Thursday, August 26, 2010

Slandering those made in God's Image

Perhaps you've followed the kerfuffle (or is it a brew-ha-ha) between Marvin Olasky and Jim Wallis. (If not you can catch up here.)

It appears, according to Christianity Today, that Jim Wallis has apologized.

Wallis told Christianity Today that he sent a private e-mail to Olasky and plans to speak with the editor-in-chief of World Magazine by phone on Friday.
"I was wrong, out of anger at the insinuation about the dependence on these foundations, I was wrong to imply that like Beck, Marvin lies for a living," Wallis said. "Glenn Beck does lie for a living. Marvin Olasky doesn't lie for a living; that's not something I should say about a brother in Christ."
(HT: Justin Taylor)

(1) I won't get into whether or not 'Beck lies for a living.' I must admit, this does seem to be a bit over the top. I don't follow Beck, but he doesn't seem anymore of a sensationalist than a whole host of people on the left and the right.

(2) I won't question Wallis' sincerity but I'll just say that true repentance involves not just sincerity but an actual account of what one has down wrong. (I guess this has been done, but who am I to judge).

(3) Consider my main thought a reminder to us all not a dig at Wallis. What I do want to question is the statement "not something I should say about a brother in Christ." This is certainly all well and true so far as it goes. (Certainly it is good that he affirms Olasky as a brother in Christ.)

But let's just remember slander is something that we should not do to anyone made in the image of God, not just a higher ethic we hold for our "brothers in Christ."
James 3:7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.
We all struggle with controlling our tongue. But we should strive to control it towards every human being. As they say: 'that's all I say about that.'

A Little More on Walter Bauer's Theory

In this blog post, I reviewed The Heresy of Orthodoxy. As a sort of follow up, here is somewhat useful paper on those who have adapted Bauer's views. Helpful it discusses Helmut Koester, recognized in the field of NT studies, but who received less attention Köstenberger and Kruger's book (hey, you can't get at everybody, and Ehrman and Pagels are far more popular).

Here's the basic contention of the paper:

The general validity of the Bauer Thesis was mostly accepted by peer reviewers in Germany immediately after the 1934 publication. Though he was criticized on several details of his evidence, his attack on the traditional, Eusebian view of early church history was regarded as valid. In other words, many scholars have disagreed with Bauer’s evidences, arguments, and answers concerning the development of orthodoxy and heresy, but they have generally agreed that the traditional view was untenable and that early Christianity was characterized by “radical diversity.”
In this paper I suggest that when the historians’ hands are called, the debate over unity and diversity in the early church can not resolve into less that two opposing positions: an emphasis on unity and orthodoxy on one hand, and an emphasis on diversity and conflict on the other. In the final analysis, two groups of scholars with two very different presuppositions are playing with one deck of cards and two sets of rules.

Or again:
[I]t is my view that such an “honest and critical” investigation into the origins of Christianity is virtually impossible to conduct apart from some confessional starting point. One’s confessional choice regarding the possibility or reality of a bodily resurrection greatly affects the hermeneutic and historiography of the scholar. His or her version of the “honest and critical” method only works if Jesus did not rise from the dead. If Jesus rose from the dead, that creedal position must be the starting point, otherwise the conclusions will be wrong. The principle is true, mutatis mutandis, if Jesus did not rise from the dead. Either way, every scholar necessarily begins the historical inquiry with some creed informing his or her historiography and hermeneutics.

This paper is helpful for those trying to get a run-down of the debate in this area of New Testament studies. It mentions the two biggest responses to Bauer: H. E. W. Turner's The Pattern of Christian Truth and Thomas A. Robinson’s The Bauer Thesis Examined.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Glen Beck, Da Vinci Code & Conspiracy Theories



This is why you should read The Heresy of Orthodoxy (my review). What Glen Beck basically says here is the type of Conspiracy theory of Christianity that we find popularized in the Da Vinci Code. Unfortunately, for far too many this is the kind of thing that if it just gets repeated enough, it suddenly becomes "true" or at least it seems to be a "credible theory." Historical disciplines should quickly dispel this.

There are so many errors in this two minute clip it isn't funny. The council of Nicea had really nothing to do with the making of Scripture and the binding of it. For all Constantine's flaws, he didn't invent the Bible or orthodoxy.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are Jewish documents, some of them OT scrolls. The Dead Sea Scrolls were buried long before the Council of Nicea. The DSS were probably buried by a Jewish sect known as the Essences, although that could be slightly debated. But they aren't even remotely Christian.

Although what Glenn Beck says about the DSS is what most people, even scholars, basically think about the Gnostic Gospels. This is popularized by the Bart Ehrmans and Elaine Pagels.

The things confessed in the Nicene Creed trace their history back through the Rule of Faith, the early church fathers, and into the New Testament itself. It is true that the nature of the some of the argumentation develops along with the vocabulary, but simply reading Athanasius and the church fathers defending Nicea, you quickly realize the issue is about expounding the true teaching of Scripture--and holding to the things which the church had confessed from the beginning.

To dispel some of this, I'd also recommend Darrell Bocks The Missing Gospels, although with the works of Darrell Bock, Ben Witherington and Craig Evans, and others, on the historical Jesus.

Book Review: Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters

Over my vacation, I decided to read a book on parenting and being a dad. I took a risk and did something I rarely if ever do--I choose to read a book without any prior recommendation, blog article, link or book review. With the exception of a few helpful Amazon.com recommendations while searching for a book, when I bought and read Meg Meeker's Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know I was surprisingly not disappointed by my all-but blind choice. 

I am a father of four girls, all ages seven and under. Truth be told, I have at times secretly longed for at least one boy. Somewhere deep in the recesses of my mind, I am sure that somehow I have surely envisioned that raising at least one son to manhood would be a shining vindication of my own manhood. I know daughters are precious and I wouldn't trade them for the world--but oh to have a boy to chase frogs, play guns and teach all those "boy" things that make boys men. Alas, perhaps it is not to be.

