Saturday, April 23, 2005

Things That Make me go hmmm

This is the resut I got from a "Christian Tradition Selector"...

: "Rank Item Percent
1: Baptist (Reformed/Particular/Calvinistic) (100%)
2: Congregational/United Church of Christ (83%)
3: Pentecostal/Charismatic/Assemblies of God (77%)
4: Methodist/Wesleyan/Nazarene (74%)
5: Presbyterian/Reformed (69%)
6: Baptist (non-Calvinistic)/Plymouth Brethren/Fundamentalist (66%)
7: Anglican/Episcopal/Church of England (61%)
8: Seventh-Day Adventist (61%)
9: Anabaptist (Mennonite/Quaker etc.) (60%)
10: Church of Christ/Campbellite (58%)
11: Lutheran (55%)
12: Eastern Orthodox (53%)
13: Roman Catholic (37%)"

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Pearl Stringing

My friend commented:
Another things, whats with stringing verses from completely different books and letters together to form a thought. I would never cut and paste ideas from you, Dan and Rich together to form a thought. Why not read it like it is.
Now, there is a very good point here. No doubt it is proper to interpret verses in their own context. In fact, it is impossible to legitimately connect one passage to another, without first interpreting each passage in its own context. If we fail to do this, then we run the serious risk of interpreting each passage in light of what we want to say, and not what Scripture actually says. In that case we are not hearing God at all, but ourselves.

That being said hoever, it is entirely appropriate to connect passages that do deal with the same ideas in order to gain a better understanding of those ideas. For example, Paul and John both have a lot to say about love. Naturally we should seek to understand each apostle's comments in the original context. But it is also natural for us to look at both 1 Corinthians 13 and 1John 4 in order to gain a fuller understanding of the biblical concept of love. If we only examine each apostle on his own we will have a Pauline, or Johanine (as the case may be) understanding of love, and one that would be scriptural, but only so far as it goes. And that's the problem; to go to only one fo the apostles would not be going far enough. A truly scriptural understanding of love involves all that Scripture has to say, meaning both Paul and John. The people of God need and deserve to know all that God has said on a topic.
My friend continued:

I think it is more powerful like that. Even with stories of Jesus. He travelled, it is may be worth assuming that the people he spoke to at any given time only heard what he said at that time.

Here again we have an excellent point. The first hearers of Jeuss may have only heard directly one or two things he ever said. Jesus spoke so as to be understood by the people he had n front of him at the moment. Now, I am ware that Jesus spoke in parables for a reason. But Jesus also spoke plainly, such as the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus also gave commands that he expected to be understood and obeyed. We should assume that each saying of Jesus can be understood in its own context before we go looking for the key to understading somewhere else.

An excellent example fo this, in my opinion, is the Olivet Discourse. Many interpreters make 2Thessalonians the key to undertsnding Matthew 23. But the first hearers would surely not have had access to 2Thessalonians. We must there fore assume that Matthew 23 makes at least some sense on its own, apart from 2Thessalonians.

There is more, but that can wait until tomorrow... or the day after.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Tulips, Photos, and Fish

A friend and I recently had a discussion on MSN that sparked some interesting thoughts in my mind. I thought I'd take the time to go over those ruminations.

One of the things that came out of our discussion was a sense that there is a weakness to a faith that can be so easily packaged in a few points. This would most obviously apply to so-called "5 Point Calvanism", summarized in the acronym T.U.L.I.P. For those who don't know those are Total depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, and Perseverance of the Saints. The acronym is helpful in that it gives a student a pretty easy Coles Notes version of Calvinism. But it is also an abstraction of Calvinist; it gains simplicity at the expense of detail.

Being able to package the Christian faith in a few points suffers from the same weakness. You really do lose a lot of the complexity (and I mean that in a good way) of the Bible when you abstract its total teaching to a few essential points. There are a lot of tensions in the Bible, and although the picture it gives us of God is cohesive, it isn't the limit of who and what God is. If you imagine a photograph, the Bible gives us a snapshot of God where the edges are not neatly cropped and you find yourself feeling that there is more to the picture, a feeling that only intensifies the longer you study the snap shot.

