- Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
A conversation like this, or something like it, must have happened during the persecutions of the Christians in Rome.
Marcus, a Christian, meets his friend Gaius on the street.
Marcus: "How are you?"
Gaius: "Fine. Just got back from sacrificing to the emperor."
Marcus: "Sacrificing to the emperor? When did you leave the Faith?"
Gaius: "Oh, I'm still a Christian. I just realized how ridiculous this whole business of refusing to sacrifice to the emperor is."
Marcus: "How can you reconcile confessing Jesus as Lord with calling Caesar lord?"
Gaius: "See, this is where we've been getting it wrong. We've been making a big deal out of nothing. Look in the gospels. Do you see one passage where Jesus says we can't sacrifice to Caesar? No. Not one. You'd think if this thing was so important, He'd have mentioned it, wouldn't you?"
Marcus: "Jesus is the God of Israel, and He doesn't allow worship of other gods!"
Gaius: "There you go. You've got to go all the way back to the Old Testament to find your rule. Aren't we free from the Law now? Are we going to stone people for wearing mixed fabrics or eating shellfish?"
Marcus: "There's a difference between the ceremonial law and the moral law."
Gaius: "And there you go with the moral law. You realize that refusing to sacrifice makes our neighbors uncomfortable, don't you? They feel judged. My God is not a God of judgment. He's a God of love."
Marcus: "You're not a Christian anymore."
Gaius: "You're not a Christian either! You're just a hater!"
"If we say we believe God is sovereign, but spend our days wringing our hands and fretting, we're just doing lip-service to theology.
If we say we believe God is love, but spend our days berating ourselves and others, we're just doing lip-service to theology."
Lore Ferguson has a brief devotional on this theme at a new website for gospel-oriented readers and leaders, ForTheChurch, at ftc.co.
The trailer for the new movie, Little Boy, worries me. I can't tell if it's setting up a story that cautions an audience willing to believe that faith can be measured in specific acts and feelings or panders to such an audience. This review doesn't exactly answer that question, but it does imply that the faith of the boy relates to the dropping of the bomb by the same name. Maybe if they had released the film on August 6 for the 75th anniversary of the leveling of Hiroshima, we would have all gotten the connection.
I gather the movie is heavy-handed enough to need more explanation--still some people need things spelled out, you know.
Tony Woodlief, author of the concept "Dreadfully Wholesome," linked to an old article of his, in which he describes common sins of the Christian writer: neat resolutions, one-dimentional characters, sentamentality, and cleanness. On this last point, he says, "In short, if Christian novels and movies and blogs and speeches must be stripped of profanity and sensuality and critical questions, all for the sake of sparing us scandal, then we have to wonder what has happened that such a wide swath of Christendom has failed to graduate from milk to meat."
The point, of course, is not to mix a little filth into our current shallow stories. Little Boy is PG-13, I believe, because it shows some of the horrors of war and uses some contextual bigotry. It may even have smoking! That's a letter grade drop all on its own. The point, though, is to think honestly and depict reality appropriately.
A strong example of this is the recent movie, Something, Anything. I saw it on Netflix Instant a few weeks ago at a friend's recommendation. Justin Chang summaries it nicely as having a "dichotomy between materialism and spirituality, between the pleasures of a comfortably middle-class existence and the rewards of an introspective, examined one." This is not a heavy-handed movie at all. In fact, there's a touching scene in the middle that clearly shows the disconnect between two main characters. Viewers might overlook that scene because one says anything, but that appears to be the tension point between them. The husband picks up his wife's journal, exposing him to her struggling cry to God, but he just puts it back down and walks out of the room. He doesn't know how to talk about that.
If you watch Something, Anything, let's talk about it here. It's beautiful, quiet film without common sins listed above.
Gene Edward Veith writes on the horrific murders of Kenyan university students here. What impresses me most about the story, and the larger story of Christian persecution in the Islamic world, is how, despite all the coverage, nobody seems to have any plans to do anything about it. Expressions of outrage seem to be the limit.
I think I see a reason for this. Nobody really cares, because these Christians occupy no conceptual place in the mind of the world. Or at least in the mind of the world's opinion makers.
