Tuesday, August 28, 2007

More prayer for Dan - updated 9-7-07

My thanks to those that prayed for Dan and his family as they struggled with the death of his wife's mother last week. By all accounts, everyone is doing as well as can be expected in the wake of such an experience.

I just got a call from Dan ... it appears his step-father is about to die of lung cancer. They've given him but a few days. I understand that they're checking him out of the hospital soon and taking home ... to die.

Pray for Dan. This, more than the last death, is a spiritual war. And I can't even imagine the emotional toll of losing a mother-in-law and step-father in a span of two weeks.

LORD, thank you for your tender provision in Dan's life. Thank you for all the times in the past You've mercifully loved him, because we need times like those in our past to give us hope for the future. Guide him and direct him, LORD. When he should speak, move his very lips. When he should be silent, grip his very tongue. Most of all, may You be glorified in Dan and in this very painful situation. Amen.


read on for updates...

update: Here are the details directly from Dan:

"The tumultuous week continues. Today I got a call letting me know that my step father, who we recently found out was terminally ill and would pass away in 1-2 years, is going to die in the next few days. Please pray for our family as we both seek what to do and how to deal with the situation. My step father, to the best of my knowledge, is not a believer and has rejected God on several occasions. This is particularly hard for me as there are very strong memories of my mother passing away as a non-believer and all the events that surrounded it that will certainly be unearthed over the next week. I pray that I would have the fortitude of both character and emotion to respond as God would direct me and that I may have the opportunity once more to share His word with my step father. His name is Bill. He is the father to 5 children, 4 step children, and many grandchildren including our son. Thank you as always for your support."


update: 9-7-07 - As some of you have heard, Bill accepted Christ about a week ago! From a human perspective, it was 20 years of prayer and the witness of two sons. In reality, of course, it's a miracle of grace! Praise God!

On a more personal note, I've been asked to preside over his funeral. I spent a few hours with him and his wife a few days ago. It was a very tender time, to be honest. He's come to grips with his soon-to-be passing, but wants to get things in order, as it were. I'm honoured to be able to help in this time of need. Continue to pray for Dan, Bill, and for me.


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Monday, August 27, 2007

Random thoughts on Canonicity

In the comments of my last post, I was accused of not "recogniz[ing] the Canon of Scripture". That's a charge I can't say has ever been levelled against me before, and it got me to thinking... Perhaps we need to talk about the issues involved in canonicity. If you have no interest whatsoever in how we came to have the Bible we now have, you may safely skip this post. For the rest of you...

There are a lot of issues tied up in this. I'm not quite sure how to approach this subject - it's potentially vast and complicated - so I'll just "shot-gun" a few topics in broad strokes. If anything in particular interests you, feel free to comment or send me an email and I can get into more detail.

So on with the broad brush:

A) Textual issues: There are two major "text types" floating around with regard to the New Testament. [The OT is pretty much dominated by one text type, the Masoretic Text.] One (the Majority Text) is generally much more numerous but not (comparatively) as old; the other (the Eclectic/Alexandrian Text) is generally much less numerous but significantly older. Which is more likely true? It's honestly more a question of philosophy than theology.

B) Textual variants: Within an given text type, there are always variations of a particular verse, phrase, or word. If - for example - a particular variation only shows up in one or two places out of a possible 75, the variation is normally ignored and few people ever know otherwise. If, however, a variation has more claim to consideration, most study Bibles will make a footnote of it. This is why your Bible sometimes has a footnote that reads, "some manuscripts read _____".

Not all variants are created equal, as you can imagine. The two most debated/heated are a) the reading of 1 John 5:7-8, and b) the "longer ending" of Mark (Mark 16:9-20). With regard to the first, only the text upon which the KJV is based (the so-called Textus Receptus, a micro-sized version of the Majority Text) reads

"For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one."

Every other text out there argues that some of these words are not in the originals, and thus have something like:

For there are three that testify, the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three are in agreement.

If you're paying attention, you probably already guessed why this is such a hot button for some people - if the Textus Receptus (KJV) version could be trusted, this is undoubtedly the clearest text in all of the Bible supporting the Trinity. But that doesn't change the fact that the extra words in question have almost no support in the massive amount of Greek fragments of the NT we've dug up and uncovered. It's just hugely unlikely that John actually penned those words. The only folk that argue otherwise are the most radical of the KJV-only people.

The other biggie is the longer ending of Mark. I went into some detail about it in my previous post, so I'll not bore you with the details here. It's not nearly as plain a choice as the 1 John 5 issue - most translations of the Bible therefore include the words, but with a footnote explaining the controversy a bit.

C) The formation of the Canon: This one gets a bit tricky. One thing that must be observed is the difference between the official approval and the common acceptance of the NT canon. There are those that will argue that the NT wasn't even "decided upon" until ______: they often pick Athanasius' Easter Letter of AD 367, but other dates/events are common. This is nonsense. The early church had a pretty clear picture of what writings they considered to be inspired from a fairly early date. For example, by the early 4th century AD Eusebius gives us a list of NT books that is virtually identical to ours today - the only difference being that he did not consider Revelation to be Scripture unless it could be shown for certain that John wrote it.

In general, the early church seems to have used apostolicity (was it written by an Apostle or a close associate of an Apostle), harmony (does it agree with the rest of Scripture), and geographic scope (have churches in other parts of the Empire regard it as Scripture) as the primary guides for deciding on Canonicity.

It's also important to note that the early church did not see itself as "deciding upon" or "selecting" the Canon. They viewed their role as discovery - looking for indications that God had authored a given text.

