Wednesday, October 31, 2007

"When we all get to Heaven...."

Daniel Lockwood in Christianity Today offers an answer to this question:
Does the Bible teach that we will recognize our loved ones in heaven?

As the years pass, this question looms larger in my thinking. Last year, I attended three funeral services of godly saints who'd passed away. One was my 85-year-old father-in-law, whose exemplary life and witness is now just a cherished memory. For my wife, who loved her father dearly, this question is thus no idle theological speculation. Fortunately, the Bible speaks clearly to it.

The simple answer—yes—rests on two pillars of Christian belief. One is the blessed hope that we will see Jesus again (Titus 2:13). The other is the assurance that our present bodies will be raised from the dead, immortal (1 Cor. 15:12-57). Together, these pillars provide a basis for believing we will recognize our loved ones in heaven. After all, if we can recognize the Lord Jesus, possessing the perfectly restored and glorified bodies to do so, it follows that we will recognize other believers, including our loved ones. .... [more]
Until We Meet Again | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

The best response

Albert Mohler finds an approach to Halloween suggested by the fact that this is also Reformation Day:
The coming of Halloween is a good time for Christians to remember that evil spirits are real and that the Devil will seize every opportunity to trumpet his own celebrity. Perhaps the best response to the Devil at Halloween is that offered by Martin Luther, the great Reformer: "The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him for he cannot bear scorn."

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther began the Reformation with a declaration that the church must be recalled to the authority of God's Word and the purity of biblical doctrine. With this in mind, the best Christian response to Halloween might be to scorn the Devil and then pray for the Reformation of Christ's church on earth. Let's put the dark side on the defensive.
That passage is at the end of a very good essay about the origins of Halloween and Christian reactions to it. Read it all.

Christianity and the Dark Side -- What About Halloween?

The thinness of the new atheism

Theodore Dalrymple, an atheist, finds the "new atheists" intolerant, inconsistent, and blind to the benefits religion provides. From "What the New Atheists Don't See" at City Journal:
Lying not far beneath the surface of all the neo-atheist books is the kind of historiography that many of us adopted in our hormone-disturbed adolescence, furious at the discovery that our parents sometimes told lies and violated their own precepts and rules. It can be summed up in Christopher Hitchens’s drumbeat in God Is Not Great: “Religion spoils everything.”

What? The Saint Matthew Passion? The Cathedral of Chartres? .... It is surely not news, except to someone so ignorant that he probably wouldn’t be interested in these books in the first place, that religious conflict has often been murderous and that religious people have committed hideous atrocities. But so have secularists and atheists, and though they have had less time to prove their mettle in this area, they have proved it amply. If religious belief is not synonymous with good behavior, neither is absence of belief, to put it mildly.

In fact, one can write the history of anything as a chronicle of crime and folly. Science and technology spoil everything: without trains and IG Farben, no Auschwitz; without transistor radios and mass-produced machetes, no Rwandan genocide. First you decide what you hate, and then you gather evidence for its hatefulness. Since man is a fallen creature (I use the term metaphorically rather than in its religious sense), there is always much to find.

The thinness of the new atheism is evident in its approach to our civilization, which until recently was religious to its core. To regret religion is, in fact, to regret our civilization and its monuments, its achievements, and its legacy. And in my own view, the absence of religious faith, provided that such faith is not murderously intolerant, can have a deleterious effect upon human character and personality. If you empty the world of purpose, make it one of brute fact alone, you empty it (for many people, at any rate) of reasons for gratitude, and a sense of gratitude is necessary for both happiness and decency. For what can soon, and all too easily, replace gratitude is a sense of entitlement. Without gratitude, it is hard to appreciate, or be satisfied with, what you have: and life will become an existential shopping spree that no product satisfies. (read it all here)
What the New Atheists Don’t See by Theodore Dalrymple, City Journal Autumn 2007

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Tolerance is not indifference

In the course of a good column about the Potter books, Michael Gerson points out that:
For many, tolerance does not result from the absence of moral convictions but from a positive religious teaching about human dignity.
Thanks to Cranach for the reference.

Michael Gerson - Harry Potter's Secret -

"Christian discipleship in the public square"

This past weekend The New York Times Magazine published an article by David Kirkpatrick titled "The Evangelical Crackup." Its thesis is that the Religious Right is in decline, superceded by leaders who put faith ahead of politics. Of course, genuine Christians always put faith ahead of politics. Faith is the motive for becoming involved in politics, as it motivates [or should] all our work in the world.

Richard John Neuhaus [who is not an Evangelical] puts it all into perspective at First Things in "That Evangelical Crackup." An excerpt:
Of course, the whole thing about an evangelical crackup is silly and would be easily ignored were it not that some of us are addictively amused by paying attention to the Times. And, let it be said in fairness, that there are others who still read the paper to find out what is happening in the real world. Let it be further admitted that there are divisions and conflicts among politically oriented evangelical leaders, especially with regard to the prospect of Giuliani being the Republican nominee. In the December issue of First Things, subscribers will find a very thoughtful analysis of that prospect by astute brain-truster of the pro-life cause Hadley Arkes. He carefully examines the troubling consequences for the cause if the Republicans are no longer the pro-life party, which, despite his more recent hedges, would be the case if Giuliani were the nominee.

But an evangelical crackup? Don’t believe it. The Times is whistling in the self-induced dark. They scare themselves by creating the boogeyman of a monolithic theocratic assault and then console themselves that the advancing forces are in disarray. Both the monolith and the crackup are fictions of their overheated imagination.

Since the most recent round of political activism by evangelicals in the late 1970s, there have been several times in which prominent leaders have called a retreat from electoral politics. Disillusionment comes readily to enthusiasts, and evangelicals tend to be enthusiasts. Mr. Kirkpatrick spoke to one minister who has thrown in the towel. “I thought in my enthusiasm that somehow we could band together and change things politically and everything will be fine,” he said. But electing his preferred politicians did not change everything. “When you mix politics and religion, you get politics.”

