Friday, December 28, 2012

Around the Horn

First, Thomas Sowell continues to be one of my favorite columnists. He offers a good word here on Christmas-Tree Totalitarians. It’s a bit rambling, as might be expected from an article whose subtitle reads “Random Thoughts on the Passing Scene.” But it has a lot of provocative thoughts.

Second, Forbes has an article on “The Seven Habits of Spectacularly Unsuccessful Executives.” It seems that there are some evidences that the author has been snooping around in some churches as well. It is an instructive article, and worthy of careful thought. The problem is likely that people who need it most won’t give it much consideration.

At third, here’s a good story about former NFL quarterback John Kitna and his life after his playing days. There’s something inspiring about people who do hard things, especially when they have other options.

The homerun is a reworking of my favorite all time comedy bit, “Who’s on First?” I have never come across anything funnier than the original. This is pretty good however:

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Cost of Academic Freedom

Here’s a follow up to an earlier story about a counseling student at Eastern Michigan University who was dismissed from the program because she referred a gay client to another counselor because of her religious beliefs. After filing suit, she was awarded $75,000.

We are often told that academic institutions of higher learning are supposed to be places of freedom. One of the frequent knocks against some Christian colleges is that there is no academic freedom, that you have to agree with the positions established.

Of course, what honest people know is that is par for the course at just about any academic institution. It’s part of the culture of intolerance that has been created and sustained.

It’s a bizarre and troubling world when people aren’t allowed to practice even basic freedoms of their discipline (including referring clients to other practitioners), and the academic intelligentsia is above questioning.

EMU doubled down by asserting that “The faculty retains its right to establish, in its learned judgment, the curriculum and program requirements for the counseling program at Eastern Michigan University.”

It’s learned judgment? By whose estimation? It is likely by the estimation of a MAS (a mutual admiration society). It’s a group where “learned” is defined by “agrees with me.”

It is interesting to imagine why EMU settled this case out of court. One can’t help but wonder if it’s not because of the danger that they envisioned, not just financially, but academically.

My guess is that the courts generally have a sympathy for religious objections, and a loss in the courts would mean that the “learned judgment” of the faculty is determined not to be so learned after all. The outcome would be that the university would no longer be able to establish these requirements that limit freedom.

$75,000 (of either insurance or state money) is a small price to pay for “academic freedom.”

One of the most instructive parts of this article are the comments where the student is repeatedly attacked and called names for her beliefs. Nothing quite like tolerance. It reminds us that tolerance means about the same thing as “learned judgment” means—agrees with me.

In reality, it seems to me she did the proper thing—she referred a client to someone she believed could better help them. Isn’t that what we expect out of doctors and counselors?

Shouldn’t we admire a doctor or counselor who says, “Someone else is better equipped to help you here”"?

My guess is that these same people who complain that she referred the client would also complain if she counseled the client.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Chickens and Airplanes

Ok, so yesterday over lunch, we were conversing about birds and airplanes.

It was all innocent enough when it started. I promise.

Then the conversation turned to testing airplane windshields by shooting chickens or turkeys at them.

Then I remember an episode of MythBusters where Jamie and Adam shot frozen and thawed chickens at plane windshields to see what would happen.

The next think you know, I am on YouTube looking for it. And sure enough, it was there. So now it’s here for your encouragement and comfort as you fly.

So the moral of the story is this: If your plane hits a chicken while flying, it won’t matter if the bird is frozen or thawed. It’s gonna hurt something.

Disclaimer: No actual chickens appear to be harmed during the shooting of the video. The harm to the chickens had already happened before this video took place.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Around the Horn

Leading off today, Dave Doran plays the role of divisive person here by categorizing some hypothetical modern day people based on their response to Paul’s response to Peter and Barnabas in Antioch (Galatians 2). These are some helpful, and a bit humorous, categories. There’s a little something for everyone here, and no doubt some will object … probably because they fit one of the categories.  

At second, Thabiti Anyabwile weighs in with a pastoral letter to an abusive husband. It is a strongly worded model of how we might respond to abuse. Perhaps the most poignant line is this one: “Her safety is our first priority, but it’s not our only priority.” Perhaps too often, the church is either unwilling to do anything, or too willing to completely cut off the abuser as if they are beyond God’s grace. There are even those who say that abusers should never be in church. They are, quite frankly, wrong since they are demanding that churches prevent people from obedience. These are tricky issues to be sure, but the church must not punt on either end. They must neither refuse to act in judgment and stand with the abused, nor refuse to reach out to the abuser with biblical grace of confrontation, ministry, and mercy upon repentance.

At third (because a triple is harder than a homerun), from the realm of science, this TED talk about superconductivity and quantum levitation is amazing. Well, not the talk (which, frankly, I didn’t understand) so much as the demonstration (which makes you look for some camera trick, but alas there appears to be no tricks; it’s just straight up). I watched it last night on a flight, and found it incredible. The idea that things like this would be the result of randomness rather than design requires way more faith than I have. I think things like this are a clue to the existence and design of our creative God. It makes no sense otherwise.

And as a bonus, this TED talk by Bryan Stevenson is intriguing for a lot of reasons. Whether you agree with him or not, it should provoke some thought. And I think it’s a great example of effective communication—simple, underspoken in many ways, and it connects well with the hearer. He’s a good example of effective communication without theatrics.

Lastly, here’s a good note for churches who invite guest speakers. Having been a guest speaker here and there, I hate wondering what I should wear, how long I should speak, what the order of service will be, where I should sit, and the like. Preaching in a strange place to people you don’t know is hard enough without adding on these other concerns, petty though they may seem. Showing up overdressed or underdressed, or preparing a forty minute message for a thirty minute slot, are burdens that are easier to remove. It’s fairly easy to say, “We usually wear X and I usually preach for about Y. We’ll start with some music, and you will be after Z.”

Friday, November 30, 2012

Hirsch, Meaning, and Hermeneutics – Part 2

Part 1 is here.

By taking Hirsch’s two categories of meaning/implication and significance and dividing them into three categories of meaning, implication, and significance, all of the necessary components of interpretation are maintained, the willed type of meaning is not required to be an affair of the unconscious and thereby possibly fuller than the author intends, and the relationship of meaning to any given situation is allowed to remain limitless. Therefore, I proposes the following structure.

Meaning should be defined narrowly to be what the (human) author intended consciously to communicate in a given utterance through his choice of signs. It does not demand that the author understand or be conscious of all or any of the implications of his statement (though he might be). It only demands that he be conscious of, at the least, his primary truth intention. Meaning is discernable by considering the text itself, in light of the author’s historical context. It is determined solely by reference to the author’s immediate sitz im leben, (i.e., his historical particularity)[1] at the time of his writing. Meaning should be the same for every interpreter.

Implication would be the array of ramifications (Hirsch’s submeanings) that a particular meaning has. Implications are inseparable from the meaning. They are necessary corollaries and are consistent with meaning. The author may or may not be aware of implications. Implications however are not themselves drawn from the text (for then they would be meaning). Nor are they necessarily connected with his historical particularity though they might be. They are the necessary ramifications that a text has and are determined by the text itself. This distinction between meaning and implication allows for meaning to be an affair of consciousness and does not jeopardize the very concept of intentionality by including the possibility of non-intentionality. This allows for a text to have implications that an author might not be aware of and at the same time prevents having multiple or an additional unintended or unconscious meanings. Similar to meaning, the field of possible implications should be the same for every interpreter though two individual interpreters might find two differing yet equally valid implications.

Significance would be the application of a meaning and its implications to any given situation to which it might have relevance. It is determined within the reader/interpreter’s sitz im leben. It is limited to what can be drawn out of the legitimate meaning and implications of the text (legitimate interpretation). It is arrived at by determining the timeless value of a given utterance and its related implications and extracting those principles to the current situation. Significance is limited only by the interpreter’s sitz im leben. It does not have to be the same for every interpreter.

