traditionalists. Traditionalists actively participate in the church, but feel neither a sense of belonging nor hold to the theological positions of the church.
Fourth are mystics. Mystics maintain the beliefs and practices of the church, but do not have a sense of belonging.
Fifth are nominals. Nominals believe the doctrine, but have neither a relationship with the church nor identify themselves with it.
Sixth are the lapsed. The lapsed believe in the church’s teaching and identify with the church, but do not participate in the corporate aspects of Christianity.
Seventh are acquaintances. Acquaintances are those who identify as belonging to the church, but share neither its beliefs nor engage in the worshiping community.
Eighth are the non-churched. The non-churched are those who have no belief, sense of belonging, or practice within the church.
Identifying individuals in terms of these categories can be helpful in ministry. Knowing areas where people are detached provides the opportunity to overcome those disparities. On a larger scale, if a congregation has a disproportionate number of a particular category steps can be taken to overcome the corresponding area of weakness.
What do you think? Could such a system of categorization be helpful in planning ministry activities in both individual and group settings? Hit me up in the comments below.
 See Grace Davie, “Believing without belonging: is this the future of religion in Britain?” Social Compass 37 (1990): 455-69; Religion in Britain since 1945: believing without belonging (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994); Religion in Modern Europe: a memory mutates (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); and “From obligation to consumption: a framework for reflection in northern Europe,” Political Theology 6, no. 3 (July 2005): 281-301.
 Davie, “From obligation to consumption,” 282.
 Leslie Francis and Mandy Robbins, “Belonging without believing: a study in the social significance of Anglican identity and implicit religion among 13-15 year-old males,” Implicit Religion 7, no. 1 (April 2004): 38.
 Todd Murphy, “Tri-Perspectivalism: An Introduction to John Frame’s Reformed Epistemology (Part I),” The Aquila Report, http://theaquilareport.com/tri-perspectivalism-an-introduction-to-john-frames-reformed-epistemology-part-i/ (accessed April 19, 2016).
The Two Bearded Preachers have a little bit of trouble adapting to an afternoon recording session. Once they finally get on track with the conversation they discuss finding the Beautiful/Anonymous Podcast and a possible side project for Justin. Martin claims that this isn't a gaming podcast as he recruits people to join the mobile game he currently plays. Neither know when the other's birthday is, but Justin is obviously older than Martin as evidenced by his larger beard. The bulk of the conversation is about whether or not luck exists. They decide it doesn't and listen to a little Frank Sinatra.
Check this stuff out:
Have you ever failed as a father? Well, you're not alone. This week, the Two Bearded Preachers share stories of how they failed as parents. In one story time out goes wrong. In the other we have a playground mishap with terrible consequences. Mistakes abound as Justin and Martin try to bring up their kids. This little talk is sure to make you feel better about your child raising abilities. Check it out!
Martin W. Bender
I was texting with a church member and made a joke about evangelicals needing their own headgear, you know, like the Catholics, Coptics, or Orthodox. She responded that we needed to have a talk about how being evangelical isn’t cool anymore. I couldn’t help but think of Rachel Held Evans.
Evans made waves in 2015 when she publically left “evangelicalism” for the Episcopal Church. Doing so caused many to declare the failure of evangelicalism and predict its downfall. After all, if the voice of western millennial Christianity says something it has to be true, right?
The funny thing is, “leaving evangelicalism” it turns out, is a very evangelical thing to do. “The critiques of the church and a call for renewal have been central features of evangelical-type movements for almost five hundred years.” Placing Evans in the odd position of advocating for the very thing she claims to be abandoning.
Evangelicalism is rooted in the Protestant Reformation, European Puritan and Pietist movements, American revivalism, and the modernist/fundamentalist controversies of the twentieth century. All of these movements have a common theme: the attempt to better apply scripture to the contemporary context. The word evangelical comes from the Latin evangelium or “gospel” and it is upon the gospel evangelicalism has been historically defined. Since the 1970’s, however, evangelicals in the US have been popularly understood in terms of social issues rather than religious.
