Friday, May 29, 2009

Twitter in Church?

Time magazine had an article on the appropriateness of using Twitter during a church service. As I've said before the whole phenomena of Twitter is beyond me. I'm simply not that tech savvy. Josh Harris has cast his vote as solid no. I do know that when I'm with my son and he starts "texting" his friends I find myself very distracted. I know there is a conversation going on but I have no way to contribute other than "What did you say?" "What did they say?". Not the same thing as a conversation. Furthermore, I start to feel like my own company must be dreadfully boring since he feels the need to start a conversation with someone who may not even be in the same town. "Give me anybody but dad to talk to!" He assures me I'm overreacting. But that leads me to thinking about someone tweeting during a church service. While I've not experienced it (that I know of) I think I would find it distracting. Can we not sit still for one hour without the need to employ the latest technology for whatever reason? Here's how Harris put it:

"Even if I didn't look at anything else, the mere act of "tweeting" some quote or question or thought from the sermon would be several minutes in which I wasn't actively listening to the sermon. Brain space would be taken up with typing and getting my word count under 140. God's word preached is so important, so precious, I don't want anything to distract me from hearing it. What if those two minutes in which I'm distracted are the two minutes my soul needs the most?"
On the other hand how is this any different from taking notes with pen and paper? I often find myself writing down notes and, yes, sometimes I do lose what is being said during that time. Should we cease taking notes during a sermon? (Frankly, I rarely keep any of my sermon notes. But I find my retention is much greater if I write down at least a rough outline. ) I suppose if someone were tweeting next to me I might find it distracting. Perhaps it would be something I would just get used to. I'm not sure. Some of the other concerns that Harris expressed such as the temptation to check email, prompting other people to pull out their phones and start tweeting or checking email should not be too quickly dismissed. We should be sensitive to any activity that may distract us or those around us. I think if someone next to me politely said "I would like to take a few notes on my latest new gadget. If you find it distracting please let me know and I will stop" that would go a long way with me. You never know, perhaps after the service I might learn a little something about all this new technology and I might make a new friend.

Update: John Piper has weighed in and not surprisingly agrees with Harris. Since most of their comments and concerns are unrelated to "note taking" it seems they have a point. Tweeting, as I'm beginning to understand, is a sort of running commentary and that seems a rather strange thing to do during the service. Can't we wait till the end of the service to engage in commentary? Are anyone's thoughts all that important that they can't wait an hour? What does it say about how we esteem the practice of worship if we think it is more important to comment on it rather than do it?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Glittering Vices - A Review

Imagine with me that you go to the doctor and tell her you are experiencing a couple of symptoms but never gave it much thought because you’ve coped okay with it but would still like a diagnosis. After many tests you return to see her and she informs you that you have cancer. Then before you can wrap your head around it she tells you that you have Leukemia, Lupus and Lou Gehrig’s disease. As you sit there in stunned silence she says, “It’s okay I have the cure for all of them.” That’s how I felt reading Rebecca DeYoung’s book Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins. DeYoung was my doctor and with each chapter I was diagnosed in vivid detail with the gravity of the vices in my life. But at the end of each chapter came the remedies which are all rooted in the grace of God.

DeYoung is serious about these vices which is contrary to our contemporary society which takes pleasure in mocking them. She is equally serious about not obsessing over them but rather thinking through them in the broader context of spiritual formation. (10) It helps to know what our problems are so we can better deal with them. If I don’t know I have a disease it can’t be treated. If I don’t think I’m guilty of, say, sloth then we will not pursue the remedy. Herein lies the problem. Our culture has so redefined, trivialized, or marginalized these vices that we don’t give them a second thought except to say “that’s not me” or “so what if it is—what’s the harm?”

DeYoung starts with a brief history of the seven sins which originally were eight. Along the way the list was modified and eventually settled in at seven: vainglory, envy, sloth, avarice (greed), wrath (anger), lust and gluttony. (28) Early on pride had been on the list but with time was moved off the list and became the root of the other seven vices. Four authors are given special interest: Evargius of Pontus (346-399 AD, one of the desert fathers), John Cassian (360-430, a disciple of Evagrius, Pope Gregory I (540-604, also called Gregory the Great) and Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274).