The benefit of such a solution is summed up easily. Contra Hirsch, this solution does not have to equivocate on “unconscious intentionality.” It can assert that meaning is an affair of the consciousness (a willed type) while preserving the innate existence of implications that the author might not be aware of. Significance remains largely unchanged.

“Why it Matters” still to come.

[1] “Historical particularity” is borrowed from Gordon Fee (Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993), p. 17. It is used to indicate the occasioning context of a particular utterance.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Hirsch, Meaning, and Hermeneutics – Part 1

Here’s something a little heavier than normal for you. I post it because it was recently brought to my mind, and I am interested in some feedback on it. In  a nutshell, I am proposing that E. D. Hirsch (Validity in Interpretation) inadequately dealt with implications. This has particular significance (no pun intended) for biblical studies with respect to the divine/human authorship of Scripture.

Hirsch’s definition of meaning

Hirsch’s definition of meaning proves a good starting point for discussion. He says, “Verbal meaning is whatever someone has willed to convey by a particular sequence of linguistic signs and which can be conveyed (shared) by means of those linguistic signs.”[1] Hirsch stresses several factors necessary to meaning. First, it must be reproducible, i.e., able to be actualized by someone else. This is very similar to his use of shared.[2] Second, it must be determinate, i.e., possess a boundary that “discriminates what it is from what it is not.”[3] Third, it must be willed, i.e., “a distinction between what an author does mean by a word sequence and what he could mean by it.”[4] Therefore, reproducible (sharable) puts meaning in the realm of communicable (able to be understood by the recipient); determinate puts it in the realm of discriminatory (what it is vs. what it is not); and willed puts it in the realm of specificity (what is actual vs. what is possible). Kaiser adopts Hirsch’s definition for his own use in biblical studies.[5] Meaning therefore is inseparably tied to the author and his communicative intention and cannot be separated from him.

The difficulty of such a definition is that an author did not record his intentions directly for us. Therefore, it is somewhat of a problematic goal to attempt to enter the thought process of an author who, in the case of Scripture, is dead and cannot further comment on his work. However, here the “intentional fallacy”[6] objection is shown to have an inaccurate understanding of meaning. While the author’s thoughts cannot be ascertained, his truth intention is understood by the signs he chose to convey his intention. Therefore, while an author might say, “I want you to get a book,” his deeper intention (or intention behind his proposition) is of little consequence to his meaning; what he intended to communicate was his desire that the interpreter get a book. Had additional explanation been necessary to his willed type,[7] he would have chosen a more definitive set of signs with which to communicate his intention. In other words, because of the supposition that intelligible and rational communication is possible through a chosen set of signs that communicate reproducible, determinate, and willed ideas, the author chooses the set of signs that he believes will accomplish his intention. The search for intention behind the text may be loosely related to the child who asks “why?” From the parent he receives the reply that a reason is not necessary; obedience is. In the same way, an author communicates a truth intention of any sort through a set of signs. Further explanation as to his intent, while it might be interesting, is not necessary to understand the meaning.[8] For now, Hirsch’s definition will be accepted though it will later be refined slightly.

Hirsch’s definition of significance

Hirsch defines significance as “a relationship between that meaning and a person, or a conception, or a situation, or indeed anything imaginable.”[9] Later he says, “Significance is always ‘meaning-to,’ never ‘meaning-in.’ Significance always entails a relationship between what is in a man’s verbal meaning and what is outside it, even when that relationship pertains to the author himself or to his subject matter.”[10] As Hirsch defines significance, there is “virtually no limit to the significance of the shortest and most banal text.”[11] Hirsch’s significance is most clearly communicated by the word application, the relationship of a text to a situation outside of the text. Osborne calls this “derived meaning.”[12] In this conception, meaning is limited to a narrow corridor of authorial will or truth intention, where significance is broadened to encompass any conceivable situation to which a truth intention might have a relationship.

Hirsch’s definition of implication

For Hirsch, implication is an inherent part of meaning. Since he conceives of meaning as a “whole,”[13] an implication is a

… component within a larger whole. The distinction is between a submeaning of an utterance and the whole array of submeanings that it carries. The array, along with the principles for generating it, I call the “meaning” of the utterance, and any submeaning belonging to the array I call an “implication.”[14]

An implication is not therefore, necessarily stated, or even a product of conscious thought.[15] The determining factor for a valid implication is that it falls within the determinacy (the boundary that separates what it is vs. what it is not) of an utterance. Implications of an utterance are not limitless as significances are. They “lie within the meaning as a whole and are circumscribed by some kind of boundary which delimits that meaning. … An implication belongs within a verbal meaning as a part belongs to a whole.”[16]

Tensions involved in Hirsch’s definitions

The tension in Hirsch’s conception of meaning/implication and significance comes from his assertion that a meaning is a willed type and his inclusion of unconscious implications in meaning. For Hirsch, a type is “like a class, though it has the advantage of being a more unitary concept.”[17] A type can “always be represented by more than one instance,”[18] which he calls traits.[19] These individual instances may or may not be products of the consciousness, yet according to him they still can be considered objects of the will. “If a text has traits that point to subconscious meaning (or even conscious ones), these belong to the verbal meaning of the text only if they are coherent with the consciously willed type which defines the meaning as a whole.”[20] He likens a willed type to an iceberg of which only the top shows; however, underneath it hidden by the water is a massive foundation. The visible part is the consciousness of the will; the invisible part is the subconscious or unconscious.

The difficulty of resolving such a conception is that it is difficult to imagine that an unconscious implication (trait, submeaning) can be ascribed to a voluntary choice in anything other than a purely conceptual sense. He says, “… will involves not merely choices and goals, but voluntary choices and goals, and again our habits of language remind us of the conscious element of will.”[21] So while admitting the conscious element of will, he apparently admits an unconscious element as well and ascribes to this unconscious element an equally binding intention. However, it cannot very well be conceived that an affair of the unconscious can be a “voluntary choice.” It might be said to be consistent with the conscious as well as vitally connected to the conscious. Yet it seems tenuous at best to call it an intention since by definition, to intend is “to have in mind something as a purpose; plan; purpose.”[22] Intention similarly is “an intending, determination to do a specified thing.”[23] The question that must be wrestled with is precisely this: How can an unconscious or sub-conscious implication meet the qualifications of a voluntary, willed intention? Can something that is less than conscious (whether un- or sub-) be placed in a category of intent which is by definition an act of the mind? Does an unconscious meaning become an unintentional intention? It seems to this author that such a construct is at best tenuous, perhaps even inconsistent.

The significance of this is that there are implications in the biblical text that were unknown to the human author, but known to God as the divine author. This lays the foundation for sensus plenior, the idea that there is a fuller sense of the passage than the human author was aware of, fuller than the human author intended to communicate., but fully consistent with what God ultimately intended, particularly in light of later revelation.

Part II to come.

[1] Hirsch, Validity, p. 31.

[2] Ibid., p. 31, 44. He says, “… reproducible, that it be always the same in different acts of construing” (p. 46.)

[3] Ibid., p. 32. See also pp. 44ff.

[4] Ibid., p. 47.

[5] Walter C. Kaiser, “Legitimate Hermeneutics,” in Inerrancy, ed. Norman L. Geisler (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979), p. 119. He cites Hirsch’s definition from an earlier chapter: “Meaning is that which is represented by a text; it is what the author meant by his use of a particular sign sequence…” (Hirsch, Validity, p. 8).

[6] See Payne, “Fallacy,” and Norman L. Geisler, “The Relation of Purpose and Meaning in Interpreting Scripture,” GTJ 5 (Fall 1982): 229-245. It is not possible to discuss the Intentional Fallacy in this treatment. However, the thrust of the argument is that the quest for intention is to try to get behind the text to some elusive prior determiner of meaning. See also D. A. Carson (Exegetical Fallacies, 2nd ed. [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996], pp. 134-35) who warns of attempts to “psychoanalyze one or more of the participants in a past event, without having access to anything more than fragmentary records of the event” (p. 134). He relates this to redaction critical study that searches for reasons behind changes.

