Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Books for April 2008

The Living Church by John Stott. This was a good book on pastoral ministry in the church by a man who is a hero of Christendom. John Stott has served in ministry for over 60 years, most of those as the Rector of All Souls Church in London. His insights about ministry in the church are made valuable in part because of the testimony that stands behind them-- his many years of faithful service. There are good insights here, and it is worth reading even if it's not the "best" book on pastoral ministry out there. (8+)

The Cross of Christ by John Stott (re-read). That's right-- two books by the same author in one month! Actually, I started reading this one two months ago, and have used it extensively as I prepared my series on the cross. This one was written 20 years before the other, and is THE definitive work on the theology of the cross, in my view. It's quite readable, even though it digs deep, and Stott does a great job of taking in a broad swath, making the scope of his focus quite comprehensive, while still following a clear and direct path to understanding the thrust of the cross. I first read this one for my "Christ and Salvation" class in seminary, but frankly I've read it more thoroughly this time through. (10)

Surviving Your First Year as Pastor by Angie Best-Boss. Especially because of my interest and work with pastoral transition, I really want to like a book like this. But perhaps because of my research in the area of transition, or maybe due to my prior experience in ministry, I found this book to be a disappointment. The coverage is good-- what she talks about is a comprehensive field of topics. But she doesn't present much here that is extraordinary, or that a fairly intuitive seminary graduate wouldn't already be looking for. The best thing about it is the suggested reading at the end of each chapter, which IS quite good. (5)

If It Could Happen Here... by Jeff Patton. This was a nice little book that did a good job of presenting familiar concepts in a new way. The sub-title, "Turning the Small-Membership Church Around," is a fair summary of the content. To a certain degree, if you've read on book on revitalizing small churches, then the concepts in the rest won't be fresh; it's the way they are presented or the additional information that makes them worthwhile. This book tells the story of one pastor and his work with one small congregation-- what they did, how and when they did it, what worked, what didn't. It's not written in a prescriptive way, but more like a memoir or brief history; thus, it's not overbearing, and it leaves the reader free to take what they want and leave the rest. Overall, it's a good read, and I found some useful material there-- especially the first-hand testimony of how effective certain aspects of revitalization can be. (8+)

The House that Jesus Built by Dale Ralph Davis. This one was sent to me in the mail yesterday, and it's a good little introduction to church membership. Davis covers essentially the same things that I would cover in a "new members' class" except, of course, details about the local congregation, and he does it in a very readable and digestible book. It's short (only about 60 pages), yet it touches on the materials in a good introductory manner-- leaving the explanation and expansion on his introduction to pastors and leaders in a congregation. I'm not sure whether I'll use this as required reading for an Introduction to Hickory Withe Church class next time, but it's certainly a good resource to put in the hands of those who miss a class or two. (10)

Eucharistic Bread-Baking as Ministry by Tony Begonja. Although this book was clearly written for more Catholic- (and by that I mean Roman Catholic) leaning churches, it still has obvious value to any church that observes the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Since I've been baking the bread for our congregation's sacrament, I've come to delight in serving my flock in this way; still, I wanted to learn more about the unleavened varieties of sacramental bread, since there is at least some question about using leavened bread. This book offered a good introduction to the spiritual approach to baking bread for sacramental purposes, and the writer showed good sensitivity to matters that might be more pointed in certain environs (like whether a recipe produced very crumbly bread, which might concern those who believe that the bread becomes the actual flesh of Christ!). I haven't tried the recipes yet, but there is good practical advice on baking, as well. Overall, I'm glad to have this one on-hand. (8+)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Essential non-obvious 80s albums

My friend (and fellow pastor) Russell Smith pointed me to a post at the Evangelical Outpost where Joe Carter is reminiscing about his favorite (non-obvious) 80s music. Since I love 80s music perhaps above all else except folk, I bit.

Russell has a good addition to Joe's list (and those in the comments), though I disagree with him on a few points. Here are my picks for the essential non-obvious ones.

  • The Connells, Fun & Games. The first time I heard "Sal" I knew I was breaking through to a new dimension of music; in the midst of the Classic Rock, 80s pop, and semi-folk that I had grown up with, The Connells offered a freshness and creative spin on rock that was a welcome addition to my library (and to others to whom I introduced it). Favorite tracks: Sal, Motel, Hey Wow, Something to Say.

  • Indigo Girls, Indigo Girls. I thought I knew what contemporary folk music was (think: Jimmy Buffett and James Taylor) until I heard these two-- man, was I blown away! This was my true introduction to a love of modern folk that continues today. The 'Girls went on to produce many fine albums (and they're still at it), but the grit and honesty of this disc remains a great listen. Favorite tracks: Secure Yourself, Prince of Darkness, Tried to Be True, Love's Recovery, and, of course, Closer to Fine.

  • Van Halen, 1984. Is this one obvious? It is to me-- but then I was a VH nut for a while. I don't think there is a better example of 80s rock (NOT pop) than side one of the 1984 tape. (Side two has a totally different feel to it, though also quite good.) Favorite tracks: Jump, Panama, Top Jimmy, I'll Wait.