But why these seven? Isn’t murder more deadly than sloth? The list was never intended to show the worst sins nor the ones committed most frequently rather they are the “capital” vices in the sense that they are the “source” or “fountainhead” of many other sins. DeYoung’s preferred term is “capital vices” rather than “deadly sins” though they are certainly deadly. The term “vice” is more appropriate than sins because “vices concern deeply rooted patterns in our character, patterns broader than a single act but narrower than our sinful human condition in general.” (34) But these seven were chosen because “they aim at the things that most attract human beings, the goods which we most long to possess.” (38) “When our character is distorted by vice, we seek these goods—and they are genuinely good things—in a misguided or even idolatrous manner: in the wrong way, at the wrong times and wrong places, too intensely, or at the expense of other things of greater value.” (39)

In the next seven chapters she treats each of the vices. She leans heavily on Thomas Aquinas for the elaboration of what the vices are but makes smart use of contemporary movies to illustrate her points. Thus Amadeus shows us Antonio Salieri’s envy of Mozart, the chief character in the film Groundhog Day oddly enough illustrates sloth, and the film The Mission illustrates both good and bad anger. This nicely demonstrates what she says early on: “we implicitly draw our lists from a mental picture of someone we admire (or despise) as a model of moral excellence (or corruption). Role models who embody a moral idea are anchors for moral education into the virtues (or vices), since we learn and acquire character traits by observing and imitating role models.” (17)

With each chapter I found myself cut to the quick especially as I became blindsided by one vice after another which I had assured myself was not that prevalent in my life (confession here: sloth and gluttony I never saw coming, envy hit me from new angles, and the others, well. . . let’s not go there). I began to think my chief problem was spiritual blindness but it really boils down to pride. It’s not a pleasant experience to have our vices exposed to the light of day. But when all is said and done I’m glad they were because now I know what I’m dealing with.

When Joel Osteen was once asked if he uses the word “sinners” he said, “I don't use it. I never thought about it. But I probably don't. But most people already know what they're doing wrong. When I get them to church I want to tell them that you can change." I disagreed with him then and I disagree even more now. Our sins and vices are more subtle than we can imagine and more deadly than we know. We ignore them to our own demise. To talk about “change” to a people left to their own imagination as to what is wrong with them is like a doctor giving a cancer patient a band aid because all the patient can see is a cut finger. As DeYoung so aptly concludes: “The more we understand the dynamics of sin and the deep network of its combined forces in us, however, the more amazing we will find the grace and power promised to us to help us change.” (184) Having identified and properly understood these seven vices we can all the more effectively work to take them out at the root.

With all this said those in the Reformed and Lutheran communities may object that this is, at its core, law and not gospel. It is filled with imperatives and not enough indicatives. Sanctification is ultimately up to us and not God. We started our life in Christ by faith but maintain it by works. Michael Horton asks in another context "I'm not sure, however, how directing people to greater concentration on themselves is going to overcome the narcissistic captivity on themselves." (emphasis his. Modern Reformation Vol. 18 March - April 2009, p. 48) He continues, "we just can't staple a non-evangelical practice to an evangelical theology. The right doctrine gives rise to the right kind of piety." DeYoung is not insensitive to this. She says, "seeking improvement in virtue is grace-empowered effort: it is an earnest desire to be all that God wants us to be, not a self-help program driven by willpower and a self-made conception of a new and improved self." (57) But I'm not sure this is going far enough by Reformed standards. Horton says, "Apart from the imputation of righteousness, sanctification is simply another religious self-improvement program determined by the powers of this age (the flesh) rather than of the age to come (the Spirit). This gospel not only announces our justification, but our participation in the power of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection. Therefore, we cannot look to Christ at the beginning for our justification, and then look away from Christ to our own progress and countless manuals that offer formulas for spiritual and moral ascent when it comes to the Christian life (sanctification)." But, DeYoung never intended to write a Reformed understanding of the seven deadly sins nor an exposition of Reformed sanctification.

I enjoyed reading this book and feel like she still has much to offer even to Reformed communities. No doubt introspection can become an obsessive habit but if we never look at ourselves with an eye to the subtle ways in which sin can manifest itself then the remedy of even the gospel will be of no effect.

Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung is an associate professor of philosophy at Calvin College

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

N. T. Wright - Reviews and Responses - 2

My friend Paul Adams has begun a list of links to the various responses to N. T. Wright's new book Justification: God's Plan & Paul's Vision. He will add more as he comes across them or if you know of some he has missed I'm sure he would appreciate a quick note. If you're interested in this book and would like to see some of the responses give Paul's site a visit. He has done the leg work for you.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Mark Galli, St. Francis and the Gospel

St. Francis of Assisi is often attributed with the words, "Preach the gospel at all times, when necessary, use words." Mark Galli, senior managing editor for Christianity Today magazine and author of a biography on St. Francis, says Francis never uttered the popular slogan and his life contradicted the sentiment. In an online article Galli notes that "no biography written within the first 200 years of his death contains the saying. It's not likely that a pithy quote like this would have been missed by his earliest disciples." Furthermore, Francis was well known as a preacher and sometimes a very fiery one. "'Hell, fire, brimstone' would not be an inaccurate description of his style." Galli thinks we sentimentalize Francis "because we live in a sentimental age." The popular slogan has more in common with "a postmodern assumption that words are finally empty of meaning." He continues, "But the gospel is a message, news about an event and a person upon which the history of the planet turns. . . .the Good News can no more be communicated by deeds than can the nightly news." Galli concludes with a more appropriate saying, "Preach the gospel—use actions when necessary; use words always."