But here Meg Meeker both slaps you in the face and taps into the manliness of men as she talks plainly and directly to fathers on behalf of the daughters they will raise--indeed must raise. She provides a slap in the face, not as an insult but like splashing cold water on the face--calling fathers to be fathers and men for the sake of their daughters. She also properly motivates. You walk away from this book not just with a mind filled with facts, figures, statistics and ideas of what to do but also with clear motivation to do it. This book does more than inform and warn--although that is a vital role. It also properly inspires. For example:
  • "[W]e have a popular culture that's not healthy for girls and young women, and there is only one thing that stands between it and your daughter. You. Fathers inevitably change the corse of their daughters' lives--and can save them." (p.28).
  • "[S]omeone has to tell fathers to uncage their masculinity...True masculinity is the moral exercise of authority." (p.46-7).
  • "Every man who enters her life will be compared to you; every relationship she has with a man will be filtered through her relationship with you. If you have a good relationship, she will choose boyfriends who will treat her well. If she sees you as open and warm, she'll be confident with other men." (p.49)
  • "The most aggressive campaign against your daughter's emotional and physical health is directed at her sexuality. She relies on your defense against that campaign. And fathers should know that the sexual messages your daughters see and hear today in popular culture are more pervasive, powerful, and graphic than they were thirty years ago." (p.94)
  • "You have to be your daughter's protector and fight a culture that lies to her about sex and denies her right to modesty." (p.98).
  • "I am convinced that if fathers recruited even 20 percent of the intellectual, physical, mental and even emotional energy they spend at work and applied it to their relationships at home, we would live in an entirely different country...I'm talking about truly engaging with your family as a husband and father." (p.136).
  • "Courageous men take stock and do what is right. Integrity is not complete without humility. True humility comes from finding that balance between who you are and what the world is. And the great reward is that humble fathers are wonderful to be around. Daughters love humble dads and distance themselves from haughty ones." (p.167).
  • "To be a father is to be a leader, to make decisions, to intervene on your daughter's behalf, and to instruct and form her character so that she knows right from wrong, so that she knows when to say no, and so that she's strong enough to fight temptation. And all that requires that you have moral clarity." (p.209).

This book addresses a whole host of problems: fathers who won't be men and exercise the authority that parent have and must use, fathers who are overly authoritarian and have no relationship, sexual and moral problems of our culture and how they effect girls. At times on this latter point the statistics are overwhelming and scary.

Meg Meeker backs up her points with serious scientific study which bolsters her case. She gives helpful tips, stories and antidotes so that this work is hardly a stuffy academic treatise. While she does talk about belief & faith in a generic sense, this book is not specifically a Biblical exegesis as an evangelical reader might want. It's audience is a bit broader. Those who are accustomed to launching into the practical from an exegetical point might wish for a little more. If one is looking specifically for a Bible case, this book is lacking. Yet those who are sufficiently developed in their 'Biblical theology' of parent, this book is very helpful.

Overall the book is well researched, honest and painstakingly frank. It creates a vision of what father can and should be. As a final thought, one image that stuck with me is the comparison Meeker makes between raising girls to be "princesses" vs. raising them to be "pioneer women." Her point is that princesses are often selfish, stuck-up, prideful and entitlement driven. Instead of raising a 'daddy's angel' who is really a self-absorbed brat under all that 'princess' veneer, Meeker argues are image should be to raise "pioneer women." These are the type of women who when they wanted something had to work for it. They were strong, confident and self-sufficient. The result was healthier relationship and a stronger work ethic. This type of women is noble rather than being sucked into her own 'nobility'. It creates a strong mental image

I must confess my own "princesses" didn't like it when I jokingly said they could no longer be a princess but had become pioneer women. "AH, no dad, we want to be princesses." So for now, we still play princess and have afternoon tea--which is fine because I am their knight and hero. But behind the games the deadly serious goal is to raise godly women who are strong and fit to live before God in a world that is increasingly hostile to Christianity--a true 'pioneer woman' who are on the road to Zion but strangers and exiles in this world.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Wallace on the Comma Johanneum

What isn't 1 John 5:7 in modern translations of the Bible? The simplest answer is "because it's not in the original Greek manuscripts." I've blogged about the Comma Johanneum before. I've also blogged about why the NIV allegedly "omits" verses

Here are several more helpful resources that I'll link to:

Dan Wallace, Greek scholar, textual critic and manuscript expert talks about the Comma Johanneum. Here's a post on the KJV in contrast to modern translations. It also contains video.

Here he address the "Conspiracy" behind the new Bible translations.

Book Review: The Heresy of Orthodoxy

Carl Trueman's helpful review of Andreas Köstenberger and Michael Kruger's The Heresy of Orthodoxy reminded me that I want to review this excellent book after finishing it last week. 

Since college I've enjoyed New Testament Studies as a field and since the Da Vinci Code came out I've expanded my interests into Christian origins and the early centuries of the church. For quite a while the thesis of Walter Bauer has held sway in some circle despite it's criticism and refutation at every point. Bauer's basic thesis is that earliest Christianity was not Christianity singular in terms of a burgeoning orthodoxy or proto-orthodoxy but that Christianity was really Christianities filled with diversity. This diversity was not the sort that one might find when one thinks of the difference between a horn section and a winds section in the same orchestra playing the same symphony. This sort of diversity is to some degree legitimate in the the Word of God itself--non-contradictory and harmonious. Rather Bauer believed the diversity was more wide spread and contradictory almost like a battle of the bands where they are not even competing in the same style of music. It is only looking back that the later church declared one side to be "orthodoxy" and the other side to be "heresy."

In our day of conspiracy theories this view of church history has taken off. It is so easy to assume "history is written by the victors" so that nothing is truly falsifiable since the absence of evidence because evidence of validation. This sort of methodology can create theories on the scantiest of evidence or pseudo-evidence. With respect to Bauer's theory it has been taken up by scholars such as Bart Ehrman and Elaine Pagels. They have of course, modified it and adapted it in their own ways. They have decimated it at a popular level--books that can be found at Barnes & Noble often given pride of place on the bookshelves.

The is why the Heresy of Orthodoxy is so helpful. It takes on various aspects of the basic Bauer, now Bauer-Ehrman, and dismantles them piece by piece. The detail provided in the book, for example on the textual data of NT manuscripts, makes this book a helpful go to book for those interested in apologetics.

The book contains helpful discussion on unity and plurality and the New Testament and beyond. It contains a basic introduction to the canon. The begin the discussion with a theological explanation of what the canon is. They argue, rightly in my view, that the Scriptures give birth to the church not the reverse. A formal process of recognizing the book and crystalizing the 'lines'  might have developed in the face of opposition but the basic structure of and reliance upon these books was well rooted in the origin of the church. It is nice to see some of the work of Herman Ridderbos and Meredith Kline utilized.  One weakness of some canon discussions in NT circles is the divorce of the historical from the theological--ignoring the latter in favor of the former. 

Furthermore, thebooks that "became" were in functional use as "Scripture" very early. In fact, before the canon was "clear," the practice of the early church was largely "clear" in the usage as Scripture, vs. books that were helpful, vs. books that were categorically excluded. Generally, as widespread as the church was in geography there was not widespread disagreement. 

The book also takes on Ehrman's use of textual criticism and seeks to soundly refute his main contentions. Not only do they address Ehrman's arguments and provide counter evidence, they also seek to address the intentions and biases driving Ehrman's arguments. They demonstrate that Ehrman is out of step with the evidence and in his attempt to refute the notion of a proto-orthodoxy has set the bar impossibly high against it. In short, his starting point predetermines his outcome.

This book gets at what the heart of earliest Christianity was. Either is was a jumbled mess of theologies emerging and bubbling to the surface until one group evolves to prominence and 'kills' out the other side. Or Christianity arise out of a set of core beliefs that were proclaimed back through the apostles and from Jesus himself. Certainly in this latter view, beliefs were clarified and crystalized often in response to emerging modifications and departures, never the less it was the clarification of this proto-orthodoxy that lead to the rise of the earliest more formalized "orthodoxy". 

