Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Powlison on Praying Beyond Health Concerns

Our petitions are windows into our priorities or, put another way, what consumes our prayers consumes our hearts. In a recent article at 9 Marks, David Powlison, no stranger to health problems, gives valuable counsel for remedying a common ailment of congregational life - so much of our praying never gets beyond requests for physical healing. Powlison believes that this is due, in part, to the prayers often modeled by pastors:

Such public prayers may be medically informative, but they are spiritually impoverished. They usually center on physical healing. And they typically amount to nothing more than requests for effective doctors, procedures, and medicines.
Visitors of many churches might be pardoned if they get the impression that God is chiefly interested in perking up our health, and that radiant physical fitness is our greatest need. They might also be pardoned for thinking that God can’t do what we ask, because so many chronic illnesses remain unhealed.
Powlison's point isn't that we shouldn't pray for healing but that we should frame those requests in the context of broader biblical priorities which he reminds us of from James 5 and other passages on sickness and prayer. "Is God interested in healing illnesses?," he asks, "Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Yet he is always interested in making his children wise, holy, trusting, and loving, even in the context of pain, disability, and death."

Powlison's provides profitable instruction and encouragement to those who are sick and those praying with and for them.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Why Don't Preachers Preach?

Doug Groothuis asks that and other unsettling questions about the state of contemporary preaching. I suspect that the answer to many of his questions is, "They want to keep their jobs."

Related: So You Want to Be a Pastor? Be Something Else First by S. M. Hutchens

McKnight & Galli on Chicago Radio Tonight

Scot McKnight and Christianity Today editor Mark Galli will be guests of interviewer extraordinaire, Milt Rosenberg this evening (9-11 pm Central) on WGN Radio's Extension 720. They'll be talking about Galli's book, Jesus Mean and Wild and the historical Jesus. You can listen online with Real Player. (HT: Scot McKnight)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Audios from Alister McGrath and Other Christian Thinkers Across the Pond

Last month Alister McGrath, Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University, gave St. Paul's Theological Centre's inaugural annual lecture: "Has Science Killed God? Richard Dawkins and the Meaning of Life." Listen here.

Another version of the lecture is available from the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion (HT: New Humanist) whose lecture archive is well worth checking out.

Friday, July 21, 2006

"Lose a Golf Ball, Share the Gospel"

I know the print is small but that's John 3:16 on the golf ball to the right (photo by Mark Schiefelbein), one of the many items featured in this LA Times article about last week's International Christian Retail Show. (HT: Justin Taylor who was in attendance for the books).

Seeing that picture made me think that now is a fine time to show off some of my own evangelistic paraphernalia. A dear friend who knows of my fondness of such treasures, gave me the momento below. (It reads "I once was lost but now am found" on the other side.) He's commented that he checks the blog from time to time, to see if I've featured it. So, Karl, here it is!

Since I'm not a golfer and the ball never gets any green time, I suppose I could be charged with hiding my light under a bushel (or in this case, in my dresser drawer). But summer isn't over yet. Maybe I'll get the sandals that will allow me to leave footprints in the sand that read "Follow Jesus."

Art Behind Bars

Donny Johnson, serving three life terms in solitary confinement for murder and slashing a prison guard's throat, creates paintings using pigmentation from M&M's, blank postcards, and a paintbrush made, in part, from strands of his own hair.

Reading this story in the New York Times reminded me of Pascal's frequent commentary on humanity's simultaneous greatness and wretchedness. By virtue of creation we are bearers of the divine image, capable of creating astounding beauty. By virtue of the fall, our hearts are inclined toward performing great evil. On account of Christ's death and resurrection, those who trust him expectantly await the restoration of creation's glory and the ability to create moral and aesthetic beauty, unhindered by the bars of our present sinfulness.

