Thursday, March 30, 2006

A Pentecostal Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste

Christianity Today's Rob Moll interviews Rick Nañez, author of Full Gospel, Fractured Minds?, a book that traces the history, consequences and way out of anti-intellectualism among Pentecostals and Charismatics. Similar critiques have been offered from those outside these theological circles but what make's Rick's unique is that he writes from within as an Assemblies of God minister. I greatly enjoyed the book and intend to someday give a brief review here. The idea that intellectual activity is somehow inherently antagonistic to Christian growth is certainly not confined to Pentecostalism making this worthwhile reading for all in the body of Christ. You can find an excerpt here.

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Apologetics: More Than Words

Ravi Zacharias and Scot McKnight offer complementary insights on the apologist's theme verse, 1 Peter 3:15, warning against our tendency to divorce content from character.

Scot makes this important contextual observation: the kind of apologetics Peter had in mind goes hand in hand with suffering:
Second, I’m impressed by what it is that calls for a request: their hope. The context makes it clear why it is the “hope” that triggers a request for an apologia: suffering. The resident aliens and temporary residents of the Asia Minor Christian community were suffering at the hands of various sorts and they evidently were facing such suffering in an unexpected manner: with hope. That is, they were confident in God, that the last word would be life, and they faced their sufferings with a tranquility and hope that suprised their oppressors.
And Ravi writes:
...apologetics is often first seen before it is heard.

For that very reason the Scriptures give us a clear picture of the apologetic Christian: one who has first set apart Christ in his or her heart as Lord, and then responds with answers to the questioner with gentleness and respect. Therefore, one must not overlook the stark reality that the way one's life is lived out will determine the impact upon the skeptic. There are few obstacles to faith as serious as expounding the unlived life.
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The Thirteen Million Dollar Preacher

The New York Times has a story about "gigachurch" pastor, Joel Osteen. Here are some highlights (if you can call them that):

The news for Mr. Osteen has lately been very good indeed: two weeks ago he signed a contract with Free Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, that could bring him as much as $13 million for a follow-up book to his debut spiritual guide, "Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential," which, since it was published by Warner Faith in 2004, has sold more than three million copies. "I believe God wants us to prosper" is the gospel according to Mr. Osteen, 43, who offers no apologies for his wealth.

In "Your Best Life," Mr. Osteen counsels patience, compassion, kindness, generosity and an overall positive attitude familiar to any reader of self-help books. But he skirts the darker themes of sin, suffering and self-denial, leading some critics to deride the Osteen message as "Christianity lite."

He has distanced himself from much of the Christian right, avoiding the issues of gay marriage and abortion and generally shuns partisan political functions. He said he knew he was under a moral microscope and was uncomfortable discussing the widely publicized episode last Christmas when the Osteen family was taken off a Continental flight to Vail, Colo., after Mrs. Osteen got into an argument with a flight attendant over cleaning up spilled liquid on her first-class seat. "It was blown out of proportion," said Mr. Osteen.

As if it's not tragic enough that Osteen has managed to successfully hock his perverted gospel in the US, there's this:

Marin and Zori Marinov, now of Dallas, had driven down to tell him that in their native Bulgaria they had hooked up a satellite dish to receive his broadcasts. To their amazement they found another Bulgarian a few steps away, Dyana Dafova, a singer who invited Mr. Osteen to preach in Sofia.
Related: It looks like Kim Riddlebarger scooped the Times on this tidbit: soon you'll be able to play a board game based on Osteen's bestseller! Like Kim, I wonder if it's possible to lose. (HT: Tim Challies).

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Thomas Sowell on Cheapening Language to Ensure Cheap Labor

Update below

There are exceptions but usually when someone dismisses an opposing viewpoint on the grounds that it's "just a matter of semantics," it's an indicator that they can't refute the substance of the argument. Consequently, they seek to persuade onlookers and listeners that what may sound like a strong case is actually illusory. Regretfully, in the age of the sound byte it's all too easy for cliche's, euphemisms, and slogans to pass for well-reasoned arguments. Rarely do people take the time to analyze language, especially when trying to squeeze thoughts in between commercial breaks.

Resisting the tendency to treat words as nothing more than instrumental means to desired ends, Thomas Sowell notes the role word twisting plays in the current immigration debate:

We can't even call illegal immigrants "illegal immigrants." The politically correct evasion is "undocumented workers."

Do American citizens go around carrying documents with them when they work or apply for work? Most Americans are undocumented workers but they are not illegal immigrants. There is a difference.

The Bush administration is pushing a program to legalize "guest workers." But what is a guest? Someone you have invited. People who force their way into your home without your permission are called gate crashers.

If truth-in-packaging laws applied to politics, the Bush guest worker program would have to be called a "gate-crasher worker" program. The President's proposal would solve the problem of illegal immigration by legalizing it after the fact.

Sowell points out what's wrong with the commonly touted claim that the American economy needs illegal immigrants in order to thrive and puts his finger on what the linguistic smoke and mirrors are designed to hide: "None of the rhetoric and sophistry that we hear about immigration deals with the plain and ugly reality: Politicians are afraid of losing the Hispanic vote and businesses want cheap labor."

(HT: The Pearcey Report)

UPDATE: When I posted this I didn't know Sowell's was a two-part commentary. Here's the link for Part II.

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Who Will Go to the Hot Spots?

Doug Groothuis wraps up a report on an evening spent with a group he describes as "the most hostile group I have ever addressed in twenty-seven years of public speaking" with this reminder:
We need more thoughtful and well-informed Christians in the market place of ideas, even in the hot spots. As Os Guinness has stated, most of American Christian evangelism in America is aimed at those already very interested in Christianity, but don’t know how to become Christians. This leaves out a vast number of souls who are hostile to Christianity or have no interest in it at all. We are called by Jesus Christ to engage these people as well.
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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Our Mini Menagerie

Animals have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Growing up, our family always had at least one dog. At one time or another we had an American boxer, two chows (male and female at the same time), a miniature shepherd mix, and an English bulldog. Other pets included gerbils (the man who sold them to me assured me that they were both males. Yeah, right!), turtles, and parakeets.