[7] See later discussion on willed type.

[8] There are exceptions to this general rule because of the possibility of misunderstanding. However, such misunderstanding does not negate the rule; it rather supports it. If multiple meanings or truth-intentions were possible from a single set of signs, then the recipient would act on what his interpretive response and the author would have no basis to disagree with the interpretation for one would be as good as another. Hence, the authorial control over language is magnified and confirmed by misunderstanding.

[9] Hirsch, Validity, p. 8.

[10] Ibid., p. 63.

[11] Ibid. He continues, “Not only can its verbal meaning be related to all conceivable states of affairs … but it can also be related to at different times to changing conditions in all conceivable states of affairs. … [it] is by nature limitless.” (p. 63).

[12] Osborne, Hermeneutical Spiral, p. 395. This is an unfortunate choice of words since meaning is held to be single while significance can be many.

[13] Hirsch, Validity, p. 42.

[14] Ibid., p. 62.

[15] He says, “the one negative characteristic common to all varieties of unconscious meanings is that the author was not aware of them. Obviously, this definition is not very reassuring since there is no limit to what an author may not be aware of” (p. 51).

[16] Ibid. p. 64.

[17] Ibid., p. 50.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid., p. 54.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid., p. 53, emphasis his.

[22] Webster’s New World Dictionary, s. v. “Intend.”

[23] Ibid. s. v. “Intention.”

Monday, November 26, 2012

You Think?

I am not taking any joy in the misfortunes of others experiencing these devastating floods.

But this sign is ... well ... funny to me.

Here are some great pictures of the floods in Australia from one of my favorite sites..

Friday, November 23, 2012

“It’s a God Thing”

With the current mainstreaming of theology, we have an increasing amount of people claiming that God is at work, or “It’s a God thing.” They talk about “God moments” or “God being at work.”

In one sense, they are certainly right. The God of the universe is “in the heavens, doing whatever he pleases.” What some often fail to note is that that includes both the good stuff and the bad stuff. He is always at work; he never sleeps. (And remember, a lot of your “good stuff” which is a “blessing from God” is hurtful and painful to someone else.) It is the basic doctrine of God’s sovereignty.

But in another sense, they have no idea what they are talking about. One of the unique things about Christianity is that through the Bible God has equipped us with everything necessary for life and godliness.

But part of that equipment does not include the right to attach God’s name to whatever we think is in our best interest, or whatever turns out the way we want it to.

And herein is where deep problems come in a hurry.

You see, there’s a commandment, usually designated as the Third Commandment, which says, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain” (Exodus 20:7).

Most people who grew up in in legalistic type culture view this command in a George Carlin type way, as in the seven words you can’t say on TV. And so they grew up with a list of “vain” words.

They included the obvious ones, alongside the sanitized ones like gosh, and golly (and who can ever hear that with seeing Gomer Pyle), and the like. (Of course, most people who grew up in a legalistic culture don’t know who George Carlin is.)

Now that they have broken free of such sinful legalism, it is not uncommon to see them let loose with a few words here and there. It always makes me roll my eyes and laugh because it’s like being in junior high again. But I digress.

One of the great failures of the legalistic type culture is just how poorly it taught people the real meaning of Scriptures.

You see, people grew up thinking the third commandment was about words you couldn’t say.

What so many have failed to understand is that the third commandment is not about a list of words. It is about the trivial use of God’s name. It is about illegitimate name dropping. It is about using God’s name for something he wouldn’t is it for.

Anyone remember the Seinfeld episode where George is buying a new pair of glasses? (Shame on you if you do. Someone only told me about it, if you know what I mean.)

Kramer sends George to a particular shop and tells him to “mention my name.” Of course George does it, in a sly way (which is kind of funny in itself, or so I am told). But the shop owner has no idea who Kramer is. The name means nothing to him.

Every parent has experienced something like this, but for a different reason. My son comes to me wanting to do something, and he says, “Momma said I could.” Now, I can usually tell whether or not he is using momma’s name in vain because I know momma well enough to know what she thinks he should or should not do. But he thinks attaching momma’s name to it is a permission slip, a hall pass, a get out of jail free card.

Here’s the warning: When you claim something is a “God moment,” you better make sure you know what you are talking about. Because the Lord will not hold you guiltless for such trivial use of his name to further your own agenda.

Playing the God card is among the worst forms of spiritual abuse because it sends the message that everyone who doesn’t agree with you doesn’t know God.

The mere fact that your desired outcome happens does not mean that it is a “God moment.” And your claiming such may make you a blasphemer.

And God will not hold you guiltless, no matter how noble you think your cause is.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The NFL Does It Again

Only in the totally stupid world of the NFL can today’s game happen. The Texans score a touchdown after a guy was indisputably down. And the NFL totally blows it again.

By rule, all scoring plays are reviewed by the replay booth. This rule was established to get the biggest calls in the game correct.

By rule, certain plays are reviewable when the coaching staff decides to take one of their two flags and take a chance on being right on a missed call. This rule was established to give chances the coach to get bad calls corrected during the game.

But in the inane and stupid world of the NFL, these two cancel each other out. A play that should be reviewed and easily overturned by two rules established for the exact purpose of getting calls right turns out to be reviewable by none.

As a result, a touchdown stands and the Lions lose in OT.

In an even more bizarre twist, Mike Perreira (former head of the NFL officials) says in a tweet that if the ruling had benefited the Texans, it could have been reviewed.

And for some reason, the NFL continues to be the biggest sport in the country even with this bizarre turn of events.

Hopefully the NFL comes out and admits their error. In the real world, they should disallow the touchdown, and change the records of the Texans and the Lions to the results of the play on the field.

In a league not known for common sense and integrity, it is unlikely that will happen. We will likely see them double down on the stupidity.

Schwartz is known for not blaming the officials or the rules.

If he doesn’t do it this time, he is dead wrong.

He should throw an absolute fit both at the game officials and at the rules that allowed this to happen.

The Lions have underachieved this year to be sure.

But even the Lions deserve better than this.

The NFL has to get this right.

When you have a system designed to get the calls right, you shouldn’t be stupid enough to refuse to get them right.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Around the Horn

Al Mohler has a good piece here on believers vs. leaders.

Here’s a good set of interviews with Andy Stanley and Tim Keller connected to their recent books, Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend (Stanley) and Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Keller) . Some interesting perspectives here. And speaking of Andy Stanley, here’s an interesting article on the younger Stanley in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It covers a decent amount of ground for a short article and in it, Andy talks frankly about his split with his father over his father’s divorce. If you don’t like Andy, this article won’t help, and if you like to bash Andy, this will give you some material. But in any case, it’s an interesting small window into the man.

R. Scott Clark writes about a front porch conversation with a Roman Catholic who showed up at his house. It is interesting to see how he handled it.

And here’s a story so bizarre, you think it comes from The Onion. PETA sued a township for catching and releasing a live possum during its New Year Celebration. A federal judged ruled the city must stop.

“Hunters must afford wild animals the same right Patrick Henry yearned for,” Senior Administrative Law Judge Fred Morrison Jr. wrote in his order. “’Give me liberty, or give me death!’”

It appears this is an actual newspaper, not a satire site. And it appears this judge is a real judge, though I use the word “real” there loosely.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Theology with a Paintbrush in Hand

Not long ago, I  was laboring in the backyard with a paintbrush in hand going to work on a bookcase.

I am hoping the paint holds.

You see I was too lazy to do a little sanding. That means the previous coat may not take paint well and the coats I am putting on may not adhere well.

Time will tell.

Theology, like lazy paint jobs, typically doesn't do well if you don't have a good foundation of preparation. A lot of things look good on the surface. They preach well.

But  if you don't  do the initial work of theological preparation, textual analysis, and cultural reflection, your message will not stick. It may sound good on the surface, but it will fall short of actual preaching because it fails to proclaim truth to the hearer in their life context.

