Tuesday, June 30, 2009


I am getting way behind on my reading. I am still trying to finish Dave Black's The Jesus Paradigm and hope to finish it tonight. I have a copy of House Church coming by mail and also expect Kevin Deyoung's book Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion to ship tomorrow.

Of course I also notice that I am at 51 blog posts in June, so maybe a little less blogging and a little more reading might be in order...

Prepared sermon or a participatory meeting?

A post at The Assembling of the Church, Sermon Central, got me thinking about sermons, sermon preparation and participation.

In recent years, I have made something of an idol of the sermon. The longer, the better. The more prep time, the better. Of course the more Reformed, the better. A twenty minute sermon was mailing it in, 45 minutes was adequate and an hour was better. I often stated quite confidently that the entire gathering should be prepping for the sermon. The most qualified man should give the sermon and everyone else should listen. I have long been a fan of expositional preaching. Open the Bible and preach the Bible from the Bible. I still think this is a great way to get into the Word. What I am wondering though is two-fold: should that be the focal point of the local assembly? Should that be something that is a passive monologue, one man preaches every week and the rest sit silently?

This is a hard one for me. I know both from experience and from reading the New Testament that there is not much justification for a “one man show” style of teaching in the Bible. I always look for command and example, is there a command for something or is there an example of something? I don’t see either when it comes to monologue preaching to believers. To unbelievers, sure. But not to the church. Still, I like the predictability of it. You show up and you get a 40 minute sermon like clockwork every week. Nice and tidy. I absolutely am convinced that we need to get into the Bible a lot more than we do currently. At least with lengthy expository sermons people are getting the Word. I am less convinced that it is healthy and Biblical in spite of my own personal bias in favor of lengthy, in-depth expository monologue sermons. I have to wonder if it is healthy, healthy for one man to do all of the preaching and for the rest of the people to be passive observers. It is little wonder that so many Christians have become spiritually atrophied and so many pastors are burned out.

The other thing that I started thinking about was not just that the sermon is the focal part of the weekly service, but how much time and effort is invested into that sermon in the week leading up to the Sunday service. One of the most unquestionable features of the contemporary church is the professional, vocational paid pastor who spends a sizable chunk of their week in sermon preparation.

Ligon Duncan, in an article for 9 Marks, came to the number of eight hours per sermon in prep time being appropriate. If a “full-time” pastor preaches two unique sermons on Sunday, that would mean that adequate prep time is 16 hours per week. In the spirit of full disclosure, I was not and am not an eight hours of preparation per sermon kind of guy. I normally would read over the text several times during the week, jot down notes as they came to me and assemble the final product on Saturday night. I spent even less prep time on Sunday evening sermons, usually just a rough outline of the text. Oddly (or perhaps not) I think that the Sunday evening sermons were “better” than the Sunday morning sermons I spent more prep time on. I was working a full-time job when I was also a bi-vocational pastor, so I often jotted notes during the day and worked on ideas on my laptop at lunch. I often thought it would be wonderful to be like my “full-time” brothers who had so much more time available to prepare a sermon each week.

Again, at the risk of further alienating my fellow Reformed believers, is it the most appropriate use of funds to pay a pastor to spend 2 or more days a week sequestered in their office preparing for a 45 minute monologue sermon on Sunday morning? To be a pastor in many churches means having a seminary degree with classes on preaching, owning lots of commentaries, reading books on preaching, attending seminars on preaching. There is a ton of focus on sermons because sermons are the focus of the gathering of the church. It sounds great to the ears, a firm commitment to verse by verse expository preaching by a man with seminary training. I don’t think it is as faithful to the Scriptures unfortunately.

So what is the alternative? I fancy myself to be a pretty good teacher and one of the things I really strive to do is draw people into conversation when I teach. Make them think, encourage them to participate. The best Sunday school classes I have taught were the ones where I spoke the least, where my role was to draw people into the conversation. The least effective were the lectures where I did all of the talking. I liked the lessons where I spoke the most because the focus was on me, but I also know that people learned more when they participated more. In spite of that, I then turned around and gave a monologue sermon because that was just what I was supposed to do. Why? Just because that is what pastors do, they preach in the second half of the service. I daresay I am far more effective in teaching when I am leading a group that is all participating than standing up front and talking for 45 minutes.

Last Sunday, as we gathered for the Lord's Supper, we met in the room around the table of bread and wine as we do every week. No one has a liturgy or even a program. No one is leading. Every man in the room is welcome to share as he is led, whether in prayer, or requesting a hymn or opening up the Word. It is unscripted and open, just a room of redeemed sheep edifying, praying, uplifting one another. Sometimes there is silence for several minutes, quiet reflection and prayer. Gasp! It is uncomfortable for me, I want something to fill in the silence. I crave that order and predictability. Participatory meetings are not orderly in the sense we think of in the contemporary church structure. They are not disorderly per se, but when we think of “orderly” we are thinking programmed, scheduled, regimented, regulative, liturgical, “order of worship”. I think Paul’s concern was less that we had a bulletin to follow and more that meetings not be chaotic.

This is not to demean preaching. I love preaching, I love to listen to preaching and I love to preach! Preaching is eminently Biblical. Teaching is eminently Biblical. A monologue sermon preceded by days of preparation? Not so much. What is becoming clear to me is that often the brother who works a regular job, has no theological training and is just praying or opening the Word has far more meaningful things to say than the famous preacher who spends his week preparing for a sermon. Singing a song extemporaneously is more meaningful than singing a battery of songs selected beforehand or watching a choir performing on stage. Prayer from different men as they are led is often more meaningful than one guy praying on behalf of the rest of the room. We need to examine our church practices from Scripture and ask ourselves if they are truly fulfilling the spirit and letter of what we see in the Word or if they are merely manmade inventions designed to replace what Scripture commands and describes. As I try to do that, I find myself in the uncomfortable position of realizing that I have been wrong about the gathering of God’s people for a very long time.

Focus on a living God, not a dead man's bones

This is the epitome of empty religiosity...

Pope: Bone Fragments Found in Tomb Are Paul's

ROME — The first-ever scientific test on what are believed to be the remains of the Apostle Paul "seems to confirm" that they do indeed belong to the Roman Catholic saint, Pope Benedict XVI said Sunday.
Benedict said archaeologists recently unearthed and opened the white marble sarcophagus located under the Basilica of St. Paul's Outside the Walls in Rome, which for some 2,000 years has been believed by the faithful to be the tomb of St. Paul.

Benedict said scientists had conducted carbon dating tests on bone fragments found inside the sarcophagus and confirmed that they date from the first or second century.

"This seems to confirm the unanimous and uncontested tradition that they are the mortal remains of the Apostle Paul," Benedict said, announcing the findings at a service in the basilica to mark the end of the Vatican's Paoline year, in honor of the apostle.

Seriously? So there are a couple of bone fragments in a tomb and carbon dating says they are from somewhere in the 1st or 2nd century. So we know they are bones, I assume human bones, and that they from a two hundred year period that coincides with the life and death of Paul. The “scientific tests” prove nothing other than these are old bones. The rest is left to tradition. The basilica was built by Constantine, who lived from 272 to 337 and became emperor in 306. Paul died around 65 A.D. So a couple of shards of bones are under a building that was erected at least 240 years after the death of Paul constitutes scientific proof to support a tradition that is irrelevant to Christians. Our focus is on a living Christ, not a dead man's bones.

Even if these are somehow the bones of Paul, which is incredibly doubtful, he would be mortified at the fuss made over them, with the fancy basilica erected over what are purported to be his bones. Paul’s mission was about the Risen Christ, not the bones of men long dead. What should we make of men who worship the worldly remains of dead men? You can try to duck around it by calling in “veneration” but it boils down to worship.