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Coming Soon From IVP: Bible Study Guides from N. T. Wright

IVP will be releasing eight new study guides this July from N. T. Wright. For groups looking to study these books of the Bible from a premier New Testament scholar and that is informed by the new perspective this series will be without peer. The books scheduled for release are Romans (pictured here), Matthew, Mark, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians & Philemon, 1 & 2 Thessalonians and 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus. I don't know if they will complete the New Testament. My guess is they will wait to see how these do and go from there. These will be a perfect match to use with his popular commentary series The New Testament for Everyone.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Closer to Truth - A Website Worth Visiting

This is a great website! It is called Closer to Truth: Cosmos. Consciousness. God. Since I found it I’ve watched interviews (webisodes) like:

Arugments for God? with Alvin Plantinga
Arguments for God? with Richard Swinburne
Is God in time? with William Lane Craig
Is God all knowing? with William Lane Craig
Arguing God from the moral law? with J. P. Moreland
Arguments for atheism? with Daniel Dennett
Is God a person? with the Venerable Yifa (a Buddhist nun)
Is God necessary? with Bede Rundle
Does God have a nature? with Bede Rundle
Fallacies in proving God exists? with Michael Tooley
Can brain explain mind? with John Searle
Does a soul have an afterlife? with Nancy Murphy
Why did our universe begin? with Roger Penrose
Is mathematics invented or discovered? with George Lakoff
Is time travel possible? with Kip Thorne
Is time travel possible? with Michio Kaku
Is time travel possible? with Seth Lloyd (I'll admit I got stuck on this topic. Maybe I've watched too many episodes of Lost.)

It will be hard to get any reading done since there are so many more I want to watch. If you like philosophy (or theology or science) this is a great website. Best of all the interviews are informal and very accessible. In other words you don’t have to be a professional philosopher or a scientist to understand it (at least not most of it). Give it a visit and pick a topic that interests you. You won’t be disappointed. If you're already familiar with this website what have you enjoyed the most?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Deepak Chopra's The Third Jesus

I've read enough of Chopra to know I was not going to waste my time with this latest work. But I will refer you to a review done by Robert Schmidt of Denver Seminary who offers a poignant and scathing review. He says, "While Chopra’s writing style is clear and easily accessible to the layperson, his work is neither rigorously academic nor true. Chopra is guilty of bad history, bad theology, bad logic, and blatant untruths. Every turn of the page is a new experience in the irremediable." Schmidt limits himself "to the Jesus of history, the Jesus of the New Testament, and the Jesus of non-duality." Schmidt dismantles Chopra's work showing how he misuses evidence, ignores the contexts of New Testament passages and is logically contradictory. Schmidt concludes: "his [Chopra's] means of persuasion entail a spectacular display of shoddy academics, appalling theology and logical buffoonery making his book intellectually unpalatable and impossible to take seriously." None of what Schmidt wrote surprised me. I've seen it before and it was what I expected to find. This sort of rubbish from Chopra, (and Eckhart Tolle), which is made popular by Oprah is simply trying to make Jesus more acceptable to a group that is uncomfortable with the Jesus of the New Testament. Strip away the offensive elements of the Jesus in the New Testament (repentance, final judgment, etc.), re-interpret a handful of NT passages, give it a veneer of eastern mysticism and, presto, you have a third Jesus. Give this Jesus the blessing of the likes of Harvey Cox and John Shelby Spong (see the Editorial Reviews on Amazon) and you have the complete package. Top it off with a glowing endorsement from Oprah to ensure off-the-chart sales. I'll pass on The Third Jesus and stay with the Jesus of the New Testament.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Coming Soon from Crossway: Understanding English Bible Translation

Leland Ryken has been a vocal advocate for the "essentially literal approach" to English Bible translation. With three works already under his belt on this subject, The Word of God in English, Choosing a Bible and Bible Translation Differences, it's hard to know what else could be said. But this volume promises to be an "up-to-date clarification of the issues underlying modern Bible translation" (from the Crossway catalog, Summer - Fall 2009). I will be looking to see how much, if any, he responds to Mark Strauss' criticisms of the ESV. Ryken is a professor of English at Wheaton College and also served as literary stylist for the English Standard Version (ESV). It is planned for release this September. It is a paperback, 192 pages and sells for $12.99.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

N. T. Wright - Reviews and Responses - 1

Well, the fire just got turned up over N. T. Wright’s book Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision. Craig Blomberg has offered a thoughtful review (preceded by a shorter post on the Koinonia blog) which has sparked responses from Justin Taylor (and here) and Doug Wilson. (See also the response by R. Scott Clark here.) Taylor insists that Blomberg has misunderstood the difference between Christ’s active and passive obedience. This is fleshed out a bit more by Wilson. (I cannot emphasize enough how important the comments are in these posts. Defenders from both sides are heard although sometimes with more heat than light.)