Marginalized Voices in the Stem Cell Debate

Watch the mainstream media and you'll get the impression that disabled Americans are united in their support of embryonic stem cell research. James Kelly, who suffered a spinal cord injury in 1997, explains why he believes President Bush's veto of H.R. 810 is a cause for hope. (HT:

Joni Eareckson Tada, a disability rights activist who has been a quadriplegic since suffering a spinal cord injury nearly 40 years ago, also supports the decision. This from

"People like me -- who are medically fragile -- are left vulnerable and exposed in a society that views human life as a commodity which can be experimented upon or exploited," she explained.
Tada said the disability community has another vested interest in the Presidential veto. Despite lack of reporting by the media, people with disabilities can be encouraged by recent and dramatic advancements in adult stem cell research, she said.
Adult cells may be more elastic than scientists previously thought and are offering short-cuts to treatment which embryonic cells cannot match. Over 70 medical conditions are either being treated using adult stem cell therapies or are presently in clinical trials. “I am grateful for the principled stand our President has taken, first and foremost because of the sanctity of human life, but also because restrictions on use of taxpayer dollars may well encourage funding in the overlooked and less commercially viable field of adult stem cell therapy," Tada explained.

No More Mr. Nice Guy? The Jolly Blogger on Rick Warren

Actually, though he called the post, So Much for Being Nice About Rick Warren, David Wayne is very charitable in what I think is a valid criticism of Warren's approach to helping revitalize Jewish worship:
Like Paul, we can and should love our Jewish neighbors, serve our Jewish neighbors and there is even a place for becoming like our Jewish neighbors in some way. But when we become like them, we must become like them to win them. In this case, Warren is becoming a Jew to the Jews with no obvious intention of winning them.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Ken Myers on What We Do After Evangelism

In February of this year, Mars Hill Audio's Ken Myers delivered four lectures at Christ Presbyterian Church in Marietta, GA under the heading "After Evangelism: The Cultural Lives of Christians and Their Neighbors." Here's a blurb from the conference web site:
What if the Church organized its life around a commitment to discipleship and not just mere evangelism? What would the Church look like if it acted consistent with its calling to teach disciples to observe all that he has commanded? How should the Church minister in the world if those commands are not just about personal belief and piety but about the way we conduct every aspect of our lives in the Creation that exists by, for, and through Christ? How would the Church’s forms of expressing its identity and message be different if Christians realized that cultural life isn’t just a convenient and arbitrary conduit for evangelism, but the way that our obedience, faithfulness, our new life find concrete expression in the world, but not of it?
The four lectures (titled "Christ and Creation: Two Adams and a Fall," "Creation and Redemption: Salvation and the Fulfillment of Humanity," "Creation and Culture: Real Reality and Cultural Order," and "Church and Culture: Discipleship and All of Life") are now available for purchase. You can find ordering information, brief quotes from each session and a 38 minute audio portion (MP3) of the first lecture at the conference lecture page.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Aborting Reason to Justify Killing

An excerpt from a NY Times editorial supporting the expansion of federal funds for embryonic stem cell research (my comments in italics):

"Therapeutic cloning involves the creation of embryos genetically matched to patients with specific diseases so that scientists can extract their stem cells and then study how the diseases develop and how best to treat them. The microscopic entities used in these studies may be called embryos but they have none of the attributes of humanity and, sitting outside the womb, no chance of developing into babies. "

None of the attributes of humanity? These embryos exhibit all the attributes of humanity at the embryonic stage of human development. By the Times' own admission, the embryos in question are clones, genetically matched to human patients. So how can they turn around and say that they have none of the attributes of humanity? To assert both that the embryos are human clones and that they are void of any of the attributes of humanity is to assert a contradiction.

What the editors really mean is that human embryos don't look like more mature humans. But this is no justification for killing them.

Suggested Reading

Doug Groothuis has posted a list of recommended reading for developing a Christian mind. Of course, I'd add Harry Blamires's The Christian Mind. What additions would you make?

Seeing Connections Between the Profound and the Mundane

We frequently devalue the significance of daily chores, seeing them as hindrances to "more spiritual" activities. I appreciate the following reminder from Gideon Strauss about life's unity:
Sometime in the past six months I realized that there is a profound connection between the big questions of life (about which I care so passionately) and the mundane chores of everyday life (which previously had rather irked me). There is, for example, an inextricable connection between the meaning of life and the management of money, between the nurture of love and household maintenance. It has been like someone flipping a switch on me, emotionally - tasks that irritated me in the past now irritate me ... less. Strangest of all, I have even come to enjoy (1) mowing and weeding our tiny patch of lawn, (2) taking account of our family's financial affairs, and (3) shopping for household hardware.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Dispositional Decision

That's the term coined to refer to the decision in vitro fertilization (IVF) patients must make about what to do with their excess frozen embryos. A fascinating article in Mother Jones called Souls on Ice describes how the glut of cryogenically preserved in fertility clinics is forcing families and researchers to seriously reconsider their beliefs about when life begins, choice, and reproductive freedom.

