Sunday, February 26, 2006

Book Review: Questioning Evangelism

Author Randy Newman says that being an ambassador of Christ in the twenty-first century requires three skills. Obviously, one must be able to declare the gospel, concisely and accurately articulating the message of salvation through Christ. The second necessary skill is the ability to defend the gospel in obedience to the Bible's call that we be ready to give an answer (i.e., an apologia or defense) to everyone who asks us the reason for our hope. A third and frequently neglected skill is that of dialoguing the gospel (I really like that phrase). Newman describes it as "giving and taking-asking questions and bouncing ideas back and forth." This way of interacting with those we're seeking to persuade of the good news is, as the book's subtitle indicates, "engaging people's hearts the way Jesus did." Newman notes that it was characteristic of Jesus to answer questions with questions and that this style of teaching was commonly employed by Jewish rabbis. For this reason he calls the kind of evangelistic style he's proposing "rabbinic evangelism."

Asking questions in response to the questions and objections raised by unbelievers can lead them to reconsider their ideas of what is plausible and probable, thereby paving the way for them to be more willing to listen to Christian answers. It can also help us to clarify what is really behind the questions and objections people raise so that we can respond most appropriately. For instance, the question of why the church is so filled with hypocrites may be motivated more by pain than by a desire to justify one's unbelief. Through asking questions we can stir the curiosity of those who have read very little of the Bible, inviting them to search its pages. Because people's familiarity with Scripture has declined so drastically, Newman says that "today's apologetics should encourage literacy before defending historicity. We must challenge people by asking, 'Why don't you read it?' more than, 'Why don't you believe it?'"

After making a case for asking questions being both biblical and beneficial, Newman devotes the second part of the book to seven questions Christians are bound to encounter in various forms:

  1. Why are Christians so intolerant?
  2. Why does a good God allow evil and suffering such as Columbine and AIDS?
  3. Why should anyone worship a God who allowed 9/11?
  4. Why should we believe an ancient book written by dead Jewish males?
  5. Why are Christians so homophobic?
  6. What's so good about marriage?
  7. If Jesus is so great, why are some of his followers such jerks?
Drawing on more than twenty years of working as a campus minister and lecturer with Campus Crusade, Newman uses actual conversations to illustrate how questions can be effectively used to help us better understand our audience and prepare them to take the gospel message more seriously. However, Newman warns against viewing these conversations as scripts to be committed to memory and repeated rotely at the next witnessing opportunity. Rather, he hopes that his examples will help readers
"...develop a different way of thinking about people, their questions, and our message. And because of that difference, our evangelistic conversations will sound less content/persuasion driven and more relationship/understanding driven. They'll sound more like rabbinic dialogues than professorial monologues. They'll be an exchange of ideas that lead both participants to the truth of the gospel. For one participant, it will be the first arrival at that point; for the other participant, it will be a rediscovery and a new appreciation of the message of the Cross."
In the third and final part of the book, Newman addresses two questions that Christians should ask themselves. A chapter titled "The Question of Compassion: 'What If I Don't Care That My Neighbor Is Going to Hell?'" addresses the sad reality that we are often apathetic about the lost condition of those around us. What's worse, our attitude is frequently contemptuous. Our emotional response (or lack thereof) to the sin-ravaged lives that confront us daily has more in common with Stoicism than with Jesus who was moved with compassion as he observed the aimless crowd.
"...some followers of Jesus have mistaken Stoicism for Christian maturity. They think that the healthy Christian is unflappable. They read the newspaper, listen to their neighbors, or watch television and remain emotionally unmoved. Their trust in God's sovereignty and their confidence in Christ's return put everything neatly in place for them. They don't get upset or angry (at least, not in a righteous way). They just 'praise the Lord,' knowing that they won't get left behind."
Confession and petition for God to transform our hearts are the first steps toward our being "de-Jonahized," followed by our beginning to intercede for the unsaved. Newman also suggests trying to see things from the perspective of non-Christians as another means of fostering compassion.

The following chapter deals with our anger toward non-Christians, the subtle ways it expresses itself in our witness, and what to do about it. The concluding chapter discusses the importance of listening, why we don't do more of it, and how to do it more effectively. Newman is quick to note that while there are practices we can adopt to become better listeners, listening is not primarily a technique but an expression of Christlike character: "...gracious listening flows from a heart that has been humbled, stilled, and transformed by the power of grace. Listening is simply a form of serving, of putting the other person first, as Philippians 2 implores us." Jazz fans will appreciate the author's suggestion that we need to be "cool" listeners (along the lines of Miles Davis) rather than "be-bop" listeners (along the lines of Dizzy Gillespie).

The book includes a study guide with questions designed for group discussion and application making this an excellent choice for evangelism training in the context of small groups or Sunday School classes.