  • Amy Grant, Lead Me On. I'll go with my friend Russell on this one. This was a huge album-- loaded with great songs that are still good today. Russell's summary of it's importance is all that needs to be said. Favorite tracks: Lead Me On, Saved by Love, If These Walls Could Speak, Faithless Heart.

  • Peter Gabriel, So. I'm with Joe Carter on this one (and the next). A great collection of music-- there's much more here than "Sledgehammer" and "Big Time," including the time-tested "In Your Eyes" and a handful of other great ones. Gabriel was the original creative force behind the band Genesis, and went on to a critically-successful career (if not always on the charts). Favorite tracks: In Your Eyes, Red Rain, Don't Give Up, Mercy Street.

  • Dire Straits, Brothers in Arms. Bought it for the amazing guitar intro on "Money for Nothing" and was quickly won over by the amazing breadth and depth on the rest of this disc (actually, I had it on tape). The other hit from this album, "Walk of Life," is also fun-- but there is a lot of good music to be found here. Favorite tracks: Walk of Life, Your Latest Trick, Brothers in Arms, Why Worry, So Far Away.

  • Paul Simon, Graceland. Chock-full of great music with a definitive African influence, this one re-established Paul Simon as a star for a new generation. Everyone knew "You Can Call Me Al" from the radio-- which is, admittedly, a very fun song. But if you want to get a great (and diverse) taste of good music, check out the rest of the disc. Still plays regularly at the Eubanks house. Favorite tracks: You Can Call Me Al, Graceland, Diamonds in the Soles of Her Shoes, Under African Skies, I Know What I Know.

  • U2, The Joshua Tree. This was the album that carried them from semi-obscure, slightly agitated activist rockers to mainstream, heir-to-The Police band of the late century and early 2000s. Who can forget this awesome disc? Favorite tracks: Where the Streets Have No Name, With or Without You, I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, In God's Country.

  • The Police, Every Breath You Take: The Singles. Summing up an amazing career with numerous hit albums and singles, the was to be the culmination of their career. (They later released a few other collections.) Suffice to say, every song (or nearly so) on here is familiar to just about everyone my age, and this is a standby and staple when looking for some good 80s tunes. Favorite tracks: Can't Stand Looking You, Message in a Bottle, Walking on the Moon, King of Pain, Wrapped Around Your Finger.

  • Asia, Asia. This was another great one, with many fond memories (many of them of riding in Russell's Bronco II). Asia was a great band with an underlying sense of faith and belief. Favorite tracks: Heat of the Moment, Only Time Will Tell, One Step Closer, Wildest Dreams, Cutting It Fine, Here Comes the Feeling

Runners-up: The Hooters,
Nervous Night; REM, Automatic for the People; Hank Williams, Jr., Greatest Hits; John Cougar (Mellencamp), American Fool; Genesis, Invisible Touch.

Some ideas about economics

The checks are in the mail, so many of us are starting to think about how we'll spend our tax rebate that should be coming over the next few weeks (or months for those of you who are getting the check by mail instead of electronic transfer).

There has been some good talk around the 'net about how Christians should approach this newfound largess. (It's not really largess, you know-- it's money that the government took from you, and now is giving a little bit of it back.)
One guy says that Christians should NOT take the dough and buy a new TV, as this might be poor stewardship. Popular preacher John Piper says we must be careful that the world would see that Christ is our treasure in the way we spend our rebate. Both of these are good cautions.

Let me come in with a more middle-ground perspective: spend this money where it
needs to be spent according to responsible budgeting. If you've already given generously to your church, to missions, to local and national charities and benevolence, then you may decide that the money would be well-spent elsewhere in your budget. If you have repairs or improvements to your home or car that are needed and you've been wondering how you would afford it, you may (rightly) view this rebate as God's provision for that need. And, yes: if you need to replace your TV, then using your rebate to buy a new TV may be good stewardship; you have my permission to do so.

Be careful of the voices that say that every spare dollar in a tightened budget MUST go to the church or a ministry. This sort of semi-socialist approach (that many preachers seem to advocate) was apparently the model of the Jerusalem church in Acts, when they sold everything and shared with one another as each had need. It also apparently led to poverty and struggle, which is why Paul had to ask the Corinthians and others to send money to the Jerusalem church. Good stewardship? Maybe not. A normative model for the church today? Probably not.

Changing directions a bit, here are a few other ideas I have about the economy (because I'm so qualified to make such assertions):

First idea: churches should stick to their budget.
When the economy dips like it appears to be doing (aren't we already in recession? especially when you factor in the loss of value on the dollar?), Deacons and Elders worldwide declare a moratorium on spending, even for those things that are already budgeted (and many of them for things that they already had money in the bank to designate). I don't mean trivial things; I've heard of churches cutting back on giving for missions and benevolence, cutting salaries, dropping outreach programs, and second-guessing needed repairs and improvements to facilities. They do this in the name of stewardship and prudence. But frankly, it has always seemed hollow to me; lately I've begun to put my finger on why.