Paul’s legacy is not in a couple of shards of bone under an ornate edifice erected in Rome. Paul’s legacy to us are his inspired writings that teach us some of the great doctrines of God and show us a wonderful example of the servant leadership God’s people are called to. If you want to honor Paul, preach the Gospel. That is all the honor he would ever want.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Bob Gonzalez on Family Worship

Bob Gonzalez is starting an interesting series on recovering family worship at the RBS Tabletalk blog. Looks like an interesting series. Check it out!

Whither the Third Commandment?

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20: 4-6)

Read this from the Chicago Tribune and weep.

Melrose Park church to celebrate new crowns for statues made of donated gold, blessed by pope

When parishioners of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Roman Catholic Shrine in Melrose Park decided to create gold crowns for statues of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, they donated to the cause by reaching deep into their hearts and memories.

Joe Rosa gave his grandfather's wedding band. Corinne Principe wept as she slipped her own wedding ring off her finger. Antonio Godinez removed the big Jesus medallion he wore close to his heart and plopped it into a collection basket.

In all, 15 pounds of gold was given, including a dozen gold watches, several rings, bangle bracelets, earrings, chains and medals. Carrying out a religious tradition from Southern Italy, the donated gold was then melted down and molded into two new 14-karat gold crowns appraised at $75,000.

The self-sacrifice here in one way is very touching. Few possessions are more precious to an individual than their wedding band. The willingness to give up items that are precious to you is in many ways an admirable example of sacrificial living. But…

…to take the gold and make two crowns worth $75,000, fly them to Rome to be “blessed” by Joseph Ratzinger and then adorn them on statues is idoloatrous. Set aside for a moment the idea of a church spending $75,000 on something so vain and frivolous as golden crowns for statues. That is a huge issue but no more so than the sinful lavishness of many Protestant churches with obscenely ornate buildings, the latest in technology to impress people, large paid staffs, etc. The great issue here is that this is idolatry, nothing less. Look into the Bible and tell me how this veneration of statues of people is in keeping with the worship of God by His people? The statue of Christ is bad enough, but the statue of Mary? This veneration of a statue and praying to Mary and other saints is tragic. I am confident that when I pray, God’s will is always done and that I need no other intercessor but Jesus Christ, our great High Priest.

Humans naturally desire something tangible. The ancient Israelites did something very similar to this in Exodus:

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.” And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play. (Exodus 32: 1-6)

Sound similar at all? Idolatry is a heinous sin. Even for motivations that may seem pure to man, idolatry is replacing God as He has revealed Himself with something tangible that replaces Him. It is the creation set on its head, man creating God in our own image. Our God is not a God who appears bodily or that desires or permits us to create graven images.

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor 4: 17-18)

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. (Hebrew 11: 1-3)

I pray that God will work in the hearts of these people who are crowning statues, parading them around town, praying to sinners. I pray that He will reveal Himself to them that they may have the assurance of life eternal through faith in Christ, not in prayers to sinners and idols. I pray that we who have been saved through His sovereign grace will not likewise fall into the temptation of idolatry, idolatry of our learning, or of human leaders, or of organizations, or of doctrines.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Great post from Voddie Baucham

Top Five Reasons Not to Send Your Kids Back to Govt. School

Just a great post, I encourage you to read it. Here is a sample that I just loved:

Jesus made it quite clear when he said, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” (Matthew 12:30 ESV) I am amazed at how many Christians refuse to acknowledge this fact as it relates to the government school system. Our education is either based on biblical truth, or some other truth. There is no such thing as neutrality in this regard. All education is religious in nature. Since it is illegal for students in our government schools to be taught from a Christian perspective, then it follows that they must be taught from a non (or anti) Christian perspective.

As Hodge pointed out, the result of non-Christian education is anti-Christian education. Government schools must be anti-Christian. They can be nothing else. Therefore, to send a child to a government school is to have them trained in an anti-Christian environment for 14,000 instructional hours. To get that much instruction from church a child would have to attend two hours a week for one hundred and forty years!

Voddie is da man!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Where have all of the Sunday schools gone?

I read a very thought provoking editorial in the Wall Street Journal today. The editorial Why Sunday School are closing looks at the decline of Sunday schools in local churches and ponders why this is happening. I think the writer, Charlotte Hays, makes some interesting points but ultimately the decline in Sunday school is not because of high rates of divorce or kids raised on video games. I do think she hit on some of the issues without even realizing it. For example, I think this is very telling :

Dubbed in Protestant circles "the greatest lay movement since Pentecost," Sunday school traveled across the pond in the 1790s, eventually becoming the Protestant norm here. By my own childhood, Sunday school was taken for granted. Catholics relied on parochial schools and special weekday classes to teach the faith, but Protestants had Sunday school.

The key is right there. Sunday school was taken for granted with nary a thought as to why or even if we should have it and parents became reliant on Sunday school to pass the faith on to their kids. Any wonder we lose most kids after high school? An hour or two at church is not going to offset years of parental neglect and secular humanism coming from the school system.

That is all too true as I have railed about before. The problem is multifold, but I think at its core it is an issue of mission creep. What is the point of Sunday school and other church programs directed at youth ( I am lumping them all together here)? Is it and should it be the place of the Sunday School to teach children the faith? We have become reliant on the local church body to do what we should be doing as parents, raising our kids in the faith. That is not the job of a local church organization, it is the responsibility of the parent. The local church can help but it cannot replace, but by and large that is what has happened.

These issue go way beyond just Sunday school. The problem is rampant in virtually all of the programs for kids (not least of which because the Gospel is not a program). Sunday school and VBS and youth groups try to do two things simultaneously, evangelize unbelieving children and disciple believing kids. In trying to do two things at once, they have failed at both because they don’t do either one very well.

VBS/Sunday School/Youth (hereafter SS/VBS/YG) has degenerated into fun and games with a very watered down “Gospel” presentation and a bunch of thinly veiled moralizing (this is not the case universally but it is the case in the vast majority of Protestantism). The more kids show up, the more “decisions” from kids who will never come to church, the more frivolous and silly the events, the better. Read the New Testament and show me an example of the Gospel message being presented in a frivolous, silly way to make it more fun for kids? Veggietales are OK for teaching kids to be nice to one another but not to hear the Gospel. Where do we get off, how dare we trivialize the Gospel that has the power to save souls from hell by turning it into a lowest common denominator summer time activity? Believing kids are not being discipled in SS/VBS/YG, they are being entertained. Entertainment is fine, but not when it is supposed to be discipleship. Youth activities are perhaps the worst offenders with stuff going on that would be inappropriate in a secular setting much less when led by adults who should know better or who have abdicated authority to the children. Even Sunday school aimed at teaching believing kids is often trite and moralistic instead of Gospel driven and Scripture saturated.

On the other hand, kids who are not believers are given a message that doesn’t challenge them in their sins. The local church provides free babysitting for a couple of days or one night a week and the parents are unlikely to ever bring them back. Even kids who “make a decision”, which Eric Carpenter pointed out is one of the main benchmarks for success, are unlikely to come again. Wonder why you get 100 kids at VBS and not one shows up later? We aren't losing the kids who "got saved" at VBS because they never were saved in the first place. They made a "decision" as an emotional response but their hearts were not changed. The Gospel is tough, it has some sharp edges but filing those edges down to make it easier to swallow isn't doing anyone a favor. It is preaching "another Gospel" and is anathema. It is also all to often business as usual in local evangelical churches.

Something else I found interesting about this editorial was this comment:

The decline in Sunday schools appears to be gradual but steady… And the future does not look bright: Only 15% of ministers regarded Sunday school as a leading concern. The younger the pastor, the study showed, the less emphasis he placed on Sunday school.

Think that perhaps has something to do with younger pastors having a fresher memory of their own experiences in SS/VBS/YG? If you are a young pastor with vivid memories of how little you got out of Sunday school, why would you want to encourage it?

If we want to evangelize kids, then lets evangelize them. Not by a backdoor, slip them the Gospel when they aren’t looking approach but by lovingly and boldly preaching Christ and Him crucified. We aren't being faithful to the Great Commission by getting kids to sign cards only to have them never show any signs of regeneration.

