Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Defense of the Faith

Why is it that the defense of the faith is sometimes confused with defense of the fathers?

Friday, April 22, 2011

An Exercise in Foolishness

Florida pastor Terry Jones was going to hold a protest today in Dearborn against Sharia law in the United States. He apparently does not know what Sharia law is, but hey, why let that stop him.

However, the city of Dearborn refused to give him a permit for the place he wanted to hold it, and so the matter ended up in court where a jury agreed with the prosecutors that the protest was likely to cause a breach of the peace, thus breaking a little used law written before Lincoln was president (Abraham Lincoln, that is). The prosecutor wanted a $45,000 “peace bond” to pay for the costs of police overtime and other costs to the city. The judge set the bond at $1 and ordered Jones and his assistant to stay away from the mosque for three years.

There are some interesting things here.

One is the issue of free speech. Can a protest be restricted? Jones said no. The jury said yes. Historically, free speech has been given a pretty wide berth. Not today, however.

Here’s the rub: They were being restricted based merely on the possibility that someone else might do something—namely, disturb the peace. To me, it’s a strange thing that the court was tied up trying a case that hadn’t even happened. There were no facts for the jury to consider. It was all based on speculation.

Dearborn can say this wasn’t about content (and they are). But they were worried that the content of his speech might incite a “breach of the peace.”

I think there’s a good case that this should have never gotten to court to begin with.

And the irony is that if it would not have gone to court, things would have actually been better because in the end, taking Jones to court in an effort to preserve the peace didn’t work. A crowd of several hundred people gathered in a counter-protest, thus requiring the police presence that the peace bond was was supposed to pay for. Except the bond didn’t get paid.

And then Jones went to jail for refusing to pay the bond for a protest that had not yet happened. In other words, he went to jail for something he had not yet done, and was not even required to do.

The crowd that gathered was pretty rude and loud, both at the courthouse as well as at the police station. The anger and hatred in the crowd was probably worse than the protest would have been.

I think this is a place where Proverbs 26:4 takes over. Terry Jones is a fool. By answering him, the city of Dearborn gave him not just fifteen minutes of fame, but a whole day, and more to come.

Had they not taken him to court, the rains would have severely dampened any protest. And ignoring him would have been the worst thing you could do to him. He wants publicity. And this gave him far more than a little protest in Dearborn would have given him.

You see, there are some things in life that you make worse by responding to.

This was one of them.

My bet is that this isn’t over.

Dearborn’s effort to save a few thousand dollars on a protest is going to end up costing them a lot more by the time this is litigated.

And Jones got what he wanted. He got a lot of publicity for his cause (more than he ever would have gotten through a simple protest). He also gets to claim the city of Dearborn is being run by Sharia law and is acting unconstitutionally.

All in all, the jury made a bad mistake. The City of Dearborn made a worse one.

The loser is the constitution.

The winner is, believe it or not, none other than Terry Jones.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

How Conservatism Almost Lost the World to Tyranny

Flyboys is James Bradley’s account of American pilots in WWII in the Pacific. It is a fascinating story, unbelievably gruesome at times, but engaging on many different levels.

It begins with a short history of the Japanese Empire, followed by a short history of the development of aviation as a legitimate military weapon in the years between WWI and WWII. It contains descriptions of some unspeakable atrocities.

And it contains a short account of a war that was almost lost before it started.

Billy Mitchell was the first American pilot to fly over the enemy lines in war (WWI) and he and his men delivered valuable intelligence.

Following The Great War, Mitchell saw the value of aviation during a time when sea power (namely, the battleship) was viewed as the key component of national defense.

He argued for developing aviation because he foresaw that the Japanese would use air power as a means towards broadening their own empire. In fact, he predicted a Pearl Harbor type attack in the 1920s.

But the powers that be did not agree with Mitchell. They would not devote resources toward the development of this unproven mode of warfare. They resisted Mitchell’s ideas.