Anyone seized by utopian delusions about political action is bound to be rudely disappointed. The pastor is also right about ending up only with politics when you put religion in the service of politics. The organizing imperatives and urgencies of electoral politics, combined with its inevitable negotiations of competing ambitions for power, quickly overwhelm a church’s proper business of saving and nurturing souls.

Mr. Kirkpatrick spoke to a few disillusioned ministers. There are undoubtedly others. The well-documented fact, however, is that the great majority of evangelical clergy have never succumbed to the temptation to become politicians rather than pastors. Nor have they surrendered their right and obligation to point out the implications of Christian faith for public policy. Some call the exercise of that duty “mixing politics and religion.” Others call it Christian discipleship in the public square.

Nowhere is the understanding of those implications more deeply entrenched than on the “life issues,” meaning abortion preeminently but not exclusively. On no other controverted issue is there anything comparable to the theological and moral grounding found in, for example, “That They May Have Life,” the statement of Evangelicals and Catholics Together. The Frank Riches cheer on Jim Wallis and others associated with the “religious outreach” initiative of the Democratic party, wanting to believe that they will persuade evangelicals that the Iraq War, health care, global warming, and economic equality are more morally urgent than protecting unborn babies. With some evangelicals they have apparently succeeded. It is also worth remembering that in the 1970s the majority of self-identified evangelicals were Democrats. Many evangelicals, as well as Catholics, who have been voting Republican for pro-life reasons may return to old habits if the Republicans do not offer an unambiguous alternative, or they may simply sit this one out.

The reality is that, for millions of voters—evangelical, Catholic, and other—the number-one moral and political issue is the defense of the unborn. Join that to the defense of marriage and family and it seems certain that we are talking about no less than twenty million people. That is more than enough votes, or decisions not to vote, to decide a presidential election. It seems probable edging up to certainty that, if the choice is between a pro-abortion Republican, such as Giuliani, and a pro-abortion Democrat, such as any of the Democratic candidates, those millions will take it as an invitation not to be bothered with election day.

In sum, there is no evangelical crackup. Thirty years after the “religious right” appeared on the radar screens inside the liberal bubble, there is a normalization of conservative Christian activism in the public square. As on the left, organizations and activists on the right maneuver mightily to direct sometimes contentious constituencies toward their preferred political outcomes. In America, we call it democracy in action.
FIRST THINGS: On the Square » Blog Archive » That Evangelical Crackup

November 2007 Sabbath Recorder Online

The November, 2007, Sabbath Recorder is available online here as a pdf. Its theme is "What Happens When Your World Falls Apart?" From an article by Michael Graves:
We all have a story to tell about “thorns in the flesh,” as Paul shared in his letter to the church at Corinth (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

The “thorns” we carry may be physical, mental, or psychological, but the issue is still the same: Will our focus be on God or on our problems? How we handle these thorns will speak volumes about our faith in God and His deliverance.

God made it clear to Paul that His grace was sufficient, that His “power is made perfect in weakness.” ....
There are additional articles on that topic and others. An article that caught my attention was about the presentation of a Seventh Day Baptist Historical Society award to Oscar Burdick, who has done much good work on the early history of Sabbatarian Baptists.


In the course of a review of What Democracy Is For: On Freedom and Moral Government, by Stein Ringen, Albert Mohler quotes a section describing some of what families do for children. Merely recounting those things makes obvious how much is lost when children grow up without that support, or without important elements of it. From the book:
Then families provide for those children. They feed, clothe, and give them a place to live. They give them a home, a place where they can usually be safe and protected.

Families tell children who they are: where they come from, who their grandparents and ancestors are, of what kind they are, where they belong, and what their identity is.

Families teach children values and norms. From parents and in the experience of family cooperation, children learn about the difference between good and bad and right and wrong and acquire the ability to believe in that knowledge.

Families teach children to learn. They teach them how to work and how to be social. The family experience is the basis for success in schooling and formal education. It is in the family that children first learn about discussions, negotiations, and shrewdness; about give-and-take, cooperating and fighting; about what it takes to get on with others; about the combined ability to be flexible and to stand one's ground. Each family is a political academy where children get their grounding experiences of citizenship, of rights and duties, of freedom and responsibility. It is in the family that children learn the elementary virtues of manners, politeness, civility, and charm (or do not learn it, as the case may be).

Families educate children. They teach them to walk and speak, to dress and eat, to wash and brush their teeth, to behave-the thousand and one skills that make up daily life and that all who have learned them perform with intuition and obviousness (and make those who do not know them intolerable people).

All these things these ordinary little institutions provide for. Different families do it in different ways, some do it better than others. They are not alone in these jobs. Families share the raising of children with kin and friends and the training of children with schools and nurseries. But to the question of what families are, one answer, also when we see families from the point of view of children, is that they are institutions of production. Democracy and the Family - Setting the Record Straight

Monday, October 29, 2007

Evangelicalism Today

Touchstone has made available online its forum on the state of evangelicalism.
In this forum, a diverse group of Evangelicals discuss the state of Evangelicalism today and other matters. (We are planning to run similar forums on the Catholic, Orthodox, and mainline churches in the next year.) The answers begin with those of Russell Moore, as a member of our editorial board, followed by the others in alphabetical order. [the forum is here]
Touchstone Archives: Evangelicalism Today

Saturday, October 27, 2007

A supposedly civilized society

David Mills at Mere Comments [Touchstone]:
In Like a slave, is an unborn child not a brother?, published in the Daily Telegraph, Charles Moore reflects on the opening of a museum exhibition and slavery and asks how curators will see abortion in 200 years.
It is not hard to imagine how a future Museum of London exhibition about abortion could go. It could buy up a 20th-century hospital building as its space, and take visitors round, showing them how, in one ward, staff were trying to save the lives of premature babies while, in the next, they were killing them.

It could compare the procedure by which the corpse of a baby who had died after or during premature birth was presented by the hospital to the mother to assist with grieving, with the way a similar corpse, if aborted, was thrown away.

