Sunday, July 30, 2006

Searching for Truth

"The real underlying issue is that fundamentalism in the Southern Baptist form is incompatible with higher education. In fundamentalism, you have all the truths. In education, you're searching for truths."
So says David W. Key, director of Baptist Studies at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, in an article in the NY Times National edition on Saturday, July 22.

The article begins by talking about Georgetown College, a small, liberal arts college affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention. They recently severed ties with the KBC over the issue of whether or not they should hire a religion professor "who would teach a literal intepretation of the Bible."

They resisted in the name of academic freedom.

Consider the irony. An institution professing to be a place of academic freedom refuses to hire someone who espouses a particular view. Is not that the opposite of academic freedom? Apparently academic freedom means freedom to believe whatever someone says is okay to believe.

The KBC voted to phase out their $1.4 million dollar annual support over a period of four years. They should have cut it immediately without apology, in hopes of shutting the school down. But alas, they did not. The KBC missed a great chance to make a statement about the price of academic freedom.

William Crouch, the president of Georgetown calls themselves "a Christian college grounded in historic Baptist principle." Apparently, this man's education has let him down. Historically in Baptist life, there has always been room for a "literal intepretation of the Bible." How can a "Christian college grounded in historic Baptist principles" not allow such to be taught? And how is that Crouch maintains any academic credibility with such statements? Is Crouch really that under-educated, not to understand this very simple point?

A major component of this situation is Georgetown's "serious academic ambitions, like pursuing a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the college honor society." To acquire a chapter, they must have "freedom of inquiry and expression on campus." Presumably that does not include the freedom to inquire concerning the literal interpretation of the Bible, or the freedom to express such a view while holding a faculty position.

This is what happens when people become enamored with the darkened and hardened minds of the world instead of the wisdom of God in his revelation.

This is not about the search for truth as opposed to having all the truths. This is about trying to achieve academic respectability in the eyes of people who have no knowledge of God and his revelation.

I would imagine that Georgetown thinks that they "have all the truth" in their basic freshman level math courses. I would imagine that Georgetown expects certain English truths to be used in the writing of academic papers. Apparently the only place it is bad to have truth is when it involves a literal interpretation of the Bible. Why? Because Phi Beta Kappa said so.

Let's not bother to consult God when a chapter of an academic honor society is at stake. After all, we will stand before one in judgment and not the other.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Good Article on Canonicity

Kevin Bauder of Central Baptist Theological Seminary has written an excellent summary article on the subject of the canon of Scripture, how we know what books should be in the Bible. The Gospel of Judas has brought this issue into the mainstream news, but it has always been in the minds of people, particularly from certain religious traditions.

Bauder debunks the myth that the canon depends on the church, a key argument for those who deny sola scriptura in favor of the Roman Catholic Church and her authority as the true church. He gives a brief summation of the tests (or evidences, I prefer) of canonicity. He also shows how the NT writings were shown by NT Scripture to be on par with the OT writings, that are almost universally recognized as Scripture.

For those who have never understood this, or have friends who question you about it, this article will give you some good material to build your understanding on.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Rubbing It In

My wife, who is always a genius shopper, goes down to the market almost every Saturday, usually just as the vendors are closing down for the day. As a result she often gets large boxes of fruits and vegetables for next to nothing. Over the last few years, she has gotten to know some people who have been very kind to us and kept us in fruits and vegetables. One man, in particular, is a man from Brazil who gives us, among other things, mushrooms.

So my wife called him last Saturday to find out if he was there. He told her to come down, but only if she brought our son. (He's great, by the way.)

So when she gets there, Leo says to her, "You remember the guy who got head-butted in the World Cup Final." She replies, "Yes." He says, "This is his uncle." Sure enough, the Italian player's uncle is there in the market, friends with this Brazilian man.

Of course, you can imagine the kind of trashtalking that an Italian was giving to an Brazilian after this recent World Cup. My wife said this Italian man was really enjoying his country's superiority, especially in the presence of a Brazilian.

