Friday, March 31, 2006

Emerging irritation

I'm not one to pick on Brian McLaren here, but he repeated something of which I am becoming increasingly intolerant. In an interview with Criswell Theological Review editor R. Alan Streett, McLaren is quoted as saying:

It appears that the church is growing rapidly where pre-modern people enter modernity, but where modern people move into a postmodern cultural milieu, the Christian faith has not yet understood or engaged the questions they’re raising.

Did the Church not grow rapidly before modernity? Where does that place the Early Church?

McLaren continues on with his missiology:

So, many of us are seeking to faithfully incarnate the gospel of Jesus Christ—the gospel of the kingdom of God available to all through Jesus—to people in our mission context.

This could just be my lack of a formal theological education, but his use of incarnate seemed unintentionally odd. Is he meaning his mission is to make the Gospel real? Is he meaning to act as the Body of Christ? Or is he saying something else.

It's not clear to me and I don't want to quibble. What I see are two distinct statements here that McLaren thinks belong together but I think they contradict each other. To combine his two seperate statements one must assume we have three things:

  • A pre-modern Gospel for a pre-modern people
  • A modern Gospel for a modern people
  • A post-modern Gospel for a post-modern people

    I'm probably quibbling afterall, but I want to boil down McLaren's inability communicate and what I hope he's really saying. Let's set this straight, though:

    The truthful, transformational Gospel message has never changed or accomodated any culture

    It has, however, been presented in many different languages in many different forms to communicate to people all over the world. This is why it's important to speak plainly on the difference between communicating the Gospel and accomodating for the Gospel. One has a historical basis. The other has none.
  • Thursday, March 30, 2006

    Fellowship of the Blogs

    After a brief sojourn away from blogging, Dr. Mike has returned with The Lord of the Kingdom, where he digs out the richness of J.R.R. Tolkien's famed books.

    I've worked on several posts in hopes of interacting with Mike's posts, but they have fallen far short of illuminating, so they've been set aside indefinitely. Instead, I offer this post as a single note of appreciation for a wonderful new blog.

    Mike deftly grasps the vast depth of Tolkien's communities and characters, where existence demands heroism and honor of men born into weakness, and there is no forum for the innate talents of truly fictional, infallible creatures. Every creature has a purpose in those books. Not a word is wasted. In Tolkien's universe, mortality in this realm is a gift, and men broil with selfish passion. His message is Biblically compatible: It is our own abstract self-interest -- wrongful assumptions about our own humility and good nature -- that will be our downfall. Otherworldly evil seems little but a red herring, a distraction from our own evil nature.

    Lord of the Rings is not a static equivalent of the Christian story, like Chronicles of Narnia. It aims much higher, actually, as a dynamic demonstration of man's total depravity. Mike excels in highlighting this element of Tolkien's mythology. Whereas C.S. Lewis wished to create a Gospel fervor in his text, perhaps Tolkien wanted to convince his readers of their need to hear the Gospel.

    It is very rare when I am compelled to read long posts, and I freely admit my own vice in this matter: I write more than I need to. It is typically self-serving when brevity is almost always required for the vast majority of weak writers in all of the blogiverse. However, Lord of the Kingdom throws its weight around with the authority of Tolkien himself, and I strongly recommend this compelling site for your blog rolls and RSS readers.

    Munsil for Guv

    Len Munsil, candidate for Arizona governor, has a blog. (HT: Smart Christian).

    That's fine. What's disturbing to me is we went to the same J-school and shared a similar occupation at the same newspaper, seperated by only a decade. This means he's older, but probably not much smarter than me. I'm not qualified to run for dog catcher.

    At least he picked the right state to run for governor. We'll elect anyone.

    Tighter fuel rules for SUVs

    The government set tighter gas mileage rules Wednesday for pickups and sport utility vehicles, including bulky SUVs such as the Hummer H2 and Chevrolet Suburban, responding to rising concern about the supply and cost of energy from abroad. Link

    I wish someone would allow me 15 minutes with the Transportation Department head. Here are the rules I would make about those vehicles. You can't buy a new one if:

  • You have ever driven two blocks from your house to the pharmacy for your high-blood pressure medication.

  • You have ever used the word "bling."

  • You have owned one before and never taken it off paved roads. Or parked it in the space marked "compact."

  • You subscribe to "People or "Us" magazine.
  • Canada cuts off Palestinian relations

    Canada is cutting aid and relations with the Palestinian Authority, Ottawa announced shortly after the Hamas government formally took power Wednesday. Link

    Two things: First, Palestinians have to be relieved they will finally be able to sell of the last of those Crash Test Dummies CDs in the value bin. (Mmm-mmm-mmm-mmm). Second, has anyone ever mentioned to Hamas leaders they have the word "ham" right there in their name? That's sort of like putting bacon on a kosher bagel.

    Fourth-quarter not ideal for economists

    The U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 1.7 percent last quarter, the slowest pace in almost three years, while an inflation measure watched by the Federal Reserve rose more than earlier reported. Link

    Every time I try to understand an economist, I realize being a communications major is worth a little more than we often give it credit for.

    Hearing protection for iPod

    Apple is releasing free software to limit how loud iPods can go. The idea is to empower parents to install the software on the music player to protect their children's hearing.

    Now all they need is software that would improve your teenager's taste in music.

    Wednesday, March 29, 2006

    You are not your best news filter

    As much as the mainstream media is vain enough to think they know you well, it is equally vain to think you should be in total control of your news. If you are not at least presented with a daily variety of news items, you miss out on a lot of stuff you don't always think is important before it happens.

    For example, many people think all politics happen in Washington. This is so untrue. Some of the best political reporting happens at city council, town council, and county commissioner meetings. This is the stuff that affects you most, is most likely to directly shrink your bank account, and is the stuff the average person ignores.

    Go ahead and set up your filters to all of your nuanced preferences. Then try and find a good reason to complain when the city council raises property taxes or county commissioners pass a new stadium tax.

    If you're obsessed with the next presidential election, but block out neighborhood news, you'll never know when the bar and grill down the street has altered their business plan and is close to becoming your neighborhood strip club or head shop.

    Did you know a mosque with a 100-foot spire was being built on a vacant lot 300 feet from your patio door? Why has the city shut down the playground at the city park? What the heck have they been digging up the past two years at X and Y streets?

    There's all kinds of local stories that are missed out when you filter your news based on predetermined priorities. That's why newsrooms weigh 40 or more stories a day for the front page. It's not an elegant or perfect process, but it does take into account a lot of things the ordinary media consumer rarely thinks about -- even though they should.

    Do the important stories that impact you most always make it to the front page? No. That's a debate about out-of-touch journalists for another day. Nonetheless, there is a role for people, not computers, filtering the news for us. Everything else is supplement and personal preference.

    Biblical immigration?

    The Church World Service displays their skills in Biblical eisogesis. Haven't seen this kind of straining over the Word since Liberation Theology.

    In the beginning, all was darkness and void, and the spirit of God moved (migrated) over the face of the chaos (Genesis 1:1). To move is to migrate. The biblical story is a migration story.

    Protest backlash?

    Time reporter Perry Bacon Jr. reports Congressmen in favor of strong immigration laws appear entrenched in light of protests.

    Big shock. Wouldn't want to be the person answering congressional calls from the constituency today. The marches have brought light to the issue and likely achieved the opposite of the intent. You don't hang a Mexican national flag over the American flag if you hope to engender support from the locals.

    Time to refi that ARM

    If you've financed with an adjustable-rate mortgage in the past three years, I urge you to consider to refinance a fixed-rate loan. The 10-year yield just hit a 21-month high, probably the best indicator loan rates are about to go up.