It could display the various instruments that were used to remove and kill the foetus, rather as the manacles and collars of slaves can be seen today.
He ends with an argument that "with the passage of time, abortion, especially late abortion, is slowly coming to be seen as a "solution" dating from an era that is passing. It will therefore be discredited." I hope he is right, but the drive (need/desire/addiction) for sexual license is so strong, and therefore the need for abortion so great, that abortion's coming to be seen as outdated strikes me as unlikely.
In the article Mills quotes, Moore notes:
As the slavery exhibition shows, something that one generation accepts readily enough is often seen as abhorrent by its descendants – so abhorrent, in fact, that people find it almost impossible to understand how it could have been countenanced in a supposedly civilised society.
Touchstone Magazine - Mere Comments: The Brother Many Ignore

Reformation Day

October 31 is the anniversary of the day, 490 years ago, on which Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg. Trevin Wax prepares us for the day by posting some Luther quotations.

Famous Quotes from Martin Luther « Kingdom People

Your God is too small

Wonders for Oyarsa values philosophy and the arguments it can provide, but, he says "Strangely, when we speak of God with such words, we somehow make him out to be rather...small."

He has been blogging the Scriptures [he is now in II Samuel] and, with that fresh in mind, he is impressed with a sense that "the scriptural picture is far grander than the philosophical one."
In scripture we are given a gift beyond measure. We are given something far deeper than a series of philosophical statements. We are given a story. We are given a drama that unfolds and expands and progresses, until we find ourselves even now taking part in it. As Chesterton said, it opens to us not only incredible heavens, but what seems to some an equally incredible earth, and makes it credible. We accept it; and the ground is solid under our feet and the road is open before us.
It is well worth reading in its entirety.

Wonders For Oyarsa: The Condemnation of Philosophy

Friday, October 26, 2007

When Did Halloween Get So Ghastly Gruesome?

Gene Edward Veith comments on a Washington Post article with the title above.
Halloween used to be a holiday that centered on little kids getting dressed up and going trick-or-treating. Now, adults have taken over the day, knocking down the children and turning Halloween into a gore-fest. Adults have injected both sex and violence into the day, with one-up-manship centered on how to outdo one’s neighbors in images of sado-masochistic horror.
When I was growing up our church had an annual Halloween party. Everyone spent considerable time deciding on their costumes - especially some of the older ladies. Prizes were awarded, there was bobbing for apples, cider and doughnuts were served, fun was had by all. It was mildly scary and not the least bit evil.

On Halloween itself, we went trick-or-treating [to the best of my recollection, there were never any tricks]. When I got older, I stayed home and gave out the candy. It was fun and had no connection with Satanism or any other evil.

I wish we could have that back.

Now, it has become bigger and bigger as a holiday - not least because, in an increasingly secular era, it is perceived as purely secular. It is not the holiday of Wicca, or Satanism - it is the holiday of nothing.

The Change in Halloween — Cranach: The Blog of Veith

"Is Christianity the problem?"

Tomorrow evening, Saturday evening at 7:00 (the posted time seems to be Eastern), Book TV [C-SPAN2] will have a debate between Dinesh D'Souza [author of What's So Great About Christianity] and Christopher Hitchens [author of god is not Great]. The debate topic: "Is Christianity the Problem?" The moderator is Marvin Olasky of King's College and World Magazine.

Book TV - Debate on Dinesh D'Souza's "What's So Great About Christianity?"


A survey of Muslim converts to Christianity reveals how important [if you didn't already know] it is to live out what we profess. From Christianity Today:

...[R]espondents ranked the lifestyle of Christians as the most important influence in their decision to follow Christ. A North African former Sufi mystic noted with approval that there was no gap between the moral profession and the practice of Christians he saw. An Egyptian contrasted the love of a Christian group at an American university with the unloving treatment of Muslim students and faculty he encountered at a university in Medina. An Omani woman explained that Christians treat women as equals. Others noted loving Christian marriages. Some poor people said the expatriate Christian workers they knew had adopted, contrary to their expectations, a simple lifestyle, wearing local clothes and observing local customs of not eating pork, drinking alcohol, or touching those of the opposite sex. A Moroccan was even welcomed by his former Christian in-laws after he underwent a difficult divorce.

Many Muslims who faced violence at the hands of other Muslims did not see it in the Christians they knew (regrettably, of course, Christians have been guilty of interethnic strife elsewhere). Muslim-on-Muslim violence has led to considerable disillusionment for many Muslims....
Thanks to Thinking Christian for the reference and for a good, longer, discussion of the factors influencing conversion.

Why Muslims Follow Jesus: Christianity Today

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Healthy Church

Mark Dever, of IX Marks and Capitol Hill Baptist Church, author of What is a Healthy Church?, is interviewed by Gary Shavey at Resurgence about that book and an upcoming one: The Gospel and Personal Evangelism. The interview can be heard here.

[Thanks to Between Two Worlds for the reference]

Healthy Church | TheResurgence


I've commented on the Huckabee option over at Standfast.

Church growth and Willow Creek

Dan Edelen at Cerulean Sanctum writes about what has been wrong with the Willow Creek model - and what is wrong with the Church Growth Model more generally.

Also, a reminder about the dangers of too much satisfaction on the part of those who have long been critical of Willow Creek from Jared Wilson.

Church Growth Movement Fall Down and Go Boom! @ Cerulean Sanctum, Gospel-Driven Church: Triumphalism

Emerging adulthood

Several studies of the period known as "emerging adulthood" which is "the time of life between ages 18 and 30" give some rather discouraging data about the faith of young adults. From an essay at Books & Culture:
Jeffrey Arnett explored the religious beliefs and practices of the more than one hundred emerging adults he interviewed in various locations around the country. Here is what he concluded:
The most interesting and surprising feature of emerging adults' religious beliefs is how little relationship there is between the religious training they received throughout childhood and the religious beliefs they hold at the time they reach emerging adulthood … . In statistical analyses [of interview subjects' answers], there was no relationship between exposure to religious training in childhood and any aspect of their religious beliefs as emerging adults … . This is a different pattern than is found in adolescence [which reflects greater continuity] … . Evidently something changes between adolescence and emerging adulthood that dissolves the link between the religious beliefs of parents and the beliefs of their children.
Although the transmission of religious faith is not a central concern of Arnett's, he still finds this observation startling. He writes, "How could it be that childhood religious training makes no difference in the kinds of religious beliefs and practices people have by the time they reach emerging adulthood? It doesn't seem to make sense … . It all comes to naught in emerging adulthood? Yet that seems to be the truth of it, surprising as that may be." Need I say that these findings raise serious questions? ....

