Thursday, February 28, 2008

church by poll?

A few days ago, I made this comment in the "what if..." entry.

What if asking non-believers what they want from the church isn't the best way What if that seems a lot like a marketing strategy, "We'll poll 1,000 people who say they do not believe in Christ, find out what they say their problems are with the church and why they don't believe, and change our message and our methods to fit their tastes."

Yesterday, I was listening to Doug Pagitt in an Emergent Village podcast from the 2007 Emergent Mainline Conference. Here is a story he told in his presentation, which is roughly 57 minutes into the podcast.

Last night at the bar(?)...there was some people sitting in a corner table, and I was walking by, and sort of struck up a conversation, they weren't with us. They're building a restaurant, and my wife and I are going to start this cafe, and we sort of started into this conversation about this thing we're going to do, and I talked to him. He said "So what are you here for?" And I said "Well I'm here with these pastors." And he said--we had this long conversation, and he said this...He said something to the sort of--he owns the coffee shop now and is buying the building next door to it to expand...he said "I was in my coffee shop today, and there were two people in there talking to each other, clearly in leadership of churches." He said "I'm not sure what it was, but I could just tell, I was kind of overhearing their conversation, and they were talking about 'this is what the church has to be, and the church has to be this and this', this is how he's describing it. 'The church has to be like this, and it has to do this, and it has to do this, and we have to get it that way'. The man at the restaurant, he said to me last night, "It was everything I could do to restrain myself, to not walk up and say to them, "Why in the h*** don't you ask the people what they want, instead of thinking you know everything?" Whoa. A little while later, he said, "My dad's from Minnesota, he went to (something) Academy, he was a pastor for a lot of years". Insider becomes outsider then talks back in.

Apologies for the asterisked profanity, that was the word Pagitt used.

Not having any idea of what those two supposed church leaders were talking about ('that' and 'that' are not very good indicators), I can't say much yea or nay about them. My concern is with Pagitt's seeming agrement with the coffee shop's owner that those church leaders, and by extention the church as a whole, should ask the people what they want, and perhaps be prepared to give it to them.

Church as marketing strategy.

Is that really what the Gospel is about?

Consider, please. What if Jesus had done this? What if He had gone around Israel, taking polls, trying to get the pulse of the people, trying to understand them and give them what they wanted? What if when He was asked about taxes, he had responded that yeah, it wasn't fair to pay to taxes to an oppressive repressive guy in some far-off palace in some far-away city who would only use it to conquer some other people. What if when a bunch of people followed Him around looking a free meal, he had decided to go ahead and provide that food for them, because heck that's what they wanted, right?

Why the h*** don't we ask the people what they want? Because what the people want is at best secondary. The church isn't about what the people want, it's about what God wants, and what people need. Wants aren't completely disregarded, no, but nor are they the ruling element.

Here is a thought from Pastor Elrod, in a recent of his called "Perception Is NOT Reality"...

To suggest that we allow the perception of those far from God (to) dictate the direction of the Church...instead of following the reality and Truth of God's a dangerous and flawed concept!!!

Christianity and the church are about passing on a message that is meant to change the hearers--repent, convert, believe in Christ, follow and obey Him, lay down your life for Him. It is not the hearers who are meant to change the message.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

book review, part 2--the secret message of jesus--the reimagined/deconstructed sermon on the mount

I've sometimes thought that if I were to a psychologist or phyciatrist or counselor or some other kind of wise guy, I would find it an interesting study in human thought to have my patients re-write the stories and words of Jesus as they would imagine he said them or did them.

For example, here's McLaren's retelling of part of the sermon on the mount, from p. 15 of the book.

Do you want to know who will be blessed? Not the powerful ones with lots of maney and weapons. No, the poor will be blessed. Not the ones who can shout the loudest and get their way. No, the meek will be blessed. Not the ones who kill their enemies. No, the ones who are persecuted for doing what's right. Not those who play it safe, but those who stand up for the sake of justice. Not the clever and the sly, but the pure of heart. Not those who make war. No, those who make peace.

There is so much here to have so much fun with...

For example, Jesus' words were "blessed are the poor in spirit". Can we really equate 'poor in spirit' with 'poor in material things'? If McLaren really believed that the poor are the ones who are blessed, why does he say he wants to help them? Really, if poverty is such a blessed state, why would he want to help people out of it? In fact, instead of helping the poor out of their poverty, wouldn't he much rather want to help those not in that state of blessedness into it? Granted, his economic policy could be said to be "anti-rich", if not socialistic, and as I read in a "Runaways" comic a bit ago, "Capitalism may be the unequal distribution of wealth, but Communism is the equal distribution of poverty".

And I find it odd that one who seems to be against those who shout loud and try to make things go their own ways is now into political activism--Deep Shift and Sojournors and all that. I can't help but find that ironic.

To go out of order a bit, where in the list of the beatitudes do we see anything about "those who stand up for the sake of justice"? Maybe it's something being read in by the author? Find round hole (or hammer one in if you have to), and put in square peg (perhaps with the previously mentioned hammer).

And, of course, one can't be 'clever and sly' and not be pure in heart? Not that McLaren is above being (or attempting to be) clever and sly, heck his whole book is about Jesus being so clever and sly that people calling themselves Christians have missed His "secret message", until of course McLaren and friends found it again after 2000 some odd years.

McLaren deals elsewhere with the supposed (read: read in) pacifism of the New Testament, in a chapter called "The Peaceable Kingdom" which is late in the book. It's always amazing what people can read into the NT about pacifism when--

1. There is no reputiation in the NT of any of the wars and fighting which fills the Old Testament
2. There are three NT encounters between believers or Christ Himself and military personnel, and in none of them are military people condemned and told to leave their jobs and protest the man and become flower children.
3. In fact, as even McLaren himself points out in the peaceable kingdom chapter, John the Baptist doesn't tell the soldiers to leave their jobs, and as he doesn't point out, Jesus strongly praises the faith of the centurion who came to Jesus to heal his servant, and it was another centurion named Cornelius who was the one to whom Peter was sent to open up the Gospel to the Gentiles.
4. We have accounts of Jesus making a whip and taking it to money-changers in the Temple, and telling his disciples to get swords. One would assume that Jesus made use of that whip, perhaps on persons though we are not told that way or this, and we may assume that Jesus meant for his disciples to use their swords should the time come.