For one thing, it denies that God is going to see through the plans that He led these leaders to make. Let's assume that the leaders who put together the budget in the first place were concerned about stewardship and prudence when they began. Let's also assume that they prayed over their decisions, and that they believed that God was leading their church in the direction they were budgeting for. I don't think either of these is a big leap. Okay then: friends, God knew about the coming financial crisis then, even if you didn't. The work of the church doesn't stop just because we face financial difficulty. Exercise your faith and trust God to provide (perhaps even miraculously) even in the midst of an economic recession.

For another thing, churches need to see themselves as a part of their community in all things-- including economics. Every dime spent by a church is a dime that goes into the local or broader economy-- and since all conventional wisdom (from both Democrats and Republicans) is telling us that continuing to spend will boost the economy, then churches are just as much a part of that as any other institution. Consider it "doing your part" to help boost the economy, if you need to.

Second idea: Congress should pass a one-time tax relief for gasoline.
One of the things that is making this particular economic recession especially difficult (as opposed to when the "Internet bubble" burst at the turn of the century, for example, which wasn't quite so drastic across the board) is how many aspects of our economy are facing strain right now. The housing market, the price of gas, the cost of war, and a number of other factors are all in play. As I mentioned above, the conventional wisdom is that spending on consumer goods and services needs to continue to stimulate economic recovery.

With summer approaching, consumer spending might normally be on the upturn, were it not for the prohibitively high cost of gas-- which will almost inevitably force many families to reconsider vacations, for example. As a solution, I propose that Congress should pass a one-time tax relief for gasoline expenses in order to promote travel and consumer spending during the summer.

Back in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, many people re-directed their generosity toward relief efforts-- so much so that non-profits throughout the rest of the country faced unexpectedly large decreases in giving. In response, Congress passed a one-time tax benefit (called the Katrina Emergency Tax Relief Act, or KETRA) which temporarily removed the restriction on itemized charitable donations, so that 100% of charitable giving that year would be tax-deductible. I'd like to see them do something similar, so that the extraordinarily high costs of gasoline could be offset by tax relief. (I personally think that this move might do more to stimulate the economy than the tax rebates mentioned above.)

Anyone know any Congressmen who we could propose this to?

Monday, April 28, 2008

"It's a gospel issue"

I was reading this article in Christianity Today about Jim Wallis, who is a leader among a Christians with a progressive political perspective, and I was struck by the fact that Ted Olsen (who interviewed Wallis) asserted that, for some, the issue of blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples is, in Olsen's words, "a gospel issue."

It's not.

Make no mistake: it IS an important issue. And it certainly is an issue of biblical authority. But it is NOT a
gospel issue.

There's a key difference between an issue that is a matter of biblical authority and a "gospel" issue. A Gospel issue is one that actually threatens the truth of the Gospel-- such as a challenge to the incarnation of Christ, an assertion that the resurrection didn't happen, a claim that Jesus didn't live a sinless life, etc. Something that questions the underlying concepts of salvation is a Gospel issue. Thus, when folks in the PCA express their concern about the Federal Vision's position on Justification, for example, they are demonstrating concern about a Gospel issue.

There are a number of issues of biblical authority that aren't Gospel issues. Questions of infant baptism vs. believer's baptism, or of the function of the sacraments, are issues of biblical authority.
These are very important issues. But they aren't matters of Gospel integrity, in the same sense that Jesus being God in the flesh is a matter of Gospel integrity.

Take note of this: it is possible for someone to be in error on an issue of biblical authority and still be a Christian, and it's possible for them to remain in their error and not be considered a heretic. This is because there are differing degrees of error in terms of understanding matters of biblical truth and authority:

Working through this concept, then, Here's how these break down:
  • Truth: these are the real "gospel issues" that are universally agreed-upon as aspects of salvation, as well as a few other core beliefs (which include biblical inerrancy and authority, by the way). You might think of these as that which is required for membership in the church.
  • Mistaken opinions: Minor matters of conscience typically fall here-- someone who is of the opinion that liberty in Christ allows them to drink as much alcohol as they want on occasion, for example, holds a mistaken opinion about biblical truth. In terms of agreement or disagreement, you might think of these matters to be often matters of "semantic" differences-- where often our language and the way we say things suggests differences that suggest differences that aren't really there.
  • Errors: These are problematic, but not necessarily matters to divide over. Issues like "paedocommunion"-- where a child is offered the sacrament of communion on the basis of baptism, not on the basis of a profession of faith-- have been judged to be in this category. As such a matter was recently described by our presbytery, these might be judged as more than semantic, but not out of accord with the fundamentals of our system of doctrine.
  • Systemic errors: When we get to this stage, there are concerns that may lead to division, without requiring that we dismiss those who differ as "unbelievers." For example, in the PCA we hold that the Assemblies of God theologians have instituted systemic error in the way they view the gift of tongues. I would also argue that matters such as the one discussed with Wallis, regarding the blessing of same-sex unions by the church, falls into this category. Presbytery would label these as beliefs which "strike at the vitals of our system of doctrine."
  • Heresy: These are matters that violate the essence of the Gospel-- in other words, they are true "gospel issues" in the same way that the category of "Truth" above is, only in an opposing sense. When the remonstrants challenged the idea of the total depravity of man-- arguing that man in not inherently sinful, that he can, in fact, act in true and pure righteousness-- they were guilty of heresy. (Incidentally, they were judged as such by the courts of the church, and the response to their various points of doctrine was what we call the "five points of Calvinism.")
(Credit to David Jones and Michael Williams for this concept.)