    Basically, banks will have to raise rates to entice investors in the secondary market. That means more money out of your pocket.

    The politics (and deception) of 'La Raza Unida'

    As usual, my former peers in the major news media have missed the real story behind the marches in the Pacific and Southwestern U.S. regions. Thousands of Latino and illegals marched under the 'La Raza' banner, and their voices will soon be co-opted by a familiar political message.

    High school students are being rallied around the country on Spanish-speaking stations to march for 'La Raza' -- a Spanish term meaning race, and generally referring to those indigenous to Mexico. It is common to refer to 'La Raza' as a mestizo ancestry -- the mix of European, African and Mexican indigenous people's blood. It is an inclusive term, as inclusive as the Mexican ancestry. First used by a Mexican scholar, it was meant to describe a "a cosmic people" -- blood from around the globe. These Latino-Americans were inspired to stand up for their illegal family members, their race, and their Mexican pride.

    However, the National Council of La Raza, presumably the political party organizing these rallies behind the scenes, and the political voice against such previous California and Arizona measures requiring English-only legal conduct, has a clear political agenda.

    It's history in America dates to the rise of the Chicano movement in the early 70s, and it is grounded very much in the La Raza Unida politics of that era. It has helped place many of its members in high-ranking positions, such as White House counsel Alberto Gonzales.

    It's agenda is not at all muddled: Zero immigration law enforcement; 100 percent American rights for illegals; equal eligibility for gov't financial assistance, particularly for health care and assisted living; advanced rights for illegals, sometimes superceding those born in this country, such as in-state tuition for illegals.

    Before Sept. 11, President George Bush was their most influential ally. Before Sept. 11, we probably would have had broad-sweeping amnesty programs that all but ended the border line between Mexico and America. That was, at least, the assumption from some in NCLR, based on Bush's pre-election enticement of the Latino vote.

    Post-Sept. 11, immigration has become centerpiece to national security issues and the GOP has painted a bullseye on organizations such as NCLR. Their vision is at odds with the reality of a very different America.

    So now the NCLR is drumming up the masses, turning this into a racial issue, not a political one. There are tens of thousands of Mexicans living in this country convinced they are being deprived of "basic human rights" because America has a predisposition of bias against people of "La Raza." And that's what the marches were about -- racial pride.

    It's doubtful more than a handful of the walkout marchers could give a 35-word explanation of the political message they are endorsing. The NCLR doesn't require them to understand, only that their very existence could be wiped out by the evil European invaders.

    The truth is the brains behind NCLR do not care about American government, and they actually grew out of a challenge to the American two-party system. The original goal was to elect Chicanos to high position and to move the American political system to the left.

    The issue is best dealt with not on the grounds that NCLR sets, but directly to the people at these marches. If politicans want to successfully navigate these dark waters, they will recognize the distinction between proud members of 'La Raza' and the race-baiters of 'La Raza Unida.'

    'La Raza' is about family values

    Perhaps you've asked yourself this question recently:

    "Why are there thousands of Mexican teenagers blocking the road to my work?"

    The answer is basic: U.S. Congress is considering a new federal law that would make it illegal to be illegal on American soil.

    Sounds fair, right? We are a nation of laws. It's what seperates us from other countries, what allows us to celebrate diversity -- because our laws have been shown to be fair and just in spite of our own attempts to undo them.

    Think about this: You're 14 and your mother jumped the border so you could be born in America for immediate citizenship. You've never known another life outside of cable TV and relative comfort. Your English is as fluent as any other American teenager, but you speak just enough informal Spanish to get you arrested in Tijuana.

    You're safe from this law because you are a citizen, but su madre, su tia, y su hermano are all illegals who are supporting your existence. Under the new law, you're as good as illegal, because your entire support system will be deported as soon as the school system reports you.

    Now, I'm not a fool and I still believe in the law. The mother who jumped the border did nothing but flaunt the law with a loophole. While it may not seem fair, it is not unfair to return the 14-year-old American with her illegal families to her country's origin.

    It's just not practical. And it's why I support amnesty over mass deportation. I just don't know how to fully justify it knowing what I know: Illegals move here and create generations of legals whose allegiance is to Mexico. I am not at all threatened by Mexican culture, but I want my fellow Americans to be as defensive of our laws, our values, our preservation of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to be as important to the naturalized as well as those who have a birthright.

    I covered sports in a farming community in northern California for about 8 mos. The population there is overwhelmingly immigrant farmers, most of them illegal, and their kids were the athletes I spent a lot of time with.

    There was one girl, a good athlete, student-body representative, and decent student, whom I had the opportunity to have a lengthy casual conversation with before a game. She wasn't going to college because she was "Mexican, not American." She intended to live here, but felt no obligation to live here legally. In fact, she was rather hostile to the notion of becoming American. Why? I suspect her family was more than hostile of her becoming encultured in this country, though they failed miserably in preventing her from doing that. Where they did succeed was giving her a political philosophy that is in contradiction with her social status and welfare.

    I don't know how to make this right. We've failed to properly enforce our citizenship laws for so long, we've created entire subcultures who have a good argument to remain without going through the required citizenship classes to understand why this country is so worthwhile to live here.

    Fix it? It's too late to fix it. The best we could do is salvage what's left.

    'La Raza' no es la causa

    ¿Quiénes son I para juzgar quién pueden residir en América y quién no tiene la derecha? Un amigo al mexicano que vive ilegal en América. Amigo, usted nunca experimentará el sueño americano en América porque usted nunca tendrá derechas que utilizar sin ciudadanía. ¿Usted desea luchar para la justicia social? Luche para tu paisanos que usted abandonó en México. Vuelva a México y usted enseña lo que usted ha aprendido aquí: Capitalismo, educación, expresión libre, y honor a los leyes y a los legisladores.

    Glory al dios, juez de todos hombres y quién creó todas idiomas y todas razas.

    Tuesday, March 28, 2006

    Coming Soon: Ocean's 13

    George Clooney will be back for Ocean's 13.

    Early sign this movie is troubled: Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta Jones are gone. Ellen Barkin -- ?!?!?! -- is in.

    That's what you get for idolizing the Jolly Roger

    Apple's Steve Jobs, a Silicon Valley legend for once flying a Jolly Roger up the computer company's flagpole, was hi-jacked himself. By the IRS. They demanded Jobs pony up for the 10 million company shares he was awarded in 2003. So Jobs sold off about 40 percent of it, basically selling it back to the company.

    It's still pennies compared to Apple's loss in Look and Feel.

    IRS has nothing on the Pirates of Silicon Valley.

    Why is Gnosticism popular?

    Mark D. Roberts continues his series on the The Da Vinci Code on Why is Gnosticism Popular Today? (HT: Smart Christian)

    I'll take affirmation of selfish presuppositions for $300, Alex.

    Writing for the reader

    I've had several complaints in the past year that the posts on this site are too long. My writing has been compared to digging a few 2K diamonds out of 1 million acre feet of mud.

    Well, at least I'm not throwing my pearls to the swine.

    In an attempt to be more relevant, I'm going to a experiment this next week with shorter writing. We're going for pithy, not illuminating. Let me know what you think.

    Monday, March 27, 2006

    The Mullet Code

    My father-in-law, ever the wise and patient student of the Word, has broken the code of all codes. He has uncovered a dastardly plot against humanity. And fashion.

    Please join him in reviling the evildoers, those fable chasers and their "itchy ears."

    Sunday, March 26, 2006

    Abanes writes

    The formidable Richard Abanes visited this site yesterday with a bone to pick with the last line of my previous post.

