Saturday, August 31, 2013

Woodrow Wilson: An American Experience

I have thoroughly enjoyed the American Experience series of documentaries on the US Presidents, but thus far, this one on Woodrow Wilson is my least favorite. I am simply not a fan of him. But nonetheless, here it is.

American Experience Series:
Woodrow Wilson: An American Experience
Dwight Eisenhower: An American Experience
Richard Nixon: American Experience
Jimmy Carter: An American Experience
HW Bush: An American Experience  
Clinton: An American Experience

Biographies on the Presidents:
President Barack Obama - "The Audacity of Hope" by Barack Obama: A Review
President George W. Bush - "Decision Points" by George W. Bush
President Bill Clinton - "The Natural" by Joe Klein: A Review 
President Ronald Reagan - "Ronald Reagan" by Dinesh D'Souza 
President Gerald Ford - "Gerald R. Ford" by Douglas Brinkley: A Review
President Richard Nixon - "Breach of Faith"
President Abraham Lincoln - "Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage"  

All Around the Web - August 31, 2013

HT: Everyday Theology

Washington Post - Russell Moore: From Moral Majority to 'Prophetic Minority'

'The Bible Belt is collapsing," says Russell Moore. Oddly, the incoming president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission doesn't seem upset. In a recent visit to The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Moore explains that he thinks the Bible Belt's decline may be "bad for America, but it's good for the church."

Why? Because "we are no longer the moral majority. We are a prophetic minority."

The phrase is arresting coming from such a prominent religious leader—akin to a general who says the Army has shrunk to the point it can no longer fight two wars. A youthful 41, Mr. Moore is among the leaders of a new generation who think that evangelicals need to recognize that their values no longer define mainstream American culture the way they did 50 or even 20 years ago.

On gay marriage, abortion, even on basic religious affiliation, the culture has moved away. So evangelicals need a new way of thinking—a new strategy, if you will—to attract and keep believers, as well as to influence American politics. 

The easy days of mobilizing a ready-made majority are gone. By "prophetic minority," he means that Christians must return to the days when they were a moral example and vanguard—defenders of belief in a larger unbelieving culture. He views this less as a defeat than as an opportunity.

First Thoughts - Only Canada, China, North Korea, and U.S. Allow Abortion After Viability for Any Reason

Carly Fiorina is making headlines for her claim on ABC that, “There are only four countries in the world that have, that legalize abortion after five months: China, North Korea, Canada and the U.S.”

This isn’t quite right. In fact, there are nine nations that permit abortion after twenty weeks: Canada, China, Great Britain, North Korea, the Netherlands, Singapore, Sweden, Vietnam, and the United States.

But Fiorina was still right to group the U.S. with China, North Korea, and Canada. Those four nations are the only in the world that allow the killing of a child after viability (usually calculated at twenty-four weeks) for any reason, or for no reason at all.

Laura Ingraham - Why ‘Duck Dynasty’ is a winner

9Marks - Five Reasons We Don't Evangelize

1. Churches isolate Christians from unbelievers
2. We believe that evangelism is extraordinary
3. Churches don’t talk about the cost of following Jesus
4. We look for immediate results
5. We aren’t clear on the message

SBTS - Don't Just Do Something; Stand There | 21 years ago, Dr. Albert Mohler became president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His first convocation message was historic for many reasons that go beyond the purpose of this post. SBTS has since posted the manuscript of that address.

The Seminary Convocation which opens each academic year constitutes a unique gathering of the Seminary community, assembled together to welcome new students and new faculty, and to solemnize the beginning of a new Seminary term. The roots of such an academic convocation are found in the British universities of Oxford and Durham, where for centuries the university communities have assembled to mark the inauguration of formal studies.

At Southern Seminary, the tradition is as old as the institution itself, for the very earliest minutes of the school record formal services at the start of each academic year. A convocation of the Southern Seminary family, gathered for worship and commemoration, is a fitting hallmark of the Seminary’s tradition, and is the cause of our gathering this day.

Today, you have witnessed a ceremony which has been a central part of this institution’s life and commitment for 134 years the signing of the original Abstract of Principles.

The convergence of this ceremony as the first convocation of my service as president and as the occasion of placing my own signature on this sacred document, prompts me to reflect upon the meaning of this confession, on its role as the Seminary’s charter of fidelity, on the priceless heritage of faithfulness of those who have preceded us, and on the responsibility we collectively bear to keep faith with this body of biblical doctrine.

The Blaze - Rare Video of Michael Jordan’s ‘First Career Points’ at North Carolina Surfaces | Once it hits the Internet, its no longer "rare."

Friday, August 30, 2013

Huxley (and Postman) Were Right

From the foreword of Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death:
We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn't, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.

But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was another - slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions". In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right

Now consider this "Re:" video from John Stonestreet.

A few years ago, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary hosted a panel discussion on the 25th anniversary of Postman's book. You can watch it here:

"Creed": A Poem by Steve Turner

The modern secularists creed by Steve Turner.

We believe in Marx, Freud and Darwin.
We believe that everything is OK
as long as you don’t hurt anyone,
to the best of your definition of hurt,
and to the best of your definition of knowledge.

We believe in sex before, during and after marriage.
We believe in the therapy of sin;
we believe that adultery's fun.
we believe that sodomy's OK
we believe that taboos are taboo.

We believe that everything is getting better
despite evidence to the contrary.
The evidence must be investigated.
You can prove anything with evidence.

We believe there is something in horoscopes, UFO’s and bent spoons.
Jesus was a good man just like Buddha
Mohammad and ourselves.
He was a good moral teacher although we think
that his good morals were really bad.

We believe that all religions are basically the same,
at least the ones we read were.
They all believe in love and goodness.They only differ on matters of
creation, sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation.

We believe that after death comes Nothing
because when you ask the dead what happens
they say nothing.
If death is not the end, if the dead have lied,
then it’s compulsory heaven for all
except perhaps Hitler, Stalin and Genghis Kahn.

We believe in Masters and Johnson.
What’s selected is average.
What’s average is normal.
What’s normal is good.

We believe in total disarmament.
We believe there are direct links between
warfare and bloodshed.
American’s should beat their guns into tractors
and the Russians would be sure to follow.

We believe that man is essentially good.
It’s only his behaviour that lets him down.
This is the fault of society.
Society is the fault of conditions.
Conditions are the fault of society.

We believe that each man must find the truth
that is right for him.
Reality will adapt accordingly.
The universe will readjust. History will alter.
We believe there is no absolute truth
excepting the truth that there is no absolute truth.

We believe in the rejection of creeds.

If Chance be the Father of all flesh,
disaster is His rainbow in the sky.
And when you hear "State of Emergency",
"Sniper Kills Ten", "Troops on Rampage",
"Youths Go Looting", "Bomb Blasts School",
it is but the sound of man worshiping his maker.

See Ravi Zacharias' book Can Man Live Without God?

All Around the Web - August 30, 2013

WBFI - Bible Breakfast Club: Kyle McDanell | I was recently interviewed on a local radio station in promotion of my book The Death of Death: Engaging the Culture of Death with the Gospel of Christ. Here is that interview.