Of course, Kruger and Köstenberger argue that it the assumptions of our day that often drive the thesis of diversity. Moreover, our day despises appeal to authority. Yet the earliest church fathers had no problem appealing to both the antiquity of their position and thereby the authority of something that was passed down from the apostles themselves. This is, of course, how the rule of faith developed. Earliest Christian belief defended itself by appealing to authority and tradition in order to valid the claims of truth of the doctrine against heresy.

I would highly recommend The Heresy of Orthodoxy to pastors, lay persons looking to be informed, and those academically interested in New Testament Studies and Christian Origins. It is written at a level that a non-specialist can grasp but provides solid arguments that scholars should not dismiss.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Logos Mac Software

In honor of the new Logos software that is shipping for Mac, they are having a sweepstake and a giveaway. You can find out how to enter here.

Hopefully, I can save up to buy the new software and some of the resources.

Check out Logos and its fine collection of Bible products.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Randy Alcorn is a Star Trek Fan

Ok, Randy Alcorn fields a wierd questions about Starships and heaven... but more importantly Randy Alcorn is a Star Trek Fan. Here's an excerpt:


Recently one of our EPM staff members fowarded me this question from her husband: Will there be sci-fi super nerds in Heaven? And will we all get together and build the Enterprise?
Over the years I have been asked many profound questions about Heaven.
This is not one of them.
However, as someone who eagerly watched the premiere of the original Star Trek in my home as a twelve year old in 1966, and who still has a Picard/Riker ’92 bumper-sticker, I would not be at all surprised if we build starships, and I’m going to put my name in to fly on one. I’ve always wanted to go to the Andromeda galaxy, since before I was a Christian. I have long believed that someday I will. If your husband wishes to come along and wear Vulcan prosthetic ears, he is welcome. Of course, I won’t be in charge, which is one of the things that will make it Heaven for me and for everyone else.

I believe it was the movie Contact where Jodi Foster remarks that if there isn't sentient life in space then it's an awful waste of space. As Christians I think two things should guide are thinking about outerspace: (1) All creation displays the glory of God; and (2) on humanity is God's image bearer, His vice-regent over creation. Read passages like Psalm 8 and man is clearly the apex of God's creation. Furthermore, this says things too about what we believe about the incarnation.

I would not be surprised if we find life "out there". I don't we will ever really get "out there" unless of course faster than light travel is possible in some way that is beyond our current understanding of light, physics and motion. 

That being said, I would not be surprised if for all eternity, when we have resurrected bodies and we live in the New Heavens and the New Earth, we are able to explore more of the vastness of God's creation than we are presently able, otherwise, it might be an awful waste of space. The bigger issue is that we cannot even begin to imagine what God has prepared for those of us who love Him (1 Cor. 2:9). Thinking about the final resurrected state in terms of exploration and starships as we currently imagine things sells God short. It is not that we are using our imagination but that our imagination is too small.

(HT: John Gardner @Honey and Locusts)

BUT Randy Alcorn is a Star Trek fan! Here's another post where he mentions his fandom noting that Star Trek actor and atheist Gary Graham is pro-life. 

Since this blog is Biblical Studies, theology and Star Trek--an odd combination, maybe I'll start keeping track of those in the fields who are Trekkies. Feel free to post some links in the comments below.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Problems of More than Just Inerrancy

Al Mohler has a good article here on inerrancy and the new battle that is a-brewing. Without commenting on what I think somewhat of a progression in Pete Enns' view from when I had him as a Professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, I've noted that there are some good things about the incarnational analogy. In fact, rightly understood, it has some good pedigree in Bavinck and Warfield. 

If by it, we mean that Scripture was God breathed but we give deference to its "humanity" in the sense that aspects of the human writer come across such as: vocabulary, cultural situation, situatedness, etc. then I find that there is a sense were this is good. Warfield, for example, expressed the humanness of Scripture without for a second minimizing it's divine origin. God has breathed out Scripture and humans were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Commenting on Kenton Sparks, Mohler writes:
Sparks, however, takes the argument further. He understands that the incarnational model implicates Jesus. He does not resist this. Jesus, he suggests, “was a finite person who grew up in Palestine.” While asserting that he affirms the historic Christian creeds and “traditional Christian orthodoxy,” Sparks proposes that Jesus made routine errors of fact
I will let the reader decide if Mohler has misrepresented Sparks. The point I want to make is about Christology.

The incarnation entails the divine taking on the fulness of humanity. The two natures unite in one person. At this point, the analogy to Scripture breaks down: words don't have natures. Scripture was written by human beings so that it is in every word equally a word from God as much as it is a "word from man". Human words are entirely appropriate as mediums for the divine word since God can condescend and accommodate himself to our level. Every point of Scripture was not given by dictation (although some of it was) but every point of Scripture is equally something written by man and at the same time spoken by God Himself. 

God does not just superintend what was written. God does not merely providential guide that the right things will be said. God actually breathes out the words written in the text so that as we read say what Paul wrote we are reading God's Word itself.

Here's the rub: the union of the divine and the human in the incarnation also entails that Jesus was "just like us in all things and yet without sin." Being finite is a category of ontology while being sinful is a category of morality. Humanity is finite from it's creation. But it is sinful from it's fall. It associate incarnation: Christ taking on finitude with being able to make errors/sins is a category error of the gravest kind.

To appeal to the human situatedness of Jesus: that he was God in the flesh--a Jew in 1st century Palestine and then argue the logical entailment means error falls prey to basic Chalcedonian Orthodoxy Christology.

Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.

I suppose one could argue that errors are a product of finitudeness but that does not really fly. To be in error is to be wrong about something. It is, whether intentionally or unitentionally, a false witness against the truth. A lie is not measure by the intent of the speaker--as if just because I meant well and didn't know any better when I said 2+2=5 it is somehow less of false statement. A lie is measure by its lack of truth content... dare I say correspondence to the way a thing is or is not.

To say Jesus (and Scripture) does not say all that is could on a certain subject--say quantum physics is not the same to say that Jesus made a routine error in fact. Part of the finitude of human language means that someone in one sentence cannot say all there is to say on a particular topic. A statement like: "God created the universe" will not contain all the divine knows about that statement. It is nevertheless a true statement. Limited knowledge is not the same as erroneous knowledge.

Setting aside the thorny issue of the incarnation for a moment with respect to neither divinity or humanity being reduced, the Son of God's omniscience, and the incarnate Son growing in wisdom (Luke 2:40), it is simply erroneous to say that the finitude of Scripture (that it doesn't speak exhaustively on something, or even reveal all God knows about something) is in no way an argument for error. In fact, if I might dare use a slanderous term: such logic seems to be rather "modernistic" of one.