For some time I wanted to be a veterinarian when I grew up. But not your run-of-the-mill dog and cat doctor. I wanted to be a zoo vet so I could work with a variety of exotic animals. I couldn't get enough of the Bronx Zoo as a kid. For a few years I was a member of the New York Zoological Society. One of the perks I took advantage of was a breakfast with the zoo's chief veterinarian. He showed a series of slides and related numerous accounts from his years of caring for the park's denizens. I was in seventh heaven!

Needless to say, my childhood dream of being a zoo vet never materialized. I remain, however, every bit as much intrigued by animals as in my youth. I thought I'd introduce readers to some of the creatures in our family's life at present.

This is Otto, the African Grey parrot. He's a temporary resident who belongs to friends who asked if we'd bird-sit while they're in between homes. I'm the guy who used to watch Baretta for Fred the cockatoo so this was an easy decision to make.

African Greys are known for being the best talkers among parrots and Otto is no exception. He has an impressive repertoire of sayings and sounds including a dead ringer for a car alarm remote, dripping water, a creaking door, and a barking dog. Boarding a parrot has practical benefits, too. Having a master mimic around is a wonderful aid to taming the tongue.

Otto can also do a mean cockatiel imitation. That's because his cage is only a few feet away from Sidney's. I've had Sidney for 22 or 23 years. From what I've read that's a long time for a cockatiel. All the books I've looked at place their lifespan somewhere between 15 and 20 years so Sidney is on borrowed time. On occasion I try to prepare the kids (and myself) for the reality that one day Sidney is going to die. Sometimes when his cage is covered and he's being uncharacteristically quiet, I make a chirping noise, to which he usually responds, just to make sure he's still with us. It's always a relief to hear his reply. When he doesn't signal back I go check on him. I think he likes scaring me.

While the feathered friends are downstairs keeping each other company during the day, Gary is upstairs sleeping. I've mentioned Gary once before but this is his photographic debut on the blog. Who's Gary? My son's ball python. For some strange reason, many people find "Gary" an unusual name for a snake so let me tell you how he got it. Since a reptile is cheaper and requires less maintenance than the puppy my daughter wants, my son was the first to get his pet. Knowing that she was disappointed, and wanting to give her a sense of involvement in her brother's excitement, I asked my daughter what she thought he should name it. She came up with Gary because like Sponge Bob's pet snail by the same name the snake doesn't do anything. The rest is history.

Gary just might have a future in the dramatic arts. Here he is doing a re-enactment of Genesis 3. A real natural, huh?

I persistently tried to persuade my daughter that snakes are just as adorable and cuddly as dogs. I mean, when Gary is downing a mouse and the tail is the only thing sticking out of his mouth it's somewhat reminiscent of that scene where Lady and Tramp are slurping spaghetti. No? My daughter didn't buy it either. So, now that spring is here, we're in search of a canine addition to the family.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Out of the Fishbowl, Into the Ocean

"For a variety of reasons - perhaps a bits-and-pieces mentality, or an inability to make the theological connection between the Old and New Testaments, or a pernicious dualism that divides life into the airtight compartments of the sacred and secular - contemporary biblical understanding among average, everyday Christians is subject to extreme forms of reductionism. A comprehension of the overall biblical story and its constituent components is lost upon the minds of far too many evangelical believers. There is precious little understanding of the broader horizons of the Scriptures. For example, creation is merely a doctrine to be defended against evolution, sin only affects people, and redemption has exclusive application to the human soul. When it comes to the faith, many well-intended saints understand it in limited terms as a church view, or a Bible view, or a doctrine view, or a ministry view, or a spirituality view, or a religious view, or a God view, but not as a comprehensive, all-embracing, wholistic world and live view.

"But the notion of a worldview has a mysterious way of opening up the parameters of the Bible so that believers might be delivered from a fishbowl-sized Christianity into an oceanic perspective on the faith."  
- David Naugle, Worldview: The History of a Concept (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 341-342.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Charges Against Abdul Rhaman Dropped

The Afghan man facing a possible death sentence for converting from Islam to Christianity scored a victory today when a court in Kabul dismissed the case against him.

Under mounting pressure from countries including the United States to free Abdul Rahman, officials cited a lack of evidence in their decision to drop the case. (Source)

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Friday, March 24, 2006

Breakfast Links

Steve McCoy at Reformissionary has found Tim Keller's sermons helpful as he goes through a period of soul searching. His description of Keller prompts my own reflection and prayer. Lord, may this be so of me: "...when I hear Keller I hear the Gospel and not Keller. And whatever issue he is dealing with, he is always dealing primarily with the Gospel."

Kim Shay offers
wise counsel on how to leave comments on blogs. We would do well to apply it to all our communication.

Last week I
pointed to Steve Wagner's report about his pro-life presentation to a hostile crowd at Chapman University. Steve talked with the students for over four hours and based on this front-page story in Chapman's student newspaper, people are still talking. (HT: Stand to Reason)

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Immature Truth vs. Mature Falsehood

Thanks to Steve Bishop I was recently introduced to Kenn Hermann's blog and a subsection called Every Thought Captive to Christ. Kenn is a history professor who has taught numerous classes on thinking Christianly and developing a Christian worldview. I'm grateful that he's making some of the materials he's used over the years available for others' use (with the reasonable request that they acknowledge the source).

So far, I've read one of the two papers he has posted called From Confession to Worldview. In it, Kenn contrasts two approaches to Christianity: Christianity as a realm of life and Christianity as a way of life. The former is a compartmentalized mindset that relegates faith to a segment of life designated as "spiritual" or "religious." The latter recognizes the all-encompassing nature of the faith for all aspects of life and thought. Kenn has also come up with two very helpful diagrams that illustrate the difference between these two ways of understanding how Christianity relates to culture and the rest of creation.