Which reminds me that winning is always better than losing, but winning does not feel as good as losing feels bad. But at least you get to talk about it.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Tony Jones on Emergent

Tony Jones is the National Coordinator of Emergent, a group comprised of those with interest in the emergent church. In a recent interview with Relevant Magazine, Jones gives some interesting information on his (their) perspective. It would be worth a quick read if you want to understand more about the Emergent's view of themselves without getting it from people who don't always properly represent them, or even tell the truth about what they believe for that matter.

Let me comment on just two things. First, Jones says,
Just this morning, we came out with an anti-statement of faith that explains why we don’t have a statement of faith. I’d say that one of the core principles or convictions is that the very nature of theology is one of conversation and dialogue, not one of setting boundaries and safeguards from elusive historic orthodoxy. The way that we live into historic orthodoxy is by being in conversation with it as it rolls into the future and confronts new cultural dilemmas. There’s no clear-cut orthodox position on stem cell research, for instance. But we as a culture and as a church are going to figure it out by being in a very robust yet respectful dialogue about it. This is how orthodoxy actually works, when we’re in conversation among believers, Scripture and the history of the Church.
I believe Jones is referring to this anti-statement of faith, which I addressed here.

In this brief interview with Relevant, I think Jones confirms that the Emergent doctrinal position is a sign of great theological immaturity. Their non-doctrinal doctrinal statement is a telling sign of the great problems in emergent theology. For all their progress in conversation, they have regressed in doctrine.

To equate a "clear-cut position on stem cell research" with the historic orthodoxy of the deity of Christ or the exclusivity of salvation in Christ by faith alone is staggering. By what possible road can we conclude that these topics are even remotely similar?

I am firmly opposed to embryonic stem cell research. But I realize that bio-medical ethics in an ever-increasing technological world is not as clear cut as other issues. Would Tony really have us believe that a position on stem cell research is somehow similar to a position on the deity of Christ? I would think not, but that seems to be the only conclusion we can draw, absent his clarification. Certainly, I would think that one could be saved while endorsing stem cell research. One cannot be saved while rejecting the deity of Christ.

To reject historic Christian doctrine because technological advances are sometimes confusing is the height of arrogance, it seems to me, especially when you are rejecting things that are clearly revealed because of things that are not clearly revealed. What kind of elevation of man's mind over God's revelation leads to that conclusion?

Secondly, Jones says,
I’m even more concerned that people have statements of faith. Statements of faith are about drawing boards, which means you have to load your weapons and place soldiers at those borders. You have to check people’s passports when they pass those borders. It becomes an obsession—guarding the borders. That is simply not the ministry of Jesus. It wasn’t the ministry of Paul or Peter. It started to become the ministry of the early Church, and it abated somewhat in the Middle Ages and blew back to life in the time of modernity. For the short duration of time that I have on this planet to do my best to partner with God and build His kingdom, I don’t want to spend it guarding borders. I’d like to spend it inviting people into the kingdom. Statements of faith don’t do they. They’re a modernistic endeavor that I’m not the least bit interested in.
This is more of the same kind of thinking that is illustrated above.

The ministry of Jesus was very much about guarding the borders. John 5:39-40 drew a border about the OT revelation about salvation in Christ. Jesus's conversations with religious people was "You're wrong; I'm right" (Matt 23:13ff.). Other similar passages could be cited.

Jesus drove people off with his strong teaching (cf. John 6:66). He took his ministry from great multitudes at the beginning who were impressed by his great teaching and miracles, to no one at the end, since even his closest had fled from him disillusioned by his death. In all of this, Jesus was drawing a border, a border that would ultimately be marked by his death, and who is "in Christ" and who is not.

He calls statements of faith a "modernistic endeavor." It seems to me that statements of faith date back at least to 1445 BC when the Great Shema was given to Israel: "Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!" (Deut 6:4). It is hard to imagine that such a statement is not a statement of faith that draws a border. It is even harder to imagine that Jones conceives of modernity stretching back 3500 years.

Paul was a great border guard, as revealed in his epistles. Remember in Ephesus was he delivered Hymanaeus and Alexander to Satan because they were not teaching "the faith." How did Paul know they were not teaching the faith? There was some kind of "doctrinal statement" by which he could evaluate their teaching.

In viewing the NT teaching on doctrine and the borders drawn by it, we can clearly see that borders serve to remind us who is on what team. Do you think that I would be welcome in Jones' "non-doctrinal statement"? I imagine he would draw a border around me, and those who believe like I do.