The major point I wish to make though is that this whole argument actually then undercuts the nature of the incarnation has it has been understood both Biblically and historically. The humanity of Christ does not take away in any was from the perfection of the eternal son--perfection in both an ontological sense and a moral sense. 

It is true, as Reformed Orthodox held, "the finite cannot contain the infinite" --this is true of Scripture as revelation and Christ as the supreme revelation to us. Yet a revelation in the finite does not take away from the infinite. This entails taking away it's perfection or causing it to marred by sin. Scripture is without error because it is impossible for God to life. Christ is without error because even in his humanity where he bears a true human nature He is still truly God and His divinity cannot be marred, reduced, comingled, or robbed. The problem with the idea that Mohler represents in Sparks is that it effectually fails to preserve the divine nature in Christ if Christ could indeed "err."

The problem Mohler represents in the errancy/inerrancy debate is great indeed. The inerrancy problem is superseded by the even greater problem of Christology. If a false Christology props up the inerrancy debate the issues attack not merely the authority of our Lord's written Word, they attack the very Word made flesh.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Belief Drives Action

I wanted to post on this last week and try to be a little more current, oh well. This article contains some bizarre statements. Consider this:

"(T)he unethical part (was) applying your own personal beliefs and values on other people and not truly accepting that others can have different beliefs and values that are equally valid as your own."
This (a) begs the question: how does one know that all beliefs are equally valid?  and (b) are we seriously suppose to believe something and "value" it but not let it actually shape the way we interact? Does the person's belief that all beliefs are "equally valid" not drive the way one interacts?

Consider this:
Keeton also told fellow student Justin C. Earnest that she would tell gay clients "their behavior is morally wrong and then help the client change that behavior," according to an affidavit by Earnest included in the school's filing...
But university officials said if they exempted Keeton from counseling homosexual clients, they would also have to exempt those opposed to war from counseling soldiers.
"The same curriculum would require an atheist student counselor to competently counsel a deeply religious client," the filing said. "A staunch feminist student counselor is required to competently counsel clients from male dominated cultures ... the common thread being that all counselors are required to keep separate their own belief system from the counseling relationship."
The analogy to war doesn't seem to be one-to-one. This issue isn't excepting some from counseling per se but forcing someone to speak the party line in counseling rather than speaking from a position of their moral beliefs. So would it be wrong to counsel someone who had a horrific experience in war from the position that "we should be in war"? What if the counselee's experience wants them to go on a anarchic rampage because they believe in war? Would the counselor say "war is wrong"?

Here's another thought experiment. Can we seriously believe that if a 'staunch feminist' was counseling someone who was from a male-dominated culture--that she would ignore what she believes are symptoms from that culture. So a woman comes with deep depression because someone in her "male-dominated culture" berates her, abuse her and suppresses her human rights in a manner that is totally consistent with the "male-dominated culture"--the counselor cannot address any aspects on that culture because after all "all beliefs are equally valid"? Really? I mean, REALLY? 

What about a person in a religious cult who beliefs that intimate relations with minor is acceptable and even part of true religious faith? Will the counselor stand back so as not to attack someone's religious beliefs? Of course not. Even if the counselor's beliefs are based upon empirical evidence of the psychological harm that will be done to minor exposed to such assaults--the counselor will seek to 'impose' their beliefs on the counselee.  

Regardless of how we reach a belief--which is a valid question--belief drives action. We cannot have action without having beliefs and worldviews that drive such behavior. Don't most counselors, secular or not, try to work on the thought process and the cognitive thinking of a person so that their behavior will change. The naivety shows the glaring double standard here. What those quoted in the article pretend to want is functionally impossible to carry out in any consistent manner.

Charity and Government

Here's an interesting link where in Germany a billionaire is upset because Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are urging billionaires to charity. Why? Because it takes away the job of the government.

Here's an interesting clip:


PIEGEL: Forty super wealthy Americans have just announced that they would donate half of their assets, at the very latest after their deaths. As a person who often likes to say that rich people should be asked to contribute more to society, what were your first thoughts?
Krämer: I find the US initiative highly problematic. You can write donations off in your taxes to a large degree in the USA. So the rich make a choice: Would I rather donate or pay taxes? The donors are taking the place of the state. That's unacceptable.
SPIEGEL: But doesn't the money that is donated serve the common good?
Krämer: It is all just a bad transfer of power from the state to billionaires. So it's not the state that determines what is good for the people, but rather the rich want to decide. That's a development that I find really bad. What legitimacy do these people have to decide where massive sums of money will flow?
SPIEGEL: It is their money at the end of the day.
Krämer: In this case, 40 superwealthy people want to decide what their money will be used for. That runs counter to the democratically legitimate state. In the end the billionaires are indulging in hobbies that might be in the common good, but are very personal.
SPIEGEL: Do the donations also have to do with the fact that the idea of state and society is such different one in the United States?
Krämer: Yes, one cannot forget that the US has a desolate social system and that alone is reason enough that donations are already a part of everyday life there. But it would have been a greater deed on the part of Mr. Gates or Mr. Buffet if they had given the money to small communities in the US so that they can fulfil public duties.

To my mind this is a perfect illustration between the differences between the average American and the average European views. Let me make a few comments.

1. It is interesting that Krämer bemoans that "You can write donations off in your taxes to a large degree in the USA. So the rich make a choice: Would I rather donate or pay taxes?" So they give money away freely fully departing with it and it is selfish because 'now they don't have to pay taxes on it. Granted, if you give away so much that you fall into a new income bracket you can save a lot of taxes but the reality is that you most likely still give away more than you'd have to pay taxes on it. Let's say I have $100. Let's say the going tax rate on that $100 is 25% so after taxes I have $75. So if I pay taxes and let government do "it's job" then I still walk away with $75. I can use it however I want. But if I give $100 to charity--because I don't have to pay taxes on it---I now have $0... but oh what a tax break. It doesn't make sense. Say even that I give away $50 for "the tax break". I'd have to pay $12.50 in taxes (a tax 'break of $12.50) but I still have $37.50 to live off of which is a lot less that $75. So yes, maybe I'd be knocked down into a lower tax bracket but I am still never going to have $75 to live off of. 

The only way I could possible gain an advantage is if the tax bracket for those making $100 is so high that giving half my money away leaves me with more money than paying taxes on $100---but then you have pointed to another issue with problems in the tax code, that's another issue.

2. This issue begs the question: does the state actually determine what is good for the people? We'd be naive to think that the state has no self-interest---for one perpetuating the role of the state. Here's an interesting thought scenario: if you were told you alleviate all poverty world wide but you were also told the only way to do it would entail a destruction of the state and poverty relief as we know it--which would you choose? Obviously we will always have poverty and the only way to deal with this isn't to eliminate 100% of the role of the state... but this is just a thought experiment. Do you care more for the poor or for the pet programs which are "helping people." 