I think it is not just useful, but essential for Christians to gain a better understanding of this. We all disagree on something-- and if you view disagreement as strictly a black-and-white, right or wrong, truth or heresy matter, then you are asserting that someone who is or may be a true brother or sister in Christ has given up the gospel.

Worse, you are asserting that your perspective is completely right and biblical-- which is never the case.

Sermon texts for May 2008

May brings two significant changes in our preaching schedule: first, we will finish the series on the cross on the first Sunday, so after that we will return to Luke and begin the discussion of Jesus' public ministry. Second, we finish out the liturgical season of Easter, which spans the 50 days following the resurrection, and have Pentecost and then the "ordinary days" that follow. (I'll blog more about these seasons soon.)

So, for the month of April, here are the

5/4/08: Romans 5:1-11 -- The cross and our suffering, the cross and our glory (last Sunday of Easter; "Ascension Sunday")
5/11/08: Luke 4:14-30 -- Setting the agenda for a new community (Pentecost)
5/18/08: Luke 4:31-44 -- Putting his words to work: Jesus and the new agenda (1
st Sunday after Pentecost)
5/25/08: Luke 5:1-11 -- Calling in the next generation of leaders: Jesus appoints his disciples (2
nd Sunday after Pentecost)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Leveraging great ideas for missions

In the big scheme of things, I don't know much about missions. That's something that I'm working on-- but my lack of knowledge doesn't keep me from thinking about it, especially when I see opportunities.

One of the big areas that has emerged as a theme in my ever-vigilant watch of technology is the development of new concepts and technologies to supply water and other resources to third-world communities. Allow me to point you to a few examples:
  • Martin Fisher wins the Lemelson-MIT award for sustainability for the SuperMoneyMaker Pump. Fisher has devised a $100 water pump that can pull water from a 30-foot well to irrigate up to 2 acres of land. (He's also developed a $35 tool called the "Hip Pump" that uses a farmer's body weight to operate it.)
  • The PlayPump System is an utterly brilliant concept that links a well pump and cistern to a kids' merry-go-round toy, so that as they play on the merry-go-round they are actually supplying water for their community from the well (which is stored in the cistern). The whole system costs $14,000, and can supply 2,500 people with water for 10 years. (PlayPumps International gets extra props for setting up a system where you can donate as little as $6 toward the installation of these-- and that $6 will supply one child with clean water for 10 years.)
  • Dean Kamen has built the Vapor Compression Distiller, which is a chemical, membrane, and filter-free water purifier (meaning it doesn't require substantial maintenance and consumable goods to continue filtering). Kamen believes this could eradicate a huge amount of disease worldwide.
  • The Hippo Water Roller is designed to alleviate the difficulty and physical stress required for a human body to retrieve and transport water from long distances. It allows 200 pounds of water to be reduced to an effective weight of only 22 pounds for easier transportation, even over difficult terrain.
  • Daniel Sheridan has won three separate awards for developing a see-saw designed to provide enough electricity to power a classroom for several hours through 10 minutes of play.

All by themselves, each of these is a very good idea. It strikes me, though, that the missing piece for all of them is the infrastructure to distribute and install these.

Sure, the Peace Corps and similar secular groups are all over the place doing this kind of work. But why not missionaries? Why couldn't some of the many missions boards with teams of people in third-world countries send short-term teams that would bring and install these as a support and extension of the existing ministry?

One thing I DO know about missions is this: it is almost universally agreed that long-term sustainability of Gospel ministry depends on developing local, indigenous leaders to take over the ministry. That sort of sustainability, it seems to me, demands that stability of resources also be in place-- so water supply, irrigation, agriculture, medical care, and education must become immediate concerns for pastors and missionaries in a third-world context.

All of the above projects seem to offer affordable solutions for exactly that: stabilizing resources. It seems like a no-brainer to me. Am I missing something? What do you think?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

What we should REALLY be concerned about...

You've probably gotten an e-mail forwarded to you about it. If not, then maybe you've read what the pundits are saying about it. Or maybe-- just maybe-- you've been unfortunate enough to have an irresponsible church throw it in your face.

What am I talking about? The suggestion-- or even the outright claim-- that Barack Obama is a Muslim, or a terrorist, or the Antichrist, just because of his name and his heritage.

In case you haven't heard, there's a man running for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency of the United States whose name is Barack Hussein Obama. Obama is considered an African-American, though he is actually of mixed racial heritage. He himself has acknowledged that his name alone is a disadvantage: on Jay Leno's Tonight Show, Leno asked him if he felt like the underdog; Obama responded, "when your name is Barack Obama, you're always the underdog." Apparently when he was in high school and college, he (wisely) chose to go by "Barry" to reduce the ruthless, thoughtless teasing that immature adolescents would surely have subjected him to.

