Monday, March 31, 2014

"Perelandra" by CS Lewis: A Review

"And you think, little one," it answered, "that you can fight with me? You think He will help you, perhaps? Many thought that. I've known Him longer than you, little one. They all think He's going to help them - till they come to their senses screaming recantations too late in the middle of the fire, mouldering in concentration camps, writhing under saws, jibbering in mad-houses, or nailed on to crosses. Could He help Himself?" - and the creature suddenly threw back its head and cried in a voice so loud that it seemed the golden skyroof must break, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani."

And the moment it had done so, Ransom felt certain that the sounds it had made were perfect Aramaic of the First Century. The Un-man was not quoting; it was remembering. These were the very words spoken from the Cross, treasured through all those years in the burning memory of the outcast creature which had heard them, and now brought forward in hideous parody; the horror made him. momentarily sick. Before he had recovered the Un-man was upon him, howling like a gale, with eyes so wide opened that they seemed to have no lids, and with all its hair rising on its scalp. It had him caught tightly to its chest, with its arms about him, and its nails were ripping great strips off his back. His own arms were inside its embrace and, pummelling wildly, he could get no blow at it. He turned his head and bit deeply into the muscle of its right arm, at first without success, then deeper. It gave a howl, tried to hold on, and then suddenly he was free. Its defence was for an instant unready and he found himself raining punches about the region of its heart, faster and harder than he had supposed possible. He could hear through its open mouth the great gusts of breath that he was knocking out of it. Then its hands came up again, fingers arched like claws. It was not trying to box. It wanted to grapple. He knocked its right arm aside with a horrible shock of bone against bone and caught it a jab on the fleshy part of the chin: at the same moment its nails tore his right. He grabbed at its arms. More by luck than by skill he got it held by both wrists.

What if? Perhaps not other question pesters and haunts us more than that one. What if? Regarding Christian theology, the question of what if remains just as difficult. What if Eve had never been seduced by the crafty serpent? What if Adam had fulfilled his role as the king of God's Garden by crushing the head of the serpent? What if the Fall had never happened? What if the first couple created by God had never sunk their teeth into the forbidden fruit?

What if?

In many ways, this is the question CS Lewis raises in the second volume of his Ransom Trilogy Perelandra. In each book of the series, Lewis presents the reader with a different creation stories with three different endings. Temptation never enters Malacandra (Mars) and thus there is no Fall. Thulcandra (Earth) Falls and requires the incarnation and crucifixion of Maleldil (Jesus) to save it. Perelandra (Venus) overcomes temptation when Ransom, the trilogy's hero, crushes the Devil head with a stone suffering primarily from a bruised and bloody heel (a clear reference to Genesis 3:15).

The story begins with Ransom boarding a ship, resembling a casket, that leads him to Venus (or Perelandra). Though he is uncertain why he has been called to travel there, the reader is served with the paradise-like state of the planet. It is clear, especially to those familiar with the Biblical story, that sin and its affects has not corrupt this planet (unlike Thulcandra - the Earth).

There are two human-like inhabitants of the earth. One a king. The other a queen. The two have been separated for some time and the reader is not introduced to the king until the end. Both monarchs are prohibited from entering and sleeping on the "fixed lands." The parallels between Genesis and Perelandra are obvious.

Then enters the main villain of the first volume, Out of the Silent Planet, Weston. Weston first arrives assuring us he is a new man - a spiritual man. But certainly his new age ramblings, though prevalent in our day, is nonsense. Ultimately, however, Weston is inhabited the "Bent One" or, the Devil - the one that corrupted Thulcandra. The Devil loves and praises death. He is seen as a sadistic killer who tortures and kills an army of frog-like creatures prior to the temptation of the queen - the Green lady. Lewis describes him as follows:
Again and again [Ransom] felt that a suave and subtle Mephistopheles with red cloak and rapier and a feather in his cap, or even a sombre tragic Stan out of Paradise Lost, would have been a welcome release from the thing he was actually doomed to watch. It was not like dealing with a wicked politician at all: it was much more like being set to guard an imbecile or a monkey or a very nasty child. . . . It showed plenty of subtlety and intelligence when talking to the Lady; but Ransom soon perceived that it regarded intelligence simply and solely as a weapon. (110)
Lewis refers to the devil-inhabited Weston as "the un-man" and uses the pronoun "it" to describe him ("it said," "it argued," etc.). For the two inhabitants of Perelandra, knowlegde and wisdom is closely connected to age. Therefore, when the Green Lady learns something new that appears wise she remakes that she is getting older. During the suspenseful temptation scenes, Ransom repeatedly seeks to outwit the un-man while warning the Green Lady but becomes aware of his own physical and intellectual weaknesses. The un-man never sleeps and the Green Lady requires very little. Ransom eventually finds himself to the point of exhaustion. Lewis writes:
There were times when he thought "Thank God! We've won at last." But the enemy was never tired, and Ransom grew more weary all the time; and presently he thought he could see signs that the Lady was becoming tired too. (112)
It becomes clear to Ransom (through a divine voice), however, that he will never outsmart the un-man (What the Un-man said was always very nearly true. [114]), He can only kill him. This leads us to the main action of the book. The two set off in a cosmic battle that ultimately results in the murder of the un-man, inhabiting Weston, and the liberation of Perelandra. Ransom, admittedly not a boxer, comes to the conclusion to war against the un-man when he is reminded of his providential name ("It is not for nothing that you are named Ransom," said the Voice. [125]). He is to be Perelandra's ransom, or the means by which Perelandra is protected (the words liberated or saved would be misleading) from the same fate as Thulcandra.

There are a number of themes and details I found fascinating. First, Ransom, the Green Lady, and the King are nude during the entire story. Ransom is instructed to removed his earthly clothes prior to entering the "space ship." Those familiar with the biblical narrative will understand why. Lewis is clear that though Ransom observes the beautiful, yet uncovered body of Perelandra's queen, he has no fallen, sexual temptation toward her. It is a reminder of the connection between sin and shame.

Secondly, Lewis' discussion of the incarnation and redemption is well received. Regarding the former, Lewis writes  
Every minute it became clearer to [Ransom] that the parallel he had tried to draw between Eden and Perelandra was crude and imperfect. What had happened on Earth, when Maleldil [that is, Christ] was born a man at Bethlehem, had altered the universe for ever.  (123)
Regarding redemption we read:
So that was the real issue. If he now failed, this world also would hereafter be redeemed. If he were not the ransom, Another would be. Yet nothing was ever repeated. Not a second crucifixion perhaps - who knows - not even a second Incarnation ... some act of even more appalling love, some glory of yet deeper humility. For he had seen already how the pattern grows and how from each world it sprouts into the next through some other dimension. The small external evil which Satan had done in Malacandra was only as a line: the deeper evil he had done in Earth was as a square: if Venus fell, her evil would be a cube - her Redemption beyond conceiving. Yet redeemed she would be. (126)
Ultimately, by the end of the book I found myself more satisfied than after reading Out of the Silent Planet (you can read my review here) a feat I did not think the sequel would or could accomplish. Both books describes new worlds in ways only the pen and mind of Lewis could. Yet it is here that Lewis provides a myth that allows the reader to toy with that original question: What if our world remained unaffected by the Fall? What if a Ransom had been paid before man slept on the fixed islands? What if man had never been seduced?