What is also interesting for its confusion is Jones statement that he wants to invite people into the kingdom. Without borders, how do you know who is not already in the kingdom? Part of being "in the kingdom" is about what you affirm and what you deny, as well as how you live. If there are no borders, then there is no kingdom.

To read something like this recalls to my mind times when a seminary professor I sat under talked about those who want to be more Christian to Christ.

Jones has distorted to position of the historical church on doctrine and borders. And that is what makes this wing of the emergent church dangerous.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Dear God, In Case You Didn't Know ...

"Christianity in America won't survive another decade."

I just got the memo today, and I didn't know if You had received it yet. The National Assocation of Evangelicals was kind enough to clue me in through the mail today, and they promise me a "wake up call" if I will pay them $39 and travel to one of almost thirty locations this fall.

I must confess that all this time, I have been thinking You were in control of American Christianity since Your Son promised He would build His church. I always assumed that the promise included His building His church in America too. Perhaps my mistake was in thinking that Jesus meant "the Church" when he in fact had in mind some other organizations to do what the church would be unable to do. Fortunately for us, Ted Haggard, Pat Roberston, Josh McDowell, John Maxwell, Joyce Meyer, Jack Hayford, Jerry Falwell and some of their friends educating us on how to "do [our] part in saving this generation."

Perhaps You can send us a fresh message with some fresh "how to" information since the one You already gave us apparently is not working well enough to save American Christianity.

After all, what would the world do without American Christianity. Today, we have become much more Christlike and loving than the previous generations of the unenlightened. We have seen the error of drawing lines around things like Jesus and salvation, truth and revelation. We have realized that age old debates about imputed righteousness and infused righteousness were really agreements about how we get to God. We have progessed in our wisdom to the stage where we can see that the old ways of rigid separation from the intellect of apostasy and the arrogance of disobedience were fort building exercises by people determined to hunker down in their bunkers and hold out for Jesus to come. If only Jesus had been so enlightened, he would have worked with the Pharisees to draw a bigger crowd and pad the missions budget. He could have used their buildings instead of preaching out of boats.

To be quite frank, I am not sure what we do if American Christianity didn't survive another decade.

On second thought, maybe the death of American Christianity would bring a return to New Testament Christianity, You know, the kind you envisioned when Peter, Paul, James and John, along with countless others laid it all on the line. And when I say all, I don't mean they gave up their gas guzzling SUVs for hybrids. And I don't mean they gave up their Saturday nights to start a service for those who had other things to do on Sunday mornings. I mean that they gave up their lives and freedoms, their jobs and families for the sake of the call of Jesus.

Back then, it seems like Christianity tended to preach the gospel more and politics less. (By the way, can You send Pat Robertson a message and tell him that rather than assassinating foreign leaders, we should just assassinate the weak, anemic, consumer driven American Christianity.) It seemed they were more concerned with people than programs. It took doctrine seriously, and had the audacity to tell some people that they "weren't one of us." It somehow couldn't comprehend that Jesus didn't morph into a different person to find every man's mind; He was who He was, and we needed to change our minds to fit Him, not change Him to fit our minds. When it spoke of commitment, it did not include funding the the GOP (God's Own Party???). Nor did it include preaching that some people were not being taxed enough. It was so limited in its creativity, it tended to limit its messages to what you said. God, would you spare from us from more creativity?

Maybe death is what we need. Would You do us a favor and kill American Christianity? And please don't wait a decade to do it. There is too much at stake.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Crassness of Greed

[Updated] A story out of Madison, WI reports that a 25 year old daughter is suing her parents for $75,000 because she slipped and fell on some ice breaking her ankle.

Maybe the parents should sue themselves for bad parenting for raising such an ingrateful and unthinking daughter who could commit the nice act of surprising her mother for her birthday and then the unthinkable act of suing them for $75,000. How did this girl turn out so self-centered and greedy that she would sue her own parents?

Maybe, on second thought, the parents should countersue their daughter for the eighteen or so years of backrent, food, clothing, emotional distress incurred by raising a teenager, and countless other things that encountered and endured along the road.

