Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Cultural Criticism

One of my biggest problems with the emerging movement is what seems to be a commonly-held view of culture. One of my biggest problems with Modernity is what seems to be a commonly-held view of culture. Apparently I have culture issues!...The emerging movement folk usually imply that culture is basically amoral, with exceptions made for a few particularly degenerate cases (I doubt any emerging folk would defend a tribal culture that validated cannibalism, for example). Modern (vs. postmodern) churches, on the other hand, seem to routinely view culture as being divided into sacred and secular realms [see our ongoing discussion here]. Neither of these views seems particularly Biblical to me.

It seems to me that a local culture should be interpreted on its own terms - from the mindset of the local culture. In other words, you can't bring our personal cultural view to the discussion of why culture X does/believes/practices a particular thing. You have to try to get inside the mindset of the local culture to properly interpret a given cultural act or attitude. On this point, emerging folk are strong.

But we must also be sure to evaluate a local culture through the Scriptures. This is much harder to do than most of us like to think - you can't bring your own cultural baggage to the Biblical discussion! But done properly, this thinking can help us to see the inherent strengths (reflections of God's goodness) and weaknesses (reflections of the Fall) of a given local culture. Here emerging folk often seem weak.

For example, according to Emerging Churches (by Gibbs and Bolger) a ministry to British club-culture people that embraced dancing in bikinis showed a serious commitment to embodying the Gospel while authentically embracing the culture. So dancing in bikinis is an amoral cultural phenomenon? Seriously?! The Bible has nothing to say about the merits (or lack thereof) of nearly-naked women dancing for all the world to see?

Modern churches would label such activity "secular" (or more probably "worldly") and be done with it. But, as I keep saying, I don't think the secular/sacred dichotomy is a particularly helpful way of looking at the world.

Instead, we lay all of a given culture over the sieve of Scripture. Whatever falls through we declare fit for His service (whether it fits our pre-conceived Christian-ism notions or not); whatever doesn't we throw out as a product of the Fall. So (for example) going to the local pub to work alongside the LORD as He leads people to His Son? - falls through the sieve. Getting hammered while at the pub in order to authentically embrace the culture? - doesn't fit the sieve; toss it out.

So honestly, how many of you think I'm crazy?


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Monday, January 29, 2007

What's in a name?

This one's just for you, Dan.

I was called out (indirectly - okay, he actually didn't know I use the term and was talking about someone else, but this makes for better reading!) Anyway, I was called out the other day for using the term "Christ-follower". I don't use it exclusively, but I do use it on purpose...It seems to me (and many others) that the term "Christian" is fast approaching the status of the term "fundamentalist" - something you most definitely do not want to be [this is the top Google entry]. So rather than fight for the name (since there's nothing terribly important about the word itself), I sometimes choose to use something other.

Moreover, I sometimes think that we (as Christians - there's that term again!) use the term too easily. It just rolls off the tongue without pause. So by using a construction a bit more awkward, I'm forcing myself (and my readers) to stop and consider - if only for a heartbeat - the significance of the term.

"Christ-follower" does this nicely. After all, if being a Christian means anything at all, surely it means "one who follows Christ". Some folk use "follower of Jesus" with (perhaps) the same effect (though I think with other connotations).

Anyway, in deference to my buddy Dan, could you all be sure to NEVER use the term "Christ-follower" in your comments?


Hatushili the Christ-follower

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Sacred or Secular?

I want to pose a fundamental question about the way we (as Christians) look at the world around us: Is it helpful to think of the world as having parts that are sacred and parts that are secular? Some of you might be thinking I've gone off the deep end, but hear me out while I work through this in my own mind...

Random thoughts:

I do not believe in a compartmentalized life. I don't think it's Biblical to "think like a Christian" during church gatherings and "think like a businessman" at work. The whole of my existence is that I'm a Christ-follower. I'm a Christ-follower who manages a store. I'm a Christ follower who's married and has 6 children. I'm a Christ-follower who likes sports. Etc...

The same principle is true of our world. It's not just the "LORD's Day" on Sunday - every day is His. The church building is not the "LORD's House" - every house is the LORD's. Your local church's collected offerings are not the "LORD's money" - it's all His money.

