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Archive for the ‘Theologians’ Category

Insecurities and the Seven Sons of Sceva

In Calling, Church, Family, Friends, Humanity, Musicians, Places & Spaces, Theologians, Thought, Travel, Vacation, Young Ones on June 27, 2014 at 12:43 am

“But the evil spirit answered them, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?'” Acts 19:15

This verse (along with the passage from which it comes) has run through my head about a hundred times in the past week. Believe it or not, we’ve been on vacation, but my insecurities are no respecter of calendar dates, locations, or accommodations. I’m never surprised (though never ready) when feelings of unworthiness and personal contempt raise their ugly heads and say hello.

Without boring you with too many details (ask my wife: vacationing with me is about as exciting as watching paint dry), I started off our trip alone, flying to North Carolina to cover for Michael Card, who was teaching an intensive Bible seminar at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville. It’s unfortunate that many folks my age (43) and younger don’t have a knowledge of or appreciation for Mike’s music, writing, and teaching, but the older (50 and above) folks know a good thing when they find it; many of them follow Mike across the country for his concerts or Biblical Imagination conferences or even around the world (he had just gotten back from a tour in Ireland in May and takes a group to Israel every year in January).

Mike’s “fans” tend to have more gray hair, available time, and discretionary funds than most, all of which equate to big expectations when they’re shelling out $429 a pop at one of the premier conference centers in the country to hear arguably one of the best Bible teachers in the world. The topic for last week was the Gospel of John, for which Mike has just finished a new book and album (pre-order yours here). The good news was he was able to teach Monday-Thursday; the other news was, due to a mistaken double-booking, he was going to have to leave late Thursday night and needed a pinch-hitter to wrap up the week.

Overlooking the Smoky Mountains at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, NC.

As Mike and I have done conferences together off-and-on for 12 years now, he asked me if I would fill in for him. Without really considering the dynamics, I said I would. I flew out Wednesday night, sat in on three sessions on Thursday, and then Mike and I executed a brief baton pass toward the end of the Thursday evening meeting. It went well, but I still had two sessions by myself on Friday morning and 120 folks who, without intending to be evil, had to be asking the demon’s question with a twist:

“Jesus I know, and Michael Card I recognize, but who are you?”

Fast-forward to Sunday morning. After leaving The Cove Friday afternoon and flying to Denver that evening, I met up with Megan and our two youngest daughters and drove to the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park to pick up our two oldest daughters who had just finished RYM Camp with our City Presbyterian Pyretics group (major props to youth director Jarod Mason and intern Laura Parsons for coordinating and chaperoning). From there, we drove to Colorado Springs and up to Eagle Lake Camps, where Megan and I met and invested ten years (1992-2001) of our lives, and where I was to speak at staff chapel on Sunday morning. (As their two older sisters had three years previously, our two younger daughters were also set to attend camp this week.)

With Maddie, Millie, Katie, and Chloe on the deck of Lilly cabin at Eagle Lake northwest of Colorado Springs, CO.

As you might imagine, the crowd was much younger than at The Cove; instead of 120 senior citizens, I was looking down the barrel of 120 wild-eyed high school- and college-aged students who will spend the rest of the summer caring for over 2,700 kids from all over the country. The energy was overwhelming, as was my self-doubt. I had worked weeks in advance on my message, but now that I was onsite, I wondered if it would actually connect; most of these kids would have been in diapers (if they were even born) when I was at Eagle Lake in my twenties, and it’s never pretty when an older speaker attempts to play hipster (which I didn’t) to reach a younger audience.

While many of the staff had apparently heard of me (it’s not hard to be a camp celebrity just by virtue of having lasted ten years at one), I couldn’t help but imagine them saying to themselves:

“Jesus I know, and some counselor I heard a story or two about from twenty years ago I recognize, but who are you?”

Who are you? Luke records that the evil spirit asked the question not of Christian believers but of “itinerant Jewish exorcists” who “undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits” (Acts 19:13). In other words, these “seven sons of Sceva” (great ska band name!) were trying to coast on the coattails of Jesus and Paul, but the evil spirit would not be fooled. The result wasn’t pretty: “The man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded” (Acts 19:16).

The story is a reminder as well as a warning. Whether speaking to a weekend conference or camp audience or to our family and friends on a daily basis, are we doing so as followers of Christ or as Christian posers? Are we ministering out of the overflow of our relationship with Jesus, or are we name-dropping the Savior and his apologists in hopes that – somehow – His power will transfer anyway? As the passage records, there are few more dangerous sins than the sin of presumption.

The question of “Who are you?” is as pointed an accusation Satan and his agents of evil can throw at us, as there is no more powerful attack than one that attacks our person. But this is when we remind Satan (and ourselves) of who the Lord says we are. Peter’s words in 1 Peter 2:9-10 are helpful:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

In case you were wondering, the two sessions at The Cove went better than I hoped (there’s no more honest compliment than conferees confessing afterward that, yes, they had been disappointed you weren’t the original speaker, but they saw God’s hand in it and were glad and grateful after all). The talk at Eagle Lake seemed to hit home (there’s no more humbling thanks than when semi-awkward 19-year-olds try almost too hard to convince you that your message was exactly what they needed that morning). Whew.

The good news of the Gospel is that, while feelings of insecurities may be frequent and no fun, they can keep our poser potential in check if we confess them to Jesus so He can remind us who – and Whose! – we are. To do otherwise – to “fake it ’til we make it” despite our insecurities – will leave us naked, wounded, and in a vulnerable state that we will only want to hide from others and from God.

Leithart on Leadership

In Calling, Church, Education, Theologians on May 8, 2013 at 3:15 pm

I really like what Peter J. Leithart has to say at the end of this meditation on leadership:

“Leaders must regularly transgress settled boundaries because churches (and schools) constantly redefine themselves in ever new circumstances and in response to ever new challenges, in a way that is faithful to Jesus and His Word. Official leaders might be the ones breaking barriers. If they are not, then the real leaders of the church are the ones who do. If no one is breaking through old boundaries, the church is implicitly claiming that it has reached the eschaton and that it has no more growing to do. It might as well shut its doors, because it is dead.

Yet leaders that don’t love their people, who don’t plow the ground they want to plant, who give no indication of which direction they’re headed, who head this way and that way without warning or reason, will fail. They may be blazing ahead down a new and promising path, but no one will follow. And without followers, no one can be a leader.”

Good stuff, Maynard.

Sticky Note Processing

In Calling, Church, Education, Places, Theologians, Travel on May 5, 2013 at 12:07 pm

Minnesota

After finishing up another Biblical Imagination Conference (our largest to date – 150 wonderful people!), I'm sitting in the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, enjoying the Upper Midwest accents and waiting for my flight back to OKC. After a full travel day on Friday and the conference that evening and all day Saturday, I got to sleep in at bit this morning in my hotel room (which rarely happens at home), so I'm feeling fairly rested and reflective as I enjoy the free wi-fi.