Maybe I am too old school, but I cannot imagine suing my parents for anything.
Of course, this may be an attempt to get insurance to pay legitimate medical bills which are covered by insurance. It is certainly not unthinkable that an insurance company would balk at doing what they are paid to do, since they are trying to keep all the money they can. If there was proper coverage, then the insurance company should pony up and save the taxpayers the time tying up the courts with this nonsense. If this is merely an insurance issue, that is a totally different picture.

However, my attorney friend did remind me of story where a daughter sued her mother for wrongful birth. I remember the story now, but cannot remember the details. (I suppose I could google it.) Several years ago, some children sued parents for "divorce." That was a bit strange. But it does prove that that children do sue parents.

Does my attorney friend have a view on this? [He did, and I edited my comments somewhat, since he leans towards this perhaps being an insurance issue.]

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Chasing the Culture

An interesting post on Steve Camp's blog tries to elucidate some of the issues of the emerging church. I always find these kinds of posts interesting. Of course, I find the informed ones more interesting than the others. The problem is that informed posts are sometimes hard to find. This article by Gilley has some good and some bad, but what led me to post was two things.

First, he mentions as a key feature of the emerging church their view of truth. At this point, it is necessary to underline these comments with a point that Gilley should have made clear, but did not. The emerging church is not in agreement about the nature of truth. There are some in the emerging church conversation that hold a very low view of truth. McLaren is guilty of this to a great degree, despite his claims to the contrary. There are also some in the emerging church that hold a very high view of truth. Mark Driscoll would be an example of this. This highlights the shapeless nature of the emerging church. The temptation for many is to broadbrush emerging churches into the same category. We must resist that temptation (and repent of it if you have done it).

But on to the point about the nature of truth. I believe a strength of the conservative side of the emerging church is their ability and willingness to communicate absolute truth to people who do not buy the idea of absolute truth. In other words, they are willing to engage in a dialogical presentation of the truth that engages its opponents while arguing strongly and correctly for its own view. Too many are willing to engage only in a demagogical presentation of the truth that ultimately turns away hearers. At this point, the problem is not the commitment to absolute truth. It is the presentation of it that turns people off.

This is highlighted by a comment I heard recently from Ed Stetzer. It caught my attention because it was the same point that I have written an article about that I have never posted. Perhaps I should post it. The point is simply this: We must use the gospel to answer the questions that people are actually asking, rather than the questions that we think they should be asking. We must be willing to show that Jesus is the answer to the real questions of life, and all other questions should be framed in a different way. (Tim Keller has also done some great stuff on this idea.)

Dialoging with unbelievers and answering their questions is not the same as holding a fluid view of truth. We need to do better on learning to talk to people who do not already share our worldview. Fundamentalists are notoriously bad at that. We are great at preaching to the choir; not so good at interacting with the world.

Gilley says,
The emerging church is concerned about presenting genuine Christianity in a way the postmodern culture understands. Since the very heart of postmodernity is rejection of absolute authoritative truth, yet Christianity claims to be the proclamation of absolute authoritative truth, a head-on collision is almost unavoidable.
He is correct about both assertions. However, I am not convinced that he draws the proper conclusion from them. To insist that the emerging church "must" compromise in order to reach postmoderns is incorrect. His statement that "There is no absolute truth or ultimate reality in the emergent agenda" is an overstatement of the reality. There will no doubt be a collision. Let us not shrink from it. Let us simply brace ourselves for it and be prepared to deal with the realities of living in an emerging culture.

The second point that jumps out at me from Gilley's comments is when he says, "the emergent church is a movement chasing a culture." I think he is right. And I do not think that is necessarily bad. We live in a culture, and we have to "chase it" with the gospel. That is what Christ commanded when he said to go into all the world and preach the gospel. He did not command the culture to come to us. As one person says, separating ourselves from culture is like separating ourselves from air. You cannot do it. There is good air and bad air, just as there is good culture and bad culture. In every culture there is some good because of common grace . In every culture there is some bad because of sin (more on this later).

Regardless of our view of the culture in which we live, it is the culture in which we live. We can curse it, and run from it. Or we can engage it with the truth of Jesus presented in a way that they can comprehend. We can look for points of commonality, where the questions of unbelievers are answered by the truth claims of Christ, and then answer those questions. We can point unbelievers to the fact that their question in reality are undergirded by a false belief system and therefore their question is the wrong question. That is what we must do.

