Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Passing of a Friend...

An Obituary . . .

Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, 'Common Sense', who has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was, since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape.

He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as:

Knowing when to come in out of the rain; why the early bird gets the worm; life isn't always fair; and maybe it was my fault.

Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than you can earn) and reliable strategies (adults, not children, are in charge).

His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place. Reports of a 6-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended from school for using mouth wash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition.

Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the job that they themselves had failed to do in disciplining their unruly children.

It declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer sun lotion or an aspirin to a student, but could not inform parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion.

Common Sense lost the will to live as the churches became businesses, and criminals received better treatment than their victims.

Common Sense took a beating when you couldn't defend yourself from a burglar in your own home, and the burglar could sue you for assault.

Common Sense finally gave up the will to live after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in her lap, and was promptly awarded a huge settlement.

Common Sense was preceded in death, by his parents, Truth and Trust. His wife, Discretion,
his daughter, Responsibility, his son, Reason.

He is survived by his 4 stepbrothers; I Know My Rights; I Want It Now; Someone Else Is To Blame; I'm A Victim.

Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone...


Family Man

Sorry, folks

I had to unashamedly steal this one from Chris Brooks! I thought it was really powerful, and simply watching it will bless you:

Of course, being Steve, I do have to analyze this a bit...

What do you think of the idea of Christians prioritizing family over, say, seeking first the Kingdom? I mean, nobody ever calls it that, but it certainly happens! I guess where is the line? How do we live in the tension of loving our families, like this video so beautifully portrays, and counting all things loss for the sake of Christ?

If we do not do this well, then we simply live for ourselves... we simply turn our family into an idol.

Maybe that's a little too much for this post! Maybe I should just leave the video as is and let it speak to you. But I thought some ruminating on this point might be strategic in light of the video content.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Passionately Pro Choice?

If you had an hour to talk with this girl, what would you say to her?

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Thought of the Day

"Those who are wholly God’s are always satisfied, for they desire only that which He wills, and are ready to do whatever He requires. They are ready to strip themselves of all things, and are sure to find a hundredfold in that nakedness." – Fénelon

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Sex Talk

I had the rather remarkable experience Monday of sitting down with my 8-year old son Benjamin at Baskin Robbins and having The Talk.

Not that I wanted to.

I grew up in the 70's, with The Waltons and Good Times and Little House on the Prairie on TV. John Denver and Stevie Wonder were on the radio. Families went camping for vacation. The raciest programming before Dallas debuted in the late 70's was Happy Days!

So I had no clue about sex whatsoever. It was actually a bike injury (don't ask) that prompted my stepdad to have The Talk with me. At age 11.

I love my little boy very much. It was a very short time ago that he held my hand crossing streets... that he still watched "Bob the Builder". I realize that he is in fact growing up very quickly, and that part of my job is to equip him for the real, fallen, world. But I resented having to have the talk now. I resented having to remove a layer of my oldest son's innocence.

And that's exactly what it was: I had to have the talk.

Everything around him screams of sex. And I can't even blame the TV, since my kids are limited to about two hours on Saturday and no more.

Every billboard, radio program, song, advertisement... everything seems to be screaming sex or showing nearly naked women. In fact, I found him once recently staring at a woman in the Chicago Tribune who was posed provocatively in her underwear for some bra company.

But get this: My kid got most curious by looking through the Bible he was required to have for school. Not the text of the Bible, but rather the notes the publisher puts all over the thing to help kids get what the text is saying. So this KIDS Bible was my son's most compelling introduction to the word.

And why did the publishers feel compelled to talk about sex in the notes of their kids Bible? Because they pretty much have to. Same reason I had to have The Talk with an 8 year old. If they don't, the reasoning goes, peers will. And they're probably right.

So I'm glad it was me talking to my son and not some teacher or peer. But I grieved a little nonetheless. I wished we could have had The Talk a couple years down the road. I wished that innocence could have been held onto a little longer, but my son's pressing questions could not be deflected any more.

So it's done. At least this installment of the conversation. It went well, as far as I can tell. And I'm sure that there will be many, many more installments to the Conversation.

But I have three more coming behind him.

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Western Union Woes

Today I had to transfer money via Western Union. I decided, foolishly, that doing it online would be faster and easier.

Silly me...