One of the ingredients I especially appreciated about this book was the author's sensitivity to the Bible's literary diversity and the communicative significance of such. In a beautiful and honest response to the problem of evil, Newman draws out the implications of God's giving us poetry such as the book of Job instead of philosophical abstractions. Concerning what he refers to as the Bible's "messiness," (its complexity and diversity of locations, languages, genres, and literary styles), Newman suggests:
"Maybe the Bible's messiness corresponds to our messiness, making it the perfect revelation to get us out of our mess. Perhaps its use of various genres corresponds to our complex nature - the intellectual, emotional, volitional, social, and physical components of our personhood. Maybe God inspired the Bible to suit our total being."
Newman notes that what unifies this assortment of literary diversity is the biblical story which Newman outlines under the headings of Creation, Rebellion, Redemption, and Consummation. Like many others, Newman espouses a story approach to evangelism. "Rather than listing disconnected propositions, we should show that the Bible's story connects with our story at our point of deepest need." His reason for advocating this narratival approach is not, however, to simply cater to postmodern tastes. Rather, he believes that stories connect so well because they fit our "narrative nature": "Having a chronological beginning (birth) and end (death), we respond better to stories - which have a beginning and an end - than to ahistorical proclamations of dogma." Lest anyone fear that Newman has an aversion to propositional truth, rest assured. He doesn't.
"Proclamations do have their place. The Bible's inclusion of epistles and prophecies validates their importance. But we should read Romans and other didactic material in the context of the larger story line of God's divine narrative. In evangelism, we should declare the doctrine of Romans - the gospel - as narrative so that our message appeals to the whole person. We want to convert, not merely convince. Narrative evangelism does both."
Using the analogy of a musical with its recurring themes, Newman says there are propositional melodies imbedded in redemptive drama. I like that!

I hope that something of my enthusiasm about this volume is evident. Randy Newman has produced a book that not only aids Christians in better understanding the times in which we live and how to converse with our unbelieving contemporaries but also helps us better understand the gospel and its implications. I heartily recommend that you read this one.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Planned Parenthood's Pro-Choice Bible Study

Planned Parenthood posted an article by one of the members of its Clergy Advisory Board about the Bible's silence on abortion. Rabbi Dennis Ross, director of Concerned Clergy for Choice maintains that since neither the Hebrew Scriptures nor the New Testament makes explicit reference to the procedure, a biblical case cannot be made against it:

People who want to make abortion illegal may attempt to use the Bible to justify their arguments. However, nothing in the Hebrew Scriptures and nothing in the New Testament supports their attempts, regardless of the passages they cite or how hard they argue. Scripture does not consider the fetus to be a human being. The Bible does not consider the destruction of a fetus to be the equivalent of murder. If the Bible thought abortion was a sin, it would have named it a sin. Instead, when it comes to abortion, the Bible says not a word.
He notes that while the first five books of the Hebrew Bible have much to say about sexuality and reproduction, they are "totally silent about abortion."

Rabbi Ross's argument assumes that only those actions specifically mentioned and identified as sin by the biblical texts are divinely prohibited. But applying this principle consistently leads to conclusions that I doubt Rabbi Ross would be willing to adopt or endorse. For example, to the best of my knowledge there are no prohibitions against having sex with infants or toddlers. From this are we to conclude that God is indifferent toward such violence and that whether or not to practice such is a matter of choice? I see no other alternative if we are to adopt the rabbi's line of reasoning. If sexually abusing children were a sin, the Bible would have explicitly named it so, right?

The weight of Rabbi Ross's argument is given to denying the humanity of the unborn child. For biblical support he turns to
Exodus 21: 22-25 (not Exodus 22 as appears in the article). This passage legislates what was to happen to a man who struck a pregnant woman while fighting with another male. The Hebrew text says that if the woman's children "come out" and there is no harm, the offending party should pay a fine as determined by her husband. In the event that there is harm, the law of retaliation is to take effect. The man responsible for the injury or death is to receive as his penalty the same degree of harm that he has inflicted.

Without offering any detailed exegesis of this greatly disputed passage, Rabbi Ross offers the following interpretation:

If the woman is injured, the inadvertent assailant gets punished, receiving the very same wound he caused the woman: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. If the woman dies, then it is a life for a life and the man who caused the injury dies. But if the woman miscarries, then the assailant just pays a fine.
From this he concludes:
So, an injury caused to the woman is one thing. The injury to her fetus is not viewed the same way. This same biblical passage does not say that the fetus is a human being like the injured women or like you or me. If the fetus were considered human, the punishment for injuring the fetus would be the same
punishment as that for injuring the pregnant woman.
Rather than simply restating it here, I urge you to read Greg Koukl's excellent commentary, "What Exodus 21:22 Says About Abortion" in which he provides persuasive textual evidence for understanding the "coming out" of the children as a reference to premature birth rather than to miscarriage. If the children were born prematurely and neither they nor the mother suffered harm, a fine was the extent of penalization. However, if injury or death was suffered by either mother or offspring, the same was to be done to the party responsible for the injury.
Greg suggests asking the following three questions of anyone who points to this verse in support of abortion:
  • Why presume that the child is dead?
  • What in the context implies the death of the child?
  • Ancient Hebrew had a specific word for miscarriage. It was used in other passages. Why not here?
I wonder how Rabbi Ross would answer. Perhaps there would be a different kind of silence.
UPDATE: For another thorough refutation of the interpretation offered by Rabbi, see this article by John Piper (HT: Prone to Wander).

