Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Organized Pastor -4

The Filing System--part 3: Church Files and Meeting Minutes.

My other discussions on files have been pretty extensive and complicated because of the amount of information filed. This one is not the case.

I have one meager file drawer where I keep work/church related items. So I have in it minutes from meetings, like the Elders meetings. I also have stuff from Boards and Committees I serve on outside the church. I save records of email--if I happened to make a hard copy--and counseling notes from sessions here.

I have a complete binder for everything related to Victory Valley Camp, where I serve on the Board. So in seconds, I can find budget, planning, minutes, and contracts.

If I ever go through a complicated situation--like counseling, or a series of events that involve difficult meetings such as church discipline--I make a file and keep a record of dates and events. Hopefully I'll never need it, but if I do I have it.

This are organized alphabetically--general to specific. All the items in this file are specific to activity. What I mean is that I have an "Elder" file that has minutes and action items. But anything that relates to theory and principles must go under topics. Why? Because want to be able to get work activity and progress quickly.

About a year ago, the Board of Victory Valley Camp, where I volunteer as chairman, went through a process of writing by-laws based on Carver's Policy Governance. So under Topics: I have generic info on board leadership and policy governance. This is stuff applicable to multiple settings. But in my "Church/work" I have the actual drafts and final copies of our unique policy governance. I also had to keep track of some difficult decisions as it related to policy governance--so there are records in there as well. Yes--I keep what I can on computer, I'll discuss that later. But hard copies, where needed, need to be filed.

Why do I have 'three' filing systems?
This may seem bizarre to some, but it works for me. I don't have to scan a massive list of labels just to find elder minutes. There is one small drawer with work items. This helps me keep track of things. When ever I start looking for something the process is simple: what kind of information is it: Biblical exegesis, topic, or work? It will take a little longer to find a topic but at least it is not cluttered with work items or unrelated issues.

Part of my solution developed in college. There I did not have 'minutes' from meeting. I had Biblical books and Topics. When I was first a pastor, I need other files from meetings and I just didn't have enough to really integrate them into my "Topics". So when I planned a mission's trip I had files on information to share with my committee but I found it didn't clutter my normal files. Since then I have made a conscious effort to keep my files separate. I have long since thrown out the files on that specific mission's trip but they never cluttered up my "Topics" some of which are files I have kept and developed for 10+ years.

This helps me quite a bit when I am chairman.
If I have an article on theory, I think we should read--I know where it is.

If I want to see the minutes from the previous meeting it helps me. I can easily keep track of action items. One other piece of advice I've found: whenever you have a meeting, if you are the chairman sit down after the meeting or first thing the next day, and make the agenda for next time. This helps you make sure you carry items over. It helps you organize your notes and keep track of action items. You will not forget to put on the agenda what you promised to do. It hold you accountable.

Furthermore, once you start the electronic file, whenever you think: "we must discuss this at the next meeting" you can add it to the agenda in 30 seconds. If you wait until then to draw up the agenda you won't do it because it was a random thought. I used to just make a sticky note for this--but I often forgot to look at all my sticky notes on my desk when it came time to prep for the meeting. I usually didn't miss stuff, I don't think anyways--but I spend too much time prepping for meetings. Now I pull the file, review what I added and then think if there is anything else that we need.

If your meetings run on a yearly schedule, like we do for VVC, it makes it even easier because all you have to do is add any abnormal business. I'll talk more about how I organize and record random thoughts and use post-it notes. But for now suffice it to say: the right information has to go to the right place. Making the agenda as soon as the last meeting is over is helpful.

The Files Help with New Work
If I have some new marriage counseling to do, I won't have to study the issues afresh--say on conflict resolution or peacemaking. I will pull the files on marriage, with some essays on marriage helps. I will pull the stuff I have on conflict resolution and peacemaking. Then I will start a new file under "church work" for the couple I am counseling. If I take notes during there meeting, I file them. I record what I gave them and what we talked about. If I give them resources, I copy it out of my topics. Thus, I am prepared but at the end of the session: topics go back to topics to be reused when the need arises. Hopefully, the file of the specific sessions doesn't get opened again if the counselling is successful. Either way I can track progress, remember issues I've delat with all while keep these isolated from resources I will reuse in diverse settings.

Conclusion
I hope this has helped you in some way. My filing system is probably a bit strange at first but I hope you will find it effective. If you have any suggestions please leave comment. The important thing about organization is not the theory but the practice. What I mean is, all the organization theory with detail and complexity doesn't mean squat if you can't maintain and consistently use what you have with little effort. It has to come naturally in the executive. It has to work for you but be explainable.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Organized Pastor -3

The Filing System--part 2: Topics

As I noted yesterday, my files fall into three categories: (1) Biblical; (2) Topical; and (3) Church/work committees. Today, I want to talk about how I organize my files under topics. Begin with this simple axiom: organize general to specific. This keeps things easily accessible at the same time it organizes by specifics. If you work general to specific you can expand your subfolders when a folder become too unwieldily to be useful. The goal is to get what works for you, what is usable and explainable. You don't want finding an example or fact to turn into a three hour research project.

All my current files have started under a general category. I will use three extended examples in this post: Apologetics, Pauline Studies, and Statistics. Each one started as its own topic. But as it expanded it got pretty detailed sub-folders.

First, my 'Statistics' was a jumbled mess until about a month ago. It was large and expanding. I new I had facts on 'sexual immorality', 'pastoral fallout', 'church decline' and a whole mess of other things. But I would wade through a three inch file to find a two page Barna survey. It was not worth it. So I broke it down. Statistics now has subfolders:
  1. "Beliefs of 'Christians'" --Tracking the trends of
  2. "Beliefs: Pluralism" --Tracking Pluralism in Religious Belief today.
  3. "Church Attendance" --decline rates, etc.
  4. "Culture, Christianity" --mostly on trends specific to evangelicals
  5. "Depression and Happiness"
  6. "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism" --which has the studies by Christian Smith and Melina Denton.
  7. "Sexual" --this keeps track of trends. I also started a file under "Sexual Immorality" for some general essays I found in this area. This tracts statistics of moral decline and acceptance of sexual immorality.
  8. "Pastors" --which has the stats on how often pastors leave pulpits.
  9. "Religion in America" --the stats that show that religion is actual headed towards pluralism.
  10. "Youth/Young People" -trends regarding the next generation.
This makes a stat easily findable when I am writing a sermon. If I get a new stat unrelated to these topics it will either go in the general "Statistics" or more likely it will go into its own special file. Here is the key: it takes time and research to develop subfolders. If you make subfolders to early in your filing system you will have an unworkable mess of endless subfolder or more likely a mass of folders that have no connectivity or real organization. You pull 5 topics from "S", "P", "G" etc. before you actually get related data and essays. Don't just make a "Church Decline" folder for a few stats. If you have essays on Church Decline you may want its own folder or you may want to start under: Church, until you can expand it to "Church Health" and "Church Decline." Work general to specific. Allow the files to evolve over time. As you pull stuff or file new stuff ask yourself: is this organized? Did I find it quickly? If you are looking through a file and are finding in 10 essay on Pauline Studies you have three on the New Perspective, 5 on history, and 2 on theology it's time to reorganize.

Second, ironically, in my files I do need to reorganize my Pauline Studies files. So far I have 4 folders:
  1. "Pauline Studies"--this is the original.
  2. "Pauline Studies: New Perspective on Paul"
  3. "Pauline Studies: New Perspective on Paul."
  4. "Pauline Studies: Law, Works of the Law"
Here's what I need to break it down into. Things like:
  • "Pauline Studies: Pauline Theology"
  • "Pauline Studies: Historicity"
  • "Pauline Studies: New Perspective,"
  • "Pauline Studies: New Perspective, Nomos"--I may need to add a couple here, like on 'Justification' or other sub-sub topics.
  • "Pauline Studies: New Perspective Critique."
I promise, I'll break it down as soon as I use it. I'm not going to organize it until I (a) get some free time, or (b) need to find something, then I'll organize as I look. Just for reminder, issues like the date of Galatians will go under Galatians in the Biblical section of the files. I also have Topics on "Justification by Faith" including a Sunday School series and research from that. However, all the debates on Justification and the New Perspective go under "Pauline Studies". This is because this is more properly their topic. Where it does get tricky is I have a series on "Christology" which included discussion on Pauline passages. There is invariably an overlap. So here's the general practice of my break down:
  • There is a generic file for "Christology" and for "Pauline Studies".
  • Any exegetical papers go under "Biblical" with the passages.
  • Work product from "Christology" goes under that section including the handouts. I believe I have a subfolder on "Christology: Pauline." This is because the work there, while under Pauline issues, mostly relates to a larger category of systematic theology.
Whenever you do research you will invariably pull multiple files--if you have a comprehensive filing system. If I am working in Philippians I pull the Biblical files, the Pauline Studies Files that relate, and when I'm in Philippians 2:6-11, I'll pull Christology to see how the passage relates within Christology. I do have a lecture or two from when I covered Christology. However, all the essays on Philippians 2:6-11, like N.T. Wright's essay reprinted in Climax of the Covenant,* are under the Biblical text but I do have some diagrams relating to the humiliation and exaltation of Christ under 'Christology'.