So worship is not something I only do on Sundays. I worship the LORD at work, at play, at church gatherings, and (hopefully) anywhere else I might find myself.

I don't have a "secular" job any more than my pastor has a "sacred" job. We're both doing what the LORD wants us to do (at this moment).

I'm not "taking the LORD" (sacred) into my community (secular) as I engage in ministry and outreach - He's already there. I'm just looking to see where I can be useful as He works.


Is this making sense to anyone?


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Friday, January 26, 2007

Make mine Missional, please

In the ongoing discussion of emerging church, a word that you'll stumble across regularly is "missional", so I thought I'd share my thoughts on the concept.

Once in a while you hear someone say, "Mark my words - someday America will leave it's Christian heritage". Welcome to the future, my friend. We are right now living in post-Christian America. In fact, it's a post-Christian world that we find ourselves in. "Christendom is dead" is how some will say it...

If this is the case (and it is), then we must stop thinking of missions only as sending someone "over there" (wherever that may be). We must recognize that everywhere is the mission field. This means that each and every one of us, as followers of Christ, must be constantly thinking about reaching the community around us. Gone are the days when we can make ourselves feel better by giving money to the "missions fund" while living in our "predominantly Christian" neighborhoods. There's almost nowhere left that's predominantly Christian anymore.

Moreover, we've got to stop compartmentalizing our thinking. We can't pick and choose times when we're going to do the work of evangelism. Evangelism must be always on our minds. The way I conduct myself at work, at market, at play. The conversations I have. Those I choose not to have. The relationships I work on. Those I let go dormant. How I respond to my neighbors. How I respond to my community. Everything.

Missional thinking says you never "go out evangelizing". You don't have an "evangelism ministry" that sets times and dates to do the work of evangelism. It's about your whole life.

But I don't want you to think that this is the same as the old "friendship evangelism" theory. Admitedly, for some emerging folk this seems to be the case. Just as giving money to a missions fund is a way for some folk to feel good about not sharing Christ with their neighbors, so too is "friendship evangelism" a convenient excuse for others to never actually say a word about the LORD.

Missional thinking embodies both word and deed. Think of Jesus' incarnation. He came into the world as a baby. He was born (in flesh) at a specific time and period in world history. He had to learn the customs and culture of the day. He worked within that culture for the Father's glory. So thinking missionally is thinking incarnationally - I want to live the Gospel before my community, within the culture that the LORD chose to give me as my own. That means my actions will be consistent with the Gospel. My thoughts. My words. My relationships. My every waking moment.

None of us will ever truly arrive at this goal. It's part of becoming like Christ - it's a process that none of us will see completed this side of glory, but we're to strive for it nonetheless.

[This issue is tied up with the Modern dualism of Secular/Sacred, too. More on that later...]

For now, what are your thoughts on being missional? Had you heard the term? What does it mean for our lives? How should we change our thinking about the very way we "do" church?


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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Oozing Stereotypes

I came across this article at The Ooze. Read it - it's, umm... amusing. Sort of. For those unfamiliar with it, The Ooze is a leading online journal of the McLaren breed (read: closing in on heretical) of emerging church thought. I'll admit that I don't read much on their website. Let's just hope this article is not as typical as I suspect it is. [Note: if you've never read anything from within the emerging movement before, please - DO NOT take the article I've linked to as typical of the whole. It's some of the chaff you have to pick through to get to the grain.]...

On to what he contends is typical of modern (but not emerging) churches:

1.) God is not trusted, but one's own abilities and programs are. Surely there are some churches out there that implicitly think this way. But to list this as a general truth about modern churches?! Have we really fallen so far as to think this poorly of so many churches? Maybe he's got 'mainline' cookie-cutter churches in mind. But even then, these are hard words. Worse yet, much of the emergent movement touts "postmodern ministry" as the way to "do church". Perhaps those in the Ooze crowd are just as guilty as those not? But of course the author (some dude named Lance) doesn't make this connection. The likely reason? He's probably involved in a postmodern church that embraces God, but was involved in a modern one that didn't. So now he's generalizing about all modern churches... Silly, at best.