So, yes, from such scant or even nonexistent material we get the teaching that Christians have no place in the military (btw McLaren (dare I say reluctantly) admits the believers have a place in the military).

I think I'll end with a couple of quotes from Chesterton in 'Orthodoxy', in the chapter "The Paradoxes of Christianity", from a couple of different places in that chapter.

It was the fault of poor old Christianity (somehow or other) both that Edward the Confessor did not fight and that Richard Coeur de Leon did. The Quakers (we were told) were the only characteristic Christians; and yet the massacres of Cromwell and Alva were characteristic Christian crimes. What could it all mean? What was this Christianity which always forbade war and always produced wars? What could be the nature of the thing which one could abuse first because it would not fight, and second because it was always fighting? In what world of riddles was born this monstrous murder and this monstrous meekness? The shape of Christianity grew a queerer shape every instant.


So it is also, of course, with the contradictory charges of the anti-Christians about submission and slaughter. It IS true that the Church told some men to fight and others not to fight; and it IS true that those who fought were like thunderbolts
and those who did not fight were like statues. All this simply means that the Church preferred to use its Supermen and to use its Tolstoyans. There must be SOME good in the life of battle, for so many good men have enjoyed being soldiers. There must be SOME good in the idea of non-resistance, for so many good men seem to enjoy being Quakers. All that the Church did (so far as that goes) was to prevent either of these good things from ousting the other. They existed side by side. The Tolstoyans, having all the scruples of monks, simply became monks. The Quakers became a club instead of becoming a sect. Monks said all that Tolstoy says; they poured out lucid lamentations about the cruelty of battles and the vanity of revenge. But the Tolstoyans are not quite right enough to run the whole world; and in the ages of faith they were not allowed to run it. The world did not lose the last charge of Sir James Douglas or the banner of Joan the Maid. And sometimes this pure gentleness and this pure fierceness met and justified their juncture; the paradox of all the prophets was fulfilled, and, in the soul of St. Louis, the lion lay down with the lamb. But remember that this text is too lightly interpreted. It is constantly assured, especially in our Tolstoyan tendencies, that when the lion lies down with the lamb the lion becomes lamb-like. But that is brutal annexation and imperialism on the part of the lamb. That is simply the lamb absorbing the lion instead of the lion eating the lamb. The real problem is--Can the lion lie down with the lamb and still retain his royal ferocity? THAT is the problem the Church attempted; THAT is the miracle she achieved.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

book review, part 1--the secret message of jesus--the rain and reign of "what if..."

I suppose there is no better way to begin a review of McLaren's book "The Secret Message of Jesus" then in the same way he begins he (not counting the introduction, and really, who ever does), with a bunch of "what if..." questions.

What if other people can use "what if" questions, too? What if they do? What if that causes all kinds of problems? What if someone like me starts using them, to question the "what if" questions McLaren seems to make his literary bread-and-butter on?

What if McLaren's questions aren't so innocent? What if they're leading, trying to make us not only ask question but also get the answers he wants us to get? What if his answers are wrong?

What if we have not been as far off from Jesus' rather clear and plain message as McLaren wants people to believe? What if the church has done its job? What if the problem isn't so much with the church, but with those who don't believe? What if asking non-believers what they want from the church isn't the best way? What if that seems a lot like a marketing strategy, "We'll poll 1,000 people who say they do not believe in Christ, find out what they say their problems are with the church and why they don't believe, and change our message and our methods to fit their tastes."

What if Jesus told us that the world would hate us? What if Jesus promised things like trials and persecutions? What if Jesus said that the way was narrow, and few would find it? What if all of their rhetoric about Jesus' death being the fault of religious and political powers of his day only disguises the fact that it was a mob of common people who cried out "Crucify Him!"? What if the common people followed Him around when he fed them and did miracles, but not many of them really came to believe in Him?

What God told us that light had come into the world, but that people chose the darkness? What if they did so, because what they do is evil?

What if people like McLaren overplay problems in the church, so that they can make the church seem like the problem? What if the church isn't really the problem? What if there are problems in the church, but what if they church isn't really the problem? What if the unbelievers only use the actions of a few in the church simply as excuses for continuing in their sins?

What if the church is filled with people who are getting it right? What if they aren't perfect people, but people who are faithful believers? What if they have understood far more then an over-educated urbanized former preacher is willing to give them credit for understanding?

What if McLaren is wrong? What if he has it all wrong, or at least mostly wrong? What if there is no "secret message" that he seems intent on selling to us? What if Jesus wasn't playing coy, what if the church hasn't missed some of kind of secret hidden message?

What if Jesus' kingdom really is "not of this world", as Jesus Himself said? What if when Jesus promised the crucified thief "You will be with Me in Paradise", he was answering the man's questions about remembering him when He came into His kingdom? What if the thief knew that he was dying, and correctly understood that Christ's kingdom was the place he wanted to go to after his death?

What if Jesus didn't come to start the revolution? What if we don't need to consult with Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and those in Judaism to get some kind of "a shared reappraisal of Jesus message", as McLaren suggests on page 7? What if Jesus came to call people to repent, not to consensus? What if Jesus came to call people to reappraise themselves, not His message? What if the message of Jesus was for those in other religions to repent and leave their false and demonic beliefs and follow Him, and not change His message to suit themselves?

What if this is as important as McLaren thinks, but what if his opinions and teachings are more wrong then he can image? What if his low views of theology are not just wrong, but tragic? What if his attempts to "play nice" are only compromises? What if his ideas of "social justice" contradict the laws of God? What if he's trying to introduce a form of legalism even more terrible then any fundamentalism? What if he's doing all of the things he claims those who disagree with him are doing? What if normalizing and legalizing behaviors contrary to biblical morality is the very opposite of 'social justice'?