"Justification by Faith" has popular articles and notes/work from a SS series. But if I study the issue I need to pull files in the Biblical: Romans, Galatians, James. In Pauline Studies, especially New Perspective. And then in 'justification by faith' which has two sub-folders. Sounds complex but here's the point: If I find a new article on Romans 4 and justification I file it under Romans 4. If it is N.T. Wright's discussion of justification it goes under "New Perspective" (I soon I'll give him his own sub-category here). If it is on church life and justification, or on imputation in general it goes under "Justification by Faith". I try to be exact as possible. Sometimes it is a subjective judgment call--use what works for you and ask: "How can I best find this later". So for example: should I expand my "Pauline Studies: New Perspective" by topics (e.g. 'Law', etc.) or by person (e.g. Wright, Dunn. etc.).

One file I have to move: "pistis christou" that Pauline issue in Romans and Galatians, has its own file under the "p". In needs to be a subfolder of "Pauline Studies". The only reason it isn't is because this research goes back to college when my files were smaller.

Third, "Apologetics" has numerous sub-files. I keep notes from two seminary courses under there own subfolders. I have topics on Atheism including debates like "Stein/" and "Hitchen/Wilson". I have historical apologetics, philosophical apologetics, responses from unbelievers. Some areas are more general like: virgin birth, or atheism. The "Atheism" on has articles by atheists but not apologetic responses. If I want to find responses: "Apologetics: Atheism", if I just want to read them in their own words: "Atheism".

Here's the actual breakdown:
  1. "Apologetics: Atheism"
  2. "Apologetics: Atheism: Dawkins" --his work and responses.
  3. "Apologetics: Atheistic Critique of Presuppositionalism" --an atheist points to flaws in presuppositional apologetics.
  4. "Apologetics: Hitchens vs. Wilson Debate" --this is the Christianity Today Series. Along with Wilson's blog review of God is Not Great.
  5. "Apologetics: Christianity and Religious Pluralism"
  6. "Apologetics: Introduction to" --class notes from seminary.
  7. "Apologetics: Islam" --These are responses. 'Islam' is its own file too.
  8. "Apologetics: Myths about Jesus, YF Fall 2008" --this is a Youth Group (YF= youth fellowship series). All my series whether in Biblical or Topical have info about the formant (e.g. Sermon, SS Adult, Senior High SS, YF, etc.) plus the quarter or time period.
  9. "Apologetics: Origins of Christianity, Mystery Cults, etc."
  10. "Apologetics: Presuppositionalism"
  11. "Apologetics: Stein/Bahnsen Debate"
  12. "Apolgetics: When Skeptics Ask: Adult SS Sumer 2008"
  13. "Apologetics: Zeitgeist" --info on the movie.
Hopefully you see my information is accessible without being overwhelmed. I don't have to wade through issues of atheism if I want information on presuppositionalism or Christian Origins.

This may seem overwhelming at first--I mean thirteen files... how do I know where to put it ? As I mentioned, some filing is a judgment call. I did three SS lessons on atheism this summer and yes, I had to pull a number of files including debates, atheists in their own words, and apologetic responses. But they sat on my desk and I knew which ones to look in for each particular item. I also had a file "Humanism" which was relevant. I didn't have to do a lot of fresh research because I had collected and organized. I estimate this saved about 5-6 hours or original work on Atheism. Some stuff I used was old work, other time was used doing some new work/reading. As my files grow, I have "Evolution" and "Creation" and even a generic "Science". Atheists have written things in some of these but not necessarily defenses of atheism. I read a lot, I collect, and when I needed it, I could find it. Imagine if you could cut out 5-6 hours in SS or sermon prep in order to reinvest it deeper prep--that's my goal but I can't say I always hit it.

Fourth, one thing I have done for a while is keep a "Misc." file. If I find one article, I put it here. So I collected an essay on economics. It sat there for a while until I found another essay I wanted to keep. Then economics got it's own file. Whenever I file a group of essays, I pull "Misc." and review it. There are something that will probably never get out of there--like a bulletin from my grandmother's funeral--it's been there since college. I use the Misc. to keep my topics from getting to precise too quick.

I generally keep a stack of papers on my desk until the end of the week until I file things. This allows me to file a bunch at once and better organize groups because chances are I didn't just read one essay on a topic. If you file something too quick it may get lost in some obscure label--at least that's how it happens for me. This may not be as effect or organized as I could be--but it does keep the files organized when they do go away. This, along with my habit of pulling 5-10 files at once, is also why my desks goes from cluttered to clean and back again.

Fifth, you have to review your files periodically. For example, I had an unorganized file on the contemporary church that had essays critiquing trends. I had to break this down--even throw some of the files into other issues. "Contemporary Church" overlapped to much with other topics. I wasn't working from general to specific--instead I had a bizzare catch all where I could find nothing. I have other files that are still a bit unruly and need subcategories but as a rule I try to wait until I am using them. I don't want to spend 20+ hours and go organize stuff into subcategories--for now I know where it is if I file new stuff in a disorganized file or if I pull stuff, I'll take about 10 minutes and break it down. To my mind, this is more organized and effective.

Sixth, one last thing: I have several people that just have there own files. I don't do this too much because you want to find a topic not a person. My exceptions: Carl Trueman, I save a number of his witty essays from Ref 21. Dr. Mohler has some essays that get under topics but I have a few odd ball ones under his name. I have some collections of Horton essays. Mostly Mohler and Horton are being refiled under topics because that's where I look for them most. Every now and then when I go through Mohler's and Horton's work and I go 'this should be in that topic because I missed it'. Trueman's British wit--well that just retains its own category. Only on important issue does something get filed by name only. But this usually creates a mess of unsearchable files. So Book review of favorite authors go there. Essays by emerging church guys or critique go first under "Emerging Church" although I have collects of essays and responses by key figures with their own subcategories.

Online journals like Themelios or 9Marks e-journal gets printed as a bundle and filed that way in my hanging files, just like I file JETS or WTJ on my shelf.

Conclusion: Let's RECAP.
General to specific. Organize by area: (1)Biblical; (2) Topic; (3) Church. Collect in one topic until you have enough to break it down. Label it as subfolders. Make sure the main topics are memorable. Like: Apologetics, Church, Ethics, Pauline Studies, etc.** Do what works for you but what is explainable. There will always be a 'judgment call' in your filing. Don't fret, just label it and file it as best you can at the time.***

By now, your probably think that this isn't all that organized. It is pretty complex but I have almost two full standing file drawer with just topics. I need to be able to access them and I want my work to be in the actual study not the busy work of finding things. I know this works for me. How? Because I wrote this entire post from home. The only thing I didn't remember: 1 of the Pauline folders, four of the ten specific statistics I was keeping, and the actual list of "Apologetics" subfolders--wrote the paragraph as is from home, but added the actual list when I got to the office. In other words, I missed a few details but the general flow of my information was unchanged--I knew what I had on hand and generally where it was. This is what has worked for me, although I am refining things more as things grow.

Part of writing this series is that if forces me to make things explainable and I can catch inconsistencies that arise from areas where I just filed things without thinking.

My filing has helped me. In fact, as I added the list on apologetics, I realized I have a thorough chapter-by-chapter critique of Hitchen's God is Not Great. I read the critique in 2007 when it was post on Doug Wilson's blog. Right now I am getting through the book on my own. My files pointed me to resource I didn't even know I had--but will be an asset. Instead of reading it and forgetting about it, I read it and filed it and not it will be of use to me two years later. Ten seconds of wondering and then checking what besides the Christianity Today debate was making that file so thick produced a pleasant surprise. This, in my mind, is an effective mark of organization. You'll never remember everything, you just have to remember where you filed it--or have labels that say "Hi there, here I am filed, you might need me". What a surprise to me.

