Monday, November 19, 2007

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Two Great Books on Legalistic Christianity


Book One:
A Matter of Basic Principles

Never heard of Bill Gothard? With his three ring binders and nationwide seminars he swept the US starting in the early 1970s teaching a high view of authority and step-by-step methods for being a Godly Christian. Started as the Institute for Basic Youth Conflicts (IBYC) he reached out to a new market: parents who felt threatened by the counter-culture and needed the old certainties proclaimed afresh. This Bill Gothard did- and more. Gothard's rise paralleled and intermingled with that of fundamental Baptists throughout the 70s and much of the 80s, for one simple reason: they both legislated pre-counterculture culture in an attempt to restore the order that was shattering before them. This legislate-what-was-in-order-to-guard-against-the-new mentality was given up by many fundamental Baptists by the close of the 80s as American culture was returning to some sort of equilibrium-- but others along with Gothard persisted, becoming the new legalists.
This is why this book is so important. In dealing with with Gothard's teachings it also deals with the legalism at large that has crept into many of our conservative churches.

Book Two:
The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse

A highly legalistic Christianity is also highly authoritarian. Authoritarianism and legalism are twin brothers. This book explores the authoritarian aspect of legalism and the group dynamics that result. You can pull yourself from legalism; this book will enable you to break from the legalistic system itself.

Wondering about Winter Wonderland

"In the meadow we can build a snowman,
Then pretend that he is Parson Brown
He'll say: Are you married?
We'll say: No man,
But you can do the job
When you're in town."

At first glance this "innocent" Christmas carol seems to mock marriage. Back when this was written such a question as "Are you married?" would be asked of couples who were engaging is public physical displays of affection; the important thing being that only married people were to behave that way.
The flippant way in which the snowman builders "respond" to Parson Brown treats marriage lightly and with little respect. I mean, come on- "No MAN???" or "you can do the JOB???"
So for the last couple of years me and this time-worn Christmas carol have been at odds. However, as the holiday season (or winter break, or whatever it should be now days) comes upon me yet again I find myself considering alternate interpretations which might solve the impasse.

Wikipedia gives some insight:
"In the period when this song was written, parsons (now known as a Protestant ministers) often traveled among small rural towns to perform wedding ceremonies for denominational followers who did not have a local minister of their own faith. It is therefore likely that the children are pretending that their snowman is a parson with the surname "Brown" who would be visiting the town again in the future."

Now- combine THAT with the possibility that the snowman builders WANT to get married and their "response" to Parson Brown actually carries the emotion of enthusiasm rather than mocking. In other words, since the Parson only came around every once in a while, these two were fantasizing about the opportunity to be married and phrases like "No man" and "do the job" are used because the couple feel that marriage vows are the only thing separating them from fully enjoying each other's love. Thus, they are actually saving themselves for marriage!

While that seems to be the most persuasive vindication of this verse of "Winter Wonderland" there is another unexplained detail to be considered. Just WHO are these two? Most people ASSUME it is a male and female, but that is not necessarily the case. An intriguing possibility is that these are two young ladies, who see in Parson Brown a potential husband. Again, we have the emotion of enthusiasm at work as these two vie for his love. Under this scenario, the conspiracy being cooked up by the fire is how to get the Parson to marry one of them.

If the two characters in the song are actually men, it becomes really interesting. We have a depression-era example of gay rights advocacy! However, in 1930s America there was no way to get THAT kind of "job" done. So it doesn't really work out unless the "job" being referred to is not actually marriage but something else.

So take your pick. This carol is still dangerous in my book but as long as I can apply a morally respectable interpretation I am free to enjoy it, I guess. Right?