For Lewis fans you will immensely enjoy this. For those familiar with the Narnia series (and who isn't nowadays?) will discover a new world from the same mind. And that alone is rewarding.

For more:
"Out of the Silent Planet" by CS Lewis: A Review 

"Out of the Silent Planet" Audio Book
"A Mixture of Fool and Knave": CS Lewis on Theological Liberalism
Theology As a Map: Lewis, Practical Theology, and the Trinity
"Screwtape Letters" by CS Lewis: A Review
The Most Unpopular of Christian Virtues: Lewis on Chasity - Part 1
The Most Unpopular of Christian Virtues: Lewis on Chasity - Part 2
The Most Unpopular of Christian Virtues: Lewis on Chasity - Part 3 
"Willing Slaves of the Welfare State": CS Lewis on Freedom, Science, and Society - Part 1
"Willing Slaves of the Welfare State": CS Lewis on Freedom, Science, and Society - Part 2
He is Not a Tame Lion: Aslan, Jesus, and the Limits of Postmodern Inclusivism  
To Be Undragoned: Aslan, Christ, and the Gift of Regeneration 
Lewis on Practical Theology  
Lewis on the Why of Democracy
From Uncle Screwtape:  Christianity and Politics      
Theologians I Have Been Influenced By - The Dead
"The Magician's Twin: C.S. Lewis and the Case Against Scientism" Full Documentary
Beyond Narnia:  A Great Documentary 
"Surprised by Joy" by Lewis
"Jack:  A Life of CS Lewis"  
"The Great Divorce" by Lewis
"Finding God in the Land of Narnia"   

All Around the Web - March 31, 2014

Joe Carter - What's Wrong With Burning Aborted Babies?: A Common Grace Defense of Disgust
The bodies of thousands of aborted and miscarried babies were incinerated as clinical waste in the United Kingdom, with some even used to heat hospitals, an investigation has found. The Department of Health issued an instant ban on the practice which health minister Dr Dan Poulter branded 'totally unacceptable.' But before it was ended, at least 15,500 fetal remains were incinerated over the last two years alone,

Commenting on the news, my friend Mollie Hemingway says, "People are reacting to this story with the natural revulsion one feels for such callous treatment of humans . . ." From what I've seen, though, the "natural revulsion" has primarily been expressed by those within the pro-life community. I suspect that those who have no qualms about the dismembering of babies would likely not be disgusted by the burning of their bodies.

Unfortunately, Christians have helped contribute to this callous disregard by undermining the role of disgust in helping to recognize and restrain sinful behavior. While we should never be disgusted by people there a broad range of human behaviors that we should find inherently disgusting. Yet while disgust was once considered a guide (albeit a fallible one) to God's natural law, we now chastise Christians for even implying that any sinful behavior can be disgusting.

Below I've posted a previously written essay explaining why all people -- but especially Christians -- should be careful about discarding the God-given emotion of disgust.

The Gospel Coalition - How to Preach Books of the Bible You Don't Like

Tim Challies - The False Teachers: Harry Emerson Fosdick
Harry Emerson Fosdick was not an original thinker as much as a popularizer who took the theory of liberalism from the seminaries and brought it to a common level. He wanted to modernize the faith by making it attractive to, and compatible with, modern times and modern sensibilities. At heart, liberalism questioned the nature of the Bible and denied its inerrancy, infallibility, and authority. Liberalism denied that the Bible is the Word of God and insisted instead that it contains the Word of God. Once Scripture’s authority had been denied, a host of doctrines would necessarily fall in its wake.

Fosdick questioned the essential beliefs necessary to be a Christian and began to challenge long-held, orthodox Christian beliefs such as the virgin birth, and the return of Christ Jesus. Robert Moats Miller, one of Fosdick’s biographers, wrote, “Fosdick could not believe that Jesus was virgin born. He did not ridicule those who did, but he was adamant that such belief was not essential to acceptance of Christian faith. … Fosdick doubted whether Jesus ever thought of himself as the Messiah; perhaps he did, but more probably Jesus’ disciples may have read this into his thinking.” He also denied the wrath of God, suggesting that wrath was simply a metaphor for the natural consequences of doing wrong. With wrath removed, it was inevitable that the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ would also be denied. Before long Fosdick’s Christianity looked nothing like historic Christianity.

In a later sermon, “The Church Must Go Beyond Modernism,” Fosdick spoke of his methodology in modernizing the Christian faith, saying, “We have already largely won the battle we started out to win; we have adjusted the Christian faith to the best intelligence of our day and have won the strongest minds and the best abilities of the churches to our side. Fundamentalism is still with us but mostly in the backwaters. The future of the churches, if we will have it so, is in the hands of modernism.” Of course, he was too optimistic, and too blinded by his own success. Liberalism posed a major challenge to the faith, but like all other challengers, it would rise and then wane.

Timothy Paul Jones - Church History: The Legacy of William Wilberforce

Baker Academic - The Need for Expository Preaching – an Excerpt from Biblical Preaching, 3rd Edition
Those in the pulpit face the pressing temptation to deliver some message other than that of the Scriptures—a political system (either right-wing or left-wing), a theory of economics, a new religious philosophy, old religious slogans, or a trend in psychology.

Ministers can proclaim anything in a stained-glass voice at 11:30 on Sunday morning following the singing of hymns. Yet when they fail to preach the Scriptures, they abandon their authority. No longer do they confront their hearers with a word from God. That is why most modern preaching evokes little more than a wide yawn. God is not in it.

God speaks through the Bible. It is the major tool of communication by which he addresses individuals today. Biblical preaching, therefore, must not be equated with “the old, old story of Jesus and his love” as though it were retelling history about better times when God was alive and well. Nor is preaching merely a rehash of ideas about God—orthodox, but removed from life. Through the preaching of the Scriptures, God encounters men and women to bring them to salvation (2 Tim. 3:15) and to richness and ripeness of Christian character (vv. 16–17). Something fills us with awe when God confronts individuals through preaching and seizes them by the soul.

6 1/2 seasons in, this is by far my favorite scene from The West Wing.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Casual Conversation on Culture and Theology

Featuring Dr. Danny Akin, Dr. Russell Moore, J. D. Greer, and Andy Davis.

All Around the Web - March 29, 2014

The Atlantic - The Overprotected Kid
A trio of boys tramps along the length of a wooden fence, back and forth, shouting like carnival barkers. “The Land! It opens in half an hour.” Down a path and across a grassy square, 5-year-old Dylan can hear them through the window of his nana’s front room. He tries to figure out what half an hour is and whether he can wait that long. When the heavy gate finally swings open, Dylan, the boys, and about a dozen other children race directly to their favorite spots, although it’s hard to see how they navigate so expertly amid the chaos. “Is this a junkyard?” asks my 5-year-old son, Gideon, who has come with me to visit. “Not exactly,” I tell him, although it’s inspired by one. The Land is a playground that takes up nearly an acre at the far end of a quiet housing development in North Wales. It’s only two years old but has no marks of newness and could just as well have been here for decades. The ground is muddy in spots and, at one end, slopes down steeply to a creek where a big, faded plastic boat that most people would have thrown away is wedged into the bank. The center of the playground is dominated by a high pile of tires that is growing ever smaller as a redheaded girl and her friend roll them down the hill and into the creek. “Why are you rolling tires into the water?” my son asks. “Because we are,” the girl replies.