In contemporary thought, there are two religious alternatives for third world people. They can belong to indigenous religions, such as animism, or they can be Muslims.
In the eyes of the world, Christianity is a religion for white westerners only. Anyone not white or western, in this view, should not be a Christian. If they are Christian, they are somehow "inauthentic." Uncle Toms. Race traitors. In a sense they deserve anything that is done to them.
They are non-persons in the eyes of the world.
But "precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His saints" (Psalm 116:15).
A law professor talked privately to Rod Dreher about his fears for the future in the context of religious freedom bullying.
“In California right now, judges can’t belong to the Boy Scouts now. Who knows if in the future, lawyers won’t be able to belong to churches that are considered hate groups?” he said. “It’s certainly true that a lot of law firms will not now hire people who worked on cases defending those on the traditional marriage side. It’s going to close some professional doors. I certainly wouldn’t write about this stuff in my work, not if I wanted to have a chance at tenure. There’s a question among Christian law professors right now: do you write about these issues and risk tenure? This really does distort your scholarship. Christianity could make a distinct contribution to legal discussions, but it’s simply too risky to say what you really think.”These teachers, students--Christians of all professions--will have to ask themselves whether they believe Christ Jesus, whose kingdom will never end, was joking when he told us to seek his kingdom first and look to God to provide what we need.
The emerging climate on campus of microaggressions, trigger warnings, and the construal of discourse as a form of violence is driving Christian professors further into the closet, the professor said.
“If I said something that was construed as attacking a gay student, I could have my life made miserable with a year or two of litigation — and if I didn’t have tenure, there could be a chance that my career would be ruined,” he said. “Even if you have tenure, a few people who make allegations of someone being hateful can make a tenured professor’s life miserable.”
“What happened to Brendan Eich” — the tech giant who was driven out of Mozilla for having made a small donation years earlier to the Prop 8 campaign — “is going to start happening to a lot of people, and Christians had better be ready for it. The question I keep thinking about is, why would we want to do that to people? But that’s where we are now.”
"In the confused mishmash which constitutes religious education in our schools, it is considered fine to concentrate on what cakes different faith groups eat and what flags they wave. But to suggest Jesus was a unique figure in history would be seen as dangerous brainwashing, and to say ours was a basically Christian culture would be elitist."
Love is what you make it. Whatever you call love, it's all good.
Love your neighbors, like the Samaritans, except the hateful ones.
RT @rcsprouljr: #thingsJesusneversaid When the culture despises you/when perversion is protected & celebrated/when your political clout is gone all is lost.
I don't know when this Twitter hashtag was started, but it's been revived for the clash with Indiana Armies of Intolerance, who say they want to defend religious freedom, but we all know what they really want, right? It's obvious. Let's rally to drive them all out of business in the name of freedom and respect.
Last year, people were talking #ThingsJesusNeverSaid with images like these. I just shared #11.
Clearly a tag like this cuts both ways. Jesus didn't say many things, and everyone has put words into his mouth, but those who disrespect him may have done this more than anyone.
Jesus never said, "Put my name on something fun. Draw people to the Christian brand, and I will be honored."
He didn't say, "Watch yourself. If you get out of line, the Father will hammer you."
Or this, "Stop thinking about my teaching. Just believe what I say."
Feel free to add to the list.
Throckmorton describes an odd conflict of research in a recent book by George Barna and David Barton, U-Turn: Restoring America to the Strength of its Roots. "U-Turn examines current cultural trends and historical patterns," the publisher states, "to reveal that America cannot sustain its strength if it remains on its current path. Combining current research with the authors’ trademark insight and analysis, the book gives readers a unique view of the moral and spiritual condition of Americans and provides specific insights into how we can turn our nation around."
Apparently the research isn't current enough, because the group that still bears Barna's name refutes some of it. "Barna in 2011 rebuts the Barna of 2014 (which is really an amplification of Barna of 2006)," Throckmorton explains. "The 2014 Barna says '61 percent of Christian youth who attend college abandon their faith as a result.' The 2011 Barna said that statement contains two myths." Read on to learn about those myths.