Bradley recounts,

When asked to give his opinion as to why airpower was stillborn in the U.S., with little funding or interest coming from the army or navy, [Mitchell] replied: “Conservatism … You see, the army and the navy are the oldest institutions we have. They place everything on precedent. You can’t do that in the air business. You have got to look ahead.(p. 46)

Mitchell lost. He was court-martialed.

But Mitchell’s view eventually won and the world was saved from German and Japanese domination.

Yet a congressional action to reverse Mitchell’s court-martial was rejected on the same day he entered the hospital for the last time before he died in 1936.

Why do I say this?

Recently, some have been writing about conservatism and its importance.

And in the main, I agree with them. I think conservatism is important. Things have stood the test of time for a reason, and we are right to give priority to  conserving that which has been handed down. Fads are a horribly inadequate way to foster lasting values and to build sensible societies.

My fear is that conservatism becomes the goal. And I am unconvinced that conservatism should be the goal.

The goal of all things is genuine love of God and love of fellow man. Those are, after all, the two great commandments.

The question should be, How do we do that?

A people who fail to wrestle with current challenges will never be prepared to meet them.

Notice I did not say that people who fail to adapt to current challenges will never be prepared to meet them. By saying “wrestle,” I am saying we at least need to ask the questions and come up with some answers.

In many cases, I am convinced those answers will push us to conservatism. But if they do not, we must follow the higher aim.

Last month, B2 bombers flew nonstop from their home base in Missouri to Libya and back, something that was unthinkable when Mitchell was flying piston-powered airplanes with open cockpits during WWI.

It is something that was impossible for conservatism.

It is something that is indispensable for modern life.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Jesus and Eternal Life

When the rich young ruler came to Jesus in Mark 10:17-31, his question of Jesus is significant.

He didn’t come asking what it meant to be a disciple, or how to take the next step now that he was serious about following Jesus. He wasn’t looking for a fire to throw a stick in, or a mountaintop experience to fire him up for another year.

No, he came to Jesus asking about how to have eternal life.

Jesus’ ultimate answer was to sell what he had and follow Jesus.

The man was saddened, apparently because although he wanted eternal life, but he wanted his riches more.

What is interesting is Jesus’ response.

Jesus refused to change the terms of the gospel in order to assure a man that he had eternal life. (I alluded to this in a previous post.)

There are some today who talk much about the evil of changing the terms of the gospel.

And I agree.

Changing the terms of the gospel is an egregious offense that presents a false gospel and a false hope. And one reason I agree is because I see Jesus refusing to change the terms of the gospel.

What is interesting is that those who scream the loudest about changing the terms of the gospel seem often to deny the very thing that Jesus says here.

They say that calling on people to repent of false gods and commit to following Jesus is adding to the gospel.

Jesus, on the other hand, said it is what is necessary for eternal life.

Usually, the tack taken by these folks is to say that what Jesus was talking about here was some extra level of discipleship, some second level of commitment that you take after you have believed and are saved, and you take this step if you really want to get serious about living for Jesus.

But “eternal life” is not some extra level of discipleship. It is heaven instead of hell.

Say what you will, but Jesus raised the stakes and did not offer this man assurance.

He did not negotiate with him about his affection for this world.

He did not offer him entry-level Christianity.

Neither should we.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

On the Spectacle of Scandal

On April 11, 1945, fifty-five years ago this week, the Allied forces liberated Buchenwald, one of the Nazi prison camps of WWII.

Buchenwald had imprisoned almost 240,000 people during the eight years of its existence from 1937-45. It is estimated that more than 55,000 were killed there.

At its liberation in 1945, the Allied army marched almost 2,000 residents of the nearby German town of Weimar five miles up a steep hill so that they could see firsthand the atrocities of Buchenwald. These were crimes against humanity that had been committed right under the noses, to which they had pleaded ignorance.

Video footage, such as seen here or on World War II: The Lost Color Archives reveal the revolting sight that awaited both the Allied liberators and the German neighbors.

Even today, seeing this video footage or the photographs found at sites like the Holocaust Research Project is troubling to all but the most calloused. In fact, “troubling” is an understatement. It is hard to find a word that adequately captures a truly human response.