And please dear astute reader, don't ask me why this wasn't filled under "Book Review: Hitchens." I save book reviews and enough reviews on a particular author or book or a series on a book (as is this case) usually get a "Book Review:" with an "X, Y, Z" subcategory. Hey, it was a judgment call, I thought I'd get more use out of such essays in "Apologetics"--in this case I was right, I was working on apologetics stuff not review my book review list. Judgment calls need to be intuitive to the way you work and what your needs were, mine certainly was. I rolled the dice, filed and it paid off.

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*This might not be the best example. I have three versions of it. (1) I have the book. (2) When my exegesis class in college went through Philippians, I filled it under Philippians; (3) Somewhere, probably a Christology class taught by the same professor, I acquired another copy that got filed in Christology. My point is: if I only had one copy I would know where it was: Biblical Files.

**I do have a number of less specific ones like "humility" which has examples, quotes, and essays. Some like "Elders" could have been "Church: Elders" but I just never went that way with it. It didn't work for me at the time. Subsequently I have some of general "Leadership", some of "Elders" not only on qualifications, training, etc. as subfolders and then one on "Church Leadership". This have been specific to my needs. A study on leadership would pull the areas--but training the elders might only pull one or two. It works for me and I can explain it--sort of.

***Occasionally when I have a hard to file item, I will put it under a topic with a sticky note on it saying "This essay is about X", so I know what it made it where it did. This allows me to see what the essay is when I scan the files.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Organized Pastor -2

The Filing System--part 1: Biblical Passages

Since college, I have used essentially the same filing system. Sometime during college, I took hanging files and made one file for each book of the Bible. I then have a second set of files for various topics. This filing system has expanded. It now contains three sets: (1) Books of the Bible; (2) Topics; (3) Church work (e.g. committee minutes, meetings, etc.).

With respect to the books of the Bible, I started the files so that I could save my work product on books of the Bible. If I read an article that is a particular exegesis of a particular set of verses or book of the Bible it goes into the file. Any exegetical papers I wrote in college get there own hanging file organized by reference. In those files I have saved the file product as well as the research.

Some books of the Bible have been expanded. My Romans file included one file just on articles plus another file on work product, all of which I have subsequently reorganized into four files divided up by chapters in Romans. Sermon series get their own file so that I can archive sermons but I don't have to wade through them to find research. Any Sunday School series get there own file too so that I can archive lesson handouts. The research for sermons and Sunday school material stays under research.

So this summer I started preaching in Exodus. I began by collecting a number of essays, including some that I already had on the historicity of Exodus. I pulled my Exodus file. Since I was collecting work, I've expanded the files.

There is now the original Exodus file that has general work product and some notes from Bible college when we surveyed the book. I have a collection of essays on particular sections. All the files begin with "Exodus:" and the various subfiles include:

  1. 'Origin, Birth and Call of Moses' -which is roughly chapters 1-4 but includes issues like the Sargon narrative in the ANE.
  2. "Date and Archeology"--dealing with issues of historicity and a series of debates in JETS over the early vs. late dating of the Exodus.
  3. "Tabernacle" --I'm collecting essays and exegesis of the Tabernacle section.
  4. "Literary Structure" --self explanatory. This has treatments of larger portions of Exodus.
  5. "Chapters 5-13: Plagues, Passover, etc."
  6. "Chapters 14-15"
  7. "Chapters 32-34"
  8. "Ten Commandments" Only a treatment of the Ten Commandments in Exodus. Any generic treatments go under the topics: "Ten Commandments."
  9. "6:3"
  10. "Sermon series summer 2009" --just an archive of the sermons after I preach them. Although stand alone sermons are not in this file.
Few of my files are this extensive. Most are just a single book. That is how "Exodus" began. It has a collection of about 5 essays or so and no work from any exegetical papers. Once I started doing research, the files quickly expanded and were reorganized. In preaching Exodus, I will be able to quickly find the files that relate to a section of the text. Right now the sub-folders has largely been determine by the essays I collected and the twelve part sermon series I planned this summer through Exodus.

As I prepare for preaching I may have to pull some topics. For example: "Passover", "Sabbath," and "Ten Commandments". This are in topics because they deal with the issues. They may touch on Exodus but they are not primarily exegetical work. One odd ball is under abortion I have "Abortion: Exodus" in my topical files. This has some papers on Exodus 21:22-25. I filed these under topics because I figured most times I'd be discussing the text with reference to abortion. I want a quick way to remember that I have essays on Abortion and Exodus. I want to be able to remember that this is an important text in Bible in relationship to Abortion. Typically it would have been filed in the 'Bible files' but this is an exception. It is filed under the Topic: Abortion, with a subtopic: Exodus; the other option would have been to file it under Exodus and just put a post-it note under 'Abortion'.*

Let me try to give one more example on a less lengthy book: Galatians.

In my files I have:
  1. "Galatians" --this is the original file which has translation work and articles.
  2. "Galatians Scholarly Articles"--when I started to amass essays and journal articles, I began a larger file. Admittedly these two files need to be broken down or a little more organized but since I'm not in the book right now, it can wait.
  3. "Galatians: Bible Study" --this is actually some misc. lesson in Galatians that I've done as stand alones or in various series. Those done in series are probably double filed under a topic.
  4. "Galatians 4:1-7" --work product and final presentation of a paper I did in college including all journal articles related to it.
  5. "Galatians: Youth" --this is a series of handouts from when I taught through the book.
Again, organization has to be about being able to retrieve the information and it has to be something that "works" for you and, I might add, is easily explainable. It may work for you to pile things in one file (or on your desk) but that is hardly easily explainable. Of course, any study in Galatians will need to access my files on "Pauline Studies" and "Pauline Studies: New Perspective" etc.

I may have violated my own easily explainable rule here but I've tried to give you some detail. The advantage I find in my system is I don't spend too long wondering where something is. Want info: just ask (1) is it a topic or on a particular text? (2) What subfolder (if any) does it fall under. Something obviously don't have sub-folders yet.

So there is a great essay by Karen Jobes on Paul's use of the Old Testament in Galatians 4, with the notoriously difficult allegory. I've read it before but where did I file it? Well it is under Pauline Studies? It could be under my "Use of OT in the NT"--no it is a treatment of a section of the text so look under Galatians: scholarly articles. I checked my files just before typing this and there it was--I find it in less than 30 seconds. **

So just to recap: the files are in three categories: (1) Biblical Files; (2) Topical Files; and (3) Committees/Work. If I want an issue I start under one of those categories. This allows me to find things without wading through mounds of files--reading labels endlessly and searching through the filing system. Theory goes under "Topics" whereas decisions and ministry minutes, etc. goes under committee work and it easily distinguishable. The Biblical files are broken down according to usage and need--easily expanding as I collect things. Work product is kept separate from final product so that I can keep data without wading through Bible lessons or sermons that may not be reusable in a new context. The exegetical work of others is easily accessible without wading through my own meager endeavors.

It's what works for me.

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*I have toyed with the idea of interconnecting various files, topics, etc. in this way, but I have not had extensive opportunity to do this. I am not going to cross link things until (a) I actually file new things or (b) I am research a topic.

**Note: it might have been double filed under "Use of OT in NT" because I may have wanted to remember that if I was ever studying the topic. I checked and it wasn't. Only occassionaly do I double file and that's when I am stumped about something's true topic.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Organized Pastor -1

I am not the most organized guy. In fact, I tend to go through spurts. I get highly organized and then slowly that organization descends into chaos, only for my to get reorganized again. In fact, my whole process is rather a bit like Sisyphus, pushing a rock up a hill only to have to repeat it all over again. Sometimes, I'm like one of those "you can find it in that pile" types of people. When I'm studying my test becomes alive with papers, books, sticky notes, etc. etc.

I thought I would embark on a bit of a different series for my blog: I thought I'd discuss some of the ways I organize things. Recently I have embarked on an endeavor to be more organized. One thing that has been consistently organized for me since college has been my files. I've maintained some consistent habits so I can usually find things with relative ease. In this process I've picked up things along the way and I thought I might share them.