I think I've gone on quite long enough. You get the idea, I think.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

'hope it don't snow' chess tournament--an unspectacular return

There was actually a chess tournament last month, but I didn't find out about it until after it had already taken place. Need to keep up on the tournaments page on the KCA site, I guess.

Anyway, for the first time in a few months, it was back to the trenches over the chessboard.

The facilities are new, in an old sort of way. Tournaments had been at an inn in Lexington, but that's ended, and now they are at a country club where the Lexington chess club has been meeting on Wednesday evenings for quite some time. The room isn't very large, it's a bit cramped, but it is sufficient. There was mention of having a new site in a few months

The tournament was a 5 round, G/45 one. I played in four rounds, didn't stay for the fifth. I wasn't in a position to win anything, and I wanted to meet some friends, as I hadn't realized that the tournament would last so long and go so late.

The first round was a good game, though a loss for me. Made an interesting sacrifice to gain some positional plusses, but I think I didn't take advantage of them quickly enough, and didn't get the breakthrough before my opponent could get some defensive resources and held me back.

Second game was a bit of a heartbreaker. It was pretty even for most of it, my defensive system was rather passive but solid, and my opponent couldn't get a breakthrough until late. He won a couple of pawns, but I won back an exchange. I may have overestimated my advantage, but at the least I left my king too vulnerable and had to resign before a mate threat.

The third one was my only win. It was a rather tame game--I played a system that weakened my opponent's pawns, there was some small interests in the middle game, but with reasonable caution I wasn't really in any fear of losing.

Finally, the fourth was almost like the third, except that my opponent held on hard, and while he had weaknesses he kept them covered and I couldn't see a way to drive home any advantage I may have had. There were some interesting tactics at the end, and my opponent made a sacrifice to gain a draw by perpetual check.

So, four games, four interesting fights, though not the best of end results, I guess. Can't complain, I at least had my chances, and it was an enjoyable time. Several people I hadn't seen since way back when returned.

early church father on Christ's return--irenaeus

ANF01. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus

Here is one of the more interesting ancient excerpts concerning how some in the early church viewed the scriptures and prophecies about Christ's return. Here is the wiki on Irenaeus.

p 969
Against Heresies, book V
Chapter XXV.—The fraud, pride, and tyrannical kingdom of Antichrist, as described by Daniel and Paul.
1. And not only by the particulars already mentioned, but also by means of the events which shall occur in the time of Antichrist is it shown that he, being an apostate and a robber, is anxious to be adored as God; and that, although a mere slave, he wishes himself to be proclaimed as a king. For he (Antichrist) being endued with all the power of the devil, shall come, not as a righteous king, nor as a legitimate king, [i.e., one] in subjection to God, but an impious, unjust, and lawless one; as an apostate, iniquitous and murderous; as a robber, concentrating in himself [all] satanic apostasy, and setting aside idols to persuade [men] that he himself is God, raising up himself as the only idol, having in himself the multifarious errors of the other idols. This he does, in order that they who do [now] worship the devil by means of many abominations, may serve himself by this one idol, of whom the apostle thus speaks in the second Epistle to the Thessalonians: “Unless there shall come a failing away first, and the man of sin shall be revealed, the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself as if he were God.” The apostle therefore clearly points out his apostasy, and that he is lifted up above all that is called God, or that is worshipped—that is, above every idol —for these are indeed so called by men, but are not [really] gods; and that he will endeavour in a tyrannical manner to set himself forth as God.

2. Moreover, he (the apostle) has also pointed out this which I have shown in many ways, that the temple in Jerusalem was made by the direction of the true God. For the apostle himself, speaking in his own person, distinctly called it the temple of God. Now I have shown in the third book, that no one is termed God by the apostles when speaking for themselves, except Him who truly is God, the Father of our Lord, by whose directions the temple which is at Jerusalem was constructed for those purposes which I have already mentioned; in which [temple] the enemy shall sit, endeavouring to show himself as Christ, as the Lord also declares: “But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, which has been spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let him that readeth understand), then let those who are in Judea flee into the mountains; and he who is upon the house-top, let him not come down to take anything out of his house: for there shall then be great hardship, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall be.”

It struck me how similar this seems to some aspects of today's Dispensational/Futurist view--a coming ruler (Antichrist) who will speak against God and say that he is God, persecuting those who follow the true God, who will sit in the temple in Jerusalem say he is God.

Remember, Irenaeus wrote this over 100 years after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the temple.

Does this prove that Dispensational/Futurist views of the end times are right? No. But it does say something against those who try to disparage it as something new.

Monday, February 18, 2008

random thoughts

So, in weather lingo, what is it exactly that constitutes a 'wintery mix'

There are a few reasons I recently noticed that make me think that Kentucky is such a great state. Great in what, I'll not say here.

For example, the state has put up some signs along the interstate highways, I've only noticed a few around Lexington and Louisville, but they are there. They span highly across the lanes of traffic, and one would like to think that there is a reason for them--maybe to warn of traffic problems or road construction.

But what do they say, when not used for some useful purpose (and one hopes they were not made for this purpose, but fears they were)? Cheesy little seat belt warnings, such as--

"Have you let your seat belt hug you today"

"NASCAR requires seat belts, so does Kentucky"

--it's almost makes me want to move to New York. And that's saying something.

And then, there's Lexington latest project--replacing traffic signals with three lights with ones with four lights. No, that's right. They have two side-by-side red lights on them, the look being kind of like a mosquito's head.

One can just imagine, for example, a person driving 80+mph on the interstate highway, seeing one those seatbelt signs, and thinking "Oh, I forgot about that, let me get that done while I'm driving so much over the speed limit on a busy highway". And since it's Kentucky, I could imagine them doing it while also talking on a cell phone.

Not to mention all the drivers in Lexington who in court kept saying "I didn't stop, your honor, because the lights only have one red light, and I can't be expected to notice them without at least two red lights on them. In fact, I'm going to sue the city for being so backwards and unprogressive".

Yes, I'm so glad the leaders of the bluegrass state are so occupied with such important things.

I guess I shouldn't complain too much, though. Heck, if they were national leaders, they'd be occupied with such major national issues like whether pro football teams are film opponent's practices, or whether baseball players were doing steroids way back when.