I've been a part of these conferences for two-and-a-half years now, developing the program and serving as emcee/educator for the first year-and-a-half through the gospel of Luke, and now finishing up in another two weeks the past year with our final Mark conference. Matthew starts up in September and will run for a year-and-a-half, and then we'll finish out with John for almost two years. When it's all said and done, it will be a total of six years that I've been involved with this initiative.

Stickies 2

One of the things I try to facilitate during the conferences is a warm, funny (often "punny"), and vulnerable atmosphere that lends itself to folks being comfortable enough to listen without defense and contribute without suspense. A great way I've found (or more accurately, stolen from my friends Bill, Bruce, and John) that lends itself to meeting this goal is "sticky note processing" – asking conferees to write down a thought on a sticky note in response to a question, discuss it with each other, and then post it on the wall for all to read. Everyone can then check the stickies out over the breaks, and I read a few at the beginning of the next session and comment so folks know we're taking them seriously.

Yesterday afternoon, after a session on the "unmiraculous miracles" Jesus did in the New Testament and now does in our daily lives, I asked attendees to complete the sentence, "Lord, give me the eyes to see your miracle in/concerning…" The responses were both heart-breaking and, if you're involved with people to any degree, sadly all too familiar:

Lord, give me the eyes to see your miracle in/concerning…

…bringing faith to unsaved friends and family.

…my prodigal sister disowning our family.

…giving our children the daily knowledge and experience to grow up healthy and happy and desiring to know You more.

…my joy.

…contention in the church body.

…the lost in our state, country, and the world.

…my daughter being critical of everything that her husband says or does.

…the lives of my grandchildren.

…healing my relationship with my ex-wife to be able to communicate over family matters.

…the healing of our son-in-law's body and finding a job for him.

…Your vantage point always in every moment.

…my 3-year-old adoptive daughter and her progress and ability to talk.

…our daughter and son-in-law's marriage and how they treat and talk to each other.

…our children's lives.

…the two years of pain and suffering and death of my mother because I don't understand it.

…my job search and where you want me.

…our daughters.

…giving me the courage, wisdom, and opportunity to teach my young grandchildren about You.

…my wayward daughter.

…my youngest daughter as she truly is, not as her illness makes her.

…the effects of a Christian friend on a unbeliever.

…bringing my brother and his wife into relationship with You.

…my child.

…our church, its growth and vibrancy, and how it can touch our community.

…how to stop the persecution of Christians.

…in our finances and living situation.

…my faith in Your plans and times for the future.

…my personnel problems at work, my family conflicts, and my own depression.

…my prayers to open the eyes of close family members.

…our son watching our daughter-in-law crack under the pressure of living overseas in such an oppressive culture that devalues life.

…our budget despite the loss of income.

…our son's death.

…my son in med school who seems so far away from his Christian upbringing.

…Your work through my work.

…the loss of a visa and job in east Asia.

…my husband's careful and loving provision for me – always a model of how You love us.

…the starving people in the world.

…restoration, healing, and wholeness for my children who grew up in lots of chaos and crud, that they would be able to forgive me for their past pain.

…my 21-year-old son, who is very introverted and not motivated to move forward in life.

…returning our pastor to our church.

…the broken relationships with my youngest son and my two daughter-in-laws; I stay away to avoid troubles, even at the expense of not seeing my only granddaughter.

…my oldest son, who struggles with You, his faith, and himself.

It can be overwhelming reading all these, but when shared in the temporary community of the conference, it's amazing how God enables people to find and hold each other up in the midst of the hurt. My prayer is people can do the same in their local church communities, but it isn't easy when all of us wrestle with our own versions of the list above and have to relate longer-term than across a short weekend.

Still, by God's grace, perhaps folks can get a taste at the conference of what's possible at home and pursue this potential within a local expression of the Body of Christ. It's a lonely and lamentable existence otherwise. All it takes are a few sticky notes to figure that out.

Losing the Fight Over Love

In Calling, Church, Health, Humanity, Marriage, Politics, Science, Theologians, Thought on March 27, 2013 at 8:00 am

My heart is heavy with all that is taking place right now concerning the debate over gay marriage. Apart from the issue itself, I lament the hostile rhetoric of it all and the way sides are being taken with so little nuance (see Facebook's pink equal signs and their "Christian" cross variations), not so much for a position but against someone else taking the opposite one.

With this in mind, I appreciate N.T. Wright's perspective on framing the discussion and would encourage you to give thought to it in terms of how Christians should engage:

As to the issue itself, I wrote about it here on the blog five years ago and you're welcome to agree or disagree. For a more recent treatise that I think worthy of your time, Voddie Baucham's article, "Gay Is Not the New Black," is an important piece that does a good job addressing the issues at hand in the context of the current rhetoric.

All that said, pray for our country, that regardless of whatever differences people have, we can show love to one another in our discussions of them.

Have Biblical Imagination, Will Travel

In Calling, Church, Friends, Musicians, Places, Theologians, Travel on May 18, 2012 at 6:28 am

Off again this weekend, this time to Willowick, OH. Here's a new video with Mike filmed at March's Biblical Imagination conference in Normal, IL, for a peek at what this is all about.

On Team

In Calling, Education, Oklahoma City, Theologians, Veritas on July 26, 2011 at 4:22 am

(insert cheesy picture of "get a hand in" motivational poster here)

I recently received an email from one of our staff that made me smile. Fresh out of a curriculum meeting with a couple other teachers, he wrote: "Our meeting today was phenomenal. I want to go teach the snot out of my students now!"

Team. You've heard the cliches (not to mention that there's no "I" in it), but have you experienced what it feels like to be part of one? If you have, you know why team matters; if you haven't, here are a couple things to think about:

Team matters because none of us are omni-competent…or omniscient…or omni-present…or omni-anything else. Team matters because God – in the form of the Trinity – is a team made up of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Oh, and team matters because it's fun. Even for the introverts among us, we need to feel the joy of something bigger – of a team, of a community – as the Body of Christ.

Last week, 30 or so staff and family members gathered at our house here in north OKC to meet each other, enjoy some eats, ask a few questions, and dream a little bit about the future of Veritas Classical Academy. I was reminded of Psalm 133:1, where David writes, "Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!" The ESV gets it right by including "behold" – unity is indeed something that should draw our eye and captivate our thoughts, if for its rarity alone.

I recently came across this quote from C.S. Lewis: "It is not your business to succeed, but to do right; when you have done so, the rest lies with God." Unity and functioning as a team are "right" in God's eyes (think Trinity, think Psalm 133:1), and I can't help but be excited by what God might do in and through us as we go/grow together into the coming school year.

The next day, I wrote our staff about all this, encouraging them – even as we head into this last week of July – to meet with, work with, pray with, or just be with one other person as they thought about and prepared for this fall. If the examples and promises from the Scriptures aren't enough motivation, I said, maybe a little positive peer pressure will work: everybody's doing it (or will be) at Veritas!