If we want to disciple our kids, let’s call on parents to do just that. It is my job to raise my kids in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Not Carriage Hill Bible Chapel where we go every Sunday. Not the Lutheran church down the road holding VBS next week. It is my job and I will not be able to blame someone else if I fail in that responsibility. The local church should equip parents and help them and encourage them, absolutely yes. Replace them with Sunday school and youth groups, no. Sunday school and VBS and youth groups can have a place but they cannot be all things to all people crammed into one hour a week. They cannot effectively evangelize without the Evangel. They can supplement but never replace Christian education in the home. It is not the job of the church to raise our kids and teach them. That is the job of Christian parents, no matter what our church traditions say. That is never the stated intent of SS/YG/VBS, but in reality that is what has happened. This is one of those cases where the church needs to step aside and call people out instead of trying to fill in the gap. In trying to help, for the best of motivations, the church has actually done great harm.

The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood coming to Auburn Hills

Dr. Russell Moore is coming to Michigan for a CBMW conference in September...

Dr. Moore will be speaking, along with Carolyn McCulley, at a conference on biblical manhood and womanhood at Five Points Community Church in Auburn Hills, Michigan, on September 25-26, 2009.

This is exciting news. We don't often get cool conferences in Michigan because, well because this is Michigan. Not exactly the epicenter of evangelicalism. I should have enough vacation time to go to this...

Knuckle dragging Christians breeding like rabbits

I loved the line from Braveheart when the King of England declares: The problem with Scotland is that there are too many Scots! Edward Longshanks, the King of England, decides that Scotland has just too many Scots. His solution: Breed them out!

I thought of that line from the movie when I read an article in the Associated Press about a visit to the Creation Museum by a group of hostile scientists. This quote from one "scientist", Christine Janis of Brown University (pictured with a koala in her faculty photo), was hilarious and insulting at the same time (emphasis added):

Christine Janis, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Brown University, said most of the arguments addressed at the museum she's heard countless times before. What she found most troubling was the crowd.

More than 750,000 people have visited in two years, and Janis is concerned the Creation Museum's version of human history is the only one they're getting.

"They're out-breeding us, that's for sure," Janis said.

Irony alert! Notice that she is concerned that people are only getting one version of human history. Ummm, that is exactly what happens in public schools and in colleges, people only get one version of human history. Students are fed evolutionary theory as the one and only acceptable theory. You get as balanced a view of human history from the Creation Museum as you do in a secular classroom. The difference is that one is given the patina of "science" and the other dismissed as "religion". What Ms. Janis is really peeved about is that the version they get at the Creation Museum is not her version. How dare people show up at a museum that doesn't meet her approval! Why, don't these people know that in the world of scientific exploration and inquiry there is room for only one horribly flawed theory? Alternate theories must be mocked and squashed, after all the last thing that science needs is a free exchange of ideas. The dogma of evolution is settled fact and you even so much as question it to your peril. Scientists are the open-minded and inquisitive ones, so shut up and believe what we tell you!

Apparently Ms. Janis is concerned that all us ignert young earth types are breeding uncontrollably which is simply not a good thing for "scientists". I guess we are so dumb because we don't mindlessly accept evolutionary dogma that we must not know where babies come from. If you think her glib comment smacks of condescension, you are correct! It is the same sort of mindset that you see from people that refer to parents of large families as "breeders". Her comment was probably intended to be tongue-in-cheek, but it also gives you a glimpse of the way that academics view the rest of the country. These sorts of people are the ones who indoctrinate kids in their classrooms and people like Ms. Janis are precisely why I think it is unwise in the extreme to ship our kids off to secular schools and hope for the best.

To an extent she is right that conservative Christian families tend to have more children than less conservative Christians and atheists. Homeschool families on average have something like double the average family size. So if you depend on people to fund your research and pay for your sabbaticals, you have to be worried about the shrinking population of kids in general and the growing proportion of kids that are raised in Christian homes. Always follow the money! At the rate we are going, perhaps someday people like Ms. Janis who think we are descended from monkeys will be extinct.

(For more on this, check out the blog post here from Answers in Genesis)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Some things never change

One of them is the tendency of some of the old guard in the Southern Baptist convention to use the spotlight to advance their vendetta against Calvinism. This year had the spectacle of Morris H. Chapman, from the SBC Executive Committee making the following comment:

The Southern Baptist Convention is experiencing a resurgence in the belief that divine sovereignty alone is at work in salvation without a faith response on the part of man.

Some are given to explain away the “whosoever will” of John 3:16. How can a Christian come to such a place when Ephesians says, “For by grace are you saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8)? I do not rise to become argumentative, or to change minds already convinced of one perspective or the other. But I do rise to state the obvious. Man is often tempted to design a theological theory in light of a biblical antinomy in order to clarify what God is trying to say.

Man’s system will be inferior to God’s system now and forever. Why is it so difficult to accept from God what we cannot fully explain? After all, He didn’t begin to tell us everything He knows, but what we need to know to be redeemed and live righteously. The belief that sovereignty alone is at work in salvation is not what has emboldened our witness and elevated our concern for evangelism and missions through the ages. This is not the doctrine that Southern Baptists have embraced in their desire to reach the world for Christ.

If there is any doctrine of grace that drives men to argue and debate more than it drives them to pursue lost souls and persuade ALL MEN to be reconciled to God – then it is no doctrine of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man both are taught in the Bible. Both are necessary elements in the salvation experience. A healthy tension (an antinomy) exists in the Bible with regard to these two important biblical truths. Both are present in the salvation experience.

Egad! I haven't heard such ridiculous rhetoric and blatant caricatures since the last time Ergun Caner embarrassed himself by attacking the sovereignty of God in salvation. I love that Mr. Chapman quotes the first half of Ephesians 2:8 and not the second half. Pretty convenient, check out the whole verse with the second half in bold:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, (Eph 2:8)

I always get a kick out of people using verses to attack Calvinism that in reality support one or more of the five points. Even the faith you have is not found in yourself, or your righteousness, or your piety or your "decision to ask Jesus into your heart". The faith that any Christian possesses is a gift from God, sovereignly enacted through the regeneration of our stony hearts, making those who were dead in our sins (Eph 2:1) and enemies of God (Eph 2:3) reconciled to His Son. It is fun to see what happens when you actually read a verse in it's entirety and in it's context instead of plucking it out to make a point.

I like the plain spoken way Tom Ascol referred to these remarks:

It may be that the anti-Calvinist messenger was emboldened in his opposition by the foolish remarks of the president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, Morris H. Chapman which were made earlier in the day during his report.
Dr. Chapman's comments were out of place and sounded more like the incendiary rhetoric of years past than the more respectful kinds of exchanges that have tended to characterize the Calvinist debates since the Building Bridges Conference in 2007.

Amen Tom! Foolishness should be called what it is.

Is something I should be concerned about?

Is it obsessive-compulsive of me to notice that I am at the bottom of Alan's blog roll because I haven't posted in a day and I feel compelled to post something so I move back near the top?

I think I need professional help...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Does God make mistakes?

In a follow-up to the issue of egalitarianism below in the post, An Issue of Gender, I came across a great blog post from the Council On Biblical Manhood and Womanhood titled: Spirit-Gifting and Ministry in the Church.

The author of the post I was originally referring to made a statement to the effect that the ability of women to teach, perhaps better than men, is evidence that God intended for them to teach. Why would God give them this ability and then deny them? The CBMW post I reference above makes a great point:

In her recent book Gifted to Lead, Nancy Beach makes the following statement:

No mistake was made in heaven when God gave you the gift of leadership or teaching. Every gift you have came from the hand of a loving Father who crafted you.
When taken apart from her egalitarian beliefs, this statement elicits complete agreement. I also believe that God does not make mistakes when he gives gifts to believers. I further agree that God intends believers to exercise those gifts, to his glory and for the good of the church.