    In objecting to the commercialization of the Christian response to the Da Vinci Code, I ended with an inflammatory remark:

    You know, because we want you to know the truth and set the record straight, but not before we collect your $19.99 + tax.

    This stung Mr. Abanes, the author of one of those books and many other mass publishings. He wrote in response:

    It is unfortunate that you would cast aspersions on the integrity and motivation of so many men and women of with your comment

    Mr. Abanes continued by justifying -- needlessly -- his right to collect a fee on his work as a journalist and Christian book author.

    As a former journalist, no one needs to make an argument with me about the need to collect money on what amounts to a great deal more work than people realize. Christians have every much a right to charge for their work as non-Christians. That wasn't my point.

    What I do take issue with is, in defense of our faith, we Christians think too much like this world. We think in terms of marketplace and marketing. We don't look and see if someone else is already filling a role. We see market share and a chance to capitalize on culture and fads.

    That is in no way meant to impugn Mr. Abanes' character or intent for writing his book. His may be the best champion of the truth. I don't know. I've never read it. It would take me more than a few years to read all of the books on the subject. Neither do I know his intentions for writing it, and I do not write this in judgment of him or his on-going book-writing ministry. I am positive writing the book cost Mr. Abanes valuable time and money, and he should be compensated for that time. God bless him for recognizing the need for a response and attempting to address it.

    As a corporate Church, however, I am certain we do not need 100 for-profit books (and more on the way) to respond to the mistruths of one book. We need one unified response: We know our history and we will not allow anyone to play fast and loose with it. That is a difficult message to get out to a resistant public, though, when there's a cover charge at the door of truth.

    I think there is a place for books, but we have so much more power at our fingertips to reach a much broader audience. Where is the church-wide support for a website -- or even 100+ websites -- with the same content? Where is our open defense in magazine articles? Where are the public challenges to debate Brown (or his wife, who appears to be the sole researcher of the code) on the "facts" of his book?

    My beef is not with Mr. Abanes or any of the other authors of those books. My beef is with the flabby Church and its silence beyond the marketplace.

    Friday, March 24, 2006

    The Da Vinci Code book industry

    Dan Brown is a rainmaker.

    He has personally revived book sales not only with his Da Vinci Code, but for Christian bookstores everywhere who will soon have more anti-Brown and anti-Da Vinci books than they will have space to display them.

    Here are some of the 100+ Christian response books already on the shelves:

  • Truth and Fiction in the DVC by Bart Ehrman
  • Cracking Da Vinci's Code by James Garlow
  • The Truth Behind the DVC by Richard Abanes
  • The Real History Behind the DVC by Sharon Newman
  • Breaking the DVC by Darrell L. Bock
  • The DVC: Fact or Fiction by Hank Hanegraaff and Paul L. Maier
  • Discussing the DVC: Exploring the Issues Raised by the Book and Movie by Lee Strobel and Gary Poole
  • The DVC Hoax by Carl E. Olson and Sandra Miesel

    More books are undoubtedly on their way. You've heard of blogstorms? This is a bookstorm.

    No one has to justify to me their right to sell a Christian book. What I find irritating is a big push to have a response to the Da Vinci Code, and I find no one taking advantage of free publishing on the Internet. If this is so important and such a wonderful opportunity to minister the Gospel, why are we trying to extract a dime before giving the information?

    You know, because we want you to know the truth and set the record straight, but not before we collect your $19.99 + tax.

    Update: I would be remiss if I did not point to James White's work on the subject. It's not categorical, and it's by a theologian who revels in argumentation, but it is very sound work, nonetheless.
  • Standing on God's (environmental) promises

    We say here God loves irony. We also believe God has a sense of humor.

    Exhibit A is a Scientific American article that predicts up to 20 feet rise in sea levels over an undetermined time. The problem, they say, is greenhouse gases melting both polar caps at an exponential rate.

    You don't have to strain to notice God's message in the accompanying photo. There's a rainbow arching over a melted glacier. In a story predicting global flooding, they include a photo of a rainbow.

    We all know what that means, right?

    The rainbow is a promise to not destroy all humanity and all the creatures by flood. I suppose this does not preclude flooding the American Gulf Coast, as the story predicts, but the inclusion of the photo struck me as profound.

    Scientists in the story want to substantially reduce greenhouse gases the next 10 years to slow or stop polar melting. Even if we had the gumption to give up our cars in America, it would be impossible to do this globally in 10 years. Maybe in 100 years.

    Furthermore, it's not clear to me if it's good science to try and prevent polar melting. It happened before without our help.

    Pollution presents problems to humans, too, particularly carbon monoxide. What if polar melting is some kind of natural washing machine and cleanser? Nothing clears the air like fresh rain and snow. An influx of a lot of fresh water would replinish our water sources while dilluting contaminination.

    Thursday, March 23, 2006

    The 2 millenium time change

    I see a lot of unneccessary rising blood pressure in your future. If you were upset about the 10 Commandments in the court-room controversy or the loss of the use of the word Christmas, wait until the latest politically-correct fad arrives at your doorstep.

    Theologians not wishing to offend people have been using "Common Era" (CE) and "Before Common Era" (BCE) in place of "Amino Domini" (AD) and "Before Christ (BC). Now it's starting to catch in in academic circles and the media.

    The liberals are changing the calendar! Run for the hills! Hide from the black helicopters!

    Before firing off 20 blog posts about the decline of the modern culture, think about this. Very few people know that AD is an abbreviation for the Latin phrase, "In the year of our Lord." Maybe a few more people know for what BC is abbreviated. But we're talking a small portion of the world, and some billions don't even use our calendar. Furthermore, Dionysius probably didn't even get the year of Christ's birth right, and was actually likely born in 4 AD.

    I'm not sure what we're sacrificing here other than an obscure reference in a dead language and the end of a lot of confusion.

    What the heck is a Gnostic?

    By far, the most effective Christian heresy hunting tool is finding any kind of relation between someone's belief and Gnosticism. This trick is used by both sides to literally demonize one's beliefs without charity or, in many cases, a single moment of investigation.

    The problem is you can relate pretty much any Gospel-preaching, Bible-teaching Christian sect to Gnosticism because of the leech-like belief system of the Gnostics. They have borrowed and distorted from all of Judeo-Christianity, and its roots predate Christ's birth (a fact that seems to escape many). It's important to know what Gnosticism is to distinguish what to guard against and what to recognize as cheap strawmen arguments.

    Basic Gnosticism goes something like this: The earth and all of matter was not created by the One True and Living God, but a "lesser" malevolent God which, depending on which era of Gnosticism you are researching, is either the Devil or a Devil-like being. Because of this, all matter -- including our own physical bodies -- are evil. Ultimately, all physical things must be denied to achieve enlightenment and avoid eternal damnation on Judgment Day.

    Any student of Greek history will note this is a very Greek philosophy, and not one necessarily originating from a Judeo-Christian ethic, per se. In Genesis, the True and Living God created man and woman in the flesh and declared them fit for fellowship with him in their physical form. This is why Gnosticism generally repudiates the entire OT as heresy and the God of the OT as the malevolent one. Post-Christ Gnostics embrace the Gospel of John as divine, ironically in spite of the book's very deliberate relationship to Genesis. Also, those Gnostics did not believe Jesus ever took a fleshly form, and was instead a pure spirit who only looked like a fleshly form.

    This is the Gnosticism Paul was fighting in Colossians. As you can see, it places a legalism onto salvation that denies the freedom of salvation in Christ. It creates a performance- or achievement-based element of responsibility on the person. It denies the physical suffering Christ accepted as part of the atonement for our sins. As Paul so eloquently counters in Col. 2:9, "For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form"

    Another more fundamental element to Gnosticism is the notion its followers possess some super-secret knowledge or understanding of God not known to the average human being. So Gnosticism put a high priority on the experiential and a low priority -- better put, a deprioritization -- of religious litany. The written word was almost impossible to reconcile as divine because it was of this earth, according the Gnostics.

