Thursday, August 17, 2006

Saturday, August 12, 2006

This Man Went Down to His House Justified

Every once in a while I come across a sermon that really gets to te heart of the mater. This is definitely one of those.
Thank God for John Piper.

This Man Went Down to His House Justified

Friday, August 11, 2006

New Books!

I love to read. I probably read for 3 hours each day and would read more if I could, but that would mean more or less detaching from everything around me. Not good.

Anyway, I have received a new shipment of commentaries. I purchased Grant Osborne's commentary on Revelation (Baker), Darrell Bock's 2 volume set on Luke (Baker), Don Hagner's 2 volume set on Matthew (Word), and Edwards on Marl (Pillar). Added to what I already own (Carson [Matthew and John], Evans [Luke], Lane [also Mark] I'd say I now have the gospels well covered.

I'll offer reviews as time allows.

I am still reading through John and a couple of commentaries on John. Interesting to see how people used to think John was so Greek, but now are coming to think his gospel is the most Jewish.

I am also reading Elmer Martens book on OT Theology called "God's Design". So far, so good.

After this I will probably get to Revelation for the sake of teaching it, since that is always a popular request.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

At the Well

Sometimes to get the most out of a gospel you have to make comparisons and contrasts within it.

For example, it is instructive to compare and contrast Nicodemus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well.

Nicodemus was a man. The Samaritan was a woman.

Nicodemus was well educated, the Samaritan woman was not.

Nicodemus was powerful among his people. The Samaritan woman was not.

Nicodemus was respected by his people. The Samaritan woman would not have been at the well when she was were she respected. She was likely despised.

Nicodemus was orthodox in his beliefs. The Samaritan woman's beliefs were deficient.

The two characters could hardly be more different. Yet both of them get the same message of salvation.

There is a lesson to be had there.

Friday, July 28, 2006

John the (Humble) Baptist. (John 3:22-30)

We all would like to be popular to one degree or another. We would like to have people pay attention to us. How we behave when we get what we want can say a lot about our character. What can tell more though is how we handle competition.

John the Baptist was one of the most famous figures of his day. He had a big following. But one day it became clear that his prominence was being eclipsed by another; Jesus of Nazareth. Many people would have become jealous. Many would have decided to oppose Jesus. Not John though. He simply said: "He must become greater; I must become less."

There's a lot packed into that.

One thing that strikes me is that here is no causal relationship. John is not saying that Jesus' becoming greater depends on John's becoming less, as though John's voluntary capitulation was required for Jesus' greatness to grow. John is simply stating the fact that as Jesus becomes greater, he, John, will become less.

There is no hint of regret or anger in that admission of inevitability either. John accepts this as the end result of his ministry. He accepts this as being the fulfillment of all his work. So why then should he be upset? He has done all that he wanted, all that he was born to do.

If I may speculate for a moment: John had something that we typically lack; a sense of destiny. He had a strong sense, a specific sense of why he was alive. He knew specifically what his ministry was about, and when it was finished, when it had accomplished its goal.

The fact that John did not live long afterwards probably didn't bother him; he had done the greatest thing any of us can; fulfill life's purpose. Why would we want to live long after that?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

No Heaven Without Faith in Christ

In John 3:15 John makes the comment that the purpose of Jesus' being lifted up is so that "those who believe might have life in him."

A couple of things come to mind. First, the verb "believe" is used with no object. Taken on its own one might be tempted to think that one must simply be "a person of faith" in order to qualify for eternal life. Surely that is the theological direction that some denominations, most notably the RCC, are drifting towards. This would then promote the idea that being a sincerely religious person is enough. Because you are person who at least believes (apparently this is a meritorious virtue) God will grant you a pass for believing the wrong things.

But this is a good example of why we need to keep verses in context. Doing so helps us to see that we are not free to simply assume that there is no defined content to "believing". For in John 3:12 we see that Jesus includes, at least, trust and faith in himself and his teaching.

That, incidentally, is why I don't think we can say that Nicodemus is, at this point, a believer in Christ. He can say that Jesus is from God, but doesn't understand how much of an understatement that is. He s in fact incredulous about some of what Jesus teaches, and disbelieves some as well. The examples are not deep or minute theological details either, they are basics.

We really do need to be on guard against the notion that sincerity covers a multitude of sins. We need to believe, yes, but we have to believe in something, someone, specific in order to be saved.

The RCC is, IMO, leading people down the garden path in this aspect.

The RCC has this notion of a "baptism of desire" which posits that if a person is sincere they would want to be baptized (they believe baptism regenerates the person, is the instrument of the New Birth Jesus speaks of) and that's what counts. That's rather patronizing. Sincere practitioners a of other beliefs are not Christians, but they will be some day, regardless of what they believe now.

That, as far as I am concerned, is hogwash. There is nothing virtuous about being a person of faith as such in terms of salvation. The Essenes were sincere practitioners of their faith, and the Sadducees were as well. The sadducees were still taken to task by Jesus.

There is no substitute for a real, personal faith. Not in God's eyes.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Yes, A New Birth

While I often hear Christians refer to being "born again", I wonder if they have given much thought to what it means?

Some seem to equate it with some ritual or other they went through at some time, be it a baptism or an event where they "went forward" and said a "sinner's prayer."

But is that what Jesus was referring to when he spoke of being "born again"?

First, I'd like to point out that Jesus probably did not say that Nicodemus had to be "born again" but "born from above". The word "again" translates a Greek word which, every other time in John, means "from above." That's how we should take it here. Being born from above implies something that comes from God, not something that we do, and and implies a real and radical spiritual event.

Second, I think its important for us to recognize the importance of Jesus' switching terms in 3:5. There Jesus speaks of being born from above in terms of being born of water and spirit. It would be easy to think that Jesus is referring to two births, here, one of water, and the other by the Spirit. I don't think that's accurate though. I think Jesus is referring to a single birth by two modes.

In the OT water refers (figuratively) to renewal and cleansing, while Spirit is the divine principle of life, which, according to Joel 2:28, the Jews (like Nicodemus) were supposed to look forward to in the New Covenant. The two are linked in passages like Ps. 51:9,10; Is. 32:15; 44:3-5; 55:1-3. Most telling of all is Ezekiel 36:25-27. It is this passage which I think lies behind Jesus teaching about a birth that is of water and spirit. It speaks to the radical nature of the effect of being born from above.

But do we appreciate that?

I honestly have to say that it feels like we don't when we too readily associate it with going forward at a rally or crusade or a ritual like baptism. It feels like we are making something radical into something religious. But Nicodemus was of the religious establishment...

Something to think about.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Little Nicky

As in "Little Nicodemus."

That's what Nicodemus thought Jesus was trying to create; a little physically reborn Nicky!

That of course comes from Nicodemus' interview with Jesus in John 3, which I have recently been studying.

There are many possible ideas as to why Nic would say "How can this be?" when Jesus told him that he needed to be born again, but I frankly find that Nic just didn't get it. He just could not grasp or believe that new birth was a requirement for entrance into the Kingdom of God. He figured, as he had been taught, that he had only to be obedient to the law already being a Jew, and hence, favored.

But Jesus was clear; the problem is not one that can be touched by rituals and such. Only a radical transformation of the entire person can make a person fit for the Kingdom.

Nicodemus' inability to understand says a lot about Jesus' words to him. Nicodemus had said "we see that you are from God". Jesus' response "that unless you are born again you won't see the Kingdom of God" implied that they didn't really see as much as they thought. In fact they could not, having not been born again. Nicodemus' lack of understanding simply confirmed Jesus words.

Its a nice bit of irony really, and highly applicable to us today:

We tend to think that we need to conform rather than be transformed. The fact is we can't conform to God's pattern apart from being transformed (Ro. 12:1-3). We can try to conform otherwise, but then we'll be like Nicodemus.

The problem of course is that, unless we have someone to tell us we don't see like we think we do because we are in need of transformation, we probably won't get it when we go to the Judgment and are found wanting.

That's not ironic though. Its tragic.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Destroy This Temple

I mentioned yesterday that I had noted two things about the whole cleansing of the temple discourse in John's gospel. The first had to do with the propriety of commerce of any kind in our churches. Today I want to focus on a second aspect of the cleansing of the temple.

Let me explain. I am referring to the portion of John 2 where Jesus is being questioned about his activity in cleansing the temple. Such a cleansing was not automatically a bad thing, but it was exceptional. It was the sort fo thing that would be taken on by a prophet from God the likes of which would not have been seen for many decades if not, indeed, centuries. The people questioning Jesus were wanting to know about Jesus credentials as a prophet for cleansing the temple.

Jesus' response is a bit confusing to those speaking with him. He effectively lays out a challenge; if they want to know about his credentials, then all they have to do is "Destroy this temple" and Jesus will raise it up in three days. This, presumably, would be a sign that would confirm his credentials.

The inquisitors assumed that by "this temple" Jesus was referring to the physical temple. IN fact he meant his own body. A few things are stirred in my mind as I consider this.