Obviously, chasing the culture can take a wrong turn, if that chase involves compromising on doctrine. But even at this, we need to make sure that we drive our stakes in the ground on essentials, rather than on non-essentials. The emerging church has certainly failed to drive their stakes in the right place. But that should not keep us from driving them in the right place while we take the gospel to the culture in which we live.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Book Review: Praying With The Church

Praying With the Church, by Scot McKnight, is a new book about old ideas. McKnight urges the Christians to unite their hearts with others in prayer by praying at set times throughout the day when others are praying as well. In so doing, he has offered some thoughts that I have never considered.

The premise of the book is that the church has historically observed regular times throughout the day when the church prays, even though they may not be assembled together. It draws on the OT practices of Jewish prayer such as recorded in Psalm 55:17 (morning, noon, and night), and shows the apostles in Acts following the pattern when Peter and John go to the temple to pray at the ninth hour (Acts 3:1.). (McKnight stops short of showing this practice of prayer as a mandate for continuation in the NT church.)

The book is centered on the idea of “sacred rhythms,” or praying at fixed times with set prayers (p. 1). He calls this “praying with the church.” It is contrasted with praying in the church, when “an individual prays exactly and only what is on his or her heart” (p. 1). In praying with the saints, we come closer to God and closer to God’s people, and we “confess the communion of the saints” (p. 11). By doing this, “we are invited to join a revolving twenty-four round of uninterrupted prayer offered by God’s people all over the world” (p. 13).

This focus on regular set times of prayer for the church is undoubtedly the highlight of this book. McKnight urges believers to plan their day around prayer times, rather than considering prayer and interruption, or something you schedule around your day. This idea is an idea worthy of serious consideration, whether or not one follows McKnight’s other suggestions.

The book is divided into four major sections. One chapter each is devoted to the introduction and conclusion, with two longer sections about “Jesus and Daily Rhythms of Prayer” and “The Church and Daily Rhythms of Prayer.”

A large portion of the book focuses on the use of prayer books, such as the Book of Common Prayer (Anglican), The Liturgy of the Hours (Roman Catholic), A Manual of Eastern Orthodox Prayers, and The Divine Hours (ecumenical). These books contain pre-written prayers and prayer schedules. After having read McKnight’s evaluation of these books, I remain unconvinced of the value of using such prayer books, in particular these books. McKnight reminds us that “everything Israel and Jesus learned about prayer can be found in the psalms” (p. 44). He says “If the Psalter was good enough to be Jesus’ prayer book, it is good enough for ours.” So I can sum up my thoughts on this third section about prayer books by simply wondering this: If the Psalter is good enough for Jesus and good enough for us, why did not McKnight skip the five chapters on prayer books and write on the Psalms? This theme of Jesus and the Psalter (which I think is correct) seems to undermine a large part of his book. And quite frankly, I think the book would have been better had he focused on the prayers of the Psalms rather than the prayers of the prayer books. Prayer books can serve a function in the way that hymns and poems, that of crystallizing scriptural truths that are found elsewhere in Scripture. But I am not sure that these are the best prayer books, nor are they necessary for prayer.

There is much good in this book. McKnight issues a healthy call to formulate our lives around prayer, rather than considering our lives interrupted by prayer. It is helpful to think in terms of set prayers as a way to schedule our days, knowing that others are praying with us at that time. Used in a corporate setting of a local church, encouraging church members to pause throughout their days at set times could be a way of giving the church some concrete solutions to the age old struggle with prayer. He says “Learning to pray set prayers at fixed times according to a sacred rhythm can reinvigorate our prayer lives and life the burden of creativity off our shoulders” (p. 14). I can certainly identify with this.

McKnight rightly comments that the use of set prayers does not lead to vain repetitions. Mindless use of set prayers leads to vain repetition. Set prayers are not magic wands. They help to formulate our own prayers using the prayers of others as a basis. Though I cannot recall McKnight saying this (and I think he should have), I would urge that set prayers be the bases of our prayers, not the totality of them. Of course, I would urge that we use the set prayers of the Psalter, perhaps worded in a more personal and direct ways, such as Ken and Karen Boa do in Simple Prayers (a prayer book that I greatly enjoy).