There is a blindness and a naivety that can go on. As if the poor are not taken care of sufficiently unless that state does it. I'm not arguing that all aid from government is bad, although a lot of it is junk and actually enslave people--the issue is that we can put blinders on.

So a comment like this: "one cannot forget that the US has a desolate social system and that alone is reason enough that donations are already a part of everyday life there" shows extreme bias. Here it would seem that "desolate social system" is not measured by needs being met, the relative vs. the real poverty of the people--private hospitals picking up out of their own money the cost of the uninsured, etc. Rather "desolate" is measure but less government involvement that America has thrived on.

3. This begs the question: who cares more for people? People who 'let go and let government' or people who step up and "see a need, fill a need." For one this kind of giving away of money can actually lesson the tax burden spread across the whole. It can equally lead to greater accountable over the system that are put in place. If you give to a private soup kitchen but find out the organizer is skimming 50% and giving salaries of $150,000 you not going to say "forget it, the poor don't need a soup kitchen" your gonna say "we don't need this guys soup kitchen, more of that money can actually go to the needy." You actually care more.

Care and love of neighbor is not blindly surrendering the burden to someone else. Care does not entail mandating that we all share the burden equally. Care actually entails sacrificing for other: sacrifice that is personal and leads by example. In fact, to this we might not statistically it's been show that often time the conservative will give more of their money away to charity. Furthermore, often times the lower incomes will willingly give away more of their money to those in need.

4. I do think we'd be naive to think that people directing where their money will go to help others will never lead to intentional or even unintentional favoritism. The billionaire who grew up without a father might see a greater need to help unwed mothers. The person who grew up in rural West Va. or urban Philly may be more in tune to the needs there. But we'd also be naive to think that government and our representative lack this same set of biases.

Competing for aid and help should be a "survival of the fitness," it'd should be like loose women pining for a rose on the bachelor. 

Yet helping the poor and meeting this sort of social needs should flow from compassion. They should flow from our basic humanity. We are made in God's image. We have a responsibility to take care of our fellowman. That is not something that we can advocate to someone else: whether it be a rich foundation or a government. When we do that we actually begin to lack care and treat people less humanely.

5. One final thought: state engineering as the be all and end all of meeting this needs, as if systems and bureaucracies will solve this things through central planning will fall to the "fatal conceit."   

Mac is Catholic, PC is Protestant?

This is somewhat humorous that to be MAC is Catholic and to be PC is Protestant. If that were true, I guess that means a guy like James White, a Mac user, has swam the Tiber... perish the thought.

So here's the argument in a nutshell:

I wrote an article for the Daily Telegraph this week in which I talked about a crucial aspect of Apple’s appeal: the way good old Steve Jobs relieves us of the burden of installation and other tedious tasks by making his designers and engineers do the intermediary work for us. No Protestant work ethic for straight-out-of-the-box iPad users! We leave that to PC customers, who peruse their tiny-print instruction manuals as intently as Calvinists poring over their well-thumbed Bibles.

Actually it'd be safer to say that Apple uses believe in Monergism and the sovereignty of grace--we expect our products to just work, while PC users are will to accept synergisms between what they buy and the human effort they have expend for the system. Or maybe we should compare the PC manual to RC's Canon Law...

Relieving the burden of installation sounds rather Calvinistic to me...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

New Book on the Trinity

Sometimes we forget that the Trinity is an immensely practical doctrine. It isn't practical in the sense that it gives us "10 steps for _________" rather it is practical in the sense that a foundation to a house is practical for living in the house. Everything you do is grounded on the strength of that foundation. In the same way our worship, our belief in the gospel, all of it, is grounded in the Trinity. None of it would happen without the eternal being of a God who is Triune and so what you believe about this God will "practically" anchor your whole life.

With that in view: Matthew Lee Anderson has a blog post plugging this book, and there's a giveaway.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Why the Church Matters

10 Reason why the church matters:

  1. The church is the only institution that our Lord promised to build and to bless (Matt. 16:18).
  2. The church is the gathering place of true worshippers (Phil. 3:3).
  3. The church is the most precious assembly on earth since Christ purchased it with His own blood (Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 6:19; Eph. 5:25; Col. 1:20; 1 Pet. 1:18; Rev. 1:5).
  4. The church is the earthly expression of the heavenly reality (Matt. 6:10; 18:18).
  5. The church will ultimately triumph both universally and locally (Matt. 16:18; Phil. 1:6).
  6. The church is the realm of spiritual fellowship (Heb. 10:22-25; 1 John 1:3, 6-7).
  7. The church is the proclaimer and protector of divine truth (1 Tim. 3:15; Titus 2:1, 15).
  8. The church is the chief place for spiritual edification and growth (Acts 20:32; Eph. 4:11-16; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Peter 2:1-2; 2 Pet. 3:18).
  9. The church is the launching pad for world evangelization (Mark 16:15; Titus 2:11).
  10. The church is the environment where strong spiritual leadership develops and matures (2 Tim. 2:2). 

from Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson's Comeback Churches, pp.32-33.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Proposition 8 and Judges

I've been churning over some of the implications of the Proposition 8 decision and the attempt to normalize homosexual marriage. Couple of initial thoughts:

1. Some of the comments in the ruling of the judge make it clear that language evolves and therefore the definition of marriage can evolve. So just as we overcame racial prejudice in marriage we must therefore overcome gender prejudice. I think there is some question begging here to say the least. More on that later (maybe).
1.1 There needs to be some discussion here of metaphysics, ontology, language and social construct.

1.2 Frank Turk has some interesting comments and links to some articles by Sam Schulman (e.g. here, here, and here). Which basically gets to my point about metaphysics, 'nature', and ontology. The arguments are deeper than just endorsing "liberty".

2. I'm more concerned with Biblical arguments. In a culture that rejects Biblical authority, this makes our arguments more difficult--although I do think we should seek to be persuasive at all levels. On the Biblical arguments see: here, here, here, and here.

3. I've been ponder if Kuyper's "sphere sovereignty" is helpful at all in these issues. Since Kuyper distinguishes 3 spheres of church, family and government and now government has stepped in a redefined family (or at least the marriage part)--is there another line of argument that can be pursued here?

