Monday, October 26, 2009

Can't Touch This

We will forgive the fact that this video involves people from that other fandom that we don't like to mention:

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Religious Right is the Taliban?

Listen to what Chris Matthews says at about 1:03 in this video:
So much for civil discourse. If this isn't bearing false witness, I don't know what is.

If there is one thing that I find frustrating it is when critics fail to understand their opponents. Sadly in our day smear rhetoric wins more points than actual thoughtful engagement--and that is shameful no matter what side of the aisle you are on. (N.B.: Christians on the right are guilty of such slander too.) The temptation to demonize the other side while holding yourself up as the paragon of morality and nobility leads to nothing more false representation and dishonest rhetoric. In the end, you demonstrate of yourself precisely that which you execrate in your opponents.

You don't have to be a fan of the Religious Right to realize they are nothing like the Taliban. D.G. Hart, a credentialed historian who is no fan of the religious right and is in fact quite a vocal critic of it, actually has a much more accurate portrayal of it here, after he quotes Susan Jacoby comparing the religious right to domestic terrorists:

There you have it, a neat bow on a frightening package – Old Testament law, presidential politics, opposition to abortion, and terrorism, all signifying the conservative movement. And liberals think Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck simplify the Obama administration. Granted, these radio personalities have a larger audience than Harper’s, the Nation, and the History News Network. But Limbaugh and Beck don’t claim to be scholars, and their listeners don’t claim to be experts about politics, religion, or history. If Susan Jacoby really wants to claim that conservatism has dumbed-down American culture, she may want to hold up a mirror to her reasonable and smart friends who can’t tell the difference between picketing an abortion clinic and flying a 737 into a skyscraper.

But the point of this kvetch is not to weigh the brain mass of conservatives and liberals but to bring up a subject that religious historians should be teaching to the rest of the American population from their lecterns, articles, books, and blogs – it is that the Religious Right is nothing new in U.S. history and that scaring citizens with the apparently bizarre proposals of Christian conservatives is bad scholarship. Prior to the Religious Right, Protestants, whether liberal or fundamentalist, concocted various schemes to preserve the United States as a Christian (read: Protestant) nation, from the Civil War, to Prohibition, to the civil religion of the Cold War. During that time, Protestants had access to all sorts of presidents, even the ones who had their finger poised on the button to drop “the bomb.” John Foster Dulles may have mingled with a tonier set than Carl McIntire (though Dulles certainly did not wear a better suit), but his anti-communism and God-and-country outlook were not substantially different from fundamentalist anti-Communists like McIntire.

What this historical perspective means is that the Religious Right is simply in continuity with a swath of American Protestantism that many religious historians regard not as extremist but as mainstream, tolerant, and respectable. Granted, the Religious Right had the bad timing to show up after many Protestants had capitulated to some sort of secular America, and they did not always show an awareness of how America had changed not just religiously but demographically after the 1960s. (This was actually the point of the Religious Right’s complaints – they didn’t like what the nation was becoming. Since when is complaining so scary or unAmerican?) But to portray people who differ little from previous generations of Americans as those who nurture terrorist ideas and actions is to show a real ignorance of the field in which you are supposed to be an expert.

This may be an odd point coming from a writer who regularly chastises the Religious Right. I have not changed my assessment of evangelical politics. I think it is flawed theologically and politically. But I sleep relatively well each night, despite my criticisms, because I know born-again Protestants, however mad they may be at me, believe in an important piece of Moses’ law – namely, the sixth (as Protestants count them) commandment. (Emphasis mine)

Illustrations of Conduct and Preaching

Sometimes the Reformed world of preaching in our zeal to root out moralism we can make too much about not using the Bible stories of characters as illustrations and exhortations for conduct. We almost state or imply that it is unequivocally wrong in all occasions to preach Scriptural events as examples. What is the model in Scripture should be the question we are asking. As a whole the Reformed use of the Old Testament, and its application for preaching, as illustrated by Graeme Goldsworthy, Sidney Greidanus and other such names, is right but sometimes our zeal takes the rhetoric dangerously to contradicting Scripture itself.

Sermons and Bible teaching that center on and end with "dare to be a Daniel" and "fighting your giants just like David fought his" miss the redemptive historical nature of the text. If you could preach the same sermon in a synagogue, an AA meeting, and a Christian church without anyone batting an eye--then, Houston, you have a problem.

However, let's be careful that our rhetoric doesn't go farther than Scripture. Speaking of the OT, Paul writes:
"1 Corinthians 10:6 6 Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved.
1 Corinthians 10:11 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come."
Consider Hebrews 11--before trotting out the faith of OT heroes, we read: Hebrews 11:2 2 For by it [faith] the men of old gained approval.

He rightly shows us then by example the Godly and Christ-directed faith of the heroes of old. It is evident to Hebrews that their faith looked beyond themselves and had a proper object and also a greater reward that unfolded in the eschatology of redemption:
Hebrews 11:39-40 39 And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.
But we are also given this charge based upon the example and illustration we have from the saints:
Hebrews 12:1 NAU Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
Character studies on Scripture are important and vital. They instruct, illustrate and rebuke. Do not shun Scripture examples. Heed the emphasis in Reformed preaching but don't through out the baby with the bathwater.

Examples from Scripture must be properly condition and brought to light.
"1 Corinthians 10:11 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come."
What most lose site of today in using the Scriptural characters as examples, is the location of them versus the location of us in redemptive history. I have found that the more I meditate on this clause ("upon whom the end of the ages have come") when pondering a Biblical character example (or counter-example) the more I am guarded from a 1:1 moralism in my application of the Biblical text. Reformed teachers are right both doctrinally and practically to warn against using the Bible as mere moral example without gospel power.

While the courage of Daniel is a tremendous example and encouragement, I should not end or center my message on "dare to be a Daniel" even while a make exhortations about Daniel's example. Why? Because the end of the ages has come upon us. We live in the already/not yet tension. I cannot rob the gospel power that brings moral transformation at the same moment I am exhorting people to live transformed lives. It is wrong both doctrinally and practically.

Thus, we have seen the climax of God's plan. We have seen Christ our representative. Redemptive history has reached a climax. If you miss this, then you can tend to have a moralistic approach to your exhortations from Scripture. So examples: yes; Gospel-centered end of the ages: yes. The balance is proper and Biblical.

A little later after Paul uses the example of the OT, Paul even says: "1 Corinthians 11:1 NAU 1 Corinthians 11:1 Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. " Character witnesses do give us something to imitate--but the goal is ultimately Christ and Christ formed in us. Mere human effort to imitate doesn't bring Christ into us--but by the same token, as Christ is formed in us by the work of the Holy Spirit, we will do nothing less but imitate Christ--and those in Scripture who were walking on the same path to imitate Christ.

On the one hand: don't neglect the richness of examples the Scriptures give us. On the other hand, don't neglect the redemptive historical shape of the text. This shape must guide the thrust of the message. This shape should cause us to think about the relationships between indicative and imperatives in such a way that all our preaching is shaped by the gospel and not other a priori we impose on the text.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Nicea & the New Testament: A Common Myth

One of those common myths that floats around out there is the rhetoric that as the church moved into Greek culture, it adopted Greek patterns of thought. Without denying shifting worldviews that differ from the original context to a limited extend, I've critiqued this notion of 'Greek vs. Jewish' thought particularly as it get propped up on the word-level--as if certain words denote "Greek thinking".

One common myth is that in Church history the Nicene Creed represented the introduction of alien Greek concepts into Christian theology. The case is made that words like homoousia have no place in Biblical doctrine. This is a bit like saying that because the Bible doesn't use the word Trinity the Bible in no way teaches that God is Triune. This argument just not fly. Theology is built by exegeting Biblical passages and looking at the concepts developed by the use of words.

The rise of Arianism and the Council of Nicea was precisely a debate over the meaning of the Bible itself. Yes, Greek words were used and some of those words were used to encapsulate theological concepts in precise ways. There is nothing wrong with precision, in fact in the face of confrontations to doctrine we often have wrestle with issues to a new depth. Nicea was about better articulating and clarifying what the Scriptures themselves teach.