The APA's Social Vision

Tom Gilson at Thinking Christian points to the American Psychological Association's apparent dismissal of a recent study indicating that abortion has adverse effects on women's mental health and asks, " the APA a civil rights organization? Should civil rights trump their advocacy for mental health? What's really going on here politically, anyway?" 

This isn't the first time the self-professed scientific and professional community has opted for activism over research. Nicholas Cummings, a former APA president and co-editor of the book Destructive Trends in Mental Health, claims that the Association only conducts research "when they know what the outcome is going to be...only research with predictably favorable outcomes is permissible." In this article about the APA's stance toward homosexuality, Cummings describes an exchange he had with another member at a meeting convened to discuss the future of the organization:
I was just about to agree with one of the participants, when she stopped me before I could speak: 'I don't know what you are going to say, but there is nothing you and I can agree on, because you are a straight white male and I am a lesbian.'
He continues:
Such blatant reverse discrimination was overlooked by everyone else in the room, but I was dumbfounded. This woman is prominent in APA affairs, is extensively published, and has received most of the APA's highest awards. The APA continues to laud her, even though recently she had her license suspended for an improper dual relationship with a female patient! What would be the response had it been a straight white male in an improper dual relationship with a female patient?
A message from current APA President Gerald P. Koocher states in part: "Healthy, well-adjusted people build better societies, and improving societal institutions builds better people. Psychology has much to contribute, and we must do a better job of making these potential contributions self-evident." 

This appears to be a commendable goal but there are important questions we need to ask in response to assertions like this. What criteria will we use to evaluate health and well-adjustedness? What ideals should guide our attempts to improve society? Which conception of the good life should we follow? More important, which is true?

Psychological research may prove quite helpful in giving us insight into how we think and behave but it cannot tell us how we should be thinking and behaving. Even our interpretations of what we observe are dependent upon some pre-scientific beliefs about what it means to be human, whether or not there is a teleology or purpose for our existence, and what is ultimately real. 

When we take the time to reflect on these issues, the well-worn plea for neutrality in the public square is more clearly seen for what it is - nonsense. Someone's philosophy of life will dictate public policy. This means that Christians need not be ashamed or embarrassed for thinking "Christianly" (to use a phrase coined by Harry Blamires) about psychology or any other facet of life. To conform to the myth of neutrality is, in fact, to betray the faith.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Ordinary Means

My curiosity got the best of me since Shaun Nolan at Postscript Posthaste threw out a teaser about having some big news to announce soon. Finally, the veil has been lifted. He and some friends have launched a new monthly podcast called Ordinary Means with a companion blog where listeners can comment on what they've heard. Based on what I've read from Shaun, I'm eager to give a listen and encourage you to do the same.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Breaking the Spell of Daniel Dennett's Superstitious Scientism

Most authors would be elated if a reviewer said it would be hard to improve upon his or her work. I'm pretty sure that won't be Daniel Dennett's reaction to this review of his Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon in the New York Times. Leon Wieseltier, literary editor for The New Republic, writes:
The question of the place of science in human life is not a scientific question. It is a philosophical question. Scientism, the view that science can explain all human conditions and expressions, mental as well as physical, is a superstition, one of the dominant superstitions of our day; and it is not an insult to science to say so. For a sorry instance of present-day scientism, it would be hard to improve on Daniel C. Dennett's book. "Breaking the Spell" is a work of considerable historical interest, because it is a merry anthology of contemporary superstitions.
Dennett, an atheist philosophy professor at Tufts University, has advocated that adherents to a naturalistic worldview should be referred to as "brights" since they are, in his opinion, more reasonable and intelligent than religious believers. To the contrary, Wieseltier claims that with friends like Dennett, rationalism doesn't need enemies. He also charges Dennett with misrepresenting David Hume, Thomas Nagel, and William James in attempt to support his case. Despite his claims to upholding rationality and science, Dennett's 448-page volume is "just an extravagant speculation based upon his hope for what is the case, a pious account of his own atheistic longing."

Reminiscent of C. S. Lewis's argument against naturalism on the grounds that, if true, it would undermine our confidence in our reasoning processes, Wieseltier says:
Dennett's natural history does not deny reason, it animalizes reason. It portrays reason in service to natural selection, and as a product of natural selection. But if reason is a product of natural selection, then how much confidence can we have in a rational argument for natural selection? The power of reason is owed to the independence of reason, and to nothing else. (In this respect, rationalism is closer to mysticism than it is to materialism.) Evolutionary biology cannot invoke the power of reason even as it destroys it.
The end of the matter? "What this shallow and self-congratulatory book establishes most conclusively is that there are many spells that need to be broken."