    The picture we see here is one where liberals can attack fundamentals of Gnosticism by any embrace of legal nature: i.e. total depravity, literal interpretation of the Bible, literal adherence of the Ten Commandments, literal anything. What is ironic here is those charging legalism are more likely to be in line with the Gnostics, because the Gnostics rejected the authority of the Apostles of the Early Church, rejected correction, and rejected things (such as OT as divinely inspired) that Jesus most definitely endorsed. This is not to say conservative Evangelicals are not capable of legalism, but legalism by itself does not equate to Gnosticism. Furthermore, both Gnostics and liberals have a lesser Christology than conservatives. Paul elevated Christ as the only path to heaven, and it is the conservatives, not the liberals, who uphold that view.

    On the other hand, Charismatics and Pentecostals -- two groups who are sometimes at odds with fundamental cessationists -- are cited by some fundamentalists for delving into Gnosticism because of the emphasis on experience. While I have no doubt there are a handful in this camp that could be classified as Gnostics (I'm thinking of the kind that equate their own personal "revelation" as equal to or greater than God's Word), the great whole of Charismatics and Pentecostals still affirm all the fundamental tenents of Classical Christianity. It is not enough -- not by far -- to equate the Christian experiential with Gnosticism, and to do so shows an ignorance of both.

    Where we find Gnosticism most clearly stated today is not in Christianity at all (unless you still insist on allow Universalists wear that title), but in the first world popular culture. It is in broad ecumenism that embraces generalities, such as "We are God" or "God is the God within us" or "God is our inner spark" or "inner flame" or "God is the elements of nature that bind us together." It is in pop-religions such as New Ageism, Kabbalah and neo-Buddhism.

    Furthermore, heresy does not begin and end with Gnosticism. There are plenty other Christ-denying beliefs out there that do not engage a Gnostic system. Scientology, for example, very clearly has a system that denies the divinity of Christ and Classical Christianity, but is neither compatible with universalism (in spite of their claims) nor does it treat the physical world in the same harsh philosophical way (although there are many similarities that could lead one to believe L. Ron Hubbard copied freely from the Gnostics).

    Tuesday, March 21, 2006

    Post-charismatic or plain old burnout?

    Rob MacAlpine writes about post-charismatics and the problems dealing with the Church after burnout.

    MacAlpine writes as if it is a new phenomenon, but having a bird's eye view of the charismatic and pentecostal movements over 30 years, I think charismatic burnout attrition goes hand-in-hand with any church that emphasizes the gifts of the spirit. The problem is just as he states: People need a church that puts more emphasis on the fruit of the spirit. You can pray for healing until Jesus returns, but it means nothing without the transforming power of the Spirit inside of you. As a correlary, you can preach all the right doctrine, but if you do not major in the fruit of the spirit -- if you do not place your focus on the grace, love, and redeeming power of Christ -- your church members face the same dilemma.

    It is nothing new to say it's easy for a Spirit-filled church to grow out of balance. There is such a foxhole mentality to defend a small portion of our theology, it becomes a point of emphasis in many churches to the neglect of the rest of Biblical teaching.

    In mentioning his and his friend's departure from the Vineyard, my church affiliation, he follows by mentioning four broad reasons many people now consider themselves "post-charismatics":
    1. Abuses and elitism in prophetic ministry, coupled with a “carrot and stick” approach to holiness that many find legalistic, manipulative, and repressive
    2. The excesses of Word Faith teachings (health and wealth, prosperity doctrine) which clash with the emerging generations’ concern for a biblical approach to justice and ministry with the poor
    3. Authoritarianism and hierarchical leadership structures that exist more to control people than to equip the saints for works of service
    4. An approach to spiritual formation (discipleship) that depends on crisis events – whether at “the altar” in a church service, or in a large conference setting – but either neglects or deliberately belittles other means of spiritual maturation (ie. spiritual disciplines)
    I am in no way an official spokesman for the Vineyard, but I can say the Vineyard Community of Churches as an organization is in no way defined by the above as it stands today. There would be serious corrective measures taken by leadership if any of those problems became evident. His points bear no resemblance to the Vineyard I am familiar with.

    What I can't defend is the number of invdividual churches under the VCC banner the last 10 years who I know have dipped into one or more of those errant directions. It's a problem I have long blamed on the mass expansion in the late 80s and early 90s that came with two built-in church-killing issues:

  • Church plants by groups of people who had great intentions but no practical skills or a Biblical exposition background.

  • Churches from other denominations who did not buy in to the Evangelical portion of the Vineyard's theological mixture, but wanted to fly under the banner of the latest popular movement.

    Some of these churches failed to weigh the wholeness of the movement's mission, how John Wimber defined Vineyard orthopraxis in 1992:

  • Clear, accurate, Biblical teaching
  • Contemporary worship in the freedom of the Holy Spirit
  • The gifts of the Holy Spirit in operation
  • An active small group ministry
  • Ministry to the poor, widows, orphans and those who are broken
  • Physical healing with emphasis on signs and wonders as seen in the book of Acts
  • A commitment to missions - church planting at home and world missions abroad
  • Unity within the whole body of Christ; a relationship with other local churches
  • Evangelistic outreach
  • Equipping the saints in areas such as discipleship, ministry, serving, giving, finances, family, etc.

    So the Vineyard has had something of a fall out in the post-prophetic, post-renewal phase of the organization. The newness has worn off, and people that were attracted by the hype are less inclined to stick around because now the Vineyard's more evangelical grounding is becoming a burden. I don't know if that fall out equates to a large number of churches lost, but I know the loss is felt by most of those in leadership.

    None of this bothers me on a serious level, however. I have always been among the more conservative in the Vineyard, and if we move back a little closer to the center of orthodoxy, I think it's healthy. Wimber even anticipated this and encouraged this, believing it was the normal progression for a new church organization. He only warned against becoming stale in theology and practice, advising that when the Spirit wind blows, we must be ready to follow His lead.
  • Monday, March 20, 2006

    Your Best Life critique

    Don Williams, pastor of the Coast Vineyard, has written the most fundamentally sound critique of Your Best Life Now -- and Joel Osteen's flimsy theology -- I've ever read.

    Williams is very charitable with a two-page summary of the book. He does no editorializing there. The third page, the critique, is a doozy of a response without a hint of menace. I'd call it a home run.

    Some bloggers off target on the Code

    By now virtually every GodBlogger has written about or linked to some debunking of the <i>Da Vinci Code</i> book. It's a hot topic since best-selling fiction author Dan Brown is on trial in the UK for plagiarizing a purported work of non-fiction on the topic of Gnostic gospels.

    I think it's great that we are given a chance to reinforce the historicity of our faith in the face of such malarkey, but we really need to drive home the point if we're going to do this. There's no reason to let Dan Brown off the hook for being a fiction author. He very clearly states, on a lone page at the beginning of his work, that all references to history are fact.

    The original appeal of his fictional book was that it raised issues of authenticity of the Scripture. It was not at all similar to the appeal of a fiction author like Michael Crichton, who does exhaustive research, but makes it very clear when he is reporting and when he is dealing in the theoretical to make a broader point. It is very clear that Brown intended to injure the Bible's reputation under the guise of ficton, and he has done so to the greatest degree

    I have personally failed in addressing his horrendous accounting of history with a friend. She's a bi-sexual who was very much on the fence with Christianity. She found this book and gave it to me last year because, "It raises some interesting issues."