Wilson’ critique is more engaging and a bit frustrating. He is disappointed that Wright did not engage Piper more. He says,

“How many actual citations of Piper's book are in Wright's book? How many particular arguments does he engage with and actually seek to answer? And the problems that attend this above-it-all, breeze-by approach also show up in Blomberg's review. If the claim is that Piper misunderstands Wright, would it be too much to ask to be shown where and how he does? It is too easy to lump a particular critic in with a crowd of assumed (and more easily handled) critics, and there to demolish him.”

Secondly, Wilson complains that Wright has not responded to any of his writings. He notes, “I have spent the last several years answering Wright in terms of a cosmos-encompassing, life-affirming, culture-transforming vision of the lorship [sic] of Christ over all things, and Wright has not engaged with me at all. Now why would he not engage with me? Yes, I understand -- I am a nobody pastor in the chimney part of Idaho. But other than that, why would he not engage?” His speculation on Wright’s silence is unnecessary and pejorative. Wright’s critics are many and he simply can’t respond to them all still make a book of reasonable length. Had the book been 1,000 pages the readership would have been much less.

Finally, after quoting this statement from Blomberg’s review where he was summarizing Wright, “Where Israel failed to live up to its obligation, the faithful Jewish Messiah succeeded,” he says:

“Yes, exactly. Where Israel had disobeyed, the new Israel had now obeyed. Not only did the new Israel die to suffer the penalty of the old Israel's disobedience, but the new Israel also lived it right. He lived as faithful Israel because Israel needs to have lived faithfully. He obeyed, He was faithful Israel, in whom we also (by faith) may be faithful Israelites. Does Wright use the doctrinal jargon of Reformed theologians, does he use the shibboleth of "active obedience"? I couldn't care less. But I would be very interested to see an argument that demonstrates any substantial difference at all between the doctrine of the imputation of the active obedience of Christ, as advanced by the best and most careful Reformed theologians (see Justin Taylor's point), and the doctrine represented by Blomberg's summary above.”

My own thoughts are a jumbled mess at this point and I’m trying to sort it out. Teachers that I admire are on both sides of the issue to varying degrees. I’m thinking of hosting a forum on the New Perspective next year. The more I read about it the more excited I am about the prospect. I was delighted to see a book in the works from IVP tentatively called "Justification: Five Views" with Michael Horton (Traditional Reformed), Michael Bird (Progressive Reformed), James Dunn (New Perspective), Theosis (Veli-Matti Karkkainen) and Catholic (Gerald O'Collins & Oliver Rafferty).

Saturday, May 16, 2009

New from Bethany House: The King James Only Controversy

This updated and revised edition of James White’s book, The King James Only Controversy, has only gotten better. There are not many books that deal with this issue as thoroughly and with as much sanity as this one. White offers a devastating rebuttal to the advocates of the King James Only position. What is that position? It is the belief that the King James Version (KJV) translation of the English Bible is the only acceptable English translation and that all other translations are corruptions of God’s word. Not only that but they also believe the KJV is inspired and inerrant. The chief proponents of this position are Gail Riplinger, Peter Ruckman, Samuel Gipp, J. J. Ray and D. A. Waite. This should not be confused with those who believe in the superiority of the Byzantine Family of Greek manuscripts over the eclectic texts used by virtually all modern day translations (NKJV is the notable exception). Names in this group include Dean Burgon, F. H. A. Scrivener and H. C. Hoskier.

White is meticulous in his research and demonstrates with charity how ill founded the KJV Only arguments really are. There is an added benefit to reading this book. The reader will come away with an excellent understanding of what textual variants are in Greek manuscripts, their significance, and how scholars judge between them as to which is the better reading. In other words it is a mini course in textual criticism. And while it doesn’t make a significant difference in the book White shows awareness of recent developments in the field of textual criticism by such notables as Bart Ehrman, D. C. Parker, and Eldon Epp (193). In fact, White added one extra question in his “Question and Answers” chapter which directly interacts with Bart Ehrman (303-07). No one should confuse Bart Ehrman with a KJV Only advocate but since he has become the recent pop star of textual criticism with an eye to debunking the Christian’s confidence in Scripture White appropriately deals with him. (White has debated Ehrman and the audio and video are available from White's ministry website here.)

One interesting addition is White’s answer to “those who demand a ‘single example of error in the KJV!’” (236) He points to Revelation 16:5 which in the KJV reads “And I heard the angel of the waters say, Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast, and shalt be, because thou hast judged thus.” The key phrase is “and shalt be.” White notes that “every Greek text—not just Alexandrian texts, but all Greek texts, Majority Text, the Byzantine text, every manuscript, the entire manuscript tradition—reads “’O Holy One’” (237). Where did the reading “and shalt be” come from? None other than Theodore Beza. Beza thought there was sufficient similarity between “holy one” and the future form of “shall be” that the latter was probably the more accurate reading which would “allow him to make the change to harmonize the text with other such language in Revelation. But he had no manuscript evidence in support of his conjecture (237 emphasis his). To bolster his case White shows photo copies of Erasmus’ third edition Greek New Testament, the Stephanus text of 1555, the 1538 Coverdale translation, and the 1560 Geneva Bible. White concludes “Quite simply, before Beza, no Christian had ever read the text the way the KJV has it today” (241 n. 58). White admits that some manuscripts do omit the reading (holy one) but none contain the KJV reading. It is a reading “created out of the mind of Theodore Beza, one unknown to the ancient church, unknown to all Christians until the end of the sixteenth century” (241). I can’t imagine any responsible answer to this sort of evidence.