This parade of German citizens through Buchenwald could have been considered prurient, unnecessary, and something that people did not need to see. It was truly unfit for human consumption. It is staggering to the human mind to consider what depths of depravity had to exist for this type of environment to exist.

But it would awaken the people to what had happened while they stood by. It would open the eyes of the people who supported the Nazi regime, whether knowingly or because of deception, to see the type of abuse, mistreatment, and murder that had gone on right under their nose.

Only by seeing this abuse could they be shown the depths of depravity.

Only be seeing this abuse could future generations be reminded the cost of totalitarianism.

Today, there are those who say that scandals should not be exposed. It hurts the cause. It exposes well-meaning people. It unfairly labels people who did nothing wrong.It lumps too many people together. It does not resolve anything. It does not repair the damage.

And all of that is true.

And all of that is mostly irrelevant.

Public exposure of the atrocities of Buchenwald, Dachau, Auschwitz and Birkenau, Mauthausen, Treblinka, or any other prison camp would not bring back one single life. It would not reunite one single family. It would not undo one day of torture or abuse. It would not provide one meal for the malnourished prisoners. It would not remove the stench of disease and death.

But it would bring a lifetime of reminders, an image stamped so deeply on the human mind that the world should resolve never to let it happen again.

The uncovering of atrocity is an astounding spectacle.

But the scandal is worse.

May a generation arise that refuses to tolerate scandal and its cover-up, that treats victims with grace and mercy, that remembers the atrocities of past generations so that future generations can be spared.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

On Intemperance in Argument

I came across an article recently by Dan Wallace about the history, methods, and critique of the Majority Text theory. I have no real desire to discuss the issue of the article.

What jumped out at me though was this paragraph about Burgon.

Recent MT proponents frequently claim that Burgon’s arguments have never been answered. Yet in part the reason for no point-for-point rebuttal is due to Burgon’s acid pen. Westcott once commented: “I cannot read Mr. Burgon yet. A glance at one or two sentences leads me to think that his violence answers himself.” Had Burgon tempered his arguments, perhaps the discussion would have proved more profitable for both sides. Unfortunately he generated more heat than light. Equally unfortunate, his attitude set the tone for later generations of MT advocates.[1]
I am reminded by this that many good points can be lost in bad attitudes.

I read a lot of blogs, probably too many to be honest. On the upside, I don’t actually read them. Most I just scan the title and a few lines to see if I am interested.

In many of them, I notice in them a particular attitude at times—an attitude of bravado and bluster. It is the apparent belief that strong words and invective can strengthen an argument.

In general, a bad argument cannot be made better by being a jerk.

And a good arguments are rarely enhanced by being a jerk.

[1] Daniel B. Wallace, “The Majority-Text Theory: History, Methods And Critique,” JETS (1994): 189.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Word is that an “Indian ‘living god’ [is] in critical condition.”

This guy has apparently performed miracles including raising people from the dead. He has also “a string of hospitals that claim to be able to cure ailments beyond the capabilities of mainstream medicine.”

He is also “believed to produce sacred ash every day.” (Hmmmmm.)

He is also one whose “his reputation has also been damaged by allegations of sexual abuse and paedophilia.”

It should make people think about the things we call gods. And the loyalty we offer to men.

Monday, April 11, 2011


File under “Change Takes Time”

A congregation’s potential is like an egg. You can’t hatch an egg with a blowtorch. You must wait for the egg to mature. But it is also true that unless the eggs are warmed continuously, they will never hatch …

Stetzer and Dodson, Comeback Churches, p. 172.

In the News

Nothing says “Great presidential election season” like Donald Trump running for president.

Anytime The Donald is involved, you know it’s gonna be good. Here’s a recent letter to the editor published in the NYT.

Even before Gail Collins was with the New York Times, she has written nasty and derogatory articles about me.  Actually, I have great respect for Ms. Collins in that she has survived so long with so little talent. Her storytelling ability and word usage (coming from me, who has written many bestsellers), is not at a very high level.

Typical Trump, great spin, and funny stuff.

The trifecta.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011


I don’t even know what to say about this.