In his chapter in On the Frontier of Adulthood, National Opinion Research Centers survey researcher Tom Smith analyzes religious differences across age cohorts and across time. He finds that young adults today attend church less, pray less, are less likely to believe the Bible is the word of God, less likely to be Protestant, more likely to identify as non-religious, and have less confidence in organized religion than older adults. At the same time, they are more likely than older adults to believe in life after death.

Young adults are also, for the record, more likely to have grown up in a broken home, less likely to believe human nature is good, more likely to be distrustful of other people and of social institutions generally, less likely to read the newspaper, more likely to expect a world war, much more likely to have viewed a pornographic movie, and much more liberal about sex, divorce, and other social issues than are older adults. Some of this has also changed across young adult cohorts over time. For instance, compared to emerging adults of the same ages in 1973 and 1985, emerging adults more recently are more likely to identify as non-religious and are less likely to be Protestant, attend church, pray, and believe the Bible is God's word. Today's emerging adults compared to those of previous decades are also more distrustful of other people, less likely to vote and read the newspaper, less likely to watch a lot of television, more likely to be in favor of making divorce harder, less in favor of legalizing marijuana, less in favor of teenagers having sex, more in favor of making pornography illegal to all, more likely to expect a world war, and more likely to answer "Don't Know" to survey questions. The picture is obviously complex. Emerging adults will take time and effort to understand well. [more]
It is a distinctly mixed bag. At the very least it appears that Christian education is an abysmal failure.

Getting a Life - Books & Culture

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Literal truth

Stan Guthrie at Christianity Today's Liveblog reports that, according to a new Barna survey, many Americans "accept the literal truth of six key Bible stories."
Here are the overall results among adults to the question of whether they thought a specific story in the Bible was “literally true, meaning it happened exactly as described in the Bible”:
  • Christ’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection (75%);
  • Daniel in the Lion’s Den (65%);
  • Moses parting the Red Sea (64%);
  • David and Goliath (63%);
  • Peter walking on water (60%);
  • God creating the universe in six days (60%).
When you break down the numbers, it gets even more interesting. Several factors are correlated with less belief in a literal resurrection: high education, mainline vs. non-mainline Protestantism, Catholicism vs. Protestantism, and white vs. black. So, statistically speaking, a highly educated white Catholic or mainline professor from the Northeast would likely be more skeptical than a blue-collar African-American Protestant from the Midwest or South. [more]
Taking Bible Stories Literally | Liveblog | Christianity Today, Barna Group: Most Americans Take Well-Known Bible Stories at Face Value

Obedience flows from faith

Theocentric Preaching quotes Martyn Lloyd-Jones:
Preaching Christ from all the Scriptures joins faith to grace. The Old Testament believers trusted as they waited for that salvation to come. They are examples to us as believers - not apart from the objective facts of God’s redemption, but as those who lived by faith.

The obedience of love flows from that faith relation. Like faith, love is kindled not by introspection, but by looking to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith. We love because He first loved us; it is the love of God that is shed abroad in our hearts.
Theocentric Preaching » Blog Archive » Lloyd-Jones: Specialize in preaching Jesus

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

May you have a strong foundation..."

Thanks to RightWingBob for the idea. That site has another very good version. I've always liked this one:

May God bless and keep you always,
May your wishes all come true,
May you always do for others
And let others do for you.
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young. » Not unrelated

A Bible textbook?

Those of us who think it appalling that students in the post-Christian era grow up entirely illiterate about the content of the Scriptures, may feel encouraged by this story. On the other hand, as a public school teacher for thirty five years, I would be concerned that the average classroom teacher might be as ignorant of the subject as the students, and perhaps much more biased.
According to Dr. Anita Buckley Commander, the Alabama Director of Classroom Improvement, there was no opposition to the October 11 vote by the state Board of Education to include The Bible and Its Influence on the state's list of accepted textbooks. The Board held a hearing on the issue and no-one showed up; the book was approved by a vote of 8-0.

The textbook is a product of the Bible Literacy Project, founded and run by Chuck Stetson, a conservative Christian New York-based equity fund executive. Assessing scripture and its subsequent influence on literature, art, philosophy and political culture, it was specifically designed to avoid the Constitution's church-state barriers. Although the text, which has been on the market for two years, is now taught in 163 schools in 35 states, no state had previously endorsed it.

The Bible and Its Influence has a fascinating constellation of supporters and critics. Some of its more liberal champions, such as the American Jewish Congress's counsel Marc Stern, feel that the republic can not only survive but will actually benefit from public school courses on a document as culturally central as the Bible — as long as the classes avoid being devotional. Evangelical heavyweight Chuck Colson hopes that God will speak to students even through a class that is secular in intent. Those opposed to the book include secularists who argue that it already violates the First Amendment and fundamentalists who see its approach as secular and therefore diluting the value of what they see as God's inspired word. ....
Here is a preview of the book, including parts of several chapters.

Alabama Picks a Bible Textbook -- Printout -- TIME

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Books of the Bible

Mark Bertrand gives a favorable review [on the whole] to The Books of the Bible [TNIV].

Bible Design and Binding: The Books of the Bible (TNIV)

The New Testament on divorce

Dr. Andreas Köstenberger addresses some of the issues raised by David Instone-Brewer and John Piper, and then answers some of the responses to his argument.