I’m grateful that the endnotes have been made footnotes. I wish the indexes had been updated. They include no reference to many of the new figures like Ehrman, Epp, Maurice Robinson and others. But this is an inconvenience and nothing more. If you can only buy one book on this subject this is the one. It is 364 pages and sells for $15.99. James White is director of Alpha and Omega Ministries, a Christian apologetics organization, and an elder of the Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Angels and Demons - A Response from Ascension Press

Ascension Press has a website which offers a downloadable book available written by Mark Shea. Shea's blog, "Catholic and Enjoying It" is a great resource for Catholics and Protestants. His book, Answering Angels and Demons, is only a meager 19 pages but is in a helpful question and answer format for easy reference. He covers such issues as the infallibility of the pope, the relationship of the Catholic church to scientists during the Middle Ages with particular attention to Copernicus and Galileo, and the perennial question of what's all the fuss about when it is only a work of fiction.

I'm not sure Angels and Demons will get all the attention that The DaVinci Code did but questions will still be raised and doubts will be planted in the hearts of young Christians (or even older uninformed Christians) and if for no other reason that demands a response.

Mark P. Shea is the author of By What Authority?: An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition published by Our Sunday Visitor. One of my favorite Catholic authors, Peter Kreeft, says of this book "This is not just another book of Catholic apologetics. It's not only a good think; it's also a good read. Concrete, clear, compelling arguments."

Can you Tweet the gospel?

First of all I would be the last person you should ask about twitter. I'm not in that 18 - 34 age bracket. But the topic sure has raised a buzz. I had an earlier post on the starting point of this discussion when Rob Bell in an interview said "you can't really tweet the gospel." The 9marks blog asked readers how they would present the gospel on twitter and they received many, many suggestions. They picked a couple of winners but the champion winner reads: "God made us 2 show His greatness. We rebelled & desrve His wrath but Jesus died as a sub 4 snnrs &rose again. Repnt &Blieve da good news." Our local paper, The Grand Rapids Press, has picked up on the controversy with the religion editor, Charles Honey, agreeing with Bell and a guest commentary by Rick Wilson who says we can tweet the gospel. So as I said I'm not the person to ask about twitter but if the question is simply can you present the gospel in 140 characters or less I'm not sure what the problem would be. Certainly the gospel has ramifications and implications which go far beyond 140 characters but is the gospel itself that hard to present? It seems to me that to say we "can't" tweet the gospel is to say we can't present it in a shortened form. But why would that be? It appears the fear is that the gospel will appear too narrow in its focus if we don't spell it out in all its grandeur. Might it appear too individualistic? Might it appear that it's just about going to heaven? I can't speak for those who say we can't tweet the gospel so until I better understand twitter I say tweet to your heart's delight and most certainly include the gospel.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Round Two with Dan Brown - How Far Will We Go?

I remember the first time I had a customer come in to the store and ask if there was a book responding to The DaVinci Code. I said, “It is a fiction book. I seriously doubt anyone will take the time to write a response.” I was wrong. Boy was I wrong! The publishers couldn’t get them out fast enough. Are we ready for a second round with Dan Brown? The current book, Angels and Demons, was written before The DaVinci Code but with the upcoming release of the movie it will be catapulted into the limelight. I have not seen any projected books in response (I’m staying quiet on predictions) but there is already a website dedicated to answering some of the issues raised in the book/movie. It is sponsored by none other than Westminster Theological Seminary. There you will find topics treated like “the God particle,” “antimatter,” “CERN,” “the Illuminati” and more. I have not read Angels and Demons but I did read The DaVinci Code and, honestly, I quite enjoyed it. The theology and history were horrendous but it was a fun read. I’m not sure if I will read Angels and Demons but I’ll probably see the movie. In the mean time I will wait to see which publisher will offer the first of the response books. Give the wesbsite a visit and see what you think.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The New Calvinists

If more Calvinists wrote like this would we have such a bad reputation? May their tribe increase!

Miss California and the Blog World

It didn't take long for the bloggers and commentators to pick up on the Miss California USA controversy (that's what blogging is all about right?). My two favorites, so far, are from Mike Wittmer and my good friend Paul Adams. Paul also refers us to a commentary by Chuck Colson which is not on the issue of Miss California but on the more general issue "Same Sex 'Marriage' and Religious Liberty." Both Mike and Paul make astute comments about Dobson's involvement in this whole matter.