It’s still morning, but someone has already started a fire in the tin drum in the corner, perhaps because it’s late fall and wet-cold, or more likely because the kids here love to start fires. Three boys lounge in the only unbroken chairs around it; they are the oldest ones here, so no one complains. One of them turns on the radio—Shaggy is playing (Honey came in and she caught me red-handed, creeping with the girl next door)—as the others feel in their pockets to make sure the candy bars and soda cans are still there. Nearby, a couple of boys are doing mad flips on a stack of filthy mattresses, which makes a fine trampoline. At the other end of the playground, a dozen or so of the younger kids dart in and out of large structures made up of wooden pallets stacked on top of one another. Occasionally a group knocks down a few pallets—just for the fun of it, or to build some new kind of slide or fort or unnamed structure. Come tomorrow and the Land might have a whole new topography.

Other than some walls lit up with graffiti, there are no bright colors, or anything else that belongs to the usual playground landscape: no shiny metal slide topped by a red steering wheel or a tic-tac-toe board; no yellow seesaw with a central ballast to make sure no one falls off; no rubber bucket swing for babies. There is, however, a frayed rope swing that carries you over the creek and deposits you on the other side, if you can make it that far (otherwise it deposits you in the creek). The actual children’s toys (a tiny stuffed elephant, a soiled Winnie the Pooh) are ignored, one facedown in the mud, the other sitting behind a green plastic chair. On this day, the kids seem excited by a walker that was donated by one of the elderly neighbors and is repurposed, at different moments, as a scooter, a jail cell, and a gymnastics bar.

Trevin Wax - Pastors, Preach the WHY Before the WHAT
The first pastor focuses on what the church is doing or should be doing. If there’s a need, you start a program. You find volunteers to run the program, and then you find more volunteers to replace the first ones.

We need nursery workers! Sign up in the lobby.

We need homes for students to stay in during the Disciple Now coming up. Call the student minister for more details. 

We are having Discipleship classes on Wednesday nights. Put your name on a form for us to know which one you’re going to.

This pastor focuses on what is going on. Information is what the people need. You assume that when church members hear about the needs or opportunities, they will sign up, volunteer, or attend.
When this doesn’t work, the pastor ramps up the energy, throwing in a few more tactics and a sense of urgency to sway people’s behavior.

We are in such dire need of nursery workers that we might have to turn people away! Sign up now. If you’ve got a kid in the nursery, your name should be on the list.

We are still in need of homes for people to stay during Disciple Now. It would be a shame to put these kids up in a hotel, wouldn’t it?

Attendance is down on Wednesday nights. We’ve got some more interesting studies than usual this time around, so hope to see you there!

These tactics work. That’s why we rely on them again and again. But, over time, we notice there seems to be a diminishing return.

Mark Driscoll - Noah Was Not a Righteous Man
The most common way Christians butcher the story of Noah is by misreading what the Bible actually says. The story is wrongly told that there were a bunch of bad guys who drowned and one good guy who got a boat. The moral of the story is that if you are a good guy then God will save you from death and wrath.

The problem?

This is not the gospel.

This is just good old-fashioned works. “Be a good person and you can get saved, otherwise you can just die.”

The Gospel Coalition - If All Religions Are True, Then God Is Cruel
If Islam, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and all the other world religions are true paths to God, then why did God kill his Son, Jesus, in order to make a way for men to come to him? The very notion is absurd and insulting to God. It paints a portrait of a God who is just plain cruel. He sent Jesus into the world to live a miserable life of scorn, rejection, poverty, betrayal, humiliation, sorrow, and ultimately, torture and death, in order to create a path whereby men can come to know him. Yet all the while he knew that following the Five Pillars of Islam or the Noble Eight-fold Path could accomplish the same thing. What a waste! Jesus' life—God's plan of salvation— is completely in vain, for the same result could be achieved by simply adhering to the tenets of any world religion. God is not only cruel but also incompetent for putting into effect the worst salvation plan possible.

But God is not cruel. He is not incompetent. He would not kill his Son needlessly. He would not put into effect a ridiculous or cruel salvation plan for mankind. Hence, religious pluralism cannot be true. This argument does not show Christianity to be true, but it does show that not all religions can be true, for if they were, then God would not be a God of love.

Washington Post - Atheist ‘Noah’ director brags film is least biblical Bible movie ever
Note to Christians and those who believe the Bible: The producer of the movie “Noah,” a self-professed atheist, says he is proud of the fact that he’s taken a story inspired by God’s word and turned it into something so secular.

Director Darren Aronofsky called his movie “the least biblical biblical film ever made,” The Telegraph reported. He also claimed his leading character, Noah, was the “first environmentalist,” something that suggests the movie storyline doesn’t exactly follow the Bible’s.

And something else the suggests a serious divergence from the biblical account: Not once during the movie is the name “God” spoken, an early reviewer found, The Telegraph reported.

Christian groups have raised such an outcry that Paramount, the studio that’s put out the film, has issued an explanatory statement.

It reads, in part: The film is “inspired by the story of Noah” but at the same time, “artistic license has been taken.” The statement also gives this helpful advice: “The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis.”

This explains so much about America.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Past 36 Seasons

HT: Card Chronicle


Louisville & Kentucky is the Premier Rivalry in College Basketball

I concur with Eric Crawford:
It is the premier rivalry in college basketball today. When Louisville and Kentucky meet in Indianapolis Friday night, it'll be for a berth in the NCAA's Elite Eight.

But this rivalry, in college basketball, is the Elite One.

Don't give me Duke-North Carolina. Yes, they're protected from early tournament meetings by their conference affiliation. But not once have they managed to play their way to an NCAA Tournament meeting.

There was a time I'd have listened to an argument about Indiana-Kentucky. They had a great tournament meeting two years ago, a 102-90 UK win. But the teams no longer play, and you can't have a rivalry if you don't play. This year, Indiana, the state, is relegated to host role while neighbors, Louisville, Kentucky, Michigan, even Tennessee descend on Lucas Oil Stadium.

North Carolina and Duke are at home. Kansas and Wichita State are at home. Syracuse, Georgetown, Villanova, all at home. Michigan and Michigan State can't meet until the title game. When they met in the Big Ten Tournament championship game nine days ago, it was the first time they'd ever played each other on a neutral court, in their 170th meeting. They've never met in the NCAA Tournament.
Friday's game will be the sixth post-season get-together in series history for Kentucky and Louisville, and it will be the second in three years.

That will tie the rivalry for third-most frequent NCAA Tournament pairing of all time. Some might say the NCAA is picking on the state. UK beat Western Kentucky and Louisville on its way to the 2012 title. The year before that Louisville fell to Morehead State. Two years prior, U of L beat Morehead State in its opening game. That's four out of the past six years that the committee has placed teams from Kentucky into each other's path. Check the brackets. You won't see North Carolina or Duke playing a team from their state during that time, nor Michigan and Michigan State.

This is The Rivalry, period: One regular season meeting, postseason showdowns in two of the past three years. The rest can take a seat for now.

Write it down.

It's not inappropriate that these two should see each other, however.

They're the winners of the past two national championships. One is a completely remade team. One is a team that had to redefine itself after winning the title a year ago.

Would it have been fitting to play one round later? Maybe. But like in golf, you have to play it where it lands.

It lands here.

These teams are coached by the two preeminent coaches in the game today.

Both men have recent back-to-back Final Fours. Both have won eight straight NCAA Tournament games.