1) Although "the Jews" did not immediately call what they probably assumed was a bluff on Jesus' part, they ultimately did. They would eventually kill Jesus, thus destroying the temple of his body, and Jesus did raise it up in three days.

2) There seems to be a connection between the actual temple and the temple of Jesus' body, one that actually plays up the deity of Jesus. The temple in Judaism was very much the special place where God made His presence felt on earth. But Jesus is God made flesh. That means that when Jesus refers to His body as the temple he is saying that in his flesh you have God's presence uniquely manifested. That speaks both to the incarnation spoken of in John 1 (especially about revealing the Father), and to his statements equating seeing Jesus in the flesh with seeing the Father in John 14.

In a very real sense then, we should think about Jesus as a replacement for the Temple under the New Covenant.

One might be tempted to think that this should make what happens in our church buildings less important, but I am inclined to think in exactly the opposite way. We are now the temple of God on earth, both individually and corporately, manifesting the presence of God. (1Co. 3:16; 1Co. 6:19; cf. Eph. 2:22). What happen in us, around us and to us as we gather for worship then becomes at least as important, if not moreso, sine the temple of Jesus' day was but a shadow. We embody the reality that the shadow was pointing to.

It is worth thinking about, anyway.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Zeal For Your House

I've been reflecting on the implications of Jesus' actions in the temple.

(Just in case someone cares: I think that there are two cleansings, not one. John describes the one at the beginning of his ministry, the Synoptics referring to one 2 or three years later.)

There are, I think, two aspects to Jesus' actions, at least one of which doesn't get enough attention.

The first aspect is the implication for what is becoming a common church practice. We make a habit of inviting people, usually musicians and/or singers, and we allow them to set up a promotional table somewhere and sell their wares.

Is this really allowable given the temple cleansings?

The excuse is usually something like this: Jesus problem was with the exorbitant prices being charged, which amounted to practical barrier to people coming into the presence of God. That's why Jesus wanted them out; they were gouging.

Is that true? Not in the first cleansing. In John, Jesus says nothing about the particulars of their business practice; he just says they don't belong in the temple courts at all. In John it seems clear that Jesus does not think commerce is appropriate in the outer courts, regardless of whether they are honest businessmen or not. It seems more that Jesus is saying that business is for the market and the temple is for worship, and we ought not mix the two.

It isn't even true in the second cleansing. People et the idea about dishonest business practices from Jesus' words about turning the temple into a den of thieves. But this misses the fact that the Greek expression implies zealotry and not robbery. As D.A. Carson notes, "by setting up in the court of the Gentiles, they have excluded the Gentiles who might have come to pray...". In that case, it really doesn't matter whether they were using fair business practices or not; they didn't belong there.

So there seems no good reason to permit these vendor tables in our churches.

What reinforces this is the fact that Jesus actions and words probably allude to passages like Zech. 14:21 and Mal. 3:1,3. The whole thing has to do with purity of worship. With that in mind we can see that having vendors is not conducive to worshipping with an undivided and undistracted heart.

That's the first aspect. The second I will deal with tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Look! Up In The Sky...!

There was an actual story in Superman Returns, which my family and I took in last night.

The story is about a young man named Clark Kent who went away to find himself, and came back home having failed in his quest. However upon his return he discovered that during the time he was trying to find what he did not have, he lost even what he had left behind.

The rest of the movie is about Clark's rediscovering his place in the world he had once thought to abandon in favor of a personal quest.

In a nice bit of irony Clark ends up getting the piece of "home" (Krypton) he had sought, only to find that it was deadly to him and to the home he knew. To save the home he knows, he has to get rid of the one he had spent years looking for.

That is a nice allegory for life really. We are meant to be with God. We were designed for that relationship, and yet we spend out time looking for it elsewhere. We end up finding that the life we are trying to find is poisonous to the one we really need.

I recommend Superman; he really is just an alienated person, looking for where he belongs. We belong with God.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

To Keep You Interested

I am going away for a few days in order to deliver my firstborn son to summer camp. In the meantime, to keep you interested in things theological, I offer the following related to the Da Vinci Code...

  • The main characters seem to think that Jesus being married represents a threat to the doctrine of Jesus' Deity. That's not true. It is not the case that if Jesus is proven to be human then he is not divine; Christians hold that Jesus was both human and divine. We don;t hold that Jesus was 50% God and 50% human, such that anything that adds to one nature necessarily takes away from the other. We hold that Jesus was 100% God and 100% human. Anything that shows Jesus was human therefore supports one part of the Christian belief about Jesus without taking away from the other. If Jesus were married then it does no harm at all to the belief that Jesus was divine. There really is no theological need to cover up a lineage of Jesus, even if there were one.
  • Some might disagree, but I think its important to deal with Brown's book. Yes, I know it is just a work of fiction, but the reality is that Brown's book blurs the distinction between fiction and non-fiction with the claim to represent some concrete elements accurately. The average person though isn't equipped to know where the fiction begins and ends. If we don't stand up and say so, they'll make up their own minds, and, most likely, will get it wrong to the detriment of their spiritual walk.
  • I do not understand why people would think it so odd that Jesus would be celibate. Granted it was normal for a man to marry, Jesus was not an official rabbi. The pharisees, who were official rabbis, did not accord him that status (and Jesus never claimed it at any rate) that he should be required to marry. Besides, it isn't like it was unheard of for a man to marry for religious reasons; there was a group of very pious people in the area called Essenes who lived at Qumran (they were the keepers of the Dead Sea Scrolls) and they did not marry. They were well respected for that practice by the average Jew, too.
  • Why do these characters treat Gnosticism like it was a united, monolithic movement? It wasn't. There were several versions of it, often with mutually exclusive teachings. They would never buy Brown's assertion that these are all legitimate versions of Christianity; they all competed with each other to be the true Christianity.
Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Theology in Music

Why the World does not turn to God, by Squeeze:

Alone here in the Kitchen
I feel there's something missin'
I'd beg for some forgiveness,
but begging's not my business.

From "Up the Junction"

Ah, pride...

But can you dance to it?

Let me say right away, that I love music. I listen as often as I can, and I really only have one volume setting: loud! I prefer driving music with a message. But that's at home.

At church... Well that's bit different. The songs I enjoy there are more mellow. Not that these are my favorite kinds of songs, but they are the best of what I have to choose from. My choices are somewhat slim.

That isn't a reflection on the worship leaders in my church; they have the same limited selection I do. The reality is that the music typically produced for radio has thick melodies and sickly sweet sentimentality for lyrics.

There are exceptions of course. On the side of the fast-paced, "Days of Elijah" has a nice hook, it has energy, and it calls us to both look forward and see the future in the present; a nice inaugurated eschatology. There is a slow tune called "In Christ alone" which has a very nice tone of forensic justification.

I find a lot of worship music is the love song type of ballad. Which is fine if you're a woman or a really sensitive, in touch with your inner child male. But for those of us who prefer a more "barbarian way" of doing things, these songs don't do all that they could.

I want to stress that the problem isn't ballads as such. I like ballads. What I don't like are ballads that could have been written fort top 40 radio in both music style AND lyric. If I can change a worship tune to a top 40 ballad by changing 'Lord" to "girl" or something, then there is a problem. Ballads like "How Deep the Father's Love For Us" use biblical themes.

That's what we need more of. I used to defend contemporary music on the basis of precedent. Luther took bar tunes, songs relevant to the people he was trying to reach, and injected them with theologically significant themes and lyrics. We only do the first part of that now.

Time for a correction.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Time For Hockey Talk

Ottawa Senators Hockey Talk of course!

Zdeno Chara: The Sens did all they could to keep Chara, but there was no way they were going to offer 7.5 milllion per season. What is really maddening is where he ended up: with Boston. Now the Sens did well to make sure that new Bruins GM and former Sens assistant GM Chiarrelli could not go after Chara himself. Too much conflict of interest stuff involved. But Chiarreli did, in his interview witheh Bruins, give a detailed plan of what he would do as GM, and ther is no reason to think that did not include signing Chara. Is this tampering? Not strictly, since Chiarreli doubltess did not do any talking. Were the Bruins following Chiarrelli's plan? There is every reason to think so. It doesn't smell good at all.

Martin Gerber: At first, I thought this was an odd signing. Ray Emery proved himself capable of doing the #1 goalie job. Then again, if you look at the teams that made the final four of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, at least 3, and arguably all four, had goalies that were 1a and 1b. Anaheim, Buffalo, and Carolina all had two goalies that were starters. Edmonton, inlight of the way Markkannen picked it up after Rollie went down, made a case for himself in that role as well. It may well be the way of the future to have such depth in goal. On the whole, a good signing for a reasonable price and reasonable term.

Joe Corvo: This guy is NOT a replacement for Zdeno Chara. He is a replacement for Brian Pothier. On balance I think he is a better D-Man for the money than Pothier. Strictly speaking, we don't have a replacement for Chara. It isn't possible. Ottawa's defense will not be as good in the size and strength department, that's all. Corvo is a very good skater, with good offense. He is also locked in at a reasonable price for a long term. Good job Muckler.