The issues are important and the stakes are high. We can't afford to be uninformed or to think the problem will just go away.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Blog Tour with Michael Wittmer

Michael Wittmer’s book Don’t Stop Believing has three characteristics: 1) it is rooted in Scripture, 2) it is rigorous in its logic and 3) it is civil in its tone. Wittmer does not side step the hard questions that have been raised by what he terms “postmodern innovators (PI).” He uses this term to represent “the left wing of the emerging, postconservative, or younger evangelical church” (18). You can tell that he has genuinely listened to their (PIs) concerns and questions and he thinks the traditional church can learn from them. But he is equally serious in saying that some of their answers to the questions they raise are skewed at best and heretical at worst. I have only a couple of questions.

Wittmer says, “The notion that church membership is optional for Christians is a novel idea. Until recently, most Christians believed Cyprian’s famous saying that ‘outside the church there is no salvation.’ In case someone thinks that this statement is too Roman Catholic for Protestants to accept, ask yourself whether it is possible to belong to Christ if you pointedly choose not to belong to his church. Can you be connected to the head if you are not part of the body?” (pp. 107-08)

So here’s my question: If someone is not a “member” of a church is he really not part of the body? Does this confuse the visible and invisible church? Was there such a thing as “membership” as we understand it today in the original house churches of the first century or is the term “membership” being used as a synonym for regular attendance?

Next question: What would your advice be to a Christian who is attending a church that predominately teaches the views of PIs?

Thank you Mike and Zondervan for allowing me to participate in this blog tour. If you would like to see all the participating blogs on this tour go here and if you would like to see Mike's blog go here.

Monday, May 11, 2009

New from Bethany House: True for You But Not for Me

True for You but Not for Me is an excellent introduction to answering many of the objections to the Christian Faith. Paul Copan is the Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University. In this revised edition Copan has significantly revised all of the chapters of the first edition and added several new ones. Among the new topics treated are “It’s all a matter of perspective,” That’s just your opinion.” And “You can’t legislate morality.” The book is divided into five segments: 1) Absolutely Relative, 2) The Absolutism of Moral Relativism, 3) The Exclusivism of Religious Pluralism, 4) The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ: Myth or Reality? And 5) “No Other Name”: The Question of the Unevangelized.

Copan’s gift is in getting to the heart of an objection and providing clear responses. Many will object that he makes the issues seem simplistic as if once you throw out Copan’s suggested response the skeptic will be left speechless. Copan is not blind to this. He says, “These responses are not intended to be given as what cynics might call ‘sassy answers to stupid questions,’ but rather as encouragements to reopening conversation in an engaging, relational setting” (13). He continues, “An atheist or a relativist has a deeply engrained worldview. Moving from atheism to agnosticism is progress—an indication of God’s grace at work! Go slowly and prayerfully, and then let the discussion begin” (16). This book should be viewed as helpful ways to get the dialogue going and not being shut down by favorite skeptic one liners.

The “Further Reading” sections are invaluable. Because of the brevity in which the topics are dealt these sections guide the reader to more in-depth treatments. This could have been made a little better with some annotation. Some of the books suggested are quite advanced and others are good popular treatments. A small note indicating which books would be the next best step would avoid the reader going from this book to, say, Moral Relativism by Paul Moser and Thomas L. Carson which would be quite a leap (75). Copan recommends Paul Eddy and Gregory Boyd’s book The Jesus Legend which is an excellent reference work (165). But it would have been nice if he had also mentioned the popular (condensed) treatment by the same authors in Lord or Legend?: Wrestling with the Jesus Dilemma (The omission may be explained due to the fact that the book is regrettably out of print). Other materials can be found in the many footnotes which are replete throughout the book. This may be an introductory volume but it provides a wealth of other material for the interested reader.

I found Copan’s discussion of morality to be particularly strong. He wisely observes, and this is an important point Christians must hear, that “belief in God isn’t a requirement for being moral” (98). On the other hand “one can’t be a moral being unless God exists” (98). The distinction is crucial to understanding the importance of the existence of God as the ground for objective moral values. Given naturalism what is the basis of the value of human life? We are just the result of the random collision of matter plus time. This is a valueless process and “from valuelessness, valuelessness comes” (99). These chapters should be read carefully by every high school student.

Calvinist readers should be aware that Copan’s preferred answer on the question of the unevangelized is the Molinist doctrine of middle knowledge as popularized by the Christian philosopher and apologist William Lane Craig. This solution has enjoyed more acceptance among Arminians though some Calvinists have attempted formulations of it within a Calvinist structure most notably Terrance Tiessen and Bruce Ware. See the recent discussion by Paul Helm who does not believe middle knowledge is a valid option in our understanding of God's knowledge. This is but a small caveat to a great book.

