Friday, January 26, 2007

The Evangelical Free Church and Christian Churches Together: A Response to CRN

Because I serve in the Evangelical Free Church of America I was especially interested in the Christian Research Network's (formerly known as Slice of Laodicea) recent report that the EFCA is considering membership in a new ecumenical group called Christian Churches Together which describes itself as:

[A] new forum growing out of a deeply felt need to broaden and expand fellowship, unity, and witness among the diverse expressions of Christian faith today. CCT is inclusive of the diversity of Christian families in the United States — Evangelical, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Pentecostals, historic Protestant, Racial and Ethnic churches.
CCT's by-laws list celebrating a common faith in the Triune God fostering evangelism that is faithful to the proclamation of the gospel as two of the group's specific tasks. An examination of the list of member organizations/churches makes one wonder how this can ever be accomplished given that between the groups there are conflicting views of biblical authority, not to mention what the message of the gospel is.

Beneath the listing of member organizations is another list of churches and organizations who are described as "in decision making process or present as observers." In her original post on the subject, CRN's Ingrid Schlueter interpreted the presence of the EFCA's name on this list as meaning that we are considering joining the group (an assertion she repeats here) and asks:
Is this what the Evangelical Free Church really stands for? Linking arms for spiritual growth with Roman Catholics? Does Scriptures teaching on salvation matter to these people? Do they know more than the Reformers? Was all of that a waste of time: the 95 Theses, the martyrdoms, the suffering for the sake of truth?
She concludes:
Also interesting are the left-wing organizations on this list, including Jim Wallis’ Sojourners which has no problem with homosexuality. We are seeing a complete meltdown of theological and moral standards among evangelical denominations. Time to get out, quickly.
The morning after I read Ingrid's initial post I arrived at my office to find an email from a regular attender at our church who had received, along with a number of others, a forwarded copy of the post. She was writing me to ask if there is any truth to the report. I told her that I had emailed EFCA President Dr. Bill Hamel the day before to inquire about the matter myself and had been assured that the Free Church was not a member of CCT nor was it intending to become one.

Due to CRN's high volume of traffic and the severity of the charge that the EFCA has such little regard for biblical orthodoxy, I asked President Hamel for permission to publish his response to me. He kindly granted it. Here are his comments:

The Evangelical Free Church is not a member Christian Churches Together nor is the EFCA planning to join. I have attended one of their gatherings and I have told those in leadership that even if I was inclined to join that I could not do so without at the very least board support and perhaps national conference support.

CCT is an attempt to find action points where denominations can work together. Because groups like ours tend to resist such "ecumenism" they have built an unique decision making model where all have to agree to move ahead on a project or you have the freedom to vote no but giving the group the freedom to move forward and list you as one who does not agree. I do not think the grandiose vision of CCT will work...what we agree on is very narrow. I have requested observer status thus allowing me the opportunity to interact with the attendees without being a member. Many evangelical denomination heads are either members or observers giving me the opportunity to meet with them plus in the past it has been helpful to know the heads of mainline denominations and Roman Catholic leaders. Since the leadership of CCT does not want to accept my statements regarding membership they may think that eventually as an observer I will move forward with membership. It would have been very helpful for CRN to connect with me before damaging their credibility by publishing false information.

William J. Hamel, President
Evangelical Free Church of America
I am a regular reader of the Christian Research Network's blog as I was when it was Slice of Laodicea. I share their concern for and commitment to purity of life and doctrine. In many cases I concur with their critique of contemporary evangelical messages and methods (though, more often than not, I take issue with their mannerisms). I have frequently admired and hoped to emulate their courage to say hard, unpopular, yet true things for the sake of the gospel. That said, it is unfortunate that by failing to thoroughly investigate a matter before leveling charges such as those above against fellow believers, they run the risk of deafening the ears of many to what of value they have to say.