    Try as I might, I confessed to her I had to put it down 50 pages in because the writing was surprisingly bad. It wasn't even fluid storytelling in simple language, like John Grisham's work. I'm no Steinbeck or Hemingway, but as a professional writer, I still have standards for what I read. It was exhausting to work my way through Brown's fractured prose, never once recognizing an author's appeal to suspend my disbelief.

    Lacking discernment, it never dawned on me she wanted to engage me on the real purpose of the book, which was to present a fictional history as reality. It's not a mark on my record I look forward to explaining when I stand before the eternal Judger of men.

    It is the greatest of irony that Brown is now being accused of stealing his "facts" from a work of non-fiction, <i>Holy Blood, Holy Grail</i>. If Brown had done a single bit of research, even a quick search on Google, he would have discovered that book had been roundly discredited as bogus and a hoax, almost entirely based on certifiably false claims of French royalty by a mentally disturbed man.

    Or perhaps that was the whole idea behind writing the same material under a fictional title. He gets the benefits of presenting "facts" while defending them as nothing more than entertainment. It's like <i>implying</i> a false truth about someone, then defending yourself against charges of slander and gossip by noting you never actually uttered an affirmative word.

    Sounds clever. Like a well-known serpent.

    It's important to speak plainly on this, and to not fall into the lair Brown sets. He clearly believes he has established a fool-proof out no matter how you might attack his "work." There should be no argumentation wiggle room for man who so distinctly defames God's Word, whether he is a liar or a fool.

    What your teenager can't or won't tell you

    There's a small doorway exit to our church building's north side, and I always try to make my way through there once after-church socializing is finished to cut down on the front door's heavy traffic.

    As I was passing that way yesterday, I caught a young teen boy -- probably 14 or 15 -- with his headphones on and his head down. He was dressed in modern skater garb, hair disheveled. He looked like every teenage boy in our youth group -- you know, scruffy. I'd like to think I was better kept than that, being an ex-preppie, but at that age it all comes out the same ... wrinkled and out of place.

    I have a real big heart for boys between 8 and 15 because I remember how awkward that age was, so I tried to pass him a knowing smile (you know, that cool high school hallway head-jolt-and-glance that only cool jocks could exchange with any authenticity). It's sign language for, "You're in my posse." My thought was to develop a non-verbal repoire with him, because that's the best way to communicate with boys that age. It shows respect in a language they understand.

    I'm a 300 lbs. man. I'm positive he saw my shadow. He insisted on keeping his head down and ignoring me.

    Now, if I were older I'd probably use this moment to launch into how rude and self-absorbed teens are these days, but I know exactly what was going through that kid's head. He wasn't being obnoxious. He was avoiding eye contact. He goes to high school. You don't make eye contact in the high school jungle unless you mean to tangle. That's his understanding of the world.

    It really doesn't matter what school he goes to -- big public high school in the city, little public high school in the country, tiny Christian high school in the burbs -- he has been conditioned to have his own authority challenged on a daily basis. Sometimes it's in passive ways -- "Hey you [insert insult here] ... I'm just kiddin, man" -- and sometimes it's aggressive.

    Every kid learns to be afraid of the world, and that's why celebrities who flaunt power are so enticing. Today it's hip hop. In my day it was heavy metal. In my parents' day it was ... well, it was a lot of things in their day.

    It's not the sin that is so enticing. You may be surprised to learn that kids who grow up in Christian homes are not so easily duped by sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Most teens in Christian homes have an intutive fear for blatant flaunting of sin. At first, anyway.

    Power is the real aphrodisiac, though. Any kind of music or movie or other cultural outlet that empowers the ego, that bolsters confidence, is going to be a big hit with teens in any era and any culture. It creates a false sense of posture, to stave off the constant assault on ego they face without it. At the very least, it gives you a better chance to relate to a larger group of people that might conceal your weakness and lessen the damage.

    I'm 36 now and a lot of my friends have young teenagers. For many valid and not-so-valid reasons, my friends have forgotten what it was like to be teenager, and are now (big shock) at total odds with their offspring.

    I can already see these 13- and 14-year-olds start to withdraw from their parents in this power struggle. They get debased at school and stripped down at home. They're emotionally raw without any outlet, so they go into their rooms, turn the music up really loud, and hide in solitude. At least in there they are in control. At least there their reality can be manipulated to their comfort levels. Let them build up that sense of fortress for too long and breaching it becomes that first moment of serious backlash from your own teenager. Invading their room becomes invading their comfort zone. They'll deal with you in the kitchen, but not in their own personal space.

    In case you're wondering, I am not arguing for some kind of touchy-feely parental model. Parents are not only in the right, I believe parents are obligated to invade their children's personal space and comfort zone. Being the parent means being the parent. There is no award for being your child's best friend. You are the authority, and if you diminish that authority out of fear of losing the respect of your child, you will lose both.

    Establishing that authority is a balance. There's a difference between being authoritarian and authoritative. If you only know authoritarian style house government, plan on a couple things:

  • Constant resistance
  • Constant rebellion
  • Constant bailing your kids out of trouble well into their 20s, because that's what they'll come to expect.

    That's not a firm rule, but it's a pretty good rule of thumb. My father had this down pat, but he gets a pass because he was committed to it. He was going to get me to heaven if it killed him. It almost did.

    He would often quote Colossians 3:20 to me, which I always found ironic, since as a teenager I found little value in Scripture. Later in my life I discovered Colossians 3:21, and sort of put 3:20 in a whole new perspective for me. I actually prefer the dynamic NIV translation, because it paints a vivid picture:
    Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.
    In place of embitter, the literal translation is provoke. Either way, I think the wisdom here is to not discourage your child with tight reigns. You want them to have some hope of finding your approval. Another good word is exasperate. Over time, embitterment, provocation, and exasperation will lead to teens who have no reason to "honor and obey" their parents because it will appear to be a lose-lose proposition. Why try if you can never win?

    Parents have an effective tool they rarely use: Disappointment. Believe me, if you have been an active part of your teen's early years, your opinion of them is of the utmost importance, regardless what they've told you. A belt to the backside may create a fearful respect, but the true authority is in the expression of disappointment. To a young teen, this can be a crushing blow that might ultimately encourage them to change their behavior on their own. This is especially useful if you have been combating the daily ego shredding sessions they receive outside of the house with some Biblical reinforcement:

  • Your love for them is unconditional, even though your trust of them is conditional.
  • God's love for them is unconditional, though his commandments are not negotiable.
  • They are uniquely chosen for life by God
  • He has a purpose for them, in this life and the next
  • There is peace in His power, in contrast to the turmoil and conflict in the world's power
  • While this life can be painful, there should be no ultimate fear when Jesus is the Lord of our life

    This boy I saw, my heart goes out to him. It's just not my place to step in usurp his parent's authority. What I am planning on doing is praying for him, praying for his parents, praying for his friends, praying that he has an encounter with God so that he's not afraid to look people in the eye. That is my goal this week, to shower that boy in prayer, because God has reminded me what was going on inside of me at that age.

    What this boy cannot express to his authorities and God, I hope to encourage him from a distance, with God's real power.
  • Saturday, March 18, 2006

    Who said that?

    Think you know where people stand? Here are some quotes I've gathered. You guess the person who said it or wrote it. (Answers below)

    Quote #1
    "Jack Hayford is a model of diligence, faithfulness to the Lord and enduring loyalty to a local church. It's the long haul that manifests integrity and proven character. Many have fallen in the battle. Hayford is still standing - a tribute to God's marvelous grace."