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Friday, February 17, 2006

A Clone by Any Other Name

Someone in our congregation emailed me requesting information about the ethical issues related to stem cell research. One of his coworkers has been absent from work due to cardiac complications and his fellow employees are trying to raise money for him to undergo treatment that involves stem cells of some sort. To his credit, the gentleman in our church wanted clarification before he made a contribution. This request serves as a vivid reminder of why it's important for Christians to be aware of the ethical issues that accompany advances in medical technology. The following is an edited excerpt from my reply:

Before I made a financial contribution toward stem cell therapy, I'd want to know what kind of stem cell treatment is involved.

There are two methods for acquiring these cells which have the unique ability to transform into various kinds of tissue. The ethically controversial method involves harvesting the desired cells from human embryos produced by cloning or provided by fertility clinics (embryos created for the purpose of reproduction but no longer wanted by their parents).

What's referred to as therapeutic cloning requires taking a female egg, removing its nucleus, and replacing it with the genetic material of the person to be treated. By means of electrochemical stimulation, this cell begins the process of cellular division and is essentially an embryonic clone of the donor. Given the proper environment it would progress through the stages of maturation as would any other embryo.

Advocates of this method refer to it as therapeutic cloning because it involves the cloning of an individual in order to potentially cure him or her of a disease. Proponents contend that while it would be unethical to allow this embryo to come to full term (reproductive cloning), it's morally acceptable to destroy it in its earliest stages in order to benefit others suffering from various diseases. However, this is merely to justify taking some human lives in order to improve others.

In contrast to embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells are produced in various parts of our bodies and can be obtained without taking human life. I would have no problem supporting therapy involving these.

For more information about stem cell research, I encourage you to read an article offered by the Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity called "Stem Cell Research and 'Therapeutic' Cloning: A Christian Analysis." It's written in a Q & A format and isn't very long. It will not only help you to make an informed decision about your participation in this situation but will also serve to equip you to confidently engage your coworkers on this important topic.
In an op-ed piece in yesterday's New York Times, Michael Gazzaniga, the director of Dartmouth's Center for Cognitive Neuroscience and a member of the President's Council on Bioethics, castigates President Bush for requesting that Congress "pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research: human cloning in all its forms." Gazzaniga takes issue with the President's referring to both therapeutic (or what he calls "biomedical") and reproductive cloning as egregious abuses. While he presumably thinks that such a description is fitting for the former kind of cloning, he finds it completely inappropriate for the latter. President Bush's characterization "makes it sound as if the medical community is out there cloning people, which is simply not true." Oh?

You'll have to read Gazzaniga's article for yourself but I find it quite confusing and contradictory. On one hand he denies that scientists are cloning people while acknowledging that both the products of reproductive and biomedical cloning are.....clones! For crying out loud, the article's title is "All Clones Are Not the Same!" If, as Gazzaniga claims, medical researchers are not cloning people, one wonders what exactly is being cloned? He writes that "the phrase 'in all its forms' is code, a way of conflating very different things: reproductive cloning and biomedical cloning." But in actuality, what makes reproductive and biomedical cloning differ is not the product or process but the intent of those doing the cloning. Concerning the oxymoron of so-called therapeutic cloning, Amy Coxon notes:

...there is absolutely no difference in the scientific techniques used to accomplish - or the embryonic human beings produced - via therapeutic cloning or the cloning of a human being for other purposes. The idea that an "organism" created by cloning is a "new type of biological entity never before seen in nature" is an attempt by scientists to hide the truth of this new technology behind scientific jargon. Instead of calling this cloned organism an embryo, which is precisely what it is, scientists have labeled it an "activated egg." This is again manipulation of terminology with the hope of deceiving the public. In fact, the term "therapeutic cloning" itself is used to deceive the general public into believing that human cloning is acceptable and beneficial in certain medical circumstances. With the media's and the scientific community's frequent misuse of scientific terminology, it is crucial that we as Christians correctly discern the meanings behind this terminology. If we do not take steps to understand the science, we cannot defend our position in an educated manner and therefore will have no public voice on these issues.
Gazzaniga says that in 2002, he and the other members of the President's Council on Bioethics "voted unanimously to ban reproductive cloning--the kind of cloning that seeks to replicate a human being." He goes on to say that this kind of cloning has not been attempted and is not in the works. But this is misleading. In an attempt to derive embryonic stem cells compatible with a diseased person's system, a procedure known as somatic cell nuclear transfer is performed. This involves replacing the nucleus of an unfertilized egg with a somatic cell from the patient. Cellular division is then stimulated so that eventually stem cells can be harvested from the embryonic clone which is destroyed in the process. Regardless of the absence of intent to allow the clone to mature into subsequent stages, the fact remains that it is a human clone.

If there is anything with which I agree with Dr. Gazzaniga about it's that at the heart of the moral debate surrounding biomedical cloning is a clash of ideas about what it means to be human. According to Gazzaniga, President Bush's concept of what constitutes humanness is "nonsensical" and "a form of the 'DNA is destiny' story."
To the contrary, he asserts, "...all modern research reveals that DNA must undergo thousands if not millions of interactions at both the molecular and experiential level to grow and develop a brain and become a person. It is the journey that makes a human, not the car."