D) Autographa: Finally, let us note that the original manuscripts of the NT (the "autographa") - that is, the actual letters that, say, Paul wrote - no longer exist. Not a single autographa has ever been discovered. Frankly, I don't think they ever will be, since I find it likely that mankind would unduly venerate them (the same reason I find it unlikely the Ark of the Covenant will ever be found, though not why I doubt we'll ever find Noah's Ark). But the fact that we don't have the originals is of no real concern. We have over 3,000 copies of various sections of the NT, many of them dating back to within 400 years of the autographa (and some much closer than that). To put it in perspective, you can count on one hand the number of ancient manuscripts we have on hand of most ancient works. The recorded works of Homer, for example - only a copy or two dating back as far as the NT manuscript evidence. We don't even have all that many early copies of more common works - Shakespeare, for example. Yet no one doubts the accuracy of these other works. How much more so should we have confidence in our modern Bible?

E) Theological Issues: I would be remiss if I didn't point out that despite the various text types and textual variants there are no significant differences in the fundamental doctrines of the Bible. Moreover, some 97% of the various text agree with one another in all but the most mundane of details. Even the remaining 3% (roughly) is made up of mostly inconsequential issues like word order and articular/anarthrous constructions. The only two issues hotly contested I spoke about above - 1 John 5:7-8 and the longer ending of Mark. And even those are of little consequence in the grand scheme of things. Do we need the Textus Receptus version of 1 John 5:7-8 to show the Trinity from Scripture? Certainly not! If the longer ending of Mark turns out to be a later addition to the Bible and therefore not actually Canonical does it really effect our theology? Are we really that concerned about handling snakes and drinking poison (the only thematic elements not included in the other Gospels)? Hopefully not.


So, is all this now as clear as mud? Anything strike you as needing further analysis?


PS: I trust that you understand I have a very high view of Scripture, and that this discussion of some of the issues involved in the Canonicity debate does not change that fact. In fact, if I held a low view of Scripture, why would I even bother talking about this stuff?

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

of Snakes and Poison

I found myself engaged in (yet another) hermeneutical debate the other day, over at Hearts for Family. [Very interesting blog; fascinating connections to the whole pomo Christian debate.] I was defending against Primitivism (the notion that we must mirror everything we see described in the Bible) and in so doing was talking about the distinction we must make between genres within the Bible. Narrative, for example, must be understood and interpreted differently than other genres. In the process of conversation, one particular lady took issue with my contention. We discussed back and forth for a bit. Eventually I got around to using an actual example from Bible - the longer ending of Mark...

In the interested of keeping the original post on topic [since I've already drug it far enough away!], I'd like to recreate the last little bit (edited as necessary) and continue the conversation here, inviting my original debate partner and any one else to comment further.

So ... back to the longer ending of Mark, here's what I wrote on the other blog:

Certainly it's true that we can learn many principles from the Biblical narratives. But we dare not draw doctrine from them alone. Narrative can support doctrine or creed, but cannot bear the weight of such a load on its own.

Let me give a concrete example. Take the longer ending of Mark - the bit about handling snakes and drinking poison. There are those that say this narrative is prescriptive for us, that Christians today should be able (with enough faith) to pick up vipers and drink poison without being harmed. This is bad hermeneutics. The text is narrative, and therefore not so directly applicable.

There are, on the other hand, those that point out the narrative was referring specifically to the Apostles (all of whom are, of course, now dead) and that the narrative is therefore directly applicable to them but not us. In principle the text still has value and meaning for the Christ-follower today: God's ultimate control of the normal/natural order of things, His perfect provision, etc... But to make the claim that Christians today should be snake-handlers based upon the (narrative) longer ending of Mark is hermeneutical folly.

I'm in that second camp of people - don't ignore narrative or treat it as of secondary importance; do interpret narrative genre properly.

After posting that thought, I thought we'd found common ground. But she contended:

As for Mark 16:18, it's not a command, it's a promise. I've claimed it and I've seen it in action on the mission field. I've dealt with vipers and scorpions, even had to sleep in rooms with them. I've had to share a cup with someone whom I knew had a communicable disease. The Lord was faithful to His Word, as always, and I was protected.

I probably am not able to convince you that the narrative is a promise. But, my position on it remains unchanged because I've seen it in action. I've held onto it and believed it as a lifeline.

As my dad always told me, "A man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with a theory."


So where do we go from here? What are the hermeneutical principles in question, and is any of this even all that important?

Obviously I think it is! There are a number of issues here I'd like to touch upon.

A) Source: I chose the longer ending of Mark for my example on purpose. Whether the text was even originally part of the Bible is highly debated. There is good internal evidence to suggest that Mark's Gospel actually ended at verse 8; that the remainder (the "longer ending") was added later. If that's the case (and it's at least 50% likely; by most estimates more), we have a serious hermeneutical problem. In fact, the only text in all of the Bible that is more doubted is 1 John 5:7 (you'll only find the debated words in the KJV). But we can't be sure one way or the other about the validity/originality of this text. At the very least we should tread cautiously upon it, right?

B) Context: Here are the relevant surrounding verses -

Then he [Jesus] appeared to the eleven themselves, while they were eating, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen him resurrected. He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved, but the one who does not believe will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new languages; they will pick up snakes with their hands, and whatever poison they drink will not harm them; they will place their hands on the sick and they will be well.” After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. They went out and proclaimed everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through the accompanying signs.

A few things to note:

1) The message was preached by Jesus directly to His apostles; whether this message is directly applicable to us today is a question that must be addressed.
2) Jesus gave them this message to rebuke them for their own failure to believe the story of His resurrection - it seems very specific to the Apostles.
3) The only part of the message that is recorded elsewhere in (less source-debated) texts is the "go and preach" command. Since the snakes and poison part is anomalous to the rest of Scripture, it warrants special consideration.
4) The historical reference to what evidence these converts will give might be limited to the period of the Apostles - it's impossible for us to say with certainty that Jesus wants us to understand that these signs will be for all generations.
5) The point of the signs is revealed in the last verse - it was to confirm the message that Jesus had just given them. Again, whether this confirmation process is applicable to us today is a subject of debate, not assumption.