One thing that I personally find intriguing is that when you read men like Athanasius, defending Nicea, you find him wrestling with and working through Biblical texts. In some cases, his exegesis is a bit archaic by modern standards but in other cases he makes analogous argument to that which we make today to defend Christ's deity. Athanasius and men like him, even his opponents, were by and large very concerned with the meaning of Scripture rather than imposing doctrine upon it.

R.P.C Hanson in his massive study on the rise of Nicene doctrine writes:

The subject under discourse between 318 and 381 were not, as has sometimes been alleged, those raised by Greek theology or philosophy and such as could only have been raised by people thinking in Greek terms. It was not simply a quarrel about Greek ideas. In the fourth century there came to a head a crises... which was not created by either Arius or Athanasius. It was the problem of how to reconcile two factors which were part of the very fabric of Christianity: monotheism, and the worship of Jesus as divine. Neither of these factors specifically connected with Greek philosophy or thought; both arise directly from the earliest tradition. Indeed, as will, it is hoped, be shown in this book, it was only by overcoming some tendencies in Greek philosophy which offered too easy an answer to the problem that a solution was reached. (The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy 318-381 p.xx-xxi)

Larry Hurtado and Richard Bauckham have defended in numerous from the NT studies side the reality of monotheism and worship of Jesus was found in the earliest Christian churches--right from their formation. Hanson notes that Greek philosophy would have been an easy answer, which runs contrary to most of these simplistic critiques built on myth. In fact:
Greek philosophy could readily accept monotheism which included an hierarchically graded God and could easily afford a qualified divinity to the Son. Neither was in the end accepted by the Church. But it would be absurd to deny that discussion and dispute between 318 and 381 were conducted largely in terms of Greek philosophy. The reason for this was, paradoxically, because the dispute was about the interpretation of the Bible. The theologians of the Christian church were slowly driven to a realization that the deepest questions which face Christianity cannot be answered in purely Biblical language, because the questions are about the meaning of biblical language itself. (ibid, xxi).
Serious historical reasoning and reflection cannot substantiate the notion that Christian doctrine developed at Nicea because of a coruption of Greek thought or philosophy. Hopefully, this short treatment shows this myth to be:

Book Reviews Gone Wild

This is a review by John Frame on Michael Horton's Christless Christianity that's making its way through the blogdom of men. I've reviewed Horton's book here. While I appreciated Frame's review in that it made be think critically and reevaluate what I liked about Horton's book, as a hole I find Frame's response to be unhelpful. At times it brings some helpful reminders but by and large I believe it is overblown.

There's an old saying: if a critique doesn't apply to you, don't worry about it. Maybe I should follow my own advice. So maybe this is foolish to traipse into the midst of this here. The reality is with respect to Michael Horton's book Christless Christianity is that if you go to a healthy church (big or small, mega- or country) then don't worry about in the sense that you feel it is pointed at you. Learn from it and guard your heart. But John Frame's review of the book seems to worry that too many well meaning Christians are unduly thrown under the bus but then in turn he is unfair.

While this is a discussion that I first commented on in a friend's facebook link, I weigh in here because (1) I have found Christless Christianity helpful and (2) as a pastor I have encountered Christians that by into the pop-evangelicalism that Horton rightly warns us. It's been said: 'what is assumed in this generation will be lost in the next.' I believe, from some of my experiences, that this precisely where we are, particularly in my generation. There are far to many that either are assuming elements of how the gospel shapes our ministry or worse have grown up in a culture that assumed elements of how the gospel shapes our ministry and now (again: for some) as they are being handed the reigns they are on the cusp forgetting it entirely. So for John Frame's critique: if he can find a whole lot of well meaning churches that don't quite fit into the doom and gloom of 'Christless Christianity', we shouldn't pretend it isn't out there or that the reliance on worldly methods aren't finding captive audience in a whole host of "Christian" venues.

Here were some of my initial thoughts:
I read Horton's book and found it to be very helpful. Frame's review, not so much. I will need to read Frame's review with a fine tooth comb but Frame seems entirely overblow. So for example, Frame complains Horton doesn't balance his view but when Horton does clarify with balance Frame lays these quotes out as unclear or contradictory. For someone who doesn't like Machen's warrior children, Frame seems to have an axe to grind.

From pastoral experience, I can agree with Frame that sometimes in our people the subjective isn't bad and people are well meaning--and I think Horton's new book brings some balance here. But also from pastoral experience I think their is a focus on subjective can be unhealthy. So for example, when someone tells you your preaching is not applicational unless you give them something to go and do. I think Frame is unrealistic of the dangers that Horton rightly points to.
Let me just say, that their can be a spiritual deadness in circles that focus on doctrine. This is analogous to the Ephesian church in Revelation 2:1-7. They are commended for their purity, particularly in hating the Nicolaitians. The put to the test (doctrine test?) those who call themselves apostles. The sniffed out the false ones--and yet they had lost a 'first love' sense of Christ. I have encounter individuals who have felt the weight of doctrinaire approaches and which sucked the air out of their love for Christ. We all want true doctrine to ignite passion and zeal for the Lord--zeal with knowledge. This is the heart of Augustine, the Reformers and Christians like Jonathan Edwards. We should rightly have an impassioned love for Christ. And yet, the pendulum can swing to far the other way, into Romanticism--as noted by Horton. But here's the problem, when someone critiques one end of the spectrum (as Horton does), I think can be a false charge to accuse them 'but you didn't point out the other end of the spectrum (as I think Frame does). Would be say to Paul in writing to the Galatians: "but Paul you didn't rail on the licentious libertarian" or Paul writing to the Corinthians: "you didn't warn against legalism". Paul's arguments serve as part of a polemic that is good and true--and I would argue Horton 's arguments do the same.

Back to my initial thoughts:
Another example, Frame is critical of Horton's critique of Olson as if Olson isn't an issue but I have encountered Christians who think he is helpful, encouraging and a nice preacher to listen too.

One more thing, I think Frame is too tough on Horton's law/gospel. Unless he's aware of something I am not, Horton would hold to a 3rd use of the law. BUT Horton's point is too many preachers too many people use law without a proper gospel orientation. So good right and true imperatives follow indicatives. But our tendency is to just give imperatives. Horton even says once we have the gospel "Now the law can guide and direct us, no longer out of fear of judgment, but out of genuine thanksgiving for God's grace." (156)

Frame is entirely unfair on Horton's view of "practical preaching". Horton is clear that it isn't bad to ask how to deal with your marriage, and scripture does bring this wisdom (146). Horton's focus though is right. While preaching through Hosea I've had people say "I'm too focused on condemnation" even though I talked about what idolatry looks like in our day (application) and I had others saying "I've never heard the gospel so powerfully from the OT" --I still seen the attitude that Horton confronts: it's not application without tips for happy living. Frame seems at points to think it doesn't exist in sincere Christians.
Let me give another example. I was once at popular youth rally for my small evangelical denomination. At the event, there was something that passed itself as preaching/teaching. I succinctly remember a message where young people were called to believe in Jesus. But the message was entirely devoid of the cross, the work of Christ, as our reason and motivation for repentance. The young people were basically challenged to commit to God. Many of the young people felt a connection with the speaker because he spoke to their hurts and needs--as you can imagine can be quite serious in a diverse group. He was right to address their hurts. But on the real solution he was rather vacuous. Never in my life had I witness so prime an opportunity to share the sufficiency of Christ and power of the gospel left by the wayside. Not only was it not emphasized--the whole cross was missed. I left asking "what Jesus did they come to". They were told God could be their buddy--but not told why and how. There was no mention, even in a non-technical way, of reconciliation.