4. I find this more than a bit ironic:
In fact, Judge Walker was first appointed to the federal bench by President Ronald Reagan in 1987, at the recommendation of Attorney General Edwin Meese III (now the Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow in Public Policy and Chairman of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation). Democratic opposition led by Sen. Alan Cranston (D-CA) prevented the nomination from coming to a vote during Reagan’s term. Walker was renominated by President George H. W. Bush in February 1989. Again the Democratic Senate refused to act on the nomination. Finally Bush renominated Walker in August, and the Senate confirmed him in December.
What was the hold-up? Two issues, basically. Like many accomplished men of the time, he was a member of an all-male club, the Olympic Club. Many so-called liberals said that should disqualify him for the federal bench. People for the American Way, for instance, said in a letter to Judiciary Committee chair Joe Biden, “The time has come to send a clear signal that there is no place on the federal bench for an individual who has, for years maintained membership in a discriminatory club and taken no meaningful steps to change the club’s practices.”
The second issue was that as a lawyer in private practice he had represented the U.S. Olympic Committee in a suit that prevented a Bay Area group from calling its athletic competition the Gay Olympics.
Because of those issues, coalitions including such groups as the NAACP, the National Organization for Women, the Human Rights Campaign, the Lambda Legal Defense Fund, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force worked to block the nomination.
In other words, this “liberal San Francisco judge” was recommended by Ed Meese, appointed by Ronald Reagan, and opposed by Alan Cranston, Nancy Pelosi, Edward Kennedy, and the leading gay activist groups. It’s a good thing for advocates of marriage equality that those forces were only able to block Walker twice.
(HT: CATO@Liberty; emphasis mine)

5. Speaking of judges, this does become a basic illustration of 'everyone doing what is right in their own eyes.' The argument is essential root in a semblance of "liberty" in the pursuit of not being deprived of their "right" to pursue happiness.

6. While I agree with Al Mohler's Biblical arguments, I am not quite sure that this is simply an example of a judge "legislating from the bench." He writes:
"A single unelected judge nullified the will of the voters of California as expressed through the electoral process. Those who have been arguing that judicial activism is a fiction will have to look this decision in the face. The New York Times celebrated Judge Walker’s usurpation of the political process, arguing that “there are times when legal opinions help lead public opinions."" (source)
6.1 I don't agree with the judges ruling, the excerpt Mohler provides and what I have read is disconcerting (like I said: more on that later, maybe). But some of the arguments in the ruling and some of the amicus briefs I skimmed were rooted in a conception of liberty that cannot be infringed upon. There are arguments against these but I don't think "legislating from the bench" as a war cry is entirely helpful on counter all of the arguments. 

6.2. The 'legislating from the bench' and 'nullified the will of voters' can be a double edged sword. We are a republic not a mere democracy--so just because it was the will of the majority doesn't automatically mean it was right (although in this case it was morally right, and I agree with Mohler here). The problem is the time will come in the future where we are looking to the fact that we are a republic to protect us as Christian from will of the democracy.

Similar to those Christians who are vigorous opposing the so-called Grounds Zero mosque--and there may be good reasons to oppose it, particularly for the symbolism it will have in radical Islam--but how we argue legal for such opposition may come back to bite Christian when we start arguing in the future for the right to place a church here or there. Are there differences? Absolutely. Will that matter? Probably  not. I'm just saying we should be wary of the type of argument that can be and will most likely become a double edged sword.

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Just some thoughts
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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Social Justice and the Gospel

Over at outofur.com, they are posting an interesting video interaction between Mark Dever and Jim Wallis on the relationship of social justice (especially racial reconciliation) to the gospel. Here are parts 1 and 2:






Couple of thoughts: 
1. I think Mark Dever does a could job of anchoring his comments in Scripture. I appreciate the diagnostic and evaluative questions he asks just to the hypothetical scenario.

2. Jim Wallis' allusion to his personal story about growing up with elders/church leaders who were racist even though they claimed they believed the gospel, is disheartening.

3. I appreciate Dever comments on Matthew 25. Wallis is right that this is an important aspect of the judgment but it seems to be a red herring to say that 'it wasn't doctrine they are judged for.' He is right that people that claim to be believers are judged for their life (Dever: 'the fruit'). Yet Scripture is equally clear we are judged for what we believe (see for example: John 3:36; John 8:24 {where "I AM" is clearly belief that he is YHWH}; etc.). The say that Matthew 25 is not judgment over doctrine is not the same as saying (or implying?) that no 'doctrine test'. Obviously there will be many people in heaven who showed love to their neighbor (at least humanly) but are not saved--after all Jesus tells us that even sinners, tax collects, ungodly to good things for others (e.g. Matthew 5:47; Matthew 7;11).  

4. It is helpful to think of what we should do just as humans made in the image of God and what is the unique role and effect of the church. Of course, the church doing its job and proclaiming the gospel should led to progressive and practical demonstrations of the renewal of the image of God.

5. I look forward to further videos. At this point, Wallis was a little fuzzy on what the kingdom of God is. He is clear it's already/not yet. He is a passionate believer in its power--but the video leaves it a bit undefined--yet I don't think this is that uncommon in a lot of literature out there. It is easy to get swept up in the lingo, talk about it's ethics, even drop platitudes about the 'reign of God' in a way that are modern shibboleths. You can say a whole lot and say very little. 

6. One minor criticism, I appreciate Wallis' point (in agreement with Dever) about not getting caught up in policy, and room for legitimate disagreement (in terms of the most effective policies) yet I couldn't help but wonder if he and an organization like Soujourners actually live that out in practice. Christians can get swept up by both the right and the left as THEE means to Christian ends. This is not how the Kingdom comes. 

7. One thought I have towards Dever's position, which I would say so far seems closets to my own (if not identical--although he and Wallis have not got to a rigorous contention)--it would be while I agree we must distinguish the gospel from its implications and effects, we need to be careful that we don't minimize a implication so that it can kind of become a sort of 'light attachment' that works for some and not for others. I think all would agree that what little Wallis elaborates of his experience is reprehensible inside the church if 'me-and-my-relationship-to-God' says little about how I (a) treat my true brothers and (b) how I treat those who are his image bearers--shame on me.

8. Ok, one last thought, I promise: how you frame debates and discussions is always important. Dever is just excellent tactically and pastorally when he frames the issues as "rails" between depravity and image of God. Get either side wrong and it's peril. I would say the so-called Christian Right tends to be better on the depravity side at the expense of 'image of God' and the so-called Christian Left tends to be better at image of God and not on the depravity side.

Anyways, I look forward to the rest of these videos.

Justification by Faith and Racism

Michael Bird, who blogs here, has posted over at The Institute an excellent little essay entitled "Justification by Faith: A Resource for Confronting Racism". The main texts he deals with are Romans 3:28-29, Ephesians 2-3 (2:8-110 & then the implications Paul draws in 2:11-3:11) and finally 2:11-14.

He argues for the vertical dimensions and the horizontal dimensions of justification by faith. There is a danger of so emphasizing the vertical implications that we neglect the practical import of the horizontal dimensions: if we are right with God, then we are equal in community in terms of status.