C) History: Did you notice the comment above about the difference between experience and theory? It's applicable, only not in the way you might think. If this "snake and poison" text is in fact a promise to all generations of Christ-followers, we should expect to find church history peppered with references. But we don't. Search the halls of church history and you'll find that a) there are almost no references to Christians handling snakes or drinking poison for about 1,900 of the last 2,000 years, and b) those few references we do have (outside of the last 100 years or so) almost always come from the lips of heretics. For whatever reason, we had about 95 generations of Christians come and go with nary ever a whisper of this "snake and poison" stuff. Only in the last 5 generations or so has it shown up at all, and even then in severely limited numbers.

So in reality, my interpretation of this "snakes and poison" text fits with the experience of the historical church; to posit its direct application to us today is merely a theory.

D) Genre: What exactly are the Gospels, anyway? They aren't just history, nor just prophecy ... what are they? Scholars have long debated this question, but the best answer (I think) is to say that Gospel literature is a narrative account crafted and ordered to make a main spiritual point. John's Gospel is pretty clear on this: John appears to have taken the historical accounts of Jesus and pieced them together in such a way as to prove that Jesus is God. His Gospel doesn't follow along in chronological order, he re-orders events to serve this higher literary purpose. The other (Synoptic) Gospels seem to fit the same concept.

It is therefore difficult at best to take descriptions of things happening in the Gospels and make them directly applicable to us today unless something in the text warrants doing so. (Broad-audience imperatives fit this exception, for example.) But the Gospels were not written to describe the normal Christian experience. They were written to describe the most abnormal of all times in human history - the time when God literally walked among us!


So in trying to interpret this "snakes and poison" text we have the following bits of information at our disposal:

a) It may not have even been in the Bible originally, and
b) the context is the ministry of the Apostles, and
c) virtually no one in all of church history has seen it as a promise to us, and
d) it's contained in Gospel genre.

Therefore, by far the most compelling interpretation of this text must include the notion that it is not directly applicable to us today - it's not a universal promise.

Your thoughts?


PS: I guess I could've called this "Even More Thoughts on Hermeneutics" to go with this one and this one, eh?

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Postmodernity and the Music Industry

I just read an interesting article about an independent band I'm not at all familiar with. The band's not the point; this quote is:

I think indie bands ... are becoming popular for the same reason I bought my 1904 house, and the same reason that downtown neighborhoods are gentrifying. Growing up in the age of Wal-Mart and 7-Eleven - which was the landscape of my youth - I'm craving authenticity. I think everyone is. You know, there's something real out there you can buy [speaking of music CDs], but you just have to scratch the surface to find it. I think people are sick of fakeness.

These words are from the band's 36 year old lead singer/songwriter. Further proof (as if we needed it) that cultural postmodernity is everywhere.


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Freedom From Religion

Interestingly, I read an article about Tibet and the Chinese persecution of Buddhists the other day. It was an old article - a year old magazine at work. It talked about how the Chinese government hopes to break the spiritual hold that Buddhism has on Tibet by eventually selecting the next Dalai Lama (when the presently 72 year old Dalai Lama dies).

According to Buddhism, the Dalai Lama is reincarnated as a child shortly after he dies. The Buddhist community therefore spends the next few years or so identifying/finding this child. I believe this tradition goes back 600 years or so.

Anyway, in a move that should be frightening to anyone with an innate sense of religious freedom, China is about to enact a very strange law...

This MSNBC article points out that China is now regulating where a person can be reincarnated! Under the new law, you cannot be reincarnated within China (which technically includes Tibet) without government pre-approval. I know this sounds comic ... and sad. But on another level it's just the natural extension of a regime that wants its people to have freedom from religion.

If given the chance, don't you think the ACLU (and plenty of others) would do the same sort of thing here in America?

Anyway, pray for Tibet and China. Talk about a spiritually dark and blind country! Our church family supports missionaries in China (though not Tibet), and they've recently come home for a brief stay. They tell strong stories about the power of the Evil One over there. We must be diligent to pray that the love of Christ might grip hearts and the power of the Spirit might give needed grace that these people might become followers of Jesus. Nothing short of God's name/glory is at stake.

And on a human suffering level, this new law is potentially cataclysmic. When the current Dalai Lama dies, the Chinese government will undoubtedly set up their own puppet Dalai. But the traditional Buddhists will also undoubtedly select their own Dalai. This, in the opinion of many experts, may well lead to massive revolts and vast human suffering.

Who knows?, perhaps all of that is somehow in the LORD's plans for His glory, so certainly I pray that His will be done. But if there's any way to avert this potential catastrophe, we should all be praying for peace.


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Emerging Democrats

I don't know much about author Anne Rice. I know that she once wrote dark and violent books (most famously, Interview with the Vampire). I know that a while back she became a follower of Jesus and began writing fictional books about the boyhood of Christ. I know that she's (for these and other reasons) quite controversial.

Here's another log to add to the fire of controversy: she's voting for Hillary.

That fact is not the point of this post, though...

What I find most fascinating about this whole situation has to do with the statement about this on her website. It's worth reading, regardless of your feelings about her or Hillary.

This section in particular is worth pondering:

Though I deeply respect those who disagree with me, I believe, for a variety of reasons, that the Democratic Party best reflects the values I hold based on the Gospels. Those values are most intensely expressed for me in the Gospel of Matthew, but they are expressed in all the gospels. Those values involve feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting those in prison, and above all, loving one’s neighbors and loving one’s enemies.

First, I find it very typical of the emerging movement to say that her Christian values are based upon the Gospel accounts, not the whole Bible. Please note, I have no idea if Anne Rice even knows about the emerging church or not, but this paragraph she wrote could easily have been penned by McLaren or McKnight or otherwise.