A win for Pitino would make him the winningest active NCAA Tournament coach by percentage, pushing him past Mike Krzyzewski. If you count only on-the-court results, a win for Calipari would put him at No. 1 among active coaches. Vacated victories, however, keep that from being recognized by the NCAA.

Pitino won his 50th NCAA Tournament game last week. Calipari ended the bid of the first 35-0 team in NCAA history with a win over Wichita State a day later.

Nobody is representing the traditional college model at the moment with more success than Pitino. Nobody is taking elite Players from Point A to Point B, with Point B being the NBA, better than Calipari.

For more:
1983 Dream Game: Louisville vs. Kentucky in the Elite 8
UK vs. UofL: The Battle For the Bluegrass 2012 
"The Year of the Cardinal" Documentary
March Madness Has Arrived
Louisville Basketball Honored By President Obama
An Epic Video of the National Champion Cards
2013 National Championship: Louisville vs. Michigan
College Basketball At Its Finest: Louisville Wins a National Championship
Rick Pitino Outcoached Coach K    

All Around the Wed - March 28, 2014

Christianity Today - Why Hobby Lobby Is This Year's Supreme Court Case To Watch
When Hobby Lobby makes its case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, conservative Christians won't be the only ones paying attention.

After a year and a half of opposing the Affordable Care Act's birth control mandate, the evangelical-owned craft store chain has become shorthand for the corporate fight for religious liberty—one that concerns not only Obamacare critics, or fellow Christians who worry that certain contraception methods are abortifacients, but now, Americans overall.

It's expected to be the most high-profile case the Supreme Court reviews this year. CT can refresh your memory.
CNN called Hobby Lobby's oral arguments, scheduled for March 25, a "high-stakes encore" to Obamacare. Left-leaning news site Mother Jones warned readers about the potential "revolutionary outcomes, from upending a century's worth of settled corporate law to opening the floodgates to religious challenges to every possible federal statute to gutting the contraceptive mandate."
Hobby Lobby's case—to be argued along with Mennonite-owned furniture makers Conestoga Wood Specialties—represents the fate of nearly 100 other businesses and non-profits who have filed suit against the contraceptive mandate. (Churches and other houses of worship had been granted an exemption.)

Their legal challenge has generated an outpouring of amicus briefs—filings of relevant opinion and testimony from interested stakeholders who aren't directly involved, such as congressmen, scholars, religious groups, and theologians. With 84 filings, the case represents "among the largest amicus efforts ever," according to The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

Religion News Service summarizes the two central questions for the Supreme Court to consider:
  • Does Hobby Lobby as a corporation have religious rights protected by the First Amendment?
  • Have those rights been violated under a 20-year-old statute that sets a high bar for government interference of religious freedom?

Joe Carter - 9 Things You Should Know about the Story of Noah
2. Based on 18 inches to a cubit, the total cubic volume of Noah's ark would have been 1,518,000 cubic feet, the equivalent to 250 single-deck railroad stock cars. Since the average stock car can carry 80 180 lb. sheep or to 160 50 lb. sheep per deck (2.5 - 5 sq ft per animal), it's estimated the ark could carry 20,000-40,000 sheep size animals.

3. From Ancient Near Eastern records to nautical practices as recent as the 19th century, sailors the world over used doves, ravens, and other birds to help them find and navigate toward land. A raven will fly directly toward land, so it's line of flight can be used as a guide. Doves have a limited ability for sustained flight, so they can be used to determine the location of a landing site. As long as the dove returns, no landing site is in close range.

4. Noah and his family were on the ark for a total of 370 days. Noah's first recorded act on leaving the ark is build an altar to the Lord (Gen. 8:20).

5. The Bible says the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat (a mountain range in Turkey) but does not specify which mountain.

6. Noah became the first drunk recorded in Scripture, resulting in immoral behavior and family troubles (Genesis 9:20-26).

7. The only time Noah is recorded as speaking is when he curses his grandson Canaan and blesses his sons Shem and Japeth. At all other points in his story, God does the talking and Noah does the listening.

Justin Taylor - Was God Really in the Tomb as a Corpse? | Though this is deep in the theological end, I found this to be helpful.
Toward that end I enlisted the assistance of Stephen Wellum, professor of Christian theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and that author of a forthcoming Christology in Crossway’s Foundations of Evangelical Theology series (which I expect to become a standard work). His reflections on David’s piece are as follows:
Reflecting on the incarnation and how God the Son adds to himself a human nature, and making sense of the metaphysics of the incarnation, is not an easy task. Great minds have reflected on these truths, and in the end our doing so is the glorious task of faith seeking understanding. We must carefully remain within the biblical givens and the theological reflections of the church, especially as reflected in the Church’s confession as represented by the Chalcedonian Definition. Even though Confessions are secondary standards they helps set the parameters by which we carry out our theologizing of such important truths. Dr. David Murray is to be commended for helping us once again reflect upon and wrestle with the incredible and glorious truth of the incarnation, and anything said in response and disagreement must not be taken as not appreciating what he has sought to write in this post. However, in light of Scripture and the Chalcedon Confession, I find a number of points confusing and it is to these points I now turn.

Thom Rainer - Should Good Grammar Be a Ministry Competency?
  1. We should do all things for the glory of God. Yes, we should even speak and write well for His glory. Most of us in vocational ministry have little excuse not to learn proper grammar.
  2. A significant portion of ministry is communication. Ministers preach. They teach. They write articles. They author blogs. They are in both formal and informal conversations on a regular basis. If we allow for grammatical slippage, how far will we let it go?
  3. Good grammar can provide greater credibility. Maybe it’s not fair, but it’s a reality. The better we speak and write, the more likely people are to listen to our message. And we have the greatest message the world has ever known.
  4. Good grammar is a reflection of a good work ethic. A person who has not learned the difference between “it’s” and “its” after 30 or more years has not worked hard at grammar. If someone has not worked hard at grammar, can that mean he or she has not worked hard in other areas?
  5. Learning good grammar means we take care of the details. The English language is a complicated language. Those who master it are not necessarily the smartest people; but they are people who care about details. Those who care about details in grammar are likely to care about important details in ministry.

Tim Challies - The False Teachers: Charles Taze Russell
Unlike so many other false teachers before and after him, Russell did not rely upon visions or other extra-biblical revelation. Rather, he simply interpreted, and misinterpreted, the Bible. While claiming to be a Christian and, in fact, a Christian who was restoring the faith of the New Testament, he denied many key Christian doctrines including eternal punishment, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and the existence of the Holy Spirit.

Russell, as with most Adventists, denied the existence of hell as a place where the wicked face God’s wrath. He also held that the soul simply ceases to exist after death.

As with Arius centuries before, he held that Jesus was a created being, and was actually Michael the Archangel in human form. While he taught that this Jesus died on behalf of humanity, he also taught that Jesus rose only spiritually rather than physically. While he denied the divinity of Jesus, he denied the existence of the Holy Spirit, teaching that the Spirit is not a person, but simply a name given to express a specific manifestation of God’s power. In denying the divinity of Jesus and the existence of the Holy Spirit, he necessarily denied the Trinity.

PriceonomicsWhy Thieves Steal Soap
At the Walgreens on Market Street in San Francisco, customers often need to call a store employee to unlock a display case for them. The customers are not tech titans buying laptop batteries or wealthy San Franciscans purchasing jewelry or top-shelf liquor. Workers unlock cases of baby formula, shampoo, and soap for a mix of office workers and low-income customers.  