When they're not accusing opponents of embryonic stem cell research of being dispassionate, they're accusing us of being unscientific. However, if you pay close attention to what Dr. Gazzaniga is saying, you'll see that his case does not rest on scientific conclusions but on a functionalist view of humanness or personhood. The distinction that Gazzaniga would like to make is a philosophical not a scientific one. The claim that only those members of the human species that have a brain functioning at a certain level count as human beings or persons is not one that can be verified or falsified by means of empirical inquiry. Furthermore, Gazzaniga's analogy between the earliest stage of human development and a vehicle is faulty. Regardless of how long a drive I take, it will never be true that I was a car. However, it is true that I was once an embryo.

Concluding his essay, Gazzaniga writes:

In his State of the Union speech, President Bush went on to observe that "human life is a gift from our creator-and that gift should never be discarded, devalued or put up for sale." Putting aside the belief in a "creator," the vast majority of the world's population takes a similar stance on valuing human life. What is at issue, rather, is how we are to define "human life." Look around you. Look at your loved ones. Do you see a hunk of cells or do you see something else?
Most humans practice a kind of dualism, seeing a distinction between mind and body. We all automatically confer a higher order to a developed biological entity like a human brain. We do not see cells, simple or complex-we see people, human life. That thing in a petri dish is something else. It doesn't yet have the memories and loves and hopes that accumulate over the years. Until this is understood by our politicians, the gallant efforts of so many biomedical scientists, as good as they are, will remain only stopgap measures.
The tiny cloned embryo in the petri dish may be void of memories, loves, and hopes. But then again, so are newborns. What conclusions would Dr. Gazzaniga have us draw from that?

The Gospel According to Judas

Do you think the decision about when to publish the Gospel of Judas is in any way connected to the the opening of the Da Vinci Code movie on May 19th?
The first translation of an ancient, self-proclaimed "Gospel of Judas" will be published in late April, bringing to light what some scholars believe are the writings of an early Christian sect suppressed for supporting Jesus Christ's infamous betrayer.
According to scholars who have seen photographs of the brittle manuscript, it argues that Judas Iscariot was carrying out God's will when he handed Christ over to his executioners. The manuscript could bring momentum to a broader academic movement that argues Judas has gotten a bum rap among both historians and theologians, as well as in popular culture.
Related post: Extreme (Judas) Makeover

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Satan Quote Explained

For those following the "Satan quote" mystery (see previous post), St. James U.C.C. has posted the following explanation on its website:
We were recently made aware that the former quote we had posted in the header on our site was actually not based on the word of Jesus but was a quote posed to him during his temptation. As soon as we were made aware of this we removed the quote from our site. We removed it...not hackers as some ill-informed bloggers would have you believe. This unfortunate lesson is a demonstration why when using tools online to identify quotes that you think deliver the honest and sincere message you intended you should always view the quotes in their whole context.
Over at Stand to Reason's blog, Art Gelwicks, the church's webmaster, left this comment:
This quote error completely falls on the shoulders of me...the webmaster. The quote was pulled from an online Bible reference out of context. When viewed purely as the words themselves, they did reach the message we were looking for...unfortunately in their full context it was nothing close.  As soon as we had this brought to our attention we removed the quote from our site. As for it being offending I apologize if it did bother anyone for that absolutely wasn't the intent.
Art could have chosen to go with the flow of the already-circulating rumor that the verse was the product of a malicious hacker but he didn't. I'm grateful for and challenged by his example of humility and honesty. Thanks, Art.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Tempting People to Go to Church

I grew up in the United Church of Christ so I'm not usually surprised by their "creative" use of Scripture. But this one shocked even me. One congregation chose a very interesting text to include in the banner of its website. (HT: Between Two Worlds)

Update - 2/13/06: St. James U.C.C. has replaced the biblical text with the church's phone number and thanks all who informed them about "our previously inaccurate quote." Thanks to Milton Stanley at Transforming Sermons for leaving a comment with that info.

I had emailed the church's pastor, telling him that if he'd be willing to offer an explanation for the selected text, I'd be interested in reading it and posting it here. While typing the above update I received the following reply from Pastor Roth:
"Embarrassing faux pas! Thanks friend! I never noticed! Whoops! Webmaster is correcting."

As other bloggers have noted, this serves as a vivid illustration of the importance of not treating biblical verses atomistically but understanding them in their literary and canonical contexts. 

Update - 6:15 PM: Chuck Currie, a UCC seminarian, left the following comment at Reverend Mike's House of Homiletic Hash: "I understand that the church will be offering a statement soon on their website explaining that someone hacked into their system and put up that piece of scripture." 