It is ironic (and providential) that today Ingrid laments ministries turning on themselves

UPDATE: (For some reason the post mentioned in the previous sentence no longer appears on CRN's site. The full text is available, however, at CRN.Info and Analysis.)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Pro-Life Training from STR: Making Abortion Unthinkable

Minutes ago I received an email from a woman in our church who volunteers at a crisis pregnancy center inviting our pastoral staff to tour the facility. In my reply I alerted her to the following offer from my friends at Stand to Reason (though I'm embarrassed it took her email to make me think of it) so I thought I'd let others who may not have heard about it know as well.
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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Materialism, Materialism

When people use the word "materialism" they usually have one of two definitions in mind. Philosophically speaking, materialism is the belief that everything that exists is either composed of matter or dependent upon it for its existence. "Naturalism" is an equivalent term. Atheist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins notes in his book The God Delusion that philosophers use "naturalist" as the opposite of "supernaturalist" and approvingly cites the following description of naturalistic philosophy offered by Julian Baggini in Atheism: A Very Short Introduction:
What most atheists do believe is that although there is only one kind of stuff in the universe and it is physical, out of this stuff comes minds, beauty, emotions, moral values - in short the full gamut of phenomena that gives richness to human life (13,14).
Dawkins goes on to elaborate on the implications of this philosophy for our attempt to make sense of human cognition and affect:
Human thoughts and emotions emerge from exceedingly complex interconnections of physical entities within the brain. An atheist in this sense of philosophical naturalist is nothing beyond the natural, physical world, no supernatural creative intelligence lurking behind the observable universe, no soul that outlasts the body and no miracles - except in the sense of natural phenomena that we don't yet understand it and embrace it within the natural (14).
According to this perspective human beings are essentially physiological machines whose thoughts and behaviors are reducible to biochemical and electrical impulses. We are identical with our bodies. Consequently, if anything is wrong with us it must be biological for that is all we are. Imago Dei is a useless concept for making sense of ourselves. The images critical for interpreting our condition and what ails us are MRI's and PET scans.

"Materialism" is also used to refer to an approach to life that places premium value on the acquisition of material goods for the purpose of enhancing comfort, status, and/or pleasure. Gary DeLashmutt and Dennis McCallum define materialism as "...a subtle and sophisticated worldview that defines identity, fulfillment, significance, and security in terms of economics" (129). Obviously, one who is materialistic in this sense of the word may or may not be a materialist in the previously described sense. Both kinds of materialism are dehumanizing and destructive.

Because of my interest in counseling issues, I frequently consider how they converge in the pharmaceutical industry especially in that subset that manufactures psychoactive drugs. A naturalistic worldview prevails in contemporary approaches to enhancing mental health. It is a foregone conclusion that problems such as depression and social anxiety are the results of imbalanced brain chemicals despite the fact that there is a marked disparity between the evidence and claims made by the makers of the antidepressants marketed as treatments. This is where the second sense of materialism comes in. The drug companies have a vested interest in promoting and protecting a materialistic (the first sense) view of human nature to successfully market their products. Unfortunately, ample evidence exists to demonstrate that financial gain is often a greater priority for pharmaceutical companies than public health (see, for example, the following articles chronicling Eli Lilly's attempt to suppress links between its top-selling drug, Zyprexa, and diabetes: Eli Lilly Said to Play Down Risk of Top Pill, Playing Down the Risks of a Drug, Lilly Settles With 18,000 Over Zyprexa).

Despite the advances made in Christian worldview studies, it's frustrating that more is not being done in the area of mental health. I was heartened, therefore, when in a recent FRC briefing, Discovery Institute senior fellow Dr. John West made the connection between the materialist mindset and the treatment of children diagnosed with ADHD. While affirming that drugs might be a necessary part of treatment in some cases, he noted that the rush to administer them is an outworking of materialistic assumptions that may prove detrimental and unnecessary.

As we contend against the dehumanizing and culturally destructive consequences of naturalism with respect to such things as ethics, are we turning a blind eye to how we may have imbibed the very same philosophy in the garb of medical science?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Phil Johnson and John MacArthur Talk Election

Thanks to Brian Thornton for making an audio of John MacArthur being interviewed by Pyromaniac Phil Johnson on the doctrine of election available at his blog, Voice of the Sheep (HT: Brian McCrorie).