Today’s evangelicalism is largely thought of in terms of its political action, but ought to be considered a “grassroots, gospel-focused, warm-hearted ecumenism.” Four positions have traditionally defined it: the centrality of the gospel, conversion, scripture, and service, but even these criteria are frequently elaborated upon. Leaving the very word “evangelical” vague at best and meaningless at worst.
This fuzzy definition is likely the reason for criticism of evangelicalism. It has yet to adequately be defined for the millennial generation. Instead, the word serves as a catch all for politically conservative New Testament adherents. Such a loose understanding is inconsistent with how evangelicals have been identified historically and is insufficient as an identifier of a particular movement.
In light of this, those of us who identify as evangelicals in the historical sense must be deliberate in stating how we are evangelical. Yes. We are evangelicals. As such we have a responsibility to communicate the gospel, call for conversion, focus upon the Scriptures, and serve one another in love.
 Rachel Held Evans, “On ‘Outgrowing’ American Christianity,” Rachel Held Evans, http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/outgrowing-american-christianity (accessed April 14, 2016).
 David S. Dockery, “Evangelicalism: Past, Present, and Future,” Trinity Journal 36:1 (Spring, 2015): 12.
 Dockery, 4.
 Wheaton College, “Defining Evangelicalism,” Wheaton College, http://www.wheaton.edu/isae/defining-evangelicalism (accessed April 13, 2016).
 Dockery, 16.
 Ibid., 6.
In this, the 28th episode of the Two Bearded Preachers, Justin and Martin get irritated with one another as they discuss the finer points of Serial Season Two. Justin thinks the Army is largely at fault for accepting Bowe into the service while Martin argues Bergdahl is solely accountable for his actions. It gets a little heated as the two argue their points in what proves to be their biggest disagreement ever recorded. Don't worry though, they make up in the end so everything will be OK.
If you haven't listened to Serial yet, get on the ball and check out one of the facially blessed duo's favorite podcasts.
In this episode Justin introduces his new dog, Ricky Bobby (and yes, he is fast). Both Justin and Martin want to cuddle this dog after talking about times when they have dealt with depression. They explain the circumstances around their experiences and share how they cope with feelings of hopelessness. To end things on a high note, they talk about one of the finest movies they have ever watched: Italian Spiderman. You really need to see this film. Check it out in the link below.
If you are dealing with depression we strongly encourage you to talk with someone you trust. There is help available. If you need help finding it contact us and we will assist you.
Martin W. Bender
This will of course have spoilers.
In the Season Six Finale of The Walking Dead the mysterious Negan finally made his way into the lives of the group from Alexandria. This isn’t a spoiler. If anything, Negan is a long awaited member of the cast as the show has lacked a significant antagonist since the Governor’s psychotic episode in season three. Seasons four, five, and most of six placed the group in a variety of challenging situations, but the show does best when those challenges are personified. Enter Negan.
The ninety-minute episode followed the cast driving a Winnebago to another settlement. As they went their path was blocked and they were corralled to an inevitable meeting with John Winchester Negan. It’s the same plot as RV only you hope the people in the camper survive. When they get to where they’re going the inevitable happens: an unnecessary, drawn out monologue.
Dialogue fleshes out characters, but in the zombie apocalypse why is it so many people drone on endlessly? With the constant threat of death, who has the time to establish such forceful speeches when a simple “You work for me” and a swing of the bat will do? Where are the strong, silent characters who survive simply because they keep their mouths shut? Maybe it’s just me, but the show could certainly use a character like Clint Eastwood from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
Don’t think the finale isn’t great. It is. The tension continually rises as the group meets road block after road block. The only reprieve is Morgan’s search for Carol. It reminds the viewer of Rick’s first season search for his family. This subplot in many ways outshines the obvious outcome of the main group’s journey. Carol comes to terms with the inevitability of death, Morgan is forced into a change of heart regarding pacifism, another group with similar values is discovered. Their journey maintains the hopefulness Rick loses as he comes head to head with a more determined version of himself.