(Note: Some books I might recommend on functioning as a team and in community: Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer; TrueFaced by Bill Thrall, John Lynch, and Bruce McNichol; and Connecting by Paul Stanley and Bobby Clinton.)

What Does Love Win If There Is Nothing to Lose?

In Books, Church, Theologians on March 27, 2011 at 4:56 pm

I've had a couple friends email me for my thoughts on Rob Bell's controversial new book, Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. While I haven't read it yet, enough people whom I respect have and the verdict seems mixed at best. Megan says I somehow owe the world a few thoughts since Bell and I have the same glasses, so with that flimsy justification in mind, let me respond to the only thing I really can at this point – the promotional video for the book:

It's important to understand from the beginning that Bell is more a compelling communicator than a precise theologian; he flies and dies by the rhetorical question, which makes him both interesting as a teacher and dangerous as one as well. Personally, I enjoy listening to him tell stories in his rambling stream-of-consciousness way, and his Nooma videos are much like this one in terms of good production values and style.

Bell's art show story in the beginning of the video is a good example of Bell's gift. After telling the story, he rightly chastises the sticky note incivility of one of the show's attenders and calls Christians to take a fresh look at how rude and ridiculous this kind of behavior is. This, I think, is when Bell is most helpful – he has a keen eye for recognizing legalism in the Church and smartly addresses the thinking behind the behavior rather than just the behavior itself.

Unfortunately, Bell's rhetorical nature takes him down the wrong road quickly. His response to the judgmental Christian's "reality check" is so exaggerated and over the top ("Will only a few select people make it to Heaven and will billions and billions burn forever in Hell?") that he sweeps away his audience in a tsunami of hyperbole, leaving little standing in its wake. He jumps immediately to what a Christian's opinion (whether conceit or horror) might be concerning Hell, seems to accept it (whatever it may be) as gospel, and continues to think out loud by raising (but not alluding to anything other than) his own questions on the topic.

True to form, Bell then overemphasizes personal responsibility ("How do you become one of the few? Is it what you believe, or what you say, or what you do, or what you know?") as a possible way of dealing with the idea of Hell (which, in the video, has been referenced – and apparently in the book, regarded – as little more than personal interpretation). The initial question of eschatology (the study of end times) becomes one of soteriology (the study of salvation) and then of divine ontology (the study of God's essence), but all dependent on (and seemingly subject to) the hermeneutic of experiential relativism:

"And then there is the question behind the questions. The real question is what is God like? Because millions and millions were taught that…God is going to send you to Hell unless you believe in Jesus. And so what gets subtly caught and taught is that Jesus rescues you from God. But what kind of God is that that we need to be rescued from this God?"

This is, as one of my seminary professors would say after considering an honest (but misguided) inquiry, "the wrong question" due to the unbiblical theological suppositions upon which it's built and the variety of problematic propositional fallacies it violates. While I would not disagree with Bell that eschatology is crucial to understanding God, his rhetorical questions are not helpful in substance ("millions and millions" were taught that God is going to send you to Hell?) nor phrasing (Jesus "rescuing us" from God?) and instead cast God as suspect in his role as Creator and Redeemer.

After a final set of rhetorical questions about who God is and what God is like, Bell ends the video with a statement so sweepingly broad and generally vague that it really means very little (comparitive superlatives are, after all, only meaningful when you qualify what the initial positive is). He claims:

"What you discover in the Bible is so surprising, unexpected, and beautiful that whatever we've been told or taught, the Good News is actually better than that – better than we could ever imagine. The Good News is that love wins."

This, I'm guessing (again, I haven't read the book), is what so much of the controversy is about: Bell's theology seems so indistinct and non-commital as to what he actually believes that it's difficult to figure out what love wins and why it matters. This has some raising the question of whether Bell is a univeralist. I don't know the answer to that, but I do know that Jesus didn't "rescue us" from God; he rescued us as God (this is what the biblical doctrine of Incarnation is all about). I also know that God does not send us to Hell; the wages of sin we ourselves have earned (Romans 6:23) condemn us more than enough for that.

Love wins. Okay, but wins what? And how? And for whom? And says Whom? These are the questions I hope Bell answers biblically and convincingly in his book. Unfortunately, from the little I've read, watched, and listened, I'm not optimistic that his answers are going to be all that definitive.

Below are a few links concerning the Love Wins debate. Feel free to add others that would be helpful.

Coming to St. Louis in 2011

In Calling, Church, Education, Internet, Musicians, Places, Places & Spaces, Theologians on November 13, 2010 at 8:10 am

Mike Teaching (with logo)

In case you missed it, the website I've been working on for musician/author Michael Card's Biblical Imagination Series just went live this weekend. I used Clover Sites to create it and am impressed (still) with how easy and well-thought-out their content management system is (I've worked with plenty of lousy ones in the past and this was a dream).

For those in St. Louis, we're bringing the conference to Chesterfield Presbyterian Church all day on Saturday, January 15th, with Mike doing a concert on Sunday the 16th. The cost is only $58 for the conference AND concert ($78 if you want Mike's new book and album coming out next year as well – see site for details), and I can personally vouch for the quality of the experience (though the emcee/education guy's a little suspect).

Whether you've read the Bible for years or are just starting out in the Scriptures, this one-day conference would be well worth your investment in cultivating greater biblical literacy and love for God and His Word. Hope to see you there (and please help spread the word about the new Biblical Imagination website and Facebook community – thanks).

Live-Blogging: God in America (Parts 1 & 2)

In Theologians, Thought on October 11, 2010 at 7:56 pm

God in America

I’ve been pretty excited about the PBS series, God in America, largely because of Boston University professor of religion Stephen Prothero‘s involvement in it. While Prothero makes no claim to Christian faith, his books are well-written, insightful, and usually (but not always) accurate. I also appreciate his call (albeit in the name of pluralism) to teach religion in public schools for reasons of basic religious literacy. Here goes:

8:10 – Native American pluralism vs. Spanish Catholic exclusivity. Ten minutes in and Christianity’s the bad guy already.

8:15 – Ben from LOST is a Puritan! Weird.

8:19 – Prothero on the Puritans: “The fate of the society hung on the religiosity of the society.” Really?

8:27 – Interesting stuff on Puritan Anne Hutchinson – accused of heresy, sedition, gender.

8:36 – Anglican George Whitefield is up now concerning spiritual rebirth.

8:41 – Historian Harry Stout on Whitefield: “He combined the sincerity of a missionary combined with the thrill of a performer.”

8:46 – Tying Whitefield back to Hutchinson (but on a larger scale) in terms of personal experience overruling Puritan authority.

8:49 – Whitefield impact montage a bit much; “interviews” directly looking at camera too distracting.