2.) They want to teach people what to think and not how to think. Again, there are surely some out there. But how do you explain the huge volume of "know why you believe what you believe" books that the modern age printed? How do you explain the call to "critical thinking" being raised by so many modern pastors and leaders? The cynical part of me wants to point out that many left-leaning emerging folk are making a conscious effort to not think anything about anything, but I will resist that urge. As so often, the pendulum has swung too far...

3.) They largely rely on manipulation and pressure to attain results and then call those results the work of the Holy Spirit. Wow! This damning accusations is usually reserved for Benny Hinn and his crowd. But now pastors of mega- and purpose-driven churches are being painted with the same broad brush?! I'm rapidly loosing any semblance of respect I had for this author.

I could go on, but I can't. Seriously. It's just too awful to continue interacting with. Perhaps this gent has spent too much time drinking from the "toilet of emergent theology".


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On Bible Translations

It seems the good folk at Mar's Hill Church are going to stop using the NIV and start using the ESV from the pulpit. I applaud the move toward a more word-for-word translation as the basis for study, preaching, and teaching... I'm personally not very familiar with the ESV (English Standard Version), though what I've read about it is encouraging.

More to the point of this post: I often get asked about why I use particular translations I do, or whether translation X is good or not, or what's wrong with translation Y... Mark has posted a well-conceived position paper detailing the issues at stake, including why they (he and the other elders at Mar's Hill Church) ended up deciding to switch to the ESV. He goes over basic principles of translation, often giving examples of the way different translations deal with a particular text. It's long, but well worth the read if you've every had questions about English translations.

Oh, here it is.


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Monday, January 22, 2007

The "Streams" of Emerging Church

I have no idea why I keep stumbling across "stream" metaphors when people are attempting to describe the emerging church, but I do. First it was Mark Driscoll, now Scot McKnight is at it!...

Read Scot's article - it's a good summary of the many parts that make up this formless, shapeless blob that is the Emerging Movement (I hesitate to even capitalize that phrase, to be honest) right now.

The article is based upon a lecture series that McKnight gave. Obviously the article shortened the lecture a bit, and here's a response written by someone who heard the lecture series and is clearly not within the emerging 'conversation'(he's a Presbyterian minister, incidentally). He has some fair and accurate objections to parts of the emerging movement, though on the whole I'm more with McKnight on this subject. Anway, read the response, too. Good stuff.

Thoughts? Comments? Questions?


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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Welcome, class!

Okay, you know who you are. I just gave out the address of this blog to a bunch of you this morning. If you're new here, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think of my blog. Remember, if it's bad I can always delete it!

BTW, thoughts, comments or questions about class issues are welcome, too.


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Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Early Church and Primitivists

A friend commented the other day about my take on "primitivism", so I thought I'd take this opportunity to say what I am and what I am not.

If you read my review of Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?, you'll notice that I briefly criticize Smith for his way of handling what he calls primitivism. But I don't think he quite has in mind what I do when he uses that term...

So what is primitivism in the Church context? It refers to those that believe the descriptions of churches in the New Testament are prescriptive - that is, we are supposed to pattern our modern (or postmodern!) churches after them. This sounds good on the surface of things, but understand that this means a primitivist will not acknowledge his own culture for influecing church systems, but instead wants to do things "like they did in the Bible". So, for example, no accompanied singing - they had no pianos or electric guitars in Antioch, so there shall be none in your church today. This attitude carries all the way through what church looks and feels like, to a degree dependent upon the level to which a person is committed to "primitivism".

For example, some denominations are more primitivist and others less. Most denominations are not primitivist at all. Take the Plymouth Brethren, for example. They are more primitivist than most. They like to refer to passages of the Bible like Proverbs 22:28 and Jeremiah 6:16 in an effort to hearken back to the "old ways". Depending on the church and the time period, this usually means the NT church (but again, in varying degrees). In other words, their pattern of simplicity is predicated upon a belief that the NT church pattern should be the norm for today.