Jason Spezza: I have already heard people complaining about Spezza gettgin too much on his new 2 year 9 mill deal. The comaprisons to Eric Staal are legion. But really the average salary for the two deals is identical. The fact that it is a year shorter is probably good. Granted it means that most of our bbest players will be up for signing in 2 years, we will have almost no salary commitments, and have a lot of felxibility. Muckler is thinking ahead.

Martin Havlat: It would be nice to be able to keep him, but we don't have the cap space. I am thinking that Havlat will be packaged with Smolinski, because we need to clear some space. We need to sign Peter Schaeffer yet, not to mention Ray Emery, Chris Neil, and Antoine Vermette. We just don't have the cap room for all of them. We need to fill out the roster on an average salary of $500,000. That isn't going to happen.

I am just not sure how we're going to get to the 22 man roster with only 5-7 mil to spend for 9 guys. At the moment we have 2 offensive lines (plus 1) and 5 defensemen signed, and one goalie, for 14 total. It may be that the Sens plan to only carry 12 forwards and 6 d and one guy who can do eiether, for 19 guys, plus two goalies (for 21 total) but even so, it will be tight. Assuming the roster number is kept to that, and we spend the 7 mil, that is still only 1 million per player. It doesn't seem likely we'll get to re-sign what we have for that much.

Bottom line, watch for trades.

Illogical Odds and Ends

Over the last few days I have encountered the same kind of bad reasoning in several, unrelated contexts.

It goes somethign like this (this is not one of the actual examples):

"The moon orbiting that distant star is too far away. It isn't important to life on earth."

"So is our moon. You need a telescope to see them both. There fore our moon is unimportant too. "

Now of course the comparison is ridiclulous. After all I can go to Zellers and pick up a cheap elescope and see our moon just fine; nothing short fo the multi-million dollar hubble is going to catch the moon around the distant star.

So what is this? It is ignoring the relevant differences, subsuming them under an irrelevant commonality.

Saying that two doctrines both require inference on our part to detect them and are therfore equally ambiguous in Scripture is a false argument when:

  • doctrine rests on 1 verse whch rests in a highly symbolic context (like Revelation)
  • the other docrine rests on 10 verses found in comapratively starightforward contexts (like letters)
Obvisouly this is ingoring the differnece in quantitiy and quality of evidence in favour of the fact that they both require inference.

But people do this sort of thing, and worse.

I also encounterd a situation where one person held that a new interpretive method was false because it was too subjective.

The oppsition came in the form of "well you have subjectivity too!" This commits two errors. The first is that described above (since the new method is used in addition to the old, yo are actually compounding subjectivity. You can't ignore that and say they are both equally invialid becuase they are both subjective when the amount of subjectivity in vovled in each is vastly different.). The second fallacy is accusing the eprson ofnot following their own advice. But that isn't an argument in favour of the new method.

I don't want every one to be a logician. I am not a logician myself. I would however like to see peple think just a wee bit more.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Charge of the Light Brigade

That's the sense I have right now; being part of the Charge fo the Light Brigade. Mine is not to question why. Mine is but to do or die.

Yes, summer vacation has begun, and with it, more intense parenting. The boys will now be home a lot more than they have been.

I am however prepared. Or as prepared as one can be. I have ideas of things for them to do, projects. I refuse to let them vegetate all day only to spin like tornados come bed time.

The precise nature of the projects is of course confidential.

But on to weightier matters...

Having made a rant regarding post-modernism , it is worth supplying some links that will help peple get a grip on the whole mess.

In the interest of fairness, I provide links both in favor of and in opposition to, the movement. Some are somewhat in the middle. I don't claim to have read everything on the websites, nor do I claim to support or endorse any or all of it.

Ok so it isn't much, but I wanted to avoid sites that were blatantly promotional one way or the other.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Post-Mondernism in Action

While a difficult by nature thing to define (even its proponents don't know exactly what it is), there are certain things that are characteristic of post-moderns.

One is a love of the "conversation." Some think that po-mos don't beleive in absolute truth, but that's not quite true; they just want to talk it over and see if we have it. They will talk and talk and talk. They will inject irrelevancies and needless levels of complexity in order to keep the discussion going. In a way, it is wrong to say want to have disucssion about issues, since they don't really engage in discussion for the reasons most of us do: to arrive at an end. For most folks, conversations are means to an end, but in po-mo thought the conversation is elevated to being an end. They don't want the discussion to end. In a discussion about truth then they won't let you say you have truth, not because they don't beleive it exists, but because you would be ending the discussion, in thier eyes, preamturely (though it is not clear whether they think the conversation should ever truly end).

Now this is a bad thing. Not that I am opposed to conversation, I enjoy a good chat. But when complexities get added constantly and irrelevancies and rabbit trails are exalted to the status of core issue then I am not having a discussion. As I said, discussions have a goal in coming to agreement and resolution. Po-mos just want to keep you talking.

Now you don't have to be young to be like this. Nor do you have to be self-consciously post-modern to engage in this behaviour. I suspect a lot of peopel aren't aware. So do thema favour and let them know.

Let them know that keeping the discussion going by inserting extraneous detail is actually opposed to what you understand to be the goal of a discussion; ending it with an agreement or other resolution. It can't go on forever, and not every point is worth discussing at length or even at all.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A Stray Poem

Something I wrote while waiting for... I don't remember. But I was waiting and listening to Cheap Trick (if that tells you anything.)

Neither Dearth Nor Deprivation

In the endless, in the timeless
there stands a structure of unknown dimension.
Tall as the trees, silent in the breeze
it casts an ephemeral shadow.
What resides therein?
Therein lies the mystery.
Tantalizing the several senses,
deceitful as the faded memory.
The answer lies without.
Seek you it form or its function?
Have you that discovering unction?
Let not the voices dissuade you.
Do not permit them to persuade you
that your cause is without import.
The hunger to know, unmet,
is sharper than any blade they possess.
It fosters in you piercing regret.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Interesting (To Me)

I spent about 3 hours on Saturday watching the NHL Draft being braodcast live from Vancouver. The result was, well, slightly underwhelming. It was a relatively quiet draft with only one trade of any sigificance at all (at least IMO), that being the one that sent Pavol Demitra out of Los Angeles and to Minnesota.

What has been intersting is all the talk about Chris Pronger. Some blame his wife for not letting him stay in Edmonton. Others, viewing the spouse as a lame excuse, blame Pronger himself.

I don't know; spouses are worth more than Stanley Cups to me. If your wife isn't happy then you can't be happy at work, no matter what you make.

So where does Chris end up? I would like to see a sign and trade of Zdeno Chara for Pronger myself. That isn't all that likely though. More likely, from a Senators' standpoint, is a trade for a goalie involving Vesa Toskala from San Jose with Martin Havlat and a goalie prospect (either Kelly Guard or Jeff Glass).

I think people wanting him in Toronto are dreaming; the Leafs are at least 2 years from contending. Better to put your resources elsewhere.

On the church front, we had our annual picnic yesterday. It was reasonably well attended. I have decided though that tghere is no connection between attendance and advertising. We advertised earlier and more this year and had fewer people in spite of better weather.

On a more literary front, I have been contemplating starting research for another devotional commentary. I am considerng a gospel (probably John) and a Pauline Epistle (Ephesians or Romans). Only one will "make the cut" of course. Any preferences?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Harder Than Writing a Book

Any fool can write a book. I know, becuase I am as much a fool as the next person, and I have written one. So writing a book is not that hard.

What is hard is writing a book that someone else will publish. So what does it take to get someone to publish your book? Well you have to convince a publisher that what you have written is somethign they should want to publish. Publishing houses ususally restrict themselves to certain genres of books, having already determined they want to publish for a particular audience. So you have to convicne the publisher that what you have writtn will reach thier audience. You also have to convince the publisher it will sell.

The way you do that is through a successful book proposal. You have to write that too. Writing the proposal is infinitely harder than writing the book itself, nevermind that it is proabbly just a fraction the length of the book itself.

Yes, I am in the process of writing a proposal. And I am struggling with it. Yuck.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

All About Bart

Normally I don't respond to comments posted here. That's because the comments rarely require one when they appeasr, whic is itself a rare event.

The the other day this person "Seven Star Hand" leaves a comment longer than just about every blog entry I have ever made. Most of it I frankly did not follow up on. There was however a name mentiond that caught my eye: "Bart."

When I saw that I had a good idea that the reference was to Bart Ehrman, not Bart Simpson, and I was right. Ehrman is a scholar whose specialty is lower textual criticism, which deals specifically with wading thr0ugh the various copies we have of the New Testament, with all the differences between them, to come to a a complete New Testament in the original Koine Greek.

Now the methods and science involved is not exactly stirring stuff. In fact its a pretty dull read. For that amtter a lot of biblical studies is a pretty dull read as far as the average person is concerned. Ehrman though has used senatioanlist claims as the springboard for selling his vision of hte Greek New Testament. Ehrman claims that in his study he found that the Bible we have bears little resemblace to the original.