It comes down to the "living the life of Jesus" motif so common in emerging circles. A former professor of mine wrote about this over at his blog [you'll have to scroll down to the post entitled "Living the Life of Jesus..."]. While I'm sure that this goal (living as Christ lived) is noble, I'm not sure it's quite the right spin we need on our daily lives. He was, after all, God incarnate. I am not. Moreover, I'm not sure we should be neglecting the other 62 books of the Bible in preferential treatment for the four Gospels.

Also interesting in Anne's paragraph: she thinks the Democrat Party is better able to address the social justice concerns that she carries as a Christian. But let's back up a step or two. Do you believe that the best way to act upon these concerns is through the auspices of the federal government? Let me put it another (more loaded) way: As a follower of Christ, am I willing to let the church off the hook on social issues and say our main/only responsibility is to merely pay the appropriate tax? I guess I'm just not that trusting of bureaucracy...

So I guess this is another reason why I'll call myself emerging-friendly, but not emerging: I'm persuaded that Christ's followers must address the very real social justice issues facing our communities, but I'm not personally persuaded that the government is the best way to do so. Let's roll up our sleeves and get dirty, not just send off our tax check.

It's rather like missions, in a way. It's much easier for people to send money to overseas missions than it is for them to engage their own community with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For some (not all), I fear that sending money overseas is a way of relieving guilt. In perhaps the same way, it's much easier to get "outraged" about poverty (for example) and feel better about yourself by voting for the party that will try to tax the situation away than to actually (again, for example) volunteer at a soup kitchen or give money directly to the local food bank.

Anyway, Anne is to be commended for recognizing that politics and religion not only can, but must mix. I just disagree with her as to how.


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Another prayer request

A very good friend of mine (and daily reader here) is facing a very difficult situation and would covet our prayers. Here's the email I got from him last night [edited]:

Most of you know that Larissa's [Dan's wife] mother, Judy, has been very ill. She passed away sometime around 6:30 this evening [August 19]. She was a believer and while our pain is great with our loss, we are thankful that her suffering here on earth has ended.

It appears we will be going to East Jordan (by Traverse City) MI later this week for the funeral. We truly appreciate your thoughts and prayers.


Dan and Larissa have a four year old son who will be struggling through this time, too. Please pray for them all.


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Sunday, August 19, 2007

An open invitation

You know, it's funny how the whole blogging scene works. I sometimes spend a great deal of time working on a particular post, thinking it will inspire some good discussion ... only to find not a soul commenting. Then, other times, I post something short and off-the-cuff ... and find you guys commenting and interacting extensively.

What's a blogger to do?

I'm issuing an open invitation for any one to let me know what they do and don't like about my blog, what topics you would like to see addressed more or addressed less, and any suggestions you might otherwise have.

You may (if you're so bold!) leave them on this post as a comment, or you are (as always) welcome to email me via the "Ask the Pastor" link in the top left corner.

I understand that some of you guys read me regularly and simply can't find the time to comment nearly as regularly. I'd just like to know if I'm providing information and conversation that's of use, and how I might improve. As I've said before, my blog is really more for me than anything - I'm basically talking to myself in print, which forces me to be as articulate and specific as I can. But at the same time, I want to be an encourager and a stimulator for your journey, too.

As I continue to post, please keep me posted.


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Good news from the pulpit

As many of you know, I'm a big proponent of the Westminster Confession of Faith's purpose statement for humanity.

Q: What is the chief end of man?

A: To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

As such, I often find myself "battling" against those well-meaning folk that either explicitly or implicitly believe that the chief end of man is to spread the Gospel. While spreading the Gospel is certainly one way we glorify God, it must be set under the overall umbrella of God's glory.

Anyway, I bring all of this up again simply because my pastor preached a message this morning about precisely this point, and it was nice to be reminded.


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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Notes on Nehemiah

I just recently read through the book of Nehemiah again. I'm not sure why the LORD compelled me to read that particular book, but He did - so I did.

My interest in the book has been renewed, and I'm likely to post more than once on the subject. I thought I'd start with a simple observation and open it into a discussion about human nature in general...

If you're not familiar with the story of Nehemiah, I'd highly recommend you read it before finishing this post. Read the whole thing straight through - it won't take you too long. If you don't have a Bible handy, here's a link to the NET Bible version. [If you're unfamiliar with the NET Bible, take some time to acquaint yourself here; it's a great resource.]


So did you read it? Good.

Did you notice the words of 4:6-7? "So we rebuilt the wall, and the entire wall was joined together up to half its height. The people were enthusiastic in their work."

A more word-for-word rendering of the Hebrew text would by something like: "the people had a heart/mind for work". [The same Hebrew word can be translated "heart" or "mind", depending on context and English idiom.] But how can that be? Aren't these the same people that were not a few chapters earlier living in and around a hollow shell of a city? Didn't these same people manage to accomplish nothing in terms of restoring the wall for years prior? Weren't there a dozen or more excuses to offer?

What explains the difference in mindset?

As I see it, you could reasonably offer a few different and/or inter-related explanations. I'll list them here, and then I'd like to know how you see it - does one of my suggestions resonate with you, or is there something I've not considered?

Possible explanations:

1. They were previously leaderless; now they've been given leadership.

2. The polarizing presence of Nehemiah dramatically increased their risk of attack; they worked out of necessity.

3. They were destitute and forgotten; now they've been given hope.

4. They were a fundamentally selfish lot; Nehemiah tapped that by having them work on the wall directly in front of their own home.

It's important in these discussions to remember that the Bible doesn't explicitly tell us why the people were enthusiastic about this work; there can be no single "correct" answer to this question. But the context of the passage can certainly help support a handful of conclusions with some degree of certainty.

What do you think?