But I would also add this statement to Beach's:

No mistake was made in heaven when God authored the qualifications in Scripture concerning the exercising of spiritual gifts. Every gift you have been given should be exercised according to the qualifications laid down by your wise and loving Father.
What I tried to capture with that statement is the fact that the Bible places limits on how and when spiritual gifts can be exercised. Beach and other egalitarians seem to miss this point. Christians certainly receive spiritual gifts from the Father, but that fact does not mean that Christians can exercise those gifts however they please. In a variety of contexts, the Bible places qualifications on the exercising of spiritual gifts.

God indeed doesn't make mistakes in gifting. God also does not make mistakes when He laid down qualifications for excercising gifts in the Body.

The feminist betrayal of women

The ugly secret of feminism is that it has not made women better off or happier. In fact just the opposite is true.

The Wall Street Journal asks: Why aren't women happier? and it is a fascinating question. It comes in response to a new report on the general happiness of women in America that just came out and shockingly it turns out that women are less happy now than they were 35 years ago. What?! How can that be? Allow me to express some thoughts….

(In the spirit of full disclosure, I am not a woman)

Some of the theories behind this from the secular media have to do with women not acclimating to their new opportunities quickly enough, that these great opportunities make women feel depressed because they haven’t gained the whole world all at once. In other words, expectations rose faster than social change and women felt left behind. So the problem is not the enormous shift in women’s roles and expectations, but rather because things haven’t changed in reality fast enough.

May I pose a different theory? Women are not as happy because feminism has sold them a mess of pottage. A small handful of women convinced vast swaths of the rest of the women in this country that what they thought they really wanted was not only not what they wanted but that in fact desiring to be a wife and a mom was something to be ashamed of. Even now women who choose to stay at home with their children are accused of “letting down the team”, which assume that the “cause” of feminism takes priority over the raising of children.

Thirty five years ago, in 1974, the percentage of women in the work force was much lower than it is today. With the advent of mass contraception, it was far easier for women to control, delay or even prevent having children. This helped drive women into the workforce in greater and greater numbers. According to the Department of Labor, in 2008 59.5% of women were in the workforce (defined as working or actively looking for work). In 2002, 55% of women with infant children were in the workforce versus 31% in 1976. This has led to the creation of more than 687,000 daycare centers.Women are already 46.5% of the workforce and with layoffs hitting male dominated professions, it is quite possible that we will see even this year women becoming the majority of the workforce. That is a big deal culturally to have our workforce become majority female. Women are working more and in a wider variety of industries and professions than ever before. Yet they are less happy.

Meanwhile, as women enter the workforce a couple of things happen simultaneously. The number of workers goes up and that supply has a negative impact on labor demand and wages. As society shifts to a two income family labor and wage norm, it becomes progressively harder to make it on one income. The cause and effect are the inverse of what we are told; it is harder to survive on one income precisely because so many families have elected the two income model. Take away the accessibility of revolving credit, leading to enormous amounts of unsecured debt driven consumption, and I think you would find that the buying power of a single income family 35 years ago is pretty similar to the buying power of a two income family today.

While mothers and fathers are working, houses sit empty during the day and children are warehoused somewhere else. Generation after generation of kids are abandoned into the system of daycare, preschool and public school by their parents. As I cited above, according to the U.S. Census Bureau there are more than 687,000 daycare centers in America. 69,000 of the largest centers employ three quarters of a million employees (primarily women I assume) to watch kids so that other women can go to work. Ultimately this leads to two million preschoolers in day care out of around 10 million preschool children. One out of five preschoolers is being raised by someone other than their parents for the majority of their waking hours. We are reaping the harvest of generations of latchkey kids who got nice vacations and a TV in their room but essentially raised themselves under the influence of their peers, the television and the internet and under the supervision of disinterested strangers instead of by their mothers. Little wonder we find nation in the state it is in today.

Maybe what a lot of women want is to be a mom and what a lot of moms want is to be...a mom? Not a super mom who juggles a career and a couple of kids, but just a mom. Can a few extra bucks make up for dropping off your eight week old infant at daycare where they will spend 45 hours a week being watched by someone else until they are old enough for school? Is that really making women feel fulfilled? Maybe a group of angry, bitter women in the media and academia don’t really understand what drives the majority of women. Is it that hard to believe that women and men have different goals and motivations?

The truth is that the feminist movement has not "liberated" women or made their lives better, but has instead made their lives worse. Women are more stressed and less happy now in spite of the utopian promises that women's liberation promised. Women were sold a bill of goods by feminism and now society as a whole is paying.

Monday, June 22, 2009

An issue of gender

Jeff at Losing My Religion has posted several blog entries on "healing" the harm done to women by the church. I have noted where I think that Christian men have failed women and it has nothing to do with them not being allowed to be elders (see: Apologies to our sisters ). I took some umbrage at his latest post, The Two-Fold Image of God , where he argues that Genesis 1: 27 is not how we should view men and women today, that the gender roles we see in Scripture are the result of the fall but that those roles have been "redeemed" and that the "oppression" of women is a misinterpretation of Scripture. The result of this is that we need "healing" which equates to allowing women to serve in ways that are clearly forbidden by Scripture.

Here is the problem. Men and women are both created in the image of God. No one is arguing that. But man was created first from the dust of the ground and woman was created from man. This same relationship, as I pointed out in a comment, is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 11 where Paul references the creation order:

For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. (1Co 11:7-9)

Paul is not telling us that this relationship is undone by the cross. In fact Paul goes out of his way on a number of occasions, including and especially in 1 Cor 11: 2-15 to reiterate and reinforce that men and women are equally saved, equally image-bearers but have different and complementary roles in the church. Does that mean men are superior and women inferior? Of course not! Does that mean that men are more image-bearers than women? Of course not! Does it mean that God willfully and intentionally created man first and then woman and did so for a reason? Absolutely! This is important: Equality and role distinction are not mutually exclusive! You can be different/complementary and not be inferior/superior! Men and women can and are called differently, gifted differently and that is not only OK, it is glorious and the divine design of the Father. To question that is to question Him, to say to Him that you don't care for the way He designed the world. Ephesians 5: 22-32 spells out in plain language the roles of the genders and guess what? They have a hierarchy and they are different. Man is not complete without woman and woman is not complete without man. We are created to be gloriously different and dependent and complementary of one another. I thank God that He made my wife different than me! Where I am weak, she is strong. Where she is weak, I pray that I am strong. We are different but designed to complement one another, not by uniformity but indeed through our differences!

I understand that the world doesn't like this. I understand that we are tempted to question what God's Word says when we find it is not to our liking. I would however raise a serious admonition to be careful when we tinker with the Word of God to salve our sinful pride and to appease the world. The issue of gender is not a fringe teaching or a vague one. It is obvious and clear and frequently mentioned. I would encourage you to read this sermon by Ligon Duncan, Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: The Big Picture, who has a slightly different (and dare I say a more thorough and Scripturally sound) take on Genesis 1:27 and then visit Jeff's post and share some thoughts.

First they came for the burqas

In the news today…

Sarkozy Says Burqas 'Not Welcome' in France

PARIS -- President Nicolas Sarkozy lashed out Monday at the practice of wearing the Muslim burqa, insisting the full-body religious gown is a sign of the "debasement" of women and that it won't be welcome in France.

The French leader expressed support for a recent call by dozens of legislators to create a parliamentary commission to study a small but growing trend of wearing the full-body garment in France.

In the first presidential address in 136 years to a joint session of France's two houses of Parliament, Mr. Sarkozy laid out his support for a ban even before the panel has been approved -- braving critics who fear the issue is a marginal one and could stigmatize Muslims in France.

"In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity," Mr. Sarkozy said to extended applause in a speech at the Chateau of Versailles, southwest of Paris.