Sounds a bit like Brown's claims doesn't it? That may be why Seven Star Hand has linked the two. Anyway, Ehrman , like many scholars looking to hit the best seller list, has overstated his case and exaggertaed his conclusions. A solid interaction with his ideas and a refutation of his claims can be found here. Additinonal information that deals with the issues is here.

Yes that's all I wanted to do: point those out.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

So I saw The Da Vinci Code

Due to a convergence of unforeseen and rather unlikely events, my wife and I managed to have an evening out together. Because the local theatre is inexpensive, we took the time to see a movie. It was DAvinci Code or Nacho Libre.

The historical errors in the film are well documented, and by smarter people than me, so I won't go into that. What I will comment is the movie as a movie.

The movie was, at best, ok. I was never able to get into Tom Hanks' character. In some places he came off as a skeptic, others as a believer, but on the whole there was never any real sense that he really cared one way or the other all that passionately, such as to justify either his skepticism or his belief. He came across, mostly, as bored. Even the Langdon character's claustrophobia was not all that believable.

The characters by and large were disjointed. I never really had the sense of destiny that you look for in a character like Sophie's. You don't really sense the kind of menace that you should in Molina's Bishop character. Nor do you really get a chance to feel tragedy for him as a betrayed person, a manipulated pawn in Teabing's game. The best character was by far McKellan's Teabing, although his identity as the Teacher was quite predictable.

Frankly I found it too non-violent to be an action film, too slow to be a thriller, and too fast to be a true mystery. For the treasure hunt aspect "National Treasure" was better.

Even the effects didn't do anything for me. There were elements that I found has been done before and better in other films, such as the highlighting of letters to discern clues was reminiscent of "A Beautiful Mind" but it had actual effect in that film.

On the whole, it was just a disappointment as a film. Not a bad film, but it was not what it was hyped to be.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Sad Days

I was saddened to learn yesterday that friend and member of the congregation Murray Boyd died. He was a good man, who had a real desire to grow in Christ. He will be missed by many, not least his family and those of his care group.

Sudden death is a great thing in sports, but in the real world it just hurts. It is worth remembering though that for Christians, the "real world" isn't this one, it is the eternity that we spend in the presence of God. This world is not our home; we just live here for a bit.

Still, we forget that. We think that this world is the "real one". May one of the legacies of Murray's passing be that he cause some to consider ultiamte reality, with the result that they find Jesus and end up standing next to Murray in the sight of the Lord.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Update on the book and other things

The first draft of the book should be finished today, and I may even get to start on the second draft. I must say that I am almsot purturbed by how quickly the first draft has gone. For some reason I exepcted it would take a lot longer. It may mean somethign or nothing, but I alsmot feel like I have not worked hard enough on it to this point. I suppose that means the second draft will take somewhat longer to do.

Everyone I have spoken to seems to think I should try to get it published. In the end I suppose I will. I am not expecting anythign from that and I maintain that the writing process itself has been sufficiently rewarding for me to want to do it again.

I attended a Town Council meeting last night wherein one of the Councilors took the time to engage in little more than character assassination of people who put forward information he did not agree with. His actions may not have been illegal, or in violation of accepted Council decorum, but it was surely a sign of no class.

I continue to study the various erors in the Da Vinci Code. I continue to be amazed at just how many errors are in it, and how many implausibilities are introduced. Probably the most obvious (for me) deals withthe role of Constnatine. I woder If Brown ever read Eusebius "Life of Constantine"? There seems little relationship between Eusebius' account and Brown's. The assertion that Constnatine made wholesale changes to teh gospels is ridiulous on its face; we have pre-Nicene copies to compare the post-niocen copies to. If there were changes they would show up in that comparison, but nothing does.

Then ther are the Nag Hamadi texts which Brown has as being the earliest Chriustioan documents. For tha ssertion to be true, every single New Testament document would have to be dated a couple of hundred years later than it is now. Also the Nag Hamadi texts are gnostic. They are not, in fact, Christian, unless one wishes to begin by assuming that Christianity was originally gnostic (good luck proving that!).

What kills me is that these errors are easy to discover. Even a google search will reveal it. So why people take Brown seriously on this I don't know.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Wedding Weekend

We (the family) have returned from a weekend wedding in Windsor Ontario. Windsor is interesting for a very few reasons:

1) It is one of the rare places where a Canadian goes north to enter the U.S.

2) It has a good deal of French heritage.

3)... there is no 3.

Windsor is a pretty dirty, heavily industrialized city. It produces a lot of motor vehicles. It has a casino. But it has no discernable charm.

To their credit, the people of Windsor to whom I spoke seem aware fo the situastion, and deal with it in a postive manner. Well, that may be putting it a bit strongly. Actually they seemed to accept it much in the same way that they do the shift work that goes with the auto plants.

The wedding itself was unusually short. I had gotten used to the notion of Catholic weddings being at least an hour with communion involved, but such was not the case.
Thw whole service was about 40 minutes, and that with the priest having to wing hs way through the ceremony a bit. He forgot the order for the service. Perhaps he was thrown off by the very prominent Italian (about 1/3 of the sevice was spoken in Italian). In the end, the service went off with only the one hitch that was supposed to happen.

The Church itse;f was not quite my moher's Catholic Church. Oh, the architecture was the same, and all that, the sam old over emphasis on Mary. But the prayer candles are no longe candles but electric lights. Insurance needs claim another victim.

The reception was very loud, very alcoholic and very fattening. The desert and fruit table belonged in an art gallery. The reception hall itself was almost as intersting for me, being called the Giovanni Caboto Club. That, if you know your Canadian history (or geogrpahy) is the Italian version of John Cabot, he of the famed trail in Nova Scotia. That I took the time to ponder this in no way means that I was uninterested in the other things going on around me which included:

1) My wife, decked out as a Bridesmaid, outdoing pretty well every other woman in the place.

2) The food, delicious and endless.

3) My kids, one of whom fell asleep while the other discovered his "inner boogie".

4) People who shook what their mamma gave them, blissfully unaware that mamma had taken it back about 15 years ago.

I don't belong in 4). Not because I refrained from dancing. I did dance. Not because momma never gave me anything to shake. She did. No, the reaosn I don't belong in 4) is simple: Momma never took back what she gave me. Rather it has become overgrown. And I am aware of it.

Thanks to you all for not laughing.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

What I am Reading

For those who don't know, I have been invited to do a day-long seminar on philosophical ethics at a local school. They are grade 8's, og he "gifted and motivated learner" variety.

Who knew there was such a thing?

Anyway, in preparation for that I have been going over some of my old text books on the topic:

1. Principles of Ethics, by Paul W. Taylor
2. Elements of Moral Philosophy, by James Rachels
3. Various Articles in the "New International Dictionary of Christian Ethics and Pastoral Theology" (IVP)

I am also, as always, reading commentaries. I am obne fo those poele who reads thm front to back. I am currently reading two out of the Pillar NT series:

Ephesians, by P.T. O'Brien and John by D.A. Carson

I am enjoying O'Brien because he sems to be intent on not being immediately painted into an exegetical corner by virtue of belonging to a particular denomination or theological tradition. I have particularly enjoyed his critical evaluation of the issues surrounding the question ofPauline authorship. He gives good reasons to hold that Paul wrote Ephesians, dealing in some length with the issue of pseudonymous authorship and the canon.

Carson is just a good read, full of intersting insights. It is, however not presented in my preferred style. Carson gives basic explanations with extende notes at the end of sections. That is something I take to be for the sake of people who don't want to wade through technical stuff to get the answers they are looking for. Instead I have to flip back and forth between pages to keep the general comments in line with the Additional Notes. Not a huge issue, but it is annoyig.

Also, for the sake of the small group I lead, I am reading Love & Respet by Emerson Eggerichs. It is a challenging book in many ways, however it could reaosnably be about half as many pages and be at least as effective.

So yes, a fair bit of reading.

The bok on James continues. I am up to about 45 pages, single spaced. I anticipate the first draft to be ready in a week or so. What I will do with it then, I have no idea.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

No Post Mortem

I have no choice but to acknowledge that my hockey team, the Ottawa Senators, was recently eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That acknowledgement constitutes the sum total of my commentary on the topic.

I have weightier matters to ponder.

Like caffeine. As in, I drink too much of it. I have worked far too hard of late, and have spent the last couple of weeks essentially functioning on the strength of coffee. That , of course, could not continue. This past weekend, I slept something close to 24 hours in a 36 hour span. To make matters worse, I did this through Mother's Day.

I am considering this a wake up call. A combination fo workaholism and coffeeholism is dangerous indeed. So I have reached a solution. I will allow myself a maximum of teo caffeinated ocffees per day. Anything above that will have to be decaf.

A radical step? Perhaps. But necessary.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

No, I am not dead

Thanks for asking.

Actually I have been very busy. I am writing a book, a devotional commeantary (if there is such a thing.. if not I just made it up, so consider the term copyrighted) on the book of James.

If anyone cares, let me know and I'll post some of it.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

I knew it all along, but...

My youngest son and I were wrestling today. He eventually gave up, calling "Uncle!" in what was a most unexpected way.