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Sony Gives The Microphone to Da Vinci Code Critics

Anticipating the May 19th release of its The Da Vinci Code film, Sony Pictures is has created a website for critics of Dan Brown's book to make their case:
The site,, will post essays by about 45 Christian writers, scholars and leaders of evangelical organizations who will pick apart the book's theological and historical claims about Christianity.
Among the writers are Gordon Robertson, the son of the television evangelist Pat Robertson and co-host of their television show, "The 700 Club," who is writing about how early Christianity survived; and Richard J. Mouw, the president of Fuller Theological Seminary, a leading evangelical school in Pasadena, Calif. (source)
George Barna, Darrell Bock, and Hugh Hewitt are among the other contributors.

I'm in complete agreement with a point Richard Mouw makes about why Christians should see the movie:
"It's going to be water cooler conversation, so Christians need to take a deep breath, buy the book and shell out the money for the movie. Then we need to educate Christians about what all this means. We need to help them answer someone who says, 'So how do you know Jesus didn't get married?' "
About two years ago our church offered a short class about the book. One of the benefits was that it provided an occasion for many believers to learn about early church history and the development of doctrine for the first time. Now we're talking about effective ways to prepare our teens and adults to intelligently converse with their non-Christian peers who see the film. The Da Vinci Code Deception DVD and this companion guide to the movie from Josh McDowell are among the resources we're thinking about using. 

Is your church doing anything to equip your people to interact with those who will be seeing and talking about the film? If so, please share your plans in the comments.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

He's Got the Whole (Warming?) World In His Hands

The New York Times reports that 86 evangelical leaders, including Rick Warren and Wheaton College President, Duane Litfin, have decided to sign a statement declaring their support for legislation to fight global warming.

"For most of us, until recently this has not been treated as a pressing issue or major priority," the statement said. "Indeed, many of us have required considerable convincing before becoming persuaded that climate change is a real problem and that it ought to matter to us as Christians. But now we have seen and heard enough."
The statement calls for federal legislation that would require reductions in carbon dioxide emissions through "cost-effective, market-based mechanisms" — a phrase lifted from a Senate resolution last year and one that could appeal to evangelicals, who tend to be pro-business. The statement, to be announced in Washington, is only the first stage of an "Evangelical Climate Initiative" including television and radio spots in states with influential legislators, informational campaigns in churches, and educational events at Christian colleges.
On the other side of the issue:
Some of the nation's most high-profile evangelical leaders, however, have tried to derail such action. Twenty-two of them signed a letter in January declaring, "Global warming is not a consensus issue." Among the signers were Charles W. Colson, the founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries; James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family; and Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Their letter was addressed to the National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella group of churches and ministries, which last year had started to move in the direction of taking a stand on global warming. The letter from the 22 leaders asked the National Association of Evangelicals not to issue any statement on global warming or to allow its officers or staff members to take a position.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Fleeting Thought

My copy of Women's Ministry in the Local Church arrived in the mail yesterday. While seeing it sitting on our kitchen table this morning, it dawned on me how easily the cover picture, in combination with the book's title, could be misunderstood.

Richard Baxter on God's Design for Christian Marriage

Yesterday morning I removed one item from my infinitely long "I really need to get around to reading that sometime" list. Prior to that I had only read portions of Richard Baxter's The Mutual Duties of Husbands and Wives Towards Each Other but after recommending it to someone considering marriage, I finally decided to read it in its entirety. It was time well spent.   One of the reasons for my not reading it sooner was that I was foolishly waiting until I was at a point in my own relationship when the convicting force of the piece wouldn't be so great. I say "foolishly" because no matter where we are in the process of sanctification, any teaching that is faithful to the Scriptures will shine penetrating light into the crevices of our souls, burning whatever laurels we're resting on, painting a picture of something more beautiful than what we've settled for, and revealing how great and continual is our need for the mercy and grace of the Savior. The uninterrupted session during which I pondered Baxter's counsel did just that, resulting in prayer of confession and petition for the Spirit's enabling might to more faithfully fulfill my calling as a husband and father.

I remember reading somewhere that as Christians we often err in thinking that the goal of marriage is merely not getting a divorce. Baxter reminds us that God's design for the marital bond is that husband and wife be "mutual helpers to each other's souls."

Baxter divided his instruction into the following sections:

I. The first duty of husbands is to love their wives (and wives their husbands). Here he provides a number of directives for maintaining love beginning with the selection of a spouse.

II. Husbands and wives must live together.

III. Abhor not only adultery itself, but all that leads to unchasteness and the violation of your marriage covenant.

IV. Husband and wife must delight in the love and company, and lives of each other.

V. It is your solemn duty to live in quietness and peace.
I. Directions showing the great necessity of avoiding dissension
II. Directions for avoiding dissensions

VI. One of the most important duties of a husband to his wife and a wife to her husband is to carefully, skillfully, and diligently help each other in the knowledge and worship, and obedience of God, that they might be saved and grow in their Christian Life.