So, instead of occupying themselves with such trivial issues like national security and tax cuts and information gathering against terrorists, they are making sure our pro athletic teams are on the up-and-up and the athletes not getting any kind of artificial advantage.

Yep, our national leaders, looking out for what's really important. Yep, makes me feel right good and well. Yep, yep, yep.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

early church father on Christ's kingdom

ANF01. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus

emphasis mine
p 292
The First Apology
Justin Martyr
Chapter XI.—What kingdom Christians look for.
And when you hear that we look for a kingdom, you suppose, without making any inquiry, that we speak of a human kingdom; whereas we speak of that which is with God, as appears also from the confession of their faith made by those who are charged with being Christians, though they know that death is the punishment awarded to him who so confesses. For if we looked for a human kingdom, we should also deny our Christ, that we might not be slain; and we should strive to escape detection, that we might obtain what we expect. But since our thoughts are not fixed on the present, we are not concerned when men cut us off; since also death is a debt which must at all events be paid.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

'eternal life' isn't 'life after physical death'?

From p. 36-37 of McLaren's "The Secret Message of Jesus".

...John normally translates "kingdom of God" into another phrase that is notoriously hard to render in English. Most commonly, John's translation of Jesus' original phrase is rendered "eternal life" in English. Unfortunately, the phrase eternal life is often misinterpreted to mean "life in heaven after you die"--as are kingdom of God and its synonym, kingdom of heaven-- so I think we need to find a better rendering.

The Greek phrase John uses for "eternal life" literally means "life of the ages", as opposed, I think we could say, to "life as people are living in these days".

From p.38-39 of the same book.

In a story told by Luke, Jesus has a conversation with a man identified as rich, young, and soem sort of political official (Luke 18:18-25). He asks Jesus how he can experience "eternal life"--again, not to be confused with "life after you die"

I am struck, first off, but a seeming lack of any support for McLaren's redefining of "eternal life". There is only one sort of footnote in any of the paragraphs around the phrases above, and that has to do with the use of the phrase "interactive relationship", which he credits to Dallas Willard.

Here is the definition of the word translated "eternal" in "The KJV New Testament Greek Lexicon" found here

without beginning and end, that which always has been and always will be
without beginning
without end, never to cease, everlasting

I would also like to point you to this page on the same site, a result of a search I did for the words "eternel" and "life". You can see how the phrase is used not just in John, but in the other Gospels as well.

The problem for me comes in, then, when I try to understand what McLaren thinks John and the others mean by "eternal life". As he puts it here, on p 37...

Jesus makes a particularly fascinating statement in a prayer, and it is as close as we get to a definition: "This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom [God has} sent" (John 17:3). So here, "eternal life" means knowing, and knowing means an interactive relationship.

First, I find it a little puzzling, and amusing, that someone who says that we tend to see things in a mechanistic way in regards to God and miracles, here uses the word "interactive" in regards to our relationship with God (true, he credits Dallas Willard with the concept in the footnotes, but he is using it as well), seeing as that word is pretty closely tied to things computer-ish. And when we talk about interactive in regards to computers, we don't mean that the user treats the computer as some kind of equal, or even cares what the computer 'thinks' or 'feels', but only in how to program or website responds to certain actions--move the mouse over a button and get a drop-down menu, press a couple of keys and save a document, even talk into a microphone and have it recorded on file.

Yes, one could have all kinds of fun deconstructing the phrase "interactive relationship", even to the point of contending that those two words together make an oxymoron. But I digress...

Much depends on what McLaren means by his seeming redefining of "eternal life", especially in regards to the place on p 37 where he contends that the phrase means "life of the ages". Here is more about that...

So John's related phrases...give us a unique angle on what Jesus meant by "kingdom of God: a life that is radically different from the way people are living these days, a life that is full and overflowing, a higher life that is centered in an interactive relationship with God and with Jesus. Let's render it simply "an extraordinary life to the full centered in a relationship with God." (By the way, I don't expect you to be satisfied with this as a full definition of the kingdom of God. I'm not satisfied with it myself. But it's one angle, one dimension, one facet.)

If he means that living as a Christian should make a difference in one's life beyond simply assuring one of life in Heaven after death, all well and good. But then, that's hardly a new message, certainly not a 'secret message', as I've heard it all my life, and doubt I'm all that unique.

I'm pretty sure that McLaren doesn't deny life after death, as I think I've read at least one mention of his fondness for the teaching in "Secret Message...". I'm not sure yet what exactly he means, or why he thinks he's all that new and "secret".

Monday, February 11, 2008

an early church leader and the return of christ

There will probably be other entries in this series, as I get to do some reading in the early church leaders. It will also be about various subjects.

This one is about those early leader's ideas concern the return of Christ and some events prophecied concerning it. It's in response to statements such as this (which was dealt a bit a few entries ago)

A battle cry for Christian reform

Q. Today, many evangelicals are fascinated with the end of the world. There's the popularity of the "Left Behind" books. And talk about the Rapture. Their belief is: Things will get worse, we will have world crises. They say that's part of God's plan, to have Armageddon. Is that biblical or is that thinking part of the problem, in your opinion?

I write a good bit about this in the book. And on the tour, one of my talks will be devoted to this subject. I think this is an incredibly important subject.

What a lot of well-meaning, committed evangelical Christians don't realize is that the view of the end-times that they believe is biblical and the historic Christian view is actually a newcomer and an anomaly in Christian history. That view of the end-times was never, ever thought of in Christian history until the 1830s. Now, that doesn't make it wrong. But it does make it suspect.

Now, is this statement true? Is it true that all of the ideas behind the "Left Behind" books are of such recent origin?

My point in doing what I'm wanting to do here is to say that, no, that's not really true. Perhaps the speaker didn't realize what others have said.

It's a little tricky really giving the reference for things here, because it's from a PDF document with a collections of writings from various church fathers. Here is the page where you can find the PDF or other version of it if you choose.

ANF01. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus

The quote below is from Justin Martyr, from "Dialogue with Trypho". The page number is for the page in the PDF document. Color text in the quote is meant to highlight my point.

p 452
Chapter CX.—A portion of the prophecy already fulfilled in the Christians: the rest shall be fulfilled at the second advent.