    Quote #2
    "It's the most rebellious thing I've ever done. Drinking beer is easy. Trashing your hotel room is easy. But being a Christian, that's a tough call. That's real rebellion"

    Quote #3
    "Reason is a whore, the greatest enemy that faith has."

    Quote #4
    "Proclamation of a faulty gospel will produce faulty or, at best, weak Christians. Such is the case all too often today. Instead of a call to the lordship of Christ and membership in his kingdom, people are hearing a gospel that emphasizes self: come to Jesus and get this or that need met, be personally fulfilled, reach your potential. This, however, is not the costly kingdom gospel that Christ proclaims: "Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it" (Mark 8:35)."

    Quote #5
    "The hippies of the 1960s did understand something. They were right in fighting the plastic culture, and the church should have been fighting it too... More than this, they were right in the fact that the plastic culture - modern man, the mechanistic worldview in university textbooks and in practice, the total threat of the machine, the establishment technology, the bourgeois upper middle class - is poor in its sensitivity to nature... As a utopian group, the counterculture understands something very real, both as to the culture as a culture, but also as to the poverty of modern man's concept of nature and the way the machine is eating up nature on every side."

    Quote #1: John MacArthur
    Quote #2: Alice Cooper
    Quote #3: Martin Luther
    Quote #4: John Wimber
    Quote #5: Francis Schaeffer

    Friday, March 17, 2006

    Only Abby Knows My Pain

    Have you ever given advice or encouragement you wish you hadn't given? Or at least put more thought into? Giving advice and encouragement comes second nature to me, but there are times I should know better to just keep quiet.

    The world is quick to come up with answers, few of them real solutions. I have a hard time not following their lead. Someone has a problem and I immediately -- in all sincerity -- begin to try and help them from easy to hard.

    Most people immediately recognize my earnest intentions and accept what is good and let slide what is worthless. There's more common sense out there than we often give credit for. That I deal mostly with Christians, I can think back to grace put to practice many times by friends who have suffered through some of my more tortured recipes for a better and more satisfying life.

    The problem is when I get going, either God is fully behind it and it's all good, or I'm forcing it, and it's got all the characteristics of a mess. My own personal solutions usually involve the unHoly Trinity of bad ideas: impractical, irrational, and aBiblical.

    You'd think someone of my average intellect would be able to tell by now when God is using me and when I'm straining for answers that aren't there, but I still get derailed by the best of intentions. Sometimes we are simply asked to love someone and we have no other means to assist. When God has called us to be his ambassador, believe it or not, just passing on His love is often the solution. Stepping out like that, however, takes a lot of faith. We're rational, so we look for rational and practical answers, but experience has taught me I'm never so rational or practical on my own in that moment of need.

    So I'm striving more discernment. I think that's a good place to start.

    Tuesday, March 14, 2006

    Quick note: Greg Boyd interview

    Pastor Greg Boyd, author of several prominent books on Open Theism, has agreed to do a Q&A with me for this blog. If you've ever had a question you wanted to ask about Open Theism, now is the time to speak up. Reply to this post to enter your questions.

    (I'm still gone for the week. Just wanted to get the ball rolling on this)

    Monday, March 13, 2006

    Gone fishin'

    I'm taking the rest of the week off, probably not to return until at least this weekend. Too much stuff to do, and I don't need any distractions.

    If this somehow dramatically impacts your daily walk with the Lord, I offer these links to keep you toiling striving looking busy until I return.

    God bless!

  • I love you pastor, butt ...

  • A monument for America's favorite theologian (according to THIS wise acre)

  • If the Footsteps poem moves you, these shoes are for you.

  • This is what happens when you have too much eschatology on the brain.

  • This is really an overdue title match, right? The undercard should me James White vs. Dave Hunt.

  • This hits a little too close to home. (I know people who've had better success with car phrases. Try: "I wanna buy a Honda.")

  • I think I know this guy. I think he was the president of my HOA. And while we're at it, the rest of the group needed one of these for failing to heed this word. They probably, instead, were reading that blog

  • And if you have a higher tolerance for poking fun at health and wealth preachers, and you think junior high humor is funny like me, you'll probably find this worth watching a couple of times. Then you'll wonder if you've gone too far. Then you'll watch it a couple of more times, probably show it to your friends. Then you'll repent, because it seems too crass for someone using the Lord's name. Then you'll watch it again because you can't help yourself. But don't blame me. This guy linked to it first a couple of weeks ago. He's suspect zero.
  • More proof that God loves irony

    This is the view from my backyard. At first glance, it looks like any other backyard in east Mesa. If you look to the distance you'll see the Superstition Mountains. These are about 30 miles from my house.


    They are covered with snow.

    I had a pretty good clue Friday night we were about to end 143 days without rain in Greater Phoenix when these three things happened:

  • My knees started to hurt like I had broken something
  • Dark clouds moved in
  • My car temperature gauge said it was 42 degrees (and dropping) a 5 p.m.

    It varied between 36 and 40 most of Saturday as a slow drizzle quenched the dry desert. However, Phoenix has an unusually high elevation for desert -- 1,100 feet above sea level -- and I live at about 2,100 feet elevation 45 miles to the east of downtown.

    Snow never came. We fell just short. However, north Scottsdale got blasted. Northern Arizona is used to this stuff. Flagstaff, about 90 miles north and at about 7,100 feet above sea leavel, has a minor ski resort. Us Valley-ites, however, think it's rather novel.

    Check out some of these other photos:

  • reader photos
  • Dust Chick
  • My Baby Ava
  • Running to Long Beach
  • Whine & Cheese
  • Saturday, March 11, 2006

    Closet Calvinism?

    My current interest in Greg Boyd has spawned no small amount of Christian helpers wishing to guide me back into orthodoxy. Dan urged me to return to Tozer, and, of course, I love Tozer. Dan's book suggestion, The Knowledge of the Holy, was on my list of companion reading to Boyd's God of the Possible.

    Others have been more content to prod me by e-mail, including one genuine woman who explains to me that I'm really just a "closet Calvinist" who doesn't wish take the public lashings that comes with such a bold declaration in this age of Whateverism.

    This term made me curious so I replied with guesstimates of behavior of a closet Calvinist. I hope all Calvinists approve:

    Signs You Are A Closet Calvinist

  • You object to the hymn, "When We All Get To Heaven."

  • You think backsliding is only a problem for skiers.

  • You think Paul was too patient with the Corinthian church.

  • You've ever complained about the church cushioning the wooden pews.

  • You inexplicably start quoting Ephesians 1 at the mere mention of the movie title Free Willy.

  • You think an altar call should only involve a phone in the pulpit by which the pastor can wake up the slackers.

  • There's nothing like the smell of brimstone in the (Sunday) morning.

  • You've never confused Spurgeon with sturgeon. Or find it funny when others do.

  • You think Arminianism has something to do with expensive suits.
  • Greg Boyd and the Gospel

    Perhaps this speaks to the voluminous influence of criticism of Open Theism, but I have been very surprised by Greg Boyd strong defense of the Gospel. I expected him to be much more liberal -- perhaps an ecumenist or Romanist like some Arminians -- but that couldnt' be further from the truth.

    First, there is the book he wrote with his father, Letters From A Skeptic. Boyd, a professor of theology, began in 1989 an intensive period of correspondence with his 70-year-old agnostic father. The letters proved successful, and his father was saved before passing in old age.

    I kept waiting to read a review that challenged Boyd's presentation of the Gospel. I've found plenty attacking the book based on Boyd's presentation of God's foreknowledge, but those often conceding the fact that Boyd presents the Gospel in its fullness.