My philosophy of organization is simple: it has to work for you. Organization has to be tailored to your personality and your habits. For example: I regularly preach and study God's Word. Often time when I'm studying a passage I want to know what research I've gathered on it. So my filing system is actually divided into two filing systems. One system, has all the books of the Bible, one file per book. Then I have a second system of topics. So an article on Romans 10 goes under "Romans" in the Bible files while a discussion of the New Perspective on Paul goes under: Pauline Theology: New Perspective.

I've used this system since college and it's worked for me. It is great for writing exegetical papers or filing sermons because they all go under "Bible". Studying a tough passage allows me to keep the exegesis and the topic a bit distinct.

Everything else in my office, my desk, email and my computer is set up in a way that I've found to be most efficient for me. In this series, I'm going to elaborate on how these things have worked for me. Organizing things have to be flexible in the "system", meaning if I'm constantly putting something somewhere or looking for something somewhere I have to change the system. You have to make things intuitive to how you think. Sometimes you occasionally have to train yourself to think a certain way that makes more sense but I've found too much of this creates habits that are to easy to break and 'poof' the boulder roles back down the hill.

The goal of organization is to avoid wasting time but being able to retrieve information and details when needed. If done correctly you declutter your mind but have in your head the bare minimum of how you store things not necessarily every detail of where you stored what. So in your studies you think: "I read a great article on X" or "I remember reading a statistic on Y" so you should be readily able to find this.

In this series I hope to discuss of a number of little areas that I've learned to organize. Being organized doesn't necessarily make me a better person or a better pastor. Hopefully it does keep me from wasting time which makes me a better steward. In small ways, a bit of organization can go a long way.

Time to go, I have to declutter my desk.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Limits of Science

First Things, has an essay reviewing John Polkinhorne's new book Theology and the Context of Science. Here's an excerpt worth reading and pondering:

Polkinghorne takes the novel step of treating science and religion as an important type of contextual theology in its own right, recognizing that science, no less than other aspects of modern thought and culture, can suggest insights and provide information that are vital for theological reflection. “Theology conducted in the context of science must be prepared to be candid about the evidence for its beliefs,” he says forthrightly, but science does not dominate the conversation: There are clear limits to its authority and competence that both believers and unbelievers need to realize.

The overall message Polkinghorne brings is a crucial one: Science cannot provide its own metaphysical interpretation. As he says with typical precision, “Physics constrains metaphysics, but it no more determines it than the foundations of a house determine the precise form of the building erected on them.” This is especially true in a post-Newtonian world characterized by greater epistemological humility. “The twentieth-century demise of mere mechanism,” he says, provides “a salutary reminder that there is nothing absolute or incorrigible about the context of science.” Some questions lie “outside the scientific domain,” and here “theology has a right to contribute to the subsequent metascientific discourse.” Anyone familiar with the writings of such preachers of scientific atheism as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, or Christopher Hitchins will immediately appreciate the very different world in which Polkinghorne dwells. “The tendency among atheist writers to identify reason exclusively with scientific modes of thought,” he notes pointedly, “is a disastrous diminishment of our human powers of truth-seeking inquiry.” (emphasis mine)
And:
The laws of nature “underlie the form and possibility of all occurrence,” but science can treat them only “as given brute facts. These laws, in their economy and rational beauty, have a character that seems to point the enquirer beyond what science itself is capable of telling, making a materialist acceptance of them as unexplained brute facts an intellectually unsatisfying stance to take.” The very possibility of science, in his view, “is not a mere happy accident, but it is a sign that the mind of the Creator lies behind the wonderful order that scientists are privileged to explore.” In short, “the activity of science is recognized to be an aspect of the imago Dei.” (emphasis mine)

These remarks couldn't be more poignant. As I'm am currently working through some of the books by the 'new atheism,' I am struck how the arguments take the debate back and not forward. No doubt the new atheists are highly intelligent yet there is a crude sort of scientificism that has a sort of 'the only way of knowing things is by scientific proof' and 'all we need is rational thought'. This leaves all sorts of questioning begging and assertion without argumentation. As Doug Wilson remarked once, 'one wonders if they've heard of epistemology'.

Polkinghorne on the other hand is both a scientist and a theologian. He is a renowned expert in both, in a day and age where few are even experts in one field. His book seems like it might be worth reading. In fact, First Things says this about Polkinhorne's belief in the resurrection:
He understands that the Resurrection is “the pivot on which the claim of a unique and transcendent significance for Jesus must turn,” and he does not turn away from embracing the risen Lord. It would be “a serious apologetic mistake,” he writes with typical British understatement, “if Christian theology thought that operating in the context of science should somehow discourage it from laying proper emphasis on the essential centrality of Christ’s Resurrection, however counterintuitive that belief may seem in the light of mundane expectation.”

There is a field of Christian professionals who are experts in the fields of science and also unwavering in their Christian beliefs. The two fields are hardly at odds, as too many stuck in a strange aberration of Englightenment fundamentalism would have us believe.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Notes from the Culture Wars -5

One last note, this come more from pop culture than the culture wars. I guess one could argue that pop culture is the new culture anyways--although it often leaves much to be desired. This is an insightful comment:
In their new book, "The Mirror Effect," addiction medicine specialist Drew Pinsky and business professor S. Mark Young argue that following the foibles of reality TV stars and other celebrities is not a wholly harmless pastime. The more time we spend observing the shocking, materialistic and egotistical behavior of reality TV stars, they argue, the more likely we are to mimic that behavior in our own lives and view the pathological self-centeredness of these "Joe Six-Pack" celebrities as normal.

That's troubling, since most reality TV stars are anything but normal. In a 2006 study published in the Journal of Research in Personality, Pinsky and Young used the Narcissistic Personality Inventory to assess celebrity egoism. They found that reality TV celebrities ranked highest in narcissistic traits, surpassing even rock stars and actors.

Reality TV's celebration of egoism and exhibitionism contributes to the fame-at-any-cost mentality that afflicts many teenagers today. According to a 2005 survey by The Washington Post, Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University, nearly one-third of American teenagers believe they will be famous someday. In Britain, a 2006 Learning and Skills Council study found that more than one in 10 teenagers would forgo an education or training for the chance to appear on TV, and nearly one in 10 consider fame a "great way to earn money without skills or qualifications."
I guess crazy is the new normal. The headline isn't all that profound "Exploitative Reality Shows Degrade Us, Too", what is profound is how little with think about the effects of this stuff. Christians oscillate between two extremes: attraction to it and hatred of it. Sadly rallying against it, serves its purpose: they get more attention. We should start treating these things like mosquito bites: if you don't scratch them, they go away.

Don't think that low-brow culture or the increased trivializing of the already trivial television doesn't effect us. It does. It effects us even if we watch it 'so we can object'. Ever notice how recently, 'news shows' has delved more into the smut that is out there? It is as if they are running a tabloid news. No I'm not saying there aren't true professionals in the news business, indeed I wonder if the decreasing attention spans and the rise of new media isn't at least partly to blame. In media, you have to keep the customer's happy. The proliferation of gossip aggregators invariably leads more and more people satisfied with less and less facts. It is all about image and publicity. If "you are what you eat" what does this say about our diet from media?

Whether it is Heidi and Spencer or John and Kate--sadly what matters more is popularity. We not so concerned about positive image any more--any image will do, so long as I get mine out there. In a world where the individual is their own god, we want as many people as possible to worship at our altar. They don't have to like us, they just have to be captivated by us and bring in their offerings--viewership. They receive the sacrament of entertainment. Like a disgruntled Catholic--you don't have to like the Priest or the Church as long as you keep showing up for mass.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Notes from the Culture Wars -4


It seems rather innocent and benign to speak of interfaith "dialogue"--I mean who doesn't like dialogue. It appears rather safe, wholesome and respectful. I am all for discourse that embodies these qualities. When faced with confronting ideas that conflict one another our first instinct cannot be to draw swords.

However, the common lingo of "dialogue" means something entirely different. Here's a summation of the idea means in the common understanding:

How do we participate? Scholars, theologians, clergy, and people at the grass roots know dialogue can revive the perennial values at the heart of each faith: humility, sincerity, and trust. The task is not easy, but necessary as will be the need for forgiveness--also valued in all faiths. The hope of dialogue is to keep the search for truth grounded in openness to new insight without losing the wisdom of tradition.