And when I had finished these words, I continued: “Now I am aware that your teachers, sirs, admit the whole of the words of this passage to refer to Christ; and I am likewise aware that they maintain He has not yet come; or if they say that He has come, they assert that it is not known who He is; but when He shall become manifest and glorious, then it shall be known who He is. And then, they say, the events mentioned in this passage shall happen, just as if there was no fruit as yet from the words of the prophecy. O unreasoning men! understanding not what has been proved by all these passages, that two advents of Christ have been announced: the one, in which He is set forth as suffering, inglorious, dishonoured, and crucified; but the other, in which He shall come from heaven with glory, when the man of apostasy, who speaks strange things against the Most High, shall venture to do unlawful deeds on the earth against us the Christians, who, having learned the true worship of God from the law, and the word which went forth from Jerusalem by means of the apostles of Jesus, have fled for safety to the God of Jacob and God of Israel; and we who were filled with war, and mutual slaughter, and every wickedness, have each through the whole earth changed our warlike weapons,— our swords into ploughshares, and our spears into implements of tillage, —and we cultivate piety, righteousness, philanthropy, faith, and hope, which we have from the Father Himself through Him who was crucified; and sitting each under his vine, i.e., each man possessing his own married wife. For you are aware that the prophetic word says, ‘And his wife shall be like a fruitful vine.’ Now it is evident that no one can terrify or subdue us who have believed in Jesus over all the world. For it is plain that, though beheaded, and crucified, and thrown to wild beasts, and chains, and fire, and all other kinds of torture, we do not give up our confession; but the more such things happen, the more do others and in larger numbers become faithful, and worshippers of God through the name of Jesus. For just as if one should cut away the fruit-bearing parts of a vine, it grows up again, and yields other branches flourishing and fruitful; even so the same thing happens with us. For the vine planted by God and Christ the Saviour is His people. But the rest of the prophecy shall be fulfilled at His second coming. For the expression, ‘He that is afflicted [and driven out],’ i.e., from the world, [implies] that, so far as you and all other men have it in your power, each Christian has been driven out not only from his own property, but even from the whole world; for you permit no Christian to live. But you say that the same fate has befallen your own nation. Now, if you have been cast out after defeat in battle, you have suffered such treatment justly indeed, as all the Scriptures bear witness; but we, though we have done no such [evil acts] after we knew the truth of God, are testified to by God, that, together with the most righteous, and only spotless and sinless Christ, we are taken away out of the earth. For Isaiah cries, ‘Behold how the righteous perishes, and no man lays it to heart; and righteous men are taken away, and no man considers it.’

Justin Martyr lived shortly after the time of the apostles. In the quote above, he refers not only to Christ's return in glory, but the coming of a "man of apostasy" who would move against believers. It is clear that he did not see that as having been fulfilled in the past, not in Nero. And that is one of the main element in the dispensationalist/futurist view of the end times, the coming of an Anti-Christ leader.

trip to charlotte

Took a trip this past weekend (well, if we can count Friday as being in the weekend, and since it was a day off, maybe I should say "past long weekend") to Charlotte, to visit the Southern Evanglical Seminary. Left very early on Friday so as to arrive there mid-afternoon, and after getting turned around a few times once I reached the city itself, the trip itself was fairly unexciting, which is quite fine.

The seminary was smaller then I thought it would be, but it is doing some expanding, a bit of building and remodelling on what looked to be their main building. It's for a good cause, though, as the already nice library is being almost doubled as well as the bookstore.

I was shown around by one of the dean's, had dinner (pizza) with some of the staff, and that evening I was allowed to sit in on a class, this one being Church History. The class went for only about 45 minutes, though, before another event began. Last week was a mission's week at the seminary, and that evening Voice of the Martyrs gave a very strong presentation.


In college, my minor was in philosophy, and it has been in interest of mine, on and off. After returning from Russia a bit over three years ago, it has become apparent that the things said by recent philosophers, particularly in Europe and the "Continental Philosophers", are finding a life of sorts, and in an unexpected place--the church.

For example, the word "deconstruction" is bandied about quite a bit in certain more-or-less Christian circles. What is it? What is its definitions? What are its methods? What are its protocols? How do we know if a 'deconstruction' is good or bad, proper or improper? What does it lead to?

It's about meaning, or words and phrases, but it's about more then that. It's about, for example, things like the last entry on this blog. It's about Rob Bell getting in front of his congregation and claiming Paul was thrown in prison for being a political activists. It's about McLaren trying to explain hell by saying all mentions of it refer to AD70. It's about Pagitt crying "dualism" in regards to the idea of a real Heaven and Hell separate from the material universe. It's about philosophers like Capute trying to redefine God to fit their own image. It's about such people saying, for example, that if God throws people into hell, he's getting his way by using force; or that the important things about the stories of Jesus' life is not whether any of it happened but what lessons we can learn from them; or that somehow what Paul wrote is unfaithful to what Jesus said.

For me, the visit to SES was about finding a way to get the truth needed to answer these false ideas. Two names associated with SES are Norman Geisler and Ravi Zacharias, two very good reasons to think the place has a good bit of credibility.

And even in the few minutes I had in the Church History class, I learned something. It must have been one of the first classes of the term, because what they were learning about was the church during the time of the apostles. In it, I learned that there was no persecution of the church by the Roman Empire before the burning of Rome and Nero's use of Christians as scapegoats for that event. Not that their wasn't persecution, but none by the Empire itself.

Of course, this puts paid to what Bell said in his sermon about Paul being put in prison because he ticked off Caesar with his politically volatile language.

I don't know whether I will go there or not, it's an idea, and one with it's attractions. There are things to consider, and maybe I'd like some more direction on it, whether it's something from God or my own mind. We shall see.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

things i've learned from rob bell 1

(A few days ago, I came on a blog entry elsewhere pondering if satire was a good thing for Christians to use, and if so how. I hope that the reading of this, if they should venture to (doubtfully, but still possible), would give them some idea of what I think is the appropriateness of satire, because really, some things just need and deserve it.)