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Testing the test

Not too many weeks ago I had an email "conversation" with a buddy who's trying to wrap his head around the whole Modern/Postmodern issue within the context of Christianity. He wasn't sure where on the spectrum he fit; but of course there really is no well-defined spectrum! If you've read my posts on Postmodernity before, you know that I am always careful to distinguish between the Postmodernity of the Academy [think professor sitting in ivory tower with no connection to the real world] and cultural Postmodernity [think Joe on the street].

Anyway, in an effort to help my friend start the process of thinking and working through these issues I came up with a short "test". I offer it here with the hopes that a) it might help you in the same way it did him, and b) you might critique, add to, or correct it for the future...

I don't make any claim that this is necessarily a good test; only that it was helpful for at least one individual. Nor do I think it's touched on all that could be or perhaps should be. So without any further qualifications:

1.) Do you believe that mankind can, if he tries hard enough, find absolute truth? [Foundationalism]

2.) What's your view on the proper care of the earth? [Environmentalism]

3.) Can you explain the Trinity? [Mystery]

4.) What do you think of The Four Spiritual Laws as an evangelistic tool? [Logic]

5.) True or False: Excellence honours God and inspires people. [Authenticity]

6.) True or False: God doesn't give a flying leap about your personal spiritual growth unless it's in the context of a local church. [Community]

I'll leave you to answer these if you wish, but I'm otherwise searching for input about the questions themselves.


PS: If asked, I'll be happy to give my answers and/or my rationale for each question. But the point is more how you feel about them.

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Friday, August 17, 2007


As most of you know, I love music. I think I have music in my veins (I blame Dad, but that's another story!). Anyway, I added a music player to the site just now. It's all the way at the bottom of the page. You can select a different song to play from my list; otherwise it randomly picks one. For the moment the list is only a few songs long, but that will likely change in the weeks to come.

If you'd like to suggest a song to add to the playlist, feel free to do so here (as a comment) or you can email me at the "Ask the Pastor" link.


PS: If the music simply annoys you, you can mute it from the player if you like.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

One sentence only, please

This is very simple: when you first noticed my new header (or perhaps you're just noticing it now!), what did you think?


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Saturday, August 11, 2007

What a broad brush with which you paint!

[Yes, I know this is my fourth post of the day. I'm catching up on my blog reading!]

I just found an article so outlandish that it's almost funny. Except that the guy is serious. I'll cut him a little slack - there are people within the emerging church that fit his description. But to say Al-Qaeda Supports the Emergent Church!?!

This is the same kind of whiny, lack of understanding, bomb-throwing that people on the other side of the aisle are routinely accused of (and rightly so, often). God forbid we should actually try to understand a Christian movement before we declare it anathema! Both sides (traditional Fundamentalists and emerging/missional types) could learn a thing or two about constructive criticism, eh?


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Putting social justice in perspective

I stumbled across a very interesting website just recently. It takes various statistics and tries to paint a picture of the whole world if you reduced the population to 100 but kept the same proportions as our present world.

It's fascinating and humbling; depressing yet hopeful.

Check it out here. Select your language (that would be English, most likely!) and watch.


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(post)Modern day evangelism

I was browsing through the Resurgence recently and stumbled across a blog post by Ed Stetzer about evangelism. Many voices today are either arguing for or against this or that method of telling people about Jesus. His post shows more balance and serves as a great reminder to us all: there are lots of different people and lots of different contexts out there - share Christ in whatever way is most appropriate to the situation.

I invite you to read his post here.


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What's a "Social Conservative"?

As you might have guessed from a cursory reading of my blog, I'm a follower of Christ. I know, big surprise! But what you might also guess about me is that I'm therefore a "social conservative". This is true enough, but perhaps not in quite the way you might think.

It's long bothered me that we, as evangelical Christians, have adopted only some of the really pressing "social" issues of our day as near and dear to our cause. You know the two biggies: pro-life and pro-family. But what about others, arguably just as important? ...

As I see it, there are at least five "social" issues that Christ's followers should be passionately concerned about. In broad categories, these are:

1: Pro-life - I find it appalling that we've killed roughly 48,000,000 (yes, that's 48 million) babies since Roe vs. Wade in 1973. Let me put that number in perspective for you. If you add up the entire population of Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio and West Virginia you don't quite reach 48 million. That's how many babies America has killed since the year I was born. That fact shocks my soul. It just can't be. But it is.

Followers of Christ must be pro-life.

2: Pro-family - While I don't often agree with the tactics used by many, I nevertheless find it critically important to support the Biblical concept of family. But don't let that mean "anti-gay" in your mind. The fact that I support traditional marriage is only a small part of what it means to be truly pro-family. I support traditional motherhood, too. I believe that it's critically important for the welfare of children that their mother be with them as much as humanly possible. I'm not saying a woman can't work outside of the home, but that if possible she oughtn't while raising children. But pro-family doesn't stop there, either. What about the training of my children? To be pro-family means to be actively involved in their education and training, regardless of what method (public, private, or homeschool) you use.

Followers of Christ must be pro-family.

3: Pro-environment - Here I may begin to lose some of you, but hear me out. If it's true that God created this entire world and all that's in it, and if it's true that God intended it to be Edenic, and if it's true that God will one day restore this earth to that original Edenic state, and if it's true that God gave mankind the responsibility to care for and nurture it until such time as He works this restoration, then how can His children not be environmentalists? I don't mean "tree-huggers", for sure. But I mean Christians committed to the care of His world as much as we care for all the other blessings He's given us. How often have we heard a Christian refer to (for example) their house as a "blessing from the LORD"? [And it is; I'm not denying that.] That same follower of the Son will take steps to care for his house, won't he? He'll not let the roof fall apart. He'll mow the lawn. He'll make sure the pipes don't leak, and he'll fix them if they do. He'll likely even beautify his house and property.

Why don't we think the same way about this planet?

A follower of Christ must be pro-environment.