"The burqa is not a religious sign, it's a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement -- I want to say it solemnly," he said. "It will not be welcome on the territory of the French Republic."

This is flat out dangerous. France is a modern nation, in existence for hundreds of years. This seems so out of place in a free democracy. It also makes me think of my wife. She covers her head in public. Will that be outlawed? Will headcoverings have to go underground? It seems a bit of a leap but that is how this sort of thing starts. Grab the easiest mark and then incrementally make changes. I am sure many people (including many in the church) look at the practice of Christian women covering their heads and see it as oppressive even though headcovering is expressly commanded in the Bible and was the practice among Christians for centuries. Even though my wife covers her head voluntarily, I can imagine the argument that would say she is conditioned to do so or secretly forced by the oppressive patriarchy of Christianity and that banning headcoverings is for her own good even if she doesn’t realize it.

I don’t care for the wearing of burqas. On the other hand, it makes me more than a bit uneasy that a Western democracy is contemplating legislation to ban the wearing of a garment, especially one singled out because of religious implications. They have already banned some attire in France…

France enacted a law in 2004 banning the Islamic headscarf and other conspicuous religious symbols from public schools, sparking fierce debate at home and abroad.

Granted France is not America (in that we don’t generally allow the Germans to invade our country periodically) but there are many Americans who look across the pond to Europe and see what they wish America would become. Are we headed for a future where there is rampant, state approved immorality but where outward expressions of religious belief are banned? That seems alarmist but look at the pace of societal collapse we are experiencing now. There are plenty of busybodies who would applaud France for banning burqas and would like to see the same thing here.

American Academics: Never let the facts get in the way of your agenda!

In a ridiculous and meaningless gesture, the elected representatives of this country apologized on my behalf as an American for slavery. The impotency of this gesture is highlighted by the Oval Office being occupied by a black man. What makes this even more interesting was a quote in the Washington Post’s report on this event.

Even among proponents of a congressional apology, reaction to yesterday's vote was mixed. Carol M. Swain, a professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University who had pushed for the Bush administration to issue an apology, called the Democratic-controlled Senate's resolution "meaningless" since the party and federal government are led by a black president and black voters are closely aligned with the Democratic party.

"The Republican Party needed to do it," Swain said. "It would have shed that racist scab on the party."

So in other words, she is not calling for America to apologize for slavery, she is calling for Republicans to apologize for slavery. Apparently America is only “racist” when Republicans are in power.

As James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal pointed out in his “Best of the Web” column, not only is this gesture meaningless but Professor Swain conveniently ignores historical facts when making her assertion.

The Republican Party came into existence in the 1850s as an antislavery party. It was the first GOP president, Abraham Lincoln, who signed the Emancipation Proclamation, ordering slaves in Confederate states freed. Republican Congresses proposed the 13th Amendment, along with the 14th (granting former slaves citizenship and equal protection under the law) and the 15th (giving them the right to vote). Republicans pushed for Reconstruction only to be thwarted by Democrats.

Segregationists remained a core component of the Democratic coalition well into the 20th century. No Democratic president before Harry S. Truman made any significant moves to expand civil rights for blacks; and although President Lyndon B. Johnson was instrumental in pushing the Civil Rights Act through Congress, a greater proportion of Republicans than Democrats supported it.

Although the South is now solidly Republican, back in the days of Jim Crow laws and the horrors of lynching and disenfranchisement it overwhelmingly elected Democrats. My point here is not political but rather a question of “education” in America. You would think Carol Swain, a law professor at prestigious Vanderbilt (which by the way is in the South), would know better. I am sure she is not merely misrepresenting historical facts to push her own political agenda, I mean she is an academic after all! Perhaps Professor Swain should walk down the hall and borrow a couple of books from the History department. On second thought, given the kind of books you get along with a history degree, that might not help.

I took the liberty of looking up the cost of getting an “education” from people like Professor Swain. If you send your kid to Vanderbilt next year to get a world-class education from people who are unfamiliar with the history of the region they live in as well as the United States, it will set you back (just for tuition) $37,632. Add in all the various fees not covered by tuition, plus room and board, and Vanderbilt says you can expect to pay $54,718 ( in addition there is something called the “First Year Experience Fee” of $620. No idea what that is. My “First Year Experience” in college consisted of $4 pizzas from Gumbies Pizza in Columbus). So for a four year degree from Vanderbilt, assuming your kid lives on campus all four years, you are looking at $218,000. Almost a quarter of a million dollars for an undergraduate degree.

We hear the drumbeat constantly that we need to spend more on education, in spite of the evidence that shows that states that spend the most on education like California actually have some of the worst results. Vanderbilt University and professors like Ms. Swain are proof that spending more on “education” not only doesn’t guarantee students come out of school more “educated” but in fact they might just be hampered educationally. Secular colleges are not about education, they are about indoctrination and hammering a particular worldview into the heads of college students. I wonder if anyone offers a one year “deprogramming” to help college graduates undo all of the nonsense they have been fed for four years, kind of like a cult deprogramming.

As Christian parents, we need to ask some hard questions when it comes to college. Is it really good stewardship to either spend over $200,000 or go into an enormous amount of debt for our kids to get an “education” somewhere where they will be told the Bible is a lie, that God doesn’t exist and that man is descended from apes not to mention the generally shoddy scholarship that professors have produced for decades? Part of the “American dream” is that we are able to send our kids to college, but as Christians we need to be sure that we are sending our kids to a) the right college and b) for the right reasons. College is not like summer camp, it is far too expensive a proposition in money and time for us to cavalierly send our kids out to a school where they will get an expensive and poor education just for the sake of meeting societal norms. I am not saying Christian kids shouldn’t go to college, but I am saying that we should give it prayer and thought before we do and I certainly would question the appropriateness of a four year degree from a secular school regardless of the cost.

Friday, June 19, 2009

More from "Why we love the church"

DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed: Dear Tristan

Kevin DeYoung posted another excerpt from his upcoming book "Why We Love The Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion". This section comes in the form of a poignant note from co-author Ted Kluck to his son Tristan. It is a wonderful note from a loving father about things he hopes his child will experience. I encourage you to read this. Then I would ask you to ask the question: is the institutional church required for his son to experience these things? will he find these dreams from his father in organized religion? indeed, is it not possible that institutionalized church will inhibit rather than encourage the experiences Ted Kluck desires for his son?

Lots of quotes from the book so far, many full of truth but none of them explaining why the institutional church is necessary or the best way to achieve what the authors are calling for. I preordered a copy a while ago and I am eagerly awaiting it. I hope they show us why the institutional church is needed specifically. If they don't, that may answer a few questions in my own mind...

Interesting webpage I stumbled across

I came across a really interesting webpage yesterday. It was kind of random; I found the link from a footnote in David Black’s book The Jesus Paradigm. The link was for the webpage of a group called the New Testament Reformation Fellowship, a loose knit group of people seeking to return the church to her New Testament practices. What was especially of interest to me was that this group, at least at first blush, seems to really grasp the need for restoration in our church practices, not restoration back to 16th century Geneva but instead to the first century. A lot of people are at least on a superficial level making a call for that, but this group seems to really take doctrine and theology seriously as well as fellowship. Far from a vague set of beliefs, they specifically reference some solid doctrinal stances including the doctrines of Grace, solid complementarianism, Biblical inerrancy and they even link to First London Baptist Confession of 1644. From what I have read so far there seems to be an excellent balance between practice and doctrine, a balance that is unfortunately skewed one way or the other in an awful lot of groups and churches. Can you have a Christ honoring gathering when you have rock solid theology and yet your fellowship is Spirit-less and ritualistic? Can you have a Christ honoring gathering with warm and genuine fellowship but where the great truths of the Gospel are absent or watered down? The answer to both questions should be obvious, no! God seeks those who worship Him in spirit and in truth.