But even more, I went back and talked with the teens from church and we talked because most of them were very familiar with Scriptures they intuitively understood they must repent because of Christ. So they naturally filtered the message through a grid of knowing the shed blood of Christ as the necessity for our repentance and the means by which we are healed. In other words, they assumed the gospel because it was in their hearts even when they heard one message utterly lacking the true gospel.

As I reflect back, I am saddened when I think about the young people who receive a steady diet of that sort of preaching. If they have so little focus on Christ in everything they hear--and not just one bad sermon--then what kind of 'Christian' culture are we developing? This kind of moralism, by no means ubiquitous in evangelicalism, does rear its ugly head. Far too often it goes unnoticed by the leaders appointed by God to guard against such things. Most often it is not by sinister motives that due diligence is not given--and that's what makes it so dangerous. Like a frog in a kettle we are oblivious to the changing temperature in our midst. I can remember youth leaders enthralled by how the speaker "reached" the young people and so I say that like Hercules it is the sweet sound of the Sirens that appeals to us. But the more we are willing to take in the sound, the less likely we will be to lash ourselves to the deck.

And again to my first thoughts:
I find it ironic that Frame complains that Horton imposes historical issues (Gnostic & Pelagianism) on modern day views and beliefs (I would say Horton makes analogies that yes as a historian can't be overread into situations today) but then Frame imposes 'Lutheran' rather than 'Reformed' categories on Horton.
It is always a good reminder that while history can offer analogies and if we don't know history we are doomed to repeat it. As someone who enjoys history and church history, would should remember that historical analogies (Gnostics, Pelagians, Arians, etc.) to today's beliefs do not entail one-to-one correspondence. We should say this without ignoring the reality that heresies long since defeated by sound orthodoxy and Biblical theology do resurface in a sort of mutant form by now today can make credible in roads in new camps. So for example: Socinians and Liberals in their own times denies the aspects of penal substitution in the cross but today its is the heir of evangelicals where this denial is catching root as noble. Analogies are not to be equivocation but once you have that delicate balance and set some guard rails against ahistoricism, analogies can be, nonetheless, illuminating.

I am not going to go point by point through Frame's review. That would be unfair and unhelpful. The White Horse Inn has posted a response here that deals with Frame's critiques. I am also going to recommend that one read both the book and the review of it by Frame but read it with a grain of salt and a critical eye. At the end of the day, I think Frame's critiques go beyond fairness and substance into too much nitpicking. One cannot help but wonder, particularly in light of his conclusion that Horton is representing a "narrow" and "factional" subgroup, if Frame's own experiences and biases have colored his thinking too much.

I appreciate Frame's stern warning that when we call someone or something 'Christless' was are pronouncing an anathema. We should realize the severity of such charge, but then the issues are serious too. This is not an accusation to wield lightly. There are churches that are to much on the fence in these area: the love Christ but they are infatuated with the wisdom of the world. But isn't that precisely the problem of the early church whether in Corinth or in Revelation 2-3? In many ways being on the fence is worse then being on the wrong side of the fence. I am reminded here of J. Gresham Machen who thought that the greatest threat was not the liberals of his day--at least he knew where they stood. Rather the greater threat was those who were willing to stand on the fence, a foot in both garden. We have to choose which master we will serve. We have to choose our greater love. Being on the fence on day can will lead to persuading others the next day that view on the other side isn't so bad.
Ok I'm done. Sorry, hope this doesn't come across as a rant. I think Frame's review forces one to think critically and keeps one from pharisaiclly applying Horton's critique to ever well meaning Christian in our day.
If one uses Horton in this way it is hardly Horton's fault. Truly grasping the concepts of the book should sufficiently guard against such nonsense. It is true that being more gospel-centered shouldn't become a badge of pride, even when it is a sober warning we must heed. Over at the new Evangel blog, James Wilson points out the danger of a 'Gospel Centralityolatry'--the idol that I make the gospel more centered than you (see also here). We should be cautious: "We’ve created a sub-culture of language and jargon that makes us unique, and if people describe things in a different vernacular we hold them in suspicion." Don't let 'Gospel-Centeredness' become a new legalism.

Christless Christianity is a call that needs to be heard is the prophetic call that those of us who live, move and have our being in the sub-culture which is evangelicalism need to both hear and head. What is assumed in this generation is and will be lost in the next. It's time to return to a more faithful pattern and for this Christless Christianity is a worthwhile tool.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Beatitudes: Intro

Here's a quote from John Stott:

"If today's young people are looking for the right things (meaning, love, reality), they are looking for them in the wrong places. The first place they should be able to turn to is the one they normally ignore, the church. For too often what they see in the church is not a new society which embodies their ideals but another version of the old society which they have renounced.
No comment could be more hurtful to the Christian than the words "But you are no different from anybody else." For the essential theme of the whole Bible from beginning to end is that God's historical purpose is to call out a people for himself. This people is a "holy" people, set apart from the world to belong to him and to obey him; its vocation is to be true to its identity, that is, to be "holy" or "different" in all its outlook and behavior.
All this is essential background to the Sermon on the Mount. It describes what human life and human community look like when they come under the gracious rule of God. And what do they look like? Different. (John Stott's The Beatitudes: Developing Spiritual Character p.5-6).

That which Stott calls 'the gracious reign of God' is precisely what Matthew refers to when he uses the phrase: "kingdom of heaven/God". The beatitudes pronounce the blessings of the kingdom. This dawning kingdom ushers in a new reality, the firstfruits of the new creation which brings with it the gospel power to create a new community.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Confession is Good for the Soul

I am now posting my sermons online. You can listen to them on the player to the right of this blog. There is a button to subscribe to the sermons via podcasts.

This week we looked about Matthew 3:1-12 entitled "Confession is Good for the Soul". Talked about the coming kingdom of God and John's mandate that we repent. Spoke some specific applications to Christians who think that just because they are already a Christian repentance is beyond them.

Here's this weeks sermon:

You can also find our PMBFC sermon channel here:

I also have my church history Sunday School class on there, but we only have the last 4 on audio (and the one on Gnosticism is an incomplete audio).

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

31 Reasons to Preach the Old Testament

Last week, I had the distinct privilege of listening to four lectures from Rev. Dr. Phil Ryken, pastor at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. He addressed a small pastor's conference of pastors from the Bible Fellowship Church on the subject of preaching from the Old Testament. His first session was on preaching the Old Testament and he gave 31 reasons why we should preach from the Old Testament. Here's the reasons he gave:

1. The OT is the Word of God.

2. The OT is the necessary background to grasping the NT.

3. The OT gives us a fuller understanding of Christ.

4. The OT gives us a fresher understanding of Christ.

5. It helps us understand our world today; the OT deals with the breadth of human nature.

6. It gives us more of the promises of God.

7. The OT shows us a fuller range of human experience (e.g. loving, fighting, working, dreaming, dying; living out life before God; it makes connections with people's experience).

8. It teaches us more of the Law of God. --careful exposition brings deeper conviction of sin; you can't get gospel without law; can't get law without seeing God's righteousness.

9. It exposes us to more Biblical poetry-- poetry teaching the heart, mind and soul differently than prose.

10. The OT is our LORD's own method for dealing with temptation.

11. Preaching the OT is the apostolic method of preaching-- they work through the OT, they show fulfillment and apply it with a call to repentance.

12. Careful use of the OT opens up more than 1/2 the Bible for use in ministry.

13. Our study and teaching of the OT honors the Holy Spirit who breathed these words.

14. The OT gives us a clearer picture of sin not just in law but in examples (also shows the kinds of sins in community and how they effect the whole people of God).

15. The OT gives us more stories to tell.

16. The OT tells us the story of our own people, the one people of God.

17. The OT gives us greater confidence in the truth of the gospel because it is rooted in history.

18. It presents a fuller revelation of the character of God.

19. It gives us something new to learn or new to teach.

20. The OT is useful (training in righteousness, correction, rebuke, thoroughly equipping, etc.); the OT helps in discipleship.

21. The OT will stretch you and stretch your people.

22. Reading, teaching and preaching the OT is a task vindicated by the history of the church. (Church Fathers, Reformers and Puritans as as adept in the OT as they are in the NT; not true of most evangelicals in the last century).