One of the points that really struck me has to do with the plight of many Christian teens who are ill-equipped to contend with the barrage of secular ideologies they encounter in college. Kenn believes (and I agree) that this is in large part due to the fact that these young people were taught to read the Bible in bits and pieces and therefore lack a unified vision of the faith:
They may have grown up in Christian homes, regularly attended church, and participated in church youth group activities, yet they lack a unifying understanding of how the Faith hangs together or what their confession compels them to do and think. They have memorized many Bible verses, read familiar Bible stories countless times in Sunday School, and sat through thousands of sermons, yet are unable to make any practical connections between those Bible passages, stories, and sermons and the stresses, concerns, and challenges of everyday life. They lack any sense of a unifying, synoptic, and comprehensive vision of what that Faith entails for living faithfully in the LORD'’s world. "Loving Jesus" seems to be the sum and substance of what they have learned about the Christian Faith.
Now, here's a sentence that really caught my attention: "It is impossible for an immature Truth to withstand the withering assault of a mature Falsehood." I may just have to add that one to my signature files!

Kenn goes on to describe what he has observed as a frequent reaction on the part of students working with a piece-meal Christian faith:

The tendency is for Christian students to slink away to non-threatening courses, seek the shelter of similarly immature Christian students, shove their faith more deeply into their personal lives, or, most drastically, abandon the dull Faith of their church for one of the gleaming Faiths of the university. Very few seek the wise alternative of digging deep foundations on which to build the superstructure of a solid Faith and Christian worldview.
It's wonderful that there are a number of ministries designed to instruct Christian teens in a biblical worldview but hopefully, local churches will see these as supplements to rather than substitutes for what should be happening on the homefront. We simply can't afford to have the mentality that camp or (Christian) campus is where we send our kids to learn how to make the connections between their professed faith and the entirety of their lives.

The imbalance between parachurch organizations and the local church with respect to helping Christians develop and live in terms of a comprehensive Christian worldview was the emphasis of an address given by Dr. David Naugle (see link in sidebar) to the 2004 Midwest Regional Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. The title of the address (which you can listen to here) was "A Christian Worldview and the Futures of Evangelicalism." Dr. Naugle stated the key idea he wished to express was that "...the progress and influence of a Christian worldview in evangelical culture is primarily due to the efforts of parachurch organizations and thus the crucial need today is for the promotion, development, and implementation of this same worldview vision in the preaching, and teaching, and ministries of local congregations."

Adequately preparing our young people to stand firm in their faith in the face of opposing schools of thought requires exposing them to accurate presentations of those ideas in addition to sound biblical theology. Exposing them to straw men (distorted and diluted versions of non-Christian philosophies of life that are easily toppled) may give parents and youth workers temporary relief but it also gives young people a false sense of security. Furthermore, it lacks integrity.

Stand to Reason's Brett Kunkle recently posted a series of reports about a unique missions trip he took with some high schoolers, college students, and adult staff to Berkeley, CA. Here's how he described their goal:
to expose Christian young people to secular thought in order to help them cultivate a Christian worldview. Rather than isolate students in a "Christian ghetto," we want to innoculate them from false views. What better place than Berkeley to give them a taste of the people that are waiting for them once they leave the safety of a Christian home, church or youth group.
I encourage especially those of you who are parents and youth pastors to take the time to read each of Brett's accounts. Not every church will be able to duplicate this effort but I think it can provoke the kind of thinking that families and churches need to be doing.

Berkeley Mission--Part 1
Berkeley Mission--Part 2
Berkeley Mission--Part 3
Berkeley Mission--Part 4
Berkeley Mission--Part 5
Berkeley Mission--Part 6
Berkeley Mission--Part 7
Berkeley Mission--Part 8

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Speak Up for a Christian Brother in Afghanistan

Abdul Rahman is the Muslim-born man facing the death penalty in Afghanistan for converting to Christianity. Michelle Malkin has posted emails she received from readers who contacted the Afghan embassy. Here's an excerpt from one:

You and everybody else can do something by calling the Afghan embassy - here is the phone number (202) 483-6410, please post it on your site; be polite but let them know that if Rahman is not freed and his life secured then this will be the end of your, the caller's, support for U.S. involvment with Afghanistan and you the caller will do everything possible to bring the end of this support about.

I followed this reader's advice a few minutes ago and urge you to do the same. After stating the nature of my call I was transferred to the voice mail of the media relations person.

Michelle also posted this link to a video of Abdul along with the following translation excerpt:

Abdul was taken into custody and a court case has followed. The story hit public TV on Thursday, March 16. The newscaster stated that an Afghan citizen by the name of Abdul Rahman converted to the Christian religion 16 years ago.

He was questioned, "Do you confess that you have apostacized from Islam?"

He responded, "No, I am not an apostate, I believe in God."

Question: "Do you believe in the Koran?"

Response: "I believe in the Injil (New Testament) and love Jesus Christ.

Today the AP is reporting that Abdul may be judged unfit for trial due to mental illness. An advisor to President Karzai is quoted as saying, "Doctors must examine him. If he is mentally unfit, definitely Islam has no claim to punish him. He must be forgiven. The case must be dropped."

I suspect this is just the government's way of trying to placate everyone. Dismissing the case on the grounds of mental illness would appease the international community, secure Afghanistan's support from the U.S., and assure Muslims that their law was not being violated. But this doesn't fully settle the issue. In the event that Rhaman is ruled "mentally incompetent" will he face a life of imprisonment in the name of treatment?

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Oh, No!

My previous post is just a few hours old. Now I learn of this. (HT: Macht)

Sudoku is Puzzling in More Ways Than One

My good friend Jerry sent me the following email:

I was sitting here tonight working on a Sudoku puzzle, when a question occurred to me. I thought you would be the one to answer it:

How can the Sudoku craze flourish in a post-modern culture? Aren't nearly all the tenets of post-modernism repudiated by this game? Does this reflect an inner hunger for logic, for the law of noncontradiction, and for one "truth" for all?

When you get an answer, post it on your blog.

I'm honored that Jerry has so much confidence in my ability to provide an answer but, beyond knowing that Al Mohler has confessed to being addicted to them, my knowledge of Sudoku puzzles is limited. My daughter had brought some home but I dismissed them as children's math games. How wrong I was! I soon became aware of their ubiquitous presence. There they were in bookstores, newspapers, and online. In fact, this past Sunday I entertained the idea of trying my first puzzle upon coming across one in the Chicago Tribune. But I fled from the temptation. Actually, it wasn't all that enticing. The temptations I would have had to resist if I had started would have been those of getting impatient, irritable and angry when I couldn't complete it.