    Second, there is his firm critique of the Jesus Seminar, which is as solid as any I've read. This is not just a defense of the Gospel, but a fluid affirmation of its polarized nature. There is a heaven, and there is a hell, and Jesus holds the keys to both kingdoms. Rock solid and surprisingly conservative.

    The Pyro is back

    Update: This post has been re-edited for context and clarity. Changes are noted in red. Additions are noted in green.

    If you thought the Pyro was burned out, Phillip Johnson has returned with a post that can only be described as "extra crispy."

    This was the original recipe, baby.

    PJ responds to ECM, propositional truths, and the difference between strong language and potshots.

    I must say, I prefer this PJ to the one slapping backs with his buddies avoiding the limelight. He is much more dialed in when he seems frustrated. The forcefulness of his language strikes me as prophetic and true -- what a wonderful defense of propositional truths, delivered in context and with brevity. I think it's a little ironic that his critics are more likely to note his charity when he's firing back at them than when he's trying to be playful.

    This comes at a good time for me as I delve into other areas of theology that, to paraphrase my concerned friend Dan, don't march under the banner of the traditional Reformation. I have offered a favorable mention of an Open Theist's explanation of evil and free will.

    I have not become an Open Theist; I am just exploring to decide for myself if OT writers have moved a traditional Arminian position back towards the center. I am drawn to Greg Boyd, specifically, because the language he uses suggests an eschatological position first authored by George Eldon Ladd, who has greatly influenced me. I do this conciously aware of OT's awkard bearing on Evangelical thought, and subsequent claims of heresy by notable Evangelical thinkers such as D.A. Carson. However, I doubt the Berean's would have decried OT based on Carson's (or anyone else's) rants, so I'm going to follow the Biblical example here.

    The one thing I find comforting about Greg Boyd's Open Theism is he still clings to the main and plain, and is no liberal looking for a way to secularize the Bible. He has debated an agnostic and defends the true and essential Gospel. To the best of my ability to determine some things, Boyd's OT is controversial and a challenge to traditional thought, but it falls short of the claims of heresy because I've yet to see where he's preaching a different Gospel. To quote PJ's reference to 2 John, I would not at all have a problem with receiving him in my house and greeting him.

    I think it's important to know where the dividing line is, and you cannot know that without accepting the propositional truths the Bible offers. That dividing line between acceptable disagreement and debate and heresy sometimes seems like it moves on us, too. John Piper found that out after some harsh words he used to attack Greg Boyd and Open Theism. He did not change his mind on OT, but he regretted the way he delivered them and apologized to Boyd and his own congregation. I think Piper discovered a new appreciation for the relationship between Peter and Paul. Or Paul and anyone. It is a very difficult place to be in such a high position of authority, and to yet have peers in your own denomination teaching something adversarial to your own message.

    The dividing line is always rooted in the Gospel and the person of Jesus. Deny any divine elements of that and you are off the Evangelical reservation. Lessen any divine element of the Gospel or the person of Jesus, and you are still off the reservation. That's how I've always put this together and how I can find much to agree on with two diverse people such as Phillip Johnson and Greg Boyd.

    Furthermore, I do not believe all our disagreements have to be settled to be the unified Church or to offer a unified front to the world. We have already agreed on the principles of Evangelicalism, unified by the testimony of Jesus and his disciples, determined to carry on the ministry of Jesus. I believe there is room for strong words between us when we understand what we are really about, and we are, after all, responsible to our own individual consciences.

    So hats off to PJ for an outstanding post.

    Thursday, March 09, 2006

    Stewin' on the American melting pot

    Any day now, liberals are going to come down from their minarets and decide we should build a tower.

    Not just any tower, not gaudy like a Trump monstrosity, not cold like your average bank, and not your average 100-story monolith. No, they'll want to build a ziggurat into the heavens to serve as an ecumenical, humanity-pleasing center of agreement to worship however you want, whenever you want.

    Sort of like a non-denominational universalist ATM and faith exchange.

    The point will be to prove we have finally come together in peace, or at least prove that we can, so as to show the rest of the world that tolerance of each other is not enough. No, we need to embrace other's religions so it's one big entangled ball of twine. We could call it judeochristislamahinduism.

    A better title would be Whateverism. You know, because that worked so well for Babylon.

    Being glib is about the only way I can speak of liberal theologians today, because I can't understand them otherwise. The amalgamation of all their work seems to arrive at the conclusion that faith is an illogical attempt to answer the problem of evil, and nothing else. They are forced to turn their faith towards humanism, that there is something actually redeemable about us, something worthy of worship.

    The very idea that a theologian would think his job is to explain away the miraculous from the Bible seems to me that he should no longer be allowed the title of theologian. That person is a debunker and a moralist and nothing else. I've always had a great deal of respect for the Amazing Randy -- at least he has the intellectual honesty to not refer to himself as a theologian.

    Conservative theologians fight over each other while the liberals among us rob us of our birthright. While we debate over doctrines of baptism, liberals can put publish bogus theories that damage the credibility of the Gospel authors. Where is our response? Why are we not unified as a front against this kind of blatant attack of the enemy?

    Because we are often at war with the wrong things, particularly secular culture. We are asleep at the wheel in defense of God's Word. We attack pagans for acting like, well, pagans. Big shock. Meanwhile, those who cloak themselves in the shadow of the Cross are allowed to deny the divinity of Christ. We write these wolves off as misguided sheep. I say, if there is a problem with doctrines being stretched in Evangelicalism, it's because we've never properly accounted for those among us.

    Tuesday, March 07, 2006

    A new challenge

    I have written many posts in the past where I have a stated desire to leave my understanding of systematic theology unresolved. I do this while leaning not so blindly on the traditions of the Reformation -- as well as many contributions from more recent thinkers who may or may not have been embraced by the Evangelical establishment.

    It is with this understanding that I have embraced the title "Reformed Charismatic."

    Recently, a friend has enthusiastically turned me onto Greg Boyd, who -- as best I can tell -- is the strongest voice for Open Theism. I'm not threatened by that term as some are, but I've been slow to endorse any part of it. What little I've read of Boyd so far is fascinating, if only to appreciate his talent for apologetic writing.

    His notion is that you can accurately express both classical motifs -- God's soveriegnty (which includes omniscience and omnipresence) and free will -- in Open Theism. So, in no small way, he believes OT resolves the most dividing theological dilemma of the Protestant church.

    Even better, he believes OT best explains the problem of evil.

    In questioning what he terms as "Blueprint Worldview" he redefines the traditional understanding of sovereignty:

    The point is that the law of God’s providence is a moral law, not a deterministic law. To say “God regulates all things” is not to say that “God controls all things.” Rather, God’s governance is one that is consistent with “the preservation of freedom of will in all rational creatures.”|5 Hence, God’s sovereign will “regulates all things” not by controlling events but by holding creatures morally responsible.

    I realize such a statement is considered heresy in some circles, but I confess this explanation satisfies my conscience much better than Calvinism's explanation of evil. His Biblical groundwork and his argumentation tops Wayne Grudem's, in my opinion. I will even admit to walking away from Systematic Theology more confounded by this particular issue than understanding it better. Grudem's explanation seemed very strained to distance from the notion of "puppets on a string" (which makes it difficult to pin the consequences of evil on ourselves), but I felt his arguments only supported that point of view.

    Boyd digs deeper by bringing to the discussion Biblical argumentation that free will is expressed in some of God's created agents in this "warfare worldview":

    ... despite the above mentioned motif which stresses God’s sovereignty, Scripture does not support the view that there must be a divine reason behind all events. This brings us to a second and even more fundamental problem with the blueprint worldview: It is, I contend, rooted in an imbalanced reading of the Bible.