My son is in Judo. One might have expected him to tap out. But no. Instead he roundly and loudly declared: "You're the Alpha Male!"

Where does a 7 year old get this stuf anyway?!

Thoughts On Tide

I am fond of using an expression I learned while I was out East: A high tide raises all the boats. I apply it in a number of contexts. The key is to make clear what the "tide" is and what the "boats" are. For instance I sometimes use it in reference to the tide being a positive attitude that a person can carry, with the boats being the people in the church.

Lately though I have been using it in a slightly different way. If you'll pardon the mixing of the metaphor, the high tide is spiritual/biblical/theological depth, while the boats are the church.

The reason for this has to do with the growth of the church I serve. Numerically we grow all the time. In 2000, our average attendance was about 80. Today it is closer to 150, and we are routinely hitting 170. God is good! What makes this growth so amazing is that most of it is conversion growth, as opposed to transfer from other churches.

Our church has a reputation of taking in people who won't be accepted in other places, people with mental illness, AIDS, and the like. We get people who are utterly unchurched. This speaks volumes about the spiritual maturity of the core of the congregation.

The problem comes in where that core has to be spread out to minister to the expanding congregation. The core gets spread out, spread thin, and, in the absence of intentional training to supplement them as leaders, burnt out. Now, we do have a process to help people grow in their social maturity. We teach them how to live in a Christian way. In some senses maybe you could argue that we help them develop spiritual maturity that way. That doesn't change the fact that they have very little knowledge about Christian doctrine. While maturity is hard to measure in that area, it is probably true that people are not, on average, that much more biblically literate than they were, say, two years ago. They might still struggle to tell you which books are in which Testament.

The net effect, as far as the metaphor is concerned, is that the core of the congregation, the ones who have the biblical and theological depth are concerned, is being let out to serve the newcomers and not being replaced. The tide is going out, so to speak.

So what do we do? Well, I am working on doctrine classes to supplement the ones that are part of our current curriculum on how to live the Christian life. After all, if we don't explain why people ought to live a certain way, and where they get the power to do it, then we are imposing a new legalism on people. The only difference is that we call it "living healthy" instead of "being righteous and holy."

And God wants more than that.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Coincidence? I Think Not!

My wife and I are both busy people. We get few enough opportunities to do what we mutually enjoy, and so we occasionally (read: rarely) schedule times to just hang out. Without the kids. Today is one such.

Today is also the first snow day of 2006. School is cancelled, and the kids are home.

The name of God, I am convinced, is "Murphy".

Let it be said that this snow day, unlike many others this year, is justified. It is a mess out there. That said, I am desperate enough to hang out with my wife that I am going to try to make the drive to Cambridge (where apparently it is not currently snowing) regardless.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

It's Hard To Be Humble

There is a country and western song, I believe it is by Merle Haggard, which goes "Oh Lord, it's hard to be humble..." Loathe as I am to agree with anything country, I have in this case little choice. It isn't that I think I am perfect in every way. No one who knows me would suggest that, and I do have my two boys who, in their youthful honesty, remind me daily of my shortcomings.

No, the reason I find it hard to be humble is because I find it hard to know what being humble means. Some people seem to think that being humble means you having to constantly downplay your strengths, or at least remain silent about them. If you are not self-deprecating, or if you speak of your strengths, then you aren't humble. I haven't quite figured out why. Perhaps it is because of an assumption that self-promotion is inherently egotistical. Maybe it is because it is believed that to speak well of yourself is to automatically imply a commensurate negative assessment of others.

This is, in my opinion, neither a healthy nor a biblical view of humility. I believe that a healthy humility is one that sees a person have a balanced, sensible, and sober assessment of his or her strengths and weaknesses. Both can be spoken of, and with equal ease. In the case of the strengths, they are spoken of with due deference to the Lord who gave them. In the case of weaknesses, they are spoken of with due concession that these will be dealt with by that same Lord.

Too restrictive a view of humility denies us the chance to celebrate what God has done. Let us not go that route.

Friday, February 24, 2006

No Ghosts

This week we completed our survey of reasons why it is vital for Christians to hold to the full humanity of Jesus Christ. Next week we'll be tackling the deity I think.

What we focused on this week was the resurrection body of Jesus. It is a pretty speculative question since there is really very little about it that is said. One thing that really boggled my mind though was how eager people were to see Jesus' body as being able to walk through walls. Not that I want to say that it is impossible, but really the evidence isn't there to support the notion.

If you look at John's Gospel, chapter 20, you read the following:

19 In the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were [gathered together] with the doors locked because of their fear of the Jews. Then Jesus came, stood among them, and said to them, "Peace to you!"

26 After eight days His disciples were indoors again, and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, "Peace to you!"
It is assumed that in both these cases Jesus body was immaterial and so he was able to walk through walls. I say it is assumed because nowhere does the text actually say that. The argument seems to be more of a rhetorical question: how did he just appear then if he could not walk through walls being immaterial?

The problem though is that the question is not really rhetorical; there are answers other than "there is no other way." In Acts you see how people escape from cells in a similar fashion, and we don't assume they were immaterial (Acts 5:19,23; 12:6-10). Further we do see how people's perceptions are manipulated so as t be unable to see things that in fact are right before them (Lk. 24:16).

In other words, the Bible provides us with precedent for other explanations. Precedents, to me , should be accepted as explanations ahead of the idea of walking through walls.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Under the Heading of "Say What?!"

***Your Five Factor Personality Profile***


You have medium extroversion.
You're not the life of the party, but you do show up for the party.
Sometimes you are full of energy and open to new social experiences.
But you also need to hibernate and enjoy your "down time."


You have medium conscientiousness.
You're generally good at balancing work and play.
When you need to buckle down, you can usually get tasks done.
But you've been known to goof off when you know you can get away with it.


You have high agreeableness.
You are easy to get along with, and you value harmony highly.
Helpful and generous, you are willing to compromise with almost anyone.
You give people the benefit of the doubt and don't mind giving someone a second chance.


You have low neuroticism.
You are very emotionally stable and mentally together.
Only the greatest setbacks upset you, and you bounce back quickly.
Overall, you are typically calm and relaxed - making others feel secure.

Openness to experience:

Your openness to new experiences is medium.
You are generally broad minded when it come to new things.
But if something crosses a moral line, there's no way you'll approve of it.
You are suspicious of anything too wacky, though you do still consider creativity a virtue.

The Five Factor Personality Test

How You Life Your Life

You have a good sense of self control and hate to show weakness.
You tend to avoid confrontation and stay away from sticky situations.
You tend to have one best friend you hang with, as opposed to many aquaintences.
Some of your past dreams have disappointed you, but you don't let it get you down.

Think about it

People are often predictable. They are of course occasionally surprising, but when they are so, it is usally in just how predictable they can be. One likes to think that even the most programmed thinker can rise above his or her programming, that an inidividual might show him or herself to in fact be an individual. One likes to think that. One sometimes even hopes for it and longs for evidence that it is true. One is more oftentimes disappointed.

That is, until God takes over. Then the hold of prior prgramming is broken, and suddenly a certain randomness, a free radical style of thinking comes into play. Hope is born amid new possibilities.

Some people think that giving life over to God means becomng a robot, controlled by soem outsde force. The truht is that people are robots before encountering Jesus, not after. Paul puts it well in his letter to Titus 3:

3It wasn't so long ago that we ourselves were stupid and stubborn, dupes of sin, ordered every which way by our glands, going around with a chip on our shoulder, hated and hating back. 4But when God, our kind and loving Savior God, stepped in, 5he saved us from all that. It was all his doing; we had nothing to do with it. He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. 6Our Savior Jesus poured out new life so generously. 7God's gift has restored our relationship with him and given us back our lives. And there's more life to come--an eternity of life! 8You can count on this.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Thoughts from last night

Last night I started a study on basic doctrines. To make it a little more interesting, and to try to teach people how to think critically, I approached it in terms of a question: What's the big deal?

The topic was the humanity of Christ. I find it a fascinating doctrine because it is so taken for granted as true, yet it also so downplayed. We prefer to contemplate the glory of the cosmic Christ rather than wonder how Jesus' coped with splinters or what his personal hygiene was like.

But what's the big deal? Well, a lot of very important doctrines are affected if Jesus is not fully human, but perhaps none more so than the Atonement. In theological terms we speak of Jesus as having achieved a substitutionary atonement. Atonement refers to a covering of sin, as well as deflecting the wrath of God towards sin. "Substitutionary" means what you probably think it does; Jesus took our place, and was our substitute in paying the death penalty for sin. His death was a death for us.

But if Jesus was not human, then he could not really be our substitute. One of the faults of the Old Covenant was that the animals that were sacrificed were insufficient to achieve true atonement. Only a human being can substitute for a human being.

But it could not be just any human being. The human being had to be perfectly righteous. In a substitution, a pair of exchanges take place. One is of course that we exchange places. The other is that we exchange positions. We get the righteous standing while the substitute takes on our status of condemned.