My frustration has been growing about the way people have made enormous assumptions about the man simply because of what he was named. It seems that, having grown out of the stage of ruthless, thoughtless adolescents, Obama now faces the more formidable problem of ruthless, thoughtless adults. This morning the "last straw" came across my screen:
this article about a church that was short-sighted and foolish enough to put a political message on their sign. The message? Get ready... here it comes.

"Obama, Osama, hmm, are they brothers?"

Are you kidding? April Fool's Day was a few weeks ago, right?

I'll summarize the article for you. The pastor actually says the message wasn't meant to be racial or political. He just wanted to make people think. About what? About, "what could possibly happen if we were to get someone in there that does not believe in Jesus Christ," he said. He refuses to take the sign down, because he doesn't want it to appear that controversy made him do it.

Folks, let's get two things straight about this: first of all, it is unloving, presumptuous, and morally wrong to make broad-sweeping assumptions about someone simply because of their name or because of whom they are descended from.
When this is done to those of Jewish ancestry, it is called "Anti-Semitism"-- and who wants to be called an anti-semite? Yet we have folks running amok with the same thing surrounding Barrck Obama.

Second, Obama has been a member of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago for 20 years. Why is everyone so concerned that he is a Muslim?

If you want to know what we should really be concerned about, here it is: how about the fact that the United Church of Christ has been creeping (and sometimes racing) toward a liberal theology for years, and they are by far the MOST theologically liberal denomination that is considered a "Christian" denomination. They are merely a few notches away from the Unitarian Universalists in terms of how far from orthodoxy they have wandered. If you want a concern about the candidate's religious beliefs, be concerned that he may be too soft and wishy-washy on matters of genuine orthodoxy.

But then ask yourself this: who would make a better president-- the one who is a firm, theologically-conservative Christian who is barely qualified for the office, or someone who is (take your pick: Muslim, Atheist, Buddhist?) of other religious beliefs but is immanently qualified for the job? Just as I would prefer an Atheist who was the best surgeon in the state over a mediocre surgeon who was a Christian, I would rather have a Muslim in office who is the BEST candidate than a Christian who was a poor candidate.

But that's a moot point, since Obama's not a Muslim. Neither is John McCain or Hilary Clinton. Since one of these will certainly be in the White House this time next year, I pray that the BEST candidate would be placed there-- and I trust that God is at work putting that in place.

Finally, a disclaimer: I realize there's a primary today, and this post is in NO WAY intended to be a statement intended to have an effect on that. (I don't even think any of my tens of readers are in Pennsylvania.) It was more a matter of timing: I read this story this morning and my "tipping point" was reached, I had to respond.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Why "Expelled"?

I didn't see An Inconvenient Truth. It's not that I don't care about the environment; I'm even impressed with Al Gore's passion and presentation skills (had he honed these a few years earlier, he may have won the electoral vote!). I just don't care too much about sitting through a movie-length propaganda film from a point of view that I don't completely agree with.

Likewise, I've never seen any of
Michael Moore's documentaries-- although I confess I've always wanted to see Roger and Me, his film about how General Motors abandoned their factory in Flint, Michigan. Moore's political worldview, so I understand, is so in-your-face that those who disagree can feel the blood pressure rising.

The bottom line is: why go see such films? While some are cleverly disguised as documentaries (which, by definition, has a somewhat raw and unedited approach to presenting reality-- thereby calling into question whether the films mentioned here are true documentaries), they are actually long propaganda pieces.

Here's my question: who goes to see these that don't already hold to the positions presented? Can Moore claim to have swayed thousands to his political perspective through
Fahrenheit 9/11? Has Al Gore really turned toward global warming the attention of those who were skeptical before?

I ask because I'm curious about the kerfuffle and spin surrounding the recently-released
Expelled. Apparently Ben Stein (you remember him: the monotone teacher constantly calling for Ferris Bueller) has positioned himself as the Al Gore of Intelligent Design, making an exposé-like film that reveals how scientists everywhere, who are sympathetic to an Intelligent Design (ID) position, are being fired or run out of their positions in academia and scientific research because of their belief in the possibility of ID.

From the trailers, Stein's movie looks snarky and humorous (at least to those of us who lean toward his view on the matter). Apparently Stein interviewed a few prominent Evolutionists for the film as well as ID proponents, and his use of their perspectives has cast question on the reliability of he presentation, for me at least. At least one of these prominent scientists (who viewed the film in a pre-screening) claims that the editing and cut-and-paste job done to his interview completely misrepresents his point of view. What is worse, apparently one of the dominant thrusts that Stein attempts to make in the film is that Darwinism was a prime motivating factor in Hitler's Nazi regime, and therefore Darwinism ought to be inherently suspect. (Good thing folks haven't drawn the same mistaken conclusion about Christianity because of the Crusades and the Inquisition... oh, wait-- they have.)