So on the one hand we need to be humble and admit that the bullet lists we often use to describe our faith are not the sum total of all that is Christian. On the other hand, we need to admit that there is nothing wrong with such lists per se, and that in fact they can be useful teaching tools.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that those who despise little bullet lists need to check their history. Today it is common to see little fish symbols on cars. Well, that symbol has been around to represent Christian faith for almost two thousand years. In Greek the word for fish is "Icthus," and it was used by early Christians as an easy little memory and teaching tool since, using the Greek alphabet, icthus made an acronym which translates to "Jesus Christ, God's Son, savior."

More on the discussion with my friend next time.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

A New Pope

A new Pope has been elected, but is he a new hope for Catholics, and other Christians, worldwide?

Pope Benedict XVI, is the former Cardinal Ratzinger, the theological "muscle" behind Pope John Paul II. He is a conservative, maintianing traditional views on women, sexuality, and family. In that sense he is not a new hope to many Roman Catholics who were hoping for a more moderate Pontiff. He is also a German a European, and thus not a hope for those who thought the time had come for a Pope to be selcted from the Americas, where the majority of Roman Catholics actually reside.

However I am inclined to look at Ratzinger as something of an interim Pope. Among Conseratives no Cardinal could match his qualifications and profile, and the liberal wing of the College of Cardinals had no one spokesman to match against Ratzinger.

One can only see that changing, and soon. Ratzinger is old at 78, even for a new Pope, and that is one reason why some thought he would not get elected. Ratzinger's pontificate is not likely to last beyond 5-7 years, though of course anything is possible. In that time we can expect to see maneuvering amongst the liberals to prepare a candidate to replace Benedict XVI.

A lot can happen in 5-7 years of course, but Ratzinger is I think unlikely to be a great reformer of the Roman Catholic Church in any way. He will likely stay the course. That makes ratzinger a safe choice for both conservatives and liberals. The two groups may spend his papcy trying to position themselves to determine his replacement.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

I am not a Baptist

I am Broadly Baptistic.

What's the difference? Well, to keep it simple, it means that while my beliefs run generally in the same direction as those of Baptists, they are not lockstep with those beliefs.

For example: Communion. Baptist beliefs hold to a pretty strict symbolic view. The elements (bread and juice) are symbols, and they serve as a reminder of what Jesus did. I can affirm that easily. However Paul uses the language of participation in 1 Co. 10 relation to partaking of the elements, as though the elements carried a reality behind them. I can go for that, since, IMO, symbols represent something real. In this case they do anyway, or else we are remembering a mere principle or concept.

Now Mennonite Brethren also hold to a symbolic view, but the confession of faith we follow uses biblical language, and hence allows for the idea of participation, if not explicitly affirming it.

That makes me Baptistic, not Baptist. Kinda like how doing regular exercise and stuff make me athletic, not an athlete.

Thursday, April 14, 2005


Over the last few days I have been having some really neat ideas for things I could do in a worship service to spice it up.

  1. I could string together a bunch of secular songs with gospel messages interspersed.
  2. I could use sound bites from various popular films to make points throughout a sermon.
  3. I could just go through a movie and use it a the springboard for a gospel message
  4. I could read short stories that make excellent gospel points.
Ya I have had the creative juices flowing a bit lately.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

A Wonderful Time Was Had By All

I spent a few days in the Muskokas and had a blast. The weather, with a a brief interlude of rain, was magnificent. The fellowship was awesome, and I learned a great deal about what it means to be part of the Mennonite Brethren family.

The MBs are a very theologically secure bunch. They believe what they believe and feel free to say so to anyone without apology or insult to anyone. The Confession of Faith, is, to my mind, a wonder. It eschews theological language, preferring to stick with biblical language. Tyat makes the document in many ways more inclusive; I as a more Reformed person feel free to agree to it while knowing that the authors are basically Arminian.

Some might see this as watering down the gospel of grace. If this were an ecumenical document such as once was produced by the World Council of Vhurches I might agree. But the various WCC documents (most notably for me the document dealing with Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry) don't hold a candle to the MB Confession of Faith.