I haven't listened yet but I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of Brian's analysis:
This interview of MacArthur is so good for a number of reasons. It is what I would call a no-holds-barred, politically-incorrect, biblical look at the doctrine of election. Nothing is held back by either Phil or John, and the result is a straight-forward and truthful look at a doctrine that the unregenerate find so repulsive. I would encourage anyone who has struggled with this doctrine - or has professing family members or friends whose view of election is far from the truth - to listen to this interview themselves and also to direct others to it here. Then I would encourage you to contact Grace to You to see about getting a copy for yourself. It is a CD that every true believer needs to have in his/her library.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Breakfast Links

Justin Taylor interviews Thomas Schreiner about Believer's Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, the new book he co-edited with Shawn Wright. Add another title to my "to read" list.

Out of Ur previews an upcoming Leadership Journal article by Tim Conder on the missional church. Conder wonders if "missional" has become the new evangelical buzzword and provides a helpful list of characteristics shared by those churches that identify themselves as such.

Al Mohler is thankful beyond words to all who prayed for him during his hospitalization. It's good to know he's recovering at home.

When I got my copy of Paul Tripp's and Tim Lane's new book, How People Change, I didn't recognize its publisher - New Growth Press. If you'd like to know more about the official publisher of CCEF's literature, read this. (HT: Michael DiMarco)

PS at Burn the Ships points to a video of Barbara Walters interviewing Joel Osteen that helps explain why the smiling preacher topped the Church Report's recent list of the 50 most influential Christians in America.

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Quentin Schultze on Using Technology Wisely

Last November the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding hosted Dr. Quentin Schultze as part of its Scripture and Ministry Lecture Series. His topic was "Beyond the Digital Rat Race: Using Technology Wisely in Our Lives, Work, and Churches." I had the pleasure of attending and encourage those who didn't to make prudent use of their computers by listening to the audio [download].

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The New Prozac Nation: Psychiatry Gone to the Dogs

From the L.A. Times:
THEY are the new "Prozac Nation": cats, dogs, birds, horses and an assortment of zoo animals whose behavior has been changed, whose anxieties and fears have been quelled and whose owners' furniture has been spared by the use of antidepressants. Over the last decade, Prozac, Buspar, Amitriptyline, Clomicalm — clomipromine that is marketed expressly for dogs — and other drugs have been used to treat inappropriate, destructive and self-injuring behavior in animals.

It's not a big nation yet. But "over the past five years, use has gone up quite a bit," said veterinarian Richard Martin of the Brentwood Pet Clinic in West Los Angeles. Half a decade ago, no more than 1% of his patients were on antidepressants. Now, Martin estimates that 5% of the 8,000 cats and dogs seen at the clinic are taking drugs for their behavior.
Speaking of canines, I can just see the pharmaceutical companies salivating like Pavlov's dog over this news. Americans have consistently proven that we'll spare no expense for the furry members of our families so the potential income from pet mental health is beyond imagination. I predict that Prozac Puppy Chow is on the horizon. What I want to know is if suicide rates increase among household pets, will PETA intervene?

I couldn't help noticing that the psychiatric treatment of four-legged creatures is superior to that of many of their human counterparts. The article cites one veterinarian who says that dogs are not intended to stay on antidepressants for life. "We don't have specific studies on long-term use." The article goes on to say that most vets prefer to taper their patients' use of the drugs. "We try to use these medications short-term," says another veterinarian, "because they are not without side-effects." If only more physicians exercised the same caution. I'm sure human physiology isn't any better suited to endure sustained treatment with brain-altering medication and, given the fact that the popular class of antidepressants known as selective seorotonin reuptake inhibitors only appeared on the scene in the late 1980's, we have yet to discover what adverse effects accompany long-term use.

In Recognition of Atheist Appreciation Week

Joe Carter has declared this Atheist Appreciation Week and is honoring the occasion with daily posts (start here) on his "favorite bizarre worldview."