23. It gives you a richer appreciation for the grace of God--we see the length of God's patience.

24. It enables us to follow Paul's example of preaching the whole counsel of God.

25. OT helps us see the gospel.

26. It shows us God's one plan of redemption unfolded throughout all of history--we can jump in at any one point and see the whole story; the whole story has coherance.

27. The OT gives us broader perspective of the global perspective for missions--God's plan for missions is embedded in and flows from the Old Testament.

28. The OT gives us a deeper understanding of many of the great Christian doctrines.

29. The OT brings people to faith in Christ (evangelistic).

30. It introduces us to heroes and heroines of the Christian faith. (Consider Hebrews 11 and contrast that with the heroes and heroines of young people today that our culture sets up).

31. Dwelling on the OT will deepen our understanding of prayer; consider all the range of prayers in the OT.

These 31 reasons cover the scope of Church life. The whole scope of church life will be strengthened by preaching the OT.

Monday, October 12, 2009

What Science Fiction can Teach Anti-Capitalists

So Michael Moore has come out rather strongly, to state the obvious, against capitalism. I've read a number of reviews and summaries of the movie and I am less than impressed, not that I'm all that big a fan of Moore's work. But as I reflect on the issue, I think that there is the dark side of science fiction can teach us a thing or two about the ideal that many anti-capitalists hold out as the noblest hopes for humanity. In short, there is a side to science fiction that peers into the depth of human nature and confronts us with the evils that are within, often displaying for us what they might look like taken to the ultimate conclusion.

My premise is simple: Capitalism involves risk but risk is inherent in all of life. Systems that eliminate risk while promise absolute security and the reduction of risk to levels near nil sow in themselves the seeds that inherently blossom into their own destruction. The collapse stems from a failure to account for and address the real problem within human nature. You can only provide "security" for so much: take risk out and because of human's fallen nature you take away incentive. Consider three lessons for science fiction:

(1) The Matrix: consider that in the Matrix Reloaded when Neo meets the Architect, he finds out that the architect had originally created an ideal society for humanity to live in. We find out that the society destroyed itself from the inside because humanity could not live this way. Thus, there was no ideal world where humanity somehow transcended its own failure within human nature. Indeed, this is the world that many, including some episodes of Star Trek often hold for us. It is an eschatology driven by materialism--and yet we have always failed to reach this idea. This was the ideal heralded as the great coming future to be achieved of the 20th century and yet it failed miserably--starting with the Great War (WW1). In fact, the 20th century was the bloodiest in history, now thanks in part to totalitarianist regimes of various stripes.

(2) Consider the movie Serenty. Part of the plot involves a government cover up to hide a horrible scientific experience that destroyed a whole planet. In the plot, a planet was exposed to a government created virus that would take away all aggression. The people would become a peaceful utopia. The problem is that the side affect was that almost everyone fell asleep and died--those who didn't went crazy and horribly violent, like space Zombies. The point is that the promised utopia removed all drive and desire to fight and so the people became, in a sense, slothful unto death. There own bodies didn't even fight to stay alive. Of course, taking this to the extreme can become a polemic for Nietszchean and/or Darwinian ethics, survival of the fittest at all cost. I think one could argue that the violent Zombies sufficient prove that we have to have both will to live and motives beyond pure selfish pursuits, but let's not read too much philosophy into this. The point being: the is an illustration showing us that the utopias of science fiction and human dreams are not all they are cracked up to be. Indeed, in the world of Serenty, it is the government that exerts control and seeks to hide their monstrous failure in imposing the virus upon an entire population. At the end of the day, you cannot remove risk and drive from human life.

(3) Last, consider the more famous 1984. While not an attack on socialism, it was an attack on Communism and totalitarian regimes. Orwell was a socialist but one who despised Russian communism. 1984 was a reminder that humanity must always resist totalitarian agenda. 1984 is a sober reminder against the future utopias that many believe governments can establish. Most helpful, Orwell's work is against both monopoly capitalism and centralized government (Orwell and the Politics of Despair, page 118).

Switching gears a bit, F.A. Hayek warns of the fatal conceit: it is the idea that policymakers can establish a system that takes over control of market forces. On a popular level you see this when you try to design a system that accounts for and controls everything. So for example, the best tactical operation in a battlefield actually decentralizes command so that commanders on the ground and platoon or squad leaders have operational flexibility. 1984 shows what a world looks like where everything is controlled. It is ironic that Michael Moore would most likely agree with Orwell's critique of monopoly capitalism but is most likely not as critical of his own views. In fact, Orwell's science fiction and vision of the future reminds us that revolutions are betrayed and don't lead to the utopia that the revolutionaries envision.

Moving away from science fiction, Moore wants a world of guarantees and security. A major end to provide "security" is to guarantee "Americans the right to a job, to a home, to an education, and to medical care. " Yet isn't the the risk free utopia that utopia we have spoke of? It is one thing to guarentee that all should have equal opportunities to procure such things--this should be a right. It is quite another to guarantee automatically all such rewards to be procured risk-free for the the person. Particularly when government promises to secure and procure such items we (1) endorse a movement towards curtailing personal liberty and increasing totalitarianism and (2) we use the promise of security to entice and capitalize on the natural human tendancy towards sloth. Yes, we should guarantee all have equal opportunities to such things however, we cannot remove risk and human incentives. However, our first priority in seeking to perserve rights should be 'do no harm'. We cannot remove all principles of sowing and reaping--to use the Biblical concept. With the promise of security Moore's solution would bring assault to the very nature of personal liberty this country was founded upon.

One would think it would be obvious that wealth and money is not the problem, greed is the problem. Not according to Moore's accessment. The film ends with the narration: "Capitalism is an evil, and you cannot regulate an evil. You have to eliminate it." If my fundamental motivation for wealth is to horde, then my pursuit is the love of money. If however, I understand that I am steward of God's resources, my accumulation of wealth should be primarily to serve God and be a manager of his funds and to use my blessings to love others.

Moore's premise is that capitialism failed. However, the whole notion of capitalism is that if one does not handle one's money prudently one will face cold harsh reality. It is a concept of sowing and reaping of sorts. As in our situation of massive economic failures, the difficulty is that there are always innocent victims. However, it is not the failure of capitalism that caused massive government spending to reward mismanagers rather it is a denial of capitalist principles. Moore's critique will probably not impress the contemplative person who has reflected on the rationale for this crisis. Consider (1) the housing boom and increasing risky morgages violated capitalism and (2) the various bailouts (Wall Street and GM) violated capitalism.

Moore fails to address the even deeper flaw: it is not capitalism that is the problem, it is human nature that is the problem. Capitalism is value neutral. It is based upon notions of personal liberty and freedom. At the end of the day it is best undergirded when individuals collectively recognize man is made in the image of God and therefore has dignity and worth. It is not capitalism that is corrupt it is the individuals who uses the value neutral system to act out of greed, pride and selfishness. So for example, in the book of James it is not higher workers that is condemned but exploiting them and paying them unfairly. Of course, falsely diagnosing the problems leads to false treatments.

Thinking in a Christian fashion about economics and capitalism we need to reflect both law and grace. It is fundamental that we both do justice and practice mercy.
(1) Law involves cause and effect or sowing and reaping.
(2) Grace involves mercy and compassion.

While one should practice grace and mercy and that leads to altruism, one cannot remove all notion of sowing and reaping from an economic system. The system itself, being value neutral, involves sowing and reaping--tit-for-tat, I do not work then I do not eat. The people in the system must practice grace and curtail greed. Greed in the system is curtailed by government which punishes fraud (the role of government) but also by the simple fact that in true capitalism companies that exploit are ideally rewarded by people freely spending their goods in more trustworthy places. Removing these natural consequences by ex post facto intervention actually does more work destroy the system. So as we noted, Moore's complaint is not so much with true capitalism but its perversion.