I think Jerry's right to note that the assumptions of the game are antithetical to those of postmodernism. However, we have to remember that, at least in the U.S., our culture is an admixture of postmodernism and modernism (sometimes in the same person). I was reminded of this fact recently while reading an article Tim Keller wrote for the Journal of Biblical Counseling (Fall, 1995) called "Preaching to the Secular Mind." Those who found his article on deconstructing defeater beliefs helpful will want to get hold of this one.

After tracing the development of the secular mind, Keller notes that there are two kinds of popular secularism though most secularists are neither conscious nor consistent in their secularism. This makes it necessary for the Christian communicator to "keep in mind a number of continuums between the newer and older secularism. Any individual non-Christian will be a mixture of positions along these continuums." He then gives the following list:

1. Personal God vs. impersonal God
2. Human perfectability vs. human superficiality
3. Universalism vs. particularism
4. Law vs. chance
5. Conceptual vs. concrete-relational
6. Individualist vs. communitarian
7. Essentialist vs. existentialist
8. Rationalism vs. mysticism

Points 4 and 8 are most relevant to Jerry's question. Concerning the fourth point Keller says:
Modern secularists believed in laws--laws of nature and logic. They also believed that through science, the experts could tell a country (through its civil laws) how to live in a rational, happy, "developed," well-ordered society. Post-modern people hate that kind of intellectual imperialism. They reject the whole idea of an orderly universe. (They point to quantum physics for evidence.) They enjoy play and chance and revel in randomness and the spontaneous.
Does Sudoku appeal to a hunger for logic, antithesis, and truth? Perhaps. At least, it illustrates that, try as we might to deny such things, we can't help but think in terms of them.

How would you answer Jerry's question?

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Monday, March 20, 2006

One Year Ago Yesterday...

I published my first post to The Christian Mind. At the time, I had no idea I’d last this long. I prefer talking over writing and based on a history of short-lived attempts at personal journaling, I wasn’t too optimistic that I would persist. Unlike some whose thoughts easily flow from mind to keyboard, writing for me is an arduous task. It might seem strange that someone who agonizes over composing his thoughts so would try blogging but, as I’ve mentioned before, I hoped that this might be a partial solution to my affliction. (Please, don’t scratch that request off your prayer list just yet.)

I don’t remember how many million blogs existed a year ago but whatever the staggering number, it was a further reason for my hesitancy to jump in. I would be the proverbial drop in the bucket if I joined the fray. There were already so many good Christian bloggers out there expressing opinions I shared.. What possible benefit could there be to my offering my two cents? Since then, I’ve come to appreciate the cumulative factor of blogging. A good friend of mine frequently refers to the concentric circles created by a pebble tossed into a pond as an illustration of how one act can lead to a wider circle of influence. That’s definitely the case with blogging. One person’s decision to post a thought-provoking essay, question, observation, link, or reference can impact countless others. To the extent that I can be part of that networking, at whatever level, I’d like to be.

Blogging has served to reconnect me with friends who were once nearby and are now miles away. I’ve also made some new friends, some of whom I’ve had the pleasure of actually meeting. Reading their thoughts is no substitute for sharing their company.

In our home we have a drawing of a man lying on his stomach at the top of a wall, reaching downward to grasp the hand of a person (whose arm is all you see) reaching upward. Whenever I look at it I think of Galatians 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Over the past year, a number of well-established bloggers have helped me up by encouraging my efforts and linking here. I’m very grateful for their support. My gratitude, however, is not limited to them. Thanks are due to all who have thought my meanderings worth referring to others. And thank you for reading whether you’re a regular or this is your first time.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll stick at this for at least one more year.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Life Links

How would you go about making a pro-life case to a largely antagonistic crowd (some of whom are wearing wire hangers around their necks)? STR's Steve Wagner reports on his recent interaction (over four hours!) with such an audience and exemplifies the characteristics of an ambassador.

Ethicist and professor David L. Heikkila has written an excellent opinion piece (HT: on how proponents of embryonic stem cell research and other life-destroying procedures deceptively use language to divert attention from the main ethical concerns:

A new vocabulary has been created for the common issues of abortion, cloning and embryonic stem cell research. Words like pre-embryo, unimplanted fetus, conceptus or fetus are used instead of human child; Somatic Cell Alternate Nuclear Transfer instead of “cloning”; and Oocyte Assisted Reprogramming or non-sexual reproduction for methods that produce a child or some form of life from one cell. The latter three are also called “parthenogenesis” - literally virgin birth. “Stem Cell Research” judiciously avoids the word “embryonic.” The Missouri bill banning human cloning avoids exposing the fact that it only bans human cloning for reproduction while leaving the door open for research.

Old vocabulary has been redefined: Pro-Life is now chosen as a positive motive for stem cell research and opponents are now Anti- or lacking compassion; Pro-Choice hides all forms of abortion behind the woman's right to choose and the original Pro-Life advocates are Anti-Choice. Compassion and autonomy are redefined and offered as “ethical” motives for many life-destroying procedures.