And when you fail at this task, you won't simply need to repaint a bookcase. You will be left trying to salvage the life of someone who was told to believe something that wasn't actually true.

This is why James says that not many should desire to be teachers because we will be be judged by a higher standard (James 3:1).

So dear pastor, don't forget to sand before you paint.

Some Early Election Returns

First, we need severe election reforms. Even the UN is amazed that we don’t have voter ID laws. I am quite sure there is enough voter fraud in this election to make up the difference between the candidates. I am just not sure which side it is on, though probably on both sides. But until Americans get serious about protecting the franchise, there will continue to be problems. Photo ID is an absolute must, as is preregistration, address verification, and voting in person.

Second, national elections need to be run nationally. With every state having different procedures, there is bound to be inequality. Consider even the day of voting. Congress has established it as the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. And yet we have states in clear violation of that law through things like early voting and absentee voting. As Justice Scalia would say, if you want a different law, then write it and get it passed. But until such is done, it is hard for me to see how early voting is legal voting. It shouldn’t be. Having different standards for casting ballots (including all manner of provisional ballots) is nonsense. The US needs a single standard for national elections. So here’s my list:

  1. National ballots have only national issues on them. So in most cases, it is a presidential vote only. If states have other issues, have another ballot and another ballot box.
  2. Rather than one day of voting, have a three-to-five day voting period, including a weekend. This ensures that there is plenty of time to vote. Make  it thirty days if you want to staff it that long. No votes shall be cast past the time of the poll’s closing as set by law. People in line shall not vote.
  3. Each voter must show up in person at the polling place with a government issued photo ID with your current address that matches the voter roll. If you do not have one, then you do not vote. If you cannot afford to give up a pack of cigarettes every four years (about the cost of a photo ID if you don’t live in a state that gives them out for free), then you cannot vote. Period.
  4. If a citizen is out of the country, he or she can go to the nearest US Embassy or appointed polling station (such as a military base) up to 30 days prior to the election (to allow for more travel time). In addition, they can vote by online video (such as Skype) through their hometown’s election clerk so long as the clerk is accompanied by witnesses to verify the ID and to record the vote.
  5. There should be no absentee voting since it is impossible to know who actually cast the ballot. If you are invalid, you can vote by video, or by a personal visit from the city or county election clerk accompanied by witnesses to verify the ID and record the vote.
  6. There should be no electronic voting, because there is too much potential for error and fraud. Fill out a piece of paper, and drop it in the box of your choice. You should be able to see the counter go up by one (at least one and not more than one) when your slip goes in.

Third, I think it is time to do away with the electoral college. It served a purpose, but I am increasingly convinced it no longer does. I knew my vote didn’t matter because of where I live. If I lived fifty miles to the south, my vote would matter a great deal more. But in a national election, everyone’s vote should count the same. The President’s joke at the Alfred E. Smith dinner this year was on target: The election will be decided in places like Ohio, Florida, and Virginia. Which leads me to ask, “What are we doing here?” (in New York).

Fourth, we  need people of character and integrity to run for office. We have learned again that ugly politics works. Both candidates engaged in blatant lies, personal attacks, misleading statements, and heavy-handedness. Why? Because it works. These are not men of integrity and character. They are pragmatists who will say anything and do anything to get what they want—elected. That probably won’t change. Everyone says they don’t like it, but no one is willing to give up the benefits it brings. That probably won’t change either.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

In Other Election News ...

The Weekly Standard reports that a Florida woman was prevented temporarily from voting because her shirt read “MIT".” Of course, MIT stands for Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The poll worker apparently thought it was a political shirt for Mitt Romney, who spells his name with two “t”s, not one.

In a bit of funny irony, the article concludes (and I am not making this up), “Fortuntaly the woman was ultimately allowed to vote.”

It’s Election Day!!!

Since it’s election day here in the US and so many people have been asking me for my predictions, … okay, well, actually no one has asked me, but it’s a day of politics and why not just make something up so I can fit in with the people on the ballot?

So what happens this election day?

My guess is that Romney wins, by a decent margin in the popular vote (probably 52-53% of the total)  and probably 280-310 electoral votes. I don’t think it is as close as some are saying. I could detail my reasoning here, but most of my readers wouldn’t follow the technical analysis, and besides, it would involve making something else up (since I don’t actually have any analysis, technical or not). Since I really want to limit making stuff up to once per post, and I have already used that once up, I will refrain from offering analysis, and just say, “Trust me on this one.”

If Romney doesn’t win, I think Obama will probably win. But I think it will be closer than if Romney wins. Obama, if he wins, will probably get less than 50% of the popular vote (probably 49-50%), but will win Ohio and Wisconsin which will put him over 270 but under 290. I am going to further predict that if Obama loses the popular vote and wins the electoral college, the Democratic calls for the abolishing of the electoral college such as happened in 2000 will probably be attributed to drunken orgies or something. They might even plausibly be attributed to the Republicans, since everything seems to be their fault.

My guess is that if Romney wins, there will be widespread accusations of voter fraud, something former Democratic chairman Howard Dean is already claiming.

If so, it will be a remarkable reversal since the Democrats have been consistently telling us that voter fraud is very rare, if it happens at all. In fact, there is no need to even worry about it, they tell us in the courts, as they fight against laws designed to protect against voter fraud.

But knowing Howard Dean as I do (he’s a politician which is all we need to know), he will have a perfectly straight face when he claims there is voter fraud and there is no voter fraud at the same time.

And then he will make some unintelligible yell at the end of it. “Arrrrgghhh!!!”

In related news, former President Bill Clinton campaigned for Obama asking if voters really want a president who will “knowingly, repeatedly tell you something that’s not true.” I would attempt to make a joke here, but it’s way too easy. I like challenges so I will skip this one.

And the answer is obviously yes, as evidenced by the fact that we keep on electing politicians.

So go vote (and don’t forget to post it on Facebook because we are all waiting to find out, you know).

And when Romney wins, remember, you heard it here first.

And when Obama wins, remember, I predicted it.

Just trust me on this one.

I have never been wrong on predicting a winner of the 2012 presidential race.

I don’t think this will be my first time.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Around the Horn

At first, Francis Chan is interviewed on his new venture after leaving his role as pastor of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California. Chan is author of Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God, a book that I enjoyed. However, this latest venture reveals an unanchored ecclesiology. He seems to have no real view of the church. For him, it’s all about mission. So you can be a part of another church, and come and be on mission with us on Sunday afternoons. He says, “So it’s a little confusing to me, honestly.” Well, it’s confusing to me as well. And not good. If modern Christianity needs anything, it is a solid ecclesiology from which to build mission.

At second, here is a fascinating interview with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia about his book Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts. He is my favorite justice, and he fascinates me once again. Of particular interest is his denial that he is a strict constructionist. He also disavows trying to determine intent as a interpretive guide for laws. He hits a bit of everything including the death penalty, Roe and abortion, the second amendment, stare decisis (come to find out it’s Latin for “water over the dam”), the confirmation process (he is in favor of it as it works now), and he even invokes Frodo.  It’s worth a listen.

At third, for all you baseball people (and those who just like a good fight), I was reminded of this classic between the Braves and the Padres. It was 25 years ago, but it is particularly noteworthy because the Braves’ pitcher who was the center of this brawl was found stabbed on November 1 in an apparent robbery in his home in the Dominican Republic. Perez was nicknamed “I-285” because he got lost on his way to Fulton County Stadium causing him to miss a start. Back in the 80s, I listened to the Braves almost every night on the radio. They were losers, and having good fights didn’t change that. But that’s why the 90s were so sweet for Braves’ fans. We who endured the 80s enjoyed the 14 straight post-season appearances, and a couple since that streak ended.

And crossing home plate today, for you political conspiracy theorists, here’s a dose of history to go along with your tin foil hat. Apparently, Republicans have won every November 6 election since 1860 when Abraham Lincoln won.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Around the Horn

At first, Trevin Wax lists 10 Questions a Pro-Choice Candidate Is Never Asked by the Media. I won’t hold my breath waiting for them, but it would be interesting.