McKnight concludes his book with nine excellent suggestions about prayer. These help to summarize his book in an effective manner.

However, there are some troubling things in this book. On p. 12, McKnight talks about “Christians throughout the entire world—Protestants, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Christians of other stripes and hues.” He later talks about getting to know our “brothers and sisters in the faith” (p. 137) through the use of their prayer books. This is troubling since historically, the definition of Christian has not been this broad, nor should it be now. The modern (and post-modern) move toward erasing the lines of distinction that have historically been drawn over the doctrine of soteriology is troubling inasmuch as it recognizes more ways to God than Scripture allows. Historically and theologically, Roman Catholicism has not been considered a Christian religion except in the social and cultural sense of the word. Christianity was distinguished from Catholicism over the issue of sola fide sola Christus. This is a matter on which we must not compromise. To broaden Christianity in such a way is disappointing in this book.

There also seems to me to be a lack of teaching about the role of Jesus in our prayer. While McKnight spends some time talking about Jesus and his prayers, the reader without theological background is left with the idea that Jesus is a great example of prayer, but it seems to leave it at that. After my initial read through, I sat back and thought, where was Jesus? He devotes four chapters to Praying with Jesus, but it did not strike me as particularly useful in the formation of his book. The first chapter, the section on prayer books, and the conclusion were much more instructive for me. I think an increased focus on the role of Jesus as our intercessor through his sacrificial death, as the one through whom we can enter boldly into God’s presence seems a needed focus any time we talk about prayer. I wish McKnight had focused on this more.

Throughout the book, McKnight cites some sample prayers, some of which are troubling in their theology, primarily because the people who wrote the prayers, or the people being cited are, at best, questionable in their orthodoxy. Let me cite just two. On p. 75, he cites a prayer from Robert Webber that includes “cleanse the thoughts of my heart by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit.” The inspiration of the Holy Spirit has not, to my knowledge, ever been used theologically in forgiveness. Inspiration has a very specific meaning in theology that deals with revelation, not forgiveness. Theological imprecision leads to confusion. It would be better to be precise and specific, especially with words that have specific theological weight.

He also cites Frederica Mathewes-Green on her habits of early morning wakefulness when she prays “Lord Jesus Christ, be merciful to me” over and over “until her body tells her it is time to go back to sleep."

‘The goal,’ she says, ‘is to focus on those recurring words, not on any other prayers or intercessions, not on Bible study or theological truths; you have all day long for that. For this half hour, just fall into the presence of God like warming your hands before a fire, without a conscious thought in your head’ (p. 80).
The idea that we can “fall into the presence of God” without any conscious thought in prayer is mystical and runs contrary to the idea that God is only known through the propositions of his revelation. Our experiences of God in natural revelation are coherent only because of special revelation. To divorce prayer from theological truth is not the biblical teaching on prayer. Prayers in Scripture are deeply filled with theology and truth, and personal cognitive and volitional response to that truth.. It is hard to imagine ours should be any different.

Given the ecumenical nature of the book, and the lack of clear instruction on the nature of true spirituality vis a vis the false spirituality so prevalent in our contemporary culture, I think much more could have been made about the theological foundations of prayer, and it would not have required a longer book. Such a section would have made it a much stronger book. Spirituality is all too often divorced from real life in Jesus. I fear with a book such as this, with what seems to be a lack of emphasis on Jesus' role in prayer, there is a doctrinal minimization that is unhealthy for the church. Prayer is not the most important thing in the church. The truth is. Suggesting the use of prayer books from various doctrinal orientations will likely not result in a church more strongly committed to the pursuit of truth, and that would be an unfortunate result.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. I found it thought-provoking in thinking about prayer and the prayer life of the church. Having listened to people pray in church and in prayer meetings, I am convinced that most Christians prayers would benefit from the use of set prayers to teach them how to express theology in prayer. I think McKnight helps to point this out. I would take issue with his selection of prayer books, and the breadth of his definition of Christianity. I think we need to be stronger on this issue, not weaker.

I think his nine closing suggestions are the best part of the book by far, followed only slightly behind by his ideas about scheduling life around prayer, rather than scheduling prayer around life.