It’s well known that pharmacies need to protect their stores of cold medicine, which methamphetamine cooks like Jesse Pinkman can use to make product. But why soap? Is a $6 bottle of Dove body wash really worth the squeeze?

Walgreens realizes that it is; retail assistants explain that the locks prevent thefts. Understanding why requires an appreciation of the illicit market for stolen goods.

A great guide -- at least for those of us with book smarts rather than street smarts -- is an article in the Journal of Criminology, “How Prolific Thieves Sell Stolen Goods,” based on a U.K. crime reduction study.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Free ebook: "Found: God's Will" by John MacArthur

Every Christian wants to know and live by the will of God. But how do we find God's will? In this short little booklet, John MacArthur provides a way to always know God's will. For a limited time, it is available for free on Kindle. Here is the book's description:
Does God have a path for me? How do I make the right choices in life? Why is it so difficult to uncover God's will?

Trusted pastor and teacher John MacArthur answers these vital questions and more. Found: God's Will shares six powerful principles that will give you direction, fill you with purpose, and give you the confidence to live out His plan for you.
You can download the book here.

Things continue to go south for "Obamacare" . . .

. . . as the following stories from Special Report with Bret Baier show.

For more:
Christians Should Support Universal Healthcare?: A Response to NT Wright
A Must Read: "We Need Death Panels"
More than Glitches: President Obama Addresses the Many Healthcare Problems
Against the Mandate Before He Was For It: The President in the Primaries
The Politics of Cowardice:  Health Care Passes
Some Life Not Worth the Investment:  The Dangers of the Health Care Bill
Another Political Lie: Abortion and Health Care
Is Health Care a Right?:  Williams Weighs In
Health Care, Ideology, and the Gospel:  Colson Weighs In 

The Message of Jesus Has Nothing To Do With Material Poverty - Part 4

The Message of Jesus Has Nothing To Do With Material Poverty - Part 1
The Message of Jesus Has Nothing To Do With Material Poverty - Part 2
The Message of Jesus Has Nothing To Do With Material Poverty - Part 3
The Message of Jesus Has Nothing To Do With Material Poverty - Part 4 

In the previous three posts, I have argued that the gospel of Jesus regards the regeneration of a man's heart, not the alleviation of poverty. Jesus did not come as a humanitarian but as a Savior of men - rich and poor. This fundamental message is often hijacked and confused by well-intentioned liberal theologians who want to present a more relevant Jesus. Such talk about repentance is much easier on the ears when it is defined as charity and submission to the party platform of the Democratic party. Yet Jesus demands more than social justice, he demands justification.

In the previous three posts, all of the passages in the Gospels regarding poverty and the poor were classified into three separate categories. Categories 1 and 2 were addressed in the previous article (click here). In this and the next post, I want to briefly discuss the third category which include passages that challenge my thesis most directly or are frequently cited by so-called Red-Letter Christians and the like. These passages include Matthew 25:34-46; Luke 4:18; Mark 10:21; Mark 12:41ff (parallel in Luke 21:2-3); and Luke 18:22.

The first passage, Matthew 25:34-46, which is, without a doubt the most cited passage from the Gospels regarding social justice is, will dominate our time today. Here's the text:
34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’
41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ 44 Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
This passage is often interpreted to mean that Jesus demands charity to the poor as a means of salvation. Consider the following quote I highlighted in the first post from Tony Campolo:
The fact is there are 2,000 verses in Scripture that talk about caring for the poor.  And I don’t care what else your into, if you ignore what the Bible is really about, helping poor and oppressed people, you’ve missed the message of Jesus . . . I see you’ve got the white band on Bono, and here is a guy who is a rock singer who has done more to articulate what Christianity is really about than most we preachers.  In fact he says to be Christian is to commit to the poor and oppressed.  The only description that Jesus gives of judgment day is how we treated the poor.  On that day, He’s not going to ask you theology questions . . . Here’s what it’s going to be, 25th chapter of Matthew, “I was hungry, did you feed me?  I was naked, did you clothe me?  I was sick, did you care for me?  I was an alien, did you take me in?  What you’ve failed to do to the least of these, you failed to do unto me because I’m not up in the sky somewhere.  I’m waiting to be loved in people who hurt.  And as you relate to people who hurt, your relating to me.”  There is no Christianity that does not tie us up with the poor and the oppressed of the world.
That last sentence is important. Based on his reading of Matthew 25 he states There is no Christianity that does not tie us up with the poor and the oppressed of the world. Is this true? Is this how we ought to interpret this text? I do not believe so.

In his systematic theology, Christian Theology, Dr. Millard Erickson argues this text describes the fruit of salvation, not the definition of salvation. He writes:
Perhaps the most problematic passage is Matthew 25:31-46, which seems to suggest that our eternal destiny will be based on whether or not we have done works of kindness and charity for others. One feature of this account should be noted, however. The works done to others are not really the basis on which the judgment is rendered. For these works are regarded as having been done (or not having been done) to Jesus himself (vv. 40, 45). It is, then, one's relationship to the Lord, not to one's fellows, that is the basis for the judgment. The question arises: If the works done to others are not the basis of judgment, why are they brought into consideration at all? To answer this question, we must see Matthew 25:31-46 in the broader setting of the doctrine of salvation. Note here the surprise of both groups when the evidence is presented (vv. 37-39, 44). They had not thought of works done to others as indicative of their relationship with God. Even those who had done works of charity are superseded when their deeds of kindness are introduced into evidence. True, works are not meritorious. However, they are evidence of our relationship with Christ and of his grace already operating in us.
Key to Erickson's argument here is when he writes: Note here the surprise of both groups when the evidence is presented (vv. 37-39, 44). They had not thought of works done to others as indicative of their relationship with God. If the "heavenly" crowd knew their acts of charity were the means of their salvation, why are they so surprised? Instead, we should see that those who enter Christ's Kingdom are justified by Christ and as justified citizens of the Kingdom, do the works of the King.

Of course this text is more than this, but it is at least this. I find Greg Gilbert and Kevin DeYoung's argument that "The least of these" refers to other Christians in need, in particular itinerant Christian teachers dependent on hospitality from their family of faith (What is the Mission of the Church?, 162-163) compelling, but such a discussion goes beyond the point of this post.

One more point needs to be made hinted at by Erickson. Scripture is clear that salvation is an act of justification, not sanctification. We are saved only by the finished work of Christ, not by our own works. For Jesus to suggest otherwise in Matthew 25 is to contradict what Jesus Himself had taught elsewhere in the Gospels and what the Bible teaches throughout.

We conclude with this: salvation in Christ is not defined by charity. Nonetheless, those who are truly saved truly love and serve others including the poor.

All Around the Web - March 27, 2014

The Guardian - These are the top 10 most satisfying jobs: surprised?
A thinktank looking at national wellbeing has released some research into the most satisfying careers. The most well-paid aren't the happiest, according to the results, as reported by the BBC. Members of the clergy, who earn on average £20,568 a year, are the most satisfied of all. They're followed by highly paid chief executives, but at number four another low-paid profession, that of company secretary, pops up.

Below are the top 10 occupations, their mean income and their life satisfaction rating.