There are plenty of cults and cult-leaning organizations out there that are primitivist as well, some of them radically so. I have a friend who's involved in one such "church". Only a cappella music, no make-up for the ladies, greetings with actual (cheek) kisses, no jewelry, no prepared sermons (just open the Bible at random and preach the page it lands on!), etc...

A different take on primitivism would be to see the NT church pattern as important and worthy of study, but not prescriptive. It's primarily descriptive in nature. This view is where I'm at. I value the NT church pattern for two primary reasons:

1.) It is, after all, part of the Bible and therefore merits our attention, study, and reflection. There are surely elements of timeless truth that we can pull from their church life, just as surely there are elements of their culture so foreign to ours (think: "greet with a holy kiss") as to be meaningless (or just plain weird!) in ours.

2.) The historical culture of the NT church period was much more akin to postmodernism than to modernism. Therefore, as one seeking to minister in an increasingly postmodern America, the experiences and practices of the NT church can be very meaningful today. Take the description of church life found at the end of Acts 2: They were devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. The simplicity and authenticity (to use a postmodern buzz words) of that experience draws me in. I - and many like me - want church life to be something like that.

So back to where this all started - my critique of Smith. He seems to be criticizing primitivists (which he seems to use to also include anyone that leans that way, like me) for valuing the NT church pattern but not other historical church patterns. He finds this hypocritical because the NT canon was finalized by an historical church setting that was not first century. In other words, he seems to be saying, "How can you value the NT church pattern and not others, when the very NT you hold in your hand was not finally and fully collected until well after the first century?". But here he's mixed two separate issues - I can (and do) value the NT church pattern over others but yet still value the theology and wisdom and teachings of other generations of the church. You don't have to take them all together. So I appreciate the thinking and events that went into finalizing the NT canon (whether you consider that to be a 3rd, 4th or 5th century event) but do not put those historical churches in the same category of thought and refection as the NT church precisely because they aren't in the NT (and other reasons that would take even more space to discuss - this post is too long already). To the degree that they reflect upon postmodern culture and worldview, I value them. But still not like the NT church.

All that to say this: I'm not a primitivist but I lean that way a bit more than most.


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Friday, January 19, 2007

Book Review: Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?

I found myself at Grace's library the other day with time on my hands and none of the books I intended to read available. So I did a search for books on postmodernism and picked one at random. I'm glad I picked James K A Smith's Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?.

Subtitled "Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church", this book begins with a very purposeful Schaefferian premise: to understand postmodernity, we must understand the philosophical underpinnings, not just the observed behaviour. As such, Smith critiques Derrida, Lyotard and Foucault in hopes of gleaning from these French philosophers something useful to the mission of Christianity...

Derrida: by showing that everything is an interpretation, he created a need for his notion of deconstruction. But this is not a bad thing, says Smith, for as Christians we need to be humble enough to recognize our own interpretations as such. Moreover, there is no real contradiction between "there is nothing outside of the text" and a belief in absolute truth - so long as it's revealed truth (a point Smith does not make until much later in his book).

Lyotard: "postmodernism is incredulity toward metanarrative" sounds like just the opposite of postmodernism on the surface. But Smith shows that Lyotard did not mean metanarrative in the generalized way we often do today. He meant that systems of belief which claim authority from some "self evident" principle (usually "reason") are no less "religious" than religion. In other words, no system of belief is self-validating. Modernistic "science" requires as much faith in its founding stories as does any religion. Smith notes that this has levelled the playing field in the marketplace of ideas - a very good thing for Christian faith.

Foucault: "power is knowledge" sounds wholly incompatible with Christian faith, and much of Foucault's philosophy is. But Smith points to Foucault's axiom as another reason for humility on the part of our churches, and the need to return to a catholic (but not Roman) tradition. By grounding ourselves in the traditions and creeds of the historic church, we can identify with them and learn from them. We can thereby harness the power of Foucault's theory to become "incarnational" in our approach to worship and ministry. If this sounds awfully deep, trust me - it's not an easy read. What I took from his analysis of Foucault had primarily to do with this: churches must realize the enormous power of systems - whether prison, school, hospital or church - and tap that power to help create incarnational Christians. It is time, he says, to shift our focus from building Christians that "know the truth" to those that "live the truth", and using the systems of the catholic faith we can better accomplish this.