Wow, what would I have thought or kept on thinking if I hadn't listened to one of Rob Bell's recent sermons. Really, having been assured that he so incredibly faithful to scripture, I had to listen in on one, and boy were my brains knocked for a loop before being set straight.

In this one, called something like "A Good Work" from back in January of '08, well, he's talking about the Philippians and about Paul being in prison, and about 25 minutes in, he starts telling us why Paul's in prison. Here's what he says...

Who is Paul? Paul has been put in prison by the Roman Empire. Paul is an enemy of the state. Paul has offended and broken the law of the global military superpower of his day and he has felt their wrath by being placed in prison. He doesn't know how long he's in prison. He doesn't know who's going to come to his aid. He doesn't know if he's going to have food. He eventually is killed in Rome, so he's headed to his death. Now the Roman Empire, and the Caesars in particular, believed that they were the sons of god on earth. So, the world at this time was ruled by a global military superpower, the global military superpower was ruled by the emperor, the Caesar--Julius Caesar, Caesar Octavius, then you had Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, a long line of them, History 101 ninth grade flashbacks. And these Caesars believed they were sent by the gods to earth to bring about universal reign of peace and prosperity. Their idea of peace was--they had a propoganda slogan, "peace through victory", which meant, we're going to come to your region, we're going to declare that Caesar is the son of god, and then you will become part of the Roman Empire. If you don't agree that Caesar is the son of god, we will crucify you 'cause that's what we do. So, peace through victory, and if you're on the other end of that it's like , yeah, victory, if you call killing everybody who doesn't agree victory. And they had a propoganda slogan, the central propoganda slogan of the Caesars was "Caesar is Lord". Paul has been going from city to city, region to region, saying "Hey, hey, hey, Jesus is Lord." The Caesars don't go for this, because this Jesus movement essentially says "No, Caesar is not the son of god, Caesar's crucifixion crosses are not the way to true peace, and the gods haven't sent this Caesar, there is another Son of God, whose way is the way of love and generosity and his name is Jesus, and we follow him, and we will not go with your empire propoganda." This gets Paul put in prison.

Well, paint me red and call me Velma (or is that Thelma?), I'd never seen that in the Bible before. Why, I thought Paul was put in prison because way back in Acts 21 some people in the temple in Jerusalem got all excited because they found him there, him being one of those Jesus-believer Christians what said people didn't need to follow the law any more. That starts a ruckus and some soldiers come in to rescue him, but Paul starts giving his testimony to the people but doesn't get far before they get real ticked at him. He gets put into prison to await a trial, gets taken to another town or two, and to get a fair hearing he makes an appeal to Caesar, and some years go by what with travel and such before he gets that hearing.

Yep, I'd have read all that as saying that Paul was put in prison because of a bit of a controversy over some religious ideas with his kinfolk which got out of hand and almost turned ugly, and Paul appealed to Caesar so that some guy named Festus wouldn't send him back to Jerusalem, where they'd already tried to kill him.

Why, what was I think? Knowing Bell to be so faithful to scripture, I can only assume that he's got him some kind of Bible code, where Paul being in the temple must mean he was putting pencil mustaches on posters of Caesar, and him giving his testimony probably means he was calling his countrymen to open revolt, you know, a "Start the revolution" kind of thing.

And Paul, him being so anti-Roman-Empire and all that, why surely he wouldn't have appealed to his Roman citizenship, as it says in chapter 22, to keep from getting a whipping. And what with him being so anti-Roman-Emperor, I guess he would never have appealed to Caesar to get a hearing. Them events must be that code again, a bit of winking and nodding to some kind of anti-empire counter-cultural activities Paul was really involved in.

Why, if it weren't for Bell, I might have kept on ignurrintelly reading them stories of Paul like they really meant what they're really saying, like one of them pea-brained literalists.

Thanks, Mr. Bell (winks, nods, smiles, give thumbs up signal)! Boy, I'd be a complete idiot without you!!

Monday, February 4, 2008

super bowl--postgame random thoughts

What just happened!!!

No, really...


And once again, we are shown why things are decided on the field, and not by polls.

I was rooting for NE, I admit it, I confess it, and without shame. I don't automatically go for the underdog simply because it's the underdog. And the idea of a pursuit of perfection actually being rewarded with fulfillment is something I could respect.

I remember hearing one radio sports talk guy (can't remember her name, if I even heard it) talking about how the Pats needed to lose a regular season game because it was impossible for a team to win all the games in a season. It irks me that such a nay-sayer can now have something to crow about.

At the same time, all respect to the Giants. When NE scored with about 3 minutes left to take the lead, I thought it was over.

And certainly NE had chances to put them away. They could have held on the one fourth down play, but didn't stop the runner. There was at least one interception chance, one particularly good, but they didn't finish it.

Then, that one Giants' reception--Manning being pulled down by the shirt, gets away, throws downfield, receiver and defender go up for it, somehow the receiver pins the ball with one hand to his helmet, gets bent backwards and still somehow makes the catch.

That was a play that's made when both sides want to win, because both were doing their darnedest to make a play. And the Giants made it.

That's the thing that made it a great game. I didn't think that the Patriots were flat or unprepared, though why their offense only scored at the beginning and the end of the game is puzzling. One reason, though, would be that the defenders kept putting the quarterback on the ground.

Reminds me somewhat of another big upset, in another sport. Way back in the 80s, in the NCAA basketball finals, Kansas-Oklahoma. Kansas was given no chance, but they won.

Funny, Kansas had a Manning, too.

And the most surreal thing, for me personally...

I was expecting the sports talk radio shows to be freaking out over it. Granted, I live in about as remote a place as one could imagine, so finding a station can be tricky--even the local one fades out at night. But there was the Chicago four-letter-sports-network station which came in very clearly.

And what was the guy talking about? The Super Bowl? The Giants? The Patriot's losing?

No, he's talking about college basketball.

Friday, February 1, 2008

going lower and lower...

I think Pastor Elrod here summed pretty well how we should feel in regards to al Qaeda's new tactic of using the mentally handicapped to carry their bombs.