In Swidler's words, "Whether I claim that the Bible or the Qur'an or the Gita is God's truth, it is I who affirm that it is so. But if neither I nor anyone can know everything about anything, how do I proceed to search for an ever fuller grasp of reality, of truth, especially about the most complicated claims to truth, religion? Dialogue becomes a whole new way of thinking and acting. In dialogue I talk or collaborate with you primarily so I can learn what I cannot perceive from my place in the world, with my personal lenses of knowing. Through your eyes I see what I cannot see from my side of the globe, and vice versa."

When the sincerity of my truth pushes me to challenge the sincerity of yours, trust in God's mystery requires both the inspired zeal of my conviction and the humility that I cannot know everything. We crowd out the destructive forces of zealotry the instant we seek to know why the other person holds to her or his truth with such conviction. To begin to understand why is to make room for the healing power of understanding. Dialogue Institute administrator, Dr. Julie Sheetz-Willard, calls such a moment of understanding a "meeting"--when we realize that, "even though it's true that we have real, meaningful differences, it's also profoundly true that we are connected, bound together in some common desire for seeking God's purposes in a shared world."

I agree that no one person can know everything about anything. But at issue here is the gospel and the truth of God's Word. I agree that by interacting with people I can learn, grow and often come to a deeper understanding of things. However, 'dialoguing' in this manner with people who reject the Christian faith puts us at odds with what the gospel and the kingdom of God actually is. We all agree we should flee personal arrogance but assured conviction of the truth is not arrogant.

We are not talking about a lively debate about politics, or chatting about cooking recipes. Of course, even in religious debate we should be respectful and loving. Christians must speak the truth in love. They cannot violate 'the second greatest commandment' even when we speak the truth. By the same token, we cannot violate the first greatest commandment just because we want to fake keeping the second. If your keeping of the second--loving your neighbor as yourself--leads you to break the first--loving the Lord our God (and having no other gods before Him) then you should rethink how you keep the second.

As for being bound by "some common desire for seeking God's purposes in a shared world," if we can't even agree who this God is--how can we agree on his purposes? The God of the Bible is a Trinity. This God has a specific name--YHWH--and a specific covenant. Sure we all want to see people live at peace, but the Christian wants more: he longs for the day when Jesus returns and all are united under His Lordship. Sadly this brings consequences for those who reject this Lordship.

More than that--while we must stand for the truth, debate the truth, and proclaim the truth in manners that respectfully interact with other people, the Bible tells us clear that the preaching of Christ crucified is foolish to those who are perishing. If we are seriously proclaiming Christ crucified in this 'dialogue' do we honestly think that people will set aside what they think is foolish in order to 'reach a common understanding'? Either we set aside 'Christ crucified' or they set aside their estimation that at the core the Cross is foolish (or at least unimportant).

The idea of 'trusting in God's mystery' is rather empty. The whole notion of Christianity is the mystery of God is revealed. Yes, we will never know all there is to know about God but in the person of Christ--the fullness of God's revelation--we know enough to know what God is not. certain things that other religions claim. Thus knowing Christ puts us fundamentally at odds with the gods of this age. To shirk on fundamental Christian convictions is to be insincere.

We are connected by a common humanity. There is a 'human nature' that makes us the same at some core level. We often share the same aspirations and emotions.; there is the same image of God in all of us. However, for the non-Christian-they take this image of God and surprise it. There idolatry borrows from the truth to thwart the truth. Even the 'common ground' is not common when we use it to different ends. For the Christian, we believe in the restoration of God's glory in man, through Christ's resurrection. Thus, we bear that glory internally as we see the gospel. If we've moved from light to darkness by God's greatness, we don't dialogue with darkness but herald the light--the gospel message 'Christ crucified.'

I'm all for the kind of engagement that we see in Acts 17 and in the early church, but the modern lingo of 'dialogue' is none of this. To enter into this dialogue when must set aside the notion that the Bible alone is God's Word and the gospel alone saves. It is not humility to set these things aside so we can interact with people--it is the height of human arrogance. Who am I to say to God that because I want to love people--these things don't matter. Not even Jesus took that stance.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Notes from the Culture Wars -3

I'm going to be an equal opportunity offender. Christians should be duking it out with Rush Limbaugh for telling this joke:

One of the things that is totally erroneous about me -- and I just want to get this up front -- is that I'm pompous. And that I am arrogant. Neither of these things are remotely true. I can tell you a joke to illustrate this. Larry King passed away, goes to heaven. He's greeted by Saint Peter at the gates. Saint Peter says, "Welcome, Mr. King, it's great to have you here. I want to show you around, give you an idea of what's here, maybe you can pick a place that you'd like to reside." King says, "I just have one question: Is Rush Limbaugh here?" "No, he's got a lot of time yet, Mr. King." So Saint Peter begins the tour. Larry King sees the various places and it's beyond anything we can imagine in terms of beauty. Finally, he gets to the biggest room of all, with this giant throne. And over the throne is a flashing beautiful angelic neon sign that says "Rush Limbaugh."

And Larry King looks at Saint Peter and says: "I thought you said he wasn't here." "He said, he's not, he's not. This is God's room. He just thinks he's Rush Limbaugh."

So you see I'm not pompous.



Sadly the joke meets nothing but thunderous applause which should be appalling to all of us.

I'm all for humor. I'm all for poking a little fun at oneself--even drawing attention to your own greatest flaws. This works best when the humor is truly self-deprecating. This is the best kind of humor, particularly when you can take the wind out of your critics' biggest objections. The problem is this joke really does neither. Is there serious anything funny about saying "I'm not pompous, even God wants to be like me". Obviously it is ironic to say one is prideful and then make a joke that exalts oneself. The problem is that in this case it is blasphemous. There are some jokes, that if you have any sensibility and reverence, you just wouldn't make.

I'm also not about playing the 'tolerance' game with its counterplays of 'you offended me' or 'you hurt me'. This isn't an issue primarily of a sensitive pansy, you can't man up and take a good joke. This is deeper: this is about laughing at blasphemy, not laughing in derision mind you--laughing in acceptance.

How is this not the grossest violation of the third commandment?
Exodus 20:7 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

Making God the butt of a joke is the flippant use of God's name that is utter wickedness. I would say this joke properly breaks the first commandment, although it may very well since Limbaugh joking compares God to Himself. But his very demeanor of irreverence and impiety along with his flippant use cannot be anything less than taking the idea of God and His very name in vain. Reflect on the Westminster Larger Catechism questions and then go back and answer my question:

Q. 112. What is required in the third commandment?
A. The third commandment requires, That the name of God, his titles, attributes, ordinances, the Word, sacraments, prayer, oaths, vows, lots, his works, and whatsoever else there is whereby he makes himself known, be holily and reverently used in thought, meditation, word,and writing; by an holy profession, and answerable conversation, to the glory of God, and the good of ourselves, and others.

Q. 113. What are the sins forbidden in the third commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the third commandment are, the not using of God’s name as is required; and the abuse of it in an ignorant, vain, irreverent, profane, superstitious or wicked mentioning or otherwise using his titles, attributes, ordinances, or works, by blasphemy, perjury; all sinful cursings, oaths, vows, and lots; violating of our oaths and vows, if lawful; and fulfilling them, if of things unlawful; murmuring and quarrelling at, curious prying into, and misapplying of God’s decrees and providences; misinterpreting, misapplying, or any way perverting the Word, or any part of it; to profane jests, curious or unprofitable questions, vain janglings, or the maintaining of false doctrines; abusing it, the creatures, or anything contained under the name of God, to charms, or sinful lusts and practices; the maligning, scorning, reviling, or any wise opposing of God’s truth, grace, and ways; making profession of religion in hypocrisy, or for sinister ends; being ashamed of it, or a shame to it, by unconformable, unwise, unfruitful, and offensive walking, or backsliding from it.
Don't you think the joke does more than a little of this?

The sad thing is: I think some Christians are so wrapped up in conservative politics they don't even see how ungodly this is. A quick google search of the web and google blogs didn't, in my estimation, reveal any significant conservatives picking this apart. The sad thing is that somebody like Ann Coultier would have been all over the liberals as Godless if they had made such a joke. Now why does Limbaugh get a free pass from Christians on the Right? Is our allegiance to the Right more important that our allegiance to God and Christ? We are not consumed by God's glory and a wonder and holy fear of His person and character. True respect for any authority, not to mention the Almighty God, does not jokingly mock His position and Lordship.