With respect to our practice of law and grace in economics, it takes wisdom to exercise proper balance in these matters. So on the one hand, if someone does not work they should not eat. But on the other hand, we should have compassion for and offer a helping hand to those who are truly needy--such as the orphan, widow, single mother, or needy child. Even further, the two, law and grace, are not necessarily mutually exclusive in our practice of them in economics. For example, God himself shows tremendous grace and love to people not giving them what they deserve and yet those he loves he also disciplines. Just because we show grace to people does not always entail removing all the consequences of a person's actions. We should consider further how these principles apply to economics.

Unfortunately, we do not live and cannot create a Star Trek utiopia where there are no economic transactions and we all work merely 'to better ourselves' (whatever such nebulous sentiments mean). Human nature will always internally meltdown such utopias. The best we can hope for is a system where such nature is held in checks and balances of various sorts (government prosecution of fraud, fair trade, freedom to compete, consequences to actions, etc.). The dark side of science fiction, that wrestles with the reality of human nature shows us that risk is part of life. The attempt by humans to remove risk from all of life invariably leads to an elimination of human freedom--and we do not need science fiction to teach us this lesson we must merely look to human history for justification. But then again, those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.

One can hardly disagree that the dark side of capitalism is the leverage it can give to greed. But it is absurdity and foolishness of the largest kind to think that eliminating capitalism thereby eliminates greed--that is like eliminating the immune system to cure AIDS. Consider this analysis of capitalism and greed:

Finally, according to the article "Moore told the audience that if people don't rise up and take action after watching this film, that's it—he's done making movies. " One can only hope that Moore stays true to his promise. I doubt there will be the revolution that Moore desires.

One cannot help but ask: what has Michael Moore done with all the money his has made from his movies? Unless he has buried his money in his backyard so as to make no money whatsoever off the interest, the fact is that at heart he too is a capitalist.

Addendum: Russell Moore, of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has this helpful article on capitalism and Michael Moore. He helpful writes:

"I believe the market system is often destructive and evil, and everything it could be replaced with is even more dehumanizing, until it’s replaced with the kingdom of Christ. I don’t mind a limited, bounded market system (one that is people-centered, treats workers right, respects the creation, maintains local traditions and the social order).

But I also know what I’ve received from the prophets and apostles of Jesus. The issue, ultimately, isn’t the economic system itself (although that’s important). It’s the rebellion of money-worship and greed.

I know as a follower of Christ Jesus that one of the most dangerous forces in this age is the passion for money or, more often, the passion for things. I know what Jesus has taught us that Mammon is a god, and a jealous one at that."

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Polanski Files

For those of us who are even slightly culturally alert, the reason case of Roman Polanski should concern us, not so much that we look down our noses at those people over there in Hollywood but because it forces us to ask sobering questions about evil and justice. We should not stand in our pulpits or in our prayer meetings with a "thank God we are not like those Hollywooders"--nevertheless this serves as an illustrate of just how far we all are headed when we are willing to openly reexamine definition of evil and justice. It should force us to ask some own questions about the nature of evil and sexual immorality.

Some of the outrage we see comes from the free pass that some within the cultural elite want to give Polanski. It communicates in effect that if one skips town and if one 'contributes' to society, particularly within the arts, ones own morals more than make up for something heinous in one's youth. It is a sort of salvation by artistic works. Without excusing hypocrisy and moral inconsistency that flows from conservatives, it is rather laughable to actually argue that Hollywood's ethics are superior:
"Hollywood has the best moral compass, because it has compassion," Weinstein said. "We were the people who did the fundraising telethon for the victims of 9/11. We were there for the victims of Katrina and any world catastrophe."

This is it's own brand of Pharisaism. It is true that many in Hollywood do show compassion and they certainly give money to their causes, questionable or not. But they are hardly the only ones in America and they are hardly leading the charge. Let's not forget the Biblical distinction of giving out of riches versus given at one's expense. On this count, I dare say that Middle America looks far better (or here) than an elitist may give it credit. Thankfully there have been both conservatives and liberalism who have decried this for various reasons.

But moral compass? Consider that three major films portrayed relationships with a child in a sympathetic way to one degree or another which involved Oscar winning actor/actresses. Without entering into the debate of whether cinema pushes the culture or reflects the culture, we need to ask the question: should recent behavior and responses surprise us?

Part of the problem is the redefinitions of sexual ethics as noted from First Things:
"What is surprising, however, is to find Polanski's partisans reacting with indignation to his arrest and possible prosecution, as if he were a victim of some great injustice...Pity, yes. But indignation? This is strange, and it compels us to ask how we can account for the inclination of some in Hollywood righteously to condemn those who would bring Polanski to justice. The reasons are no doubt complex, and they probably include a sincere but misguided compassion—one that pushes pity too far by not only sympathizing with the wrongdoer but excusing his conduct...
Traditional sexual morality depended on the assumption that human sexuality possessed an objective moral nature and seriousness that all human beings were obliged to respect and that society itself was entitled to protect through law and custom. Sexual liberation rejected such notions, claiming instead that in matters of sex the acts of consenting adults were none of society's business. That is, the sexual liberation movement denied sex all intrinsic moral content and reduced sexual morality to the requirement that the consent of the participating parties be respected. The problem, however, is that once traditional sexual morality has been swept away, it is not clear that a solid respect for consent can be maintained. "
Let's not forget it is hypocrisy to laud oneself as a champion of social justice while at the same time excusing a clear violation of the Law which is established to protect the weak, innocent and vulnerable. We have this reminder from Al Mohler:
"Moral hypocrisy is an ugly thing, regardless of its source. Hypocrisy is a moral trap of constant threat -- the price of holding any moral standards at all. To hold to the truth of moral judgment and then to allow for the transgression of that moral judgment is hypocrisy in its essence. The only total escape from the threat of hypocrisy is to forfeit any claim to moral standards at all...The cultural left has responded to the arrest a week ago of Polanksi with outrage -- directed not at Polanski but at the arrest. The facts are not in dispute. Roman Polanski pleaded guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977."

Of course, it is not just Christians who are calling it evil to defend evil. From the Wall Street Journal Online, referring to those who have signed a petition to release Polanski:

Be that as it may, let's suppose for the sake of argument that the petition's signers are motivated exclusively by the desire to see justice done. What might that mean in practice? The petition starts out by coolly dismissing Mr. Polanski's crime as "a case of morals" (i.e., no big deal) involving "one of the greatest contemporary filmmakers." It then goes on to argue that the Zurich Film Festival is an "extraterritorial" event held in a "neutral country" to which filmmakers should be allowed to travel "freely and safely," just as if they were doctors or diplomats. The implication is all too clear: No matter what he may have done in the past, Mr. Polanski is an artist and therefore ought to go free. Period.

I find this pseudoargument impossible to stomach, and I can't imagine that Mr. Polanski's fellow filmmakers would be similarly inclined to make it on behalf of a director of made-for-TV movies. But the quality of Mr. Polanski's films has nothing to do with the validity of the case for releasing him. The ability to make art—good, bad or indifferent—relieves no artist of his fundamental duties as a human being, the first and foremost of which is to treat his fellow humans decently, and allow himself to be held accountable if he does not. By his own admission, Mr. Polanski flunked both parts of that test three decades ago. Since then, he's been on an exceedingly cushy lam, living in a Paris penthouse and thumbing his nose at the rule of law. It's time for him to come home to Hollywood—voluntarily or not—and pay the price for what he did.