An elderly Georgian woman was scavenging for copper to sell as scrap when she accidentally sliced through an underground cable and cut off internet services to all of neighbouring Armenia.

There’s gotta be a joke in there somewhere.

But I will wait to tell it until Armenia gets internet service back so they can laugh with us.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Best Team?

Evansville, Milwaukee, Wright State, Milwaukee, Valparaiso, Youngstown State.

What it this you ask?

It is the list of teams that beat one of the teams playing tonight in the NCAA “Championship” game. (And you get bonus points if you know there are only three states represented there.)

It’s also a list of teams that didn’t make the NCAA tournament.

It’s not quite as bad as it looks though because at least the team that beat them twice actually made the NIT tournament, and then promptly lost to Northwestern in the first round.

The other team in the championship game actually finished 9th in their league.

Yes, you read that right. Ninth … as in 9th.

It sounds really bad until you consider that their league has sixteen teams. That means they were at least better than seven teams. It also means that they finished first … in the bottom half of their league. (Spin isn’t just for politics.)

That means that the “best team” in college basketball is a contest between a team that lost to Evansville, Wright State, Valparaiso, Youngstown State, and Milwaukee (not once but twice) and a team that was worse than eight other teams in their league.

That, friends, means compelling basketball. (As I write, it is 22-19 at halftime. If you took the “under” at 100, you might be retiring tomorrow on your winnings. You might get the under at 80 the way this thing is going.)

And that, friends, is exhibit A in the case against an NCAA football championship.

Here’s why: One-and-done tournaments are great for excitement, fans, and money.

They are bad ways to determine the best teams.

I doubt there is anyone who hasn’t been drinking since lunchtime that wants to suggest that UConn and Butler are the two best teams in the country. There’s a reason why, only 72 people out of two million+ (according to one bracketeering website) had these two teams in the finals.

Part of that reason is that people don’t know anything about college basketball but still want to get in the office pool on the off chance that three minutes clicking team names might lead to that $50 gift card to Red Lobster. So 72 of them came up with Butler and UConn, though they probably can’t find either on the map, what with Butler not being a state and Conn being a small one with a long name that doesn’t fit on the map).

The other part of that reason is that people do know something about college basketball. And they knew that these two teams were not good bets.

UConn was 12-9 against tournament teams. Butler only played four tournament teams and they lost to three of them.

Oh yeah, and there are a few alumni of Butler and UConn who are unashamed homers. Which is a great thing about college sports: Your diploma comes with a free pass for stupid tournament picks.

The reality that a tournament is exciting. There’s no tomorrow. So you play differently. You don’t save anything because you can’t take it home with you.

The reality is also that tournaments highlight flukes. Anyone can get a good break from the officials (remember the Big East tournament, the Butler-Pitt ending, and a dozen others). But you won’t get thirty games worth of breaks.

Any mediocre player can get a hot hand for a game or two, and a good player might have an off night or two. But neither will have thirty.

Over the course of the season the officiating, the hot hands, the injuries, and the coaching mistakes even out. And over the course of a season is is pretty easy to see who is good and who is not.

And it doesn’t take 68 teams to sort it out. It only takes that many to make 73 bajillion dollars.

So why have a football playoff? Because fans love tournaments.

Unless your football team is number 5 in a four team playoff. Or number 9 in a eight team playoff. Or number 17 in a sixteen team playoff. Of if your team loses its conference championship because it lost to a team the conference champion didn’t have to play because of the luck of the draw.

Then you will whine about a tournament the same way you whine about the lack of a tournament.

A tournament in football will not determine the best football team in the country anymore than a tournament in basketball determines the best basketball team in the country.

The only thing it will do is cause talk radio hosts to have to come up with hours of stuff to talk about because the rankings won’t matter anymore.

Is college football perfect?

Of course not.

But all in all, it’s not that bad. And not having a tournament makes it more important to win every game. And if you win them all, chances are you will have a say in who is the national champion.

And you can spend the next seven months arguing about it. 

And the NCAA football schools can enjoy the 73 bajillion dollars they make without a tournament.

After all, it’s all about the education, you know.