So in the exchange between us and Jesus, where does the righteousness we receive come from? Many might think that it comes from Jesus' nature as God. I believe that it comes from Jesus' human nature. Jesus was perfectly obedient to the will of God. Where the first Adam failed, Jesus, as the last Adam, succeeded. His obedience was the means by which he acquired, as a human, the righteousness that gets credited to us.

Take away the humanity of Christ, and there is no righteousness to be credited to us. We might have our sins forgiven, but that doesn't give us in itself the right to stand before God. To be in God's presence you need to be righteous, not just forgiven. So we would not really be any better off if Jesus were not human.

That sounds complicated. It is in a way. It takes into account a lot of different scriptures. It actually touches on a lot of other related issues. But it all works, and it just shows me how awesome God really is.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

As Good As It Gets

I suspect that in terms of my health, things are as good as they are going to get for a while. It is just going to take time for my energy and stamina to get back to where they should be.

It is Valentine's Day today. It is one of those days I like to get some historical background on. I am such a romantic. If you are as romantic as I, then feel free to go here.

My kids have their valentines to hand out to their classmates, and a few selected others. They are of course asking questions like "What's a secret admirer?". They are only 7 and 8, so its a bit of a challenge to give then age appropriate answers. Thankfully their interest is pretty superficial. There is one girl who asks my oldest who he loves. I told him to answer that he loves his family and he loves Jesus. I figure that will either shut the girl down (she isn't on the list) or it will confuse her. Either way I hope she will leave him alone.

I told the boys today they don't have to worry about girls because they aren't allowed to date, nor will they be allowed to date. They actually looked relieved. Good for them!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Reports of My Death

are only slightly exaggerated. When I feel better, I'll post more. I really hate pneumonia.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

My Spidey Sense Tells Me...

our results:
You are Spider-Man
The Flash
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Wonder Woman
Iron Man
You are intelligent, witty,
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Click here to take the Superhero Personality Quiz

Making Mountains Out of Mole Hills?

I have been keeping track of the discussion over "The Homosexual Question" I referred to in an earlier post. I have to say its been fascinating and illustrative.

McClaren has been gracious, if less than direct, with his views. At first I thought he was just being pastoral in his dealing with homosexuality. That is a concern I can say I share, and I think my post in response reflects that.

However, I have started to think that in fact McClaren is not being pastoral for its own sake, or because being pastoral is the right thing to be when you're a pastor. Instead, I have begun to think that McClaren is being pastoral because it is consistent with his more postmodern mindset.
Postmodern/Emergent types are generally loathe to say what they actually believe. They can't; positions are incompatible with the dialogue or conversation that emergent prizes.

That much I knew, but reading McClaren I am beginning to think that emergent actually goes out of its way to make it hard to even reach positions or conclusions. The constant invoking of questions would seem to point in that direction. Most interesting though is McClaren's appeal to scholarly debate on the question of homosexuality. I am familiar with those debates, and, while the conclusions one reaches on the finer points would certainly have a significant impact, the fact is the debates themselves are very often tempests in teapots.

Let me explain: scholars, in a bid to mine the mind of God, will ask all kinds of questions, and raise all kinds of issues. They will be significant in that the answer will have an impact on the understanding of a passage under consideration. However sometimes scholars will ask questions which are almost moot. That is, they will raise the possibility of an alternative explanation for something that is possible, but highly unlikely. The result is a scholarly debate that produces a lot of light, but little heat.

Such debates are good for the academy in that they help maintain the integrity of academic rigor. They may even lead at some point to a significant contribution to the life of the Body of Christ at large. Most often however they do not; they raise questions rather than provide answers. For the average person who is looking for guidance for life, debates ad nauseum on points ad absurdum is not helpful may actually be harmful.

For emergents, those people who want to continually converse, such debates are useful in that they provide reasons to not reach conclusions and continue conversations. But to the extent that such conversations can be harmful to the Body at large, it is a method that is actually antithetical to a truly pastoral approach. This is in fact what McClaren does. He appeals to complexity as a basis for not making pronouncements. The fact that the complexity is to an extent fabricated and over issues which are themselves unlikely is not mentioned.

This leads me to the conclusion that McClaren is in fact not being pastoral at all. He is just being postmodern. That he confuses the two, either intentionally or otherwise is worrisome.

By the way, I am not arguing for a return to anti-intellectualism in any way. I support academic thoroughly. I do believe however that when we are using academics in the context of pastoral ministry, and communicating issues which are in debate in the academy, we need to do so while also evaluating the "weight" of a given debate. If a debate is only 1% likely to really end up impacting our understanding, then ought we be raising it before the people in the pews? I don't think so. I was taught to "not preach our doubts." There is a pastoral wisdom there that postmoderns, and McClaren in particular, seem to forget.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Thanks to McDLT

I have been duly informed that indeed, the Elvis Impersonators are alive and well, and, perhaps, in a pulpit near you.

Check this out.

Bad Karaoke?

Several months ago I was attendig an anniversary party for one fo the families in my congregation. There was karaoke there.

I don't like Karaoke. For me, it is right up there with bad lounge singers, and cheap E;vis impersonators.

You can imagine then how aback I was taken when O was challenged thusly: "Our worship services are karaoke, you know!"

I had to think about that one. I had to admit that yes we sing along to words on a screen while the music plays. No bouncing ball or anything, but that doesn't seem relevant. The only significant differences are that the music is played live, we are not on stage, and we all sing the song together.

Still, it is basically karaoke.

Is that bad thing? Well, assuming the proper heart and focus for worship is present, no, I don't think so. After all, our "karaoke" is no different from when congregational singing along to music played on organs while reading from hymnals. The instruments have changed, the way we broadcast the words has changed, but that's all.

Sure, we once had choirs; now we have worship bands. Again, assuming the heart is there, the function the two serve in a service is identical.

So , keeping in mind that the heart of worship must always be at the heart of worship, says I: Bring on the Karaoke!

Just don't brign in the Elvis impersonators.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Strange Days Indeed

Sometimes God puts poeple in your path that cause you to suddenly question what you think you know.

This weekend I encountered two such people.

One was a memebr of the church who stated that having me in their class as a student would be intimidating. I thought that an odd reaction, since I acknowledge this person to be a far better teacher than I.

Juxtapose this with bumping into a pastor friend at a gas station. I had actually driven by his church a couple of weeks ago. At the time I noted that his name as not on the sign outside the building. I didn't think that was (pardont he pun) a good sign. But tonight I met him and inquired as to his activities. He has left the ministry more or less; he is part time only to help pay for his teacher's college courses.

This blew me away; I have long regarded him as an excellent pastor. He possesses a wonderful heart and tremendous patience. But, he says, he got tired of being the bad guy. His family wanted him "back."

If he could not make it in ministry over the ong haul, I have to wonder what I think I am doing. Add to that some other things going on, and, well, like I said, God sometimes makes you question what you think you know. Sometimes it is to re-affirm that you indeed know what you think you know. Other times it is disconfirm your opinion.

Time, and prayer, will tell.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Life After Politics

Means Sports.

In the news... Rob Babcock gets fired as GM of the Toronto Raptors. That's a bit of a surprise to me. There really isn't anything that a new GM can do to impact things mid-season, so the timing is a bit odd. Personally I think Babcock has improved a lot over the last year, and should have been allowed to finish his contract, or at least get to this point next year. I suspect Richard Peddie is trying to save his own job on this one. After all, neither team at MLSE is doing particularly well right now.

About that other team at MLSE... stuck firmly in the doldrums, the Leafs have only one thing going for them; all the teams they are competing with are in abot the same boat.

Ottawa got a shutout against the Habs... can you believe Hasek only had to face 12 shots? His comment about how shutouts like that shouldn't count is funny. There were two things I particulalrly enjoyed seeing. One was former Senator Radek Bonk getting plastered with an open ice check. He is a seriosuly big guy, Bok is, and he was constantly criticised for not using his body while in Ottawa. Glad to see him see what a check is up close and personal.

The other thing I enjoyed seeing was Sheldon Souray getting turned inside out by, of all people, Zdeno Chara with a nice dangle, who then scoring on an even nicer shot. Big Z is not knon for his stick handling, and you could see where Souray was completely unprepared for the move.

Now for the question that I have spent all of 15 minutes pondering: What is the toughest division in the NHL?

The award goes to the Northwest, where the last place Wild have a .540 winning percentage. Honourable mention goes to the Pacific, with the Northeast picking up third.

The weakest division is easliy the Central, where the third place Balckhawks have a .400 winning percentage. Makes me wonder if the Predators and Red Wings really are as good as their records would suggest.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Odds And Ends

First, a note about the "new look." I have been feeling for the last couple of weeks that the previous design was, well busy, and hard to read. I wanted to find something that was cleaner. I haven't found anything that really rocks me yet, at least anything that works with Blogger. I intend to keep looking, but in the meantime this will do.

Second, a note about the Biblical. I have noticed that there seems to be a kind of growing restlessness with the Bible. It doesn't seem to be exciting or sexy enough. Thomas Nelson has come up with Bible-zines to try and make it more appealing. Many interpreters are coming up with ways to "go beyond" the text, be it with a "trajectory hermeneutic", a "redemptive-movement hermeneutic" or a penchant to want to interpret clear passages with unclear ones.