From Katha Pollitt:

"It's enraging that literary superstars who go on and on about human dignity, and human rights, and even women's rights (at least when the women are Muslim) either don't see what Polanski did as rape, or don't care, because he is, after all, Polanski--an artist like themselves. That some of his defenders are women is particularly disappointing. Don't they see how they are signing on to arguments that blame the victim, minimize rape, and bend over backwards to exonerate the perpetrator? Error of youth, might have mistaken her age, teen slut, stage mother--is that what we want people to think when middle-aged men prey on ninth-graders? "

The only thing I think we should add is this:

Isaiah 5:15-21 15 So the common man will be humbled and the man of importance abased, The eyes of the proud also will be abased. 16 But the LORD of hosts will be exalted in judgment, And the holy God will show Himself holy in righteousness. 17 Then the lambs will graze as in their pasture, And strangers will eat in the waste places of the wealthy. 18 Woe to those who drag iniquity with the cords of falsehood, And sin as if with cart ropes; 19 Who say, "Let Him make speed, let Him hasten His work, that we may see it; And let the purpose of the Holy One of Israel draw near And come to pass, that we may know it!" 20 Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! 21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes And clever in their own sight!

Proverbs 17:15 He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD.

It is tough to balance true moral indignation that we should have for evil with the avoidance of a Pharisaical heart. The case of Roman Polanski isn't really another opportunity to snub the morals of those whom we somehow feel are lesser than us, although clearly and unabashedly pointing out sin is never automatically a case of being a Pharisee. It is a time to think about the true nature and source of evil. It is a time to look at the human condition. Ironically, without attempting to excuse some excuse evil, their act of excusing it may itself be a reminder to us: there is such a thing as a human condition. What I mean is, while some may be motivated by moral relativism, seeing someone fall, may be a reminder that we too have the same heart as Roman Polanski. To put it in more secular terms, as the LA Times quotes UCLA professor Jonathan Kuntz:

"I think that there are a lot of folks in Hollywood in the late '60s and '70s who may have done a lot of things they weren't really proud of, and may have been participating in very similar things,"

Because man still bears some of the image of God, no matter how marred it is, there still is a conscience in us that condemns us. This is not the time to try to suppress that conscience but confront it. What is evil? Why is it I have such a proclivity to it? Sober questions should drive us to reflect on the sober realities and seek real resolutions. Is there a solution?

The some things we should take from this are:

  1. Do I excuse evil in my own heart?
  2. Do I excuse evil in my own social groups, clicks, or church family?
  3. Do I properly identify the standards for evil that exist outside myself and my social situation?
  4. How do I define and evaluate justice? Is it Biblical?
  5. Do I recognize the abomination is God eyes of excusing evil, letting evildoers free, and redefining evil?
  6. Without removing the justice of human law, do I recognize the power of the cross to forgive the guilty who seek such forgiveness?
  7. Do I hold there are worse class of sins that are somehow unforgivable?
  8. Do I see my own sins just as heinous and wicked as Polanski's?
James 2:10-11 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. 11 For He who said, "DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY," also said, "DO NOT COMMIT MURDER." Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.

Galatians 3:10-13 0 For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM." 11 Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, "THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH." 12 However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, "HE WHO PRACTICES THEM SHALL LIVE BY THEM." 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us-- for it is written, "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE "--

Friday, October 9, 2009

Mythbusters: The Christian Dark Ages

I've been wanting to start a new blog tag around here: mythbusters. Of course, I'm stealing that from these guys.

There is a whole lot of bad historical arguments floating around out there that we believe. Occasionally we encounter them and often we don't think twice about them. One particularly nasty species of myths usually relate to Enlightenment narratives of the triumph of reason over the evils of Christianity. So for example, I can still remember my one high school English teacher in my junior year railing on the Puritans reading history from The Scarlet Letter and the Crucible. Nasty stuff, myths that should be busted.

One myth I want to take on first is the notion that Christianity led to the dark ages and held back human progress for about 1,000 years. I recently ran across the popular version of this myth when I happened to catch a clip of an episode of Family Guy. As a whole, I don't recommend or endorse the show and I don't watch it. I caught this episode while flipping channels two weeks ago--and since Stewie had a devise that let him jump to parallel universes . The science fiction intrigued me until that is science fiction mixed with bad historical argumentation. As part of the comedy, the story begins with Stewie having a bruiser pig that is the product of advanced genetic engineering. To explain the origin of the pig, Stewie and the pet dog, Brian, jump into a universe with advanced genetic engineering and major scientific advances. When you jump into parallel universes you jump into the same time (day, month, year) in an alternate reality. In this reality Stewie and Brian find the world 1,000 year more advanced. Why? Well because in this reality Christianity never existed. The argument: Christianity held us back in the dark ages.

Here's a clip:

Here's the problem: it is bad history. Not merely because it is anachronistic to label a period 'the dark ages' but because the era was hardly the blight of ignorance and darkness that we are led to believe. You can find this argument in numerous forms. Edward Gibbon in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire held that Christianity had brought the wonders and delights of Greco-Roman culture and advancement to a destructive end. Arthur C. Clarke and Carl Sagan held that Greek science which was on the rise was stifled and repressed by Christianity. One modern form of the argument can be found in Charles Freeman's The Closing of the Western Mind. But the argument in its various forms is sheer fantasy, just as much as Stewie's parallel universe. You can find a helpful summary of a reasoned historical argumentation in David Hart's Atheist Delusions taking on such bad fantasies and bald assertions. Here's some real facts with some historical arguments.

1. Historians acknowledge that Greek philosophy and "science" was actually on a decline. First, when Greek culture made advances in Ptolemaic geometry, it was hardly the bastion of unrestrained empirical investigation (a sort of enlightenment scientific method before the Enlightenment) that the arguments make it out to be. Second, scientific advancement was actually being held back by Greek metaphysics. So as historian David Linberg notes in "It is agreed by most historians of ancient science that creative Greek science was on the wane, perhaps as early as 200 B.C., certainly by AD 200." There is simply no historical reason for believing "that the advent of Christianity did anything to diminish the support given to scientific activity." ("Science and the Early Church" God and Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter between Christianity and Science. p. 30, 33) To put it more bluntly, speaking of Rome in the first century A.D. "No technical innovation had occurred since the Hellenistic age." (Jacques Le Goff Medieval Civilization 400-1500. p.3)

2. Aristotelian cosmology and physics actually stifled scientific advancement. Hart notes "Lest we forget, the birth of modern physics and cosmology was achieved by Galileo, Kepler, and Newton breaking free not from the close confining prison of faith [my note: another myth to bust] (all three were believing Christians, of one sort of or another) but from the enormous burden of the millennial authority of Aristolelian science. The scientific revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth century was not a revival of Hellenistic science by its final defeat" (Atheist Delusions, p.68).

3. It was Christians who actually critiqued Greek cosmology and metaphysics which were contributing to the halt in advancements in physics and cosmology. To this end, Hart further notes that no one actually critiqued ancient Greek natural philosophy as "thorough or as ingenious as that of the sixth-century Christian John Philoponus." (Atheist Delusions, p.69). This allow people to throw off their shackles of captivity to a Greek cosmological and metaphysical dogma. Philopnus actually posited that the above the atmosphere their might be a vacuum and he argued against Aristotle that light moves. He further rejected Aristotle's dynamic theory of motion in favor of a kinetic view (Atheist Delusions, 69-70).

4. As noted above numerous famous scientist, such as Galileo, Kepler and Newton--and to this we might add other great names such as Pascal--were not throwing off the shackles of Christianity in favor of science. It is an alternate but equally popular myth that Christianity and the origins are science are mutually opposed to each other. As Alistar McGrath notes, "Most historians regard religion as having had a generally benign and constructive relationship with the natural sciences in the West...The idea that science and religion are in perpetual conflict is no longer taken seriously by any major historian of science, despite its popularity in the late nineteenth century...Not only is this caricature [fact based science vs. faith based religion] clearly untrue in the present day, but historical scholarship has now determined it to be misleading and inaccurate in the past" (The Twilight of Atheism, 84, 87).

5. In the West it is Christianity that contributed to the rise of the modern university system which propelled the scientific advancements of the Renaissance and Enlightenment. They created safe places for study and debate (Atheist Delusions, 71). In the Middle Ages, it is monks and monasteries that contributed to significant scientific and technological advances.