The Cowards Called al Quaeda

Of course, consider how the "conversation" goes, I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for someone to posit that it's really our fault that they are doing this. Remember, some people actually blame churches who have security guards when someone shooting people in their churches actually get shot themselves. Point being that the gymnastics of blame can get quite loony.

mclaren interview in charlotte paper

Getting away from the trend of dealing only with what was on the bleeding edge of two or more years ago, this interview of McLaren took place only a few days ago. There are interesting ideas in it, good bad and indifferent. Dealing with the whole interview is more then I care to do for now, but there will be excerpts.

On that note, let us be off...

Q. You say that many Christians should start by replacing the idea of getting themselves and others "saved" so they can go to heaven -- the evacuation plan, I think you call with -- with this idea of getting out there, in the here and now, and healing the hurts of the world. So when Jesus said, "As the father sent me, so I sent you," he was talking not really about conversions but about tackling the world's crises -- Is that right?

Actually, I would put the two together. If we keep recruiting people to evacuate the earth, then every person who gets saved is, in some ways, taken out of the action. It's like going to the bench of people who want to play in a football game and trying to recruit them to leave the (stadium) altogether.

A better image would be: What Jesus is asking us to do is go into the stands and recruit some people to come on the field and join us to play. The recruiting of new disciples is really connected to wanting to make a difference in the world.

I really have no problem with McLaren's ideas here, except insofar as he seems to think that he's in any way being original or that he thinks he discovered something that no one else has been teaching.

For example, in the fundamentalist church I was in for most of my youth and which had the school which I attended for middle and high school, was very much into evangelism--door-to-door visitations, Sunday School bus ministry, support for missions and some Christians colleges and universities.

Perhaps their teachings and ideas were not without fault, but then whose is. I'm not exactly a big fan of some of those ideas now, and have given many of them thought and have decided otherwise on, for example, acceptable styles of music and dress codes. At the same time, a lot of the basics they taught me I have not rejected, and while I would find returning to such a church not a happy thought, I still consider them to be family.

The point is, they were not ones who told people to "get out of the game", to make use of McLaren's analogy. If anything, they were eager for people to get in the game, and always pushing for their people to do so. Some may say that in ways they pushed too hard sometimes, but the push was there.

Q. You've said that the "WWJD: What Would Jesus Do?" model is too simplistic. How would those people who get out of the stands proceed?

What I want to say is that we have to listen to Jesus' teaching. If "What Would Jesus Do?" means "How can we live our lives in a way that's pleasing to Jesus?" then I think that's a great question.

The problem is, we have to account for the differences between the first century and the 21st century. So if Jesus went from one place to another, he would walk and take a donkey. We take a bus or a plane, maybe.

Then we have to deal with other differences in context. For example, Jesus lived in a monarchy; we live in a democracy. So, Jesus never voted. But I think if he were here, he would vote. And Jesus never really talked about elections, because there weren't any. But if he were here today, he might talk about that.

This...puzzles me. Really, I mean, how many people really think that when the WWJD is used, we mean we should speak Arabic and Hebrew, wear clothes of that period and region, and only walk or ride donkeys?

My point is that McLaren isn't really saying anything. Even the book the WWJD idea came from, In His Steps, didn't argue for such a position. When the characters asked "What would Jesus do?", they meant how they should live in a biblical and Christian way in their own day and time. This isn't a point of debate, and why he brings it up like this is puzzling.

Q. Have we domesticated Jesus because we don't like the sting of his real message? Loving your enemies, for example. The title of Peter Gomes' new book is "The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus."

I think this is exactly right. It's not that individuals intentionally try to domesticate Jesus. It's that we have centuries and centuries of traditions and traditional ways of reading the Bible that keep us from seeing certain things.

The net result is that the Jesus in a lot of our churches has a lot of bad things to say about other people's sins but not about our own. And he challenges other people to change, but kind of pats us on the back.

I don't know, this is another puzzling one. Not completely, I must admit, but still a bit.

There are two things that I think about concerning his answer. One is that I've not seen a church which is as simple as he makes it seem. Most churches I've known are concerned about things in their own people, and are not only berating those on the outside. They don't have quite the "domesticated Jesus" as he may think.

The second is, are McLaren himself and the other EC people not falling into something similar? Let us say that there are some churches which overemphasize conversion (if that's possible), doesn't McLaren come close to underemphasizing what he calls 'social justice'?

Just from my own observations of the movement, things for example I've listened to from Emergent Village, I think it is quite in danger of constructing its own little Jesus who looks on them favorably and thinks that others aren't quite right.

Q. Up in Washington, Sen. Charles Grassley is investigating some evangelists who are preaching the "prosperity gospel." What's your take on the prosperity gospel and on whether the government should be looking at religion?

There is the issue of whether the government should be involved. My first thought when I hear that is that, if the government does need to be involved, it says that we Christians haven't done a good enough job of addressing this issue ourselves.

At the very least, instead of complaining about the government, we should get a wake-up call that we're letting an awful lot of shabby stuff go on in the name of Christ.

I...really have no problem with this. I think he makes some very good points here. It is a great shame that these shysters have been tolerated for as long as they have, that they still have been prosperous by spouting empty promises and bad theology. Those things should have been dealt with long before they got to where they are now.

Just this morning, I had the television on and there was a commercial from a credit card company. And here was the line in the commercial: "I want it all. I want it all. I want it now." Then the credit card company's motto is: "Chase what matters." So, getting it all and getting it now is what really matters.

I haven't seen this commercial, so can't really comment on it. I wonder, however, what about all of the other commercials out there? For example, the ones about investing and saving. The ones for charities. The ones for good churches.

Yes, there have been ads with at best questionable messages--the old Andre Agassi "Image is Everything" ones, for example. Maybe the one he mentions is one, maybe not. But singling out one commercial does not a trend make.

Perhaps he is right that we are a people of 'instant gratification'. Whether its something new or not is something else. After all, impatients is a pretty common human failing. It may have looked different in the past, but I would guess that it was there.