    While Scripture emphasizes God’s ultimate authority over the world, it also emphasizes that agents, whom God has created, can and do resist his will. Humans and fallen angels are able to grieve his Spirit and to some extent frustrate his purposes (e.g. Gen. 6:6; Isa. 63:10; Luke 7:30; Acts 7:51; Eph. 4:30; Heb. 3:8, 15; 4:7). Scripture refers to this myriad of other angels and humans who refuse to submit to God’s rule as a kingdom (Matt. 12:26; Col. 1:13; Rev. 11:15), and identifies the head of this rebellion as a powerful fallen angel named Satan. It is clear that God shall someday vanquish this rebel kingdom, but it is equally clear that in the meantime, he genuinely wars against it.

    So I'm off on a new tangent. Expect to see more posts on this topic as I dig into Boyd's books.

    Sunday, March 05, 2006

    From The Son to The Suns

    We try to be a full-service blog here, from theology to culture to sports, without crossing into abject irreverance (the above title excluded, I suppose).

    So I wanted to point out my Phoenix Suns are without Amare Stoudamire, Kurt Thomas, and Brian Grant, and still managed to blow by the Dallas Mavericks today playing an old school style of basketball. Steve Nash, Boris Diaw, Shawn Marion ... these guys make basketball fun to watch. What an amazing display of skill and athleticism.

    It's hard to define the Suns' style of basketball. They are not so much like the old Lakers as they are like the old Globetrotters, when Meadowlark Lemon was in his prime. They have a lot of fun on the court making difficult plays look ridiculously easy.

    I've met Meadowlark before. He lives here in Phoenix. He spoke at my church. Nice man, anxious to preach the gospel. I admired his lifelong fervor to serve the Lord. And nobody could dish the rock like ML, not even Magic. He liked my drumming, and joked about it during his sermon. Called me a "funky drummer." Best compliment I've ever received. ML, you're the funkiest of the funky.

    I don't really have a point here. I'm just on a post-game high and didn't have any great inpirational words. Terrific Sunday morning service followed by a big (and timely) Suns win. There haven't been days like this in a long time and I am thankful.

    Friday, March 03, 2006

    Stories from the frontline

    Dan has a great post today on stories of the miraculous told to him by missionaries returned from the field.

    It probably says a lot about me that I, a professed charismatic, first read those stories with a measure of skepticism. I have seen a few miraculous things in my life -- including a story of my own -- and yet my instinct was to doubt the veracity of others.

    God, forgive me, please.

    I have never understood the mindset of missionaries because I have never had the desire to become one. It was once a source of great condemnation for me, but I've learned it's probably because God designed me for a entirely different type of ministry. I'm more of a guy behind the scenes -- a Barnabus -- than I am a Paul or a Peter or a Timothy.

    The missionaries I do know astound me. Their perspective of the world is so different, and their passion to do what they do foreign to me. They have such great faith, and not all of them started out as charismatics. They went to their posts and, in great need, praying so fervently for miracles where their natural abilities failed, found God honoring their service to the frontline.

    Dan wasn't trying to start another continuism/cessationist debate. He just wanted to point out where Christianity isn't strangled by rational dissent, people tend to see things we don't see here. The argument is effective for me because of my own experience.

    When I was 13 I was cleaning the yards in my flip flops (I wasn't very bright) when my flip flop slid to the side of my foot on grass and I stepped on a rusty pitchfork. One of the prongs went clear through my foot.

    Any kind of lack of faith was lost in the wash of pain and I mindlessly wobbled back to my room. I leaned on my bed in agony as I prayed a very simple prayer, something like ... "Oh God, please ..." My words were non-descript, but my the intent of my prayer was very clear. I wanted to be healed. My prayer came not from church instruction but out of great need. My prayer came not from Christian modeling, but out of the irrational instinct to seek the last resort.

    At first I had a ringing in my ears. I remember this vividly. You might speculate it may have been from holding my breath, but I had shouting my prayer in the empty house over and over again. Then I felt my foot tingle and warm. Almost instantly the pain was gone.

    After a couple of minutes I worked up the courage to look at my foot. There was a prong-sized hole on the bottom my foot that was not bleeding. The top of my foot was reddened, like a rash, but it had not poked through like it felt it had. The pain was gone.

    The only pain I experienced was the bruising. It hurt for about three days while my foot healed. Somehow, that wound was gone in about a week. I have no scar, not other way to prove it happened. I later told my parents about this as an adult, and they were certain I had imagined this. If it happened, they reasoned, I would have had to go to the hospital. My father, knowing how rusty that pitchfork was, reasoned I would have had to get a shot to fight off infection.

    But it did happen, and it's one of the few things I can remember with vivid detail. I also remember the terror of not wanting to tell my parents because I would have gotten in trouble for being so careless. We did not have health care. Going to the hospital would have probably taken food off the table at that time in our lives.

    I try not to argue with cessationists. By their account, you cannot argue for the experiential with experiential evidence. I'm content to agree to disagree while we both work for the same goal.

    On the other hand, cessationist arguments have no hold on me. A man with an argument has no power over a man with an experience.

    Or so I'm told.

    Thursday, March 02, 2006

    My love/hate relationship with Christian books

    I was mentally going through the titles of my Christian book collection when I realized many of my books were a critical response other titles in my "library." I suppose I have a natural inclination to be skeptical of one man's opinion ... perhaps because I know I have an even more natural inclination to give any single person the benefit of the doubt.

    I don't read much at all these days, although every now and then I get excited for an upcoming book. Mostly, I'm weary of the process. Modern books are tedious, and they are rarely so complete as to include fair representation of an opposing view.

    One rare exception is Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology, where his Calvinism is always compared against other points of view from their best representations in the arguments' best representation. Some may argue, for example, Grudem's favoritism of Clark Pinnock doesn't do much justice to other equally regarded scholars outside of Calvinism, but his effort does honor to the Kingdom and is a shining example of what Christian scholarly writing should look like.

    Otherwise, we have people putting out their opinion or their vision. Our nature is to turn the most prolific of these authors into icons who bear the flag for our own polarized positions.

    The worst of this is the practice of proof-texting. I think it's wise to provide some Biblical support for a statement about Christianity, but proof-texting as a general practice is bad scholarship. Copious proof-texting beyond providing some kind of expository explanation in relationship to the whole passage (and it's relationship to the referenced book's Biblical history) inevitably produces eisogesis even from some of the smartest, most well-regarded authors.

    Far be it from me to call for the end of Christian publishing houses. I don't have any moral objections to the income Christian authors receive from their books. But with the Internet and blogs, I see a much better form of conversation that reflects a more mature, Godly way to publish these kinds of things. It's freely accessible, and makes for a much more free exchange of ideas in an organized, civil manner.

    Furthermore, if X author has the notion to put out a major criticism of Y preacher or teacher, perhaps X author will be less inclined for hyperbole if he/she knows Y preacher will be able to respond with the same kind of visibility and authority. If X author no longer has the advantage of an international publishing deal while Y preacher or teacher can't get books in major markets, the Internet serves as a nice, leveled playing field.

    I'm not an idealist. I know people who abuse their power without conscience will abuse any kind of power. But at least there's a more fair way to do things.

    Wednesday, March 01, 2006

    God to bigots: "Neener neener"

    What a great story this is: A woman of mixed race gives birth to fraternal twins -- one black girl and one white girl.

    God 1, Aryanism 0.

    As if we didn't already know the score in that contest.

    These two cuties -- Kian and Remee Horder -- were the product of 1-in-a-million odds. Those don't seem like very big odds given the 6 billion or so on the planet, but I'm thankful to hear of this one.