Trevin Wax (New York Times) - Science, Too, Calls for a Leap of Faith | Its good to see Wax contributing to the NY Times. Hope it continues.

Yet science neither proves nor disproves the existence of a creator. Evidence leads us only to a point, and then we draw conclusions. People like Heffernan look at the elements of our world that appear to be designed and purposeful, and conclude that a mind is supervising the matter. 

Furthermore, as her article pointed out, even those who take the naturalistic point of view tend to live as if the creation story is true. We do not see our lives as meaningless, but purposeful. We live according to values and morals; we teach our children right from wrong. When we care for ailing parents or welcome children with birth defects, we are living against the “survival of the fittest” principle of natural selection. A purely naturalistic explanation of the world’s origins does not explain the way we live. Religious stories do.

The real issue here is not merely creation or the lack thereof; it’s about the source of truth. Those who condemned Heffernan believe science is the only reliable way to discover truth. But this belief in science collapses on itself: there is no scientific evidence to prove that science is the only reliable way to discover truth. Once we take unproven hypotheses and dogmatize them, we have moved beyond scientific evidence into philosophical reflection on truth and the scientific method. Naturalist or not, when it comes to the world’s origins, we are all in the realm of faith.

Ed Stezter - 10 Things I've Learned after 26 Years of Marriage
  1. Marriage is worth the investment. Yes, it is and investment. I know that it is not always easy, but it is always worth it. I'm thankful for a strong marriage.
  2. You have to invest in a marriage for it to be worth the investment. It sounds strange, but it's true-- it takes continual investment on the investment. I've seen "perfect" couples—like some we knew in high school and college—get married, drift apart, and end up divorced. We did not. It's not because we are perfect, it's because we work hard.
  3. Choosing your marriage partner is the most important human decision you will ever make. I've seen many, many miserable marriages. And a big part of that relates to bad marriage choices. My wife was/is beautiful, but that's a really bad foundation upon which to build a marriage.
  4. Most fights are over stupid things that don't matter. When I was younger, I always wanted to prove my point. It's more important to prove your love. You do that by not arguing over stupid things. Note: most arguments are from stupid things.
  5. Most arguments are resolved when both people are more concerned with being in a relationship than with being right. I'm amazed at how many times I thought I was right. I had to be right. I had to show her I was right. And, let me say, that's just wrong. It's dumb. And it does not work.
  6. Sex is essential to a marriage relationship. It's not everything, but when you value and prioritize it, your intimacy impacts your relationship. Yet sex does not just happen. It, too, is something you work at. It's fun to do the work, though!
  7. Practices (like date nights, long conversations, and trips together) make your marriage stronger. Some of these are essential—you need a regular date night if you are married. If you can't afford dinner, you can walk in a park. You won't have a strong marriage if you don't act like you are married.
  8. Kids are awesome, but stress your marriage. I'm a pretty obsessive parent. I love my kids. I spend time with them. They are a treasure. But they also make marriage more complicated and stressful. Kids should know that your marriage is your first priority. The most important thing you can pass on to your children might be not be what you give them, but the marriage you show them.
  9. Never go to bed angry. Yes, that's true for everyone according to Ephesians 4:26, but stretching an argument into two days usually leads to stretching it longer. Then bitterness sets in. However, you can't really settle most arguments if you are not willing to just say, "Well, we can't agree, but we can forgive and move on." (See number 5.)
  10. You need Jesus. I started dating Donna because of her faith. She had shared her faith with the girls in her neighborhood, came to the Bible study I was leading in high school, and loved the Lord deeply. She still does. When we put Jesus at the center, everything else revolved around Him well.

Special Report - Does anyone really understand ObamaCare?

The Atlantic Wire - The Government Now Admits There's an 'Area 51'

Newly declassified documents, obtained by George Washington University's National Security Archive, appear to for the first time acknowledge the existence of Area 51. Hundreds of pages describe the genesis of the Nevada site that was home to the government's spy plane program for decades. The documents do not, however, mention aliens.

The project started humbly. In the pre-drone era about a decade after the end of World War II, President Eisenhower signed off on a project aimed at building a high-altitude, long-range, manned aircraft that could photograph remote targets. Working together, the Air Force and Lockheed developed a craft that could hold the high-resolution cameras required for the images, a craft that became the U-2. Why "U-2"?

New Scientist - Garden of Eden to become Iraqi national park | So the Garden of Eden has been found. Actually, the original location pre-Fall was probably not far from this location. Maybe.

The "Garden of Eden" has been saved, even as chaos grows all around. Last week, amid a wave of bombings on the streets of Baghdad, Iraq's Council of Ministers found time to approve the creation of the country's first national park – the centrepiece of a remarkable restoration of the Mesopotamian marshes in the south of the country.

This vast wetland of reed beds and waterways, home of the Ma'dan Marsh Arabs, is widely held to be the home of the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden, the paradise where Adam and Eve were created and from which they were subsequently expelled.

After the Gulf war in 1991, Iraq's president, Saddam Hussain, used dykes, sluices and diversions to cut off the country's two major rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates. This drained 93 per cent of the marshes, largely obliterating the largest wetland ecosystem in the Middle East.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

"Because they marched, America became more free": President Obama's Speech Marking the 50th Anniversary of "I Have a Dream"

Here is President Barack Obama's speech commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

You can read the transcript here.

For more:
"I Have a Dream"

King: A Dream on a Mountaintop
All Around the Web: Links For Your MLK Holiday
From White Sheets to White Coats: Abortion and the Ongoing Struggle for Civil Rights 

12 Proofs of Jesus' Deity From the Synoptic Gospels

One of the leaders of a dead former movement that once had influence (the Emergent Church), Tony Jones, has been writing a series of blog posts on Questions that Haunt Christianity. In one such post, the following question is asked:

In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes many confident self-proclamations (conservative Evangelical’s favorite verses which seemingly demonstrates the exclusivity of Jesus). Now, I’m sure that claiming to be God in 1st century Judiasm is a really big deal; however, how is it that none of these self-proclamations make it into any of the synoptic gospels? Is it possible that Jesus never made these self-proclamations? If not, how does this effect our understanding of Trinitarian theology in the gospel accounts?

It should be briefly mentioned that Jones does not answer this question directly. He deals primarily, and almost exclusively, with the Gospel of John. However, as the title of his article (It's Probably True, Even If Jesus Didn't Say It) suggests Jesus never clearly claimed to be divine. Instead what we have, as (post)modern liberals have argued, the doctrine of Jesus' deity was later created by the church (blame Constantine, Athanasius, and Nicea). The Synoptics, the argument oftentimes goes, did not present a divine Jesus and the Man Himself never claimed deity for Himself. It is John that makes that explicit claim and being that John was written at the end of the first century, it is less reliable as a reflection of the earliest form of Christianity.