Last year, the Southern Baptist Convention resolved that the Bible tells us enough about the afterlife and that experiential claims can't trump it. In light of recent bestsellers and movies, their influence on even biblically literate believers, and Scripture refusal to tell us personal experiences with the afterlife, SBC messengers "reaffirm the sufficiency of biblical revelation over subjective experiential explanations to guide one’s understanding of the truth about heaven and hell."
Yesterday, Lifeway softly announced it would follow suit, saying it is taking a new direction. A spokesman said, "We decided these experiential testimonies about heaven would not be a part of our new direction, so we stopped re-ordering them for our stores last summer."
I hope the business tactics used to obtain the Malarkey family book will not be part of this new direction as well.
Kevin Twit of Indelible Grace, at Cathedral Church of the Advent, Birmingham, Alabama, with Matt Schneider.
More from Spurgeon on 2 Timothy 4:13, in which Paul asks for someone to bring him his books.
Even an apostle must read. Some of our very ultra Calvinistic brethren think that a minister who reads books and studies his sermon must be a very deplorable specimen of a preacher. A man who comes up into the pulpit, professes to take his text on the spot, and talks any quantity of nonsense, is the idol of many. If he will speak without premeditation, or pretend to do so, and never produce what they call a dish of dead men's brains—oh! that is the preacher.
How rebuked are they by the apostle! He is inspired, and yet he wants books! He has been preaching at least for thirty years, and yet he wants books! He had seen the Lord, and yet he wants books! He had had a wider experience than most men, and yet he wants books! He had been caught up into the third heaven, and had heard things which it was unlawful for a men to utter, yet he wants books! He had written the major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books!
The apostle says to Timothy and so he says to every preacher, "Give thyself unto reading." The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men's brains, proves that he has no brains of his own. Brethren, what is true of ministers is true of all our people. You need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works, especially the Puritanic writers, and expositions of the Bible. We are quite persuaded that the very best way for you to be spending your leisure, is to be either reading or praying. You may get much instruction from books which afterwards you may use as a true weapon in your Lord and Master's service.
Jeff Robinson says many people who praise Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones seem to forget his strengths as an evangelist who prayed earnestly for revival. Pastor Tim Keller says he was wonderful influenced by Lloyd-Jones style of preaching to unbelievers, such as what Robinson describes:
In an age where it sometimes seems that John 3:16 is the earliest verse in the canon that ought to be marshalled for winning lost souls, Lloyd-Jones’s approach to evangelism might seem curious. But [Iain] Murray lists three primary reasons why the Doctor chose to use the Old Testament so often in seeking the conversion of sinners:
1. It reveals sin in its true nature. Murray writes, “Lloyd-Jones believed that the true difference between moralizing preaching on the Old Testament and true evangelistic preaching is that moralizing deals only with sin in terms of symptoms and secondary features. The essence of sin, the true seriousness of sin, can only begin to be understood when it is seen in terms of a wrong relationship and attitude to God himself.”
"[Michael] Horton shows how the Christian meganarrative is a 'counterdrama' to all of the meganarratives and metanarratives of this passing age," blogs Justin Taylor.
Anthony Bradley has written many articles on the labels that are popular among many in the church today, saying they can be problematic. Communities that push themselves to be "radical," "missional," or "organic" may set themselves up for an alternative legalism that measures other believers by their activity instead of looking to our hope in Christ.
"To be fair," he writes, "the impulse that formed these tribes comes from a good place. They are all seeking to be faithful to what the Scriptures teach and are reacting to real problems that exist in the life of God’s people. The problem is that tribalism can cultivate a debilitating sense of shame and feelings of unworthiness that discourages God’s people from enjoying simple norms expressed in the dynamism of the ordinary."
He goes on to give seven points of garden-variety Christianity that will change the world. "The good life, then, the one that God has always used in his redemptive mission, is the one that brings glory to God by loving him and loving neighbor."
"The so-called 'war' between faith and learning, specifically between orthodox Christian theology and science, was manufactured during the second half of the nineteenth century. It is a construct that was created for polemical purposes."