**I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my review. Thanks to Paraclete Press.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Hope Lives On ...

My early spring skepticism was perhaps misguided. The boys of summer have almost reached the Midsummer Classic (which has been shamefully jerked around for promotionalism), and the Tigers will be no worse than tied for first come Sunday night when the first half of the season is in the books. Even if the Tigs lose tonight and tomorrow they will still have best record in baseball since the Pale Hose lost today. Who'd a thunk it? They might have 60 wins at the break. In 2004, the Tigers got their 60th win on August 27th. In 2005, they improved by six days, getting their 60th win on August 21. In the Disaster of 2003 (119 losses), the Tigers missed 60 wins by 17 games. At their winning pace, it would have taken the Tigers another 64 games to reach 60 wins. They would have been playing till December.

But now, things have changed. Will this be the miracle year? It might be time to start holding your breath. These guys look like they are for real. If they can get a few bull pen things nailed down, and stay free from injuries. They have more than a half-dozen blown saves already this year, and have not won many against the big guns in the AL. But they don't have to right now. If they can play decent ball against the Yankees, Red Sox, and White Sox, and take care of business with the rest of the league, they will make the postseason. And in baseball's postseason, perhaps unlike any other sport, all bets are off.

So find your hats and mittens. We might see October baseball in Detroit before it's all over this year.

Memo to MLB: Stop awarding World Series home field advantage to the representative of the league that wins the All-Star Game. After 162 games, the team with the best record should get the home field advantage. Something that important should not rest on an exhibition game played by people trying not to get hurt or work too hard.

Friday, July 07, 2006

New York and Gay Marriage

New York's Supreme Court recently upheld the state's marriage law that says marriage is between men and women. In so doing, they have upheld the civilized world's long standing position that God instituted in Genesis 1 when he made male and female and brought them together.

Not unexpectedly, this has many people up in arms. Those who praised the Massachusett's court ruling of 2004 are condemning the NY decision. What do many of these all have in common? They are gay marriage supporters who have never been able to win in the legislature and so they have taken their battle to the courts. They are the same people who praise the courts when they rule for them, and condemn the courts when they rule against them. While that is not unique to them, it shows that they are not driven by principle of government, but by principle of position. When they get what they want, the givers are enlightened, forward thinking progressives. When the same people do not give them what they want, those same people are backwards thinking regressives who would still own slaves if they could get away with it.

New York Representative Jerrold Nadler says,
This is a sad day for families, a sad day for justice, and a sad day in the struggle for equal rights for all Americans. The promise that, in this nation, all people are created equal, and entitled to equal rights, compels us to end discrimination against same-sex couples. Today, the Court of Appeals has failed to take that stand.
Why doesn't Mr. Nadler solve the problem by getting the congress to adopt his position? Simple: He can't. Because the vast majority of Americans do not agree with him, and their representative in Congress do not agree with him. At every turn, Americans have voted overwhelming against gay marrigae.

Consider Mr. Nadler's statement. He argues that all people are created equal and are entitled to equal rights. The truth is that all people do have equal rights. Gay people are not prevented from getting married. They are allowed to go down, apply for a marriage license, and get married just like everyone else in this country. And just like everyone else, they must obey all relevant laws. There is no discrimination against same sex couples here, not unless discrimination has changed meaning and I did not get the memo.

Conservatives have too long allowed the discussion to be framed as "gay marriage." What is that? Nothing. It is like talking about a round square. Gay marriage does not exist by definition. Marriage is the union of a man and woman. It has always been that way. What homosexual activists are looking for is a redefinition of marriage.

Conservatives need to emphasize loudly and clearly that homosexuals can get married. They simply have to do it like everyone else. Find a partner of the opposite sex and marry them. That's what we had to do. If you can't, then stay single, just like everyone else who did not (or could not, as the case may be) find a partner of the opposite to marry them.

If that has legal and financial consequences for you, then accept it. Be a hero, not a whiner. That is the price of making choices. When I got married, it had legal and financial consequences for me. As I often remind my wife, it is a decision that I will pay for for the rest of my life. (And it is worth every penny it costs me.)