Is this true? In a word, no. I have put together 12 reasons proofs of Jesus' deity from the Synoptic Gospels (in no particular order).*

1. Jesus claimed to have the authority to forgive sins

Mark 2:1-12 (parallels in Matthew 9:1-8; Luke 5:17-26) records the famous story of the paralytic lowered from the roof and eventually healed by Jesus. Before Jesus healed Him, the Nazarene claimed rather boldly and shockingly to have forgiven His sins (vs. 5). The religious elite rightly, from their perspective, protest. They ask “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?” (vs. 7) Jesus responds, not by just proclaiming his deity but by proving his deity. When Jesus heals the paralytic, the crowd got the message; this is no mere miracle worker (see vs. 12).

2. The Demons proclaimed He was God

In both Mark 1:24 and Luke 4:33-34 demons confess that Jesus is "the Holy One of God." Similarly in Luke 4:40-41, demons refer to Jesus as "the Son of God." If your enemies proclaim you divine, then you are divine.  

3. Jesus Possesses the Attributes and Names of God

Consider, first, the attributes of God present in the ministry of Jesus the following:
  • Omnipotence (Matthew 8:26-27, 14:19, 28:18)
  • Omnipresence (Matthew 28:20)
  • Omniscience (Matthew 11:27)
  • Sovereign over the Future (Matthew 16:21, 17:22, 20:18-19, 26:1-2)
  • Without Sin - (Matthew 27:3-4; Luke 23:22, 41, 47; Acts 3:14) 
  • Suggestion of pre-existence - Mark 1:38; 10:45;
Consider also the titles of God attributed to Jesus throughout His ministry:
  •  Immanuel - Matthew 1:21-23
  •  Son of God (Matthew 4:3, 6; 8:29; 16:16; 26:63; 27:40; 27:43, 54; Mark 1:1; 3:11; 5:7; 15:39; Luke 1:32, 35; 4:3, 9, 41 8:28; 22:70)
  • Son of Man (Matthew 8:20; 9:6; 10:23; 11:19; 12:8, 32, 40; 13:37, 41; 16:13, 27-28; 17:9, 12, 22, 19:28; 20:18, 28; 24:27, 30, 37, 39; 24:44; 25:31; 26:2; 26:24, 45, 64 - I'll stop there)

4. He Accepted Worship

Only God is to be worshiped, but in Matthew 15:25, the Canaanite woman "knelt before him" and said, "Lord, heal me." More explicitly, in Matthew 28:8-9 reads, "And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him." Consider also Acts 7:59-60 where Stephen prays to Jesus.

5. Jesus claims to be the final judge of the world - Matthew 25:31-46

6. He bestowed Eternal Life (Matthew 19:16-21; Mark 10:17-21; Luke 18:18-22)

7. Jesus applied a number of Old Testament texts about God to himself (cf. Matthew 21:16 with Psalm 8:2)

8. He is Lord of the Sabbath

Jesus makes the claim of being Lord of the Sabbath in Matthew 12:8; Mark 2:27-28; Luke 6:5; 13:15. Millard Erickson says here that Jesus "was clearly claiming the right to redefine the status of the Sabbath, a right that belongs only to someone virtually equal with God" (Christian Theology, 702).

9. He juxtaposes His words with that of the Old Testament - Matthew 5:21-22 and 27-28.

10. If He was not divine then His condemnation and punishment were just.

11. Similarly, if Jesus is not divine then his enemies were sorely mistaken.

12. He is the risen and ascended Lord!

More could be added and said, but these 12 points should be clear enough. Jesus did not merely claim to be God He proved it.

* It should be noted that I include references to the book of Acts since its author is the same as one of the Synoptic Gospel writers, Luke.

Tony Jones - It’s Probably True, Even If Jesus Didn’t Say It [Questions That Haunt]

For more:
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Christology 2
John Knox on the Threefold Office of Christ
John Knox on the Importance of the Ascension
John Knox on the Importance of the Ascension

All Around the Web - August 29, 2013

Joe Carter - 9 Things You Should Know About the March on Washington

1. The official title of the event was "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom." It was organized by the "Big Six" leaders of the civil rights movement: A. Philip Randolph, Whitney M. Young, Jr., Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., James Farmer, Roy Wilkins, and John Lewis. Bayard Rustin was chief organizer of the march.

4. On the National Mall, over 100 portable toilets were set up along with 16 first-aid stations.Eight 2,500-gallon water tanks were set up, which fed some 21 portable water fountains. Additionally, spouts were attached to fire hydrants so marchers would have access to drinking water. Volunteers prepared some 80,000 boxed lunches -- sold for 50 cents each -- consisting of a cheese sandwich, an apple, and a slice of cake.

5. Event organizer Bayard Rustin recruited 4,000 off-duty police officers and firemen to serve as event marshals, and coached them in the crowd control techniques he'd learned in India studying nonviolent political participation. The official law enforcement also included 5,000 police, National Guardsmen, and Army reservists. No marchers were arrested, though, and no incidents concerning marchers were reported.

Juan Williams - Songs of the Summer of 1963 . . . and 2013

Fifty years after the March on Washington, mystical memories of that seminal moment in the civil-rights era are less likely to focus on movement politics than on the great poetry and great music.
The emotional uplift of the monumental march is a universe of time away from today's degrading rap music—filled with the n-word, bitches and "hoes"—that confuses and depresses race relations in America now.

. . . 

Now, half a century after the lyrical promise of that inspiring music and poetry, there is the inescapable and heartbreaking contrast with the malignant, self-aggrandizing rap songs that define today's most popular music.

In Jay-Z's current hit, "Holy Grail," he sings about "psycho bitches" and uses the n-word seven times while bragging that he is "Living the life . . . Illest [n-word] alive." Another top rapper, Lil Wayne, released a song in the spring with an obscenity in the title, using the n-word repeatedly and depicting himself as abusing "hoes" and "bitches."
Similar examples abound in the rap-music world and have persisted for years with scarcely any complaint from today's civil-rights leaders. Their failure to denounce these lyrics for the damage they do to poor and minority families—words celebrating tattooed thugs and sexually indiscriminate women as icons of "keeping it real"—is a sad reminder of how long it has been since the world heard the sweet music of the March on Washington.

Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission - VIDEO: Russell Moore on chaplaincy and religious liberty

John Stonestreet - I Have a Dream

This is no minor point for Murray. He tells the story of one of his mentors, Chuck Johnston, who was a teacher in a segregated Atlanta school and attended the King speech in 1963—not to hear King, but to listen to singers Peter, Paul and Mary. But when Johnston got home, it was King’s words that were ringing in his ears: “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”

Murray writes, “This proposition stirred the heart of the Georgia native,” who was “the great-grandson of a former Mississippi slave owner” and “worked hard to bring about racial reconciliation in the schools he led.” Johnston eventually became executive director of the Atlanta Youth Academy, where he “shepherded the graduation of nine eighth-grade classes by his retirement in 2012.” Not a single student dropped out of high school, and many went on to attend college, Murray writes.

“Instead of putting God Almighty to the side,” as the memorial to King does, “Chuck Johnston placed him at the center.”