I was really heartened by what I have read so far. We absolutely need to return to the simple worship, fellowship and daily life of the New Testament church. But if we do so at the expense of doctrine, watering it down to the lowest common denominator, it will become a Pyrrhic victory. We should not be puffed up by pride in our doctrinal knowledge, but nor should we willfully and intentionally be ignorant of the teachings of the Scriptures.

For example, I have been reading an excellent article on their webpage this morning by Rusty Entrekin, Beware Elitism!. The topic is the danger of elitism among those seeking a return to New Testament church practice. Elitism is certainly a problem all over the place, but it is just as much a potential problem in house churches and other “organic” church gatherings as it is in a hoity-toity Presbyterian church with a huge building and a dozen paid staff. I have seen it from a distance where the fact that an individual eschews the “institutional church” becomes a pride issue. Or where an individual with a domineering personality forms a small group that looks at all others as being virtual heretics and even starts to take on cultic characteristics. You can just as easily take pride in what you aren’t doing as you can in what you are doing. Believe me, I have fallen into this on many, many occasions!

Looking forward to reading more from these men, I think I can learn a lot from what they have written.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Why would wishing your child had never been born make people think you are heartless?

This news story from Oregon is just absolutely nauseating...

In the months before their daughter was born in 2007, Deborah and Ariel Levy worried the baby might have Down syndrome.

They say a doctor at the Legacy Center for Maternal-Fetal Medicine assured them that a sample of tissue taken from the placenta early in the pregnancy ruled out the developmental disability, despite the results of later testing that showed the fetus might have it.

But within days of the birth of their daughter, the Southwest Portland couple learned the baby did have Down syndrome. Had they known, they say, they would have terminated the pregnancy. Now they're suing in Multnomah County Circuit Court, seeking more than $14 million to cover the costs of raising her and providing education, medical care, and speech and physical therapy for their daughter, who turned 2 this month. The suit also seeks money to cover her life-long living expenses.

The Levys declined to be interviewed. Their attorney, David K. Miller, said the toddler is as dear to them as their two older children but they fear being perceived as "heartless."

Gee, why would someone think that they were heartless? This child is dear to us but we wish she had never been born and want someone to give us money for our troubles? Well that hardly sounds heartless at all!

I certainly understand that raising children is difficult and exponentially so when the child is disabled. But to sue for damages because you feel wronged by having a child to care for is so inhuman, so callous as to be unimaginable.

Cute Baby Alert 2!

Check out Joe VonDoloski's new daughter Karis. She is beautiful, clearly taking after her mother!

Cute Baby Alert 1!

DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed: Paul Adoniram DeYoung

Check out Kevin DeYoung's new son, Paul Adoniram DeYoung. A baby with the name of a Reformed minister in East Lansing, the great apostle Paul and a Baptist missionary.

(Note in the second picture he has his hand lifted up to deflect being dribbled with water until he can make a profession of faith in Christ!)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Who's that knocking on your door?

I have to say that the news becomes more and more disturbing and ominous by the day. I know I tend to be an alarmist, a “the sky is falling” kind of guy but I also figure better to go down shouting than with nary a whimper.

Case in point is a blog post by Bonnie Erbe on the webpage of U.S. News and World Report. Keep in mind that this appears in U.S. News & World Report, which has always been considered a legitimate news source. Ms. Erbe is a contributor to U.S. News and has a show on PBS. This is not the independent blog of some moonbat liberal or some far left rag, this is a source of mainstream news for decades. Ms. Erbe asserts that perhaps we should rethink that whole First Amendment thing, at least as it applies to speech she dislikes or has decided is dangerous. The title kind of says it all: Round Up Hate-Promoters Now, Before Any More Holocaust Museum Attacks. Here is her opening paragraph:

If yesterday's Holocaust Museum slaying of security guard and national hero Stephen Tyrone Johns is not a clarion call for banning hate speech, I don't know what is. Playwright Janet Langhart Cohen appeared on CNN yesterday right after the shooting, as she wrote a play that was supposed to have been debuted at the Holocaust Museum last night. Her play is about Emmett Till, whose lynching helped launch the Civil Rights Movement, and Ann Frank, whose diary told the story of Holocaust victims in hiding in the Netherlands during World War II.

Imagine if her post was titled: Round Up Muslims Now, Before Any More Buildings Get Bombed. Lest you think that is perhaps taken out of context, here is the closing of the blog post:

It's not enough to prosecute these murders as murders. They are hate-motivated crimes and each of these men had been under some sort of police surveillance prior to their actions. Isn't it time we started rounding up promoters of hate before they kill? (emphasis added)

Whenever anyone starts using words like “rounding up” people in response to the exercise of free speech, alarm bells should start going off. What is not said but certainly what is implied is that someone needs to be in charge of deciding what is “hate speech”. I am sure Ms. Erbe would volunteer to be the arbiter of that but other than that where do we go? Am I to believe that the same lefties who decry the Patriot Act are now going to trust the government they don’t trust to perform surveillance of terror suspects to determine what is or is not hate speech? Or maybe we should round up anyone saying anything strongly and make them prove in court that they are not a threat? You can see where this is going. Totalitarianism doesn’t spring forth from the ground fully formed. It takes time and creeps up. We already see control of free speech and expression with campus speech codes and punitive action against politically incorrect speech. Now we see fringe characters in the media calling for “rounding up” people that she disagrees with. I think people advocating for abortion rights are causing violence against unborn children but I am not calling on the government to “round them up” or for vigilantes to start shooting them.

Lest you think Ms. Erbe was just having a bad day, here is another quote from her in a different article regarding Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry’s statement after the shooting of George Tiller distributed by another respected news organization, Scripps Howard.

"George Tiller was a mass-murderer. We grieve for him that he did not have time to properly prepare his soul to face God. I am more concerned that the Obama administration will use Tiller's killing to intimidate pro-lifers into surrendering our most effective rhetoric and actions. Abortion is still murder. And we still must call abortion by its proper name; murder."

This type of speech ought to be against the law. Anyone who issues statements containing such language ought to be prosecuted as an accessory to murder, as well as for partaking in domestic terrorism…

Free speech is one thing. Speech that beckons to the unbalanced to commit the ultimate crime is something entirely different.

Speech that beckons to the unbalanced? That is a pretty vague concept. People who are unbalanced are, by their very nature, unpredictable and unbalanced. Who knows what could set them off? Someone who is unbalanced could be sent into a homicidal fury by watching an Arby’s commercial. They are unpredictable and crazy, that is what makes them unbalanced. By that standard virtually any speech could be banned. The question then becomes who is the arbiter of what qualifies as provocative or hate speech. You can see where that is going. This should be of concern to Christians. I have noted a number of writers who blur lines and draw unmistakable inferences that a devout Christian has the same potential for violence as an Al-Qaeda terrorist.

This is how it starts. You pick extreme examples like Scott Roeder, men who are unstable and able to walk up to an abortionist and shoot him, and then you start to draw lines between him and all people of devout belief who hold that abortion is murder. We have seen this for decades. The brutal murder of homosexual Matt Shepherd in Wyoming has been used as a club to try to quash Christians who are simply stating that the Bible declares homosexuality to be an abomination. For now, much of this noise is on the fringes of the media and academia, but the clamor is getting louder by the day. Ms. Erbe is clearly a kook, but while she and others like her are a small minority, they have a loud voice and a wide forum and the intolerance of the secular left is growing by leaps and bounds, emboldened by success and by apathy.

We get the specters of book burning and Joe McCarthy thrown out all the time. almost always from the Left. Whenever censorship is raised by the liberal media (redundant I know), it invariably becomes about right-wing censorship. The reality is that there are few people who are more intolerant than self-anointed champions of tolerance. The very word tolerance has taken on new meaning. No longer does it mean a tolerance for different beliefs. It now means an absence of any concrete beliefs at all. Believing strongly in something can be in and of itself intolerant, and we live in a time when being intolerant is being viewed as something to not just be frowned upon but acted upon, even justification to “round up” people who find themselves on the wrong side of the political correctness line.