The article highlights a study of 58 couples who gave birth to children conceived as a result of IVF and also had frozen embryos in storage (the average couple had seven embryos in storage with the average embryo having been in storage for four years). Dr. Robert Nachtigall, a reproductive endocrinologist at the University of California-SanFrancisco, led the study and "found that even in one of the bluest regions of the country, which is to say, among people living in and around San Francisco, few were able to veiw a three-day-old laboratory embryo with anything like detachment." Here are some other interesting quotes:

“I was like, ‘I created these things, I feel a sense of responsibility for them,’” is how one ivf patient put it. Describing herself as staunchly pro-choice, this patient found that she could not rest until she located a person—actually, two people—willing to bring her excess embryos to term. The presence of embryos for whom (for which?) they feel a certain undefined moral responsibility presents tens of thousands of Americans with a dilemma for which nothing—nothing—has prepared them.

Strikingly, Nachtigall found that even in one of the bluest regions of the country, which is to say, among people living in and around San Francisco, few were able to view a three-day-old laboratory embryo with anything like detachment. “Parents variously conceptualized frozen embryos as biological tissue, living entities, ‘virtual’ children having interests that must be considered and protected, siblings of their living children, genetic or psychological ‘insurance policies,’ and symbolic reminders of their past infertility,” his report noted. Many seemed afflicted by a kind of Chinatown syndrome, thinking of them simultaneously as: Children! Tissue! Children! Tissue!

For virtually all patients, [Nachtigall] found, the disposition decision was torturous, the end result unpredictable. “Nothing feels right,” he reported patients telling him. “They literally don’t know what the right, the good, the moral thing is.” In the fluid process of making a decision—any decision—some try to talk themselves into a clinical detachment. “Little lives, that’s how I thought about them,” said one woman. “But you have to switch gears and think, ‘They’re not lives, they’re cells. They’re science.’ That’s kind of what I had to switch to.”

“You weigh what’s best,” Nachtigall quoted one parent as saying, but what’s best is not, often, clear. This parent continued: “Are they people? Aren’t they people? In part of my mind, they’re potential people, but the point is, it seems odd to me to keep them frozen forever. It seems like not facing the issue.” A patient who had decided to donate embryos for research said, “We’ve agreed that it’s the right thing for us to do, but the final step is to get the forms notarized, and we haven’t done it. I will honestly say that it will be a day of mourning.”
The article notes that the overage of embryos has reached such proportions that companies now exist for the sole purpose of managing embryo inventory. Reading what Russell Bierbaum, the founder of one of these companies, had to say, illustrates why the church cannot afford to be ignorant of the bioethical issues involved in this and other reproductive technologies:
In a few instances, he says, he will take over abandoned embryos and attempt to track patients down. It is therefore people like ReproTech staff members—rather than, say, ministers or psychologists—who often are the ones discussing, with patients, fundamental questions touching on birth and death and life and reproduction, all the essential questions of humanity. “We end up being the counselors without the credentials,” acknowledges Bierbaum, “just answering the questions, being available.”
With the Senate debating whether to loosen restrictions on the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research this week, this is especially timely reading. The folks at Stones Cry Out have put together a helpful list of their stem cell posts from the last year worth checking out too.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Church Report's 2006 Most Influential List

The Church Report has published this year's list of the 50 most influential (read "fastest growing and having more than 2,000 in attendance at weekend services") churches in the U.S. (HT: Kevin Hendricks who links to other list-related resources worth checking out).