Justin Taylor explains this quote from historian Timothy Larsen by pointing to the popular work of two men:
- Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918), the founding president of Cornell University, and
- John William Draper (1811-1882), professor of chemistry at the University of New York.
"One of the dangers of evangelical publishing is the desire to say something novel," Tom Schreiner observes. "Our evangelical publishing houses could end up like those in Athens so long ago: 'Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new' (Acts 17:21, NASB)."
He says this in relation to the many books producing in support of egalitarian relationships.
Dr. Martin Marty, who has written his own book on Martin Luther, praise a new book from Westminster Theological Seminary Professor Carl Trueman.
"What readers must by the end have found remarkable is the way Dr. Trueman has brought clarity and some sense of system to the often obscure, paradoxical, and anything-but-systematic writings of Luther on the Christian life. I would argue that Trueman has served well by keeping his feet on firm ground as he has stood on an approach to Christian life which he sometimes calls Presbyterian or Reformed or evangelical, often in differing combinations."
Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom, from the Theologians on the Christian Life series by Crossway, was released this month.
"If a more provocative book has been written in the last 10 years, I haven’t read it," states Collin Hansen. "But that’s not because David Platt rejects biblical teaching, as we’ve seen with some other young pastors. And that’s not because Counter Culture advances any particular sectarian theological agenda that would repel other evangelicals. Counter Culture is the most controversial book I’ve seen in at least the last decade mostly because he restates the teaching of Jesus and his Word without any qualifications, with little attempt to cast such demanding beliefs in a way that would appeal to modern readers."
Hansen marvels at Platt's boldness, quoting him on our resistance to God's direction: "If there were 1,000 ways to God, we would want 1,001."
I remember my high school history teacher explaining that though "fundamentalist" was a term of disapproval, all believers held to the fundamentals of the Bible, so we could all be called fundamentalists. That may have been one of the many encouragements I've received over the years that has made me comfortable with political and theological labels. I think I'm stepping away from that now.
Dr. Matthew Hall reviews Matthew Sutton's new history of twentieth century evangelicalism, American Apocalypse. He says evangelicals tried to distinguish themselves from fundamentalists in different ways, but in fact they were more similar than they wanted to admit. "The entire tradition shares a premillennial expectation of an imminent and traumatic second coming of Christ," Hall writes. Sutton believes that primary context shaped many theological doctrines.
American Apocalypse will make a great many evangelical readers uncomfortable. Because of his extensive work in primary sources, Sutton has—better than anyone else—documented the ways in which some of the most prominent, and beloved, white evangelical and fundamentalist figures were enmeshed within their own cultural context. This enculturation manifested itself routinely in anti-Semitism, white supremacy, and nativism. Whether it’s reading Harold Ockenga’s anti-Semitic assessment of Jews in Hollywood, or the myriad of voices justifying white supremacy and indicting racial intermarriage, Sutton shows how these attitudes weren’t on the fringe of the movement. Rather, they often inhabited its center.
Historian Thomas Kidd is writing about Josiah Franklin, candlemaker and Benjamin Frankin's Calvinist father.
In the late 1670s a wave of intense persecution came against nonconformists across England, as many church and government officials regarded them as dangerous incendiaries who might once again threaten the stability of the nation. . . . University of Oxford officials sanctioned the public burning of writings by non-Anglican luminaries such as John Milton. Even pacifist Quakers, who would soon found Franklin’s longtime home of Pennsylvania, were jailed under brutal conditions and died by the hundreds during the 1680s. Northamptonshire was a hotbed of nonconformity, and in one episode in the mid-1680s more than fifty members of landowning gentry were arrested on suspicion of seditious religious activity.
D.A. Carson has a revision to one of his older books now available with a complementary study guide and DVD. The new edition is called Praying With Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation. Here's an excerpt from that book.
His points in this post are moving. I particularly like this one on steering your heart into action.