I just started reading Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion and now there's question as to whether he even exists! (HT: Tom Gilson)

Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly recently did a story on the "new atheists." Read the transcript and/or view the segment here.

The Christian Science Monitor reports on how atheists are challenging the religious right.

Finally, as my own token of appreciation, below, I'm recycling one of my posts from two years ago called "I Believe in Matter Almighty."


World Magazine's Marvin Olasky interviewed Alvin J. Schmidt, author of How Christianity Changed the World (originally published as Under the Influence). Responding to the question of how Christians can counter the widely held belief that Christianity and science are incompatible Schmidt says:

Alfred North Whitehead (a non-Christian philosopher of science) said that without Christianity's "insistence on the rationality of God" there would be no science. The first experimental scientists, beginning with the 13th century, were all confessing Christians (Roger Bacon, Occam, Francis Bacon, Kepler, Boyle, Simpson, Pasteur, etc.). They related their scientific findings to biblical theology. Not until the 18th century, when many scientists bowed to philosophical materialism, were Christianity and science defined as incompatible.
If Christians don't understand how to identify and refute the materialistic faith that underlies much of what goes by the name of science, we'll be running down a myriad of rabbit trails, arguing over particulars while overlooking core worldview considerations. As Phillip Johnson observes in The Right Question: Truth, Meaning & Public Debate: "Christians often think the controversy is primarily a dispute about scientific facts, and so they become trapped into arguing scientific details rather than concentrating on the fundamental assumptions that generate the evolutionary story."

Surprisingly, many adherents to the materialistic faith are ignorant of their faith commitments. They claim to be just following the facts wherever they lead, unencumbered by philosophical precommitments. This is why Cornelius Van Til insisted that one of the primary tasks of apologetics is to make unbelievers "epistemologically self-conscious," that is, aware of their own presuppositions about the nature and extent of knowledge.

The following online exchange with a self-professed "scientific materialist" (SM) illustrates the "faith" of a materialist at work:

KP: I've been thinking...although you say that you and other scientific materialists would willingly alter your position given enough counter evidence or the inability (in principle) of naturalism to account for observed phenomenon, haven't you really posed the issue in such a manner that it is practically unfalsifiable? I mean, at times you appeal to what you believe is evidence in favor of your position but when faced with information that appears to counter it, you can always retreat to the claim that a naturalistic, though currently unknown, explanation exists.

SM: I don't think so. Science has undergone some remarkable changes in thinking...from the Newtonian universe to the Einsteinian, for example...Paradigms change in response to an accumulation of evidence that cannot be explained under the present system, and which points to phenomenon outside the present knowledge.

KP: But again, I'm speaking specifically of the naturalistic presupposition. I still maintain that that is the most strongly held belief of contemporary science. I'm not denying that there are in the field of science. 

SM: Because there's nothing that has yet been unexplainable. I am not going to give up a system that works very well all over the place lightly or happily and certainly not unless there is positive evidence that falsifies it, or at least that points clearly to things beyond the paradigm. I think most scientists do indeed make naturalistic assumptions although the trend towards theories of information, complexity, and so forth makes the assumptions of today much less mechanistic and much less reductionist then has been the case in the past.

KP: You sometimes speak as though science and Christianity are incompatible. Why is that? I fail to see what it is about the Christian worldview that would make the scientific enterprise impossible. Science would "work" just as well under a Christian theistic framework.

SM: That's true. And that's why many scientists are able to maintain religious beliefs, often strongly held and sincere, from what I can see. The scientific method can be applied at work, without falsifying one's commitment to Christianity.

KP: Then it's kind of misleading to speak as though science only works well or even best with naturalistic assumptions.

SM: Ah...but one must make the assumptions of science in one's work, otherwise, one is doing something other then science. But science does not entail a set of ultimate commitments. Certainly, it does not need to. Anyone who can apply the standards and methods of their particular field can practice science. And, if they wish to have religious beliefs beyond that, I see no problem there. If religious beliefs determine the science, well, that is a problem.