Here are some of the passages from the section on avoiding dissension that I took particular note of:
Both husband and wife must mortify their pride and strong self-centered feelings. These are the feelings which cause intolerance and insensitivity. You must pray and labor for a humble, meek, and quiet spirit. A proud heart is troubled and provoked by every word that seems to assault your self-esteem.

Do not forget that you are both diseased persons, full of infirmities; and therefore expect the fruit of those infirmities in each other; and do not act surprised about it, as if you had never known of it before. Decide to be patient with one another; remembering that you took one another as sinful, frail, imperfect persons, and not as angels, or as blameless and perfect.
Remember still that you are one flesh; and therefore be no more offended with the words or failings of each other, than you would be if they were your own. Be angry with your wife for her faults no more than you are angry with yourself for your own. Have such an anger and displeasure against a fault, as will work to heal it; but not such as will cause festering and aggravation of the diseased part. This will turn anger into compassion, and will cause you to administer care for the cure.

Lastly, help each other by an exemplary life. Be yourself, what you desire your husband or wife should be; excel in meekness, and humility, and charity, and dutifulness, and diligence, and self-denial, and patience.
As providence would have it, shortly after reading and meditating on what Baxter had to say, I received an unexpected visit from one half of a marriage in crisis and spent the bulk of the remainder of the day seeking to help both parties.

If you're married or would like someday to be, I encourage you to make time in your schedule to pore over Baxter's biblical counsel. If I could offer and make good on a time-back guarantee, I would. But I can't. So you'll just have to trust me. But if you're dissatisfied after reading it, let me know anyway.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Spurgeon on Christian Conversation (or the Lack Thereof)

Greg Linscott at has posted a great sermon from the "Prince of Preachers." Here's an excerpt with which Harry Blamires would most certainly agree (see his quote in the banner):

It is, however, much to be regretted that true children of the Lord often talk too little of him. What is the conversation of half the professors of the present day? Honesty compels us to say that, in many cases, it is a mass of froth and falsehood, and, in many more cases it is altogether objectionable; if it is not light and frivolous, it is utterly apart from the gospel, and does not minister grace unto the bearers. I consider that one of the great lacks of the Church, nowadays, is not so much Christian preaching as Christian talking, not so much Christian prayer in the prayer-meeting, as Christian conversation in the parlour. How little do we hear concerning Christ! You might go in and out of the houses of half the professors of religion, and you would never hear of their Master at all. You might talk with them from the first of January to the last of December; and if they happened to mention their Master's name, it would be, perhaps, merely as a compliment to him, or possibly by accident. Beloved, such things ought not to be. You and I, I am sure, are guilty in this matter; we all have need to reproach ourselves that we do not sufficiently remember the words of Malachi, 'Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name.'"
I wonder what he'd think of blogging.

Breaking Free From Our Cells

I resisted getting a cell phone for a long time. My reluctance to join the ranks of the perpetually connected was due in part to finances. We just couldn’t justify the monthly charges in light of other priorities. The greater part of my resistance, however, was that I simply didn’t want to be accessible around the clock to anyone who might have my number. Some of my most productive thinking is done in the car while either listening to talk radio or just being quiet. I find the thought of having such moments of solitude interrupted by incoming calls most disturbing. I dread being shackled by what Stephen King refers to as the “21st-century slave bracelet.”

My wife and I eventually broke down and bought pay-as-you-go phones so we could communicate with each other in the event of an emergency. There’s no monthly charge or annual contract. All we have to do is make sure to purchase the minimum amount of time every 90 days. We don’t give the numbers out indiscriminately and make sure that we inform those to whom we do give them that these aren’t the lines to call us on to chit chat. (Time is money, you know.) We don’t even use them much to talk with each other. Lately, I’ve used the text messaging feature to send luv notes 2 my huny. Occasionally, I’ve called her from a supermarket or department store to ask again what it was I was supposed to be picking up. I have to admit that when I reach into my pocket and feel my little flip phone, there’s a comfort in knowing that if my family needs me, I’m accessible to them at any time. That was especially so when I had to go out of state recently for a conference.

A few weeks ago, a friend and I stopped by a local convenience store to pick up a few items. In the midst of ringing up my friend’s purchase, the cashier stopped to answer the phone behind the counter. It was a business-related call concerning a shipment of some kind and it obviously took precedence over tending to the customers standing in line. As we were walking out of the store my friend expressed slight irritation with service people who interrupt their service to take calls. I found this quite ironic since more than a few of our conversations have abruptly come to a halt due to an incoming call on his cell phone. It’s kind of like face to face call waiting. The immediate conversation is put on hold in order to tend to another.

When I give thought to God’s call for me to love my wife sacrificially as Christ loved the church, I'm prone to think of grandiose, heroic episodes like risking my own life to push her out of the way of a speeding car or throwing myself in front of her to shield her from a bullet. Fortunately, in the sixteen years we’ve been married, no such scenarios have arisen. But there have been countless opportunities to practice self-denying love through doing such things as picking up after myself around the house, preparing a meal for her for a change, or surrendering the television remote with gladness when our viewing preferences clash. I’ve missed (or avoided) most of these daily dyings while fantasizing about how, if the time came, I’d give my life for her.