I must be getting old. I used to think innovation was cool. I still do actually. But I guess I have lost the "anything goes" mentality. I used to sort of ask the rhetorical question "what harm can it do to try it?" Now I know some of the possible answers to that question. As a result I am a more cautious, and more insistent on being discerning and thoughtful before embracing something new.
For example, the MB Conference leadership has apparently embraced uncritically the Redemptive movement hermeneutic. I see no sign that any thought has been given to possible consequences. The thing is, it is not the consequences you intend so much as the ones you don't that cause the problems. Failure to try to predict consequences is a failure of leadership and vision.

I think this development goes hand in hand with my view of the Creeds of Christendom. We can discuss things, but it isn't like those things are up for grabs; we are not going to re-invent the wheel. So we can discuss Christology, and some of the things surrounding the Hypostatic Union, and such, but Chalcedonian Christology itself is not in question. Its a belief that we are to hold, not because its in a Creed, but because the Creed accurately portrays the Bible's teaching.

Anyway, I have lot more typing to do today. Better get to it before I get finger cramps.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

About "The Homosexual Question"

Note: For those who are wondering what inspires this post, go here.

I have to admit that I have not had much experience with homosexuality as it pertains to pastoral ministry. I have met many homosexual people, counted some as friends. At one point, I was preparing to debate publicly the issue of whether homosexuality is consistent with Christian orthodoxy. I have even done some counseling of believers who have homosexual relatives. That however is but a small fraction of my experience.

The article I read recently (linked above) does not ask the bare question of whether homsoexuality is biblical or not however. It goes into the somewhat murkier waters of how we go about communicating our belief.

We can be honest here: answering a question posed in classroom ought to be answered in a manner different from that which would be used if that same question were posed in, say, a therapy session. The answer should be the same, ultimately. However the two settings are sufficiently distinct to justify different approaches to responding. A classroom setting is strictly informational. However a therapy session is not just looking for information; there is also an element of meaning and significance that is tied into things.

To bring in the current case, in a classroom I would clearly answer that homosexuality is incompatible with biblical Christianity, and I would give my biblical grounds for saying so. I would expect that some questions would arise, but they would deal with the validity of my conclusions and the accuracy of my facts.

In a pastoral visit though, it would be different. I would want to know why they are asking questions about the topic, just as the article's author does. My desire would simply be to discern the question behind the question. That "question behind the question" is really the one that needs to be addressed immediately.

I have made the mistake of not asking about the question behind the question. I was asked once a question about euthanasia. I described what it is, in strictly academic terms. What I did not realize was that the person asking was considering a situation with her father. She was a nurse, and I was addressing the issue as one professional to another; it did not occur to me that there would be any other concerns. The result was that I was labeled as being uncaring, and a relationship was lost.

Now I ask for the question behind the question. I do not assume that people are just looking for information. Most often they are not. Most often I find they are looking to find out if they can trust you. If they can, then they will let you speak to them on the level of dispensing information. At the beginning though there is a need to establish a relationship. Asking about that question behind the question is crucial in establishing that relationship.

Still, we need not abandon or soft peddle our convictions. I have found it effective to simply point out that I do have my convictions, but that for the time being it would be better served to get to know one another. People listen better in the context of a relationship. Once people know our heart we are in a position to give them a piece of our mind.

The Morning After

I suppose the title of this post is a bit misleading; after all, its also the title of a movie about a post nuclear holocaust world. That description hardly fits the situation today.

As we all know by now, the Conservatives won a minority government, a small one. This is probably, from both a Canadian and Conservative standpoint, the best possible outcome. The reasons are several:

1) Canadians get to punish the Liberals without decimating them. This means that the Liberals will have time to renew their party while eliminating the situation that has plagued Canada the last decade: no effective opposition. The Liberals are very experienced and will be able to hold the Conservatives in check.

2) The Conservatives will not be tempted to govern like they have a majority. We will not have a repeat of the incident with Joe Clark. This means that Conservatives will be forced to govern relatively moderately, from the political center. That will go a long way to easing the fears of those who fear the "conservative social agenda." That should also make it easier for the Conservatives to get re-elected, and with a majority, in a couple of years.

3) With the announced departure of Paul Martin, the Conservatives have an excellent chance of making Parliament work. With no Prime-Minister-in-waiting, there will be not so much concern about the government being toppled.

On a local level, former Liberal MP and cabinet minister was defeated again, and by a larger margin, I believe, than last time. Bob Speller was not able to live down his party. Bob ran a solid campaign (even if I do think the "Bring Back Bob" slogan was campy and amateurish), and worked hard. Bob should not see this as a personal rejection.

That said, Diane Finley will likely give this riding a prominent voice in Cabinet. One of the relatively few women in the caucus, and from Ontario to boot (her husband being on Stephen Harper's personal staff won't hurt) pretty well guarantees that. She is very capable, and will serve the riding well.

On a final note, the departure of Paul Martin Jr., while not surprising, is still worthy of some pathos. His entire political life was geared towards being what his father was not: Prime Minister of Canada. Once he achieved his goal, he found himself, and was found by Canadians, to be lacking. That is going to weigh heavily on his mind for a long time. He is not solely responsible for the outcome of the election, but he made errors, serious ones. In the long run history will judge him to be perhaps Canada's best Finance Minister. That won't be what he wants; it isn't what he wanted. He will have to settle for that though. Most people would say it is enough.

Monday, January 23, 2006

A Bit of Bonhoeffer

Who Am I?

by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Who am I? They often tell me

I stepped from my cell’s confinement

Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,

Like a squire from his country-house.

Who am I? They often tell me

I used to speak to my warders

Freely and friendly and clearly,

As though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me

I bore the days of misfortune

Equally, smilingly, proudly,

Like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of?

Or am I only what I myself know of myself?

Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,

Struggling for breath, as though hands were

compressing my throat,

Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,

Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,

Tossing in expectation of great events,

Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,

Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,

Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?

Who am I? This or the other?

Am I one person today and tomorrow another?

Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,

And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?

Or is something within me still like a beaten army,

Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.

Whoever I am, Thou knowest, 0 God, I am Thine!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Scary things happen

I enjoy a good conversation. That's a polite saying I talk a lot. I suppose that, statistically speaking, it was inevitable that something I say should make an impact. I guess I just thought that the infinite number of monkeys the U.S. Government has secreted away, typing on an infinite number of keyboards in Area 51 would produce the next great American Novel first.

That's just the first scary thing to happen this weekend.

The second scary thing was the Ottawa Senators blowing out the Toronto Maple Leafs 7-0. That's three consecutive landslide victories. Why is that scary? Well, partly because it makes me wonder when the bubble is going to burst, and how. Mostly though it scares me because it seems even less probable than my words making an impact. I mean, that's some very improbable things happening in relatively close temporal proximity.

The point? The election is tomorrow. Pray hard.

Friday, January 20, 2006

If only the RCC had been this humble

prior to the encounter with Luther at the Diet of Worms. The Body of Christ, I think, would be the beter for it.

Catholic Online

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Let It Not Be Forgotten

I am a hockey fan. Almost a fanatic.

It was suggested recently that Bryan McCabe of the Toronto Maple Leafs should have been named to the Canadian Men's Olympic squad over Wade Redden of the Ottawa Senators.

Now, I am a Senators fan. But I am not being a homer when I say that there is no way McCabe should be considered over Redden.

Those who make the suggestion point to McCabe's offensive production. Here it is:
42 GP, 15 Goals, 34 Assists for 49 points (1.17 ppg). Over those games he is a +5 with an average time on ice of 28:11 with 7:30 of that being on the power play.

Now Wade Redden's stats:

34 GP, 7 Goals, 28 assists for 35 points ( 1.03 ppg). Over those games he is a +26 with an average time on ice of 24:25 with 5:50 of that being on hte power play.

Nowif you ask me, the diffference in terms of offense is negligible. Redden's ppg is very close, and that is with about 3:40 minutes less ice time generally and 1:40 less power play time per game specifically.

But the real kicker is the plus/minus. Redden ranks 2nd in that stat among defensemen. 3rd in the entire NHL. McCabe ranks 41stamong defensemen., about 100th in the NHL.

IMO, that means that by having Redden over McCabe you lose nothing if you need a defenseman to make some offense in a game where you're behind, and you gain a lot if you are protecting a lead.

Now if you were to ask me about having McCabe over say Rob Blake, then I would say yes to McCabe.

So for you Leaf fans, let me spell out what I just said directly: I think McCabe should be among the top 6 defensmen for the Olympic squad. Just not over Redden.

The Problem With Exceptions

You have to respect the enterprising, even entrepreneurial spirit of some in the church these days. They are bastions of innovation, sources of inspiration, and typically covered in perspiration. They have a clearly missionary mindset, and are willing to do what it takes to fulfill the mission and purpose of the local church.

unfortunately they don't like rules. Oh, now of course they won;t say that, but really their love for rules runs dry almost as soon as the rules start to "cramp their style". That's when you get talk of the need to deal with exceptions and make allowances for unique circumstances.