Francis Asbury

Mark Tooley, at The American Spectator, on the first post-Revolutionary bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church. He was an interesting and very dedicated preacher, evangelist and leader:
Across five decades in early America, Methodism's circuit riding bishop crisscrossed all the colonies and later nearly every state of the union, preaching the Gospel, and constructing what would become the nation's largest denomination. The statue portrays Asbury on his horse, enrobed in a cape and with a wide brim hat, Bible in hand. Asbury, who never owned a home, spent most of his 70 years on the preaching trail. He routinely forded engorged rivers, hoofed through blizzards, traversed the Alleghenies, risked Indian attacks, and stayed in tiny smelly cabins with dirt floors more often than in fine houses
Methodism, at least as represented by the United Methodists, has changed a bit since those times:
While the early Methodist Church mostly stayed out of politics, it created an ethos that deeply shaped early American life. Methodism encouraged thrift, hard work, entrepreneurship, private philanthropy, and civic righteousness. Even if the church itself did not become politically active, Methodist individuals became renowned for their reforming zeal. But their main focus was always on the Gospel. [more]
The American Spectator: Asbury, Itinerant Leader

Sunday, October 21, 2007

God's will for me

In the course of a series of posts about the decision to change the direction of his ministry, Mark D. Roberts discusses the question of discerning God's will for our lives. A few of his generally applicable comments [I have added emphasis]:
... I tend to believe that God does have a specific will for us, but that He is graciously willing to work with our choices, even when we make the wrong ones. I do not believe that God has one perfect will for our lives, which, if ever we miss it, necessarily dooms us to a second-class life. God's wisdom and grace make room for lots of failure on our part, thank God!

Much of what God wills for us is exceedingly clear and requires relatively little discernment, except in the question of application. There is no doubt, for example, that I should love my neighbor. The only questions concern how and where and when and whom. After all, I can't love all of my neighbors since there are, in the words of the classic bumper sticker, "Too many neighbors, too little time." If you go through Scripture and compile the clear commands of the Lord for us, you've got plenty of God's will for your life. Unfortunately, discussions of God's will often forget this part, choosing to focus only on the specific questions like, "Which neighbor does God want me to love?"

I do believe that God has a more specific will for us, much as He did for Abram, David, Isaiah, and Paul, to name just a few. In Genesis 12, God didn't say to Abram, "Get up and go wherever you like." Rather, He said, "Go to the (specific) land that I will show you." It's clear that God had a particular place in mind for Abram. Similarly, there are times in our lives when God answers the "Where are the neighbors I should love?" question in quite detailed and particular ways. ....

Often God's will is enigmatic. This has everything to do with the fact that God is enigmatic. ....

... I would remind those who embrace Scripture as the inspired Word of God that it speaks of the fact that God exceeds our understanding. "My thoughts are not your thoughts," said the Lord through Isaiah (55:8). "Now we see through a mirror in a riddle," added Paul (1 Cor 13:12), who wrapped up the theological discussion in Romans with this exclamation: "O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" (12:33). God has given us all we need in Jesus Christ and in Scripture. But this does not mean that God, including God's will, is always clear. Sometimes it is, by God's design, enigmatic. [more]
Why Move?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Atheist fundamentalism

A good review of The Dawkins Delusion? at Thinking Christian.
The McGraths travel quickly but with great effect along paths picking apart Dawkins's view of faith, which is a term he will only discuss under his own definition, ignoring the way people of faith actually use it; his misunderstanding of the classic theistic arguments; his philosophical errors in trying to show that science disproves God; the utter lack of evidence behind Dawkins's account of the origins of religious belief; the vacuous notion of the meme; unsupportable assertions about religion and violence; and Dawkins's disregard of piles of evidence showing that religious belief is associated with human well-being. [the review]
The Dawkins Delusion?

"The small and arrogant oligarchy..."

Tradition may be defined as an extension of the franchise. Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.
G.K. Chesterton

Thursday, October 18, 2007

J.K. Rowling and Christianity

MTV News interviews J.K. Rowling about Christian elements in the Harry Potter books. The article based on the interview begins:
It deals extensively with souls — about keeping them whole and the evil required to split them in two. After one hero falls beyond the veil of life, his whispers are still heard. It starts with the premise that love can save you from death and ends with a proclamation that a sacrifice in the name of love can bring you back from it.
Later in the article:
.... On his parents' tombstone he reads the quote "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death," while on another tombstone (that of Dumbledore's mother and sister) he reads, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." ....

"They're very British books, so on a very practical note Harry was going to find biblical quotations on tombstones," Rowling explained. "[But] I think those two particular quotations he finds on the tombstones at Godric's Hollow, they sum up — they almost epitomize the whole series." [more]
Update 10/20: Dumbledore was gay?!

Update 10/23: John Mark Reynolds says that Dumbledore is not gay.

J.K. Rowling Talks About Christian Imagery - News Story | Music, Celebrity, Artist News | MTV News

Willow Creek

A fascinating re-assessment at Willow Creek:
Having put all of their eggs into the program-driven church basket you can understand their shock when the research revealed that “Increasing levels of participation in these sets of activities does NOT predict whether someone’s becoming more of a disciple of Christ. It does NOT predict whether they love God more or they love people more.” Speaking at the Leadership Summit, Hybels summarized the findings this way:
Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back it wasn’t helping people that much. Other things that we didn’t put that much money into and didn’t put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for. [....]

We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.
In other words, spiritual growth doesn’t happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs but through the age old spiritual practices of prayer, bible reading, and relationships. And, ironically, these basic disciplines do not require multi-million dollar facilities and hundreds of staff to manage.