4: Pro-justice - The Minor Prophets are, more than anything, written to portray God's judgement against His people for their many sins. But do you know what sin seems most often mentioned? Social injustice. God judges His children because they take no care for the poor and destitute of their society. He scolds them for abusing the weak and powerless. He views their material prosperity with contempt, because it's been built on the backs of downtrodden and maligned people. Christ's followers (not the government) have the primary responsibility to see that these things don't happen in our society today. Support soup kitchens and food pantries. Vote against people and measures that would hurt the already helpless. Be a thoughtful consumer - the most important issue in whether you buy from X or Y isn't always price!

And what about the more massive issues? Katrina. Darfur. International child trafficking. AIDS in Africa. There's plenty of work to do, folks.

A follower of Christ must be pro-justice.

5: Pro-peace - "Pursue peace with everyone" (Hebrews 12:14a). I want to be careful here to distinguish between us as individuals and churches, and us as a nation. There is a difference, though perhaps not as great as some would make it. Nevertheless, the principle is clear: whenever possible, peace is a better option than conflict. Do I have a "right" to be in conflict with my neighbor over the bush on the property line that hangs into my yard? I suppose the American court system might say so, but I chose peace. Do you have a "right" to avoid your sister because she's done your family wrong? Chose peace. Do we as churches have a "right" to be in conflict with the local skater kids that we sometimes find in the parking lot? Chose peace.

Whenever possible, chose peace. This often requires active pursuit, as the verse in Hebrews mentions.

A follower of Christ must be pro-peace.


So what exactly is a "social conservative"? If you mean what the rank of file of America thinks when you say that phrase, I want no part of it. They tend to think "social conservative" means "anti-abortion, anti-gay, no fun and holier-than-thou".

So in that sense I'm not a social conservative. And frankly, I'm not really bothered by that. I'd much rather be known as a Christian that's devoted to these five social issues than merely as a "social conservative". I'm not saying I've got it all figured out and live these principles fully and wholly - I'm a sinner just like you. But these are the social principles I feel passionately about.

What about you?


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Friday, August 10, 2007

Finding balance in an off-kilter world

As I've been working through the process of sending resumes to churches, reading online search ads, reading church websites (I'm sure it's more than 100 by now), etc... I've spent a lot of time thinking (and praying, but not enough) about the situation that many of these churches find themselves in...

In a word: unbalance. They've lived without a pastor for months, sometimes years. They were accustomed to having a leader of leaders, but then suddenly (and for varied reasons) they don't. They do fine for a while, especially those that had a good system of leadership training in place. But like it or not, they're rather off-kilter.

It's like waking up one morning with a stiffness in your neck that only allows you to function if you tip your head ever so slightly to the right. At first you rejoice that you've discovered a way of coping with this situation. And as the day goes on, you almost forget that your head is slightly tilted. When you reach the end of the day, you reflect back upon it and fall asleep hoping your neck will be better in the morning.

But if your in the situation of most churches seeking a pastor, your neck is no better in the morning. Hopefully it's no worse either, but it's definitely no better. And so you move through the days and weeks and months in this slightly not-normal position. You get used to it. But then it simply gets wearisome and you begin to long for the day you can keep your head straight up and down.

I've been a part of churches that went through the search for a pastor. I've had good friends and family who've gone through the same. Truth be known, most of us likely have some association with this condition. It's tolerable, but no fun. So how do you get through it?

Faith and patience.

Now I'm looking at the situation from the other side, but I'm beginning to feel the same way - slightly off-kilter. I'm doing fine; I enjoy the research time I have these days, I'm still getting used to not being a seminary student anymore, I love reading through the websites of all these searching churches. But for all my "fine", my head is still tipped ever so slightly off-kilter. Each of us was made to serve Him, and each in varied ways. I was made to serve Him as a pastor, but yet I find myself without a church. It's tolerable, but not fun. So who do I get through it?

Faith and patience.

LORD, I pray you might quickly bring my path together with the church family out there that you have ordained. But in the meantime, give us all faith and patience.


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Thursday, August 9, 2007

On Dispensationalism

As I mentioned here, one of the fundamental differences between denominations/movements has to do with systematic theology. For those of you not terribly familiar with Dispensationalism, I thought I'd periodically offer small bits of information. This is the first of such periodic installments...

One thing that separates Dispensationalists from others has to do with the birth of the Church. By Church (with the capital C) I mean, of course, the entire Body of Christ - past, present and future. And I, as a Dispensationalist, take the birth of the Church to have happened on the day of Pentecost, after Jesus' resurrection.

This may strike some of you as odd. Perhaps you've always been told that the Church now is more or less the same thing as Israel was in the Old Testament. Or perhaps you thought the Church began with Christ.

Here is the basic reasoning behind Dispensationalism's claim that the Church did not start until the second chapter of Acts:

1. The Church is the body of Christ - Eph 1:22-23

2. The means of entrance and incorporation in the Body of Christ is by the baptism of the Holy Spirit - Cor.12:13

3. The Church was still future when Christ used the word for the first time in the Bible - Matt 16:18

4. The baptism of the Holy Spirit was (obviously!) still future when Jesus predicted such in Acts 1:5

5. In Acts 11:15-16 Peter identifies the filling of the Spirit of Acts 2:4 as simultaneous with the first occurrence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit in specific fulfillment of Christ’s words of Acts 1:5

6. Therefore, since the baptism of the Holy Spirit first occurred at Pentecost and baptism of the Holy Spirit is the means of entrance into the Church, the Church began at Pentecost


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Like you, I know that forgiveness is a good thing. A healthy thing. A necessary and commanded thing. I, perhaps like you, know all of that intellectually.

But sometimes experience doesn't line up with knowledge.

Without wanting to get into any of the details, let me just say that there was a person in my life that I needed to forgive. Badly. And the worse part is that it didn't even occur to me that I needed to forgive this person until recently. The LORD brought it to my attention during a time of prayer.