At second, H. B. Charles, Jr writes of a visit to Grace Community Church to hear John MacArthur. He laments that MacArthur was preaching a message on the family that didn’t address the congregation of H. B. Charles. And then Charles remembers that MacArthur is not preaching to Charles’ congregation. It is a point worth making, and worth remembering. Pastors, preach to the people your congregation and community. Don’t preach to someone else’s.

At third, Townhall columnist Maggie Gallagher writes about the recent “fall” of Dinesh D’Souza. D’Souza was, among other things, the president of the evangelical King’s College in NYC who was recently seen at an out-of-town conference with a woman who was not his wife whom he introduced as his fiancĂ©e. What is perhaps most interesting is D’Souza’s remark that “I had no idea that it is considered wrong in Christian circles to be engaged prior to being divorced.” That’s hard to believe—The president of an evangelical college doesn’t know that you shouldn’t ask a woman to marry you while you are still married to another woman? The disappointing thing about Gallagher’s column is that it misses the biggest point. She focuses on the effects of divorce on the family and says “Don’t do this.” What she doesn’t do is focus on the effects of the gospel. In divorce, a false gospel is being preached, a gospel that God loves us and commits himself to us, but not forever. Only until ____________.

And last, Southern Seminary Professor Denny Burk responds to a recent book by Rachel Held Evans called A Year of Biblical Womanhood. One of the ironies was that what this author was doing has no relation to biblical womanhood since it relies heavily on following Israel’s Law in the OT when (1) we are not Israel, and (2) the Bible explicitly says that is not in force. It goes to show the danger of a faulty view of the Law that doesn’t recognize the authority of the NT. Rachel Held Evans was picking and choosing which parts of the Bible she wanted to live by, and was doing so in pursuit of a point—that the Bible was hopelessly outdated for enlightened feminists like herself.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Imposing Slavery

“I don’t believe in it, but I don’t want to impose that belief on others.”

Imagine saying that about slavery in a vice-presidential debate in 1860. Many people would have agreed.

Yet today, one hundred and fifty years later, those people are looked on with disbelief, even scorn. No one could be elected today saying, “I don’t believe in slavery, but I don’t want to impose that belief on others.”

The truth is that our country imposed a belief about slavery, and people died in support of that belief.

And now, that belief is part of our core national identity, though it is imperfectly lived out at times.

So why is this kind of belief okay today? Why can someone says, as Vice-President Biden did, “I don’t believe in abortion, but I don’t want to impose that belief on others.”

Why is he not run out of national politics with a vengeance? Why is he not an object of scorn and disbelief for such a backwards and intolerant position?

How long will it be until that unborn are accorded the same kind of effort as slaves were? How long will it be until the life of the unborn becomes more than political punchline to assure of one’s moral compass without having to actual live by that compass.

It is well past the time that we as a nation take on the forces of death. While we lament the 2000 deaths in Afghanistan in that least ten years, the 2000 deaths from yesterday in abortion clinics go largely unnoticed.

People will vote for the candidate who promises to get our soldiers out of harm’s way. But they will refuse to vote for a candidate who promises to get our least protected out of harm’s way.

Let us not buy the line that refusing to stand against abortion is some noble effort to impose a moral belief.

Refusing to stand against abortion reflects a moral belief that costs thousands of lives each day.

It’s time to be done, America.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Around the Horn

Here’s a great piece from John Bloom channeling the thoughts of King David a year later. Worth some careful thinking.

You need to watch Voddie Baucham here talk about abortion. It’s hard for him to believe that people tell him that the life of two of his children and even his own life wasn’t worth living. One of the problems with abortion is that there aren’t faces attached to it.

Here’s a good piece by Dave Kraft on leaders and small things. IF you don’t do small things, you will not be an effective leader.

New research shows that 30% of Americans claim no religious affiliation. The actual number of Americans with no actual religious affiliation is probably higher than that, if you take into account that most people do not actually practice the religion they claim. It’s a wide open mission field, but many are content to preach to the converted.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Pulpit Freedom Sunday

Today was Pulpit Freedom Sunday, and I took the liberty just to preach the next text in line.

I didn’t feel the least bit hindered by the IRS to stand up and say what Jesus said. And I didn’t see the need to say anything else. In fact, I think I have a mandate not to say anything else.

Which brings me to my point: What’s the big deal? Why are we upset that the government agrees with Jesus? I realize that we should sometimes disagree with the government just on the principle of the matter.

Stephen Colbert had a segment on it including a short interview with one of the people behind this issue, Jim Garlow, the pastor of Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego.

Colbert, in his mocking sort of way, points out an inherent problem: If you endorse a candidate in God’s name, if that candidate turns out to be corrupt, you’ve got a false god.

While not entirely true, it is a point worthy of consideration.

Why would any pastor want to tie the message of the gospel and Jesus to politics? What happens when God tells us to vote for someone and that someone turns out to be corrupt?

Would it not be better just to preach the word? After all, we have a mandate for that.

And God won’t turn up on the evening news for taking bribes.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Sowell on Peer Review

Previously I linked to this pamphlet by economist Thomas Sowell on taxes and the economy. It is an excellent article on many fronts, including debunking from historical fact the idea that higher tax rates are the answer to low revenues, or that lower tax rates for “the rich” shift the tax burden to lower income earners.

He also includes this paragraph, commenting on textbooks that repeat these ideas.

There is no need to presume that the scholars who wrote these
history textbooks were deliberately lying, in order to protect a vision or an agenda. They may simply have relied on a peer consensus so widely held and so often repeated as to be seen as “well-known facts” requiring no serious re-examination. The results show how unreliable peer consensus can be, even when it is a peer consensus of highly intellectual people, if those people share a very similar vision of the world and treat its conclusions as axioms, rather than as hypotheses that need to be checked against facts. These history textbooks may also reflect the economic illiteracy of many leading scholars outside the field of economics, who nevertheless insist on proclaiming their conclusions on economic issues.

Peer review is a good thing, but it is not foolproof. When all the peers subscribe to the same basic worldview and assumptions, their review will be seriously tainted.

If you want real review, seriously consider pursuing the critique of someone who actually disagrees with you.

In the blog world, I think this is prevalent. Blog owners are often quick to edit or just outright remove comments that disagree with them, or present an alternative view.

Of course these comments never appear so few know it, unless you are one that has been affected by it. But on certain blogs espousing controversial positions, if there is no dissent in the comments, it is likely that the blog owner is practicing censorship.

In my view, this is often driven by fear—the fear of being proven wrong on your site. It is sometimes driven by pride—the pride that refuses to acknowledge that your arguments are not as airtight as you would like your readers to think they are.

Does it matter? Not really, at least not in the big picture.

But it participates in the worst kind of peer review, the allowance of views that only agree.

All in all, most points are well-served by counterpoints.

And Sowell reminds us why.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Around the Horn

Several weeks late or a few days early … Take your pick.

At first, here’s a good pamphlet on economics by one of my favorite economists, Thomas Sowell. It is interesting to read someone who knows that they are talking about when it comes to the economy. The downside is that knowing what he is talking about when it comes to the economy completely disqualifies him from politics and the making of economic policy.

At second, continuing on the same theme of Thomas Sowell, here’s a good interview with him.

At third, here’s my new favorite website: Flight Radar 24. This site says it tracks every flight in the world. It is a graphic display. One of the cool things is that you can click on a plane that is flying and a box will pop up on the left that will show the flight information including where it is coming from and where it is going. Even cooler is that you can click on the “Cockpit View” and a box will pop up that will actually show the view from the cockpit in terms of a satellite map. My love of flying has never dried up though my bank account did long ago. This is a cheap substitute for the joy of flying (as in being the pilot, not riding in a commercial jet plane). Right now I am watching Delta 2123 land at Detroit, coming in over 94 from the north.