Youth Pastors should give True for You but Not for Me to graduating seniors or better yet go through it with them while in high school when many of these issues are raised by some of their skeptic friends. My repeated references to youth should not be misconstrued. This would also be a good book for any small group study. To help you with this, questions are available online at

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Noted Skeptic and Atheist Converts to Christianity

A. N. Wilson was a convert to atheism from Christianity and has now returned to Christianity. Wilson was the author of the book Jesus where he attempted to dismantle the credibility of the Gospels and portray Jesus as "a Galilean holy man, an heir to the prophetic tradition, who possessed charismatic healing powers; it is improbable that this monotheistic Jew ever believed himself to be the Second Person of the Trinity or that he instituted the Eucharist. Wilson proposes that the feast at Cana may have been Jesus's own wedding; that the woman who poured ointment over his feet and wiped them with her hair is a detail "too strange" to have been invented; that Jesus's cousin John the Baptist came to disbelieve that Jesus was the Messiah; and that the Stranger seen by Jesus's disciples after his death was probably Jesus's brother James. This biography also suggests that Judas was innocent of betraying Jesus, that "the Pharisees were among the most virtuous men who had ever lived," that Jesus was never tried by the Jewish Sanhedrin, and that Paul was the high priest's servant who supervised Jesus's arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane." (From Publishers Weekly).

This is an astounding testimony to the grace of God in this man's life. You can read about it here and and see Wilson's article on "Why we should no longer be cowed by the chattering classes ruling Britain who sneer at Christianity."

Wilson says, "My departure from the Faith was like a conversion on the road to Damascus. My return was slow, hesitant, doubting. So it will always be; but I know I shall never make the same mistake again." (Why I Believe Again)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Kevin Deyoung Store Visit - Reflections

We were honored to have Kevin DeYoung in the store last night. This was Kevin's second visit with us and it was a delight to have him. He talked briefly about his latest book Just Do Something which addresses the ever popular subject of the how to know the will of God. Kevin said the Scripture describes the will of God in two ways: 1) the will of decree which is what God sovereignly wills and 2) the will of desire which are his commands. What he does not see is the "will of direction." This is the plan that God has for each of us and that he means for us to discover. This aspect of the will of God in the traditional "bulls eye" view of the will of God is wholly lacking. At the end of the day the traditional view really can't offer any objective criteria for knowing the will of God. It is nothing more than a "chain of subjectivism." In the traditional view "we want to know the future instead of trusting him who holds the future." One point really struck home with me. When Kevin was invited to another church to be the senior pastor he said he "prayed about it." So what did he pray? It wasn't for guidance. He asked God to keep him humble in the face of becoming a "senior" pastor. He asked God to keep him from fear of failure. These were the sorts of things he prayed and when he finally made his decision (not made independently of his wife he was sure to add) it was his decision. He accepted responsibility for that decision. There is both freedom and wisdom in this approach to knowing the will of God. I encourage you to read Kevin's book. It is a great gift for high school graduates or for anyone who is struggling to know how to understand this issue. You can see more of Kevin at his blog DeYoung, Restless and Reformed.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Coming Soon from Baker Books - Calvin's Commentaries

I'm expecting any day now Baker's new release of Calvin's Commentaries. This collector's edition will be handsomely bound featuring a 500 year gold emblem on the spine. Also included is a free copy of the The Institutes of the Christian Religion by Calvin (Beveridge version). The 23-volume set has a retail value of $1200.00 but will sell for $190.00. I'm amazed at the number of contemporary commentaries that give tribute to Calvin as a commentator or that continue to interact with him. To give one example Douglas Moo in his commentary on Romans says that while he consulted many commentaries on Romans he selected twelve for particularly careful study. The factors in his selection were: "exegetical excellence, theological sophistication, and representative significance." One of those twelve was Calvin. Moo says he considers these scholars as his "exegetical sparring partners." (p. xix) Calvin's first commentary was on Romans which was published in 1540. Almost 500 years later we're still listening and learning.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Coming Soon from Thomas Nelson - The [expanded] Bible New Testament

Thomas Nelson is proudly releasing a new Bible translation this August. Well, it’s not quite new. The new Bible is an expanded edition based on a "modified version" of the New Century Version. Similar to what the Amplified Bible does this new edition expands the text in a variety of ways. The expansions will function in a number of ways: 1) It may offer “other possible ways of translating a word, phrase, clause, or sentence.” 2) It may suggest “a different translation possibility that takes the meaning of the original language in a different direction that the base text does.” 3) It may offer “a more literal rendering of the original language.” 4) It may “provide familiar terms and well-known renderings from past translations, especially those in the King James tradition.” 5) It may “briefly provide historical, cultural, theological, or other explanatory information to help readers better understand a verse or passage.” I’ve never been a big fan of the Amplified Bible because it lead too many readers into thinking the words meant everything that was in the parentheses every where they occur. When I first heard about this edition I was somewhat leery but from what I’ve seen so far I think Nelson has done a good job. In my opinion it is the Amplified Bible done right. The same potential exists for misunderstanding the notes that I’ve observed with users of the Amplified but hopefully we won't see much of that. A note in the Introduction of The [expanded] Bible is helpful: "The goal of this approach is not to suggest that a text can mean whatever anyone wants it to mean (it cannot), but to show that the Bible in its original languages is rich, multi-layered, and profound." At the end of the day this is a problem with the user rather than the version itself. Some will complain that the format itself lends to this sort of problem but while there is some truth to this some responsibility rests with the reader. The more notes are embedded into the actual text, however, the harder it is for the reader to separate note from text. All of this is to say care must be used with this Bible as with any study Bible.
The scholars involved with the project are Tremper Longman III, Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College, Mark L. Strauss, professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary San Diego, and Daniel Taylor, professor of literature and writing at Bethel University.