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Big Business of Christian Retail

I've enjoyed reading Justin Taylor's posts (starting here) about spending time with J. I. Packer while they attend the International Christian Retail Show in Denver, CO. Here's an article that helps explain why the annual trade show is no longer called the Christian Bookseller Association Convention. It features one exhibitor who sells temporary Christian tatoos that let Christian kids "show that they're cool" and another selling a line of anointing oils.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

A "Breathtaking" Wedding Chapel

The Inflatable Church (HT: Greg Linscott)

Rob Bell in the NYT

The New York Times profiles the unconventional methods of Rob Bell, pastor and founder of Mars Hill Bible Church. Bell is currently on a month-long tour of 21 cities presenting a 100-minute talk (sans multimedia) called "Everything is Spiritual" in venues that usually host rock bands. He got the idea for the tour by asking himself what kind of places he and his brother like to frequent. "And it's nightclubs and places where bands play," he says. "That's where people go to hear ideas in our culture." (Really?)

The article quotes
Christianity Today's Andy Crouch ("Rob Bell is a central figure for his generation and for the way that evangelicals are likely to do church in the next 20 years.") and Calvin College communication prof Quentin Schultze ("He's figured out how to convey basic Christian doctrine in a highly skeptical culture. He's very challenging in his sermons. There's no appeal for money. You get a sense of intellectual substance and depth of the faith.")

Friday, July 07, 2006

"A Recipe for Religious Intolerance"

That's what Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith, calls the Bible in this interview with Salon. (HT: The Revealer)

Are Pro-Lifers Consistent?

I disagree with his conclusions concerning the moral status of embryos but Slate founding editor Michael Kinsley is right to point out that a consistent pro-life position would object as much to the destructive practices of fertility clinics as to embryonic stem cell research.

As Kinsley notes, the process of in vitro fertilization (IVF) frequently involves the production of more embryos than will be implanted with the excess being either discarded or indefinitely frozen. Kinsley's assessment of this practice is inescapable:

In short, if embryos are human beings with full human rights, fertility clinics are death camps —with a side order of cold-blooded eugenics. No one who truly believes in the humanity of embryos could possibly think otherwise.
I've often wondered about this inconsistency. Those who are most vocal about the evil of abortion are often less so when it comes to embryonic stem cell research and, as Kinsley notes, relatively silent when it comes to the destructive methods used by most fertility clinics. Perhaps because reproductive technology such as IVF is considered "pro-family," we're not as critical of its practices as we should be, turning a blind eye to its many casualties. But this is to adopt an "ends justifies the means" mentality antithetical to pro-life logic. Might Kinsley be right when he states that the majority of opponents to embryonic stem cell research have never thought about this inconsistency or have thought about it and don't care?

To his credit, Mr. Kinsley, who describes himself as a strong believer in abortion rights, identifies the flaw in the reasoning most often presented to justify the destruction of huma embryos for the purpose of medical research:

Proponents of stem-cell research like to emphasize that it doesn't cost the life of a single embryo. The embryos killed to extract their stem cells were doomed already. But this argument gives too much ground, and it misses the point. If embryos are human beings, it's not OK to kill them for their stem cells just because you were going to kill them, or knowingly let them die, anyway.
But then he says that a more devastating point is that if embryos are human beings, more of them are killed in fertility clinics than in stem cell research and no one objects very loudly. However, this is simply to point out an inconsistent application of the pro-life position, not to offer a sound argument in support of medical research that destroys human lives in the process.

Since we're on the subject of logical consistency, it should be noted that Mr. Kinsley commits a fallacy (or two) of his own. He claims that the fact that embryos are regularly created and destroyed in the course of nature makes it difficult for him to "make the necessary leap of faith to believe that an embryo and, say, Nelson Mandela, are equal in the eyes of God." This seems to be an implicit form of the naturalistic fallacy; reasoning from the way things are to the way things should be (or, as it is sometimes stated, arguing from the is to the ought). Since spontaneous abortions occur regularly, then it must be permissible for us to kill unborn children as well. But the consistent application of this way of thinking would also justify infanticide and other forms of murder since death at all stages of life is a natural phenomenon. Furthermore, I don't understand why Kinsley thinks that those who die earlier than others are somehow less valuable than those who survive them. Where's the logic in that?

Russell Moore - Nelson Mandela and the Frozen Embryo
JivinJ - Honesty-What Michael Kinsley is missing in the stem cell debate
Al Mohler - Has Kinsley Found Our Weak Spot? On the Logic of the Embryo

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Powlison's Progress

David Wayne shares a good report about David Powlison's health. As one whose life has been profoundly influenced by his ministry, I join the Jolly Blogger and others in rejoicing in this news and am looking forward to his further service to the body of Christ. Please keep him in your prayers.