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Poli Psych

Glenn ( and Dr. Helen Reynolds recently talked to Dr. Nicholas Cummings about the politicization of psychology (HT: Stones Cry Out). Here's their summary:

Is psychology over-politicized? We interview Dr. Nicholas Cummings, a past President of the American Psychological Association, and coauthor of Destructive Trends in Mental Health: The Well-Intentioned Path to Harm, about the injection of politics into mental health in general, and the American Psychological Association in particular. Plus, why men are disappearing from the psychological profession.
You can listen to the podcast directly (no iPod needed!) by clicking right here, or you can get it via iTunes right here.
I blogged about the book here and here. Tom Gilson at Thinking Christian has also written about how a liberal political ideology, rather than sound research, appears to be driving the APA's stance on abortion and homosexual marriage.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Pray for David Powlison

I was saddened to learn last night (via Justin Taylor) that David Powlison, my favorite author on the subject of biblical counseling, has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Girl talk blog posted the following email from David Powlison to C. J. Mahaney:
I've just been diagnosed with prostate cancer. After some further tests, we'll discuss treatment next Monday, and it seems likely I'll be soon for surgery.
Perhaps you saw John Piper's "Don't Waste Your Cancer" that he recently posted. I've added a paragraph of my own to each of his 10 paragraphs, doubling it in length. It is in light of this that I hope for prayer, for healing, for growth in faith and love, and for this latest news to be spread! I pray especially for God to work the spiritual grace of 'endurance,' that holy, vibrant bearing up under weaknesses. A body whose fragilities continually reveal a lack of physical endurance and resilience provides a God-designed proving ground for me to learn the true inner endurance, that I too often lack, and that I long for the Spirit to teach me.
Feel free to share whatever of this note seems to you to be constructive. I value so much the love of the brethren.
You can download David Powlison's annotated version of John Piper's "Don't Waste Your Cancer" here. Please pray for him.

One of the things I so appreciate about David Powlison is his ability to illuminate familiar problems in daily life with Scriptural truths. Not one to settle for dispensing vague generalizations or trafficking in abstractions, he brings the specifics of the gospel into potent contact with the specifics of our lives, thereby helping us to see new and more profound applications and implications of the gospel.

Bringing the particulars of the gospel together with the particulars of a person's life is the subject a recent article by Powlison at 9Marks Ministries. He
suggests two questions to keep in mind when seeking to help someone: "What is this person facing in life?" and "What does the Lord say that speaks directly into what you are facing?" Concerning the value of these questions he writes:

Both questions enable us to work together on what counts. Ministry is always in the business of helping people make connections they haven’t been making. It’s always reinterpreting what’s going on, in order to identify the redemptive opportunities in what seem like the same old ruts. It traces out previously unseen practical implications of life in Christ. It’s always remaking minds, hearts, and lifestyles that are still misshapen. These questions will help you to say the timely, significant, and appropriate words that help bring to pass such a discipling of lives.
He goes on to show how these questions can also help us better understand how Scripture operates:
The Word is not a textbook of normative and propositional truths. It does not operate like a systematic theology text, dense with abstracted propositions logically arranged. And it is not a treasury of verse-sized proof-texts. A topical study using a concordance is often not the best way to understand something biblically. The Bible is not a how-to book, a self-help book, or inspirational reading. Scripture does not work like some handbook chock full of abstracted principles, advice, steps, sayings, and cheering anecdotes. Instead, the Word of God reveals God’s person, promises, ways, and will in action onto the “stage” and into the “story” of real human lives. Our two questions attune us to that; they arise from becoming attuned to that. In our discipling ministry, we should seek to work in much the same way that Scripture works. We are discipling the same kinds of people who originally received any particular chunk of the Word. So let’s get the living God into the daily watershed moments!

A Call for Artist-Apostles: More on Faith and Film

Believers interested in pursuing careers in film production would do well to heed Barbara Nicolosi's counsel in a commentary recently published in Christianity Today called "Escaping the Creative Ghetto" (HT: Think Christian). Here are some points that stood out to me:

It's not that Christians aren't making stabs at moviemaking and television production. It's that most of these efforts come to naught because our fears and misconceptions have us standing on the sidelines, cursing and boycotting and begging for favors from the pagans who have paid their dues and have the power to green-light stories for the screen.

The whole church needs to brood over what it means to be the Patron of the Arts in a post-Christian setting. We need to wrangle over how best to nurture our young artists and media professionals, and how to maximize the influence of those Christians with talent and charisma. But first of all, we need to figure out what success in Hollywood will look like for the Christian community. What does a Christian worldview mean in entertainment, and will our own brothers and sisters in the church recognize it when our artists start producing it?

....our efforts in entertainment cannot be limited to making movies about saints and the Bible, as though we have nothing to say to the modern world about anything that is not part of our subculture. Borrowing from St. Paul, Christians in entertainment don't have to be always talking about God. They should be talking about everything in a godly way.
Nicolosi goes on to make a point similar to one made by Andrew Fellows (whom I mentioned in the previous post). Fellows warns against evaluating films solely through what he calls the grids of truth and morality. He's not denying that these are important. He's just concerned (rightly, I think) that in doing so, we obscure a film's narrative power by dealing only with abstractions. Rationality and conscience are important but shouldn't be emphasized to the neglect of other areas of our inner lives such as the imagination. Nicolosi writes:

Many godly people think that the goal is for movies to be "non-offensive" in terms of sex, language, and violence. But the problem with that standard is it only describes a void. It doesn't give any creative guidance. A lot of Christians lauded the 2002 release A Walk to Remember mainly on this basis: "It didn't have any bad language, and the two teenagers didn't sleep together." Yes, but it was a banal, predictable story with underdeveloped characters, pedestrian acting, and saccharine dialogue.
I think that what Nicolosi is getting at is that like a lot of Christian music, many Christian attempts at filmmaking lack an honest depiction of depravity, the very thing that we claim makes the gospel so necessary and such marvelous news. There is often a lack of reality about life's fallenness, pain, and confusion on account of the desire to quickly resolve the messiness of life with the gospel. The answer is not to gratuitously depict immorality but to portray it within the context of a truly biblical worldview.

Nicolosi suggests some themes that define a Christian movie and offers the following explanation and remedy for the current state of the film industry:

The principal reason for the moral confusion that ends up on the screen is the paucity of happy, well-catechized believers in the entertainment industry. We do not have enough witnesses to Christ living and loving and working alongside the witnesses to Mammon or secular humanism that have overrun the creative community. We do not have enough thoughtful, godly filmmakers who can draw compelling stories from a mature faith experience.

The world does not need a "Christian cinema" so much as it needs Christians in cinema.

We do not need our churches to set up production companies and make movies. We need the church to approach Hollywood as a missionary territory, to preach and teach and minister.