Too often we live in a world where people want to make decisions without accepting the consequences of those decision. If you choose to live with a partner of the same sex, you choose to accept all the consequencese of that decision. You may argue that you were created that way, that you have a built in attraction to the same sex. Fine. That may or may not be true. Science has not proven either way, and attraction is not easily defensible from Scripture. Many people have evil attractions and many people have good attractions. Your attraction is not at issue.

What is at issue is your choices. You may not have chosen to be attracted to the same sex, but you do choose who you take your clothes off with. Nobody forces that on you. And you do choose who you love. Nobody forces that on you.

So if being homosexual is more important than getting married, then be homosexual But realize that you must accept the consequences that are built in to that choice. Do not pretend like you are greatly persecuted. Do not pretend like you have no choice. You do. So live like it.

If you want to win the legal battle, then do it at the ballot box. Do not shame our constitution and the laws of this land by circumventing either. As the NY court said, there is a remedy; it is in the legislature. Win your battles there, not at the bench.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Elders and Pastors

I recently finished Mark Dever's excellent book entitled The Deliberate Church. This is a book well worth reading. But something caught my attention.

Dever rightly defines elders as pastors. He says "A pastor, then, is an elder, and an elder is a bishop/overseer—all three terms refer to the same office and the same work of pastoring" (p. 131, appealing to Acts 20:18-38 and Titus 1:5-7; cf. 1 Peter 5:1-2).

Curiously, he later says "Churches can get away without having elders. It happens all the time. But the biblical pattern is consistent, and the practical benefits are clear, both for the pastor and the congregation" (p. 135).

Now, if elders are pastors (as he rightly says), then how does a church get away without having elders? Surely he is not going to appeal to the plural form of elder vs. the singular form of pastor. He seems to be saying that a church with a pastor is getting away without having elders.

Which leads to my point: Our imprecise use of these terms has created much confusion, and led to a bifurcation of the office of pastor. It leads us to talk of "elders" and "pastors" as if they are two different offices. It seems that Dever falls prey to this several times throughout his book.

If we assert that elders are pastors, and pastors are elders, then let's quit referring to them differently.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Independence Day

I recently visited the site of some of the fiercest fighting of World War II. Remnants of fighting were all around. Tanks and guns still dot the landscape. Memorials to fallen soldiers and civilians stand in their memory. Bunkers, air raid shelters, and pillboxes can still be seen as a reminder that history really happened somewhere besides a textbook and movie reel.

As I traveled from place to place, I tried to imagine the terrain of sixty-two years ago, as waves of young men in the "bright morning of their lives" gave what Abraham Lincoln had eighty years earlier called "their last full measure of devotion." They stormed ahead into the fierce conflict to fight an enemy they had never seen, hoping to kill if only to avoid being killed. They knew they must defeat a foe whose desire was world domination, in contrast to their own desire of world freedom from tyranny.

They knew each breath could be their last. They knew the next whistling bullet could be theirs. Men from the streets of New York City and Chicago to the farms of Kansas and Oklahoma joined together in common cause for the sake of freedom. It is doubtful that anyone of them wanted to die, but they were willing todie because of the evident danger of standing aside and doing nothing. When their country called, they answered. When the bell rang, they sprang to action.

I can only imagine the fear of those days, loading into a landing craft knowing that the door will soon drop and you will have to exit the craft into an onslaught of machine gun fire. If you made it to the beach, you would have to fight inch by inch against an enemy well-prepared, who was dug in and waiting. You never knew what might spring out from behind the rock in front of you, or jump up from the tall grass in which you were walking. You knew some of the men beside you had seen their last sunrise, and if you survived, if might be your responsibility to carry the bodies of your fallen compatriots.

It is hard now to see the bodies, strewn across the landscape, bloody and lifeless. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but a picture will never do justice to the things these men faced. The Greatest Generation it has been called. More than 400,000 never saw their homes again. They left behind wives and children, mother and fathers, brothers and sisters, all because they were willing to fight for something bigger than themselves, even if they did not want to.

So on this Independence Day, thank a veteran for being there then so that we could be here now. Thank a soldier for following in the footsteps of the Greatest Generation, who followed in the footsteps of those before them.

Remember that the freedoms we enjoy to disagree, to have political fights, and to speak our minds did not come cheaply. The blood of soldiers marks the spots were freedom was won.