Who Are The Blind Foxes?

Who Are The Blind Foxes?

“When the fox preaches, beware our geese.”
— English Proverb

In regard to my cartoon series, “Blind Foxes” the question has come up over the years, “why the image of a blindfolded fox?

The Short Answer

The short answer is that I first chose the Fox for my cartoon series because of how I remember him as a kid reading Aesop’s fables.  The fox was alway a cunning and deceptive animal that should be approached with caution.

I chose to make the Fox blindfolded, because I think many of the leaders in the church lack any real self-awareness of their own deception.  The Blind Fox is a product of the Age and culture in which we live.  He or she lacks the perspective to recognize they are really blind leaders, leading the blind.

 The Long Answer

The cool part about choosing the fox for my cartoon, is that when I put some time into exploring this I found that there is really a long tradition of depicting deceptive leaders as foxes.

A German chromolithograph trade card of a fox preaching to geese c.1895

In The Christian Scripture

According to David Lyle Jeffrey,

In OT Semitic contexts, the fox was a creature of low cunning, generally considered to be a nuisance and undesirable (cf. Neh. 4:3). Ezekiel compares the ideal prophets of Israel in his time to denned up foxes (Ezek. 13:4ff.); foxes are the inhabitants of wasted ruins of Zion (Lam. 5:18)… The love poet of the Song of Songs allusively warns of “the little foxes that spoil the vines” (Cant. 2:15)…

My favorite passage, however, comes from this exchange between two young lovers in the Song of Songs.

Song of Solomon 2:13–15 (ESV)

13 The fig tree ripens its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away. 14 O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the crannies of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely. 15 Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards are in blossom.”

The couple is ready to enjoy the pleasures of sex in their bond marriage.  They have saved themselves in sexual purity for the perfect season, but in v. 15 they implore the Chorus to stay on guard against those “foxes” who would seek to steal the young couples purity for their own pleasure.

In Folk Art & Literature

Again, Jeffrey gives some great background for the fox.

Fox preaching to hens and goose Image taken from Book of Hours. Originally published/produced in S. Netherlands; 1310-1320.

The slyness of the fox has earned him a devilish role in almost all folk literature within his habitat, much of which is so bound up in biblical allusion to the fox that it becomes nearly indistinguishable from it. Accordingly legends such as those of Reynart, Reinhard, or Reinart de Vos color the reception of patristic commentary which sees the fox as a symbol for seductor of the faithful (e.g., St. Gregory, Comm. in Cant., sup. 2.15 [PL 79.500]; Glossa Ordinaria [PL 114.283]). In medieval art the fox sometimes appears with a miter, signifying not only a false prelate but probably also the Antichrist who, if possible, “would deceive even the very elect” (Matt. 24:24).

A Fox Preaching to Geese. Hexham Abbey relief in the town of Hexham, Northumberland, in northeast England

In the 14th cent. the fox is represented on carved misericords as a Franciscan friar, preaching to geese and other barnyard fowl or occasionally a rooster, the former symbolizing the flock of the faithful, the latter typically a parish priest. Chaucer’s Chaunticleer in The Nun’s Priest’s Tale, who only narrowly escapes the devilish “coal-fox” Russell, is thus likely providing a warning to clergy and others against suspect friars. Heywood’s adage, “For though this appeare a proper pulpet peece, / yet whan the fox preacheth, then beware your geese” (Proverbs [1546], 2.7.67), still echoes in Jonson’s Volpone, where the devilish “Fox fares ever best, when he is cursed” (5.3.119). After Dryden’s conversion to the Catholic faith he styles Protestantism as tending toward the Socinian heresy, and characterizes it in his The Hind and the Panther as “False Reynard.”…

Der Fuchs als Gänsepediger (The Fox as Goose Preacher), 15th century cookie mold.