Now that the “drum major” quote has been blasted off, Murray recommends replacing it with a line from the “I Have a Dream” speech—one that affected not only Chuck Johnston, but hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of others: “I have a dream...when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’”

If you have children who are learning about the “I Have a Dream” speech today, make sure they understand what motivated Martin Luther King, Jr. It was his faith in the God who authored justice. Because of this, as King reminded us fifty years ago today, when it comes to civil rights, we should not be satisfied with America’s progress until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Washington Post - Conservative Christianity and the transgender question

Ultimately, the transgender question is about more than just sex. It’s about what it means to be human.

Poet Wendell Berry responded to techno-utopian scientism with the observation that civilization must decide whether we see persons as creatures or as machines. If we are creatures, he argued, then we have purpose and meaning, but also limits. If we see ourselves, and the world around us, as a machine, then we believe the Faustian myth of our own limitless power to recreate ourselves.
This is, it seems to me, the question at the heart of the transgender controversy. Are we created, as both the Hebrew Scriptures and Jesus put it, “male and female,” from the beginning or are these categories arbitrary and self-willed? Do our bodies, and our sexes, represent something of who we were designed to be, and thus impose limits on our ability to recreate ourselves?

Laws such as those in California will quickly test the boundaries of society’s tolerance for a psychological and individualistic definition of gender. There are reasons, after all, why societies put boys and girls in different bathrooms, men and women on different sports teams.  When gender identity is severed from biological sex, where does one’s self-designation end, and who will be harmed in the process?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

"I Have a Dream"

50 years later, this speech remains prophetic.

For more:
King: A Dream on a Mountaintop

All Around the Web: Links For Your MLK Holiday
From White Sheets to White Coats: Abortion and the Ongoing Struggle for Civil Rights 

Letter 1096: Insight on Early Christianity From Pliny the Younger

I've been studying the historical Jesus recently and was reminded of this important letter from Pliny the Younger and so thought I would repost it even though its original publication was just under three months ago.

There has been an increased interest in the study of Patristics in recent years and this is certainly not a bad things. Many are interested in understanding what the early Christians believed and how they practiced their faith as a means of informing our own doctrines and to perhaps gain some insights into our understanding the New Testament.

I recently returned to an interesting letter from Pliny the Younger, the Roman governor of Bithynia-Pontus, written between 110-112 AD, regarding how he ought to deal with the rise of Christianity. Knowing there was little precedent with this new "superstition," Pliny the Younger sought out advice from Emperor Trajan.

The letter details Pliny's current policy. However, what interests us here is the second part of the letter. Pliny wrote:

However, they assured me that the main of their fault, or of their mistake was this:-That they were wont, on a stated day, to meet together before it was light, and to sing a hymn to Christ, as to a god, alternately; and to oblige themselves by a sacrament [or oath], not to do anything that was ill: but that they would commit no theft, or pilfering, or adultery; that they would not break their promises, or deny what was deposited with them, when it was required back again; after which it was their custom to depart, and to meet again at a common but innocent meal, which they had left off upon that edict which I published at your command, and wherein I had forbidden any such conventicles. These examinations made me think it necessary to inquire by torments what the truth was; which I did of two servant maids, who were called Deaconesses: but still I discovered no more than that they were addicted to a bad and to an extravagant superstition.

This stands as one of the first, if not the first, secular mention of Christianity outside the New Testament and in this letter Pliny informs his Emperor, and now us, what worship looked like among the first generation of Christians. Here are a few of the important highlights.

1.  Christians worshiped on a stated day

This is undoubtedly Sunday. This practice began during the time of the New Testament (see Acts 20:7, Rev. 1:10, 1 Cor. 16:1-4). Worship on the first day of the week was instituted from the beginning of the church because it was the day that Christ was raised from the dead. We should note here this gives powerful testimony to the historicity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Nothing can explain why faithful Jews would suddenly move worship from Saturday (the Sabbath) to Sunday unless they had seen Christ alive.

Note also that, according to Pliny, they met before it was light, that is, before dawn. This was necessary because Sunday was not a day of worship for the pagans around them. Rather, it was a typical work day - the first work day. The Christians, too, had to work, and thus rose early to worship as a community of believers before starting their week.

2.  Christian worshiped Christ as God 

Clearly Pliny understood that to these Christians, they revered Christ as God and not Caesar or the Roman pantheon of gods. This was considered a type of sedition by the culture and led to their persecution. The fact that the early church worshiped Christ as God should not be a surprise to us, but it should once and for all debunk the myth that Jesus was deified at Nicea. Clearly the first Christians believed Christ was a living God who walked among them. Remember this the next time modern Arians (Jehovah's Witnesses) come knocking on your door.

3. They followed the Decalogue

Thirdly the sacrament that they oblige themselves is eerily similar to the 10 Commandments. Pliny mentions specifically stealing, adultery, bearing false witness, and covetousness. Clearly the early Christians followed the Ten Commandments as a basic guide to life and this alone made them good citizens. What is strange about the persecution of these Christians is that they were the perfect citizens. Justin Martyr would later highlight this. Why would the Romans want to eliminate citizens that do not commit any serious crime outside of believing in the exclusivity of Jesus Christ? Here Pliny acknowledges the Christians as just citizens, but still, in the end, refuses to let them be.

4. Christians aren't canniblas

There were three common accusations made against the Christians were they were atheist (they didn't worship the gods), incestuous (they referred to each other as brother and sister), and they were cannibals (they ate the body and blood of a man named Jesus [a common Jewish name at this time]). Pliny confesses here, essentially, that such a conspiracy is wrong. If he had believed they were actually cannibals, he would not need advice on what to do with the Christians. He describes this meal as an innocent one. Beyond that, this shows us that the early Christians regularly gathered to worship and part of that worship was the sharing of a meal (an Agape Feast) and the "breaking of bread" (the Lord's Supper).

More could be said here, but this short letter provides historians and Christians some real insight into the lives of early Christians and how they worshipped. One of the things I raised with my church as I shared this letter with them was the transcendence of the gospel. The same gospel preached by Peter in Acts 2 is the same gospel we still preach today. This is hinted at in this short letter from a pagan governor. Some things never change. There is good news in that.

Read the entire letter here.

For more:
"The Historical Jesus": A Lecture by Ben Witherington 
Ravi Zacharias' 12 Arguments For the Historicity of the Resurrection
"The Case For Christianity" Documentaries
"Raised With Christ" by Adrian Warnock: A Review
NT Wright: Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead?
"The Jesus Inquest" by Charles Foster: A Review
"The Case for Easter"
"The Case For the Real Jesus" by Lee Strobel
We've All Heard This Before: "Zealot" and the Same Search For the Missing Jesus

The Quest For the Historical Satan: Introduction - Part 1
The Quest For the Historical Satan: A Subtitle Please - Part 2
The Quest For the Historical Satan: Yes Jesus Does Save - Part 3   
The Quest For the Historical Satan: Because the Bible Says So - Part 4
The Quest For the Historical Satan: We Know Better & a Conclusion - Part 5
The Quest For the Historical Satan: The Entire Series  

Hump Day Humor: Foghorn Leghorn

My favorite character from Loony Toons.

All Around the Web - August 28, 2013

Russell Moore - Should a Christian Photographer Work at a Same-Sex Wedding Ceremony?