And closing out today, here’s a weird story about a man with 31-inch biceps, “the size of a grown man’s waist.” I have to ask, Do you know any grown men with a 31-inch waist?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sad Words

The Bible contains many sad words. Near the top of the list, in my mind, is 2 Timothy 4:10: “Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.”

What a heartbreak it must have been for Paul to see one of his fellow workers desert him.

What a heartbreak it would turn out to be for Demas himself, who would soon find that the world he loved so much was so temporary.

Having an eternal perspective is a major tool in fighting the lure of the present age.

As Paul himself said, “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

Don’t give up too early.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Today’s the Day

Today’s the day for all those things you said you would do once in a blue moon.

Don’t let it pass. The next one won’t be until July of 2015.

This reminds me of the problems of procrastination.

I am going to write about that later.

Friday, August 24, 2012

No Voice for the Voiceless: Shame on Fox 2 Detroit

Fox 2 Detroit has a regular segment called “Let It Rip.” It’s pretty interesting sometimes.

It also doubles as an indication of much of what is wrong with civil discourse in our society: It’s not civil; it’s too soundbyte-ish; it doesn’t work well to develop actual thinking skills; and I could go on. But it’s like watching a train wreck. You just can’t help yourself sometimes.

Well, last night, the topic was on abortion. When I first turned it on, Huel Perkins was reading an email from a viewer complaining about the idea that a woman, conceived by rape, was pro-life and was exercising her voice. Perkins said, “We want to give all sides a voice.”

So I watched it.

And what I found is that there was no voice to speak up for the thousands of children killed every day. There was a representative for Planned Parenthood who took the expected line that convenience and choice are more important than life.

There is the co-host, Charley Langton, an attorney who actually thinks that Roe v. Wade was a good decision.

There was another attorney, though I am not sure what she brought to the table aside from declaring that Roe was settled and safe.

There was no one to point out that no other segment of our population is treated as these littlest ones are.

The two women on the panel arguing for women’s right never stood up for the two thousand plus women everyday that are killed by the one who should most protect them.

We need to realize that abortion is not about choice. That is a red herring.

This society has already accepted the long established principle that “choice” is never ultimate, particularly over another person’s life. No one can simply choose to kill others without consequence. People here in Detroit mourn the violence that happens every day on the streets.

But somehow, our collective minds checkout when a human being is in the mother’s womb. Then killing someone is something to be protected and treasured.

Fox 2 Detroit, you should be ashamed.

Huel Perkins, you should do better because you know better. As a journalist, you should know that if you are going to have a conversation and debate, you should have two sides represented.

As a human being, you should recognize that life is not something to be debated. It is to be protected and preserved, particularly when they are defenseless.

Around the Horn

At first, leading off with something funny. One of my Facebook “friends” posted a link to this recipe for ice cubes along with some accompanying reviews. This is LOL kind of stuff, at least if you are slightly demented like me.

At second, Michael Horton has some good thoughts here on “Four Disturbing Trends in the Contemporary Church.”

At third, here are some good thoughts on evangelism from Timmy Brister.

And the home run today is from the world of politics. The First Lady, Michelle Obama, is telling people to get out and vote on November 2. It’s great advice. Except the election is actually November 6. Can you imagine the outcry of voter suppression if this had been a Republican?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Here’s My Take on Romney-Ryan 2012

The presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney picked his vice-presidential running mate over the weekend: Paul Ryan, a Republican congressman from Wisconsin.

Here’s my take: Romney just took a fairly easy campaign with an almost certain win and turned it into a knee-knocker. Now, it will be close, and here’s two reasons why:

First, Ryan will be cast as a polarizing figure, extreme on the budget, and wanting to take public assistance away from people at the time they need it most. Of particular focus will be Ryan’s position on Medicare and Social Security, that those under 55 should have some private options rather than being forced into a public program. 

Now, Ryan is undoubtedly right on this. There is no legitimate argument that can be made that the current system is either good or sustainable. The problem is the politics of it. It started long ago when Ryan was positioned as wanting to take Medicare away from seniors who depend on it.

Great argument and great rhetoric. Just untrue, according to Ryan. His changes are for those under 55, and everyone under 55 should be voting for this. Problem is they won’t.

Second, I think this election will be very hard to win without Florida. And I don’t think Ryan will play well in Florida. Again, this is not because he’s wrong. He isn’t. It’s because of politics. Thirty seconds of “Ryan wants to take your social security and Medicare away from you” running ten times an hour all over the Sunshine State will sway voters.

In short, I don’t think Romney can win the election without winning Florida, and I don’t think he can win Florida with Ryan.

As some have suggested, this was Romney throwing down the gauntlet, going for broke, playing for keeps, or whatever metaphor you want to use here. It was a declaration that there is no holding back. He is not going to run on Obama’s failed record. He is going to run with positive ideas.

The upside for Romney in this is that it probably energizes the Republican base, and the Tea Party constituency. Those who were tepid on Romney will be more likely to vote for him with Ryan at his side.

Will it work? In about ninety days we will know.

In short, I think this makes it close when it probably wouldn’t have been.

However, I am sure that Romney had all kinds of internal polls throwing all kinds of names out there to see what the electorate in key states looked like.

Hopefully, it turns out well.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Around the Horn

First, while there continues to be a debate about the role the church gathered should play in evangelism, here’s a good post about things that affect guests and their decisions to come back. For all the bad press being “seeker-sensitive” has gotten, most churches need some more of it, particularly in terms of the basic expression of common graces to guests.

Second, in the category of really strange, NBC faced a little brouhaha last week over a commercial of a gymnast monkey that aired after a US athlete won a gold medal in gymnastics. While I think a good number of people are calloused to the ongoing affects of the racial past, I join with John Hinderaker in wondering just what kind of people, upon seeing a monkey, think “African-American.”

Third, speaking of African-Americans, a Mississippi church recently made the national news for refusing to allow a black couple in their church to marry in their church building. Now they have apologized for it. Oh. Okay. Then it’s all better. What I want to know is this: Where’s the leadership here? Where’s the pastor who is standing up to call on these people (the complainers, not the couple) to repent of their sinfulness under the threat of church discipline? Sadly, he was trying to make peace. Which reminds me of something I said a while back: You can't lead if you are not willing to disappoint, and maybe even infuriate people. Here was a chance; he missed it.

Last, here’s a sort of humorous piece about debates online. The author here has obviously been around the block a few times. 

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Around the Horn

First, the new issue of Credo Magazine is out. It has some interesting articles on the Old Princeton, including men like Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, and J. Gresham Machen, as well as interviews with Brian Croft and Mark Dever.

Second, here’s an interesting site on the Apostle Paul. It contains a number of articles and links that will inform and educate concerning some of the current trends in Pauline studies. If you are not familiar with the New Perspective on Paul, there are a number of tutorial articles that will help.

Third, here’s a good article from centuries past on “The Character of a Genuine Theologian.” It was delivered in 1675, but it packed with relevance because of its timeless teaching. It is found on the University of Michigan library website, which means that at least something good comes out of Ann Arbor. Predictably, it didn’t actually originate in Ann Arbor.

Last, here’s a good article by Michael Horton on 5 Myths About Reformed Theology. These myths are unfortunately all too frequent. And for many people, it doesn’t matter what you tell them, their mind is already made up. Just recently I saw someone say that Calvinists shouldn’t blame a criminal for his actions; they should blame God. And this from a man who has been in vocational ministry for over twenty years. He should know better, but unfortunately, he doesn’t talk like it. An article like Horton’s, though brief, will give some clarity to these kinds of old wives’ tales that somehow keep getting repeated.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

This is Fascinating

Here's a video on education that is really interesting, artwork aside (which is so good, it is almost distracting).

In a country with a failing education system, there are some thoughts worth considering here.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Around the Horn

First, here’s some comments from Jonathan Dodson on evangelism. There are some good thoughts worth serious consideration here. The manner and context of our communication matters just as much as the content of it (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:5 and 2:7-12). I fear we are too often prone to one or the other. We need both.