References to devilish foxes have become a literary cliché and relatively few of them require biblical contextualization… Thoreau’s discussion of the “Economy” in Walden quotes Matt. 8:20 to highlight his argument that “in modern civilized society not more than one-half the families own a shelter.” Ruskin quotes the same passage (as well as Cant. 2:15) to take up a similar issue: “Oh—you queens—you queens; among the hills and happy greenwood of this land of yours, shall the foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; and in your cities shall the stones cry out against you, that they are the only pillows where the Son of Man can lay His head?” (Sesame and Lilies, “Of Queen’s Gardens”)1.

In Church History

Charles Spurgeon in his magazine, “The Sword and The Trowel” comments on the image below with this warning about the foxes in preist’s clothing.

In the frequent quarrels between the priests and monks of the Church of Rome, the two parties of rogues were silly enough to expose each other’s villanies. On the edifices belonging to monasteries, priests were caricatured in the stonework; and on the churches built by priests, the monks and friars were held up to ridicule. A great deal of real truth was thus brought out by their mutual recriminations. The ancient carving above is a specimen of a common caricature representing the clergy as foxes with geese in their hoods; a very admirable picture whether monks or priests were intended. Popery, with its secret confessional and priestly interference at dying beds, is essentially a fox.useyism, pretending to be Protestant, and gradully bringing in all the foolery of Rome, is a deep fox indeed. Yet there are geese silly enough to be deceived by priests in this nineteenth century; and so long as the supply of such geese is kept up, the foxes will never cease to prowl.

Reader, do you believe that men like yourself have priestly power? Do you think that they can regenerate infants by sprinkling them, and turn bread and wine into the very body and blood of Jesus Christ? Do you think that a bishop can bestow the Holy Ghost, and that a parish clergyman can forgive sins? If so, your head can be seen in the picture peeping out from the cowl of the fox. You are the victim of crafty deceivers. Your soul will be their prey in life and in death. They cajole you with soft words, fine vestments, loud pretensions, and cunning smiles, but they will conduct you down to the chambers of death, and lead you to the gates of hell. Silly goose, may grace make thee wise! Jesus Christ is the true Priest who can forgive all your sins; go to him at once, without the intervention of these pretenders. Make confession to him! Seek absolution from him! The Holy Ghost alone can cause you to be born again, and the grace of God alone can bring you to glory. Avoid Puseyite and Romish foxes, for they seek to make a gain of you, and lead you not to Jesus, but to their Church and all its mummeries. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and not in these deceivers.2

No. 22.—Sword and Trowel Tracts, November 1865

That covers the history of the fox and I hope you find value in my modern interpretation.  Please take some time to LIKE Blind Foxes on Facebook!

FOOTNOTES

1. Al Jeffery quotes in this post are from David L. Jeffrey, A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1992).

2. C. H. Spurgeon, The Sword and Trowel: 1865 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1865), 149.

Blind Foxes and Rorschach Statistics

Blind Foxes and Rorschach Statistics

Associate professor Bradley Wright from the University of Connecticut is talking again about Christian researchers who focus too much on the negative in surveys about Christians. In his latest series on “The creation of a useful, but inaccurate, statistic” he writes,

In presenting these data, Barna emphasizes the low favorability scores for Evangelicals. He writes that non-Christians are “dismissive” of evangelicals, and that “one reason why evangelical churches across the nation are not growing is due to the image that non-Christian adults have of evangelical individuals.” One could make the opposite case just as strongly—while only 22% had favorable impressions of Evangelicals, only 23% had unfavorable impressions. These data could be spun either way, the cup being half-empty or half-full, and Barna chooses half-empty

He goes on in part 2 of the series to make the following observation.

Yesterday I recounted a study conducted by the Barna Group. This study can be summarized as positive, negative, or ambiguous in its portrayal of Christians. Positive in that born-again Christians were found to be well-regarded, negative in that Evangelicals were not, and ambiguous in that different reactions were given to what is essentially the same group (i.e., evangelical and born-again Christians).