8:55 – Timeout. Are they seriously going to skip over Jonathan Edwards, the greatest theological mind this country has ever produced? Seriously? Boo.

8:58 – Yep. They did it. Nothing on the Great Awakening. Zilch. Unbelievable.

9:00 – Hey, it’s my friend, Lauren Winner, starting out part two, “The New Eden.” Way to go, Lauren!

9:03 – Enter the Baptists, complete with token white commentator speaking with southern accent.

9:07 – Girls doing a great job watching and wondering about claims presented, but alas, it’s bedtime.

9:08 – Prothero on Thomas Jefferson: “He was what we might call today ‘spiritual’ rather than ‘religious.'”

9:09 – Irony? Jefferson + Baptists = freedom of religion bill of 1786.

9:14 – Prothero gets distinction right on “wall between government and religion;” it’s not a prohibition of religion but a statement that no religion would be established by government.

9:20 – James Finley leaves his Presbyterian Calvinism for Arminian revivalism; represents shift from belief in sovereignty of God to Americans’ freedom of choice, from more traditional Protestantism to more charismaticism.

9:24 – Lame: reality television camera mounting as Finley walks through the forest. Seriously?

9:27 – Methodism: “a religion of the heart” (but no mention of the brothers Wesley).

9:32 – Actually heard the name “Jesus” used; might have been the first time in an hour and a half.

9:33 – Nice to hear acknowledgment of what evangelicals did in 1800s – schools, hospitals, prisoner care.

9:34 – Here come the Irish Catholics, much to the chagrin of the “strong Protestant ethos” of America.

9:40 – Interesting: Catholic schools formed in mid-1800s as much to deal with Protestant bigotry as to educate children in Catholicism.

 

We Interrupt Our Normally Non-Scheduled Weekend…

In Arts, Books, Calling, Church, Education, Family, Friends, Musicians, Nature, Places, Places & Spaces, Theologians, Thought, Travel, Young Ones on September 17, 2010 at 12:13 am

Here are some groovy events – several of which I'd love to see a familiar face at if you're in the area – that I'll be part of in the next six weeks. (If you or anyone you know has questions about the conferences, click the links or let me know and I'll fill in details.)

SEPTEMBER


Applefestival 17-18: Griggsville Apple Festival (Uptown Square, Griggsville, IL)
I've written about this cultural tour de force before, but words and pictures just cannot do justice to my hometown's annual fall celebration; you just have to be there. That said, I'm once again looking forward to more time on the farm (now in harvest mode) since our Labor Day visit two weekends ago, as well as to seeing some former high school classmates from back in the day (when you graduated in a class of 30, it doesn't take much to have a yearly class reunion each September).

Camping 24-26: Annual Fall Family Camping Trip (Babler State Park, Wildwood, MO)
We always schedule this trip the weekend following Parent/Teacher conferences (after talking with parents for six hours straight and the struggles many of them are having in connecting with their students, I'm usually newly motivated to spend time with my own kids). New activity this year: the family bike ride, as all six of us are bike-mobile (now we just have to figure out how to get all six bikes there).

OCTOBER

Tour2010logo 1-2: Tour de Cape (Downtown Pavilion, Cape Girardeau, MO)
Speaking of bikes, I've been pseudo-training (about 30 miles/week) to take my first "century ride" this weekend with a couple of co-workers (both of whom are much better bikers than I am). I've never before ridden 100 miles in a day, so we'll see how much Advil it takes to do it when it's all said and done.

Biblical Imagination 8-10: Biblical Imagination Conference with Michael Card (Fredericksburg, VA)
I wrote about this not too long ago, and it seems a little strange that we're less than a month out already. I'm pretty stoked to hang out on the east coast with Mike and company. This is the first conference of what I hope are many to come, so if you're too far from D.C. this time around, hang in there: odds are we'll be coming to you soon.

TwentySomeone 15-17: TwentySomeone/ThirtySomewhere Conference (Memphis, TN)
My good buddy, Mitchell Moore, is a pastor at Second Presbyterian in Memphis, and he's asked me to come down to speak at a retreat for peeps in their 20s and 30s. Revisiting the material (as well as working on some new for the next book) has been really fun, and I'm still "smokin' what I'm sellin'" (figuratively speaking, of course) in terms of making the most of these decades. Megan and the girls are coming with me, and we'll sight-see around Memphis on Saturday afternoon.

Relevant 22-24: Megan at The Relevant Conference (Harrisburg, PA)
The good news: I'll be home (and probably won't leave the house if I can help it); the other news: Megan won't be. As she did in Colorado in July, my wife will be taking in another blogging conference – this one of a more devotional than technical nature – in Pennsylvania. I'm interested to see what comes out of her time there, as well as to what degree the two conferences overlap and supplement each other.

That's all for now. We now return you to our normally non-scheduled weekend…

Biblical Imagination: New Opp w/ Michael Card

In Books, Calling, Church, Education, Musicians, Theologians, Writers on August 6, 2010 at 12:14 pm

When I was 14, a friend of mine gave me my first Michael Card cassette, Scandalon. The year was 1985. Though quite different from the music my friends were listening to at the time, I was desperate for anything that spoke of my new friend, Jesus, who had just introduced Himself to me a few months earlier.

Thirty days later, I had worn out the tape.

While I enjoyed the richness of Michael’s distinct voice and memorable melodies, I was more intrigued by the words and phrases that made up his profound lyrics. Sadly, growing up in my small-town Methodist church, I had not heard much about (let alone begun to understand the meaning of) “the stone that makes men stumble and a rock that makes them fall” (Scandalon), or that “the Lamb is a Lion who’s roaring with rage” (The Lamb is a Lion), or that when we follow Christ, we are following “God’s own fool” (God’s Own Fool). I was fascinated.

Though little of the language made sense to me at the time, I kept listening (though I had to get another tape—where were CDs when I needed them?). I also began reading (barely) the Scriptures, which I didn’t understand much at first, either. But whether listening to Michael (and others), or “semi-reading” the Bible, the imagery of it all stuck with me, dancing in my high school-aged head at night, sparking a hunger and thirst within me not only for this imagery’s meaning, but for being able to respond to its meaning. That’s what the power of creativity can do…and that’s what it has done in my life.

In 2002, as the program director for The Navigators Glen Eyrie Group, I booked Mike for a series of conferences/concerts at the Glen and insisted he be part of planning them. This was surreal for me and new for Mike (he had never had the opportunity to actually speak into the planning of a retreat for which he had been booked), and together we created the Scribbling in the Sand Conference on Creativity.

Twenty-five years since that initial listen to Scandalon and five years since our last conference days, I'm flying to Nashville this weekend to hang with Mike, as he has asked me to join his team as a creative adviser/collaborator/teacher for the next stage of his ministry. Mike has just signed a four-book deal on the topic of biblical imagination with InterVarsity Press, has a new album coming out in February, and wants to converge all these together in a weekend retreat/conference experience beginning next year.