Well, you know what? I am totally up for that discussion. I am totally game for thinking in terms of "normalizing" instead of "normative." I just wish that people would play fair when they play that game.

When you talk about making things normal instead of normative, you are dealing with the nuance that distinguishes a prescriptive rule from a descriptive precedent. Again, I will say I am fine with this. It takes longer, and it deals more in the gray areas, but we are under grace, not law, and that's fine. But some folks just don't play fair.

That's twice I've said that. I had better explain. When I say that some don't play fair, I mean they use the fact that things are not really rules to not follow the descriptions of what is normal, and they do it without decent justification. Saying that you don't have to do something because it is only a normal process doesn't mean you are not accountable; you still have to explain why you don't want to go through the normal process. You can't just ignore the normal process and call it an exception after the fact. There has t be accountability there.

I don't know that everyone gets that.

I know that they don't get it for all the right reasons. It is the very things that make them so good at being innovators in the church.

What's funny is that I tend to think of myself as something of an innovator. I guess I have found my limit.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

An Argument For Cessationism

Inasmuch as we do not want to derive our theology from experience, we need to ask what direct evidence there is from Scripture to support our beliefs. With this in mind we now turn to one of the main passages which is purported to support the Cessationist position.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for languages, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when the perfect comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put aside childish things. For now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known. Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Co. 13:8-13 HCSB)
This is one of the most important passages in the discussion regarding cessationism since it addresses a time when gifts will "come to an end," or "cease". No one, to my knowledge, denies that there will come a time when the gifts are to cease operating within the believing community. The real question is just when this is supposed to happen, according to Scripture.

This passage tells us that the gifts of tongues (languages), prophecy, and knowledge will cease when the perfect comes. It is important to note that it is only these three which are mentioned. One of the criticisms of the cessationist position is that it is inconsistent; it allows that a gift of administration or teaching might still be operative, but not tongues or prophecy. In the above passage we see a warrant for this position; if the time of the perfect's arrival is already come, then, according to this passage, we should expect that those gifts specifically mentioned should have indeed ceased. Church history then would seem to support that conclusion. However using church history in that fashion is arguably logically fallacious, using post hoc reasoning.

Crucial at this point is the identification of "the perfect." If we are to say that certain Gifts of the Spirit have ceased, then we must be able to determine what the perfect is that has supplanted them. To attempt to argue that the gifts have ceased without such an identification is to beg the question. To the best of my knowledge the only identification that is put forward is that "the perfect" refers to the canon of Scripture.

Let me clear here: by "the canon of Scripture" I am not referring to the list of books that we recognize today, but rather the books themselves. Canonicity is a function of inspiration; only those writings God inspired can be called canonical. This means the extent of the canon is determined by the number of writings that God inspired. The moment the last document was completed, the canon was closed; it remained only for the Body of Christ to recognize the Voice of God in them.

This is all well and good. The problem is that there is nothing in the context of 1Co. 13 that leads one to expect or suspect that a canon, open or closed is in view. More common is the idea that "the perfect" is the completed Kingdom of God, or even Christ Himself. In either case, it is not possible to say that it has come already, relative to the present day. The conclusion that we are forced to then is that Scripture does not teach, in this passage at least, that we should expect any Gifts of the Spirit to have already ceased.

Some might want to argue that this conclusion should mean that we be able to see the Gifts at work, all of them, uniformly throughout history. But this denies a basic teaching of the New Testament about the Gifts, namely that they are given according to the sovereign will of God the Holy Spirit (1 Co. 12:11). To say that the Gifts have not ceased does not obligate God to provide them in a particular way.

At least, we ought not think in such a way; we want to avoid presumption either way.

Monday, January 16, 2006

More On Cessationism

One of the criticisms that is leveled against those who insist that the more conspicuous are or at least can be operative today is that they allow themselves, at least on that topic, to be normed more by experience than by Scripture. That is, they think that their experience tells them what is right and wrong instead of Scripture.

It works this way:

People who have had a positive charismatic experience are likely to read the Bible in such a way that validates their experience.

Really it is an accusation of bias, nothing more. The argument really ought to be dismissed, if for no other reason than it can be turned against those who oppose the charismata as well. Cessationists can be accused of letting their experience of no charismata in their life or tradition or a negative experience, determine what they think the Bible says.

But the simple accusation of bias is a poor and lazy argument. Poor because, as noted, it cuts both ways, and lazy since it tends to distract from a more pertinent question: What does the Bible say?

It is a question that needs to be addressed in a way different from what is typically the case on the subject of charismatic gifts. Usually you see to sides lobbing proof texts at one another, without any serious dialogue or interaction. Sometimes things get a bit better; there is the lobbing of competing interpretations of larger texts. Still though interaction with those interpretations, is rare.

That's a shame, because it means that the two sides have already lost sight of something vital: Charismatics and non-charismatics, while maintaining different positions, have he same priorities. Both want to glorify God. Both want to be obedient disciples of Christ Jesus. Both want to be submissive to God's Word.

The fact is that this ought to be an intramural debate. But both sides build such high walls around their positions that it has become in many quarters an inter-mural debate. Both sides need to step back from their positions and reach out to one another on the basis of shared priorities, then move forward.

Practically speaking, moving forward will mean be willing to give in a little. Not compromise truth, but to give where appropriate, such as admitting that difficult or unclear passages are just that, or admitting that an interpretation is not so clearly or directly derived from the text of Scripture as we might like.

That takes humility, and a willingness to see that truth is better served by seeing the best in those with whom we disagree. Too often both of these are lacking.

Next time I'll take a look at a couple of passages which are at the heart of the debate.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

One more thing

I don't believe that "cessationism or non-cessationism (continuationism)?" is the right question. It is a question of authority--biblical authority, not just do certain gifts exist or don't exist today.

This is exactly right. It is also exactly right to say that, as long as charismatics maintain the willingness to allow all things that claim to be manifestations of the Holy Spirit to be scrutinxed bythe Word of God, then they are maintaining a properly biblical approach to authority.

A Note On Cessationism.

Definitions are important when you get into some discussions. Ok, all discussions, but some more than others.

The reason I note this now is because of a blog called Pyromaniac . In a post labeled "You're probably a cessationist, too" the author essentially concludes that even a charismatic is a cessationist under the right conditions. The relevant paragraph states

Again, consider the implications of that claim: Deere and Grudem have, in effect, conceded the entire cessationist argument. They have admitted that they are themselves cessationists of sorts. They believe that the true apostolic gifts and miracles have ceased, and they are admitting that what they are claiming today is not the same as the charismata described in the New Testament.
Now this seems entirely reasonable until you go back tot eh beginning of the topic and see what the author's operative definition of a cessationist is:

If you believe any of the miraculous spiritual gifts were operative in the apostolic era only, and that some or all of those gifts gradually ceased before the end of the first century, you are a cessationist.
The problem is that this is not a true definition. Cessationism isn't merely the descriptive position that the author takes, but also a theological/exegetical position that states that in fact there can be no gifts operative outside the apostolic era.

This foundational flaw leads to a series of comments about how charismatics are in fact cessationists to some degree, all based on the descriptive definition. Of course the descriptive is the very thing that many cessationists decry in charismatics: an argument from experience.

I find this to be an equivocation on the author's part, possibly to make whatever position he takes later (there are more installments planned I think), possibly out of honest oversight.

At any rate it is an error that wants correcting. Consider it done.

Just when I thought it was getting dull around here

I tend to ignore local politicians, except inasmuch as they might be able to impact broader policy. That would be why I like to have candidates who are good cabinet material.

But I already talked about that, and some folks thought I was being negative.


Let's just stick to some facts then. Here are a couple that I found very interesting.

Bob Speller, local Liberal candidate is very proud of his links to agriculture in this riding. Rightly so. Agriculture is very important around here, particularly tobacco.

However that doesn't seem to be enough to win the election. According to this site Bob will likely lose by an even bigger margin than last time.

Maybe that's why Bob is doing so much to convince people that not only is Bob a great guy for agriculture locally, he is a potent force nationally. He features quotes that say as much on his website.

The problem is that some of the quotes are bogus. Not that they are fabricated, but that they are planted. As Greg Weston of the Ottawa Sun reports:
The endorsement, first published in Speller's local newspaper and since featured prominently on his official website, begins: "As Western Canadian farmers ... who have endless respect for Bob Speller and the job he did as our agriculture minister during difficult times, we are writing to the residents of Haldimand-Norfolk (riding) in support of Bob."

Turns out, the three "farmers" who signed the endorsement happen to be a Manitoba Liberal candidate, campaign manager and riding vice-president.

I find this sort of thing hilarious. How are we to take endorsements seriously when they are clearly manufactured for partisan purposes?

I am sure this sort of thing won't help Bob.

Which is too bad, because he is a really nice guy. On the plus side, as long as the NDP and Christian Heritage Party are around, he is one nice guy who won't finish last.