We have a serious problem when one's hate of the left far outweighs our desire to glorify God and display the fear of the Lord in all our speech and conduct. I cannot stress enough to make God's desire to be like me the punch line of the joke is the worst of all sins. It mocks idolatry. It goes beyond Genesis 3 archtype of all sin. At least there, Adam wanted to be like God--Rush Limbaugh will do one better: God wants to be like Him.

Why aren't any Christians calling for a boycott of Limbaugh? Why isn't Liberty University or Focus on the Family decry such an immoral joke as contributing to (or at least reflecting) the corruption and moral decadence of our society.

It's not like they didn't know about the joke:
While CPAC was a secular event, it was an event sponsored, supported and attended by Christian Right organizations and leaders. The CPAC program listed as co-sponsors: Concerned Women for America, Family Research Council and Liberty University's law school. Exhibitors included the Alliance Defense Fund, Liberty Council and Regent University's Robertson School of Government. Focus on the Family held a reception for former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum. (source)
When Lennon said, "We're more popular than Jesus," Bible-belt Christians roared with anger. They burned Beatles records, banned Beatles songs on the radio and boycotted Beatles concerts. They tolerated no rival claims to the messiah. When Limbaugh uttered a parallel claim, those who see Christianity under attack offered no response. No cry of cultural hostility toward religion was heard. No demand for an apology boomed from pulpits. No boycott was launched...
Given the thunderous silence of Christian Right leaders about Limbaugh's worldview, one wonders if talk radio's man of excessive individualism and political extremism has replaced the biblical witness as a moral compass.

All I can say is: enough is enough. What a shame we are when we stand up for politics and "conservative values" over and above Biblical values. Are we so blinded that we cannot see irreverence and blasphemy or worse, when we see it and we are so hard-hearted it doesn't bother us.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Notes from the Culture Wars -2

Will wonders never cease? I am constantly amazed out the backward thinking that cohabitation and serious long-term dating is more committed and more faithful than a serious commitment to marriage in such sacred covenant.

So for example, I found this report of an interview between Cameron Diaz and Bill Maher. I trust the report is accurate, although I haven't verified the details. The account goes like this:

Cameron basically proclaimed that she’s glad that she’d never gotten married because she “definitely would have been divorced (multiple times).” She just needed to do what was right for her and that that was constantly changing. Maher, of course, agreed and praised Cameron in her wisdom for having learned to put herself first and foremost, before all others in her life...

Diaz then went on to say, “Anyone will tell you that like, when I’m in a relationship I’m committed like… a thousand percent!”
My point is not to harp on one particular person but it does seem a bit disingenuous, to put it mildly, to say that one is 'a thousand percent committed' at least until one isn't committed at all.

Here's the thing about relationships: they don't grow if you don't learn to constantly set aside your own selfishness and give sacrificially too them. One of my pet peeves is the debates about how young is to young to get married when the debate degenerates into a 'wait until you are older and you have 'found yourself''. Marriage and relationships are about growing with people and growing in community. To quote Spock: "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one". Or better: the old Sunday School song: "Jesus and Others and You", the way we sang it the last line was "put yourself last and spell 'JOY'".

The Christian ethic has always been about the denial of self and the giving of self to others. It was and should be a hallmark of virtue. It was of course the very thing that Nietzsche railed against. It makes us weak and feeble.

With respect to marriage and commitment: commitment is tested in the tough time. It is something that is forged in the not slipped on the convenience of a Hollywood romance. Simple: if one is 'a thousand percent committed' to a relationship then it wouldn't have ended. This is why dating done right has never been about extensive commitment but limited commitment since it is about building, testing and ascertaining. One asks the questions is this the kind of person I can be with? Am I the kind of person who can give myself sacrificially?

It is no secret that even 'Christian' marriages, and I use the term lightly, are in shambles. But that is precisely because to often we also reflect a Diaz-like attitude: I am committed until I am not. Don't worry, I'm wholly committed--at least until I'm tired and bored. Conveniently, we one suddenly 'does not meet my needs', which is a bit like saying 'It's not you, its me'--it's the kind of line that no one should buy. Call it what it is:selfishness. Of course, now days being selfish is chic.

Of course, if we took our cue from the archtypes, we'd see that love is about covenant commitments. This makes love about bonds, oaths, self-given and yes, even sacrifice. Sadly today, we must add this doesn't entail a wife become a punching bag. No where is the self-giving of marital love more obvious than in the covenants God makes with His people, ultimate in Christ. Christ doesn't marry his bride just to be happy. He gives Himself to a people for their sake and the glory of God not for a momentary pleasure but for a weighted value--a glory that exceeds the temporal. But in our highly psychologized culture, I become number one. Like the song says: "if it makes you happy". Marriage often times doesn't "make me happy" but it cultivates a deeper joy. Happiness is transitory, it lives for the moment. Joy is transcendent, it extends beyond momentary pleasures.

What a cheap notion of pleasure, happiness, and commitment if we can 'be a thousand percent commitment' at least until we are not.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Notes from the Culture Wars -1

This series is just a collection of interesting observations that I want to make on issues of ethics and culture.

In the whole Michael Jackson hooplah, I ran across this observation by Andrew Sullivan:

There are two things to say about him. He was a musical genius; and he was an abused child. By abuse, I do not mean sexual abuse; I mean he was used brutally and callously for money, and clearly imprisoned by a tyrannical father. He had no real childhood and spent much of his later life struggling to get one. He was spiritually and psychologically raped at a very early age - and never recovered. Watching him change his race, his age, and almost his gender, you saw a tortured soul seeking what the rest of us take for granted: a normal life.

But he had no compass to find one; no real friends to support and advise him; and money and fame imprisoned him in the delusions of narcissism and self-indulgence. Of course, he bears responsibility for his bizarre life. But the damage done to him by his own family and then by all those motivated more by money and power than by faith and love was irreparable in the end. He died a while ago. He remained for so long a walking human shell.

What struck me as odd was the perception of Michael Jackson. It struck me as odd that someone who is openly homosexual would speak sadly and regretfully of a 'tortured soul' Michael Jackson as he "change[d] his race, his age, and almost his gender." I left myself asking: on what basis do we consider this the mark of a tortured soul? I think it is obvious even the casual observer that Michael Jackson had issues.

As a Christian, we should be quick to point out that he was no worse than the rest of us. We all pursue glories and treasures worshiping the created things rather than the Creator. Obviously this was something Michael Jackson succumbed too--it was idolatry at the core--but no better or worse than my idolatry.

But why should Sullivan lament this? Was not Micheal Jackson's action just the product of a society that embraces "lifestyles"? A culture where choice is sovereignty has no grounds for considering one set of choices a more tortured than the rest. In our day, we define ourselves by choices--as if to cease to choose is to cease to be human. We speak of actualizing ourselves and living in the moment--which undoubtedly means a flurry of endless activity and endless activity equates to endless choices. We fear that if we stop we will cease to be human. Thus we are ever running but rarely progressing. Why should anyone find Michael Jackson's activity of choosing endless to find or invent himself as troubling? Jackson might be a worse-case-scenario of sorts but he bares the symptoms of a disease that is rather pervasive in contemporary culture.

I find the remarks perceptive as they strike home at the reality of the situation. It is like an "Emperor Has No Clothes" moment--but I find the clearly subjective remark as having little basis in the average set of shared cultural values of the day. In short: why should we find Michael Jackson's action as the mark of a 'tortured soul'? Doesn't the fact the most people do find this as the mark of a' tortured soul' indicate to us there is something out there beyond mere values and choices of expression?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

He Beat Me To It

I had been thinking for the last couple of days how ironic it was that Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, had actually come out and called something heresy. I mean that she could even in good conscience (or bad, take your pick) label something as heresy. I mean how intolerant of her. Never mind the fact that she says:
The overarching connection in all of these crises has to do with the great Western heresy – that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God. It’s caricatured in some quarters by insisting that salvation depends on reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus. That individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy, at the center of existence, as the ground of being. That heresy is one reason for the theme of this Convention. (source)
Let's set aside, say for example Ephesians 2 which teaches individual salvation and reconiliation with God also brings corporate reconciliation with man. How dare the liberal left actually use the term heresy. Is this not-well I have to say it--a heresy against their own beliefs. How quick they are to denounce the heretics who cry "heresy" when someone breaks something that is truly the orthodox. The term is anathema in their midst--at least until they need to use it to denounce something with moral repugnance.