As I sit here writing, I am on the phone with the security guy at Western Union Customer Service who is asking me questions about the car I drive, my former employer, what street I live on, my shoe size, etc. This is after my credit card company (I have a Chase Platinum Master Card with a $19,000 limit) initially stopped payment and I had to call them to see why and to get my stuff reactivated. AND... that actually happened after the second attempt. My first attempt ended with a malfunction of the Western Union website. Ha...

Mind you, though I'm not rich I do have a good credit rating and no payments due on my card. I usually pay the whole thing off whenever there is a balance. They thought a wire transfer to Kenya looked fishy for some reason...

So I called Chase and got everything straightened out and then went back to the Western Union website to start the process all over, only to get to the end and find this notification that I had to complete my transaction by phone. Thus, the loooooooong phone call.

So the call is over now and my money is transferred. All $280 of it.

That's right. $280.

I appreciate all the security stuff, but I wasn't transferring a zilion dollars or anything. We have a partner church in Nairobi and I was sending them money to help a young man in their church finish school. Money our youth group had raised.

It took an hour.

I could've walked to a freakin' Western Union franchise somewhere in the neighborhood and done it faster. Heck, I could've taken the train downtown and back and done it faster.

Moral of the story: Don't use Western Union's Internet money transfer service.

Unless you have time to kill...

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Is the Resurrection Really True?

I teach a young adult class (18-25) on Sunday mornings that is gradually developing into a viable ministry in our church. Since January, we have been covering the book of 1 Corinthians in some detail, going through each passage exegetically, and to say the least it has been an educational experience for me.

So now we're covering chapter 15, which is basically Paul's apologetic on the resurrection. To stimulate discussion last week, I gave them a very critical article by John Spong, who demands that Easter be reinterpreted and completely dismisses any idea of bodily resurrection. Interestingly, he employs Scripture to make his case.

So the article caused a bit of a stir among my students, many of who had never encountered any serious higher criticism of the Bible. Talk about equipping twenty-somethings for the real world! I had my work cut out for me...

This class is remarkably intelligent - certainly more so than their teacher - with many students in very secular (and often hostile) college environments. As a result, our discussions have been very intense and everyone seems to come to class hungry. It's a teacher's dream! In an effort to really feed and equip these kids, I have written a very brief rebuttal to Spong's article. I have included it below.

Feel free to comment or jump in on the discussion...

What Spong is Saying and My Answer

Spong bases his argument against a bodily resurrection on a deconstruction of the four Gospel narratives. In other words, as expressed in his last paragraph, the Bible itself is the evidence against a bodily resurrection: If one looks at it in order and from the “right” point of view, one will clearly see that the bodily resurrection of Jesus grew into a myth over time.

I want to look at Spong’s main points and respond very briefly to each of them, but first I think it would be profitable to take a quick look at Spong himself to get an idea of what he thinks and where he’s coming from.

Here’s a sample from his website:
About Bishop Spong
John Shelby Spong, whose books have sold more than a million copies, was bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark for 24 years before his retirement in 2001. His admirers acclaim him as a teaching bishop who makes contemporary theology accessible to the ordinary layperson — he's considered the champion of an inclusive faith by many, both inside and outside the Christian church. In one of his recent books, The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible's Texts of Hate to Discover the God of Love (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2005), this visionary thinker seeks to introduce readers to a proper way to engage the holy book of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

John Shelby Spong on the Terrible Texts of the Bible
RELIGIOUS BIGOTRY: [One of many examples]
"No one comes to the Father but by me" (John 14:6)
This text has helped to create a world where adherents of one religion feel compelled to kill adherents of another. A veritable renaissance of religious terror now confronts us and is making against us the claims we have long made against religious traditions different from our own.

This is from Wikipedia:
Quoting Spong: “Martin Luther ignited the Reformation of the 16th century by nailing to the door of the church in Wittenberg in 1517 the 95 Theses that he wished to debate. I will publish this challenge to Christianity in The Voice. I will post my theses on the Internet and send copies with invitations to debate them to the recognized Christian leaders of the world. My theses are far smaller in number
than were those of Martin Luther, but they are far more threatening theologically. The issues to which I now call the Christians of the world to debate are these:

1. Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak of God must be found.
2. Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt.
3. The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.
4. The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes Christ's divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible.
5. The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity.
6. The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed.
7. Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It
therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history.
8. The story of the Ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post-Copernican space age.
9. There is no external, objective, revealed standard writ in scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time.
10. Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.
11. The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior control mentality of reward and punishment. The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behavior.
12. All human beings bear God's image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one's being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination.