Second, Joe Carter has a piece here on Batman and Jesus. This is strange to me, to be honest. I don’t get the fascination with this kind of analysis. It almost reads like a parody to me, as in demonstrating absurdity by being absurd. The gospel doesn’t need this, even if it could tolerate it (which I don’t think it can). It should strike us as odd that a large number of people keep going to secular culture to find Jesus themes and redemption themes, as if God has not given us what is necessary to equip us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and everything necessary for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). It is obvious that a lot of time and thought went into this, but for what purpose? Is the Bible not enough for us? Does the salvation of souls and the work of the gospel depend on analyzing Batman?

Third, my friend Mark as an article here on a book I haven’t yet read, though Mark inspire me to read it. Mark says, “many seminary-trained pastors train in bubbles with Belmont values on marriage, industry, honesty, and religiosity for ministerial careers in bubbles with Fishtown values on the same topics. And they sometimes fail in Fishtown and have no idea why.” This resonates with me. I strongly believe in seminary education, to the point that I would discourage anyone from pursuing vocational ministry without at least an Master of Divinity degree. (Go ahead and complain about it in the comments). I agree that when God calls a man to preach, he calls him to prepare. Yes, I know people have been “successful” without it, but having been on both sides of the equation (ministry before seminary and ministry after seminary), I am fully persuaded that the latter is far better than the former, and by “far,” I mean immeasurable. However, I also believe that there needs to be room in seminary education for experience and exposure to something other than Belmont. Classroom learning, though indispensable for actual ministry, will never fully prepare one for actual ministry.

Last, and speaking of Fishtown and Belmont, here’s a good and challenging piece on location and ministry. It has the potential to laden it’s readers with guilt, and that’s not necessarily bad. As I have been known to say, some of you should feel guilty for the way you are living your life. But’s a good checkpoint as well. I got this link from my friend Mike who doesn’t just talk about this and link to it. He lives it. There is a strong move towards planting churches in urban, blighted, dying, diverse, and under-resourced areas by people who are not “drive-ins.” They live, shop, hangout, and minister to people there. It’s a good thing. Read this and find yourself in the list.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


My son turned one-month old yesterday.

And he still doesn’t do a single thing around the house.

Well, a single thing other than eat (apparently whenever he feels moved), and speaking of movement, he does a few other things that will remained unmentioned here.

Mostly he just lays around, alternating between the swing, the bed, and the baby recliner thingie, so long as someone else picks him up and puts him there. He cries until you pick him up and hold him for a few minutes. Then he stops.

He won’t help set the table or clear it off at meal time. He won’t even take his own clothes off, wash himself, or anything.

This is very time-consuming for us adults (by which I mostly mean momma … Okay, I entirely mean momma) because he requires everything be done for him whenever he wants it, and does nothing to help anyone  else out. And he cries until someone gets him what he wants, which takes that someone away from other things they need to be doing.

And this reminds me why the Scripture uses “baby” as a metaphor for some Christians.

Here’s my advice to you, if you are a time-consuming, lay-around-the-church, expecting-everything-to-be-done-for-you-while-contributing-nothing-in-terms-of-real ministry kind of Christian: GROW UP ALREADY.

Quit being a baby.

I’ll tolerate it from my son for a few more days. But that’s because he’s cute. You’re not. So stop doing nothing.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.  For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.  (Hebrews 5:12-14)

Monday, July 23, 2012

NCAA vs. Penn State: Too Little

The child abuse/sex scandal at Penn State that has come to light over the last year is now being addressed by the NCAA. The NCAA has punished the school by vacating all wins since 1998 (the year of the initial issues), by imposing a four-year post-season ban, and by fining the school $60 million dollars (about one year’s football revenue). The fine will go into an endowment for "external programs preventing child sexual abuse or assisting victims and may not be used to fund such programs at the university” (from article).

In a nutshell, assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was accused in 1998 of child sexual abuse. The school apparently covered it up, successfully, until last year. Sandusky was found guilty and now faces up to fifteen years in prison (which is effectively a life sentence for for the 68 year old).

So what of the penalty? Too light. Way too light.

The vacating of wins is meaningless. Joe Paterno will still be recognized as having those wins, even though they won’t show up on his record. The players still won those games and the other teams still lost them. In short, no one cares that these wins are taken away. The old adage rings true: “Scoreboard, baby.”

The four-year post-season ban is mostly meaningless in the big picture. But no one really cares. When it’s over, no one will care.

The $60 million dollar fine is more significant, but it’s one year’s revenue from the football program. It won’t be missed all that much.

Compare this to the “death penalty” given to Southern Methodist University in 1987. Two whole seasons were cancelled for … wait for it … paying players under the table. Today, that offense is so common it doesn’t even merit much consideration by the NCAA.

And a child abuse scandal receives less than paying players under the table.

Not a good move by the NCAA.

Here’s what should have happened to Penn State, in addition to what has already happened.

Penn State should have received a ten-year ban from college sports. The ban would be reviewable in five years if Penn State has taken appropriate actions to make restitution to the children and families involved, to completely separate themselves in every way from anyone who was connected with this cover up (including the immediate termination of any and all payments such as health insurance, pensions, benefits, etc), and to institute policies so that this never happens again.

In addition, Penn State must hire an outside overseer chosen by the NCAA, and must subject itself to regular reviews by an oversight board to whom the outside overseer is accountable.

The NCAA needs to send a stronger message to its member schools, and to the college sports industry: “If you do this, we will come down hard. Very hard.”

The NCAA has shown it can tolerate a lot of stuff. Now they have shown a willingness to tolerate more.

This was a chance for the NCAA to send a real message. They could have said, “If there are other schools in a similar state, now is the time to come clean. Fess up. And you will receive the same treatment as Penn State. If we find out about this after close of business today, the penalty will be worse.”

But they didn’t.

They missed a chance. Sadly.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Tragedy, Outrage, and Proportion

This past Friday morning, just after midnight, a gunman entered a crowded movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado and shot fifty people, killing twelve.

Americans are rightly stunned and outraged. It is hard to imagine what that middle of the night phone call would be like with a voice on the other end asking you to come and identify the body of a loved one who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It is hard to imagine the depths of evil in the human heart that led to this.

It should grieve us.

And now, at the risk of being accused of bad taste, I want to take this opportunity that remind us that since that midnight tragedy, approximately one hundred times that number of people have been killed and hardly anyone has batted an eye. There’s no stunned outrage. There’s not a torrent of news article and blog posts analyzing the tragedy. Their names will never be known (in fact, they don’t even have names yet). No one will cry out for laws to keep it from happening. In fact, they will cry out for laws to continue to allow it.


Because very few people, comparatively speaking, care about the thousands every day who are brutally murdered everyday in the “privacy” of a “doctor’s office.” They aren’t surrounded by jokers in masks. They are surrounded by highly educated doctors in masks whose goal is to take a human life.

But the outcome is the same: Dead people.

This shooting is a tragedy. But why do twelve people get the headlines, and the twelve or so that died since I starting writing this won’t even get a grave stone?

No doubt some of you will be offended by this article. You will think I am minimizing this tragedy.

Far from it, my friend. I am not minimizing it at all. I am pointing to a bigger tragedy that doesn’t reach our national (or personal) psyche anymore.

I am pointing that we, as Americans, have no sense of proportion to match our outrage. We ignore the death of thousands while dedicating hours of special programming on TV to the death of twelve.

The media who have shown pictures of bloody theatre goers won’t dare show the picture of a bloody baby brutally sucked from it’s life-giving womb.

It won’t matter to them.

People will accuse me of politicizing the issue. But the politicizing started long ago when politicians distinguished between the value of the life at certain ages. They are the one who have refused to offer the promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” to all people. They are the ones who have given into the politicization of those with no regard for life.

Life is precious, whether it’s twelve people in a theater at midnight or twelve people in the wombs of their mothers.

The fact that we get morally outraged at a theater killing is good.

The fact that we do not get morally outraged at abortion is a travesty, a blight on our existence.