We need a new generation of artist-apostles to come to the industry with humility and pastoral love.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Using Films to Rattle Cages: Movies and Apologetics

Speaking of films, has posted an excellent audio by Andrew Fellows on the use of film in apologetics. Fellows, a staff member of L'Abri in England, gave this presentation to a group of campus ministry workers.

He begins by dividing the apologetic process into three stages:

1. Subversion
2. Persuasion
3. Proclamation

Proclamation is the telling of the core gospel. Fellows says this is the most precious stage in the process yet complains that for many Christians, this is the
only stage. Consequently, we miss many opportunities. Persuasion targets those who, though skeptical, are open to dialogue about the possibility of Christianity being true. Here, believers give reasons for their faith. Finally, subversion, the most challenging stage, is needed when dealing with those who are completely closed to considering the gospel. This involves getting inside the other person's worldview and "rattling their cage." (Though he doesn't mention it, this is equivalent to what Francis Schaeffer meant by "taking the roof off.") Fellows thinks that popular films can be effective tools in this phase of apologetics and estimates that about 80% of his own conversations with those who are closed to Christianity revolve around movies.

Fellows' talk has four main points:

1. Don't underestimate the power of film
2. Allow film to function as narrative
3. Be attentive to the worldview that lies beneath every film
4. Checkpoints for our use of films

In the course of the talk, Fellows explains the power of narrative and how we must learn to make connections between a film's narrative and the Christian story which is the one, true, epic story. Every other story that has ever been told connects to
this story in some way. Subversive apologetics through film seizes or exploits the similarities between the film's story and the Christian story while recognizing the essential differences in worldview. (Fellows offers nine worldview questions to ask when viewing a film.) However, the focus of this kind of engagement is not primarily about arguing worldview but about the story and its appeal to the imagination.

Fellows says that the more his own Christian worldview has developed, the more his enjoyment of film has increased. He also says that if unbelievers see that we love and understand films, real discussions will emerge.

During the Q & A, he urges the campus ministry leaders to teach their students how to watch movies, something most of them don't know how to do. Teaching them how to do this will equip them to discuss films with their peers. This caused me to think about the need for churches to educate believers in a similar manner. For those interested, Brian Godawa's book, Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom & Discernment, is a good resource for that.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

This is Love!

In his book, Questioning Evangelism, Randy Newman discusses a number of questions on the minds of our contemporaries that Christians should anticipate and be prepared to discuss in the course of our commending the gospel. One of these is "What's so good about marriage?" In the chapter by that title, Newman includes the following lines from the film Captain Correlli's Mandolin. It's the counsel of a wise father to his infatuated daughter:

When you fall in love, it is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake and then it subsides. And when it subsides, you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is!

Love is not breathlessness. Love is not excitement. Love is not the desire to mate every second of the day. Love is not lying awake at night imagining that he is kissing every part of your body.

No. Don't blush. I'm telling you some truths.

That is just being in love-which any of us can convince ourselves that we are.

Love itself is what is left over, when being in love has burned away.

Doesn't sound very exciting, does it? But it is!
Sometimes Hollywood gets it right! Let's hope that Christians don't have to go to the theater to get a message like this. Unfortunately, I think the church is often as guilty as the unbelieving culture in romanticizing marital love. The difference is that when being "in love" burns away for us, we wonder whether we somehow "missed God's will"; the assumption being that God intends that we exist in a state of perpetual infatuation rather than that we learn how to, by faith, imitate Him (Eph. 5:1-2) by seeking the welfare of another even at great cost to ourselves.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Wasted Faith

Tim Challies reviews and highly recommends Wasted Faith by Jim Elliff, whose article on evangelism I pointed to yesterday. The quote from Elliff echoes Melinda Penner's caution to which I referred in the same post. Tim writes:
Wasted Faith is...a book that challenges those who have made a profession of faith to ensure that their salvation is sure. "What is most alarming is the risky willingness of many professing Christians to gamble eternity on an emotional one-time experience, a 'sinner's prayer' properly prayed, or a feeling of substantial relief at a juncture in time, without ever taking a serious look at what is evident now, at this moment. Is eternal life of so little value that it seems unnecessary to examine ourselves for evidence of it?" Elliff warns that hell is engorged with those who once thought of themselves as Christians.
Sobering. Read the whole review.

Tim Keller on Leading the Secular to Christ

Since reading about Dr. Tim Keller’s ministry in the New York Times (and blogging about it here), I’ve gone directly to the source (thanks to Steve McCoy's impressive resource list). So far, I've listened to three of his sermons and read a few of his writings much to my enjoyment and benefit. I want to point to one article I found especially insightful concerning apologetics and evangelism in our postmodern ethos. It’s called “Deconstructing Defeater Beliefs: Leading the Secular to Christ” (pdf).

Dr. Keller defines defeater beliefs as a culture’s “common sense consensus beliefs that automatically make Christianity seem implausible to people.” Because these deeply-entrenched beliefs are assumed to be true, people hastily dismiss the Christian faith since it contradicts them.

If, for example, a culture is convinced that all religions are true, Christianity’s exclusive claims are quickly rejected as ludicrous. Implausibility structures are culturally relative, meaning that “Christianity is disbelieved in one culture for totally opposite reasons it is disbelieved in another.” This is an important point highlighting the sociological dimension of fallen humanity’s suppression of the truth. While it’s accurate to say that depravity is ultimately and universally responsible for unbelief, the “course of this world” that the unregenerate follow is not monolithic but varies across historical period, geography, people group, etc.

Recognizing the inevitable presence of implausibility structures and how they stand as barriers to the gospel has important implications for how we seek to commend the faith to postmodern hearers. Some Christians insist that we abandon argumentation as a means of gospel persuasion and, instead, rely on the apologetic power of Christian community and ministries of mercy to those outside the church. Keller’s reaction to this line of thought is worthy of quoting at length:

"I couldn’t agree more that post-modern people come to Christ through process, through relationships, through mini-decisions, through ‘trying Christianity on.’ They are pragmatic rather than abstract in their reasoning, etc. But the books that are against any arguments at all seem to miss the fact that the extreme pragmatism of non-Christians today is part of a non-Christian world-view. Our post-enlightenment culture believes what has been called expressive individualism. That is – ‘it is true if works for me.’ This obviously is based on the view that truth and right-or-wrong is something I discover within my own self and consciousness.