6. Western Christendom was hardly as dark as we are lead to believe. "Western Christendom produced natural philosophers at least the equals of any of their classical predecessors: Robert Grosseteste (c.1175-1253), for instance, a man of huge erudition and the first known expositor of a systematic method for scientific experimentation; or St. Albert the Great (c.1200-1280), perhaps the father of biological field research, whose mastery of "all sciences," natural and speculative, was genuinely encyclopedic in scope" (Atheist Delusions, 72).

7. The dark ages were not dark but a time of great advancement in nearly every field. "And in certain other area, the Christian world was always well ahead of the Islamic, even during the so-called Dark Ages, most particularly in the realm of technological innovation. In architecture, engineering, machinery, agronomy, and the exploitation of new sources of power, the Middle Ages were marked by periods of invention far more prolonged, creative, and diverse than any known to Hellenistic, Roman or Islamic culture" (Atheist Delusions, 72-73). The advances of medieval technology exceed previous eras in scope and variety as the studies by Lynn White Jr. (Medieval Technology and Social Change), Jean Gimpel (The Medieval Machine: The Industrial Revolution of the Middle Ages), and Joseph and Francis Gies (Cathedral, Forge and Waterwheel: Invention in the Middle Ages) have shown. Hardly being the dark ages, things like the magnetic compass, the iron forge, flying buttresses, windmills, water pumps, the printing press, and gun powder were discovered and/or advanced during the "superstitious" and "repressive" time. Christian contributed to these advances. For example it was in Cistercian monasteries of the twelfth century we find more sophisticated use of gears in windmills and the use of water power to process grain and even drive hammers on camshafts for to mechanize various jobs (Atheist Delusions, p73).

8. The medical advances in health care and care for the poor were made by Christians. So for example: Christian's pioneer the modern hospital system (Timothy S. Miller's The Birth of the Hospital in the Byzantine Empire; Demtrios Constantelos' Byzantine Philanthropy and Social Welfare). Christian also pioneered the modern concept of orphanages (Timothy Miller's The Orphans of Byzantium: Children Welfare in the Christian Empire). It is Christian who advanced health care and medicine (Gary Ferngren's Medicine and Hearth Care in Earliest Christianity.). It was in the Early Christian Roman world in the 6th century that we have the first freed hospitals with physicians and surgeons that had "established regimes of treatment and convalescent care, and with regular and trained staffs" (Atheist Delusions, p.72). They were hardly the superstitious ninnies that modern fairy tales passed off as history would have us believe. Rodney Stark has shown in his The Rise of Christianity that when the plagues hit the ancient Roman Empire it was Christians not pagans who stayed in the city to care for the needy often at great personal sacrifice. All of this significantly advanced the conception and practice of medicine. As Greg Ferngren writes, "{Early Christians] did not attribute most diseases to demons, they did not ordinarily seek miraculous or religious cures, and they employed natural means of healing, whether these means involved physicians or home or traditional remedies" (Medicine, 13). In fact, the healing of disease did not differ substantially from the Graeco-Roman world. It is simply not the case that Christianity held back scientific advances. It is more than ironic that the Family Guy show in a later clip has a character in the multiverse taking a more advanced pill to cure his disease by more advanced medicine--what may make for fun comedy, and we are not picking on the comedy, has little basis in historical argument.

It is impossible to say with certainty what the world without Christianity would be like. Certainly the history of Christianity in the world is illuminated by bright spots of and stained by the darkness of evils. However, to believe that Christianity held us back is simply false. In many cases Christians were pioneers. The Middle Ages are filled with advances and in some cases, such as the care of the poor and the rejection of Greek cosmology, it is directly attributable, in whole or in part, to their Christian convictions. It is simply a modern myth that we uncritically and ahistorically adopt when we believe in the Dark Ages and an alleged repression by Christianity to usher in such allegedly backward times. Hopefully we have shown and documented that this myth is sufficiently:

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Star W*RS Jumps the Shark

Just in case you didn't think they had already jumped the shark with Episode I (think: Jar-Jar Binks and Midi-Chlorians), there is now insurmountable that Star W*Rs fiction has officially jumped the shark. They are introducing Zombies to their universe. That's right ZOMBIES.

Check it out: here and here. And people wonder why I am a Star Trek fan who does get all googly eyed for that other universe of fandom.
Here's part of the write up blurb where personal from an Imperial prison barge named the Purge have to board a Star Destroyer drifting in space in order to make repairs on their own ship. Only half comeback alive but...
And death is only the beginning.

The Purge’s half-dozen survivors–two teenage brothers, a sadistic captain of the guards, a couple of rogue smugglers, and the chief medical officer, the lone woman on board–will do whatever it takes to stay alive. But nothing can prepare them for what lies waiting aboard the Star Destroyer amid its vast creaking emptiness that isn’t really empty at all. For the dead are rising: soulless, unstoppable, and unspeakably hungry.
Yup, sounds like Zombies to me. Oh wait, excuse me: deadly space virus that makes you die, but come back as crazies who eat the living.

Just keep in mind that unlike Star Trek, which regards only the movies and TV shows as canon for Star W*rs all things in print or on film are canon.
Without movies at the core, though, Lucas Licensing couldn't afford to be lackadaisical—no more Jaxxons, no more incestuous flirtations. "We set parameters," Roffman says. "It had to be an important extension of the continuity, and it had to have an internal integrity with the events portrayed in the films." Closely tending the canon was paying off with fans. Essentially, all the new comic books, novels, and games were prequels and sequels of one another. If you wanted to know the whole story, you had to buy them all.
Given the tight canon control organized by the Lucas franchise, you can't chalk this up then to a bad publishing decision by a rogue editor running to jump on a hot market. More importantly you can't dismiss it as sub-canonical. Eat that Star W*rs Fanboys.

Here's one time it's nice to be a Star Trek fan rather than one of those other guys...

Chia Pet Mania

I don't particularly like Chia Pets. Don't have one; Don't want one. But apparently there are chia pets for Lincoln, Washington and the Statue of Liberty:But make one for Obama, and its... yup you guessed it "racist".
No, no no, don't they realize this chia pet is a symbol of liberty, opportunity, prosperity and hope? I mean those are the very things that come to mind when one hears those nobelest of words: chia pet.

Here's the advertisement clip:

You can even get all four in this "Special American Collection:"
I think there are two deeper questions we should be asking:
(1) Is this respectful of anyone who has held the office of President to turn great national heroes into of all things a "Chia Pet"? I mean come on. It's one thing to sell the likes of posters, plaques and pins--but chia pets of the President?! That's about as tasteful as respectful of the office as the queens of England branded in a lingerie line.

(2) Are we really willing to do just about anything to make a buck? What does it say about our hubris and infatuation with our great expectations when there are only three presidents who are chia pets: Washington, Lincoln and Obama? I mean "three great American presidents"--to borrow from SNL Seth Meyers: Really? REALY?! I mean REALLY!

Regardless of where you stand politically at least let history be the judge before you hold him up with the likes of Washington and Lincoln... before you allow him to share in the noblest of iconic statuses: the chia pet.

Personally, I'm holding out buying a chia pet until they make (a) a Star Trek line or (b) busts of the great theologians of church history. I mean, I do have my standards.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Value of Creeds

While Protestants hold the authority of Creeds as subordinate to Scripture, they find creeds useful.
Confessions, in due subordination to the Bible, are of great value and use. They are summaries of the doctrines of the Bible, aids to its sound understanding, bonds of union among their professors, public standards and guards against false doctrine and practice. In the form of Catechisms they are of especial use in the instruction of children, and facilitate a solid and substantial religious education, in distinction from spasmodic and superficial excitement. The first object of creeds was to distinguish the Church from the world, from Jews and heathen, afterwards orthodoxy from heresy, and finally denomination from denomination. In all these respects they are still valuable and indispensable in the present order of things. Every well-regulated society, secular or religious, needs an organization and constitution, and can not prosper without discipline. Catechisms, liturgies, hymn-books are creeds also as far as they embody doctrine.