Q. Today, many evangelicals are fascinated with the end of the world. There's the popularity of the "Left Behind" books. And talk about the Rapture. Their belief is: Things will get worse, we will have world crises. They say that's part of God's plan, to have Armageddon. Is that biblical or is that thinking part of the problem, in your opinion?

I write a good bit about this in the book. And on the tour, one of my talks will be devoted to this subject. I think this is an incredibly important subject.

What a lot of well-meaning, committed evangelical Christians don't realize is that the view of the end-times that they believe is biblical and the historic Christian view is actually a newcomer and an anomaly in Christian history. That view of the end-times was never, ever thought of in Christian history until the 1830s. Now, that doesn't make it wrong. But it does make it suspect.

A few months ago, I wrote a bit about something McLaren said concerning The Da Vinci Code, where he says that the Left Behind books may have caused more damage then the Code. I thought that was rather over-the-top of him--not that he disagreed with the views of the Left Behind books, but that he should portray them so badly.

I'm glad that he doesn't go so far here. Yes, he disagrees, but he doesn't vilify them. I do think that his information isn't completely correct, though.

Here are a few excerpts from an essay by Thomas Ice of the Pre-Trib Research Center, about the history of his views.


Expressions of imminency abound in the Apostolic Fathers. Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, The Didache, The Epistle of Barnabas, and The Shepherd of Hermas all speak of imminency.4 Furthermore, The Shepherd of Hermas speaks of the pretribulational concept of escaping the tribulation.

You have escaped from great tribulation on account of your faith, and
because you did not doubt in the presence of such a beast. Go, therefore, and tell the elect of the Lord His mighty deeds, and say to them that this beast is a type of the great tribulation that is coming. If then ye prepare yourselves, and repent with all your heart, and turn to the Lord, it will be possible for you to escape it, if your heart be pure and spotless, and ye spend the rest of the days of your life in serving the Lord blamelessly.

Evidence of pretribulationism surfaces during the early medieval period in a sermon
some attribute to Ephraem the Syrian entitled Sermon on The Last Times, The
Antichrist, and The End of the World.6 The sermon was written some time between the
fourth and sixth century. The rapture statement reads as follows:
Why therefore do we not reject every care of earthly actions and prepare
ourselves for the meeting of the Lord Christ, so that he may draw us from the
confusion, which overwhelms all the world? . . . For all the saints and elect of
God are gathered, prior to the tribulation that is to come, and are taken to the
Lord lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of
our sins.

By the late 1500's and the early 1600’s, premillennialism began to return as a factor
within the mainstream church after more than a 1,000 year reign of amillennialism. With
the flowering of biblical interpretation during the late Reformation Period, premillennial
interpreters began to abound throughout Protestantism and so did the development of
sub-issues like the rapture.

As futurism began to replace historicism within premillennial circles in the 1820's, the
modern proponent of dispensational pretribulationism arrives on the scene. J.N. Darby
claims to have first understood his view of the rapture as the result of Bible study during
a convalescence from December 1826 until January 1827. He is the fountainhead for
the modern version of the doctrine.

The rapture was further spread through annual Bible conferences such as the
Niagara Bible Conference (1878-1909); turn of the century publications like The Truth
and Our Hope; popular books like Brookes' Maranatha, William Blackstone's Jesus Is
Coming, and The Scofield Reference Bible (1909). Many of the greatest Bible teachers
of the first-half of the twentieth century help spread the doctrine such as Arno
Gaebelein, C.I Scofield, A.J. Gordon, James M. Gray, R.A. Torrey, Harry Ironside, and
Lewis S. Chafer.

Q. How, then, do you read the Book of Revelation?
I was a college English professor. So, I have a background in literature. And one of the question I ask about a piece of literature is what genre is it in?
For example, if you watch "Star Trek," but think that you're watching "The Office" -- there's a difference between science fiction and situation comedy. There's different genres.
If someone reads Revelation and thinks that it's one genre when it's another, they're going to misread it.
It turns out that Revelation is a classic example of a genre of literature that existed in the Jewish world from about 100 B.C. to about 200 A.D. Modern scholars call it Jewish Apocalyptic. It turns out that Jewish Apocalyptic is not trying to predict the end of the world. But it uses bizarre imagery -- often dreamlike imagery -- to describe contemporary politics and to give people encouragement to be faithful in the midst of oppressive political regimes.
When you read the Book of Revelation in that way, it just comes alive. And instead of being a kind of strange code book that tells us that there's no hope and we should just expect things to get worse and worse, it becomes a call to courage and faithfulness against all odds. That, to me, is the best way to read Revelation.

For one thing, Revelation is not a book of "no hope". If anything, it is a very hopeful book. But it's message is not that man's should have hope in man, and certainly not in man's ability to make the world a better place, but our hope should be in Christ and in his return.

But in regards to his idea about the genre of the book, here is another essay from the PTRC, by a man named Woods. It's quite long, but here are some things he wrote about the genre.

By way of analogy, during my law school days my professors used to say that the United States Constitution is a “living and breathing document.” Such a genre categorization is popular among legal academics because it allows them to dispense with authorial intention and simultaneously gives them the literary license to read their own ideology into the text. Classifying Revelation as apocalyptic literature similarly allows the preterist to reach his theological conclusion of an A.D. 70 realization regardless of inconvenient textual details. However, the assumption that
Revelation is part of the apocalyptic category can be countered by noting that any similarities it has with these non-canonical works are outweighed by notable differences between the two.

Apocalyptic Genre
Pessimistic about the present
No epistolary framework
Limited admonitions for moral compliance
Messiah’s coming exclusively future
Does not call itself a prophecy
Traces history under the guise of prophecy
(vaticina ex eventu)
Primarily concerns a future generation (1
Enoch 1:2)

Not pseudonymous
Not pessimistic about the present
Epistolary framework
Repeated admonitions for moral compliance
Basis for Messiah’s future coming is His
past coming (Rev 5:9)
Calls itself a prophecy
Futuristic prediction
Concerns both the generation of the author
(2–3) and a future generation (4–22)

There are probably other things in the interview that I could have written about, and maybe will later. For now, this has been quite a long enough entry, so that will be all for it.