That knock at your door might one day be the speech police. Enjoy the freedom we have today to preach the Gospel because that freedom may not be around much longer.

(HT: James Taranto for both the US News Blog Post as well as the editorial for Scripps Howard )

Cool opportunity for our kids

Our older three kids are hearing from Eric Metaxas, author of the book Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, tonight. They watched the movie Amazing Grace last Saturday and now get to listen to more about it from the author of a best selling book on William Wilberforce. Not sure how we managed to get Mr. Metaxas to come to a youth group of 20 kids but hey we’ll take it!

Pay attention today

Major announcement coming out today under the radar that will find taxpayers paying for benefits for the homosexual partners of Federal employees. Benefits paid for by your tax dollars. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Think before you dress

Pyromaniacs: Sister... show mercy! Annual repost #2)

One of the best posts every to show up on Pyromaniacs is the Sister...show mercy! post on modest dress and they have been reprinting it the last couple of years. It is well worth the time to read, not just for what it says but for much of the furor it causes. Just like with drinking, this topic causes some people to froth at the mouth about "legalism" but it is pretty hard to refute anything they are saying. I like the addendum this year regarding husbands and their responsibility in this matter. Give it a read!

Albert Mohler on Andrew Newberg

Dr. Mohler posted some very helpful thoughts on the USA Today editorial I referenced yesterday. As always he has some excellent points and in addition he has also read Mr. Newberg's book.

I especially liked his closing paragraph that references the very odd recollection of Mr. Newberg's date (which appears in the book as well, must have been a pretty wrenching experience for him)...

And that takes us back to Andrew Newberg's experience with the family of "born again" Christians, who believed that those who do not turn to Jesus are going to hell. So far as he is concerned, this represents nothing more than a regrettable neurological process that erupts as a negative religious attitude. Of course, the question he does not want to answer -- and his scientific model allows him not to answer -- is this: What if they were right?

That really is the question isn't it? It isn't about how God makes you feel about yourself, it is who God is.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The intellectual bankruptcy and dishonesty of atheists

I read just a horrible editorial in USA Today this morning, an editorial that takes up a half page in the opinion pages of a paper with a circulation in the millions. The editorial is by Andrew Newberg, an “associate professor of radiology and psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania”. Turns out that his course work in radiology and psychiatry makes him an expert in theology as well. Who knew? His editorial with the cutesy title This is your brain on religion starts off with a story designed to tug on the heartstrings as we read about young Andrew being made to feel poorly about his atheism and himself by the mean fundie parents of a high school girl friend who believed that he was hell bound. My first reaction was to wonder why these supposedly frothing-at-the-mouth fundamentalists were letting their daughter date in high school, especially dating an atheist. The second thought was “Well played” because by giving an unverifiable account of how these fundies made him feel badly about himself, anyone with strongly held Biblical beliefs is immediate cast into a poor light. The whole account sounds fishy but we can’t prove it didn’t happen, which is what makes it so clever.

Mr. Newberg then launches into a diatribe about the positive physiological impact of warm and fuzzy beliefs and the negative health effects of believing in a meanie God. Having positive beliefs (including meditation and yoga) is lumped together in a vague soup and belief in a God that dares judge His own creatures is as bad for your health as eating six cheeseburgers while smoking a cigarette driving over the speed limit without a seat belt while talking on a cell phone.

There seems to be little question that when people view God as loving, forgiving, compassionate and supportive, this more likely results in a very positive view of themselves, and of the world around them. But when God is viewed as dispassionate, vengeful and unforgiving, this can have deleterious effects on one's physical and mental health. Again, the research is clear: If you ruminate on negative emotions, they activate the areas of the brain that are involved in anger, fear and stress. This can ultimately damage important parts of the brain and the body. What's worse, negative emotions can spill over into outward behaviors that generate fear, distrust, hatred, animosity and violence toward people who hold different or opposing beliefs. Thus, it becomes more easy to believe that "I, and my religion, is right and you, and your religion, are wrong." It is this destructive religious rhetoric that atheists are quick to point their fingers at when focusing on the negative qualities of faith. In fact, reading some of the following quotes could be bad for your brain if it evokes a fearful, anxious or hateful response:

If I may paraphrase…in other words, if you believe in a lovey-dovey God who just wants to be friends, you will feel better about yourself. If you believe that God is vengeful it will have a negative impact on your self-esteem and your general health. That is really what God is concerned with, making sure you have a positive self-image. Any whiff of sin or judgment is hazardous to your health. Perhaps the Surgeon General should mandate a warning on the cover of Bibles: “The Surgeon General has determined that reading this book may be hazardous to your health”. What the above paragraph demonstrates is that Mr. Newberg hasn’t a clue about what Christianity teaches (and you know he is speaking about Christianity because the top of the editorial has a stylized picture of a brain with a cross built into it in gray matter) which merely makes him ignorant or he is aware of what Christianity teaches and is misrepresenting it anyway which makes him a liar. The point of Christianity is that in spite of our sin and failing, God provided a way for sinners to be saved and forgiven. Belief in hell and judgment is not mutually exclusive with a belief in a God who is loving and forgiving.

Then there was this gem:

"I want you to just let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good. … Our goal is a Christian nation. We have a biblical duty, we are called by God, to conquer this country." — Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, one of the more extreme anti-abortion groups, 1993.

"You say you're supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that and the other thing. Nonsense. I don't have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist. I can love the people who hold false opinions, but I don't have to be nice to them." — Televangelist Pat Robertson, 1991.

Fortunately, surveys suggest that only a small percentage of Americans hold such hostile beliefs. Unfortunately, this minority often attracts the greatest amount of camera time and ink, too. But what is truly frightening is the fact that 1% translates into 3 million potentially violent citizens in our country alone. And this certainly plays out on the global stage, as beliefs conflict and terrorism fosters fear, hatred and ultimately violence.

Here we see the unmistakable tactic of linking all devout believers with Islamic terrorists, the preferred tactic of contemporary opponents of Christianity that has been exploited into lucrative book deals by capitalist-atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Mr. Newberg plucks a couple of decades old quotes out of context from inflammatory speeches and then uses that to paint a broad brush of extremism. The implication is clumsy but clear: people who are strongly anti-abortion or believe that a particular faith is right and others are wrong become potential violent extremists. This tactic is designed to drive a wedge, “you don’t believe THAT do you?” and therefore because you don’t align yourself with such extremist groups you are left with a watered down belief system. Mr. Newberg cleverly dictates the terms by which you may believe: you either are aligned with the forces of “intolerance” and by implication are a potential domestic terrorists or you aligning yourself with some vague, fuzzy spirituality indistinguishable from meditation and yoga. It seems incomprehensible to Mr. Newberg that someone can simultaneously believe in Biblical Christianity, take it seriously and yet not be making pipe bombs in their basement.

But wait, there’s more!

There is another potential dark side to religion (my note: I think he may be confusing Christianity with the Force. Common mistake.). As I have witnessed at the hospital in which I work, when people feel that they contracted a disease because God is punishing them, such individuals may not follow doctor's orders, keep appointments or take medications as directed. After all, why try to get better when God is trying to punish you? Research confirms that people who hold a punitive image of God can compromise their immune system and psychological health, thus prolonging their suffering and illness. Currently I, along with researchers at other universities, am developing simple strategies to show people how they can turn negative religious attitudes into a more positive framework that will help them deal more effectively with their health problems, and thus improve their quality of life.

So how can a person of faith guard against the negative side of religiosity and spirituality? Our research findings suggest that all one needs to do is to stay intensely focused on positive and loving concepts — of ourselves, others and our deepest values and beliefs. Obsessively focusing on any form of negativity — be it religious, political, or interpersonal — damages social empathy and cooperation.