More than that, you are right to note that your situation takes place at a moment of concerted cultural revisionism on the question of marriage as conjugal union. A same-sex wedding service right now is not merely personal, but, whether the couple intends this or not, political, with all sorts of corresponding questions.

Your conscience is conflicted right now, but suppose there’s in the near future an evangelical or Roman Catholic or Muslim photographer whose conscience would be morally opposed to participating at all in a same-sex marriage ceremony. There’s a real question as to whether the civil state will penalize this person’s conscientious objection, at least in some parts of the country. And a state that will do that has over-stepped its authority.

I would say that the decisions you’ll make, generally, as a wedding photographer will correspond often with the Corinthian dilemma of whether to eat meat that had been offered to idols (1 Cor. 8). . . .

You need not investigate as a wedding photographer whether the wedding you are photographing is Christ-honoring. But when there is an obvious deviation from the biblical reality, sacrifice the business for conscience, your own and those of the ones in your orbit who would be confused.
That said, don’t be mean.

CBN - Egyptian Christians' 'Radical' Response to Islamists

WORLD Magazine - Not in this House

Another Christian couple working in the wedding industry is facing potential legal action over their belief that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. Dick and Betty Odgaard run the The Görtz Haus Gallery, a popular spot in Grimes, Iowa, for wedding ceremonies. The Odgaards declined to rent it to a gay couple for their wedding ceremony, saying they could not in good conscience allow a homosexual couple to use their business to host the ceremony itself. 

“To us, [marriage] is a sacrament,” that exists only “between a man and woman,” Betty Odgaard said. She said she was happy to work with the couple and willing to let them use the gallery for everything but the actual exchange of vows.  

But the gay couple filed a legal complaint before the Iowa Human Rights Commission. They said the business was a public venue that must allow couples to use it regardless of their sexual orientation or the business owners’ beliefs.

The Blaze - ‘Wake Up Allyson, You Little [Expletive]: The Terrifying Voice That Took Over One Family’s Baby Monitor | This would be quit scary.

The Blaze - ‘Duck Dynasty’ Brother Reveals Why He Was Kicked Out of a New York City Hotel This Week | This is pretty funny. I'm sure this has happened more than once in cities like New York.

The crew of A&E’s hit show “Duck Dynasty” has been on a media tour in New York City this week ahead of the Wednesday-night premiere of their show. And while it’s hard to believe that some across the country can’t pick out the bearded brothers of the Robertson clan from a mile away, Jase Robertson revealed that he was kicked out of a hotel in the city this week after being confused for a homeless man.

“I think it was a facial profiling deal,” Jase joked while describing the incident on “Live with Kelly and Michael.”

“I asked where the bathroom was and he said, ‘Right this way, sir.’ He was very nice,” Jase told a disbelieving Michael Strahan. “He walked me outside, pointed down the road, and said, ‘Good luck. Have a good day.’”

“He just didn’t know,” Jase said graciously, indicating they still stayed at the hotel.

37 Odd College Mascots

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Where Have All the Apologist Gone?

In his systematic theology, Christian Theology, Dr. Millard Erickson wonders where the theological giants of this generation are. Over the past one hundred years, there were a number of great theological thinkers, like Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, paul Tillich, Rudolf Bultmann, G. C. Berkouwer, Edward Carnell, and Carl F. H. Henry, who formulated extensive, carefully crafted systems of theology. These men, for the most part he suggests, have passed from the active theological scene, and no thinkers have risen to dominate the theological landscape quite as they did. (65)

On his personal blog, Dr. Roger Olson asks the same question. There was a time when the theological landscape of Christianity was stalked by “giants” he writes. These "giants" were theologians and biblical scholars of world wide reputation whose scholarship was read by nearly every serious student of theology. And not just theological students, but even the broader culture. Olson goes on to show how regular such theologians like Karl Barth and Paul Tillich would be featured on the cover of TIME Magazine. What made these theologians giants was more than the volume of books and articles they published or their ongoing footprint on theology, but in their influence and read throughout the Western world.

Neither theologian denies that there has been a vacuum of theological leaders and scholars. The issue both men raise is worth a serious debate and both seek to explain the apparent absence of theological giants prevalent today. However, now that America has entered into a post-Christian stage, perhaps we should ask a slightly different question: Where have all the Christian apologist gone?

Every first year Church history student learns that after the apostolic age concluded with the death of the Apostle John, the church quickly moved to a period of apologetics. Though there is plenty of theology to chew on from the first centuries of the young church, it is the rise of the apologists that gets the most ink. The most famous of these apologists include Justin Martyr (whose two apologies are just as good today as they were in the 2nd century), Irenaeus, Tertullian, and others. These men made their own contribution to Christian theology (Tertullian, for example, coined the Latin term trinitas meaning "Trinity"), but their theological work was usually done in the context of defending the faith against internal heresies (like Gnosticism, docetism, Marcionism, and countless other early heresies) and external criticisms.

Some of the rumors these early Christians faced are baffling today but were real nonetheless. Christians were accused of being incestuous (referring to each other, including spouses, as "brother," and "sister" and meeting weekly for what they called a "love feast") cannibalistic (eating the body and blood of a Nazarene), and atheist (refusing to worship the Roman gods). Such accusations were easily refuted, but they were not the only challenges the culture threw at the early Christians. As if fulfilling Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 1, the "sophisticated" throughout the Empire believed Christians were foolish followers of a deceased Jew. Did I mention he had been crucified?

Regarding internal threats, the early apologists were always having to defend the faith against the rise of heresies of all stripes. Ebionism, similar to the Judaizers of the 1st century, challenged what the Reformers would later call sola fida and sola gracia. The Docetics, rooted in Greek philosophy, denied the humanity of Jesus and naturally encouraged antinomianism. Marcion published his own canon rejecting the Old Testament in its entirety and most of what we now call the New Testament extracting all Jewish influence from Holy Scripture. In response, the apologists turned to a "Rule of Faith" that clearly defined the boundaries of orthodoxy and continued to fight for the purity of the church.

These apologists lived in a pagan culture. Given the direction of history later in the 4th century, we could even say they lived in a pre-Christian culture. Prior to the conversion of Emperor Constantine, Christianity was mostly limited to house churches and the grassroots. Once the persecution officially ended, the church could focus more on developing more robust theology and theological giants like Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and Athanasius would rise. We still read their words and see their footprint throughout theological studies today.

If apologetics was necessary in a pre-Christian culture, it will certainly need to be a focus in a post-Christian culture and recent trends have shown that. The study of apologetics, as opposed to just the study of ethics, theology, and philosophy, has grown noticeably in Christian colleges. Likewise, most Christian retail stores have featured an apologetic section for some time. The names of many apologists are becoming more recognizable; Josh McDowell (most notably his Evidence That Demands a Verdict) and his son Sean McDowell, Lee Strobel and his endless The Case of books and DVDs, William Lane Craig's frequent debates with atheists, Muslims, and anyone else, and even Dinesh D'Souza (who is more famous for his anti-Obama documentary but has written and debated against many atheist). The now late Charles Colson made it his life's work to articulate and to train Christians in a biblical worldview. He sought to apply such a worldview in prisons and local governments throughout the country. John Stonestreet and Eric Metaxas have sought to step in in light of Colson's absence.