Does this mark the end of Willow’s thirty years of influence over the American church? Not according to Hawkins:
Our dream is that we fundamentally change the way we do church. That we take out a clean sheet of paper and we rethink all of our old assumptions. Replace it with new insights. Insights that are informed by research and rooted in Scripture. Our dream is really to discover what God is doing and how he’s asking us to transform this planet.
Thanks to Between Two Worlds for the reference

Willow Creek Repents? | Out of Ur | Following God's Call in a New World | Conversations hosted by the editors of Leadership journal

Bible versions

Denny Burk offers a really good, brief, description of the distinctions among Bible translations, and the difference between a translation and a paraphrase:
When a Bible is rendered from one language into another, we call it translation. Translation happens anytime a scholar or a group of scholars reads the Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew originals and then translates them into a receptor language (like English in our case). There are two basic philosophies of Bible translation: (1) Formal Equivalence, which is a word-for-word approach to translating, and (2) Dynamic Equivalence, which is a thought-for-thought approach. All translations of the Scriptures fall somewhere on the spectrum between Formal Equivalence and Dynamic Equivalence.But not all Bible versions are translations like the ones in the diagram above. Some versions are paraphrases, and they are off of the spectrum because they are not rendering the Bible from the original tongues into a receptor language. The Living Bible, for instance, is a paraphrase of another English version—the American Standard Version. Other paraphrases, like The Message, are so interpretive that the result sits very loose from the Greek and Hebrew that it renders. [more]
Denny Burk » Point of Clarification on Bible Versions

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The grounds of legitimate divorce

John Piper disagrees thoroughly with the views expressed by David Instone-Brewer in Christianity Today and in other writings [previously referenced on this blog here and here]. Piper:
To put it bluntly, the implication of this article is that every marriage I am aware of could already have legitimately ended in divorce.
Piper explains at some length why he disagrees with Instone-Brewer about the interpretation of the relevant Biblical passages. Piper also links to additional material from one of his books, What Jesus Demands from the World.

Update [10/19]: David Neff at Christianity Today responds to some of the criticism of Instone-Brewer.

Tragically Widening the Grounds of Legitimate Divorce :: Desiring God Christian Resource Library

Hymns that teach truth

As we approach Reformation Day, The Wittenberg Door preaches the virtues of the great hymn tradition of the Reformation:
"Informed by the recovery of the great truths of Scripture, hymns of the Reformation were Christocentric and theologically astute. They not only aided in worship, but they also acted as a teaching tool."
Much of that focus was lost in the 19th and 20th centuries:
Hymnody has fallen on hard times. The Second Great Awakening, Pentecostalism, and the Jesus Movement have taken a toll. No longer are hymns theologically informed and centered upon the Glory and majesty of God; instead, the great truths of Scripture that moved the pens of hymnists have been replaced by the man-centered lavender quills of romantics.
He quotes Michael Horton on the 19th century:
The average Christian will learn more from hymns than from any systematic theology. Hymns chart progression from classic hymns of the 17th and 18th centuries (especially those of Charles Wesley, Augustus Toplady, John Newton and William Cowper) to the Romantic "songs and choruses" of the 19th and 20th centuries. They reflect the shift from Reformation categories (God, sin and grace, Christ's saving work, the Word, church, sacraments, etc.) to Romantic individualism. We sing, "I come to the garden alone while the dew is still on the roses. And the voice I hear, singing in my ear, the voice of God is calling. And he walks with me and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own." Or, "He touched me." The number of 19th century hymns that talk about the objective truth of Scripture, and that which God has done outside of my personal experience, is overwhelmed by the number of hymns that focus on my personal experience. It is my heart, not God and his saving work, that receives top billing. ....
Things haven't improved since then.

The post concludes with a great list of Reformation Hymns.

Splendid Bibles

Via ESV Blog, an interesting blog about Bible Design and Binding by J. Mark Bertrand. For instance "Binding Types: Glued, Sewn, or Hybrid?" The focus is on Bibles that open flat so that they can be read easily, are durably bound and won't fall apart, and are just nice. Mr. Bertrand touches on translation issues but that isn't his primary focus. As his page heading above indicates, the site looks good, too.

Bible Design and Binding

The reliability of the Gospels

Christianity Today offers a list of websites with resources about the reliability of the Gospels.

The List: BlogWatch | Liveblog | Christianity Today

Ridiculing Christianity

Frank Lockwood, the Bible Belt Blogger and religion reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is offended by the double standard with which the press treats religions, at the expense of Christianity:
I'm not a Catholic, but I'm tired of artists who belittle people's faith - publicity hogs who dunk crucifixes in urine and craft images of saints out of elephant dung.

I'm also disappointed by U.S. news organizations that have a double standard when it comes to religion: They're more than happy to mock evangelical or Catholic Christianity, but they're somewhat leery of offending Judaism and they're down-right terrified of offending Islam. Muslims absolutely deserve respect as do Jews and people of all faiths - even Christians.

Here's the lead of a story that moved on the AP wire today (along with a photo):
"Chocolate Jesus is resurrected.

'My Sweet Lord,' an anatomically correct milk chocolate sculpture of Jesus Christ that infuriated Catholics before its April unveiling was canceled, returns Oct. 27 to a Chelsea [New York City] art gallery, its creator said Tuesday."
If the story sounds familiar to you, it's because the national media pounced on it during Easter week - the first time Chocolate Jesus was unveiled. Now it's back for round two.

In the latest story, the sacred cornerstone of Christianity, the resurrection, has been reduced to a journalistic punchline ["chocolate Jesus is resurrected..."]. Isn't that witty and urbane? And people wonder why newspapers can't hold onto readers.

Artists with scant talent (and even less originality) have figured out that blasphemy is an easy (and safe) ticket to national notoriety - as long as it's lowly Jesus of Nazareth who is ridiculed. Newspapers in this overwhelmingly Christian nation gobble it up. They shouldn't.

Can you imagine the national media laughing it up about an anatomically-correct chocolate Mohammed in Manhattan with his genitals on display? They'd be too afraid to print the pictures. [They don't have the nerve to print artistic renderings of the Prophet with his clothes on!]
Would the media laugh at a nude chocolate Mohammed?