"Is not justification by faith the doctrine that described how individual sinners can stand before a holy God as righteous rather than condemned on account of their faith in the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Indeed it is, but it is also more than that. Following my lead one might admit that justification by faith is an anti-racist doctrine insofar as men and women, white and black can all be saved by faith and therefore they will dwell in heaven together forever with God. But again this also is deficient since it sees justification by faith as merely resulting in the amalgamation of 'saved sinners' in the afterlife in a post-mortem future. My contention is more far reaching: justification by faith means the end of God's contention against sinners and the dissolution of all ethnic and racial barriers in the church of God in the here and now not simply in the hereafter."
Not that Michael Bird has to, or even would, know of me, but I've said similar things here when I argue in one sense justification is an inclusive doctrine:
When we say the that the doctrine of justification by faith is “inclusive” we mean that it is open to any who would have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We mean that the only thing one must do is have faith in Jesus Christ and his saving death and resurrection. It is open to all who would but believe. It is not restricted to those who first take upon themselves extra requirement and/or submit themselves obedience of the Law. We further mean that it is inclusive in the sense that it is not restricted to those who are ethnically Jewish or proselytize to the Jewish law.
and...
Through justification by faith the blessing given to Abraham--and his ethnic descendants--extends inclusively to all--both Jew and Gentile. Gentiles were to be treated as equal members of God’s people. They had received the full rights of inheritance. They did not need to embrace the ethnic markers of Judaism and proselytize adopting the whole Law. They did not need to ‘finish’ the work of God either through moral obedience or through social identification.
When we understand this inclusive implications for justification by faith--we quickly see that there are no second class citizens in God’s kingdom. For example, modern evangelicalism has often made those deemed less spiritual who aren’t living the ‘surrendered’ life as some how inferior in their standing before God. While Scripture has rebukes for Christian’s walking in habitual sins--and it warns of such unrepentance--we see that a Christian struggle with sin is not less in his status before God and His relationship with God.
If we might further take an example from history, it was William Wilberforce who grasping the radical implications of justification by faith who championed the end of slavery in England well before the days in which it was ended in America. If justification by faith is truly grasped shameful practices like apartheid are seen to be the reprehensible evils that they are--particularly when supported and upheld in the church. Even more the American superiority that dominates American evangelical worldviews should be undercut as we join with brothers and sister from around the world.
What we have articulated here is not at all to undercut the doctrine rediscovered by the church at the Reformation. It is to point out that today the implications of justification by faith are not carried through. The NPP on Paul points to the ecclesiological implications of justification by faith. These are an added stress when we fully grasp the soteriological content of justification by faith.
(Read though my careful qualification that justification by faith is not properly 'ecumenical'--although people of other denomination even ones that formally deny justification by faith alone are saved if, and only if, they actually exercise faith in Christ alone.)

Maybe I'm am guilty here of bolstering my my point with an appeal to authority... justification by a know scholar? Either way, what is on the one hand sad is that we need to be reminded of this. The Christian church--the true church--has all the tool and real spiritual power to deal with racism and yet we are shaky  and wobbly on it. Is it possible to be so focussed on loving God and this beautiful doctrine He has shown to be true and yet so miss the implications of it? Or better: what does this say about the depth of our love when we still act this way--see for example the story the Dr. Bird opens his essay with.

And yet, should we expect anything less when Peter himself missed the implications of the gospel and had to be corrected by Paul as to the effect that Paul told Peter he'd missed the gospel.

There is always more than can be said on this but I'll leave you with some thoughts from Bird's essay:
If we claim to believe and follow what the Apostle Paul taught about justification then:
Do we believe that every person is justified by faith in Christ? Or do we believe that God is the God of our race only? 
Do we believe that we are saved by faith so that the dividing wall between black and white communities has been torn down?
Do we walk towards the truth of the gospel concerning the way we treat those of different race, color, and ethnicity at the table of the Lord.
To practice any form of ethnic or racial exclusion means that one either does not understand or does not believe in justification by faith. Let me be clear. The denial of ethic privilege and racial superiority is not merely an implication of justification by faith; rather, it is a core element of the doctrine. They are mutually exclusive because justification constitutes a church of Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female, Greek and Barbarian, White and Black, African and Asian. Churches and Christians that practice racial segregation even for pragmatic reasons deny the biblical teaching and the application of the doctrine of justification to the koinonia of the church. Justification is the act whereby God creates a new people, with a new status, in a new covenant, as a foretaste of the new age. If we see justification as a comprehensive doctrine that affects the salvation of sinners and the corporate life of the church, then we will finally understand why it is that Paul insists that there is one Lord, one faith, and one baptism (Eph. 4.6) and why there is one loaf at the table of the Lord as we who are many partake of one loaf (1 Cor. 10.17). Justification by faith is our shield against any merit loaded legalism and the basis for the unity of the church comprised of the multi-ethnic people of God.
Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Comeback Churches Post 2

Currently, my elders and I are working through Comeback Churches by Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson. The first post is here. These are my notes on chapter 1.
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Chapter 1:“Why Consider Becoming a Comeback Church”

In this chapter we read “Over time, most churches platau and most eventually decline. Typically, they start strong or experience periods of growth, but then they stagnate” (p.17). In a helpful chart on page 18, they outline the needs of a church depending upon where it is. As one proceeds down the chart more change is required.

A church needs.... -- If it is...
Refocusing-- stagnant in size (needs clearer focus on outreach and evangelism)
Reenergizing-- declining in size. (needs to deal with some internal issues and begin to reach its community again.
Restructuring-- a church that has experienced substantial decline
Restarting-- near death

Stetzer and Dodson goes on to likst there “Dirty Baker’s Dozen”-- which is 13 reasons that Churches get stuck (pp.19-23).

  1. Institutional Church-- a church more committed to forms and programs and is no longer doing what the church should be doing.
  2. Voluntary Association Church-- a church that is more democratic than built on the principles laid out in the New Testament. In this kind of church “[w]henever one group seeks to make a positive change in the church in one direction, the oppossing factions begin to while, complain and gossip” (p.20). This kind of church will always maintain the status quo.
  3. Unintentional Church-- a church that has good intentions but never realizes them. They always “hope” but they never “do.” There is no intentional discipleship making in this type of church.
  4. “Us Four and No More” Church-- a church that determines ‘fellowship’ will be lost if it grows any larger.
  5. “We Can’t Compete” Church-- a church that has bought into the idea that “the unchurched are only interested in program-rich megachurches.” Quite the opposite Stetzer and Dodson show that that data is that churches of all sizes can turn around and reach the unchurched around them.
  6. “Decently and in Order” Church --this kind of church has an emphasis on process but little passion. Detail oriented, and everything down to the minutia is approved by committee.
  7. “Square Peg in a Round Hole” Church-- People are enlisted to serve but not according to their gifting.
  8. “Time-Warp” Church-- a church that has grown comfortable to what it has always done. Style and form remains trapped in the past.
  9. “Tidy” Church --Everything functions smoothly but when ever children or young people come and “upset” things, there is a reaction. New growth thus becomes a threat to the neat and orderly building, equipment, furnishings, etc.
  10. “My Way or the Highway” Church --A number of members in this church know how things should be and they are good at telling everyone else. People don’t like little changes because their way is right.
  11. “Chaplaincy” Church --The church “hired its minister and expects the “chaplain” to be busy meeting needs and making the church grow” (22). Every needs is passed through the pastor and he is expected to meet them.
  12. The “Company” Church --Church is focussed on what is handed down from the denomination and not reaching the community.
  13. “Play it Safe” Church --There is a lack of trust and faith that God will provide.