He rolls all of this together at the end of his book, and here is where he lost some of my appreciation. What had been a carefully constructed analysis quickly became little more than an appeal to do things the way he liked them. I understand that I'm biased against his vision of postmodern church function - I didn't care for the backhanded attack on Dispensationalism or the swipe he takes at "primitivists" (a term he seems to use too loosely). Perhaps I'm therefore missing something in his argument, but he seemed ultimately to be saying: postmodern church should downplay the (almost uniquely Western) "individual" and embrace community ... the way I think community should be embraced.

All considered, I would highly recommend Smith for his detailed analysis of this "unholy Trinity" of French philosophers who bear so much of the responsibility for the popularization of postmodernity. But as a critique, I found his solutions to be wanting and inconsistent.

Like so many others, this is a book that will require a discerning ability to separate wheat from chaff.


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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Why not to have a blog

A friend of mine is a writer by passion, accountant by trade. I advised him yesterday that he should have a blog. His response: Blogs are self-centerd, egocentric platforms for people to puff themselves up.

He's probably right in many cases. We've all run across blogs that are full of "I did this..., then I did that ..." foolishness. But for me, this blog is a way of "talking to myself" that I find helpful for putting a finer edge on my thinking. When I have to put it in print, as it were, I feel compelled to think a bit more critically about what I do, and what I do not, mean. It's a sounding board, if you will.

So please don't think of my blog as me attempting to sound high and mighty, or that I just really, really want other people to know I exist and how cool I am (or am not!). I've always been one to talk to myself. Mom says it's because I was an only child for the first nine years of my life...

For those that find my "self conversations" interesting, read on. For those that think I'm merely self-promoting, please know that's not my intent. If you find me engaging in such, call me out! I can always delete your comment...


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Thursday, January 4, 2007

He who controls the definition wins

This axiom is critical to really understanding what cults are all about; how they manipulate and spread their heresies. And it's come to my attention that I've been throwing around a term that I've not defined closely enough.

I've lately been fond of using the term Emergent Church, and I'm beginning to regret my casualness. So in an effort to be more precise and not get lumped in with certain ideas and people that I most certainly do not identify with, let me at least start a list of how I understand this term...

A) I am not a Brian McLaren fan. If I say 'emergent' and you think 'McLaren', then you and I do not share a common defintion. I'm not really sure how much further down the road McLaren has to go before more people recognize him for what he is - a heretic. I've certainly learned some things from McLaren's writings, in much the same way as I've learned some things from other non-Christian authors.

You really can't go where McLaren has gone and still be considered Christian. Plenty of better men than I have already pointed out some of his many errors - for example, here and here. Sadly, he has come to be the face of the Emergent Movement for many people.

B) I am not abandoning the existence and importance of absolute truth. There are certain things that simply cannot be denied or debated. I read an emergent gent recently who said that his faith would not be changed if Jesus did not actually die on the cross! If that's emergent, then I'm not!

C) I am increasingly embracing the postmodern within me. I'm at the odd junction - born in 1973, which makes me about half modern and half postmodern! What intrigues me about postmodernity is the embracing of mystery, the value of art and nature, the missional way of "doing" ministry, and the appreciation of all the senses in learning and worshipping.

In short, then, I don't want to "do" church like it was done in the 1950s (like most IFCA churches), but I also don't want to abandon most of the doctrinal core of old fundamentalism. The EFCA seems to be plowing this middle ground. But I'm also interested in missional thinking and living. I'm not sure where the EFCA is on this yet...

So I'm stuck between a number of camps, and not really sure where that leaves me right now. I use the term "emergent" favourably when it applies to men like Mark Driscoll. It is my hope that history will record his brand of emergent as ultimately successful and the McLaren brand as a brief flash that died out quickly.

And I'm still thinking all of this through...