Because of our friendship and past ministry together, he's asked me to help, both as a facilitator and as a co-teacher like we used to do back in the day. I'm thrilled, especially since a majority of the teaching he's doing these days is in the summer, which works well with my own teaching schedule during the school year at Westminster Christian Academy.

As a friend of mine mentioned as we were having breakfast this morning, God does not waste a thing in our lives. Indeed, to trace the hand of God through all of this has been yet another significant lesson in the reality of God's sovereignty and the importance of our faithfulness in the littlest of things. I don't know all that lies ahead (whether with Mike or otherwise), but I do know that God does, and he has proven himself trustworthy far too many times throughout history (the world's and my own) to doubt him.

I'm sure I'll have more after the trip, but in the meantime, thanks for any prayers you may offer on my behalf. Pray I'll be faithful to what God (and Mike) may be asking me to do as part of this new opportunity, as well as to what I'm doing now here in St. Louis.

Summer 2010 Preview, Etc.

In Books, Calling, Education, Family, Humanity, Internet, Musicians, Places, Places & Spaces, Theologians, Thought, Travel, TV, Vacation, Web/Tech, Westminster, Writers on May 23, 2010 at 11:00 pm

Sitting here on a Sunday night listening to some Lucinda Williams and doing a little writing. It's been a while since I've done a summary post of sorts, so since Megan and the girls are out of town and we're collectively an entire season behind to really make the LOST finale worth watching, here are a few things I've been thinking about and/or looking forward to:

School: This week is finals week, so I'll be spending most of my time grading. The good news is, unlike the past three years when I was evaluating projects and papers, I'm going into finals week with nothing other than finals to grade, so that should make for a little less consuming week in general.

In other school news, I've signed on for another year at Westminster, but my role is changing a bit as I'll be leaving the world of freshmen New Testament behind for fourth section of sophomore Ethics and one section of senior Worldviews next year. I'm glad for the transition all around.

One last note on the school front (this time the homeschool front), we're going to be entering a new stage of education here at home. This fall, our two oldest girls will be full-time students at Central Christian School in Clayton, while Megan continues leading the Classical Conversations group and homeschools our younger two (here are details from Megan's perspective).

Summer: In addition to writing (more on that below), my primary goal in June is to hang out with the little ladies, read some books, and get a few projects done around here. In addition, I'll help coach our Westminster summer baseball team for a week in June, as well as get trained on some new school information software, as I've been asked to be a mentor teacher to the rest of the staff this fall.

July ups the ante considerably in terms of travel, as we're planning a family trip to Colorado Springs, as the girls are now old enough (somehow) to attend The Navigators' camping programs (Eagle Lake and Eagle's Nest) we helped lead back in the day. I'll try to see as many folks as I can in a few days' time before I jump on a plane from Denver to Portland for my third year as part of Westminster's Summer Seminar. This time, I'll be investing ten days with 25 soon-to-be seniors in Washington state instead of South Dakota, after which I'll fly back to Colorado and then we'll all drive back to Missouri.

August sees staff reporting as earlier as the week of August 9th, but I'll have a few publishing projects to edit and design from the Washington trip, as well as a fair amount of prep work to finalize for my new
Worldviews class. Orientation starts the 12th and the first day of class is the 16th.

Studying: Despite baseball high-jacking my time and energy, I've been reading in a couple areas of interest this spring, not the least of which has been the study of the end times, or eschatology. N.T. Wright's book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, has been helpful, as has revisiting my notes from seminary (particularly Dr. Dan Doriani's notes from his Epistles and Revelation class). Of the three years I've taught Revelation to my freshmen New Testament classes, I feel like I've done the best job this year.

I'm also finishing up a couple books on education, namely John Dewey and the Decline of American Education by Henry T. Edmondson III, Curriculum 21 edited by Heidi Hayes-Jacobs, and The Secret of TSL by William Ouchi. It seems I've been reading these for a while (and I have), but there's been some good content that's come as a result.

Looking ahead, I have some Worldviews reading to do this summer, including (Re)Thinking Worldview by J. Mark Bertrand; The Compact Guide to World Religions edited by Dean C. Halverson (ed.); The Journey by Peter Kreeft; Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey; and The Universe Next Door by James W. Sire. Should be fun.

Writing: Now that my second book, Learning Education: Essays & Ideas from My First Three Years of Teaching, is finished, I'm turning back to finishing the ThirtySomewhere manuscript this summer. I'm still looking for a formal publisher to get behind it, but now that I've experimented with the self-publishing gig a bit (and am still experimenting), I may go with what I've got at some point this fall and see what happens. We'll see.

I plan to continue blogging here, though I really wonder how much people are interested in anything longer than 140 Twitter characters these days. Speaking of which, I've enjoyed Twitter enough to keep using it, but there again I just have no way of really knowing how far the medium's actual reach is so as to invest more time in it. Oh well.

Guess that's it for now. There's more, but this is long enough. I'll try to post a few more thoughts later on this week (nothing brings out literary creativity like the desire to avoid grading). Have a good one.

Five Years Later

In Calling, Church, Education, Family, Friends, Places & Spaces, Seminary, Theologians on May 22, 2010 at 10:45 pm

Here are a few shots from Covenant Seminary's 2010 graduation, in which I earned my second masters, this one in educational ministries. Here I'm receiving my diploma from seminary president Bryan Chapell while commencement speaker Alistair Begg looks on):

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With professor Jerram Barrs (I was Jerram's teaching assistant for a year-and-a-half and love him dearly):

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With Dr. Donald Guthrie, lead professor of Covenant's education program (I am the Padawan learner to his Jedi knight):

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With Dr. Bob Burns, professor of educational leadership and an elder at our church:

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With Tom Rubino, with whom I started summer Greek in 2005 and at last finished in 2010 (Tom earned his M.Div. and M.A.C. (counseling) degrees). It meant a lot to both of us to start and finish together.

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And of everyone at commencement, here are the five who matter most (thanks, ladies):

Family Graduation 2010

It is finished.

Happy Post-Easter Thought

In Books, Church, Holidays, Humanity, Theologians, Writers on April 5, 2010 at 10:25 am

From Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright:

"As the reformers insisted, bodily death itself is the destruction of the sinful person. Someone once accused me of suggesting that God was a magician if he could wonderfully make a still-sinful person into a no-longer-sinful person just like that. But that's not the point. Death itself gets rid of all that is still sinful; this isn't magic but good theology. There is nothing then left to purge. Some older teachers suggested that purgatory would still be necessary because one would still need to bear some punishment for one's sins, but any such suggestion is of course abhorrent to anyone with even a faint understanding of Paul, who teaches that 'there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ.'" (p. 170)

And continuing on in Romans 8:10-11:

"But if Christ is in you, although the body is
dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him
who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ
Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through
his Spirit who dwells in you."