Wayne Hastings, Senior Vice President and Group Publisher of the Bible Division for Thomas Nelson Publishers, is offering a free PDF version of the New Testament on his blog Off the Shelf.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Rob Bell and the Gospel

Anything that happens that involves Rob Bell usually gets our attention around here. Several members of his church are co-workers of mine and I’ve enjoyed many conversations about what is happening at Mars Hill. Recently Bell did an interview with Mark Galli, senior managing editor of Christianity Today magazine. One response to this interview was by Greg Gilbert, senior pastoral assistant at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D. C., on the 9Marks blog.

In particular, Galli asked Bell “How would you present this gospel on Twitter?” Bell answered, “I would say that history is headed somewhere. The thousands of little ways in which you are tempted to believe that hope might actually be a legitimate response to the insanity of the world actually can be trusted. And the Christian story is that a tomb is empty, and a movement has actually begun that has been present in a sense all along in creation. And all those times when your cynicism was at odds with an impulse within you that said that this little thing might be about something bigger—those tiny little slivers may in fact be connected to something really, really big.”

Gilbert responds, “Really? That’s it? That’s the gospel?” He continues, “Bell’s answer to Galli’s question is sub-Christian. It is not the message of Christianity. It is not saving. It is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not even anywhere near it.” These are strong words. I encourage you to read the entire interview, Gilbert’s response and especially the comments that follow. Defining the gospel and its framework are increasingly a topic of conversation. See the recent editorial by D. A. Carson on the gospel in Themelios.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Scot McKnight and the New Perspective

Scot McKnight is starting a series of posts on N. T. Wright's newest book Justification. This will no doubt be one of many. I've started reading it myself and was struck by Wright's comment when he said "But I do know that if a church only, or mainly, relies on the NIV it will, quite simply, never understand what Paul was talking about" (52). That's a bold claim and it doesn't say much for the NIV. So what is The New Perspective on Paul (commonly abbreviated NPP)? There are variations of beliefs within those who would be included under the NPP umbrella but according to The Paul Page (a website dedicated to the NPP) it is "[a]t its core is the recognition that Judaism is not a religion of self-righteousness whereby humankind seeks to merit salvation before God. Paul's argument with the Judaizers was not about Christian grace versus Jewish legalism. His argument was rather about the status of Gentiles in the church. Paul's doctrine of justification, therefore, had far more to do with Jewish-Gentile issues than with questions of the individual's status before God." Scot has a good summary and brief history of the major players in the NPP. Michael Horton says the NPP can be divided into two stages: 1) Paul misunderstood Judaism (a la E. P. Sanders), 2) The reformers misunderstood Paul (a la Dunn, Wright et al). Those looking for a summary of Wright's new book can find it here by Michael C. Thompson.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Coming Soon from Moody Publishers - Why We Love The Church

The church has taken quite the beating the last few years. One begins to wonder if the church is doing anything right. The gates of hell may not be prevailing against it but it seems to be falling apart at the seams. Along comes Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck with a book that promises to say it's not as bad as it appears. In fact, there is much to love! I did get an advance reading copy this week but unfortunately my boss pulled rank (to coin an expression from my military days) and so she gets it first. I love the writing style of DeYoung and Kluck and from what I gleaned this will not disappoint readers.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Michael Wittmer on Brian McLaren's Lament

Mike Wittmer, author of Don’t Stop Believing, says he received a mass email last week from Brian McLaren regarding his “‘Everything Must Change’” tour, in which he lamented that ‘many if not most Christians in the US remain focused on’ their ‘intramural religious debates’ rather than the global crises confronting our world. He wrote: ‘In one Q & A session after another since our tour, I’ve watched the conversation be pulled away from Jesus’ gospel of the reigning of God in relation to life-and-death global crises, and turned toward controversies and inquisitions about doctrinal opinions and ‘theological correctness.’ Some nights, I didn’t even realize what had happened until I went back to my hotel room and just wanted to cry.’”

Wittmer’s comments in response to this, I believe, are exactly right. Wittmer says that while he can sympathize with McLaren’s lament “it’s his own fault.” You can read the entire entry here.