As you may have guessed from my use of the past tense above, I have recently chosen to forgive this individual, and I'm better for it. I almost literally feel as if a weight has been lifted from me - a weight it hardly even realized I was bearing.

Whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven will also forgive you your sins. Mark 11:25


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Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Expanding our horizons

I've been struck lately by how little Christians of one theological stripe know about Christians of other theological stripes. I guess my perspective is unusual, having spent so many years in seminary. But I just sort of assumed that most Christians had some kind of basic framework to understand different theological traditions. In case you don't, let me explain a bit...

In what follows, I'll list three of the major categories of difference of opinion, then give some examples of different traditions/denominations that hold these various views. This is not intended to be a hard and fast rule, nor is it exhaustive - I'm painting with a broad brush here.

Let's take personal salvation, for example. As most know, there are two dominant evangelical ways of looking at this issue: you either believe in what's called 'eternal security' or you don't. There are variations on the theme, but generally some evangelicals are of the mind that once a person has truly accepted Christ as their saviour, they are assured of their salvation. Others, however, believe that a person could conceivably commit certain sins (or certain amounts of sin, etc...) and thereby lose the salvation Jesus gave them.

Eternal security (generally): Baptist, Bible, Brethren, Assembly of God
No eternal security (generally): Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Nazarene

Here's another major difference: systematic theology. There are (again) two primary ways of viewing the whole nature of the Bible, especially the distinction between the Old Testament and the New Testament. There are those (called Dispensationalist, and they come in at least three flavors) that take a more literal view of the Old Testament and see it as applying directly to Israel (not the church). There are those (in the fold of Covenant Theology) that believe the Church has spiritually inherited the promises once made literally to Israel. What's the difference? Well, among other things, this accounts for why some baptize babies and others don't.

Dispensationalism (generally): Baptist, Bible, Brethren
Covenant Theology (generally): Methodist, Lutheran, Christian Reformed

What about worship? There are two broad categories here: high church and low church. High church folk believe worship gatherings should be more reverent, quiet, and organized. They tend to come to these gatherings dressed well. Their pastors/ministers often wear robes or collars. Think stained glass, high pulpit and dark wood. Low church folk, on the other hand, view worship gatherings as more celebratory. They tend to come to these gatherings 'as they are'. Their pastors/ministers likely only wear a ties, if that.

High church: Lutheran, Episcopalian, Presbyterian
Low church: Methodist, Baptist, Mennonite


Hopefully I've not insulted any one's intelligence - I just find that some of these broad categories aren't very well known across denominational boundaries. I meet lots of people who are only familiar with their own tradition and haven't a clue about others.

So what about you? What other categories have you noted (there are plenty!)? What differences strike you as interesting or curious?


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Monday, August 6, 2007

I'll take one solid aluminum external fixator, please

It's official - Hannah finally had the external fixator (doctor-speak for 'turnbuckle') removed from her forearm. It was a very long day (driving to Indianapolis and back again), but well worth it all. Hannah will get to remove the last of the bandages in a few days and at last she'll have full use of her arm again. Thanks for those that prayed - the doctors involved have been nothing short of shocked that she healed so quickly and so thoroughly.


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Sunday, August 5, 2007


In life you often have to choose one or the other. You either take this job or that job. You either name your child this or that. You either join this church or that church.

But sometimes you get to have both/and.

One of the most perfect inventions of all time, for example, is KFBell - both Kentucky Fried Chicken and Taco Bell under one roof! Or, slightly more seriously, you might get both medical insurance and a Christmas bonus.

Both/and is a good thing, but often a rare thing.

I've got a situation in my life and I'm not sure I can have both/and...

As I have been spending the last few months searching for the church that the LORD wants me to serve at, I've had plenty of opportunities to answer questions from pastoral search committees. Some pretty basic ones: "describe your conversion experience". Some pretty interesting ones: "list the last five books you've read". I've had phone calls, letters, and more email than should be allowable by law! But through it all, I'm increasingly finding myself torn over one particular both/and.

I am a certified Fundamentalist on many doctrinal levels. I'm a Dispensationalist (and not even a Progressive one at that!). I will die for the doctrine of inerrancy. I do not believe the "sign gifts" of the early church are applicable today. I do not believe women should serve as pastors/elders. I believe in a literal Tribulation and Millennium. I've taken 4 semesters of Hebrew and 9 semesters of Greek. In many ways, I'm as conservative as they come.

But I'm also very sympathetic to the crisis of Postmodernity. In fact, I identify myself as more postmodern than modern. I'm interested in the historic spiritual disciplines (like silence, for example). I'm vastly more missional than traditional in my view of how we "do" church. I'm perfectly comfortable with mystery - in fact, I rather like it. I recognize that there simply must be more to the Gospel than merely a message of personal salvation. I think we must do a better job of caring for the creation God left in our charge. In many ways, I'm a liberal (at least from the perspective of my IFCA and GARB friends).

The fact that I'm even willing to interact with the emerging church, postmoderinty, missional thinking, and newer philosophies of ministry scares many churches away from seriously considering me.

The fact that I believe doctrine is important, that doctrinal distinctives cannot and should not be shoved under the carpet, that particular hermeneutical principles are worth fighting for, and that Greek and Hebrew are highly valuable languages to understand makes me anathema to others.

But I want both/and on this one. I want both orthodoxy and orthopraxis. I want both good doctrine and good community. I want both serious inquiry and a willingness to stand on the shoulders of those that came before us. I want to be both relevant and Biblical.

I want both/and.

I refuse to play the "game" of making myself out to be something I'm not. I guess that's the postmodern in me coming to the fore - I've gotta keep it real!

Pray for me, guys. I've said many times that my present path is one of faith and patience. Right now I need a good healthy infusion of both in my life; I'm starting to feel a bit weary...

But I refuse to give up on both/and.