That is such a ridiculous argument that it should be apparent to any rational person reading it. I have a hard time believing that there is a noticeable population of people who refuse medical care because they think God is punishing them. So that struck me as a bit disingenuous. More ominously though is that this guy has developed a proselytizing system to modify the religious beliefs of others, a missionary of sorts who is able to preach his gospel of a God who is infinitely tolerant and impotent to punish sin. How is that not a religious system? I wonder if he or the university that supports his research receives Federal funding? If so, I wonder what people would say if a university that received Federal funding were engaged in proselytizing terminal patients by preaching the Gospel of Christ? What Mr. Newberg and his associates are doing is using their position as “academics” and the access those credentials give them to preach to people and try to distort their belief systems. These people who are dying may have aberrant beliefs but where does Mr. Newberg get off chastising devout believers for their beliefs while at the same time preaching his own gospel to people? Mr. Newberg is every bit as much a religious fundamentalist as the people he rails against, except that his religion is given legitimacy by the imprimatur of “science” and “reason”.

Mr. Newberg reduces faith to a chemical reaction, one that makes people feel good if they focus on the positive and feel bad if they focus on the negative but ultimately it is no different than meditation or yoga. The gospel that Mr. Newberg preaches of a God without judgment and of people without sin may make a person feel better about themselves in their dying days but it will serve them poorly when standing before the Judge.

Lightning Strikes Mormon Temple...

Video Courtesy of KSL.com

Coincidence? I think not...

(HT: Mormon Coffee)

All dogs go to heaven

Area church blesses pets

EAST LANSING - Community members and their pets gathered outside East Lansing's University United Methodist Church Sunday afternoon for a Blessing of the Animals ceremony.

This is the first time the church has held such a ceremony, which included prayer, song and a moment of remembrance for pets that have died, said Pastor John Ross Thompson.

About 40 people attended, bringing with them around 25 animals - mostly dogs, some cats and a few more exotic animals from the Potter Park Zoo.

"They're part of our family," Thompson said of the animals. "They are God's creation, and we pray for all of God's creatures."

As part of the ceremony, animals received individual blessings, and their owners received small St. Francis of Assisi medallions.

Reminds me of the church in Northern Michigan that does a "Blessing of the Sleds" where they prayed over snowmobiles. I am not sure which is sillier.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

More than Martin Luther

Although I haven’t studied it thoroughly, I find the era of the “Radical Reformation” to be pretty interesting. It doesn’t get a lot of attention compared to the “Magisterial Reformation” led by men like Luther, Zwingli and Calvin. Not many people know who Menno Simons is or Jacob Hutter or Conrad Grabel. As a rule, we are pretty ignorant of large swaths of our history in the church, almost as if we went from October 31, 1517 and jumped right into the current denominational structure we see today. But the Radical Reformation really took what the “Magisterial Reformers” started and went to a whole new level. In some ways that was very bad but in other ways it was (and is) sorely needed.

The Radical Reformers went beyond merely trying to "reform" the existing church and pretty much just chucked the whole thing. Given the state of Rome at the time, that is understandable. As these men shed tradition and turned to the Word, they found all sorts of issues to be outside of what was taught in Scripture, from an unhealthy laity-clergy distinction to infant baptism which led to many Radical Reformers being biblically baptized as believers and a lot of them subsequently paid for that action with their life, lives taken at the hands of both Roman Catholics and fellow Protestants.

So here is the problem. As the Radical Reformers broke away from centralized authority and sought their own way, inevitably many went so far afield that they wandered into error and outright heresy. For all of the quite orthodox men who led the early Radical Reformation, there were also plenty of heretics and kooks, men like Servetus and the “Zwickau prophets”. Freed from institutionalization of the church, some took that liberty and engaged in all manner of crass and immoral behavior like the libertines or abandoned core doctrines of the faith like the Trinity. That is a cautionary tale not a restrictive one. It really doesn’t matter what stream of the church you are in, from the most conservative and orthodox to the most liberal, the tendency to wander away from Scripture and into heresy must always be tempered by the Word of God.

The excesses of some parts of the Radical Reformation have led many to categorically dump everything they believed. The guys from the White Horse Inn use “Anabaptist” like a curse word (of course to be fair, some Baptists use “magisterial Reformer” as a pejorative). It is a classic “baby with the bathwater” syndrome. That has in turn led to a paucity of material about these men and this era. Luckily with the rise of the internet, much of the material that was inaccessible a few years ago is now readily available with the click of a mouse.

It is vital to remember that even the greatest theologians, preachers, authors, servants are merely depraved sinners saved by grace. Was Menno Simons a perfect guy with flawless theology? Not hardly but then again neither was John Calvin or Martin Luther. The fact that these men were flawed sinners saved by grace doesn't negate their value to us today, whether the man in question is John Calvin or Balthasar Hubmaier.

I am planning on spending some time studying the Radical Reformation and will likely post some thoughts here as I go.

Ritual or fellowship

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Mat 23:27-28)

Is there anything ritualistic about the Christian faith?

The reason I ask that question has to do with a comment made on a blog discussion about mormonism. The blog post was called Genuine Christian Discipleship in the I-15 Corridor? . I made the comment that I often turn to Acts 2:42 when looking at the issue of what Christians life and fellowship looks like. A response stated quite strongly that the Lord's Supper has always been a ritual and that is not only OK but people need rituals because they are built to desire ritual. My response was that nowhere in the New Testament do we see the Supper as a ritual, not even at the Last Supper. Jesus didn't have His disciples bring bread and wine because they would need something topass around. They were having a meal and Jesus used the typical elements of that meal to make a much greater point. It is commemorative as well as communal but nowhere was it ritualistic. It is not about the bread and wine, it is about Christ.

The more I thought about it, the more I felt that the individual in question was partially correct. Humans do crave ritual. We love it but not because we are commanded to engage in ritual or see examples of it in the New Testament or even pragmatically speaking because it is spiritually healthy. We love ritual because it makes us feel a certain way. We feel like we are doing something whether or not we really are. Ritual coupled with tradition leads to religion and then we end up with scenes like the one in the picture above of a number of men prostrate on the floor, bowing to an altar. I am trying to break that sense of ritual in my own life. For example, I wore a short and tie today to fellowship but not a suit coat. That was probably the first time in at least 4-5 years that I showed up for church without a suit coat. Baby steps.

The focus is on the "what" we do and the "how" we do it instead of "why" and I think it has been that way even way before the cross. The meaning of the Lord's Supper and the impact on the fellowship of the Body is lost and instead we argue about who can partake, or what the elements should consist of or what the proper schedule is. What is wrong with simply saying that we should break bread, soberly and joyfully, whenever we gather as an integral part of worship and fellowship? It is not something that is reserved just for Roman Catholics although it is certainly most pronounced in their liturgy. I can tell you that even minor changes to the "worship service" in Protestant churches has the same impact. I remember one Sunday when I asked the congregation to come up and get the cups of grape juice and the crackers instead of passing them out in the pews. Many people were very uncomfortable. Keep in mind that the basic service was the same, we still used the little cups in the same holder, still took crackers from the same platter, I still intoned the same words from 1 Corinthians 11. Just one minor change. People crave ritual because it makes them comfortable. The problem is that comfortable becomes complacent quite easily. That is one of the huge issues with the Jewish religious leaders and Christ. They argued that they were right with God because they performed the rituals but they had long ago forgotten why they performed them. Christ exposed their hypocritical hearts, performing rituals for the sake of rituals.

As humans we crave many things that are unhealthy, and that is as true in the church as anywhere else, perhaps more so. We love tradition, ritual, repetition. We love anonymity, passivity, uniformity. But we are called to something very different. We are not strangers who gather for an hour, go through motions, watch a performance and then go our separate ways until next Sunday. We are called to community with one another. We cannot not, nor should we seek to, replace that sweet fellowship with artificial sweetener. Our craving for ritual stems from a sinful desire to exalt ourselves, to feel that we are right with God because of our actions and that is something that we should not give in to, no matter how much our hearts may crave it.