The WCC documents retained the theological language, but were written in a way that invited people to read them equivocally. That is, words that had specific theological meanings were used, but in ways that invited people to understand them however they wanted. Amibguity was invited to interpret words that had specific meaning.

The MB Confession however uses Biblical langage without effort to interpret it. The vagueness, if you will, the inexactitude of the laguage as it exists in the original context of scripture, is retained. This means that when one reads the dfescription of God for example in the MB Confession, one is not called to recall entries in a theological dictionary but rather chapters and verses of Scripture. The ambiguities inherent to the biblical text thus are allowed to stand.

Somehow this is staisfying to me. I am comfortable accepting the Confession, even though there are areas which are problematic. Those occur only where the authors seemingly felt compelled to be more theologically precise than the Bible allows. On the whole though the Confession is a wonderful read, one I recommend. It isn't often I can say that studyng a confession is uplifting, but this is one such time.

All in all then a great time was had. I met some new people, played some euchre, some ping pong, spent some good time with my wife. I wish I could do it more often.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Going Away

That link leads you to the place where I'll be for the next few days. I get to go and spend some time with my wife minus the kids.

Information about the Pope-Selection Process

Check this out:

Real Clear Theology Blog

Oh, and if you're a betting person, check this site out:

Isn't this all just a bit silly?

Saturday, April 02, 2005

The Passing of A Pope

The header to this post is a bit misleading, at least to some. While it is true that Jon Paul II is but one Pope in a long line of Pontiffs, to anyone under 30, he is effectively the Pope; the only one they have ever known. I vaguely remember the brief pontificate of JPII's predecessor. I recall more easily the media coverage surrounding the choice of JPII himself.

JPII did an admirable job of navigating the Roman Catholic Church through a time of massive change. Arguably he is responsible, with his many travels, for keeping the Vatican relevant in world affairs. Had he chosen to be anything other than the world traveler he was, it is doubtful, in my opinion, that the Vatican would have maintained its prominence. By visiting so many of the Roman Catholic faithful in their homeland, he established a more personal connection, I think, with the faithful.

His success in that regard may also be attributed to good timing, something all "great men" need in order to become great. A Pope from the former Eastern Bloc nation of Poland, he supported Lech Walesa during the days of Solidarity, which was perhaps really the time when the Berlin Wall fell, for all that it remained standing for some years after.

For all that John Paul II was a statesman and (perhaps inadvertently) something of a populist leader, his greatest success and greatest failures remain in the realm of religion. In terms of successes, we may note the stand for life, and biblical sexuality, for example. However it is the failures which, in my judgment, stand out. Under his papacy, Mariology has grown in breadth and depth, long past the point of being healthy. Under his papacy, syncretism, the blending of Christianity with other faiths, was unaddresed. Under his papacy ecumenicity was more with other faiths, like Islam, than with Christians (I recall his words about cultists, referring to charismatic protestants in South America).

I look at the approaching new papacy with some concern. JPII, for all his faults, had, in recent years, become innocuous, or at least a known quantity. It is unknown what his successor will do. If he is a conservative, then we can expect more of the same, perhaps at an accelerated pace. If something else... Well that is really unknown territory.

Praise God that He knows the future. Praise Him also that we have a High Priest (if not a Pope) who lives forever to intercede for us. (Hebrews 7:25).

Friday, April 01, 2005

An April Fool?

Here are some reasons to think I am an April Fool:

1. I have conditionally purchased a home. That's a 6 figure debt.

2. I posted about the Presbyterian. I probably should not have done that, at least not here, since I like to keep this place at least moderately light. That and a few people I know are now sick over the fact that I got all academic. I may or may not hear the end of that.

3. I accept that the report cards my kids brought home are legitiamte, and not forgeries. They were both pretty good reports, especially that of my oldest. Ok, so at 6 and 7 they probably can't counterfeit yet, but you never know...

4. I am posting on the wrong side of midnight. As someone who is almost chronically tired, that isn't smart. You might say it's foolish.

5. I am now going to go to bed thinking that a six figure debt is really no big deal, that the post about the Presby won't cause me headaches, that my kids really are the geniuses I make them sound like, and that I will actuall wake up in the morning refreshed.

Now that's a fool for you.