Christianity Today has a column by Collin Hansen about The Gospel Coalition. I've posted about the organization here before. It would seem to be an extremely worthy endeavor. Hansen illustrates what it could mean:
Imagine an evangelical movement led by churches that grow by multiplying, preach with theological substance and winsome apologetics, encourage holiness among members, engage their communities in areas such as politics and art, and even share economic resources and welcome the poor.
Thanks to Denny Burk for the reference.

Tethered to the Center | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The "Religious Left"

Steven Malanga in today's Wall Street Journal writes about "The Rise of the Religious Left." If religious leaders wish to speak out about economic and environmental issues, that is surely their right. But good intentions hardly guarantee the advocacy of good policy, and if, in addition, it means less emphasis on other things to which the Church can speak with moral authority, then it is a betrayal. It is also interesting that this kind of involvement is never greeted with the alarm that invariably attends the activities of the "Religious Right." From the article:
This new religious left does not expend its political energies on the cultural concerns that primarily motivate conservative evangelicals. Instead, working mostly at the state and local level, and often in lockstep with unions, its ministers, priests, rabbis, and laity exert a major, sometimes decisive, influence in campaigns to enforce a "living wage," to help unions organize, and to block the expansion of nonunionized businesses like Wal-Mart.

The new religious left is in one sense not new at all. It draws its inspiration in part from the Protestant "social gospel" movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, especially Baptist Minister Walter Rauschenbusch, who believed that the best way to uplift the downtrodden was to redistribute wealth and forge an egalitarian society. Rauschenbusch called for the creation of a kingdom of heaven here on earth - just as presidential candidate Barack Obama did last week at a church in South Carolina. ....

Religious left leaders blindly refuse to acknowledge the considerable academic research showing that mandated wage hikes often eliminate the jobs of low-skilled workers - the very people whom it seeks to help. David Neumark, for example - a researcher at the University of California at Berkeley's Institute of Business and Economics Research and one of the world's foremost authorities on wage laws - has found that while living-wage laws do boost the income of some low-wage workers, they also have "strong negative employment effects." That is, they vaporize jobs. In one study, Mr. Neumark noted that a 50% boost in the living wage produced a decline in employment for the lowest-skilled workers of between 6% and 8%.

Religious left clerics also ignore the evidence that much poverty in prosperous, opportunity-rich America results from dysfunctional - dare one call it "sinful"? - behavior. Around two-thirds of poor families today are single-parent households, largely dependent on government subsidies and headed by women with little education. The entry-level, low-wage work for which these mothers are qualified makes it hard to support large families. And the time they must devote to raising their kids makes it hard to climb the economic ladder. Poverty is increasingly about the irresponsible decision to have children out of wedlock. In many inner city communities where poverty is entrenched, 75% of all children are now born out of wedlock. .... [more]
The Rise of the Religious Left -

In the face of death

When grief and hardship come - and they always do, sooner or later - what we know will be more important than what we feel. In fact, conclusions reached in the face of strong emotion are the least reliable. Martin Downes on "Grief, hope and the comfort of doctrine":
One of the soul impoverishing dangers of regarding doctrine as no more than "head knowledge" is that it denies Christians the comfort and encouragement they need in the face of death. In fact a lack of knowledge leaves us in a position where our grief finds no relief, and our thoughts are given no solid hope.

Consider Paul's approach in 1 Thess 4:13-5:11. He doesn't want them to be ignorant or uninformed about those who have fallen asleep. If they are uninformed then they will grieve like those without hope. The remedy for this is knowledge, doctrine, truth. In the face of death, to those who grieve over believers that have died, Paul confesses the truth of Christ's resurrection. He says "We believe that Jesus died and rose again" and that he will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. In the face of death Christians confess the resurrection of the Son of God. In the midst of grief they hold that believers who have died will be woken from the sleep of death. [more]
Against Heresies: Grief, hope and the comfort of doctrine

Monday, October 15, 2007

Joel Osteen

I've never watched Joel Osteen, but a great many people have and his books are best-sellers. He seems to have a lot of influence. Last evening 60 Minutes did a report on his work. It can be viewed here:Denny Burk watched that report. Here is a portion of his reaction:
The sad thing about Joel Osteen is that he has all the marks of a sincere person. I just finished watching the profile of his ministry on “60 Minutes,” and there is not one thing about him that looks phony. He is one of the most likeable, loveable fellows that you’ll ever see. I really think he believes everything he is saying. ....

Yet by his own admission, his message focuses on the “positive,” and not on sin, redemption, and the cross of Jesus Christ. In other words, his message doesn’t focus on the Gospel. I would have to say that there is hardly anything distinctively Christian about anything that he says. And in fact, the prosperity “gospel” is decidedly anti-Christian (1 Timothy 6:10).

As I was watching the “60 Minutes” interview, I was aghast that Osteen openly admits that he preaches this way. He doesn’t even blush when he says it.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

An easy call

This should be a no-brainer for religious conservatives:
Social conservative leader Gary L. Bauer has issued an appeal to supporters to consider former Sen. Fred Thompson's bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

"I hope pro-family, pro-life Christians will continue to keep an open mind about Senator Thompson's candidacy, even as we work with him to strengthen his stand on some key issues," Mr. Bauer wrote in an e-mail addressed to supporters. "A Thompson vs. Hillary [Clinton] race would be an easy call for me to make."
If, in fact, Giuliani is unacceptable because of his positions on abortion and gay rights, then social conservatives must coalesce behind a candidate who is more acceptable. Huckabee has no chance. McCain's record on these issues is good, but his candidacy seems to be fading and he has previously alienated religious conservatives. Romney is saying the right things, but seems altogether too flexible at the level of principle. By process of elimination, if nothing else, who is left but Thompson?

Moreover, it should be easy to support Thompson on positive grounds. His record is good on pro-life issues. He is in favor of protecting the right of states to determine family law. From a conservative point of view, he is solid on economic and national security issues, and he seems willing to speak straightforwardly on the difficult issues regarding our future.