So I set these theses today before the Christian world and I stand ready to debate each of them as we prepare to enter the third millennium.”

Gerald O'Collins, Professor of Fundamental Theology, Gregorian University, Rome,
argued that Spong’s "work simply does not belong to the world of international
scholarship. No genuine scholar will be taken in by this book. ... What is said
about a key verb
St. Paul uses in Galatians 1:15f. shows that the bishop [Spong] has forgotten any Greek that he knew. [Spong argued his case based on a Greek word that is not in the passage[4]]... [my] advice for his next book is to let some real experts check it before publication."[5]

One critical book is entitled
Can a Bishop Be Wrong? Ten Scholars Challenge John Shelby Spong, edited by Peter Moore.

Rowan Williams, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote a response to Spong's 12 points in 1998, when he was the Bishop of Monmouth. Williams wrote that "... I cannot in any way see Bishop Spong's theses as representing a defensible or even an interesting Christian future. And I want to know whether the Christian past scripture and tradition, really appears to him as empty and sterile as this text suggests."[1]

My point is this: Spong has already decided that a supernatural god is a myth created by the primitive human mind, so he views all Scripture and theology through that lens. In other words, his predispositions color all of his thinking and make him anything but open-minded, and his interpretations of Scripture follow suit. He looks to Scripture to vindicate the position he has already decided on. This has to be taken into account when one reads Spong, just like the Evangelical assumption that there is a God who does supernatural things has to be taken into account when reading Evangelicals.

Spong’s Main Points:

1) Dating of the gospels in relation to Paul
a. The gospels were written after Paul died (late dating) so…
Most liberal scholars prefer later dates for the gospels. Some even a late as the 2nd century. One of the main reasons for this is the prediction of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (See Matthew 24:2; Mark 13:2; and especially the detailed passages in Luke 19:41ff; Lk 21:20). The reasoning is that predictive prophecy is not actually possible, and since the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. the Gospels must have been written afterwards. Such a position makes one blind to evidence to the contrary. There is abundant evidence and sound reasoning to date the gospels much earlier than liberal scholars tend to do. I can provide you with materials if you like.
b. Paul never read the gospels and so…
“Paul never had a chance to read the Easter story in any Gospel. The tragedy of later Christian history is that we read Paul through the lens of the Gospels” (Spong). Even if Paul never had access to the written forms of any of the gospels, this argument has very little credibility. There are two reasons for this: First, the material that the gospels were taken from was commonly known in the early church in the form of hymns and brief creeds, as well as eyewitness accounts and oral histories. Indeed, this is the very material Luke compiled to write his gospel. All of it was commonly known to all Christians before Mark ever wrote his first gospel, so even if the Gospels were not inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul had plenty of access to all the material he needed if indeed he needed it. It is perfectly reasonable to read Paul through the lens of the Gospels. The second reason is that Paul claims he was given the gospel (Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose on the third day, 1 Cor. 15:1-11) personally by Jesus Himself, and not from any person (Gal. 1:11-12, cf. 1 Cor. 15:3a). That means he neither relied on a hopped-up myth developed by the early church nor on any other accounts. Jesus gave Paul the same Gospel He gave to the Gospel writers. If this is not true, Paul was either a pathological liar or completely deluded.

c. Paul had a different view of the resurrection
I’ll talk a little more in the section on Paul’s “version” of the resurrection in the section on that issue. For this section, it is sufficient to say that Paul’s view is no different than John’s, Luke’s or anyone else’s. Spong’s dates are wrong, but even if they weren’t, it’s folly to think that the early church was confused about the resurrection. It was the central theme of all its preaching.

2) The bodily resurrection is missing in Mark, the earliest gospel
In Mark 8:31 and 10:34, Jesus predicts His death and resurrection. In Mark 9:9, He states it as a fact. The rest of the book assumes a resurrection (e.g. 12:18-27) and the very idea of resurrection assumes a physical body. In the Hebrew mind, man was a unified whole: Mind, body and spirit. To try to separate the idea of a physical body being raised in Jesus’ predictions of His own resurrection seems to be inconsistent at best. Even if the last few verses of Mark are inserted, the whole book is still a solid argument for an actual resurrection.