1. Clergy

2. Chief executives and senior officials

3. Managers and proprietors in agriculture and horticulture

4. Company secretaries

5. Quality assurance and regulatory professionals

Thom RainerThe Importance of a Supportive Spouse in Ministry: Five Key Areas
  1. The importance of a spouse for emotional support (34% of the men and 29% of the women). A pastor recently shared with me his frustration with his church and his temptation to quit ministry. I asked him what has kept him going thus far. He told me: “The call of God and the support of my wife.” Many of us in ministry have similar stories.
  2. The importance of a spouse to accept career demands (16% of the men and 17% of the women). Someone who serves on a church staff is typically on call 24/7. Though pastors and church staff should do everything they can to give their families time, emergencies happen. Many needs are time sensitive. It takes a special spouse to handle that reality.
  3. The importance of a spouse to provide practical help (26% of the men and 13% of the women). In the HBR article, this practical help specifically addressed child raising and housekeeping and similar functions. I know a man whose wife serves as children’s minister in a church. It is very important for him to be home on weekends, particularly Sundays, because that’s his wife’s workday. He needs to be available to take care of the kids.
  4. Career advice (19% of the men and 13% of the women). I have looked to my wife every time I sensed God leading me to another place of ministry. She not only has been supportive, she has offered me wise and timely counsel. I was talking to a pastor just yesterday about a possible ministry change. He shared with me how important his wife is in providing counsel and advice.
  5. Willingness to relocate (10% of the men and 8% of the women). I feel confident that these percentages would be much higher among those in vocational ministry. The ministry is more often than not a very noble and mobile calling.

John Piper - If You Watch One Video Today, Make It This One

Eric MetaxasThe Overuse of Solitary Confinement
In 1841, Charles Dickens toured the United States. One of the places he visited was Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, which is regarded as the first modern penitentiary.

Eastern State was regarded as a “rational, humane replacement” for earlier prisons. Inmates were housed separately in relatively comfortable accommodations for the time. The expectation was that the solitude would produce reflection, which in turn, would produce repentance and rehabilitation.
Dickens was not impressed. He believed that the isolation’s “slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain . . . [was] immeasurably worse than any torture of the body.”

Experience and science have confirmed Dickens’ misgivings. Yet, a census of state and federal prisons conducted in 2005 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found nearly 82,000 inmates were held in “restricted housing.”

Slate - The Woman Who Invented the Chocolate Chip Cookie

Julia Child and James Beard have nearly as much name recognition to many Americans as the Founding Fathers. But when was the last time you ate one of their dishes? I'm betting it’s a lot longer ago than your last chocolate chip cookie.

And yet, probably not one in 20 Americans know the name of the chef who invented America’s favorite cookie, if they even realize they were invented. Chocolate chip cookies are so ubiquitous and taken for granted that many people assume they've been around as long as apple pie and ice cream and have equally ancient, anonymous origins.

These cookies were actually dreamed up within the lifetime of many living sugar addicts by a visionary named Ruth Wakefield, and it’s about time we paid homage.

She was a Depression-era owner of the Toll House restaurant in Whitman, Mass., who decided in 1938 to up the appeal of some butterscotch cookies she had been serving alongside dishes of ice cream with some cut-up pieces of chocolate bar. And thus an American dessert icon was born.

Charlie Brown Peanuts Movie Trailer:

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Hump Day Humor: Schwarzenegger Undercover

HT: 22 Words

From Lewis' Pen: When Love Becomes a Demon

From The Four Loves:
St. John's saying that God is love has long been balanced in my mind against the remark of a modern author (M. Denis de Rougement) that "love ceases to be a demon only when he ceases to be a god"; which of course can be re-stated in the form "begins to be a demon the moment he begins to be a god." This balance seems to me an indispensable safeguard. If we ignore it the truth that God is love may slyly come to mean for us the converse, that love is God. I suppose that everyone who has thought about the matter will see what M. de Rougemont meant. Every human love, at its height, has a tendency to claim for itself a divine authority. Its voice tends to sound as if it were the will of God Himself. It tells us not to count the cost, it demands of us a total commitment, it attempts to over-ride all other claims and insinuates that any action which is sincerely done "for love's sake" is thereby lawful and even meritorious. That erotic love and love of one's country may thus attempt to "become gods" is generally recognised. But family affection may do the same. (6)

From Lewis' Pen Series
From Lewis' Pen: Until You Fully Love God
From Lewis' Pen: As the Ruin Falls
From Lewis' Pen: Screwtape on Marriage
From Lewis' Pen: Lay Down Your Arms
From Lewis' Pen: Aslan is on the Move
From Lewis' Pen: Lead us, Evolution, Lead us
From Lewis' Pen: Lead us, Evolution, Lead us
From Lewis' Pen: An Exaggerated Feminine Type
From Lewis' Pen: Theology as a Map
From Lewis' Pen: A Lot of Wrong Ideas
From Lewis' Pen: Children Know Better Than Grownups
From Lewis' Pen: The Historical Jesus
From Lewis' Pen: Aim at Heaven
From Lewis' Pen: Satan Speaks

For more:
Lewis on Practical Theology
Lewis on the Why of Democracy
From Uncle Screwtape:  Christianity and Politics 
Theology As a Map: Lewis, Practical Theology, and the Trinity
"Screwtape Letters" by CS Lewis: A Review
The Most Unpopular of Christian Virtues: Lewis on Chasity - Part 1
The Most Unpopular of Christian Virtues: Lewis on Chasity - Part 2
The Most Unpopular of Christian Virtues: Lewis on Chasity - Part 3 
"Willing Slaves of the Welfare State": CS Lewis on Freedom, Science, and Society - Part 1
"Willing Slaves of the Welfare State": CS Lewis on Freedom, Science, and Society - Part 2
He is Not a Tame Lion: Aslan, Jesus, and the Limits of Postmodern Inclusivism  
To Be Undragoned: Aslan, Christ, and the Gift of Regeneration 
Lewis on Practical Theology  
Lewis on the Why of Democracy
From Uncle Screwtape:  Christianity and Politics      
Theologians I Have Been Influenced By - The Dead
"The Magician's Twin: C.S. Lewis and the Case Against Scientism" Full Documentary
Beyond Narnia:  A Great Documentary 
"Surprised by Joy" by Lewis
"Jack:  A Life of CS Lewis"  
"The Great Divorce" by Lewis
"Finding God in the Land of Narnia
"A Mixture of Fool and Knave": CS Lewis on Theological Liberalism

All Around the Web - March 26, 2014

Special Report with Bret Baier - SCOTUS hears arguments on ObamaCare contraception mandate

The Gospel Coalition - Your Options in Fertility
Nonetheless, there are several morally permissible options for Christian couples facing infertility. Here are five.

1. It's okay to pursue no further treatment. Some couples happily accept that childbearing isn't God's current plan for them and look to his guidance for the future. I've found some couples hear this word with great relief, especially given the stresses involved with fertility treatment.

2. It's possible to wait. Even though infertility is diagnosed after a year of trying to get pregnant, only 85 percent of couples are expected to conceive in the first year. Sometimes "infertility" is really just impatience. For those considering taking things further, however, some doctors would advise they not wait longer than six months if any of the following apply: the woman is older than 35 years old; there's a history of absent or irregular monthly periods or pelvic inflammatory disease; either partner has been treated for cancer or a serious illness such as diabetes or hypertension.