Inconsistent Outrage?

At Out of Ur, Dave Terpstra wonders why Christian parents aren't as outraged by Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest as they were by Harry Potter:

The similarity in material between the two movies that should concern parents is amazing. First, both films focus on activities contrary to the teachings Scripture, piracy and witchcraft. Second, the hero of Pirates, like the hero of Potter, is practicing what is considered evil—not just battling against those who practice it. Third, there are dark forces involved in both. Harry Potter films are amuck with sorcery and the like. Pirates of the Caribbean films are full of curses and the undead. The list could go on.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Breakfast Links

I had a good laugh at myself yesterday when my immediate reaction to a headline that read "Crack Found in Shuttle's Foam Insulation" was astonishment at how widespread America's drug problem is.

My friend A. D. Riddle, who recently returned from a research trip to Greece and Turkey visiting sights of New Testament significance, is blogging about it here.

Two articles by John Frame, one of my favorite contemporary theologians, have recently been posted: an article on apologetics he wrote for The Dictionary of Theological Interpretation of Scripture and "In Defense of Social Action" in which he critiques Michael Horton's Christianity Today article, "How the Kingdom Comes," from earlier this year. (Perhaps Bono will find it helpful for answering Stephen Baldwin's criticism.)

Two excellent posts on the context and meaning of two familiar and often misunderstood verses: Fred Sanders on "Be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10, HT: Melinda Penner) and Dan Phillips on "Without a vision the people perish" (Prov. 29:18).

The Reformed Evangelist blog officially launched July of 2006 when 5 theologically reformed evangelists had the desires to 1) join the discussion of reformation theology that already existed in the blogosphere, 2) share witnessing encounters and matters of practical evangelism, and 3) affirm that Calvinists make good evangelists (afterall, we’re living proof). (HT: Tim Challies)

Happy Independence Day!

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Monday, July 03, 2006

Non-scientific Motivations: James Sherely on Harvard's Stem Cell Plan

A few weeks ago I pointed to a Boston Globe editorial by M.I.T. biological engineer and Harvard graduate James Sherley in which he criticized Harvard's plan to attempt human embryo cloning for stem cell research on scientific and ethical grounds. In a recent interview with MercatorNet (HT: Mere Comments), he gives more reasons for his opposition and asks the most critical question. Some excerpts:

MercatorNet: As a world-renowned university, Harvard prides itself on the calibre of its cutting-edge academics, not only in science, but also ethics, theology and politics. But has the desire to maintain Harvard's reputation affected its ethical judgement?

Sherley: The public should demand to hear this question addressed by Harvard professors of ethics, politics, history of science, and economics and also by Harvard professors who have a dissenting view. They may be silent, muted, or unreported on the issue. The public needs to know which is the case. Surely, this revered faculty of original and independent thinkers, who recently cast out their President for his regressive prejudicial ideas, is not monolithic in its view on the moral status of human embryos and their treatment by Harvard scientists.

MercatorNet: You seem pretty convinced that human embryos are human beings. Can you explain briefly why?

Sherley: My answer is, "What else could they be -- aliens?" Scientists who want to conduct experiments with human embryos are quick to say what human embryos are not. I challenge them to tell the public what human embryos are. There is only one answer to this question, "living human beings."

MercatorNet: But why can't you convince your colleagues at Harvard and MIT of your point of view? What's the stumbling block?

Sherley: When scientists arrange their own press conferences to announce promises for the future that involve significant self-gain, let the public beware. The stumbling block is non-scientific motivations.
I encourage you to read the whole thing. And if you'd like to read my reaction to Harvard's stem cell initiative, I blogged about it here.

Spider-Man 3 Trailer

Please pardon me as I relive my childhood but back in the days when I was an avid Marvel Comics collector, Spider-Man was my favorite. I'm old enough to remember CBS's cheesey attempt to bring Spidey to life in a weekly series. Unfortunately, "special effects" then had progressed little beyond those that enabled Adam West and Burt Ward to scale Gotham's walls with their batarangs. So, I sat through the first two Spider-Man movies with childlike delight.

Yesterday I saw the teaser trailer for next summer's Spider-Man 3 for the first time and it looks like they've worked Venom into the plot. I confess. I can't wait!