All these churches have in the final evaluation “lost the passion for making disciples and the focus of God’s glory in His church.”

In the next section, the question becomes “How do you Change It?” Change is difficult. Most churches do not admit how bad things have become. And most churches will not “make the needed changes” (23). Of course, Stetzer and Dodson are going to focus on making the turn and changing things.

After briefly accounting the state of the American churches and denominational trends, we need to realize that there are growing numbers of unchurched in America today. So for example:

“Less than 20% of Americans regularly attend church--half of what pollsters report” (26). Most church growth than is transfer growth not actual growth by reaching the lost. Thus, most churches are not making an impact among the unchurched (27). Less than 1 in 20 church is actually growing from conversion growth (27).

So the chapter continues: “What can’t established churches stay focused and effective? How can established churches reignite their passion for outreach and refocus on their purpose?” (27). 70% of churches are stagnant, which means most churches will have to change if they are actually going to reach the lost.

In order to change a church has to confront the problems and acknowledge that there is stagnation or decline (28).

Here are some suggested evaluative questions:
  1. Do the names of several people who have come to Christ through your church in the last year immediately spring to mind?
  2. Is the community in which God has placed your church “brighter” and “saltier” because of your church’s influence?
  3. How many people living within driving distance of your church have received a clear presentation of the gospel? (pp.28-29).


“Being a good leader means being a godly person of influence. Comeback leaders influence their churches to strive for something more than the present stagnation...Comeback leaders use honest church evaluation and godly influence to motivate their congregation to change” (29).

Quoting a pastor, Stetzer and Dodson note: “People don’t want to work when the church is struggling. They let the pastor do the work; when he is succesful, they want to take over” (29). However, people who are serving together will ‘buy into’ the change.

“Most pastors reading this believe that the church exists, at least in part, to fulfill the Great Commission... But the average person in the church believes that the churches exists to meet his or her needs and the needs of the family” (30). In fact, people often show up to church telling it to do what they want much in the same way James and John said that to Jesus (Mark 10:35).

For the church, “usually that means solving all issues of relational strife within families, meeting each individual’s specific needs, having great youth and children’s ministries, teaching deep, powerful truths from God’s Word in fifteen minutes or less that answer all their questions about God, providing a vibrant, dynamic worship experience... and, of course, get it all done before the game begins at noon” (30).

But to be a Comeback Church, the leaders have to recognized “that the congregation must be part of the turnaround” (30). This means the entire church must recognize its current state and be willing to change. The congregation must be lead to recognize the problems and envision the necessary solutions.

Once a course of action is decided upon and the people begin to embrace it, it will then take hard work to actually implement. “Change sounds great until you start to experience it” (32).

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Battle of Salamis

Usually for vacations I try to read things that are a little outside my normal reading for church, theology, New Testament studies and the like. Last year, for example, I read Barry Strauss' The Spartacus War. Having enjoy that book, this year I picked up his book The Battle of Salamis.  This is an excellent account of the Battle of Salamis, the events leading up to it, the day itself and the aftermath.

When Barry Strauss writes historical accounts his work is judicious in accounting of the historical facts coupled with weighing good vs. bad speculation about the events. He does a good job of filling in the background for those unfamilar with Greek history and places the battle in light of its larger historical significance. For example, the introduction contains a helpful description of the Greek Triremes along with how the technology advance in the decades after Salamis, including the reinforcing of the hulls for head-on ramming, a capability not available at Salamis.

In the events leading up to the navel battle, we have the battle of Thermopylae where 300 Spartans delayed the Persian until they were defeat. This is of course more famous, even having been made into at least two movies. There was also a smaller navel battle at Artemisium as a sort of testing the waters.

Prior to any engagements, the Persian Fleet contained 1,327 ships comprised of different nationalities including the famed Phoenician sailors, Ionian Greeks, and Egyptian--Persia itself was a land power who trusted in horses. The Phoenician's skill were probably the single greatest threat in the Persian fleet. The Hellenic League had 333 warships, the majority of them were Athenian (180 ships) although the Spartans, the Corinthians and a few others had put up some. 

The ancient sea battles were fought largely by ramming ships in the rear or the side (at this time), although there were a few hands on the deck, which could engage in boarding and hand to hand combat.   The majority of the crew sat under deck as oarsmen a miserable job--a picture which Strauss clearly paints.

After the small battle near Artemisium where the Persian fleet suffered small losses, the Greek fleet retreats. Thanks to a storm, the Persian fleet is reduced in size significantly so that by the battle of Salamis the Persians had about 650 ships, still double the Athenians. However, in a strategic move the Athenians abandon Athens and it is sacked--and the Acropolis burned (this is before the Parthenon as we know it was built). All the Athenians strategically retreated to the island of Salamis--including men, women and children. However, if the battle was not fought and won decisively, there would either need to be another retreat, or more likely those on Salamis would starve from lack of food. 

The Athenian admiral Themistocles is the mastermind behind luring the Greeks into the Salamis Straits--although it is the Spartan Admiral who had overall command. Themistocles is no noble hero but more of a cunning opertunist who uses skills of all kinds to orchestrate a Greek victory. Constantly through the story we see Themistocles not only a brilliant tactician but a schemer and a manipulator. It is even ironic where Themistocles ends his life.

Themistocles was able to capitalize on the arrogance of Xerxes by creatively goading Xerxes' forces into the straights between Salamis and Attica. Xerxes was however not only the king but a land general. He watched from the sure. Before the battle one of the few woman admirals in history, Queen Artemisia of Caria warned against fighting the navel battle. Had Xerxes listened to the advice history might have been different.

The historical account is fascinating filled with detail and subterfuge. It is fascinating to read the role of an ambiguous oracle from Delphi, Themistocles using his servant sending a secret message to lure the Persian into launching their attack in the pre-dawn thinking they would catch the Greek's in a retreat, the deceptive or actual retreat of 40 Corinthian ships and even Queen Artemisia escaping destruction by ramming her Persian allies in the battle, and many other details.

This book is definitely an enjoyable read. Strauss brings history alive without condescending to the reader a whitewashing the difficulties of knowing all the details. The book reads like a novel at times without ever becoming the genre of historical fiction. 

Monday, August 2, 2010

A Kingdom Worldview

"Where Christian faith is functioning as it should, it serves as the governing paradigm for life. Life is governed by the narrative of God's coming reign in Christ and the way of life appropriate to it. Ultimately, in a growing Christian moral life this process becomes second nature. One is so absorbed into kingdom living and one's identity as Christ's disciple that it essentially becomes impossible to respond to the circumstances of life from any other frame of reference." --Glen Stassen and David P. Gushee, Kingdom Ehtics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context, p.82.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

FAIL!

"To fail in missions is to fail in discipleship" --Robery Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount, 127.
"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...