3. The couple can seek a diagnosis to determine the cause of infertility. This diagnosis can be helpful even if no further treatment is pursued—simply to know what's going on. A cause for the infertility can be found in 80 percent of cases. Male factors account for about a third, female factors about the same number, and about 40 percent of cases are due to multiple factors. Sometimes the underlying problem can be corrected easily. It may have nothing to do with the reproductive system. Regardless, couples should continue to regard infertility as a joint problem within their marriage—rather than one partner's problem—so that blame isn't focused on one person. This approach helps marital unity.

4. Subsequent to diagnosis it's increasingly common for the couple to receive a recommendation to go straight to Assisted Reproductive Therapy (ART) treatment rather than to try treating the underlying problem. At this point I'd particularly urge Christian couples to stop, pray, collect information, think carefully, and not just agree to anything that will help them achieve their desire for a baby. Ethical problems are avoided by looking ahead. In some ways, the advent of assisted reproductive therapies—in vitro fertilization (IVF), for example—has increased the anguish of infertility since these treatments can prolong the struggle for years. Moreover, pressure from other family members, such as potential grandparents, can make it even harder to choose. Someone familiar with the process needs to be involved in order to make sure decisions are based on facts. Costs are not just medical but also emotional, relational, and spiritual.

5. Couples may consider adoption at any point of their journey. It helps if they've come to terms with the loss of the potential for biological offspring before exploring this option. It is entirely possible to have a healthy, loving family without any genetic link. Embryo adoption is a new option to consider in this vein. And spiritual adoption—being the Christian parents someone doesn't have—will always be available in the church.

Doug WilsonTotal Depravity
Before I came to understand and embrace the Biblical doctrine of resurrecting grace, I was kept away by a combination of factors. One reason, of course, was my own prejudices and ignorance. Certain truths tend to rub our theological fur the wrong way, and they have had that tendency since at least the time of Paul (Rom. 9:19). But there was another reason. I had trouble because my ignorance and prejudices were sometimes reinforced by how heard these issues presented. Conse­quently, I thought I understood what in fact I did not.

I write on one such topic, therefore, with some trepidation. I have no desire to mislead fellow Christians on such an important issue; our subject is the resurrection to eternal life, therefore, we must begin the discussion within the framework set by the Word of God.

Justin Taylor - A Conversation with Derek Thomas

The Gospel Coalition - How Pastors Can Care For Their Children
1. Think long-term.
2. Be intentional about your children's behavior on Sundays.
3. Praise your congregation to your children.
4. Don't talk about church conflicts in the hearing of your children.
5. Train and deploy the elder team.
6. Focus on the heart.
7. Guard your special family times.

Obeying Christ - Born that Way? Naturalism and Homosexuality
Edward Welch’s book Blame It on the Brain?: Distinguishing Chemical Imbalances, Brain Disorders, and Disobedience is an extremely helpful read for all.  One of the more persuasive arguments for the approval of homosexuality is the claim that a homosexual cannot help it, they are “born gay”.  The argument assumes the possibility of a gay gene in DNA.  Welch’s book provides some extremely helpful insight to this argument, and I want to add some background information that will help us think through this issue.  Therefore, in this post I will seek to accomplish two things: 1. Provide a survey of Welch’s chapter on Homosexuality and the “scientific evidence” for the gay gene, and 2. Provide a basis for Christian thought vs. Naturalistic/Evolutionist thought.

I prefer the Oxford Comma in case you cared.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

All Around the Web - World Vision

Since the news broke that World Vision will be hiring homosexuals going forward, the Christian blogosphere is ablaze. Since all of the heavy hitters have weighed in, I will refrain from public comment at this time.

Russell Moore - On World Vision and the Gospel
World Vision, an evangelical relief organization, announced today that they would now hire persons who are in same-sex marriages. The organization said, further, that this was no capitulation, just a recognition that some groups supporting World Vision have differing views on sex and marriage.

This is no surprise, on one level. The constellation of parachurch evangelical ministries founded after World War II have been running headlong, with some notable exceptions, toward the very mainline liberalism to which they were founded as alternatives. Some think if we can just barter away Christian orthodoxy fast enough we can catch the wave of that Presbyterian Church (USA) church growth boom.

But here’s what’s at stake. This isn’t, as the World Vision statement (incredibly!) puts it, the equivalent of a big tent on baptism, church polity, and so forth.

At stake is the gospel of Jesus Christ. If sexual activity outside of a biblical definition of marriage is morally neutral, then, yes, we should avoid making an issue of it. If, though, what the Bible clearly teaches and what the church has held for 2000 years is true, then refusing to call for repentance is unspeakably cruel and, in fact, devilish.

Christianity Today - World Vision: Why We're Hiring Gay Christians in Same-Sex Marriages
World Vision's American branch will no longer require its more than 1,100 employees to restrict their sexual activity to marriage between one man and one woman.

Abstinence outside of marriage remains a rule. But a policy change announced Monday [March 24] will now permit gay Christians in legal same-sex marriages to be employed at one of America's largest Christian charities.

In an exclusive interview, World Vision U.S. president Richard Stearns explained to Christianity Today the rationale behind changing this "condition of employment," whether financial or legal pressures were involved, and whether other Christian organizations with faith-based hiring rules should follow World Vision's lead.

Stearns asserts that the "very narrow policy change" should be viewed by others as "symbolic not of compromise but of [Christian] unity." He even hopes it will inspire unity elsewhere among Christians.

Trevin Wax - World Vision and Why We Grieve For the Children
World Vision has announced that its American branch will adjust its employee code of conduct to allow same-sex couples who are legally “married.”

Hoping to keep the evangelical organization out of debates over same-sex marriage, president Richard Stearns adjusted the employee code of conduct to sexuality within the confines of “marriage” whether between man and man or woman and woman. In other words, while declaring to not take a position on redefining marriage, his organization has redefined it.

Some observers are elated.

Evangelicals are shocked.

Many are outraged.

No matter what you think about this decision, I hope you feel a sense of grief… for the children. This is a story of deep and lasting significance, because there are children’s lives at stake in how we respond.

Albert Mohler - Pointing to Disaster — The Flawed Moral Vision of World Vision
Like all revolutions, moral revolutions are marked by events that signal major turning points in social transformation. Yesterday, March 24, 2014, will be remembered as one of those days. The headline in the news story by Christianity Today made the issue easy enough to understand — “World Vision: Why We’re Hiring Gay Christians in Same-Sex Marriages.”

As the magazine reported, “World Vision’s American branch will no longer require its more than 1,100 employees to restrict their sexual activity to marriage between one man and one woman.”

World Vision U.S. President Richard Stearns announced the change in a letter to World Vision staff. The organization, one of the largest humanitarian organizations in the world, “will continue to expect abstinence before marriage and fidelity within marriage for all staff,” Stearns said. He then added that “since World Vision is a multi-denominational organization that welcomes employees from more than 50 denominations, and since a number of these denominations in recent years have sanctioned same-sex marriage for Christians, the board—in keeping with our practice of deferring to church authority in the lives of our staff, and desiring to treat all of our employees equally—chose to adjust our policy.” That led to the key change Stearns was then to announce: “Thus, the board has modified our Employee Standards of Conduct to allow a Christian in a legal same-sex marriage to be employed at World Vision.”

John Piper - World Vision: Adultery No, Homosexual Practice Yes
Christianity Today reports that “World Vision’s American branch will no longer require its more than 1,100 employees to restrict their sexual activity to marriage between one man and one woman.” World Vision president, Richard Stearns, clarified, “The new policy will not exclude someone from employment if they are in a legal same-sex marriage.”