Al Mohler beat me to making this point. Of course he is far more brilliant and articulate than I, not to mention people actually read what he writes:

There it is -- that word so recently denied entry into any discussion. But note carefully that the Bishop identified as heresy what the church -- throughout all the centuries and in every major tradition -- has recognized as central to the Christian faith. The confession that "Jesus Christ is Lord" has been central to biblical Christianity from the New Testament onward. In every tradition, some individual profession of this "specific verbal formula" has been understood to be essential to Christian identity...
Indeed, her assertion of heresy was directed to the very idea of individual conversion to faith in Christ -- the faith that has always and everywhere defined authentic Christianity...

The irony of all this was not lost on many Episcopalians and other observers. The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church finally summoned the determination to apply the word heresy --- and then applied this most serious term of odious rejection to the Gospel itself.

Of course, this reality is far more tragic than ironic. It does not take long for a church that is severed from Scripture to move from recognizing genuine heresy and denouncing it, to denying the very possibility of heresy at all, and then to reclaiming the word only to use it as an instrument of attacking the very heart of the Christian faith....

This whole affair should serve as a warning to those who are "evangelical" and felt that they can somehow have a 'can't we all just get along approach'. We are willing to dialogue and accept other beliefs as if they are not contrary to the gospel. The side opposing the gospel cries "peace, peace" and "unity, unity"--they scurry into the camp waving a white flag until they are in a position the thrust swords into their opponents. When the issue of division is over the gospel, the answer is: "no we can't just all get along." I hasten to add, this is not to spew hatred at the persons only at those ideas so radically opposed to the gospel.

Machen's Christianity and Liberalism has long since reminded us that these things are two different religions. Liberalism does not truly desire to coexist with historic Christianity, it's end game is to subvert and replace true Christianity. This is true not only of old school liberalism but its current fadish reincarnations that go by a whole host of other names.


These events along with the true, but unstated, goals of new theological agendas reminded me of this parable recounted by Kenneth Bailey in an entirely different context:

"Once there was a bedouin who had a camel. On a cold night the camel said to the bedouin, "My nose is very cold. May I put my nose in your tent?" The bedouin said, "Tafaddal" (please go ahead). A bit later the came said, "My ears are very cold. May I put my ears in your tent?" The bedouin said, "Tafaddal". Then the camel said, "My neck is still in the cold wind. May I put my neck in your tent?" The bedouin said "Tafaddal". The next of the camel is very strong. When the camel had his neck in the tent he jerked his powerful neck upwards and struck the top of the tend with his head, and the tent collapsed on the bedouin and the camel." Informal Controlled Oral Tradition and the Synoptic Gospels, AJT 5:1 (1991) p.47.

Perhaps in this case, the camel got his feet in the tent and has kicked the bedouin in the rear.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Wright Stuff

Kevin DeYoung has been critique N.T. Wright's new book Justification, which I too hope to read this summer. You can read his critiques part 1, part 2, and part 3.

This excerpt from DeYoung I think reflects my overall position on Wright:

In the interest of long-windedness allow me to digress. My main critique of Wright is that he gets the big picture right but then forces that big picture on the individual verses in such a way that doesn’t do justice to all the important points Paul is making along the way. Often Wright says a whole book or an entire section is about this, therefore if you talk about this other specific thing, you aren’t really paying attention to the context. But the context in any given section may have its own crucially important point, a complementary or even more important point.

For example, the Wizard of Oz is all about Dorothy trying to find the Wizard who can help her get home. But along the way there are all sorts of other things that happen. They are part of the bigger story, but they have a point themselves. The scene with the flying monkeys is, on the most basic level, about how flying monkeys can really weird you out. But I can imagine Wright arguing, “But we must keep in mind that the Wizard of Oz is about the Dorothy-to-the-Wizard-so-she-can-get-home story. The flying monkey scene is not about how we must all avoid aerodynamic primates, it’s about how Dorothy’s attempt to reach the Wizard and through him to get home has once again been put on hold by the Wicked Witch.” Well, yes that’s true. But flying monkeys are still scary. It does no injustice to the rest of the story to think that monkeys zooming in the sky is freaky stuff. The scene is about the Witch trying keep Dorothy from reaching the Wizard and about how flying monkeys are scary. To leave this last crucial fact out in an effort to do justice to the Dorothy-to-the-wizard-so-she-can-get-home story does not preserve the story. It flattens it.

Paul is capable of defending his apostolic ministry and talking about some very specific theological truths in the midst of that defense. My contention, then, is that Wright cannot see the imputation trees because he only has eyes for the God’s single-plan-through-Israel-for-the-world forest. But I digress.

In an early post, DeYoung says:
Wright claims, “In ways that the Western tradition, Catholic, Protestant, Lutheran and Calvinist–yes, and Anglican too!–has often failed to recognize, Scripture forms a massive and powerful story whose climax is the coming into the world of the unique Son of the one true Creator God, and, above all, his death for sins and his bodily resurrection from the dead” (250). I love Wright’s summary of the story, but I’m puzzled. Has the whole Western tradition missed this story? Really, we are just now seeing it by virtue of the Sanders revolution? Did Ridderbos miss this? Or Vos? Or Edwards with his massive history of redemption? Haven’t thousands of preachers for hundreds of years gone through Ephesians 2 and preached on justification by faith alone and the mysterious inclusion of the Gentiles? Much of the theology I read predates the New Perspective and it gets many of the same “discoveries.”

Wright is at his best at the macro-level. There are insights in the 'New Pespective' that hit hard on the nature of redemptive history, that I would argued are found in the best of the Reformed Tradition: Vos and Ridderbos. Even Gaffin, I believe, would echo a number of this points. There are areas of agreement at the macro-level. Granted there remains important distinctions and such. However, N.T. Wright is not the first theologian to see the larger scope of redemptive history.

N.T. Wright is brilliant, no two ways about it. He should be read by pastors and laymen who can critically access Him. Let me site one example of a Reformed Theologian using Wright profitably. In his work, The God Centered Preacher, Robert Reymond discussing how a preacher should 'do the work of an evangelist, writes:

Nor is the "proclamation of the gospel' merely the recounting of the details of a salvific system whereby people are saved, that is, the delineating of an ordo salutis or an ordo applicatio, though it should and will eventually get around to this at some point. No, the proclamation of the gospel is most directly the proclamation of that the crucified and risen Jewish Messiah is King and Lord of the universe who now reigns from heaven, and that in that capacity he has authoritatively summoned the whole world to repent of its idolatrous pretensions to works-righteousness (Acts 17:30) and to obey him through placing faith in his active and passive obedience for men and for their salvation (Rom. 1:5). [p.170]

Now I believe N.T. Wright would take issue with the whole notion of active and passive obedience and imputation, which is a bit ironic because Wright comes close to it in his whole notion of 'the faithfulness of Christ' and the recapitulation of Israel in Christ's work. However, in the larger section, Reymond focuses on the Lordship aspects of Christ along with heralding that reign. He doesn't fall prey to the individualized gospel although he makes it clear all must repent. On page 171 n.3 he writes "I am indebted to N.T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 41-5 for some insights of this section." This is the section in Wright's work that deals with the Isaianic background of euangelion and how in Paul's ministry it confronted the Roman world. I doubt anyone could fairly accuse Reymond of compromising the Reformed Faith.

Where Wright is strongest, you can find others in his footsteps or whose steps he's followed. Again we might note: Vos and Ridderbos but add Carson, Westerholm, Yarborough and the collection of essays in Justification and Varigated Nomism: The Parodoxes of Paul. This is not to say there is no difference on the marcolevel. Even here there are important differences about the nature of salvation history. As a whole, I would concur that Wright gets the big picture right. He is frustrating when he uses that to overrule certain details of the text. I think the best of Reformed Tradition has always had a both/and where Wright wants to make it either/or. He seems to argue at points that if one maintains his insights (and he has many) one must inherently reject certain insights from church history and contemporary Pauline scholarship. It is unfortunate that certain 'readings' of the text are used to undo certain important details of the text.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Exodus 4:1-17- Sermon Applications

MAIN POINT: WE ARE TO FOLLOW GOD’S CALL IN OUR LIFE.