So I wonder: what is the goal here? Do we (Christians, sympathizers to ID, those concerned with the lack of "objectivity" that comes with worldview-- take your pick) honestly believe and hope that secular, atheist scientists who doubt ID or zealously affirm a Macro-Evolutionary position will come to this movie and have their worlds turned upside-down? Do we expect that thoughtful secularists who are NOT scientists will be persuaded by such a film?

And if so, do we expect that it will happen through sarcasm, misrepresentation, and a handful of arguments wrought with poor logic (hasty generalizations, slippery slopes, ad hominems, etc.)? And that actions like
kicking out those who disagree from early screenings will advance the cause? I don't really follow what the point is, unless it is some sort of retribution for Christians and other conservative thinkers being mischaracterized in the past. Otherwise everyone sees it for what it is: a propaganda piece (as my friend Jon said, "Obviously it is propaganda, but it is *my* kind of propaganda :)").

One more thing: I want to take this opportunity to call on
World magazine, and especially Marvin Olasky, to step up and do the right thing with regard to this movie. Over the last three weeks, I have been appalled by World's coverage of this film. The same magazine that called Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, "disgusting, pathetic propaganda without the slightest shred of integrity" (July 17, 2004 issue) and accused Gore's An Inconvenient Truth of employing "stage tricks, straw men, and well-rehearsed rhetoric" (June 17, 2006 issue) lauds Expelled as, "reasonable, radical, risible, and right" (April 5, 2008 issue). Ironically, Olasky himself (who reviewed Expelled) said that biblically-directed reviews should "emphasize specific detail, not abstract theorizing" and "should present a biblical perspective, not individual bias" (Olasky, Telling the Truth: How to Revitalize Christian Journalism. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1996, p. 173). Marvin, your team of reviewers has been waffling back and forth between "Inconsistent Christians" and "Traditionalists" instead of pursuing true biblical objectivity (see ch.1, esp. p.20, of Telling the Truth).

Friday, April 18, 2008

Sermon texts for April 2008

As we continue through the series on the cross, we've reached a pivotal point in the series: the first few weeks introduced the prominence of the cross, while the last several weeks have focused on the accomplishments of the cross. Now we reach "the response to the cross" or a study of what life at the foot of the cross looks like. There are five studies remaining-- just enough to complete the season of Easter. We'll cover four of those five in April:

4/6/08: Hebrews 13:11-16 -- The community of celebration
4/13/08: Romans 6:1-18 -- Understanding ourselves through the cross
ANOTHER UPDATE (!): 4/20/08: John 13:3-17 -- Self-denial and self-affirmation in response to the cross
4/27/08: Matthew 5:43-48 -- The cross enables us to love our enemies

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Re-thinking "poor-ness"

Two ideas I've recently encountered that might get some discussion going about what it means to be "poor."

First, Jeff White of New Song Community Church in New York city recently spoke at a conference called
A Conversation on Denominational Renewal in St. Louis (click here to find audio for all of the talks from that conference). All of Jeff's talk was great (as were the rest of them), but one thing he said stood out as an interesting idea: Jeff said he would like to expunge the church of the term "mercy ministry" because to extend mercy in a biblical sense means to give someone a second chance even though they don't deserve it, and this does not apply to poor people in most ways.

Second, the humor blog
Stuff White People Like did an interesting post called, "#62: Knowing what's best for poor people." A big idea from the post: "It is a poorly guarded secret that, deep down, white people believe if given money and education that all poor people would be EXACTLY like them. In fact, the only reason that poor people make the choices they do is because they have not been given the means to make the right choices and care about the right things." And, as is apparent to these bloggers, making "the right choices" and caring "about the right things" are, in white people's minds, always identical to what white people (in this case, upper-middle class white people) choose and care about.

Both of these ideas, in their own way, represent challenges to the way I think about the poor and those in need. What do you think about these quotes and ideas?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Why we need "y'all"

My friend John posted a quick rant about grammatical and semantic errors this morning, and it inspired me to do likewise.

One of the things that I appreciate the most about Southern vernacular is that we have a pronoun for the second person, plural: "y'all". It's actually a contraction of "you all" and therefore the apostrophe properly goes after the "y", indicating that the letters lost in contraction would go there. (Many people are tempted to write it "ya'll" which is not a word at all, but spell-checkers aren't smart enough to know the difference so they assume that the spelling is correct. It's not.)

The real benefit of "y'all" is the same as for any other singular/plural pronoun: it clarifies whether you mean just one person or a group. No one gets confused when I say, "they went to the store", thinking that I really only meant, "
he went to the store". Likewise, when I say, "would y'all like to go grab some lunch?" then Harry, Lou, and Jim know that I intend for all four of us to go, not just one of them and me.

An aside: sometimes then non-Southerners get caught with this. They try to bring the "y'all" but they haven't fully grokked its meaning, so they'll throw out a "y'all" when they really just mean "you". Consider this post a brief tutorial for non-Southerners.