The point: death deals with sin and it is done; life comes by resurrection…and then after it, according to Wright, as resurrection is really "life after life after death." (p. 169)

Grateful to God for his mercy and grace to even be able to think, dwell, and hope on any of this today…

10 Commandments of Pitching (or What Happens When a Bible Teacher Coaches Baseball)

In Sports, Theologians, Westminster on March 24, 2010 at 11:50 am

Spring Training

Handing out this original (and highly contextualized) paraphrase of Exodus
20:1-20
to our junior varsity pitchers today:

“And Coach spoke all these words:
‘I am the Coach your Teacher, who brought you out of
the dugout, out of the land of the bullpen.

1. You shall not lose control –
mentally, physically, or emotionally.

2. You shall not make for yourself a mess by falling behind counts
or walking batters. You shall not drag or work at a slow pace;
for I, the Coach your Teacher, am a just Coach, punishing the
pitchers for the sin of not throwing strikes through the third or fourth
inning, but showing mound time up to a full seven innings to those
who love pitching and care about the strike zone.

3. You shall not misuse a pitch in the wrong spot
or in the wrong situation, for the Coach will not hold
anyone guiltless who misuses his pitches.

4. Remember your fielders by throwing strikes.
Three balls you are allowed to do all your work,
but three strikes is a Sabbath for the Coach your Teacher.
With them, you shall not wear out your team, neither you, nor your infielders
or outfielders, nor your parents or fans, nor your girlfriends or
wannabe girlfriends, nor the scout within your gates. For with three
strikes in mind the Coach made the decision and the line-up, the
fielding positions, and all who are in them, but he rested on the fact
that you are going to make good pitches. Therefore the Coach trusts you to
throw strikes so the team can make outs.

5. Honor your umpires and your officials,
so that you may live long on the mound
the Coach your Teacher is giving you.

6. You shall not waste pitches.

7. You shall not walk the lead-off hitter.

8. You shall not allow
runners to steal on you.

9. You shall not allow the opposing team
to score the inning after we score.

10. You shall not covet your teammate’s velocity.
You shall not covet your teammate’s curveball, or his changeup
or slider, his two-seam or four-seam, or any pitch that your teammate
throws.’

When the pitchers saw the thunder and lightning and heard
‘Play ball!” and saw the mound in smoke, they trembled with fear. They
stayed at a distance and said to the catcher, ‘Speak to us yourself and
we will listen. But do not have Coach speak to us or we will die.’ The
catcher said to the pitchers, ‘Do not be afraid. Coach has come to test
you, so that the fear of Coach will be with you to keep you from
throwing balls.’”

Hoping this gets the point across. In the meantime, if you’re a fan of both baseball and the Bible, you might enjoy this from a few years back: Moses at the Bat.

Out of the Mouths of…Adolescents

In Church, Education, Pop Culture, Seminary, Theologians, Westminster, Young Ones on February 21, 2010 at 9:17 pm

Here are some choice selections from the papers my New Testament freshmen are getting back tomorrow. The assignment was for students to interview a member of their church's leadership and write a 2-3 page paper explaining their fellowship's/denomination's doctrinal beliefs about things like governance, worship style, sacraments, purposes, functions, etc. (I've thrown in some comments from me just for kicks.)

"The denominational ties of our church are a key belief of our denomination and have no higher archy." [That's good. I prefer the lower kind of archy myself…]

"We
participate in the Lord's Supper about every three months. We drink
grape juice and not wine, and once you have been saved, you are aloud
to participate in it." [So much for using the time for silent reflection…]

"Our church has a leadership structure like the federal government." [Oh, God help us…]

"Teaching, theology, evangelism, and outreach are defiantly important to the church." [Okay, okay, you made your point. Now back off, Barbie…]

"In our denomination, we believe in theology and use evangelism to share the gospel." [Oh, so that's how it works…]

"One of the things that sets apart my church from many other churches is we seek to be Christ-like." [Attention churches seeking to be otherwise, this might be part of your problem…]

"There is also a plurality of elders, which means the ruling elders and pastors each have one vote." [If they only have one vote, doesn't that mean there is a singularity of each elder?]

"My church's worship style is the substance of style." [So Word to your Father, yo…]

"Our pastor bases the sermon straight form the Bible itself and does not interpret the Bible in any way." [Which is another way of saying he reads it…]

"Our church has two types of worship: liturgical and a more open, less-structured style." [So are we to understand that the second group meets in a nest?]

"I
would say the weakest part of the church in my eyes is the youth group.
I have been to several different youth groups and ours is not as good
as others. The main reason for this is because there are more kids at
other youth groups." [Indeed, youth ministry is full of these chicken-or-egg dilemmas, which is why I'm not a youth pastor…]

"There are many reasons why my church is a PCA church; firstly, it resides in the Apostles' Creed, and secondly,
it states facts in the catechism." [Anybody driven by that neighborhood and heard the building reciting the Confession?]

"According to my pastor, we believe all orthodox beliefs…and some of our own as well." [This one's possibly my favorite, especially since I know the pastor…]

"If there is something in a service that I do not like, I can just go to another service that I do like." [Moral therapeutic deism, anyone?]

"The church
participates in many functions such as work programs, community
services, etc. My pastor also mentioned the many asylums that care for orphans
or widows." [Is "asylums" what we're calling deacons nowadays?]

"The senior pastor reports to the elders and the small pastors report to the senior pastor." [Note to graduating seminary students under 5'8": don't even mess interviewing with this one…]

"My
pastor thinks that church is very important for Christians…and when
asked if church was important for skeptics, he quickly agreed, saying,
'Skeptics are looking for the truth, making church a good place to find
it.' He wasn't sure if church was important to God." [I'm so relieved.]

"We differ in belief from many other churches similar to ours." [Or put another way, they think the same as many other churches different from them.]

"After visiting our church for the first time, we loved the way the pastor did his sermon.
He just really got the message across and did it in a way that makes
you feel almost involved." [Lord, have mercy if he had actually crossed that line…]

"Our church is very big on the authority and suffering of the Bible." [I'm guessing she meant "sufficiency," but why major on minors?]

"My mom and I were church shopping and accidentally found our church." [Must have been hiding in the "discount sales" bin…]

"I
appreciate how everything is kept modern. There is a live band playing
like a Christian rock concert. For me, it makes it easier to worship
because I can sing as loud as I want without anyone hearing me." [Because, of course, that is the point of worship…]

I've got a post brewing from both a theological and educational perspective on what I think is going on here, so stay tuned…

Dispatch from Wartburg

In Church, Education, Theologians, Writers on January 3, 2010 at 7:49 pm

Luther's Desk

As I lamented with a colleague my 2009 booklist, she made the observation that I had read little to no biographies in 2009 and ought to amend that for 2010. Taking her advice, I pulled off the shelf a 300-page biography on Martin Luther. Thus, in this first post of 2010, rather than critique something (as I am usually wont to do), I thought I'd
share a few thoughts and quotes from my Christmas break reading. I hope they're encouraging as you start the new year in earnest this week.