What then of the claim that ‘post-modern people don’t want arguments – they just want to see if it works for them’? All right – as with any form of contextualization, let us as evangelists enter – adapt partially – to the culture of expressive individualism. Let us show them the reality of changed lives. Let us use narratives rather than long strings of logic. But at some point you must also challenge the sovereignty of individual consciousness. Jesus is Lord, not my personal consciousness. At some point, the idea that 'it is true if and only if it works for me' must be challenged. We have to say: 'Ultimately that is correct - in the very, very long run, obeying the truth will 'work' and bring you to glory and disobeying the truth will 'not work' and bring you to ruin. But in the short run (like - even throughout all the rest of your life!) obeying the truth might lead to ostracism, persecution, or other suffering.'"
Keller goes on to explain that sharing the gospel involves a two part approach, a negative apologetic dimension that consists of deconstructing the reigning cultural implausibility structure, and a positive aspect of sharing the gospel. This communication must be done in a fashion so as to connect the gospel message to what he calls the culture's base-line narratives. He writes, "In short, you have to show in line with the culture's own (best) aspirations, hopes, and convictions that its own cultural story won't be resolved or have a 'happy ending' outside of Christ."

Keller advocates presenting the gospel using a three-layered approach composed of these two aspects. The layers are as follows:

a) Brief gospel summary. First, the gospel must be presented briefly but so vividly and attractively (and so hooked in to the culture's base-line cultural narratives) that the listener is virtually compelled to say 'It would be wonderful if that were true, but it can't be!' Until he or she comes to that position, you can't work on the implausibility structure! The listener must have motivation to hear you out. That is what defeaters do - they make people super-impatient with any case for Christianity. Unless they find a presentation of Christ surprisingly attractive and compelling (and stereo-type breaking) their eyes will simply glaze over when you try to talk to them.

b) Dismantle plausibility structure. ....The leading defeaters must be dealt with clearly and quickly but convincingly. Defeaters are dealt with when the person feels you have presented the objection to Christianity in a clearer and stronger way than they could have done it.

c) Longer explanation of the person and work of Christ. Now, if people find you have at least undermined the defeaters in a listener's mind, you can now return to talking at greater length about creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. If you try to do apologetics before you pull off a quick, attractive presentation of Christ, people's eyes will glaze over and they will become bored. But if you try to do a very lengthy explanation of the meaning of Christ's cross and resurrection before you convincingly deal with the defeaters, they won't listen to you either.
Keller illustrates how this approach looks interacting with two pervasive Western cultural concerns : 1) personal freedom and identity and 2) unity and diversity. He then gives brief but helpful examples of deconstructing six dominant defeaters in Western civilization: 1) Christian exclusivism in light of religious pluralism, 2) evil and suffering, 3) the ethical restrictiveness of Christianity, 4) the record of Christians, 5) the angry God, and 6) the unreliable Bible.

The article concludes with points the unbeliever who's ready to explore the Christian faith must consider, including this one about doubt: "Your doubts are really beliefs, and you can't avoid betting your life and destiny on some kind of belief in God and the universe. Non-commitment is impossible. Faith-acts are inevitable." What Keller is stressing here is that there is no such thing as ideological neutrality. Objections to the Christian faith don't spring from nowhere but are expressions of alternative systems of belief which are themselves in need of a defense.

Part of our evangelistic task, then, is to help our hearers become more aware of their own presuppositions. We must ask them the same question Cornelius Van Til did in his "Why I Believe in God": "Will you not go into the basement of your own experience to see what has been gathering there while you were busy here and there with the surface inspection of life? You may be greatly surprised at what you find there." Then, if we are prepared, we can take their hand and lead them downstairs.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Deviating from Scripted Evangelism

Here are two very good cautions against approaching evangelism in a mechanical or formulaic manner :

Melinda Penner notes how misusing the "sinner's prayer" can undermine the point of salvation - discipleship:

Sadly, sometimes the "sinner's prayer" is treated as almost a magical formula. Some evangelism encounters end with the prayer and that sums up the fulfillment of duty for the evangelist. The point of salvation is discipleship, not just a prayer. Many times I've heard the answer to the query whether that wayward friend or family member is a Christian that they "prayed the prayer." The book of James should cause grave caution about drawing much comfort from merely praying a prayer. Consequences will follow from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
In "A More Spontaneous and Genuine Evangelism," Jim Elliff identifies factors that diminish our boldness in telling others about Christ. Among them:
....we have the mistaken notion that evangelism is a choreographed set of ideas well laid out, perfectly transitioned and flawlessly presented. Forget it. It's not this way. Many of us have tried this with frustration. It is much better to think of evangelism the way the Bible does—"sowing the seed" in any way you can. Any of us can do that. Ever seen a weed grow in an otherwise barren parking lot? Somehow the seed got there and flourished. The simple word in the right place, or the tract well-placed might be the means God uses. Well-oiled presentations frustrate because there is no room for serious questions and discussion on the one hand, and it rules out the less verbal among us, on the other. Rejoice over even the smallest of advances! You are sowing the seed.

I don't wish to say that there is no value at all in memorizing a set plan. But there are many limitations to such methods. The proof is that the enthusiasm for such plans often dies away after the weeks of concentrated effort are finished. Also, among the least desirable aspects of most of these plans is the fact that they may not encourage listening to the person you are addressing. It's primarily about getting a set of concepts across, rather than finding out the real questions people have and the dilemmas they face.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Bloggers on Wieseltier on Dennett

The New York Times Book Review reports on responses around the blogosphere to Leon Wieseltier's review of Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell and advises readers to "Stay tuned for the next round of debate in September, when [Richard] Dawkins publishes his own book on religion, The God Delusion."

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Lessons in Apologetics, Philosophy, and Vocabulary

Paul Manata critiques R. C. Sproul Jr.'s critique of presuppositional apologetics.