KP: And is it a problem if science makes religious/theological assertions? And what do you mean by "the assumptions of science"? Is naturalism a necessary assumption for the application of the scientific method?

SM: If you make supernatural assumptions about things, your work won't go very far in modern science. What a person believes in their private, personal life is irrelevant to their science so long as it conforms to the standards of their field. If it does not, then their work will need to be good enough to overthrow the dominant paradigms or they will not get far.

KP: No doubt about that. If one adheres to a supernatural worldview, he/she won't go far in modern science because of the naturalistic bias. Those who are vocal about their religious convictions are ostracized as pseudo-scientists. There is an "in-house" pressure to conform to scientific materialism but this says nothing about the truth of that position. You see, what you're saying? You're saying that religion is to be privatized but has no bearing on anything beyond the subjective experience of the one who holds to a particular faith. 

SM: The difference between science and other fields of study is that science checks itself against an objective/physical reality which actually exists. The option to ignore someone because you do not like his views (i.e. if he is religiously inclined) is limited by the "reality check" function. If someone's science is good, it will win out...not necessarily at once, but it will win out in the end.

KP: I really don't understand you. You talk about this objective reality as though there is no interpretation involved on the part of those doing the observing. The naturalistic viewpoint is not the result of scientific inquiry unless of course one assumes it prior to making his observations. We're talking about the philosophical, non-empirically verified, assumptions that we bring to our experiences. Mind you, I'm not denying that there is an objective reality that exists apart from our minds. What I am saying is that this reality check you speak of seems to overlook the philosophical dimensions I'm speaking of.

SM: Science is not about ultimate commitments. It's a practical and opportunistic attempt to make descriptions and models of the world. I don't think practicing scientists worry much about the ultimate assumptions of science. The scientific method is really a method - a collection of methods, even and certainly not something to be seen as timeless truth.

KP: And again, your saying that science is different from all other disciplines in that it is referring to an objective reality is to again assume materialism, not conclude it. You assume that the ethicist is not dealing with an objective standard of ethics and that the theologian is not dealing with an objective reality because they are not dealing with physical entities.
That scientists may be unconscious about their ultimate commitments, is really "immaterial" (pun intended). The fact is that they have them and they make pronouncements about them that are received authoritatively. Sagan's comment that the cosmos is all that exists, all that ever existed, and all that will ever exist is not a scientific statement but a philosophical/religious one.

SM: That is definitely a philosophical comment on Sagan's part, perhaps an aesthetic observation even. Sagan was quite a romantic, and a bit of a dreamer. Many scientists are, in some sense. Physicists seem almost addicted to romanticizing their subject.

KP: Your original comment was not that science tests physical objects but rather that what distinguishes it from other studies is that it has an "objective reality" to check against. Do you see that you assume that objective reality = physical existence and physical existence alone? And that is not a scientific conclusion but an a priori.

SM: That's what distinguished it. Where is the physical or external reality against which ethics might check itself? Theology...metaphysics....I do think that the difference between such systems of knowing and scientific knowing is exactly that ability to check against a physical world which exists in and of itself. Whether there's a non-material "reality" somewhere does not seem a useful postulate to me.
But we have already established that assumptions must be made before any investigation of any sort...certainly as true of theology, ethics, sociology, as it is of science. simply concerns itself with things that can be checked against external physical reality?

KP: And are the assumptions of science themselves known scientifically?

SM: I would say that every time an airplane is able to take off the ground, the "materialist/naturalist" assumptions that went into designing that airplane are validated just a little bit more.

KP: And a theist could not have discovered and applied the laws of physics and aerodynamics without adopting a naturalistic worldview?

SM: I suspect a theist could have done so, but only up to a point. A theist, depending of the type of theistic beliefs we are talking about, would have no necessary reason to go beyond theistic assumptions about how nature works. As science has advanced, it has progressed towards greater and greater tendency to explain natural phenomenon in natural terms.

KP: Modern science was founded upon theistic presuppositions. Does that, according to your reasoning, validate theism?