3) The resurrection account grew over the years
This position ignores Jesus own predictions of His resurrection in Mark, Paul’s insistence on a bodily resurrection of Jesus in 1 Corinthians (written around 55 A.D.), and the Old Testament prophecies of a resurrected Messiah (Psalm 16:10 cf. Ac. 2:27 and 13:35-37; Isa. 53:11). It also depends on a construct that is unique to liberal scholars who begin with the bias of antisupernaturalism. It is very fair to say that Paul and all the gospels agree on a bodily resurrection. The degree of detail varies from book to book, but that is to be expected in independent eyewitness accounts.

4) The underlying unreliability of Scripture in general and the Gospels in particular (e.g. inconsistent resurrection accounts, etc.)
One has to admit that there are apparent inconsistencies in the Gospel accounts, as well as other problems in Scripture. Taken on a superficial level, these are what account for all the claims of “contradictions” in the Bible from skeptics (though most skeptics would be hard pressed to cite specific examples). There is not sufficient space in this article to make a detailed case for the integrity of Scripture or to answer the specific charges that Spong makes in his article, so I will have to refer you to a wealth of materials that are available regarding both issues. Nonetheless, a few things are worth mentioning. Regarding the apparent inconsistencies in the Gospel accounts, it is noteworthy that external harmonization of the account was never done. If the discrepancies were so problematic, and since there were abundant opportunities to edit out discrepancies over the centuries, why was this never done? Why were the accounts never smoothed out? Brilliant minds have examined Scripture for centuries and yet no one has made a case so convincing that it could free the believing masses from their “delusion” (though is really trying). I think the answer is that the accounts were different in the details because they were just that – eyewitness accounts. Nobody would expect four witnesses to any given event to have exactly the same account of every detail. People highlight the things that stand out to them or that they want to emphasize. Things like the number of angels or women at the tomb being inconsistent is not a problem at all, in my opinion. The different writers merely named the ones they felt needed to be named. They did not limit the number of people present. A lot of work has been done to set out an orderly account of the resurrection and post-resurrection appearances using all the information in the gospels, so I can make that available to you. One good resource is
The Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, as well as numerous scholarly works and commentaries. As for the integrity of Scripture, it is hard to deny the self-revelation God does to the one who actually believes and obeys Scripture (John 14:21). That does not win arguments, but it does bring peace and assurance! There have been so many excellent volumes written on the reliability of Scripture that it is not worth space trying to do that here. Here are some: The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (F.F. Bruce); The Case for Christ (Lee Strobel); Systematic Theology Volume 1 (Norman Geisler); Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Kind of entry-level, by Josh McDowell); and many others.

5) What actually happened to the disciples after the crucifixion
Spong says this: “What Paul does suggest is that Easter meant that God had acted to reverse the verdict that the world had pronounced on Jesus by raising Jesus from death into God. It was, therefore, out of God in a transforming kind of heavenly vision that this Jesus then appeared to certain chosen witnesses.” And, “Something happened after the crucifixion of Jesus that convinced the disciples that Jesus shared in the eternal life of God and was thus available to them as a living presence. This experience was so profound that the disciples, who at his arrest had fled in fear, were now reconstituted and empowered even to die for the truth of their vision.” Even Spong has to admit that something really significant happened. It is difficult to imagine the early church preaching the message that it did (Jesus was raised from the dead) and suffering the consequent persecution for that message if they were not convinced of something very powerful. It is what that “something” is that is at stake here. So the disciples saw some kind of vision? An individual may be willing to die for a vision, but to convince thousands of individuals who did not see the vision to die for it is entirely something else. I think perhaps Spong needs to be a bit more skeptical, starting with his own theses. Does he really think that the massive changes wrought by the early church were a result of Jesus’ disciples having a group vision? Even a very convincing one? No. They were willing to die for the same reason we are: A very real and alive Jesus. It is true that I have not seen the risen Jesus in His resurrection body, but I have surely encountered Him nonetheless. Spong might say that is all that happened to the 11. But they also saw Him hanging on a Roman cross. And from the beginning they preached an alive Jesus – not a Jesus “raised into God”, whatever that means. The real problem is the persecution. It makes sense that the Jews would have an issue with the disciples for preaching a physically raised Jesus. What does not make sense is being persecuted for a “vision”. Spong is trying way to hard to demythologize something that is obviously supernatural.