As such, these data provide almost a Rorschach test in which people can see what they want about Christians. It’s informative, then, to see how commentators, both within the church and without, have used these data. Without exception, they emphasize the negative story, and each has different incentives to do so.

It’s a nagging question for me, “why do some Christian researchers always seem to emphasize the negative which, in many cases, only serves to tear down the Body of Christ?

blindfoxes-inkblot

Tell me, what do you see?
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Blind Foxes & Shifting Sands

Blind Foxes & Shifting Sands

In October 2007, Bill Hybels had what he called, “the biggest wake up call of his adult life.” His staff, led by Greg Hawkins, ran a survey of the congregation and discovered that their philosophy of ministry, which has guided them for the past 30 years, has led to a huge failure in making strong disciples of Jesus Christ. Come to find out that going to church and attending programs does not equate to mature faith. Hybels called these findings “earth shaking,” “ground breaking,” and “mind blowing.” Now he has started a new approach based on more research through their website called REVEAL. My initial impressions back in 2008 are depicted in my cartoon, “Blind Foxes & Shifting Sands.”

BlindFoxes-ShiftingSands

First, my cartoon is not a wholesale indictment of Willow Creek, Bill Hybels, or even the Willow Creek model. Hybels, like every leader, has made mistakes and used bad judgment, but I have no reason to doubt he is a brother in Christ Jesus. The only point I am making here is that statistical surveys are not an effective method for evaluating the spiritual life of a people. You can check out the educated and insightful opinion of Dr. Bradley Wright for deeper study.

Hybels is convinced that every church in America will be shocked to discover that attendance at a big church and spending millions of dollars on programs do not equate to spiritual maturity. But what shocks me is Hybels, after 30 years, is only now aware that his methodology is flawed.  A study of history could have told him 30 years ago that this approach was flawed.  It is a mistake for Hybels, and for any leader, to rely on statistics (from REVEAL or Barna or any source) to shape their ministry.

Henry and Richard Blackaby, in their book Spiritual Leadership: Moving People Onto God’s Agenda, states,

The church must discover its vision not by seeking the opinions of people but by seeking God’s will  (p.62).”

Later they ask, in response to the tendency of some in pastoral leadership to push the setting of BHAGs (big hairy audacious goals),

This all sounds exciting and can generally elicit a chorus of amens from the audience, but is it biblical? (p.66).”

The answer to their question probably varies from situation to situation, but the truth that we need to follow God’s vision and not our own is universal. A better translation of the oft quoted Proverbs 29:18 offers some important guidance,

Where there is no revelation the people cast off restraint

It is revelation that must guide us, not opinion polls and surveys.

Replacing one program with another program is not the answer either. There have been many voices over the past 30 years who have tried to warn of the flaws in Hybels approach. I suggest that if people are looking for some good answers to Hybels “new” discoveries,  they should look to some of those discerning voices before following Hybels into his next 30 year experiment.

I hope the cartoon will help people face some hard questions.

  • If you are a Willow church, why?
  • Should you continue to follow Hybels’ leadership into the next experiment? Why or why not?

Everyone who follows the Willow model will have different answers. I am not here to give anyone the answers but I do hope my observations will at least give you pause to stop, pray, and think about how God wants to lead your church?

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Blind Foxes & Velvet Fences

Blind Foxes & Velvet Fences

This cartoon comes from a true story of a local pastor who, after each service, sits behind a velvet rope and allows the people to come through a line to shake his hand. The people are also allowed to give him money as they pass through the line.  I look at this image as a metaphor for ministry in general.  Here are the questions I ask myself and I hope you will ask of yourself as well.

  • How do we, as pastors, create these velvet barriers? Between us and the congregation? Between us and the world?
  • How do people in our churches create the barriers?
  • What barriers does the world create that make it hard for us to connect and minister the light of Jesus Christ?
  • How many of these barriers are intentional? How many are unintentional?

These are some of my questions and there are more.  Share your thoughts about Blind Foxes and Velvet Fences.

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