8. Pray until you pray.
This is Puritan advice. It does not simply mean that persistence should mark much of our praying—though admittedly that is a point the Scriptures repeatedly make. Even though he was praying in line with God’s promises, Elijah prayed for rain seven times before the first cloud appeared in the heavens. . . . That is not quite what the Puritans mean when they exhorted one another to “pray until you pray.” What they mean is that Christians should pray long enough and honestly enough, at a single session, to get past the feeling of formalism and unreality that attends not a little praying. We are especially prone to such feelings when we pray for only a few minutes, rushing to be done with a mere duty. To enter the spirit of prayer, we must stick to it for a while. If we “pray until we pray,” eventually we come to delight in God’s presence, to rest in his love, to cherish his will. Even in dark or agonized praying, we somehow know we are doing business with God. In short, we discover a little of what Jude means when he exhorts his readers to pray “in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 20)—which presumably means it is treacherously possible to pray not in the Spirit.
Robert P. George, a Princeton professor and vice chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, has offered to be beaten on behalf of Saudi Arabian activist Raif Badawi. George is joined by six other professors and religious liberty advocates in offering to take 100 lashes each.
Raif Badawi has been accused of insulting Islam. His sentence is 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes of which he has received fifty.
In a letter to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the group wrote, "If your government will not remit the punishment of Raif Badawi, we respectfully ask that you permit each of us to take 100 of the lashes that would be given to him. We would rather share in his victimization than stand by and watch him being cruelly tortured."
George told PRI that it was "hypocritical" for Saudi leaders "to march in solidarity with the victims of terrorism and persecution for speaking their minds in Europe and then to practice that same abuse on people for speaking their minds ... in their own country."
While it's unthinkable the Saudis would accept this offer, George said they didn't make it half-heartedly.
The publisher of the book The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven is saying it knew nothing of Beth and Alex Malarkey's complaints about the book until recently when Alex finally got through to the world that the book didn't tell his story.
Tyndale says they tried to meet with the family and the agent who largely wrote the book, but Beth would not agree. Phil Johnson interprets the situation as being less than supportive.
“The thread that runs through all their correspondence with Beth is that they wanted to corner her before they would be willing to investigate her concerns,” [Johnson] wrote to the Guardian. “They kept pressing her to agree to a meeting where she and Alex would have to face Kevin and a phalanx of editors who were determined to press ahead with the project, no matter what objections Alex and she might have.”
We saw the same thing in Beth's account from her blog. Company men had their own ideas, like journalists with a template, and kept pressing Alex to give them the details they wanted.
Warren Throckmorton notes Tyndale doubled down on this book last year when they released a pocket edition. These are not the marks of a Christian ministry. These are the marks of a purely market-driven organization.
As [Dr. J. Kameron] Carter explains it, white churches that sprang up throughout American history did so in the pattern of the great European cathedrals and denominations from which they were transplanted. Black church, while it is related to those European frameworks, "is in excess of them," says Carter, meaning they "were already doing work beyond what those traditional denominations were doing."Brandon Ambrosino has written a lengthy interview with three scholars on Dr. King and the black experience in America.
"In the face of a modern condition that told Blacks they were only worthy of their labor power, black churches came along and affirmed that there was a mode of life far beyond the woundings that came along with black existence in America."
This is the tradition that produced King. And it's the same tradition that produced other civil rights leaders, like Rosa Parks and Ella Baker.
Dr. Anthony Bradley describes a problem Christians of any tradition should grapple with, that even great theologians and Christian leaders don't apply their theology uniformly well. They have blind spots, sometimes embarrassing ones.
This video is on Westminster Theological's post for Martin Luther King Day, which has a few books and stories from seminary alumni. Rev. C. Herbert Oliver graduated in 1953 has an interesting story to tell. You can read it on their site. Here, I'll quote his answer to the question on what changes he has seen in our country over 60 years:
Theologically, I would say that I’ve seen what I would call the disturbing trend in the PCUSA, moving in the direction of ordaining open gay and lesbian ministers. I’ve been a member of the New York City presbytery for 45 years, and I saw how that change took place. I opposed it at the beginning, but they had a way of shunning you to the side and not hearing you. So I decided I would become an observer and watch this and see how it has worked out. It has worked out to me unfavorably, and against the Bible, so they now have an openly gay executive presbyter of the presbytery.