SM: In fact, much of physics has been developed by theists, certainly classical physics. Modern science has been successful largely to the degree that it abandoned theistic assumption. Science was founded by theists but it was founded by people who looked to nature to validate their hypotheses.

KP: You're not making a very good case here. Of course a theist would have reason to explore the working of nature. That is exactly why modern science was born in the context of Christianity.

SM: Science has been successful largely because it abandoned theistic explanations and substituted explanations of natural phenomenon in natural terms.

KP: And what theistic assumptions are threats to the progress of science? One doesn't have to presume naturalism to look to nature to verify claims about nature. The theist isn't bound to deny the validity of empirically derived knowledge, is he?

SM: The power of scientific explanation has grown in almost direct proportion to the degree that the role of "god" as a practical explanation has declined.

KP: And is it conclusive that that growth is due to the abandonment of theism or could it not be the result of time? One doesn't want to commit the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.

SM: Conclusive? It is a pretty strong historical phenomenon. History does not generally provide "conclusive" proof of anything, but that doesn't at all mean that we can't understand what's going on. All history risks post hoc fallacies.

KP: Well, I think you're committing it now. You're saying that science has advanced BECAUSE theism has largely been abandoned and I don't think you can substantiate that claim. If what you are saying is true, we would not have expected science to have been founded by and flourishing among Christian theists.

SM: Really? How does theism yield knowledge of nature? If it's possible to invoke god at some point as an explanation, then why investigate at all? It seems to me that the history of science is a long and difficult attempt to overcome such thinking as applied to nature.

KP: Why investigate? Reformed theologians see the investigation and harnessing of nature as a fulfillment to the divine command to subdue the earth. Also, the classical theistic scientists set out to investigate the natural world because they believed that it was the product of a rational mind and therefore had an order to it. They also believed that we are created in the image of this God and therefore could, as Kepler said, "Think God's thoughts after Him". The idea that theism is somehow hostile to scientific inquiry is simply unsubstantiated.

SM: The association between declining use of theistic assumptions and rising explanatory power of scientific knowledge is clear. The matter of which is cause and which is effect, or whether there might be no association at all, is one of judgment, like most historical problems (at least those spanning such a long and complex period.) But is that not theism reflecting the influence of what are really non-theistic ways of seeing things? That's theism exhibiting some flexibility, which I certainly think is a good thing.

KP: You have consistently created a straw man of the theistic position and have sought to make Christian theism an enemy of real science. That's not so. Granted, there have been Christians who have been hostile to science but such a stance is in no way inherent within the Christian worldview. The Christian can only be said to be hostile to science unless one identifies science with naturalistic philosophy.

SM: If theism invokes supernatural explanations for natural phenomenon, I don't see how it can be accommodated in science.

KP: What non-theistic way of thought is that reflecting? 

SM: Any viewpoint that is bound up in revealed wisdom and absolute truth, which theism certainly is, is going to be very hard to reconcile with scientific exploration. The view that hypotheses should be checked against the world, and that when they conflict with revealed wisdom, revealed wisdom loses. I can't see the value of making supernatural assumptions about the universe. Where do such assumptions lead us? What kind of knowledge comes from them? How is it to be validated? That's pretty much all I'm saying.

KP: But why? You have yet to show any substantive conflict. And, as I've pointed out, if what you say is true, then science would have never been born in the bosom of Christianity. 

SM: I don't think I understand your point about the development of science from Christianity and I really don't think science was born in the bosom of Christianity at all. Seems to me that science came about despite massive and systematic resistance from orthodox Christian churches.

KP: This has been very stimulating and I appreciate your willingness to take this time with me. Right now, though, I have to go. I'd love to pick this up with you soon.

SM: OK...see you later. Have a good weekend, if i don't see you again.. : )

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Five(ish) Things I'd Like to Know About You

I'm honored to be among friends David Wayne tagged with a meme that made me do a lot of thinking. So, for David and anyone else who cares to read, here are my answers:

1) What's the most fun work you've ever done, and why? (two sentences max)
I worked for two years as a personnel specialist at an agency that provided home attendants to elderly and disabled clients. The work itself wasn't fun but my coworkers were some of the funniest people I've ever worked with.