World Vision is in the top ten charities in America and took in over a billion dollars last year and serves over a 100 million people in 100 countries.

This “very narrow policy change,” Stearns explained, “is simply a decision about whether or not you are eligible for employment at World Vision U.S. based on this single issue, and nothing more. . . . This is not an endorsement of same-sex marriage. . . . We’re not caving to some kind of pressure. We’re not on some slippery slope. . . . This is not us compromising. It is us deferring to the authority of churches and denominations on theological issues.”

Kevin DeYoung - The Worldliness in World Vision’s New Hiring Policy 
World Vision, one of America’s largest Christian charities, is now open to hiring gays and lesbians. In yesterday’s surprise announcement, first reported by Christianity Today in an exclusive interview with World Vision U.S. president Richard Stearns, the Christian humanitarian organization explained that it will no longer prohibit its more than 1,100 American employees from homosexual activity, provided same-sex intercourse happens in the context of a legal marriage (as is sanctioned by the state of Washington where World Vision is headquartered).

According to Stearns, the move amounts to nothing more than a “very narrow policy change” which was not motivated by any outside pressure, only a desire to foster Christian unity. For Stearns and World Vision, the issue of homosexuality is something good Christians disagree on, just like they disagree on whether to dunk or sprinkle in baptism. “I think you have to be neutral on hundreds of doctrinal issues that could divide an organization like World Vision,”

Denny Burk - The Collapse of Christianity at World Vision
By now most readers will have heard about the news concerning the charity World Vision. Founded as an evangelical anti-poverty parachurch organization, the group announced new personnel policies today. President Richard Stearns announced that the ministry would allow employees to engage in sexual activity outside the covenant of marriage. To be specific, any “Christian” in a legal same-sex “marriage” will now be eligible for employment at World Vision.

Stearns claims that World Vision does not want to get mixed up in the contentious debate about gay marriage. Rather, they want to focus on the organization’s mission. So they will leave the debate about gay marriage for the churches to sort out. In the meantime, World Vision is going to move on from this issue.

The announcement from Stearns is all at once sad and self-contradictory. While claiming not to endorse same-sex marriage, World Vision has adopted a policy that looks just like the one that would be in place if they had endorsed same-sex marriage.

Albert Mohler - The Briefing - 3/25/14

"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapter 1

There are some books too important to simply write a short (or even lengthy) book review and then move on only to return to survey the highlights and comments one made in the margins. Recently while researching a number of topics regarding the Gospels, one book repeatedly came up: Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony by Dr. Richard Bauckham. After reading the first three chapters, it became clear to me why I came across it so many times and why a simple book review would not do. So just as I did with Dr. Millard Erickson's systematic theology textbook Christian Theology, I want to blog through Bauckham's volume. In this series I want to, for the most part, limit it chapter-by-chapter.

The first chapter, as one might expect, establishes Bauckham's thesis. He begins by surveying the lay of the land of the past two hundred years particularly when it comes to the so-called Quest for the Historic Jesus. I have lost count as to how many quests have been made since the first. Almost immediately, Bauckham reveals the problem with such quests: the quests, born in modern liberalism, tries to severe the Jesus of history from the Jesus of faith.

Immediately we confront our first problem. To the Gospels (and the rest New Testament), such a effort is superfluous. To them, the Jesus of history - and the Gospels claim to be historic documents - is the Jesus of faith. If Jesus was historically and physically raised from the dead, Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 15, then He is the Jesus of faith.

Though this point ought to be obvious, Bauckham shows that the said quests view the Gospels, essentially, as too theological and not historic enough. Though they ought to be taken seriously, they ought not be taken too seriously for the historian. He then argues:
Yet everything changes when historians suspect that these texts may be hiding the real Jesus from us, as best because they give us the historical Jesus filtered through the spectacles of early Christian faith, at worst because much of what they tell us is a Jesus constructed by the needs and interests of various groups in the early church. Then that phrase "the historical Jesus' comes to mean, not the Jesus of the Gospels, but the allegedly real Jesus behind the Gospels, the Jesus the historian must reconstruct by subjecting the Gospels to ruthlessly objective (so it is claimed) scrutiny. It is essential to realize that this is not just treating the Gospels as historical evidence. It is the application of a methodological skepticism that must test every aspect of the evidence so that what the historian establishes is not believable because the Gospels tell us it is, but because the historian has independently verified it. (2-3)
He then makes this insightful observation.
The result of such work is inevitably not one historical Jesus, but many. Among current historical Jesuses on offer there is the Jesus of Dominic Crossan, the Jesus of Marcus Borg, the Jesus of N. T. (Tom) Wright, the Jesus of Dale Allison, the Jesus of Gerd Theissen, and many others. The historian's judgment of the historical value of the Gospels may be minimal as in some of these cases, or maximal, as in others, but in all cases the result is a Jesus reconstructed by the historian, a Jesus attained by the attempt to go back behind the Gospels and, in effect, to provide an alternative to the Gospels' constructions of Jesus. (3)
We could add two more recent names to this list no more credible (in fact less credible) than the names he offers: Dan Brown (of The Da vinci Code fame) and even more recently Reza Aslan whose interview with Fox News went viral gaining him unnecessary and undeserved attention come immediately to mind.

This leads to an important point when it comes to the work of history: interpretation. Bauckham writes, All history - meaning all that historians write, all historiography - is an inextricable combination of fact and interpretation, the empirically observable and the intuited or constructed meaning (3). This is not to deny that history cannot be done or that all history is inaccurate. Instead, we must acknowledge the difference between facts (Jesus was crucified) from interpretation (He was/was not the Christ).*

So what must the historian do? This gets to Bauckham's main thesis. He suggests that we need to recover the sense in which the Gospels are testimony (5) Why? Because an irreducible feature of testimony as a form of human utterance is that it asks to be trusted (5). Furthermore, the Gospel texts are much closer to the form in which the eyewitnesses told their stories or passed on their traditions than is commonly envisaged in current scholarship (6). Thus Bauckham wants us to take the Gospels seriously and he shows in this book why we should. After all, The Gospels were written within living memory of the events they recount (7) by eyewitnesses in some cases (as in John). In fact, Bauckham argues, the Gospel traditions did not, for the most part, circulate anonymously but in the name of the eyewitnesses to whom they were due (8).

If such a thesis can be proven true, and I believe Bauckham makes a convincing argument in the book, then any so-called quest for a historical Jesus must begin, and ultimately end, with the Gospels. This is not to deny the value of non-canonical texts (earlier he called such an approach docetic citing NT Wright), but to recognize the historic value of the Gospels.

I seriously doubt any of those searching for the "real" Jesus and especially those that promote such quests in the media will be interested in Bauckham's argument. The media, anymore, is in the realm of entertainment, not historic accuracy (just look at the direction of the History Channel in recent years) and the sensational (read "unhistoric") claims of many "scholars" with their new (real "same old") reinterpretation of Jesus gets the most press.

* I should briefly point to a point I made earlier. For the Evangelists, the historic fact that Jesus was raised from the dead is proof of their interpretation that He must be the Christ. See Thomas' confession in John 20.

For more:
"The Historical Jesus": A Lecture by Ben Witherington
"The Story of Jesus" Documentary
We've All Heard This Before: "Zealot" and the Same Search For the Missing Jesus  
12 Proofs of Jesus' Deity From the Synoptic Gospels
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
"The Case For Christianity" Documentaries
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