May God awaken our sensibilities to the mass murder that goes on everyday all around us.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Around the Horn

First, here’s a list of ten characteristics of spiritually-plateaued leaders from Neil Cole via Gary Rohrmayer. I think it is a helpful tool for self-analysis. It is very easy to live a public life that has no corresponding private life. That’s called a lack of integrity—a missing wholeness. As those in spiritual leadership, it is absolutely necessary that we repent of this disconnect between public and private and pursue wholeness.

Second, here’s an interview with Wheaton president Philip Ryken on why Wheaton has joined a lawsuit against the government for the health care mandate, particularly as it relates to birth control. They are joining with a number of other universities, including the Catholic University of America. Ryken explains that this is a freedom of religion issue.

Third, speaking of interviews, here’s an interesting interview with President George W. Bush. It covers a wide range of things, and though it is an hour, it is worth some time. To me, he always had a certain something, a sort of “unpolish,” that communicated authenticity. I don’t know him, so I don’t know if it’s true. But there’s something refreshing about a speaker who doesn’t seem to be reading from a script and repeating talking points.

Bringing it home today is a website related to Bush’s education initiative called the Global Report Card. You can choose your local school district and see how it compares statewide, national, and international. My local school district has a 9% rating in math in 16% in reading vs. the world. That means that 91% of schools around the world do a better job of teaching math that our local schools. Within our state, we have a 17% rating, which means that only 17% of schools do a worse job of teaching math. This may explain why the district is constantly running short of cash … that and paying $200K plus bennies to a superintendent for a failing school district that is losing students left and right. I can fail at that job for a lot less than 200K.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Ryle on Pastoral Ministry

I cannot read the Bible without desiring to see many believers more spiritual, more holy, more single-eyed, more heavenly-minded, more whole-hearted than they are in the nineteenth century. I want to see among believers more of a pilgrim spirit, a more decided separation from the world, a conversation more evidently in heaven, a closer walk with God*

Though perhaps this wasn’t directly about pastoral ministry, it is surely true that the preaching of a pastor will be better when it is guided by this simple statement from J. C. Ryle

*J. C. Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties and Roots (London: William Hunt and Company, 1889). 70.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Around the Horn

First, there’s a man who is running a church in his backyard in Phoenix. The city has fined him $12,000 and sentenced him to jail time for building code violations. I’ll spare you the commentary and just remind us that the gospel matters, and when your neighbors and your city are ticked off at you because you ignore them, it’s hurt the gospel. Filing lawsuits will not recover the gospel witness.

Second, Doug Wilson attempted to preach on the healthcare debate here. I say “attempted” because I view preaching as involving the right use of Scripture to say what God says applied to our world today. I think Wilson succeeded only in that it applied to our world today. Otherwise, I think this is a good example of how not to preach. The pulpit is far too important to use it for things like American democracy. And adding a some constitutional commentary on to a few Bible verses doesn’t make the grade.

Third, with college football just a little ways away, here’s a good reminder of just how bad things are. In this story, a young man with a serious gun charge is given a scholarship to play football at Alabama State. We live in a world that wants to pretend there are no consequences for choices. Before you yell, “Everyone deserves a second chance,” let me say that I am fine with this young man getting a second chance to go to college. But as long as schools tolerate this, there will be no incentive for it to be different.

Finally, here’s a good word from Ed Stetzer bits on ministry pornography. It’s only about three minutes long, but it’s an excellent reminder to grow where you’re planted, and not to lust after other people’s ministres. No matter where you are, some place else usually looks better. Sometimes it is, but be careful. And I never knew John Acuff looked like that.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Around the Horn

First, if you want to know what’s at stake in the creation/evolution debate, this post at Jesus Creed gives some insight. It is about the evolution of immorality, and what is particularly instructive is the comment section. Once you give up man as a special direct creation in the image of God, you have introduced some serious issues into the world, including the lack of a rational explanation for an almost universal sense of morality tied to something outside the individual. There are some things that are simply unable to be explained rationally from an evolutionary viewpoint.

Second, here’s a short chronology of the life of Augustine. You might like or hate him, but he is undeniably a significant figure in church history.

Third, my friend Jared Compton writes a good piece on a piece about why women still can’t have it all. It’s a good reminder for us to be cautious about what it means to “have it all.” Contrary to popular opinion, I think the Bible has a very high view of women, and we should take steps to encourage that. There’s not many ancient cultures that placed women on a par with men the way the Bible does, that encourages and honors their industry and work, and honors their personhood, (not to mention killing a whole city because one woman got raped). Having spent a few days recently being Mr. Mom, I am quite confident to say “I don’t want it all.” I like the dynamics of family partnership.

Last, Roger Olson tells us what he admires about Calvinists. It centers around the idea that Calvinists typically do a better job of teaching their congregation how to integrate life and Scripture than non-Calvinists do. I am pretty sure this post was edited after its initial version, but here’s the key part:

My experience of non-Calvinist Christians (from membership and leadership in about 12 churches during my lifetime) is that they are not, by and large, theologically trained at all. They have picked up pieces of this and that (theologies) and pasted them together in ways that seem good to them without any real reflection on the outcome (the eclectic worldview, theology that results from that informal process). I’m not saying that doesn’t also happen among Calvinists; I’m just saying it’s not as common IN CALVINIST CHURCHES.

Not sure if he’s right, though I tend to think he is. I think I can make an argument as to why, and perhaps one day I will. But until then, his thoughts are worth considering.

Monday, July 02, 2012


A certain South African missionary society once wrote to David Livingstone: “Have you found a good road to where you are? We want to know how to send some men to join you.” Livingstone wrote back: “If you have men who will come only if they know there is a good road, I don’t want them. I want men who will come if there is no road.”

In Gary McIntosh, Finding Them, Keeping Them: Effective Strategies for Evangelism and Assimilation in the Local Church, pp. 29-30.

I recently saw where George Washington said that most things attributed to him on the internet were not things he actually said. In that same spirit, I have no idea if Livingstone actually said this. But if he didn’t, he should have. It’s a thought worth considering.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Jesus and Healthcare

The Supreme Court declared Obamacare to be constitutional this week. Whatever you think of that (and there is a wide variety of thoughts on that), it prompts me to respond to the claim that we (as Christians particularly) need to support “universal health care” because of Jesus and our call to be incarnational like He was.

So here’s my response:

If you are going to invoke Jesus’ healing as a basis for healthcare, shouldn't you also invoke Jesus' methods?

First, Jesus didn't heal everyone. He intentionally walked away from needy people in order to preach the gospel such as in Mark 1:32-38, though you don't hear that much in missional teaching. I don’t mean that sarcastically. People just seem to skip right over that. The fact is that Jesus showed his love by walking away from needy and hurting people in order to preach the gospel to others. What are all the implications of that? Well, I suggest it at least deserves some consideration.

Second, when he did heal, he didn't do it through hospitals, medicine (unless you count mud made out of spit), insurance (government or private), or free care. He did it through miracles.

Simply put, it seems to me that invoking Jesus in this is inappropriate, unless you are going to heal only some people only through miracles and leave the rest on their own so that you can preach the gospel to people who haven’t heard it.

So if you want to be like Jesus, heal some people through miracles and then leave a long line of sick and hurting people so that you can go preach in another town.

None of that is to say that healthcare (universal or not) is a bad thing. I happen to like health care. I happen to think everyone should have it. But that’s not because of what Jesus did on earth. It’s because all humans are created in the image of God and we need to honor that image by caring for it.

This is simply to warn about violating the third commandment by using the name of God the Son in vain. Jesus’ methods do not support (or refute) health care. They are about something entirely different, namely, proving that Jesus was the God the Son who can save sinners by reconciling them to the Father through His own death.

And that message must be preached because that’s a whole lot more important because it is eternal. Eventually all health care will fail and people will need to stand before God. At that point, “Brother So-and-So lived so missionally he got me health insurance” will not do a lot of good.