6) Paul never mentions a bodily resurrected Jesus
Paul’s argument in 1 Cor. 15 is that: 1) The resurrection of Christ is fundamental and essential to the Gospel, 2) That if there is no resurrection from the dead, then even Christ has not been raised, and if so our faith is futile, and 3) The very nature of resurrection is a physical, supernatural, indestructible body. It is rather difficult to believe that Paul did not have Jesus in mind as well in his description of resurrected people; Jesus’ physical resurrection was his starting point. He even goes so far as to define in detail what that resurrection body is in the last half of 1 Cor. 15. In the 23 verses of 1 Cor. 15:35-58, Paul uses the term swma (sūma) “body” or sarx (sarx) “flesh” 19 times! (15 explicit, 4 implicit) How Spong gets no “body” out of Paul’s description of resurrection, I have no idea. If Spong is right and there is no bodily resurrected Jesus in any of Paul’s writings, then we must assume that Paul was making the bodily resurrection case for everyone except Jesus. That is not Scholarship on Spong’s part. That’s satire.

7) The Bible teaches that Jesus was physically resuscitated
This is particularly troublesome to me, since Spong must know that The Bible does not say this and Christianity has never taught this. He seems to be deliberately and irresponsibly misleading in his very thesis – he’s setting up a straw man he can burn down. Either that or he is working with a completely different set of terms and defining them differently, or, he is completely ignorant of what the Christian faith has taught for two millennia. The Bible teaches that Lazarus et al were physically resuscitated – that is, simply raised from the dead – and that Jesus was resurrected in a supernatural, physical body. So He was also raised from the dead, but very differently: In a body that would never die again. Spong seems to badly cloud the definition of these terms.

Some of Spong’s misrepresentations:

· “No one suggests that Paul ever saw a resuscitated body.” – Of course not. The use of the term “resuscitated body” is misleading and disingenuous. Paul saw the resurrected Jesus in His glory. First, the resurrection body Paul describes in 1 Cor. 15 is not “resuscitated” like Lazarus was. It is supernatural. Second, Jesus makes many appearances in His glorified form, such as in Daniel (Dan. 10:4-6), the Transfiguration (Mt. 17:1-13; Mk. 9:2-13; Lk. 9:28-36), and in Revelation (Rev. 1:12-17). Paul saw the risen, glorified Christ. Paul argues for bodily resurrection in 1 Cor. 15:35-58.

· “Here the distance between the Christianity of biblical scholarship and the Christianity of the fundamentalists opens and begins to widen.” – Spong makes it seem as if the clueless (i.e. not scholarly) fundamentalists are the only ones left who believe in a literal resurrection. This is bad information on two counts. First, the bodily resurrection of Jesus has been held by almost all Christians – Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant – for two thousand years. If anything, it is Spong’s position that is out of the mainstream. Second, Spong redefines fundamentalism. Clearly he is using it in a derogatory fashion to describe all Christians who believe in the supernatural, and the term is clouded enough in contemporary culture that he can get away with it. In reality, the term can be taken in two ways in the contemporary Christian lexicon. There are self-identified Fundamentalists (usually Independent Baptists) who are very conservative and somewhat isolationist. They represent a facet of conservative Evangelicalism. There is also the broader use of the term which describes the large group of Protestants that split off of Mainline denominations in alliance with many conservative denominations in response to the Modernist movement of the late 19th century. These people espoused the “Fundamentals of the Faith” and became today’s Evangelicals. Any other use of the term “fundamentalist” is derogatory and reflects the emerging secular understanding of the term, which is analogous to Islamic fundamentalism.

· “If the body of Jesus was not physically restored to life, the fundamentalists claim, then Easter is fraudulent.” – I already made my point about how misleading this wording is. The fundamentalists’ claim is that Jesus was resurrected, not “physically restored to life.” Spong is playing a semantics game that makes him appear to be making a point, but falls flat.

· “Paul did not envision the Resurrection as Jesus being restored to life in this world but as Jesus being raised into God.” – The first statement is patently false, as 1 Cor. 15:35-58 clearly demonstrates, and the second statement is Spong’s own unique construct. It’s not even clear what “raised into God” means, especially since Spong does not believe in an actual, theistic God. Paul certainly does not ever say Jesus was “raised into God”, and it seems doubtful that so many Christians would have been killed over preaching something so nebulous and innocuous.

· “Both Matthew, who wrote between 80-85, and Luke, who wrote between 88-92, had Mark to guide their compositions. Both changed, heightened and expanded Mark.” – This represents only one of many schools of thought on the dating of the Gospels, and it assumes one built on another. He of course automatically rules out any possibility that the texts were inspired. It is a classic position of theological liberalism and has been thoroughly answered many times.

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