2) A. Name one thing you did in the past that you no longer do but wish you did? (one sentence max)
Exercise regularly

B. Name one thing you've always wanted to do but keep putting it off? (one sentence max)
Learn how to fence.

3) A. What two things would you most like to learn or be better at, and why? (two sentences max)
I'd like to be better at writing freely. Composition is agonizing for me because I want to start with the finished process and avoid the editing process.
(I'm assuming the two sentence limit is for each answer)

I'd like to have a better understanding of music theory. I regret not taking it more seriously when, as a child, I took piano lessons.

B. If you could take a class/workshop/apprentice from anyone in the world living or dead, who would it be and what would you hope to learn? (two more sentences, max)
An apprenticeship in biblical counseling with David Powlison. I'd hope to learn how to better apply the gospel to my own life and help others do likewise.
4) A. What three words might your best friends or family use to describe you?
B. Now list two more words you wish described you...
5) What are your top three passions? (can be current or past, work, hobbies, or causes-- three sentences max)
Theological education in the local church
Biblical Counseling

6) (sue me) Write--and answer--one more question that YOU would ask someone (with answer in three sentences max)
What other vocation can you see yourself in? Hosting an interview-format radio program dealing with issues of Christianity and culture. That would combine my love of conversation, the exchange of ideas, meeting people from various perspectives, and debate. Radio is a better medium than television for the serious discussion of ideas and their consequences.

[Bonus: What is one question you wish people would ask themselves?]
Why do I believe that?

Heeding Dave's request that I tag five friends, here goes:

Friday, January 05, 2007

Pray for Al Mohler

From his blog:

Dr. Mohler's health has sustained a setback. Over the past 36 hours Dr. Mohler has suffered from unrelenting pain. This unusual degree of pain signaled concern for the attending physicians and prompted additional tests this afternoon. In the past hour these tests have revealed that Dr. Mohler is suffering from pulmonary emboli in both lungs. His condition is quite serious and he has been moved to the intensive care unit of Baptist East Hospital in Louisville, KY for immediate treatment.

Please make this a matter of urgent prayer. Thank you once again for your concern and support during these days.

Update: Encouraging news from Russell Moore

Mere Mission

I hope the following excerpt from Tim Stafford's interview of N. T. Wright prompts you to read the rest:
For generations the church has been polarized between those who see the main task being the saving of souls for heaven and the nurturing of those souls through the valley of this dark world, on the one hand, and on the other hand those who see the task of improving the lot of human beings and the world, rescuing the poor from their misery.
The longer that I've gone on as a New Testament scholar and wrestled with what the early Christians were actually talking about, the more it's been borne in on me that that distinction is one that we modern Westerners bring to the text rather than finding in the text. Because the great emphasis in the New Testament is that the gospel is not how to escape the world; the gospel is that the crucified and risen Jesus is the Lord of the world. And that his death and Resurrection transform the world, and that transformation can happen to you. You, in turn, can be part of the transforming work. That draws together what we traditionally called evangelism, bringing people to the point where they come to know God in Christ for themselves, with working for God's kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. That has always been at the heart of the Lord's Prayer, and how we've managed for years to say the Lord's Prayer without realizing that Jesus really meant it is very curious. Our Western culture since the 18th century has made a virtue of separating out religion from real life, or faith from politics.When I lecture about this, people will pop up and say, "Surely Jesus said my kingdom is not of this world." And the answer is no, what Jesus said in John 18 is, "My kingdom is not from this world." That's ek tou kosmoutoutou. It's quite clear in the text that Jesus' kingdom doesn't start with this world. It isn't a worldly kingdom, but it is for this world. It's from somewhere else, but it's for this world.
Wright also addresses evangelism in a post-Christian age, the contemporary appeal of Gnosticism, and why our ideas about God must be shaped by New Testament Christology.