The loss of hope seems to be the theme of the entire season. Daryl regrets not killing Dwight. Carol tries to leave. Glenn kills people for the first time. Many of the more hopeful characters are killed, go off to gather supplies, or find themselves facing Lucille’s fury. The final holdout for hope is Morgan who will undoubtedly regret violating his mantra “all life is precious”.
As a Christian fan of the show and comic there is a temptation to find elements of the Gospel underlying the story. While there are times when one character will die for another this is certainly not the case in Last Day on Earth. In fact, the characters who are most clearly identified with Christian morality are typically killed off, shown to be failures, or renounce their faith. There are some episodes in which Christian overtones are prevalent, but these are few and far between. The overall tone of the show indicates any spirituality as a crutch with which one makes sense of the world rather than a tangible reality. Maybe this is realistic given the lifestyle of crisis in which these characters live.
More and more western society seems to view the world in this way. Hyper materialism pervades our thinking as a culture and we routinely deny the reality of the spiritual. Like Rick has said, “we are the walking dead”. Meaning there is nothing more to this life than what is tangible from a material perspective. As a Christian, such an idea seems ridiculous, but practically that is how many of us live our lives. Certainly what we do in our flesh matters, but it is not the only thing that matters. We have been created both material and spiritual beings and as such must recognize and embrace both elements of our nature. We are more than just matter randomly walking around. Act like it.
Martin W. Bender
Serial Season two completed this week. Like the previous season, it lacked a satisfying conclusion. Just as there remain touches of doubt about Adnan, there are also mixed feelings about Bowe Bergdahl. In fact, Bergdahl’s case is far more polarizing.
Bowe’s actions are not as unique as they seem. There are many reported cases of soldiers leaving their posts. Bowe was unique in what happened to him after he left. There are several deserters, but only one long term POW in the Global War on Terrorism. It is the uniqueness of Bowe’s circumstances that have caused his case to capture the attention of the American people. This is no small feat as the US has lost interest in this, its longest war.
Trading five GTMO prisoners for one soldier placed the Afghanistan war back in the forefront of national conversation. Americans are asking why the conflict continues as they revisit the fifteen-year war in Asia. It’s a fair question, one political leaders seem hesitant to answer. This may be why there is such vitriol over the Bergdahl case. In many ways, it is a microcosm of the Afghanistan war.
If one accepts Bowe’s reported motivation for his actions, he was taking drastic action to solve a serious problem. In his mind, it seemed reasonable. Generally, the war began the same way: drastic solutions. And just as Bowe did not expect where his actions would take him, so too the war did not proceed as planned. As situations changed perceptions shifted to the point where the original plan and desired outcomes seem ridiculous. Bowe wanted his unit to be safer, after he left they were in far more danger searching for him. The US wanted reduced support of terrorist operations, the results here are definitely mixed.
When Bowe disappeared he became an unknown. Thousands of people were searching for him, millions of dollars spent, and he was never found. Kind of makes movies like Eagle Eye and Enemy of the State seem like nonsense. For five years, no one knew if Bowe would come home. Fifteen years into the war in Afghanistan no one knows if America will achieve its objectives will. There remains a cloud of uncertainty over the entire operation. As the mission continues to drift, it seems unlikely the US will succeed in its original objectives.
With Bowe's return home, the process of sorting out his actions is taking place across the world. It is unlikely there will be a unified consensus on his situation. Some will listen to the news reports and podcasts, read the books, and watch the movies and see Bowe as a hero, while others who engage the same material will identify him as a villain. There isn’t likely to be a satisfying conclusion to the story. When the war concludes and the military returns home the same thing will happen. To some, the US will be heroes and to others, villains. There’s not likely to be a unified understanding of this war. There rarely is.
The sad truth is war is brutal. When people witness and engage in this brutality they are pushed to extremes where drastic solutions seem reasonable. This seems to be what happened in Bowe’s case and at the start of America’s war in Afghanistan. With any luck, both experiences will enable all to consider the ramifications of their actions.
I enjoyed Serial Season Two and recommend it to anyone interested in the war in Afghanistan or the Bowe Bergdahl case.