I’ve also not seen any basic racial changes for the better in the church. I’m sorry to say that, but I ran into the same racism in the PCUSA church as I found in the OPC. When I graduated from seminary, there was no place for me to serve. There were plenty of churches that were vacant, but none of them would call me. It was understood by the higher-ups in the church that there was no future for me being called to a white church. That’s when the call came to me to serve in Maine, and I accepted that and went there and served. But the racial divide in America is still as strong as it was in the 40’s and 50’s. Just more polite, but it is no less real, no less firm, and no less impregnable.
The subject of the book The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven has released a letter denying his claims in the book, something his mother has been doing for a few years.
"I did not die," Alex says. "I did not go to Heaven. I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention."
Publisher Tyndale has responded by pulling the book and related materials.
If you read the accounts from Alex's mother, Beth, you may ask how a publisher of Christian books for the body of Christ could railroad her and her son (apparently with the father's permission) to publish a book with such terrible theology. In a post from September 2013 which offers a timeline of details following the accident, Beth tells us some of her interaction with people wanting to turn her family's story into books and a movie.
I neither verbally nor in writing gave approval for any quotes. In fact I instead verbally gave my desire to not have any quotes by me put in any book. There was a time that I was sitting in PICU and told over the phone that some words from a webpage that no longer exists (prayforalex.com) that were written by me were going to be placed in the book. I was sitting in PICU with Alex! I told the person that they could not do that, to which they said they could and that that site was public. GRRR....the best I could do was to tell the person that they had better get every word correct. I have documentation of what is written in the book and that post from the webpage. The two do not match up :( It saddened me more to learn that that interaction that was twisted is part of a Bible study...what? I certainly have witnessed some shocking things!Money, she says, was the driving factor for these people, and they promised money to her for Alex, but she has not seen any of it.
Bart Ehrman, author of How Jesus Became God and Misquoting Jesus, talks with World's Warren Cole Smith about his new book arguing Jesus did not claim to be God. He says, "It has long been recognized by scholars that if Jesus actually had called himself God, and it was known that he called Himself God, that it’s virtually beyond belief that the early Gospel writers didn’t mention this."
The publisher of Ehrman's book thought it would sell books to publish a companion book arguing that Jesus is God, so they approached five authors to write it. Ehrman says in the interview that he doesn't believe those authors believe Jesus taught the doctrine of the Trinity during his lifetime. "Scholars," he says, believe John's Gospel put words in Jesus' mouth, so he did not actually say, "I and the Father are one," or other claims to divinity. I suppose any evidence to support this belief is in his book.
Apparently the demonstrations of divine authority in Matthew 8-9 do not argue for Jesus' deity, but merely his agency of divine power. He was a prophet, nothing more:
- "When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, 'Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.'"
- "And the men marveled, saying, 'What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?'"
- "'But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins'—he then said to the paralytic—'Rise, pick up your bed and go home.'"
- "And when the demon had been cast out, the mute man spoke. And the crowds marveled, saying, 'Never was anything like this seen in Israel.'"
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.
Ehrman gets hung up on the doctrine of the Trinity in the interview, pressing Smith on whether the five evangelical authors actually believe Jesus taught the Trinity.Read the rest of this entry . . .
Greg Thornbury writes about his upbringing and how his Christian liberal arts education almost took his faith away.
For me, this dose of higher criticism was nearly lethal. Any sense that the Bible was divinely inspired and trustworthy, or that the creeds had metaphysical gravitas, started to seem implausible. The best I could muster was that, somehow mystically, perhaps Jesus was the Christ, existentially speaking. I was approaching something close to New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman’s own story of losing faith.By God's profound grace, the writings of one man turned him around.
A blessed Christmas to you all. Here's Sissel with what I think is my favorite Christmas hymn. We sang it in church tonight, complete with the old lyrics: "Pleased as man with man to dwell," "Born to raise the sons of earth," and all that. I felt like I'd gotten a Christmas present. I punch those lyrics when I sing them.