The good thing about James Kittelson's Luther the Reformer is that it is an enjoyable and theologically astute biography with a balanced approach to a man often caricatured as "unbalanced" (make no mistake, Luther was no saint, but he lived very consistently). Kittelson early and accurately identifies so much of what drove Luther to be the Reformer we know him to be, but he does so in a way that is as human as it is theological:

"Luther discovered that true religion was far more than just the proper inclination of the heart and earnest attempts to work out his salvation. But every time he tried to fan his own spark of goodness, he found that all he was doing was focusing his attention on himself. From his own teachers, he knew that to think of himself was to be in his most sinful state. How then could he 'do what was within him' without yielding to the basest of motives, the desire to save his own skin? How could he possibly confess every one of his sins when he knew that he did so only for the purpose of currying the favor of a righteous God who would surely condemn him for them? Every act of confession therefore became yet another sin. The sincerity of the confession and of the acts of penance that followed was always in question. And if he himself questions his motives, how could they not have been more than dubious in the mind of a God who knew all and was always right?" (80)

The book is filled with original quotes from Luther, many of the ones below I resonate with in a deep and desperate way. Here are three which particularly struck me:

"Learn Christ and him crucified; despairing of yourself, learn to pray to him, saying, 'You, Lord Jesus, are my righteousness, but I am your sin; you have taken on yourself what you were not and have given me what I was not.' Beware of aspiring to such purity that you no longer wish to appear to yourself, or to be, a sinner." (95)

"For it cannot be that a soul filled with its own righteousness can be replenished with the righteousness of God, who fills up only those who hunger and are thirsty. Therefore, whoever is full of his own truth and wisdom is not capable of the truth and wisdom of God, which cannot be received save by those who are empty and destitute." (99)

"The Christian life does not consist of being but of becoming, not of
victory but the fight, not of righteousness but of justification, not
of comprehending but of stretching forward, not of purity but of
purification
." (109)

In chronicling Luther's life, Kittelson is particularly insightful of both Luther's historical context of Roman Catholic corruption and God's use of him within it:

"Luther had developed a way of understanding the Christian life that utterly contradicted what he, and everyone else in his day, had been taught. He flatly denied that there was any possibility of becoming genuinely better in the presence of God. As time passed, Christians could hope only to become ever more radically dependent on the righteousness of God in Christ." (99)

In addition to the encouragement taken from the above passage, I took to heart the orator Mosellanus' description of Luther below:

"In his manner and bearing, he is very polite and friendly and has nothing of stoic severity or crabbiness about him; he comports himself well at all times. People chide him about only one failing, that in rebuttal he is somewhat more intense and biting than is appropriate for someone who wants to open new paths in theology and be regarded as taught by God." (145)

Ahem. Moving on, here's Luther on the concept of will:

"The human will is like a beast between [God and Satan]. If God sits on it, it wills and goes where God wills to go…If Satan sits on it, it will and goes where Satan wills. Nor does it have the power to choose which rider it will go to or seek, but the riders struggle over which of them will have it or rule it." (206)

On education (Luther, after all, was a professor as well as a theologian and pastor):

"If I could leave the office of preacher and my other duties, or were forced to do so, there is no other office I would rather have than that of schoolmaster or teacher of boys. For I know that next to the office of preaching, this is the best, the greatest, and the most useful there is. In fact, I am not absolutely certain which of the two is the better." (248-249)

And finally, with regard to depression and the importance of community (and despite my introverted preferences to the contrary, curse him):

"Satan delights in the solitude of Christians." (251)

While we in the Presbyterian branch of Protestantism often align ourselves more with Calvin than Luther in areas of systematic doctrine, church government, and the sacraments, if you haven't read any Luther lately, it might do your "frozen chosen" heart good to slip in a book or biography in 2010. It's done mine good in starting off the year.

I know I've got some Lutheran scholars lurking out there. What say you?

(About the title: In honor of Luther, I'm naming my home study space "Wartburg" (pronounced "Vartburg"), the castle to where Frederick of Saxony "kidnapped" Luther to save his life and from where Luther published a dozen books and translated the entire New Testament into German in a mere matter of months. Must have been the desk…)

City of God or Country of God?

In Books, Calling, Church, Nature, Places & Spaces, Seminary, Theologians, Thought, Writers on November 21, 2009 at 3:41 pm

Maybe I've read too many Wendell Berry books, but it's taken some time for me – a country boy – to come around to the thought of the city being a cherished part of the Christian mission. Indeed, I get the concept of the biblical narrative taking us from the Garden (Genesis) to the City (Revelation), and it does seem God spends an awful lot of time in the Scriptures interacting with ancient cities and their inhabitants, but it's only been since moving to a big city myself that my heart has warmed to the idea.

Growing up six miles outside a town of 1,200 (Griggsville, IL – "Purple Martin Capital of the Nation") two hours north of the STL, my big city experiences were few and far between. When I did visit St. Louis or Chicago (which my family rarely did), or even when I traveled overseas at the age of 16 to major cities like London, Paris, or Munich, I was rarely scared by them, but I was not all that enamored, either. While I enjoyed the idea of being there, the cities all felt too touristy to me (granted, a tourist), and I just couldn't figure out who or how one enjoyed living in a place so overrun by millions of non-residents.

This theme continued when I moved west. Colorado Springs – as beautiful as it can be – seemed to prostitute itself to the spring break and summer tourist crowds. Add to that feeling the fact that there's absolutely no good way to drive east-west in town (which was unfortunate, since that was how we had to go to get to our PCA church), and I began to lament our attempts at church community in the city. I couldn't figure out how church "happened" naturally and personally in a city of 350,000, let alone 3.5 million.

Then we moved to St. Louis – a classic example of an American city that has suffered from decades of racial tension, white flight to the suburbs, and inner-city poverty (both financial and human). As the middle-class moved out, so grew with them the megachurches. Harvie Conn, in his book The American City and the Evangelical Church, sums up well what seems to have gone on here and in other metropolitan areas like it:

"The community church has become a regional church. And in
becoming a regional church it becomes a megachurch…In this
decentralized world the church loses its grip on local geographical
neighborhood and is transformed into a megachurch, twenty-five minutes
by car. The size of the megachurch becomes limited only by the size of
its parking lot. And the lost community created by this change finds
its replacement in the small cell groups and house meetings also
characteristic of the successful megachurch." (p. 191)

(Random thought: Maybe this is why I really don't like small groups – it's an unconscious rebelling against megachurches everywhere. Actually, I love the Catholic "parish model" with churches
geographically placed throughout the city and members living within the
neighborhood attending; in fact, if it weren't for those pesky doctrinal issues – worship of Mary, sainthood, purgatory, etc. – I'd probably have become Catholic by now if for no other reason than I love the architecture. But I digress.)