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Wednesday, January 3, 2007

The lost doctrine of vocation

Sometimes I think I'm the only one out there - the only one that believes the LORD made each of us for a specific purpose in life, and that He therefore calls each of us to that task. If I mention to someone that I'm a seminary student about to graduate and head off into vocational ministry and one of two things usually happens...

A) They look at me strange. This is my cue to explain what I mean by "vocational ministry". Most folk in my circles are used to hearing someone in my shoes say they're about to head out into "the pastorate" or "full-time ministry". They don't often hear the term "vocational ministry". But I use it on purpose. I truly believe that my calling to serve as a teaching elder/pastor is no higher, no better, no more special than some other believer's calling to manage the local McDonalds.

B) They ask me to describe my calling. When did it happen? Where were you? How did the LORD call you? All fine questions, and I'm more than happy to give my testimony to His call in my life. Yet I maintain that all of us should think in terms of calling in our lives. But try asking the insurance salesman how the LORD called him to that profession!

Thankfully, there has been progress made in reaffirming this doctrine. Thank God for this aspect of the emergent movement. I've also noticed that Philip Yancey has picked up on this lost doctrine. He rightly points out that Martin Luther considered this a major point of his theology.

So how did the LORD call you into your present vocation?


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Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Cautiously throwing stones at the pendulum

Let me say a few things right off the bat. First, I cut my Christian teeth in a Fundamentalist environment (IFCA). Second, I've increasingly left that frame of mind and drifted more and more toward what Mark Driscoll calls the "conservative stream" of the emergent movement. Third, I recognize that this is a bit of a pendulum swing in my life, and am therefore being very deliberate and cautious as I allow my thinking to be challenged.

With this in mind, I understand the conversation presently taking place about being 'in the world' and relevant to our peers. But... there are still lines that ought not be crossed... I'm not talking about the old "Christians should never go to bars" thinking. I don't care if you do (unless you're an alcoholic, in which case you'd be a fool to enter one). Nor am I fighthing the old fundamentalist "movie theaters are evil" battle. But surely some things are better off avoided in the life of a Follower.

Which leads me to the impetus for this particular post. If I see one more MySpace page wherein a given person spends hundreds of words divulging their allegiance to the Almighty, only to later point out that they absolutely love Grey's Anatomy and Sex in the City, I think I'll scream!! I've seen and read enough of these shows to know that "being relevant" or "keeping it real" is no excuse for exposing ourselves to this filth that passes for entertainment. I really don't think I'm being a prude here, folks. I just firmly believe in pathmarkers - guideposts, if you will. Call them lines in the sand. Call them what you will, but please acknowledge that they exist.

We can debate the fine points, and in many cases I'll simply say "let the Spirit guide you as He will". But some things seem obviously un-Christian to me. Not amoral, but immoral.

My kids ask all the time if they can read this book or see that movie. My answer is always the same, "If there's some redemptive value to it, most likely". I understand that entertainment in and of itself is okay sometimes, but we've been given precious little time on this earth to make a difference for Christ.

The New Testament admonishes us over and over again to continue being molded into the image of Christ. Somehow I doubt that this molding process includes following the vivid details of illicit sexual relationships on the telly.

But maybe I'm just old fashioned.


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A blog by any other name...

Just in case anyone's curious - the brief reason for the name of this blog.

Hatushili was a real person. In fact, he was the greatest of Hittite kings (unless you want to argue that it was Suppiluliumas). No, I didn't choose the name out of arrogance! I chose the name because for many years skeptics of the Bible believed the Hittites to be a figment of the Bible's imagination. No serious scholar believed there ever were such people as the Hittites.

But then Hatusha was discovered, and more and more information continued to come to light as the archaeologists dug and dug. It is now known that for a brief time in world history, the Hittites shared super-power status with Egypt, and Egypt alone. Short-lived, yes. Imaginary, no. In their time, the Hittites were an awesome force. So in using the name Hatushili I'm consciously reminding myself of a few things:

1) The importance of archaeological work (check out these guys, for example).

2) The nature of faith - it's not always supported by the 'facts' as science presently knows them.

3) The value of knowing the history and culture of the various people groups of the Bible.


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