1) FIRST, WE ARE TO FOLLOW RATHER THAN QUESTIONING OUR EFFECTIVENESS. 4:1-10

Application: We are to recognize that God is with Moses. In the same way, God’s call brings God’s power with it.

i) All believers are “called” to God. By virtue of the fact that you are a Christian, God has ‘called’ you to Himself.
ESV Romans 8:30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

NAU 1 Corinthians 1:9 God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

NAU 1 Corinthians 1:24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

ii) Believers often has a “call” to a particular service or to use particular gifts. God gives us particular gifts and puts us in particular circumstances “at the right place at the right time” so that he might use us.
ESV 1 Corinthians 7:17 Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.
Context: On marriage, should I get married or not? How about in slavery?—Can God use me where I am?

Consider the example of queen Esther. She too is fearful of her ability:
Esther 4:10-11 10 Then Esther spoke to Hathach and ordered him to reply to Mordecai: 11 "All the king's servants and the people of the king's provinces know that for any man or woman who comes to the king to the inner court who is not summoned, he has but one law, that he be put to death, unless the king holds out to him the golden scepter so that he may live. And I have not been summoned to come to the king for these thirty days."

Mordecai reminds her of her obligation:
Esther 4:13-14 13 Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, "Do not imagine that you in the king's palace can escape any more than all the Jews. 14 "For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?"
Esther responds:
Esther 4:15-16 15 Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, 16 "Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa, and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens also will fast in the same way. And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish."
There is an incredible danger in doubting our call. (1) A believer struggling with whether or not they are saved, needs to rest in the sovereign call of God.

(2) The believer often struggles with his/her purpose in life. Perhaps we feel burdened to help in some way but we doubt that we can be effective. Perhaps, we believe that we should serve in a particularly ministry but the tendency is to question: “What can I accomplish here?”

The strength to stay firm in the faith comes from God. The empowering to serve comes from God. We are to follow rather than question our effectiveness. Just last night Chris Merrick shared with me how a recent trip touch the lives of those who came with. By human standards, the trip would have been a waist. But God made it effective in the lives of some young people who are more interested in missions. Rebecca Zurbrick is heading into mission because of Chris Merrick.

Chris is just a blue-collar kind of guy how could God use him? Chris could never be effective for God—or could he because God has called him?

2) SECOND, WE ARE TO FOLLOW RATHER THAN QUESTIONING OUR NATURAL ABILITIES. 4:10-13

Application: How has God call you? Are you questioning your own natural abilities?

i) God has a habit in Scripture of using people whom the world deems as ‘unusable’ by ever human standard.

ii) Is God call you into ministry and you are raising objections? Perhaps he is calling you to have a second career, to use your retirement for God, to go to the Bible college. Do not put excuses in front of God. “It’s too dangerous” or “It’s too expensive” or “I could never teach people the Bible”, “I don’t have the abilities to be a missionary”. The question you need to ask is: WHO MADE YOU?

iii) Whatever abilities you have, God is calling you to use them for him.
Exodus 36:1 NAU Exodus 36:1 "Now Bezalel and Oholiab, and every skillful person in whom the LORD has put skill and understanding to know how to perform all the work in the construction of the sanctuary, shall perform in accordance with all that the LORD has commanded."

iv) God has brought you into contact with people right now so that you might impact their lives.
(1) Who around you needs to be loved? Maybe someone at your job needs some compassion. Maybe a neighbor needs a shoulder to cry on.
(2) Who around you needs to be served? Maybe someone needs a lawn mowed, a fresh meal, running an errand.
(3) Who around you right now needs to hear the gospel?
1 Corinthians 10:31 31 Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God
Colossians 3:17 17 Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.

Colossians 3:23-24 23 Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.

John 17:18 18 "As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.
v) We all recognize our own inabilities and our own weaknesses. We all know we are human. This leaves us feeling woefully inadequate. (areas: time, money, resources, ability, saying the right thing, trying something new, fear of failure, etc.). It is about turning to Christ in trust. DO NOT FEAR, I HAVE MADE YOU AND CALLED YOU BY NAME.
NAU Isaiah 43:1 But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!

vi) Often times we are so busy looking at what we don’t have, we don’t ask “what has God called me to do?” Too often we think it is only the preacher, missionaries or the ‘professionals’ who can serve God with their ‘special gifts’. God uses Moses lowly mouth to free the Egyptians. When we question our abilities, we under estimate God’s power. WHO MADE YOU?

3) THIRD, WE ARE TO FOLLOW RATHER THAN ASKING GOD TO SEND SOMEONE ELSE. 4:13-17

a) Application:
i) Since you are redeemed you automatically are God’s witness. You cannot claim: ‘send someone else’ when God has sent you by virtue of the fact that you are saved.
Isaiah 43:11-12 11 "I, even I, am the LORD, And there is no savior besides Me. 12 "It is I who have declared and saved and proclaimed, And there was no strange god among you; So you are My witnesses," declares the LORD, "And I am God.
By virtue of being a Christian we stand as testaments to God’s grace. The question is: How do you stand as a testament to God’s grace? In Christ you are called to be His…no go and live as His; speak on His behalf; serve of His behalf.

ii) Do not flee God’s call. Do not step away from God’s calling and assume that other will do it for you. Evaluate your calling rather than fleeing from it.
(1) First, ask: what gifts and talents has God given me?
(2) Second, ask: what passions has God given me?
(3) Third, ask: what needs are there around me? (the need is not the call, though it may be a component)
(4) Fourth, ask: what unique circumstances am I in?
(5) Fifth, obey: set your heart on following God. Seek to be faithful.
Luke 16:10 10 "He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Atheistic Materialism

This Sunday, in Sunday school I was going over some of the basic beliefs of atheism. Yes, the atheist would quibble with my calling them "beliefs"--firm convictions might be better.

One such belief is materialism. Atheists often use materialism to 'to prove' there is no God. This leads to some question begging: how do we know materialism is true? This of course gets us into the realm of epistemology. Most atheists today are pretty modernistic when it comes to epistemology. Here is where a bit of postmodernism can help us. We can use there own weapons against them.

In his critique of Richard Dawkins, philosopher Alvin Plantinga states this about Dawkins' use of materialism:

But second, suppose we concede, at least for purposes of argument, that God is complex. Perhaps we think the more a being knows, the more complex it is; God, being omniscient, would then be highly complex. Perhaps so; still, why does Dawkins think it follows that God would be improbable? Given materialism and the idea that the ultimate objects in our universe are the elementary particles of physics, perhaps a being that knew a great deal would be improbable—how could those particles get arranged in such a way as to constitute a being with all that knowledge? Of course we aren't given materialism. Dawkins is arguing that theism is improbable; it would be dialectically deficient in excelsis to argue this by appealing to materialism as a premise. Of course it is unlikely that there is such a person as God if materialism is true; in fact materialism logically entails that there is no such person as God; but it would be obviously question-begging to argue that theism is improbable because materialism is true.

So why think God must be improbable? According to classical theism, God is a necessary being; it is not so much as possible that there should be no such person as God; he exists in all possible worlds. But if God is a necessary being, if he exists in all possible worlds, then the probability that he exists, of course, is 1, and the probability that he does not exist is 0. Far from its being improbable that he exists, his existence is maximally probable. So if Dawkins proposes that God's existence is improbable, he owes us an argument for the conclusion that there is no necessary being with the attributes of God—an argument that doesn't just start from the premise that materialism is true. Neither he nor anyone else has provided even a decent argument along these lines; Dawkins doesn't even seem to be aware that he needs an argument of that sort. (source)

The problem is Dawkins conceives of complex in materialistic terms and then moves on to dismiss such a concept. He assumes all is materialistic in order to prove there is no God. On less complex levels, people assume that all our knowledge must come through our senses and so if our senses cannot detect it, then it does not exist--or at least it probably does not exist.

So how do you break this down and explain it to Senior High students? Well I said this:

Science by default is the investigation of natural phenomena. But a field that is limited to the investigation of natural phenomena cannot prove there are only natural phenomena. It is kind of like a fish saying “Because I cannot get out of my fish bowl and I can only investigate that which is in my fish bowl, I have proved there is nothing but my fishbowl in this world.”


Of course the issues are more complex than this and there is always more that could be said. But the assumption of materialism does not entail "proof" that there is no God because we cannot 'see' him. Of course, Dawkins would resort to parody of flying teacups and spaghetti monsters: see we cannot see them should we believe they might exist. But this is another issue for another time.
"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...