The market value of "y'all" is hard to estimate. For one thing, it prevents the linguistic train-wrecks that sometimes occur without a true second-person, plural pronoun. I've heard Midwesterners wrestle with the ambiguous "you" and words that have plural form but singular meaning, like "guys", resulting in awkward phrases such as, "I'm coming to your guys house for lunch." As far as I know, that means that I have a guy, and she will be at his house for lunch-- not that she plans to eat lunch with Marcie and me.

More importantly, though: the definitive y'all would remove a lot of ambiguity in Scripture, where the Greek DOES have a clear and distinct second-person, plural pronoun, but our English Bibles translate both it AND the second-person, singular as "you." So, for example, this leads to an American reading of 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, which says, "do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit..." and the assumption is made that my individual body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, because I don't realize that BOTH of the pronouns ("you" and "your") are actually plural, even though the words "body" and "temple" are singular. But if it read "do y'all not know that y'all's body is a temple of the Holy Spirit..." then I might actually conclude something closer to what Paul meant: that it's not about my individualism, but the collective, cooperative gathering of the body-- also known as the local church.

(By the way, there are LOTS of passages in the New Testament that we read as singular and, thus, individual which are actually plural, like the example above.)

So we need "y'all". It's a more sophisticated use of language.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

When are we going to see wireless AC power?

Mark my words: the day is coming, and soon will be, when we no longer need wires to connect our electrical (and electronic) devices to a power source.

A few years ago, I was chatting with one of my professors at Covenant Seminary, and I mentioned this. (We were talking about the eventual plans for the "courtyard" space at CTS, which is now a circle driveway but eventually will be a garden/picnic/sitting area with green space and landscaping.) I suggested that total wireless-- not just "wifi" which allows wireless network connections, but wireless electricity-- would be the ideal here. He said it couldn't be done.

But it can be done. Witness the amazing technology that wireless networks are: where once we were required to have a telephone line connection (which is an electrical signal), we then transitioned to hard-wired ethernet connections (which are also electrical signals). Now we have fully wireless connections: somewhere in my house, my office, and most every coffee shop I visit, it's possible to connect to the Internet without the use of a wired connection.

We already have batteries, which are both freeing and troublesome: freeing, in that they allow us (for a certain period of time-- sometimes much shorter than we prefer!) to move about with our mobile phones, laptop computers, and all manner of other devices powered, before we have to plug them in to recharge. Troublesome, because, a) the battery life never is enough; b) we still have to recharge them; and c) eventually they die completely, creating landfill and ecological concerns. (Yes, they can be recycled to a degree-- but only some parts. The rest are discarded.)

My guess is this: it won't be long before technology catches up and we are able to "receive" electricity wirelessly. We are already surrounded by half of the signal, which is grounding. It's only a matter of time before they figure out how to push the positive current through the air at enough power to keep mobile phones running, then computers, and eventually cars and houses. No more outages from downed power lines, and no more expensive gasoline.

The only question then will be: will battery makers and oil companies fight to suppress this technology?

I give it 2 years before the proof-of-concept devices are out there, and another 1-2 before broad market acceptance is in place. What do you think?

Monday, April 7, 2008

People change

"I hate to meet a man whom I have met ten years ago and find that he is at precisely the same point, neither moderated nor quickened nor experienced but simply stiffened."
~Oswald Chambers

I recently saw this quote on the blog
PastorHacks, and it reminded me of how much some people really do change over the years, while others surprisingly don't. It also reminds me that sometimes, the change is not 100% for the better.

I was once interviewing for a ministry job and, naturally, had mentioned one of my good friends as a reference. This particular friend had been a PCA pastor for some time, and had been to seminary with the Senior Pastor at the church I was interviewing with. My friend, who was then and still is a wonderful, humble, and godly man of grace, had exhibited less gracious tendencies while in seminary, and this Senior Pastor remembered that well. "If you hold yourself out as someone like 'so-and-so' then I don't think this will work out," he said to me point-blank. What a shame that this man hadn't bothered to get acquainted with the great man that I knew.

In a similar incident, a man I know was interviewing (also for a staff position) with a Senior Pastor who had gone to seminary with the fellow's former boss. While the former boss was a good guy, he had softened over the years to the point where he had become a poor supervisor, yet according to my friend the boss was unwilling to accept any of the responsibility for the failures of those he supervised poorly. It happened to be that circumstances involving this poor supervision had led to my friend leaving this position. The two former classmates talked to discuss my friend, and naturally the Senior Pastor took the boss's word about the young candidate-- even though he other references contradicted the boss's account. As far as the Senior Pastor was concerned, the boss was still the same great guy he knew in seminary.

I think of people I knew 10 years ago-- especially people I served in ministry, sometimes poorly. How would they receive me today? Would they extend me grace, expecting and looking for ways that God had matured me since they last knew me well? A verse comes to mind as I consider this...
[Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
~1 Corinthians 13:7

And then I think of the guys I went to seminary with. Some of them were great guys who were a bit too full of themselves; others had a touch of immaturity to shake off. I'm sure I struck many of them in similar ways. How will the Lord mature them over the coming years? How will he change me in that time? I pray that I would be able to see them with fresh eyes down the line.