One might not call these men giants, but I suspect that as secular American continues to dust all Christian influence off its proverbial feet and as Christianity becomes more marginalized, the need for apologetic giants will be required. The first Christians were accused of being atheists without a visible god, we are being accused of being heartless bigots who hate women, homosexuals, and other secular darlings. The early church had to fend off a docetic heresy which denied Christ's humanity, we have been fighting its opposite in the form of liberalism for two hundred years. The early church appealed for tolerance from government officials who were regularly persecuting the church. Today, a soft tyranny is rising and secular progressives continue to shout inaccurate pejoratives (bigots, closed minded, hatemongers, homophobes) which stir up more animosity and eventual government intervention. The tax code will likely become a powerful weapon in the days ahead as a result. The early church had to articulate orthodoxy regarding Christ, the nature of salvation, and the canon, we today must defend the doctrine of creation, an immutable God, and the importance and work of the church.

Where have all the apologists gone? I suspect soon - and very soon - we will find them. Let us pray they will be like the giants the church has produced in the past.

For more:
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 5
Wherefore Art Thou Theological Giants?
"Christianity's Dangerous Idea" by Alister McGrath
"Dug Down Deep" by Josh Harris

All Around the Web - August 27, 2013

Happy Birthday to me!!

Thom Rainer - Seven Helpful Hints for Pastors Who Have Blogs
  1. Have someone proofread every post you write. I am grateful for the growth of this blog. We now have over 2 million views a year. In addition, I have written several books and countless magazine and journal articles. Guess what? I make mistakes every time I write. That’s why I have two good proofreaders checking my posts every day. Your writing says a lot about you. Don’t say it with typos and grammatical errors.
  2. Ask your church members what they would like to hear from you. Your members and readers are your best source of ideas for content. Ask them in formal and informal settings. Thank them in your blog posts for giving you the idea to write on particular topics.
  3. Set aside time on your calendar to write. Determine how long it will take you to write 400 to 800 words. Then put that time on the calendar so you can be intentional and methodical in writing your posts.
  4. Do not violate the privacy of conversations. You are the recipient of many confidential conversations. Don’t violate that trust on your blog. Don’t even be tempted to disguise names to share confidential information. You can lose your trust quickly.
  5. Ask the congregation often to visit your blog. Let them know that is where you will be sharing much information from your heart and your head. Be redundant in asking them to take a few minutes each week to read your posts.
  6. Acknowledge people on the blog. Who doesn’t like to be recognized for doing something well? The pastor’s blog is a great place to offer the rewards of gratitude and encouragement. If you write just one post a week, you have the opportunity to encourage church members 52 times a year.
  7. Speak of your love of your church often. Pastors are shepherds who are called to love the flock unconditionally. Use your blog as a forum to demonstrate and articulate that love.

Mark Driscoll - 8 misconceptions about the Bible

1. “You can’t trust the Bible because it’s been translated so many times”
2. “The Bible is full of mistakes and contradictions”
3. “You can make the Bible say whatever you want it to say”
4. “The Bible says…”
5. “Power-hungry church councils decided what to include in the Bible”
6. “The New Testament was written hundreds of years after the time of Jesus”
7. “The Bible is an old, outdated list of rules that no longer apply”
8. “The Bible excluded other more accurate manuscripts

Real Clear Politics - CNN: Is Ted Cruz Eligible To Run For President? |

Albert Mohler - “It is the Price of Citizenship”?—An Elegy for Religious Liberty in America

Anyone who still doubts that the normalization of homosexuality and the legalization of same-sex marriage will represent a seismic shift in the culture at large needs only to look to New Mexico to see that nothing less than religious liberty is now under threat—and in a big way.

Jonathan and Elaine Huguenin are the owners of Elane Photography, a firm that operates as a commercial photographic studio. Elaine is the lead photographer and the Huguenins together run the business. In 2006, the couple refused to photograph a same-sex couple’s commitment ceremony and were sued. Last week the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that the Huguenins had violated the human rights of the same-sex couple and that the First Amendment does not allow Elane Photography to refuse to photograph same-sex unions.

The court’s decision was unanimous, upholding a 2012 decision by an appeals court. The court’s decision declared that the Huguenins had acted unlawfully in refusing to photograph the same-sex commitment, even when Elaine Huguenin had argued that to force her to photograph the celebration of a same-sex ceremony was to force her to function as a celebrant and thereby to violate her own conscience. That last part of the Huguenin’s argument has to do with the fact that photography is “expressive” as an art form. There is no way that photographing a same-sex ceremony would not require the professional photographer to arrange and construct photographs in order to artistically celebrate the same-sex union.

PJ Media - The 5 Worst Books for Your Children

5.) The Red Pony by John Steinbeck
4.) Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
3.) Monster by Walter Dean Myers
2.) His Dark Materials, by Phillip Pullman
1.) A Series of Unfortunate Events, by Lemony Snicket

The Cosmological Argument for the Existence of God:

Monday, August 26, 2013

Beowulf: Resources and Links

Earlier today I posted a review of the epic poem Beowulf. Below are a number of documentaries and other resources associated with the classic that I believe are worth your time and investment.

Clash of the Gods - Beowulf (History Channel)

In Search of Beowulf (embeding disabled) - This is a good BBC documentary that explores the world of Beowulf and interacts with the Christian vs. pagan themes in the book.

Beowulf (2007) Movie Trailer


Audiobook - you can download this podcast in mp3 form.

J. R. R. Tolkien - Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics - The person that has shaped modern Beowulf scholarship the most in the last century is without a doubt JRR Tolkien. This article, based on a lecture he gave, is the reason why.

For more:
"Beowulf": A Review
Clash of the Gods: Tolkien's Monsters Documentary
"The Fellowship of the Ring" by J. R. R. Tolkien: A Review 
"The Two Towers" by J.R.R. Tolkien: A Review
"The Return of the King" by J.R.R. Tolkien: A Review
An Encouraging Thought: Gandalf on Providence 
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Dramatized Audio
"Beyond The Movie": A National Geographic Documentary on the Lord of the Rings

"Beowulf": A Review

Listen. We have learned the song of the glory of the great kings of the Danes, how those princes did what was daring.

Never while in grade or high school would I have ever desired more assigned English classical reading. Certainly after having to read a number of Shakespearean greats along with other literary classics, the last thing I wanted to do in high school was read an ancient poem from the Middle Ages. However, when it comes to Beowulf, such adolescent conventional wisdom would have been wrong.

After watching a History Channel special on the story and a similar documentary on works that influenced J. R. R. Tolkien I became interested enough to go to my local library and read the epic poem for myself. I chose William Alfred's translation of the tale included in the book Medieval Epics which, in addition to Beowulf, includes three other ancient tales none of which I read or are familiar with.

The challenge in reviewing a classic like this centers around my status as an amateur fan of the poem. In other words, I always kept a copy of SparkNotes next to me for help. Needless to say, if you are looking for rare insight into a classic that scholars have poured over, debated, and dedicated entire thesis', disertations, and academic articles to, you've turned to the wrong place. However, as a pastor and theologian, a number of things stuck out to me worth sharing on this blog.