There has been much controversy about the degree of the binding force of creeds, and the quia or quatenus in the form of subscription. The whole authority and use of symbolical books has been opposed and denied, especially by Socinians, Quakers, Unitarians, and Rationalists. It is objected that they obstruct the free interpretation of the Bible and the progress of theology; that they interfere with the liberty of conscience and the right of private judgment; that they engender hypocrisy, intolerance, and bigotry; that they produce division and distraction; that they perpetuate religious animosity and the curse of sectarianism; that, by the law of reaction, they produce dogmatic indifferentism, skepticism, and infidelity; that the symbololatry of the Lutheran and Calvinistic State Churches in the seventeenth century is responsible for the apostasy of the eighteenth. The objections have some force in those State Churches which allow no liberty for dissenting organizations, or when the creeds are virtually put above the Scriptures instead of being subordinated to them. But the creeds, as such, are no more responsible for abuses than the Scriptures themselves, of which they profess to be merely a summary or an exposition. Experience teaches that those sects which reject all creeds are as much under the authority of a traditional system or of certain favorite writers, and as much exposed to controversy, division, and change, as churches with formal creeds. Neither creed nor no-creed can be an absolute protection of the purity of faith and practice. The best churches have declined or degenerated; and corrupt churches may be revived and regenerated by the Spirit of God, and the Word of God, which abides forever. (The Creeds of Christendom, Philip Schaff)

The same abuse of Creeds and over reaction to them that Schaff notes in the Socianian, Quakers, Unitarians, and Rationalists, is the same sort of reaction that we see in later liberalism and today in modern forms of Emergent Theology. The church is at heart a body of people that confess certain things to be true. Confession is an act of worship, of calling on our Lord affirming our trust.

Indeed, those today who reject creeds are as much under tradition and the influence of men, as those who hold to a creed. Note for example, Schaff argues that those without creeds are subject to the same divisions and decline, and here we might thing of recent events within the Emerging/Emergent community. Our point here is not to harp on them but to point out that value of Creeds. Those who detract from them can often find the same sorts of weaknesses within their own community and so their detractions are hardly as solid.

No doubt many today have had bad experiences with rigid 'fundamentalism' which has indeed departed from its historic roots. Yet bad experiences does not invalidate the importance of fundamentalism. Rigid and badly applied credalism does not invalidate the value of Creeds.

When the debate is over the meaning of Scripture itself, we certainly defend the doctrine based on what the Word of God says but we often must right a summation so that we can both guard (a negative action for those who are outside truth) and lead in affirming confession (a positive action for those worship within the Church).

It is never enough to merely say our confession is "the Bible alone is my confession". While we certainly must never confess and believe things that are above or contrary to Scripture, when the debate is over the meaning of Scripture we need a clear exposition and summary of what Scripture teaches. Two people can equally hold to the Bible as their confession and believe doctrines that are different to the core. Such proclamation of unity on the surface are no true unity. A creed says: "the Bible teaches this not that"--which is precisely the distinction we need when facing unbelief and false beliefs.

In short, there is value a value to Protestants in Creeds.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Authority of the Creeds

Many Protestants are anti-creedal. Without putting too fine a point on it, it be anti-Creedal is, at the end of the day, anti-Christian. Christianity is about confession of belief. We place our faith in a person, but we believe very specific things about that person and His Work.

Protestants are not historically anti-creedal, although they properly subordinate the creeds to Scripture.

I found this useful section when reading Philip Schaff's The Creeds of Christendom.

In the Protestant system, the authority of symbols, as of all human compositions, is relative and limited. It is not co-ordinate with, but always subordinate to, the Bible, as the only infallible rule of the Christian faith and practice. The value of creeds depends upon the measure of their agreement with the Scriptures. In the best case a human creed is only an approximate and relatively correct exposition of revealed truth, and may be improved by the progressive knowledge of the Church, while the Bible remains perfect and infallible. The Bible is of God; the Confession is man's answer to God's word.

The Bible is the norma normans; the Confession the norma normata. The Bible is the rule of faith (regula fidei); the Confession the rule of doctrine (regula doctrinæ). The Bible has, therefore, a divine and absolute, the Confession only an ecclesiastical and relative authority. The Bible regulates the general religious belief and practice of the laity as well as the clergy; the symbols regulate the public teaching of the officers of the Church, as Constitutions and Canons regulate the government, Liturgies and Hymn-books the worship, of the Church.

Any higher view of the authority of symbols is unprotestant and essentially Romanizing. Symbololatry is a species of idolatry, and substitutes the tyranny of a printed book for that of a living pope. It is apt to produce the opposite extreme of a rejection of all creeds, and to promote rationalism and infidelity.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Radio Theology

This morning on the way in to church, I was listen to a local Christian radio station. I enjoy Christian radio music and it is usually helpful. What concerns me though is how many people us the Christian radio to actually 'nourish' their spiritual lives. It is one thing to listen to music or sermons on the radio. It is one thing to listen clean and family friendly programing--all of which the radio provides. But Christian radio cannot replace nourishment from God's Word which should come from person reading and study and gathering publicly to hear God's Word proclaimed. Do not neglect the preaching of God's Word--and radio preaching doesn't count.

This morning on the drive in, they were asking the question "Does God punish?". This simple question became rather convoluted as many shared their opinions but few shared what God's Word says. By the time I was done listening no one had given a clear answer. It was like the blind leading the blind. This is one more reason why you can't get spiritual nourishment from Christian radio, as good as it may be in other areas. God wants believers to be under the spiritual care of elders. We are sheep who need shepherds and one of the reason the Chief Shepherd Jesus appoints elders is so that they can care for and see the flock spiritual nourished. Jesus loves his sheep and wants them cared for.

You can't get your theology over the radio. Even if you listen to sermons online or on the radio, an act which can be helpful, you are not 'under the care' of such men. These men are 'hirelings'. Many have their own flocks their care for and deeply love. They may be proclaiming the Word of God to you as a listener, but they are not shepherding you. It amazes me how many times as a pastor someone will tell me they haven't been to church in a while but then will quickly add "I've been listening to _______" as if this somehow makes up for the loss of corporate worship. News flash: not everybody who has a radio show of a Christian station or can podcast a sermon is actually Biblical! (Many are, but too many are not).

So with respect to the theology I heard on the radio this morning: Does God punish sin? The radio took a simple question and offered convoluted non-answers. As a pastor, who has been asked similar questions before the simple answer to this complex question is: look at the cross of Jesus Christ. What is God doing on the cross? Why does Jesus have to suffer for sin? The Bible tells us that Jesus bore the curse for our sins (Gal 3:10-13). So God does have a curse for sin (punishment) and he does not let the guilty go unpunished. But out of His great love for us the loving Father sends the loving Son who willingly lays down his life to bear the just wrath God has upon sin. No where is this made more clear that in Romans 3:25—God presented his son as a “sacrifice of atonement” (NIV). The word there is hiliasterion. It is the Greek word used to translate the Hebrew Old Testament word referring to the mercy seat on the ark of the Covenant where the blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled. The word clearly means “propitiation”—means to pour out wrath and exhaust it. The wrath of God for sin is poured out on Christ.

God is clearly loving but he clearly must punish sins (Exodus 34:6-7). In the Bible God tells human judges it is a miscarriage of justice to let the guilty go unpunished; God finds it to be abominable. As a God who is just, He too does not let the guilty go unpunished. The problem is, of course, we are all guilty.

So, whenever people ask me does God have wrath for sin and does God punish sinners, the simple place to start is say: look at the cross of Christ. Yes God punishes sin.

As for radio theology--well too often it leaves too much to be desired. I think the larger point should be this: the work of a radio announcer or jockey is important in the sense that it is a calling from God and in God's eyes all work is noble and to be done for God's glory. They bring us news, music and make us laugh. But God ordains people to serve in different roles, gifting them for such things. God also ordains pastor/elders to shepherd and nourish. My concern is that in our media saturated age listeners confuse who is heralding what.
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