Modern Atheism: Old Arguments, New Tone

In a Wall Street Journal commentary, Sam Schulman, publishing director of the American, charges 21st century atheists with lacking the charm, sympathy, and depth of their tradition's forebears:
What is new about the new atheists? It's not their arguments. Spend as much time as you like with a pile of the recent anti-religion books, but you won't encounter a single point you didn't hear in your freshman dormitory. It's their tone that is novel. Belief, in their eyes, is not just misguided but contemptible, the product of provincial minds, the mark of people who need to be told how to think and how to vote--both of which, the new atheists assure us, they do in lockstep with the pope and Jerry Falwell.
For the new atheists, believing in God is a form of stupidity, which sets off their own intelligence. They write as if they were the first to discover that biblical miracles are improbable, that Parson Weems was a fabulist, that religion is full of superstition. They write as if great minds had never before wrestled with the big questions of creation, moral law and the contending versions of revealed truth. They argue as if these questions are easily answered by their own blunt materialism. Most of all, they assume that no intelligent, reflective person could ever defend religion rather than dismiss it. The reviewer of Dr. Dawkins's volume in a recent New York Review of Books noted his unwillingness to take theology seriously, a starting point for any considered debate over religion.
The faith that the new atheists describe is a simple-minded parody. It is impossible to see within it what might have preoccupied great artists and thinkers like Homer, Milton, Michelangelo, Newton and Spinoza--let alone Aquinas, Dr. Johnson, Kierkegaard, Goya, Cardinal Newman, Reinhold Niebuhr or, for that matter, Albert Einstein. But to pass over this deeper faith--the kind that engaged the great minds of Western history--is to diminish the loss of faith too. The new atheists are separated from the old by their shallowness.
An accurate description, I'd say.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Awfully Good

"God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from. He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies. Some people talk as if meeting the gaze of absolute goodness would be fun. They need to think again. They are still only playing with religion. Goodness is either the great safety or the great danger--according to the way you react to it. And we have reacted the wrong way."     - C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Gospel According to the Beatles

CT's LaTonya Taylor reviews The Gospel According to the Beatles (an excerpt from which can be read here) and Infuze Magazine's Matt Conner talks with its author, Steve Turner, about the book and Christian artists (HT: Rick Pearcey at his and wife Nancy's new blog).

Some noteworthy quotes from the interview:

Too often Christians know the Christian view on the Bible and prayer - in other words, on the overtly religious - but not on the things that take up our everyday lives. I think that has happened because Christians haven't been encouraged to think Christianly. They think Christianly about worship on Sundays but switch to a normal, secular frequency during the rest of the week.
American "Christian" TV is a huge enemy of this worldview thinking, and possibly a huge enemy of Christianity. The CCM industry also stifles it by creating a genre of music where it's possible for Christians to sing to Christians about Christian things in a Christian language. We have just developed a very narrow idea of what "Christian" is. I saw an entry in a directory for Christian artists where someone had advertised themselves as writing "poetry both Christian and non Christian." I think he meant poetry that was specifically religious and poetry that was about everday life but he had unconsciously betrayed the fact that, when he wrote asbout ordinary events in his life, he thought of these things as somehow outside his experience as a Christian. As though God is not interested in us walking, eating, fishing, playing ball, shopping, etc.

Hank Rookmaaker the Dutch art historian used to say, "Christ didn't die in order that we could go to more prayer meetings." People would gasp at this. Then he would add, "Christ died to make us fully human." That's right. He didn't die to make us religious, but to make us human. In our fallen state, we lack the completeness of our humanity. The monastic tradition makes the mistake of thinking that God is best pleased with us when we cut ourselves off from the world, deny ourselves pleasure, refrain from marriage and devote ourselves totally to religious activities. This almost assumes that God made a mistake in putting us in a world of pleasure, culture, art, nature, work, companionship, etc. Fundamentalists would hate to be compared with medieval monks but, in many ways, they suffer from the same split.
Turner is also the author of Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts, which I've read and highly recommend ton anyone interested in exploring the relationship between Christianity and creativity.