First, the story. The plot centers around three epic battles that Beowulf, a Geat, fights. He is an outsider who has heard that a demon is murdering innocent civilians of Hrothgar's kingdom. He comes as a hero[1] seeking glory for the avenging the Skyldings. The first villain is Grendel, a demon the anonymous author describes as a creature beyond salvation (14). No physical description of Grendel is ever given and the reader is left to their own imagination as to what he looks like.[2] Nonetheless, Grendel is a demonic being who merciless murders anyone and everyone (but the king) at the mead-hall where there is celebration. Singing and glad tidings seem to conjure up the vile beast, that devil to mankind (15).

Beowulf's first battle is with Grendel and he wins by severing the beasts arm. The victory over that hateful stalker (15) leads to more celebration until Grendel's mother, a descendent of Cain (she is not given a name), avenges her son's death. She too is vile, demonic, and merciless. Beowulf is absent during her rampage against the Skyldings, but seeks her out later for vengeance. The hero, as before, wins over the she-wolf (46).

The reader is left to assume that now that both mother and son are dead, the narrative is completed. Yet the story quickly skips fifty years and now Beowulf is king who is faced with one last challenge - a challenge that will lead to his death. This last battle is against a dragon who mortally wounds the hero before being killed himself.

The poem ends with the burial of the fallen king/hero. And that is the tale. But as a Christian, why it matters goes deeper than the mere plot.

The story is clearly written by a Christian - perhaps even a monk. There are countless allusions to  "God" and the "Lord God." Yet this is not a Christian tale. The story is actually pagan and the narrator at times makes that clear. Consider for example a few lines before the epic battle against Grendel:
From time to time at heathen sanctuaries, they came right out and promised blood-sacrifices, put into words the prayer that the Demon-Slayer should be of help to them int he face of this disaster striking at the whole people. Such was their religion, such was hope among the heathens. (15)
On the very next page, we are more clearly told that the Skyldings had no knowledge of the Lord God. (16) Many scholars, in my brief research, have highlighted this tension. As Britain was Christianized (if you will), many of the pagan stories of old were modified and it seems that the story of Beowulf went through the same revision.

So though it would be farce to suggest that Beowulf is Christian, there are certain themes in the story that medieval, and even modern, Christians can (and should) resonate with. Beowful, in essence, is portrayed not just as a hero who has won many battles, but as a slayer of demons and dragons. He is alien (Geatish) who comes to save a foreign people from the demons Grendel and his mother and eventually a hellish dragon. And he does so alone.

Near the end of the poem, the narrator tells us simply, yet profoundly from the Christian perspective, that after the death of the dragon that Now the serpent lies dead (74). That is the hope of the Christian story and the reference to Grendel's mother and Cain is by no means an accident. Beowulf is a fantasy that reflects the battle of the seeds narrative of Scripture from Genesis 3:15 to the end of Revelation. As a Christian pastor and theologian, this is why I love this tale so much. Though Beowulf is a flawed character who suffers death (an enemy he cannot defeat), his story is similar to that of Christ who comes as more than a hero, a Savior who conquers demons (see Mark 5:1-20) and the dragon - the serpent of old (Isaiah 27:1; Revelation 12:9; Revelation 20:2).

The poem, then, is not just great literature, it reminds us Christians why we live by hope. Our hope is not that a hero might come and protect us from one of many enemies, but that in the end, God Himself will conquer the enemies of death, depravity, and the dragon himself. That process began at the incarnation of Christ and will be finished at the parousia.

Come Lord Jesus quickly!

[1] In the movie, Hrothgar actually says that what they need is a hero.
[2] The connections between Beowulf and J.R.R. Tolkien's tales from Middle Earth are many. I will highlight only a few. First, Tolkien has written one of the most important scholarly articles on Beowulf called Beowful: The Monster & the Critics. Furthermore, the phrase "the lord of the rings" appears on page 65 of the book cited above. The Hobbit is a story about a dragon, just like Beowulf. Finally, some have suggested that Tolkien's schizophrenic character Gollum was inspired by Grendel. More could be added, but these stick out to me.
[2] We have clear evidence of this. In 797 AD, theologian Alcuin wrote a letter to Bishop Higbald of Lindisfarne questioning the interests among monks with pagan, heroic legends. He asked simply, What has Ingeld to do with Christ? Ingeld, interesting enough, is mentioned by name in Beowulf.

For more:
Clash of the Gods: Tolkien's Monsters Documentary
"The Fellowship of the Ring" by J. R. R. Tolkien: A Review 
"The Two Towers" by J.R.R. Tolkien: A Review
"The Return of the King" by J.R.R. Tolkien: A Review
An Encouraging Thought: Gandalf on Providence 
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Dramatized Audio
"Beyond The Movie": A National Geographic Documentary on the Lord of the Rings

All Around the Web - August 26, 2013

HT: The Blaze

Thom Rainer - Seven Reasons Every Pastor Should Have a Blog
  1. Heavy doses of communication are vital in any relationship. This reality is powerfully true in the pastor/congregation relationship. Healthy churches have healthy pastor/members relationships. Healthy relationships are enhanced through ongoing communication. And the blog is an incredible way to communicate regularly. For this reason, I am very grateful for the Internet age.
  2. The pastor is able to present those most important emphases or visionary matters. The sermon just does not allow sufficient time to do all the communication a pastor needs to do. If done well, the blog can serve as an ongoing forum for communicating the most important matters in the church and to the church.
  3. No pastor can communicate with every member one-on-one. Church members can feel neglected if they do not get some type of communication from their pastor. Admittedly, a blog does not replace in person communication, but it certainly is better than no communication at all. I have heard from numerous church members who tell me that they really feel like they know their pastor through the blog.
  4. A pastor can do pastoral care via the blog. One of the most powerful blog posts I ever read was by a pastor who ministered to the entire church after the death of three teenagers in a car accident. While he spent hours of in-person pastoral care with the family of the teenagers, many others in the church were hurting. He reached out to them magnificently through his blog.
  5. A blog can be an outreach ministry. The first place a prospective guest visits is the church web site. That is why it’s mandatory for churches to have a quality site. If the church’s home page has a link to the pastor’s blog, many will read that article as well. Guests, both Christians and non-Christians, are more likely to visit your church if they feel like they know something about the pastor.
  6. The blog can allow for expansion on the sermon. Most pastors preach around 35 minutes a week. That is an incredibly short time to communicate God’s Word. The blog allows for an expansion and more detailed communication of the sermon.
  7. A blog is highly affordable. In fact, it can be free. There are no longer any financial barriers for any pastor who is serious about entering the blogosphere. It’s time for all of you to take that plunge!

Albert MohlerThe Wrath of God Was Satisfied: Substitutionary Atonement and the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention

Current controversy over the nature of Christ’s atonement for sin points to a truth many younger evangelicals may not know, i.e., the substitutionary nature of Christ’s death on the cross was a major issue in the Conservative Resurgence that took place within the Southern Baptist Convention in the last quarter of the twentieth century.