To rest in the fact that "love always hopes" (or as another translation phrases it, "love hopes all things") encourages me that those who knew me when I was not yet the man I am today might, in love, see me without prejudice-- and that those who know me today, when I am not yet the man I will, Lord willing, become, might also.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Women in church leadership

One of the more difficult questions facing many churches (and I say "many" because some churches have answered the question for themselves, not because it isn't a question for them) is, what is the role of women in leadership in the church?

The PCA has, since its inception, proclaimed a "complementarian" position on women in leadership. The "complementarian" view stands squarely between the egalitarian (with unequivocal removal of distinction between men and women in terms of leadership and/or authority) and the patriarchal (with unequivocal denial of any sort of leadership or authority to any woman). How to implement this has frequently been in dispute: at worst, the complementarian position appears little different from the patriarchal position, with perhaps the exception of allowing women to minister to other women (and usually children); at best, applying the complementarian view is summed up in the idea that a woman may perform any act of service or leadership (apart from preaching in public worship) that a non-ordained man may also perform.

One complicating factor in applying the complementarian position has been that the PCA's Book of Church Order (BCO) does not
currently allow for women to be "ordained" to any leadership office-- Elder or Deacon. An overture for the upcoming General Assembly, from the Philadelphia Presbytery, may bring some modification to this, or at least clarification for how it is to be implemented. I appreciate the spirit of this overture, and how it asks for clarification even if the "status quo" is maintained. Should the BCO be amended to allow women to serve as Deacons, it might actually make the issue more complex-- but in this case simplicity hasn't historically proven to be beneficial, when it comes to the application of seemingly simple ideas. Simplicity in this issue usually results in either denying women opportunity or ignoring biblical guidance.

Another complicating factor, ironically, is the difference between leadership and authority. Ironically, because for years (centuries? millennia?) this has been the argument that I have heard tossed back at women who argue that they are denied opportunity for service and the exercise of their gifts. Yet more recently confusion on this point has been the justification for relegating women to only teaching children or perhaps other women. Why is granting women a role of leadership a tacit breech of biblical distinctions for authority?

As a counterexample: if leadership somehow equals authority to the point where biblical boundaries are crossed, why have a two-office view (Elders and Deacons) in the first place? Isn't the granting of authority to
male Deacons at least raising the possibility that the boundaries will be crossed? Of course it is-- and sometimes those boundaries ARE crossed. Yet we don't eliminate the office of Deacon to protect the authority of the Elder. We don't eliminate the organization of a presbytery to protect the authority of the local congregation, either. Thus, we shouldn't prevent women from having a role of leadership simply to limit their authority.

I'm glad for the Philadelphia Presbytery overture, and I look forward to seeing the PCA mature through this discussion. What do you think?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

April Fools' Funnies

The technology world loves April Fools' day. Probably because so much of the "news" in technology lends itself to speculation (and let's face it, techies love to think about the "next big thing") the world of tech news loves to take advantage of this climate of anticipation and exploit it on April 1st. There's a freedom in this realm of culture that would probably cause a lot of trouble in other parts of the mainstream media; I've learned that, when I read through the tech news online on 4/1, I read with a skeptical eye.

Here are the funniest (and cleverest) ones I found this year:

PC Actor Charged with Assault. "How do you like them apples?"
Introducing G-Mail "Custom Time." A great idea for really messing with peoples' minds.
April Fools' Stories You Shouldn't Believe. A funny collection of non-headlines.

I'll add more if I see them.

UPDATE: two more...

Wikipedia, the online (and community-edited) encyclopedia, offered
a fun spin on their regular "On This Day" piece on their front/main page.
You might also enjoy their fictitious front-page Article of the Day on Ima Hogg.

Books for March 2008

The Importance of the Local Church by Daniel Wray (re-read): This is one of the Banner of Truth Trust booklets, of which I am a big fan. Wray does a good job of capturing the essential need and value of the local church, which is a vital word for today when many Christians take church membership so lightly. (9+)

When Bad Christians Happen to Good People by Dave Burchett: The subtitle of this book summarizes it well: "where we have failed each other and how to reverse the damage." Burchett does a good job of highlighting a number of problems and failings with the church today; his assessment is fair and not mean-spirited, but neither is it a soft-sell. He also does a fair job of working on the how-tos of "reversing the damage" though this part left a bit to be desired. (I suspect he expands on it a bit in his follow-up book, Bring 'Em Back Alive.) Overall, a good book and worth reading. (8)

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson. I already offered my thoughts on this book in a previous post. (8)

Proper Confidence by Lesslie Newbigin. Probably one of the best books I've read in a while, this book is a good union of philosophy, theology, and basic, practical thinking about how a Christian finds confidence in what he/she believes. Newbigin does a great job of summarizing the influence of a few significant philosophers (Aristotle and Descartes, in particular) on how we think about truth, and demonstrates that we (in contemporary western culture) have in many ways abandoned a more biblical view of truth because of them. I thought the book was very helpful; others might find it a little dry, because of the discussion of philosophy, etc. It's not for everyone-- but it was certainly a good read for me. (9+)