When it comes to loving our neighbor as ourselves, I think we are prone to the same kind of delusions of grandeur. We can daydream about heroic expressions of loving another while overlooking the many apparently mundane opportunities that fill each day. In this technologically-saturated age, a question we should constantly ask ourselves and each other is, How do we use technology in ways that acknowledge and affirm what we as Christians profess to believe? Keeping this question before each other is one way to heed God's command that we "consider how to stir up one another to love and good works" (Hebrews 10:24).

Lauren Winner has written an excellent article that spurs such thinking about the place cell phones have in our lives and how their use shapes our thinking about time, space, and embodiment in ways that don't coincide with a biblical outlook on life. She cautions:

When we buy into cell phones, we may be really buying into a cultural story that is much bigger than your average clam-shell. We may be buying into a story that tells us that all hours of the day are identical, that there's no right or good way to order time — 8 hours a day for work-related calls, for example, but peace and quiet and time for friends and family after 5 pm. We may be buying into a story that is essentially Gnostic, that tells us that our minds, our attention and our conversations should be focused on a person in another city, instead of on the person right next to us. We may be buying into a story that tells us never to be tranquil or still. We may be buying into a story that praises "connectivity" but yanks us out of the small corner of the world we happen to inhabit today. I love talking to my friends in New York, but surely I ought not do so at the expense of connecting to the small patch of campus I'm walking across in Durham, North Carolina, this very afternoon.
Winner's thoughtful piece reminded me of Doug Groothuis who, by the way, also recently acquired a cell phone. Though he won't give you his number, he will share his philosophy of cell phone use.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

What God Has Joined: More on Head and Heart

Well, I told you it wouldn't be easy letting go of the "18 inches between head and heart" thing. Two of my friends have weighed in on the matter in comments but I think the subject is so important I wanted to bring it to the surface here.

Byron said:

Allow me to protest a tad, Keith; I think that it all depends upon what you mean when you speak of a head/heart dichotomy. I use this analogy---hey, maybe I need to give it up---but I think that the way I intend it to be understood isn't necessarily at variance with your point. When I speak of "head", I'm speaking of mere intellectual assent, as opposed to "heart", signifying not so much an opposition to head as a trust in , a commitment to, an obedience in, those things which the "head" rightly understands. In my understanding, then, I wouldn't speak of a head/heart dichotomy, as though the two were opposed in some either/or scenario, so much as I'd think of "heart belief" involving a commitment to, a fulfillment of, those things to which the "head" mentally assents. 'Zat make sense?

Yes, that does make sense. What Byron wants to make clear is that knowledge, assent, and trust are essential to biblical faith. With that I'm in full agreement. I think, however, that there are more biblical ways of communicating that concern than by making a head/heart distinction. For example, James warns us against deceiving ourselves by only hearing the word and not doing it (James 1:22). 

The critical issue is, as Byron noted, one of obedience to that which I assent to and obedience originates in the heart. Paul, for example, is grateful to God that the Roman Christians became "obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which [they] were committed" (Romans 6:17). Throughout the Bible, belief and obedience are intertwined and, at times, used interchangeably. In John's gospel, believing in the Son is contrasted with disobeying Him (3:36). According to Psalm 78, the Israelites in the wilderness "did not believe in God and did not trust his saving power" (v. 22). Again, belief, trust, and obedience are in mind. What was the cause of their unbelief, lack of trust, and disobedience? The answer is given in verse 8. They were "a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God." (I take this to be an instance of poetic parallelism demonstrating that heart and spirit are different ways of referring to the same thing.)

I'm a firm believer that we should allow the Scriptures to guide us in our use of biblical terms and concepts. It's much too easy to fall into using biblical vocabulary in unbiblical ways thereby changing its meaning.  A few days ago I picked up Marva Dawn's new book, Talking the Walk, in which she examines a number of key words in biblical faith whose meanings have become distorted or ignored. Dawn, who was an English literature major and teacher, writes in the introduction: "...I am solemnly concerned about the corruption of words in contemporary Christian faith. When we speak bad theology, we live badly theologically. When our theologians and pastors and communities reject or abuse significant words in the heritage of faith, our Christianity is reduced or decimated." Though "heart" is not one of the words she investigates, I think it has been corrupted by being torn from its canonical context.

As Jerry (read with open eyes) pointed out in his comment, the Bible does not ascribe intellectual activity to one part of a person while assigning trust to the heart. I understand that Byron doesn't intend to convey a dichotomy between the heart and head when he speaks of the 18 inches between them, but I think that such language, no matter how well-intended, distances people from a biblical perspective on the unity of the person. 

Another problem is that in our setting people are prone to associate "heart" primarily (if not exclusively) with the emotions. Distinguishing between "head knowledge" and "heart knowledge," and implying that the latter is superior to the former, can also serve to perpetuate and strengthen the misconception that reason, education, and intellectual rigor are inimical to Christian spirituality.