After we moved to Maplewood (where we live half a house from the St. Louis city/county line), we knew we wanted to be part of as local a PCA congregation as we could. Thankfully, Crossroads Presbyterian was just a ten-minute walk around the corner and up the hill from the house we bought, and we're glad for the fact that in terms of both vision and facility, there are no plans nor means to grow the church beyond 300 members without planting another church (which we're actually doing now) first.

All that said, my heart for the city (Maplewood and/or St. Louis proper) is growing in addition to my heart for the country. Yes, I'm still waiting for the PCA to catch a vision for church planting in more rural areas, but I know it's tough financially and (honestly) culturally. But, while I still feel the need to be an advocate for rural ministry here in the city, I'm glad to feel an expanding love in this country boy's heart for the city as well.

So, with apologies to Augustine, is it the city of God or the country of God that matters?

My best answer: yes.

Life on Other Planets: Some Thoughts

In Church, Humanity, Movies, Nature, Places, Science, Theologians, Travel on August 7, 2009 at 8:43 am

A friend of mine and I sat through the movie Knowing the other night. While one of the worst movies I've watched in a while (incoherent plot, numerology silliness, Nicolas Cage once again playing Nicolas Cage), the film did serve one purpose: it got us talking about the idea of life on other planets.

Despite my X-Files affections, I tend to doubt that we have neighbors in the universe: other populated worlds aren't mentioned in the Bible, and most scientists say the odds against are just too huge otherwise. Maybe I'm your typical egocentric human, but when astronomer Carl Sagan said that if life didn't exist elsewhere in the universe it would be "an awful waste of space," I guess I feel kind of special.

At the same time, I recognize that just because the Bible doesn't record the existence of life on other planets doesn't mean there isn't. Remember: the Bible is a historical-redemptive narrative, not an all-encompassing science book. And speaking of science, there are plenty of scientists who do not share my doubts, running huge scientific initiatives and spending a boatload of money in hopes of making some kind of contact with other beings.

Despite my doubts, and certainly different from the typical evangelical Christian line, the argument for other life in the universe does seem plausible, if for no other reason than the very nature of God as Creator. But here's the question I think it all comes down to: The Scriptures attest to our fallen nature as created beings, but is that to mean all that is on the Earth or all that is in the entire universe?

The question is important because, while we have the account of God redeeming Earth through Christ, if there are indeed other beings in the universe and the universe is indeed fallen, then was there a plan of salvation for other planets as well? C.S. Lewis believed so, namely that when the Bible talks of "creation," it is in reference to the Earth and not necessarily the universe. From this perspective, the idea of other created beings without need of redemption is possible; we just don't have a record of it.

Thinking about all this is particularly interesting in light of mankind's desire to explore space. Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking says that the only way humanity can survive is to figure out how to leave the planet; hence, the importance of the U.S. space program. This, of course, begs the question: If the Earth is the only fallen part of God's creation, what does our going out into a non-fallen universe mean? Does it matter? And what would it be like to meet other creation who are intact in their creation perfection?

This is what I understand Lewis' Space Trilogy
to be about: man
leaves Earth
(called the Silent Planet, as it was cut off from the rest of the
universe because of its evil), to colonize elsewhere in the universe
(Perelandra) among beings not in need of redemption. These innocents, though not fallen
themselves, are nevertheless affected by humans and Earth's evil
before it is all finally resolved in the Siege of Deep Heaven against
the Bent One of Earth. In other words, sinful Earthlings contaminated another part of space which, until their arrival, had not been so. Thankfully, however, good overcame evil.

I've always thought of and understood the Fall applying to all of God's universal creation; thus, I differ with Lewis' premise that creation perfection is alive and well outside the surly bonds of Earth. Having said that, however, if God so chose to redeem other inhabitants of his universal creation, I'm assuming he has both prerogative and means to accomplish his will. In my finite, self-centered self, it's just easier to think about me and Earth, especially since God gave us a record of all he has done for redemption here (not to mention that I have no plans or desire for leaving).

Still thinking on this, but I'll stop for now. Anyone have a more formed/informed thought?

Harry Potter for Presbyterians

In Books, Church, Seminary, Theologians on October 11, 2008 at 7:35 am

The Reformed folk of the world (among others) are gearing up for the release of the new ESV Study Bible on Wednesday. Around these parts (especially if you’re a seminary student), it’s going to be insane. I think of it as Harry Potter for Presbyterians.

This past Thursday, when I arrived at Covenant’s bookstore to work my afternoon shift, I saw 25 unopened orange, white, and black boxes in the back, just waiting to be “received” (the term we use for the process of entering new books into the system before putting them on the shelves). Thinking it might be a good idea to go ahead and process the new ESVs, I giddily asked my boss, Nick, if I could open a box, to which he responded that we’re not supposed to open them until Tuesday.

What!? Wait until Tuesday!? It’s not like we’re going to give away the story! Sigh.

Respecting Nick’s wishes, I received some other boxes of books, periodically glancing through the door to the back and trying to figure out how to get my grubby hands on one of the new Bibles without Nick knowing. I could open a box, take a look, and then re-tape it (unfortunately, our tape is clear and their tape was white); I could open a box and say it was already opened (presumably by Dave, my co-worker who worked the morning shift), but Nick would never believe me (and Dave would never do that).

Nothing like questionable employee integrity at a bookstore that espouses a Christian worldview (or the fact that I teach Ethics for a living at a Christian high school) for irony.

I resisted two hours of temptation on Thursday and survived, but I’ve got another two-hour shift on Monday that will surely test my mettle. Thankfully, I work Tuesday afternoon, so I’ll finally get one (free for employees!) without having to deal with the hundreds of PCAers the next morning who will have camped out that night dressed as their favorite Bible character to be first in line to get their own personal copy.

I’m guessing I’ll miss the bulk of those sitting on the floor frantically reading while they wait to check out, not to mention Nick dressed up like Moses, holding out a copy of the ESV in each hand. I’ll probably also miss all the squeals of surprise at the 200-plus full-color maps and the gasps of joy at the 20,000 notes written by “a team of 95 outstanding evangelical Bible scholars and teachers,” including several of my professors from Covenant.

Indeed, by my Thursday afternoon shift, the store will probably be completely ravaged from the events of the day before, and it will fall to me to deal with all the empty boxes and jostled books. I’ll work my shift knowing that folks will probably still be cuddled up with their new ESV Bibles, refusing to come out of their apartments and homes until they read the book cover to cover. As I’m shelving whatever few copies remain from our massive 25-box order, I’ll smile at the thought of dozens more readers accessing the ESV’s special online resources, reliving the Bible in a kind of digital glory.

It will be a magical day. J.K. Rowling would be proud. And, I think, God will be pleased.

Anybody getting an ESV on Wednesday?