Listen to a series of introductory philosophy lectures given by Professor Roger Henderson of Dordt College. Some of the topics covered include: Socrates; Plato; Augustine; Kuyper; Why Study Philosophy?; Worldview: Direction; Worldview: Wisdom; Worldview: Conscience; and The Goodness of Creation. (HT: Macht)

I learned what a "blurfer" is (and that I'm one of them) thanks to Pastor Mark Swanson at Best of the GodBlogs.

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Dr. Tim Keller: Pastor to the City

Tim Keller, senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, was highlighted in last Sunday's New York Times as a leader among evangelicals planting churches in urban areas. Redeemer is composed of over 4,000 attendees, most of whom are young professionals and artists who, as the article notes, "do not fit the prototypical evangelical mold." Prior to taking the pastorate, Dr. Keller was a professor at Westminster Seminary. According to the article, his only other pulpit experience was at a small blue-collar church in rural Virginia.

I was intrigued by the ways those who know Dr. Keller, described him. Here are some excerpts. I've italicized the points I found particularly noteworthy:
The Rev. Stephen Um, whose church in Boston, Citylife, began four years ago and now attracts about 500 people every Sunday, said he and other pastors had embraced Dr.Keller's emphasis on delving into the prevailing culture almost as much as into the biblical text. Along these lines, Dr. Um is just as likely to cite a postmodern philosopher like Richard Rorty or Michel Foucault in his sermons, as he is, say, Paul's Letter to the Philippians.

"This is Tim's thing," said Dr. Um. "He said, 'You need to enter into a person's worldview, challenge that worldview and retell the story based on the Gospel.' The problem is evangelicals have always started with challenging the worldview. We don't have any credibility."


Unlike most suburban megachurches, much of Redeemer is remarkably traditional — there is no loud rock band or flashy video. What is not traditional is Dr. Keller's skill in speaking the language of his urbane audience. On the day of the snowstorm, Dr. Keller tackled a passage from the Gospel of Mark in which the friends of a paralyzed man carry him to Jesus. At least initially, however, Jesus does not heal the man but offers him a puzzling line about his sins being forgiven.

Part of the point, said Dr. Keller, is people do not realize that their deepest desires often do not match up with their deepest needs.


Observing Dr. Keller's professorial pose on stage, it is easy to understand his appeal. While he hardly shrinks from difficult Christian truths, he sounds different from many of the shrill evangelical voices in the public sphere. "A big part is he preaches on such an intellectual level," said Suzanne Perron, 37, a fashion designer who is one of many who had stopped going to church before she discovered Redeemer several years ago. "You can go to Redeemer and you can not be a Christian and listen to that sermon and be completely engaged."


An important lesson that Dr. Keller said he had tried to convey to other pastors is that the hard sell rarely works in the city. Becoming a Christian in a place like New York, he said, is more often the product not of one decision but of many little decisions.

"One decision might be Christianity is more relevant than I think," he said. "Or, here's two Christians that I don't think are idiots."


After the [9/11] attack, the church also began to increase its training for those working to found churches. His church's main goal, Dr. Keller said, is to teach pastors how to truly love the city, rather than fear its worldly influences. Unlike many evangelicals, Dr. Keller advocates an indirect approach to change.

"If you seek power before service, you'll neither get power, nor serve," he said. "If you seek to serve people more than to gain power, you will not only serve people, you will gain influence. That's very much the way Jesus did it."
There is much to admire about Dr. Keller's philosophy of ministry. First, he exemplifies how important it is that we be students of the Word as well as students of the culture to which we are seeking to communicate it. I'm frequently puzzled by the fact that when it comes to preparing people to do missionary work in foreign countries, believers see the benefit and necessity of understanding the language, thought patterns, and customs of the native people groups. Yet, for some reason, when it comes to being ambassadors of Christ on our own soil, taking the time to understand the worldviews according to which our contemporaries are living is often regarded as an endeavor that, at best, is reserved for scholars and, at worst, is a waste of time that could be better used "preaching the gospel." Certainly, we are to be about bearing witness to Christ. However, doing all things for the sake of the gospel entails understanding how those we hope to win, live and think.

So much of what Dr. Keller says is in keeping with points made by Randy Newman, the author of the book I reviewed in the previous post. Both stress how our failure to enter non-Christian worldviews diminishes our credibility. People are more prone to hear our biblical alternative when they see that we have taken the time to understand their perspective and, in some cases, understand it even better than they do. As Newman notes, trying to see things from another's perspective is one way of cultivating compassion:
"We usually zero in on the second part of Proverbs14:12: 'There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.' We simply see people as lost and headed for hell. But the first half of the proverb is worth equal reflection. We should ask, 'Why does this way seem right to them?' Even if we fail to accurately identify their motivation, compassion for them is bound to be stirred."
After giving a few reasons why Buddhism, Islam, and New Age beliefs "seem right" to many, Newman concludes: "We could go on and on, citing valid attractions of each competing worldview. And indeed, we should, if we are ever to display respect for our hearers as we declare the superiority of the gospel." Investing time and mental energy into learning about the philosophies that make the gospel implausible to the modern mind should result in far more than our saying "You're wrong!" with greater confidence. It should lead to our being able to genuinely say "I understand."

Two elements of Keller's ministry strike me as flying in the face of much conventional wisdom about church growth. First, he doesn't shy away from dealing with difficult doctrines publicly. It's refreshing to see a preacher who doesn't treat the Bible's hard teachings like dirty laundry to be aired only among the members of the family. If Jesus didn't do this, neither should his followers.

The second thing that stands out is that Dr. Keller is apparently unafraid to exercise the cognitive muscles of his congregation by preaching at a level that requires some stretching. If the fashion designer quoted in the article is representative of the rest of the congregation, this dimension of his preaching is appreciated by those who regularly attend. I suspect that we all too frequently underestimate the capacity of those in the pew to follow intellectually challenging messages. Failing to engage people's minds with the gospel's claims and implications leaves them with the mistaken notion that the faith is tailored to only a portion of our humanness.

If, like me, you'd like to find out more about Tim Keller, Steve McCoy has assembled a list of resources by and about him at Reformissionary
(HT: Justin Taylor).

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