The issue of biblical inerrancy stood at the forefront of Southern Baptist debates during those years of conflict and controversy, but other issues drew major concern. Moderates and conservatives in the Southern Baptist Convention were divided over controversial issues, including abortion rights, the exclusivity of the Gospel, and the nature of the atonement. As might be expected, most of these debates followed the same or very similar lines of division. As in the Reformation of the sixteenth century, to be divided over the formal principle of the authority of the Bible was, inevitably, to be divided over the material principles of doctrine as well.

In its earliest phase, modern theological liberalism developed open antipathy to the substitutionary nature of the atonement. Theologians such as Friedrich Schleiermacher, the father of theological liberalism, rejected the claim that the death of Christ is substitutionary or vicarious. Christ did not die in the place of sinners, bearing the wrath of a righteous God, Schleiermacher insisted. Instead, Christ’s death and resurrection demonstrated God’s love so that human beings might rightly love him. Albrecht Ritschl proposed a similar form of the moral influence theory of the atonement—Christ died as a revelation of the depth of God’s love toward sinners.

Fox News - California Gov. Brown signs transgender-student bill

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a controversial bill into law Monday afternoon allowing the state’s transgender public school students to choose which bathrooms they use and whether they participate in boy or girl sports.

The law would cover the state’s 6.2 million elementary and high school kids in public schools.
Supporters say the law will help cut down on bullying against transgender students, The families of transgender students have been waging local battles with school districts around the country over what restrooms and locker rooms their children can use.

"Now, every transgender student in California will be able to get up in the morning knowing that when they go to school as their authentic self they will have the same fair chance at success as their classmates,” Masen Davis, Executive Director of Transgender Law Center said.

While California is the first state to pass a law of this magnitude, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Washington and Colorado have all adopted policies designed to protect transgendered pupils.
Not everyone is on board.

Eric Metaxas - Staring Down the Well |

Aslan is in august company. In his book, “Reasonable Faith,” William Lane Craig of Biola surveyed the various attempts to find the “historical Jesus.” There was “[David] Strauss’s Hegelian Jesus, [Ernest] Renan’s sentimental Jesus, [Bruno] Bauer’s non-existent Jesus, [Albrecht] Ritschl’s liberal Jesus, and so forth.”

As Craig put it, “apparently unaware of the personal element they all brought to their research, each writer reconstructed a historical Jesus after his own image . . . each one looked down the long well of history and saw his own face reflected at the bottom.”

The same is true of Aslan. For Aslan, Loconte says, events like the “Arab Spring” are part of “an unequivocal march towards freedom.”

Thus it should come as no surprise that when Aslan looks down the long well of history he sees “Jesus the Zealot for Political Liberation.” It doesn’t matter to Aslan that the evidence for this interpretation is virtually non-existent.

Nor does Aslan account for Jesus’ extraordinary influence throughout history. There was no shortage of revolutionaries in first-century Palestine. Like Jesus, they died at the hands of the Romans. Unlike Jesus, that was the end of the story for them.

John Stonestreet - Define the Relationship 

Bradford Wilcox of the National Marriage Project recently wrote in The Atlantic about a study that concluded when couples move in together, women have different expectations than their male partners.

The majority of cohabitating men said they weren’t “completely committed” to their relationship’s future, compared to just 26 percent of women. When asked whether they were “almost certain” about their relationship’s future, 52% of men said no and 39% of women said yes.
When these same questions were asked of married couples, the disparity vanished—both spouses were almost equally committed.

Sounds like somebody is getting a raw deal. But that’s exactly what cohabitation is for women. It’s a way for men to risk very little and get exactly what they want without making any commitment. And other stats have reveal that cohabitation is one of the best ways to ensure a failed marriage.

For the most part, this is a good discussion between Senator Rand Paul (one of my senators) and John Oliver of the Daily Show on the issue of Obamacare and free market among other issues.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

All Around the Web - August 24, 2013

Carl Trueman - Serious Questions

As the news breaks that Bradley Manning has decided that he is really a woman, a couple of questions come immediately to my mind.  They may appear facetious but they are deadly serious.

If I decide I am a woman but remain married to my wife, does that make me a lesbian?

And if you answer 'no' to the above question, does that mean you have committed an act of hate speech

WORLD Magazine - N.M. court: Christian conscience discriminates against gays | The erosion of religious liberty continues.

The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled today that a Christian photographer discriminated against a homosexual couple when she refused to take photos of their “commitment” ceremony.

Elaine Huguenin, who operates Elane Photography with her husband, Jonathan, cited her belief in the biblical definition of marriage when she declined to work with Vanessa Willock and her lesbian partner. Although Willock hired another photographer, she filed a complaint against Huguenin with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission. In 2008, the commission ruled Huguenin discriminated against Willock on the basis of her sexual orientation and ordered the photographer to pay $6,637.94 in attorneys’ fees, even though New Mexico does not recognize same-sex marriage or civil unions.

 The state’s high court sided with the court of appeals, which upheld the commission’s decision. In its opinion, the high court concluded that because Elane Photography offers its services to the public, it must abide by the New Mexico Human Rights Act (NMHRA), which forbids businesses from discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation.

Trevin Wax - Know Your Southern Baptists: Billy Graham

Why he’s important: According to the BGEA, millions have responded to the gospel during Graham’s crusades around the world. He has served as the de facto spiritual advisor in America, appearing on Gallup’s “Ten Most Admired Men in the World” an unparalleled 56 times total with his inclusion in 2012 marking his 50th consecutive. He has been called the pastor to presidents, as he has had a personal audience with U.S. presidents from Harry Truman to Barack Obama.

He was particularly influential in the growth of evangelical Christianity, as opposed to liberal and fundamentalist views of the faith. Graham sought a Christian faith that was biblical, intellectual, and still engaged with the culture. Because of this perspective, he founded numerous ministries in the field of mass communication, including a movie studio, radio stations, and, most perhaps most prominent, the magazine Christianity Today.

Graham also played a role in racial reconciliation, inviting Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to share the pulpit with him during his New York City crusade in 1957 and posting bail for the minister when he was jailed in 1963 during the civil rights protests in Birmingham, AL.

Baker Academic - The Definition of Theology, an Excerpt from Christian Theology | I'm excited to see that Baker is releasing an updated version of Erickson's systematic theology. Remember that I still continue to blog through the book. You will find all the blogs here.

1. Theology is biblical.
2. Theology is systematic.
3. Theology also relates to the issues of general culture and learning.
4. Theology must also be contemporary.
5. Finally, theology is to be practical

Metro - Whoah! Single men wash their sheets ‘four times a year’ | I'm surprised to. I would have guessed no more than twice a year.

It’s a discovery no woman wants to hear – the average single male changes his sheets just four times a year.

While they strip their beds every 3.1 months on average, unattached women change their linen every two-and-a-half weeks – or 26 times a year – a survey found.

The grubbiest group for keeping sheets fresh are those aged 18 to 25, with more than half claiming to change the bed every three months or less.

Those who washed their sheets once a week were mostly aged between 35 and 50

Most Christians are thieves.