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Saturday, August 4, 2007

More thoughts on Hermeneutics

As I've said before, the issue of hermeneutics (principles for Bible interpretation) is one over which I often part company with my emerging church friends. For those of you interested, I thought I'd discuss the two main (broad brush) methods of interpreting the Bible on the landscape right now. If you've ever wondered why some people interpret the Bible so very differently than others, this post will help you begin to create a framework for answering that question...

There are lots and lots of hermeneutical systems out there; I don't want to give the impression that there are only two. But in general terms, the systems out there can be classified in one of two ways:

Reader Response: This basic system of interpreting the Bible states that what is important in a given passage of Scripture is what the text means/says to you. That is, the response of the present-day reader is what is most important. This is not the same as asking the "how does this verse apply to my life" question. This is a system that believes the message of the Word of God will necessarily vary from reader to reader; God uses His power to guide each individual reader of Scripture to their individual interpretation. So an adherent of this system will freely allow that verse A can mean X to one person and Y to another and Z to a third, etc... Sometimes these different "meanings" can even be contradictory, or at least appear to be.

Here's a good example. I read a blog post recently defending the position that women can serve as pastors. This lady (a female pastor) made several points supporting her position, then came to the issue of Paul's view based upon his New Testament writings. She writes, "You know, I had the classes in seminary on the 'texts of terror' so often used to keep women from leadership in the church. Paul takes both sides of the issue, depending on where you look."

I presume that most people realize this is a logical impossibility. [Man, do I sound terribly Modern!] From my vantage point, it's simply not possible that Paul simultaneously believed that woman both can and cannot serve as pastors. He had to hold one view or the other, right? Or perhaps some third view. But he couldn't have held those two contradictory views at the same time, not if he was rational.

Reader response theory has little trouble rectifying this. What's important, they say, is how you (as the reader) understand Paul. So, most likely, this lady would simply note that people like me understand Paul one way and she understands him another. No problem.

Authorial Intent: Under this large umbrella sit all the people (myself included) that believe the key to understanding Scripture is to first decipher why the original (human) author wrote it in the first place. So you approach a given text trying to learn as much about the context and language as possible. [This is why I am so adamant that seminaries are doing a disservice to students by increasingly taking away their exposure to Greek and Hebrew, incidentally.] In the case of women in the pastorate, you try to honestly answer the "why did Paul write those verses?" question first. Then, and only then, can you begin to decipher what Paul's position was - assuming you believe he had a position on the issue (which I do, personally).

Since I've started down the "female pastors" road, let's use the example a bit more. Virtually everyone that supports women in the pastorate (and especially those that hold a reader response view) turns to Galatians 3:28 for support:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female – for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

An interpreter using reader response thinking will ask, "what does this verse mean to you?".

An interpreter using authorial intent thinking will ask, "Why did Paul write these words?".

Here's why this is important: nothing in the context of Galatians implies that Paul is even thinking about women in the pastorate. Not one verse. Nothing. Galatians was not written to address this issue. Paul is talking about people as Christ followers - it doesn't matter whether your skin is one colour or another, whether your male or female, or what your station in life is in terms of being a Christian.

But the reader response interpreter says none of that matters. Consequently, some of them also use this text to support complete egalitarianism within marriage and society. Please note that nothing in Galatians gives us even the slightest clue that Paul intended to address those issues either. But according to reader response hermeneutics, that fact doesn't matter.

So set aside this particular example for a moment and chew on these general questions: does it, or does it not, matter why a given passage of the Bible was written in the first place? If we can know, is it helpful to understand how the original audience of a given passage of the Bible understood it? Does original context determine meaning or one's personal, present context determine meaning?

For my part, I maintain that it does matter, it is helpful, and original context is determinative. My impression of most emerging church people is that they would disagree.

This is yet another reason why I consistently call myself "emerging-friendly", but not "emerging".


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Friday, August 3, 2007


No, I have not fallen off the face of the planet.

We've just recently returned from our family vacation. It was outstanding, and if you'll permit me I'll bore you with a few pictures...

We travelled up to Michigan's Upper Peninsula and rented a cabin on Drummond Island. What follows is the bulletin board version of our vacation:

This one was taken at Whitefish Point.

Here's a view of Lower Tahquamenon Falls (officially my very most favourite space on Earth, at least that I've actually been too!).

This is the view 40 feet under the surface of Kitch-iti-kipi (a.k.a. Big Spring). Yes, those are trout with sand on their backs! And yes, the water is that clear.

This is Fort Michilimackinac. Notice the bridge to the U.P. in the background.

These rifles are being fired on the grounds of Fort Mackinac. This is the fort on Mackinac Island - the one above is at the very tip of Michigan's Lower Peninsula.

This is my oldest daughter (Rebekah) preparing to help in the saw pit at Mill Creek. That's pronounced "crick", in case you didn't know!

This is the freighter American Integrity just about ready to head downbound at the Soo Locks. This ship is 1,000' feet long! It's one of the biggest on the Great Lakes. Oh, and it has 14,000 horsepower.

This is Glen Cove, on the east side of Drummond Island. The road to get to this cove was ... amusing, to say the least. It was clearly designed for ATVs and snowmobiles, not 15-passenger vans, but we made it. And the view was worth the dust and bumps, don't you think?

This is the cabin we rented. It's on the west side of Drummond Island, facing the passageway that all the lake freighters go through on their way to Sault Saint Marie.

Consequently, we got views like this one every single day, at least ten times a day! I couldn't make out the name of this vessel - the last few days we were there were pretty hazy. Mom absolutely loved sitting in the screen room and watching the ships go by. I know Winston (my dear but departed father-in-law) would've loved them even more.

It's probably only fitting that I leave you with a view of the sunset we got to watch from the deck every evening. It was truly a wonderful vacation. We're grateful to the God who made these beautiful places and made us able to go and see them together.


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