There are those who seem reluctant to support Thompson because they question whether he is a Christian. I hope he is, for his own sake, but it should not be an important consideration politically. Martin Luther supposedly said that he would “rather be ruled by a wise Turk than by a foolish Christian.” I would much rather be ruled by a non-believer who will promote those policies that are right than by a sincere believer who will not.

A failure to unite in Senator Thompson's support would appear to be allowing the best [which doesn't seem to exist as a candidate] to be the enemy of the good.

Bauer urges 'open mind' - The Washington Times, America's Newspaper

"While in Him confiding..."

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls,
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
He makes my feet like the deer’s;
He makes me tread on high places.
Habakkuk 3:17-19 [ESV]

Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord, who rises with healing in His wings:
When comforts are declining, He grants the soul again
A season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain.

In holy contemplation we sweetly then pursue
The theme of God’s salvation, and find it ever new.
Set free from present sorrow, we cheerfully can say,
'E'en let th' unknown tomorrow bring with it what it may.

It can bring with it nothing but He will bear us thro';
Who gives the lilies clothing will clothe His people, too;
Beneath the spreading heavens, no creature but is fed;
And He Who feeds the ravens will give His children bread.

Though vine, nor fig tree neither, their wonted fruit should bear,
Tho' all the field should wither, nor flocks, nor herds, be there,
Yet God the same abiding, His praise shall tune my voice
For while in Him confiding, I cannot but rejoice.
[William Cowper, c. 1779]

Poets' Corner - William Cowper: Olney Hymns

Friday, October 12, 2007

" America all parties are religious."

A primer for Israelis on religion and Presidential politics in the United States.

The true believers - Haaretz - Israel News

"Lost Gospels or False Gospels?"

Ignatius Press offers a DVD titled "Lost Gospels or False Gospels," about the apocryphal "gospels" and starring a remarkably ecumenical group of New Testament scholars, including Mitch Pacwa, Dr. Craig Evans, Dr. Ben Witherington, III, Dr. Timothy Gray, Dr. Edward Sri, Dr. Amy-Jill Levine, Dr. Craig Blomberg, and Dr. Gary Habermas.

I haven't seen it, but it looks interesting.

The site includes a clip of Ben Witherington commenting on the "Gospel of Judas."

Lost Gospels or False Gospels?" DVD | From Ignatius Press

"Red-letter Christians"

Stan Guthrie explains "Why I am not a Red-Letter Christian," and Tony Campolo responds, somewhat disingenuously.

When Red Is Blue | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction


Justin Taylor offers Trinity 101 at Desiring God. This is a good introduction to the doctrine - a doctrine which I have called "a solution, not an explanation." If God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and if there is One God, then the doctrine is necessary.
Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology defines the Trinity as follows: “God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God” (p. 226).

Broken down, this amounts to three propositions:
  • God is three persons.
  • Each person is fully God.
  • There is one God. ....
And Taylor also offers helpful diagrams:
Theologians have typically described God as being of “one essence” but “three persons.” But what exactly do we mean by “essence” and “person”? In its simplest terms, essence answers the question, “What are you?” Person answers the question, “Who are you?”

So when we say that the Trinity entails “one essence” (God) and “three persons” (Father, Son, and Spirit), we are saying that the Trinity has one What and three Who’s. We can draw this as follows:[more, with links to additional resources]

Thursday, October 11, 2007

"Doesn't anyone teach logic anymore?"

Why should salt suffer?

Some people are horrified by the eating of meat - one thinks of PETA, for instance. Most of them become vegetarians. One wonders how they will respond to a report that appeared this week:
Plants chatter amongst themselves to spread information, a lot like humans and other animals, new research suggests. ....
If it is cruel to exploit animals by killing and eating them, and if plants also possess consciousness, and warn each other about danger, then the implications for the more sensitive among us are potentially devastating. G.K. Chesterton described what could happen:
.... Tolstoy and the Humanitarians said that the world was growing more merciful, and therefore no one would ever desire to kill. And Mr. Mick not only became a vegetarian, but at length declared vegetarianism doomed (‘shedding,’ as he called it finely, ‘the green blood of the silent animals’), and predicted that men in a better age would live on nothing but salt. And then came the pamphlet from Oregon (where the thing was tried), the pamphlet called ‘Why should Salt suffer?’ and there was more trouble. ....
Plants Communicate to Warn Against Danger - Yahoo! News, G.K. Chesterton: The Napoleon of Notting Hill

Filled with the Word of God

Gene Edward Veith recently returned from England where he had the opportunity to worship in two magnificent cathedrals:
In London the Montgomeries took me to the Evensong service at St. Paul's Cathedral. Then in Salisbury I went to morning and evening services in the cathedral there, which is one of the most magnificent of all gothic structures. I had been to both places before as a tourist, but to experience them for the purpose for which they were built was overwhelming. With the ethereal voices of the children's choir chanting the Psalms, the rich Biblical language of the Book of Common Prayer, and the extensive Bible readings, those transcendent structures were filled with the Word of God.
The cathedral services had no sermon, which I considered a good thing, given the current state of Anglican theology. But no one could deny, being in those cathedrals at worship, that Christianity is a formidable, profound, culture-creating religion, with a palpable presence.
He goes on to reflect on the state of Christianity in Europe and the West, and observes:
My observation from the conference, after meeting many faithful Christians from England and elsewhere around the world, is that in countries where the church is culturally unpopular, ONLY those who are true believers bother to go to church. The intensity of faith increases.
I've been to both cathedrals, and during worship the sounds of the organ and the boys' choirs reverberate in the great spaces. The structures were intended to create a sense of awe - and they do. They are magnificent structures for their purpose.

Within the last half century, the Christian faith seemed to be an important part of the lives of the English people. It is, perhaps, a warning to us that the decline in public profession of faith can be so rapid. It is already true here that the public profession of Christian faith is looked on with suspicion - even hostility - by important segments of society. The worshiping community in the United States may also soon be reduced to "those who are true believers."

The exterior pictures are of Salisbury, and the interior is at St. Paul's. [The photographs are not my own, and the painting is by Constable.]

Hope for Europe and the rest of us