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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever

Food and Drink

95 Theses On Christian Humor

Give or take 85...
Greg and Thabiti, thanks for your thoughtful posts.  I agree with and was challenged by what you wrote.
Here are a few initial thoughts about humor (in no particular order).

  • It seems safe to say that possession of a sense of humor is part of being created in God's image.  In Scripture God seems to delight in pointing out the ridiculous and idolatrous in ways that are funny (e.g., I Samuel 5:1-5).
  • Like everything else, the Fall has obscured the image of God in our humor.  We find things funny that are lewd, inappropriate, and disgusting.  Hence Sam Kinnison (no link there, this is a family blog!).  In an ironic twist, this has given rise to Christian comedy, which may be worse than the problem it was meant to solve.  But I digress.
  • Most humor is a poking at societal norms.  Many societal norms (within and without the church) are stupid.  Making light of them isn't wrong, but it will make some people uncomfortable.
  • Some humor will make some people uncomfortable. Henri Bergson said that humor usually requires a “momentary anesthesia of the heart” that desensitizes the hearer's sympathy for the person or thing being ridiculed.  So it's funny to make fun of Christian comedy, Bono, or TBN... but only if you don't stop to put yourself in the place of the poor, hardworking Christian comedian who's just trying to do a good job and make people laugh (this is why Holocaust humor never flies... it's almost impossible to have the necessary emotional detachment from a horror like that).  Some people are sensitive to the plight of others, and that's oftentimes a very good thing.  But their temperment means that they don't understand how others can have an emotional distance that allows them to laugh at others without being mean-spirited.
  • Humor (even biting humor) is an appropriate weapon against false teachers and false ideas.  There should be an unending campaign by Christian pastors to mock Kenneth Copeland until he repents, quits, or dies.   
  • Humor is also a valid way of correcting error and pointing out foolishness.  I don't think there is anything wrong with pointing out the absurdity of the things that we (meaning Christians) say and do.  So, for example, Reformed people who endlessly criticize every believer who doesn't agree with their take on every theological matter... they are good targets for humor. 
  • If you're going to try and be funny, you have to be aware of the absurdities and inconsistencies in your own life.  You have to be willing to laugh at yourself.
  • You shouldn't use Martin Luther's personal conduct as a justification for the way you do humor.  Luther said lots of things in his personal life and wirtings (e.g., virulent anti-Semitism) that we wouldn't want to hold up as a model for believers.
  • Humor in the pulpit can be very dangerous.  It's like a narcotic.  Your people will love it (how much more entertaining to hear you riff on something than to teach Leviticus or talk about sin).  You'll love it (less sleeping, more laughing at how hilarious you are!).  And the temptation will be for you to give the people more of what they want and less of what they need.  I listen to about 10 sermons a week, and some of the guys I listen to are both funny and really good teachers.  But here's what I notice... they have to tell three jokes for every one that really lands.  Two out of three just kind of linger there and die.  And so the whole sermon feels like it's being interuppted by second rate comedy.  Over time, my fear is that the people will come hungry for your humor and not necessarily for the word of God.  They will be dependent on you and your charisma and your sense of humor, and you'll never be able to plant churches because you can't find anyone else as funny as you are, and so you'll have to pipe your sermons into other locations. 
  • So, I write a lot of things on this blog and say a lot of things in personal conversation that I wouldn't consider saying from the pulpit.  Not because I am a hypocrite (I am, but just not on this issue), but becuase I don't want to distract from the teaching of God's word.

OK, that's enough for now.  Thoughts?

Cultural Mandate?

G-Money (can I call you that?  It's better than "G-G," don't you think?),
If your's are just the beginning of thoughts, then I'm painfully embarrassed to contribute this low-level groan of an "articulation."  I wish I could begin to think this way.  So, here is a gutteral response.  Help me out here.
How would you respond to what I think I see as two motions in Scripture?
1.  The Scripture pushes the church and Christians away from adopting human culture and tradition.
I think I very much share with you the Bible's pessimism and steady decline where human culture is concerned.  In addition to the passages you mentioned, it seems to me inside the church a cultural skepticism is evident in Col. 2:16-17, 20-23 and Gal.4:8-11 (where Paul even classes the Law as "weak and miserable principles" of the old life).  In Col. 2 he instructs the church to leave the elementary or basic principles of this world and seems to class both Jewish and pagan religio-cultic ritual together as undesirable.  Earlier in Col. 2:8 he waxes poetic against philosophy that depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world.  As far as high culture (philosophy) and religious culture, the Scripture pushes us away from those things to something different.
2.  The Scripture "backgrounds" human culture inside the church in favor of greater unity in Christ. 
We can see that in a number of places, perhaps most clearly in Romans 14:1-15:13.  Jew and Gentile differ in their cultural preferences in disputable matters like preference for meat/vegetables (14:2-3) and sacred/regular days (14:5-6).  All these are lifted as examples and pushed to the background in favor of unity in Christ and an end to judging one another in such matters.  It seems that the passages consistently contrast all that we think of as human culture (by which I mean the patterns of thought, belief, and behavior, not primarily the implements of culture--instruments, etc.) with Christ himself and what it means to be in Christ.
Which leads me to ask: Is not Christ in some sense creating a distinctive culture within the church?  What is the alternative to being pushed away from fallen cultural ways of being and backgrounding cultural heritages inside the church?
Maybe I'm asking a different question than your post raises.  I'm talking out loud here.  Your post raises the question of the Christian's or church's response/responsibility to transform culture or fulfill a cultural mandate.  Can we satisfactorily answer that question before we first answer what the church herself is to be culturally?  What are we transforming things to?  And how does that goal look like/dislike the church herself?  In fact, help me with how the passages in Genesis translate into a "cultural mandate"?