Wednesday, December 27, 2006

ben franklin / out of blogging range

I've been reading Ray Pritchard's book Credo the past week. It's a book that goes line by line through the Apostle's Creed, giving explanation of each line. I recommend it. I'm planning to use it in a class very soon.

In the chapter on the Resurrection of the Body, Pritchard shares an epitaph that Ben Franklin wrote for himself when he was 23-years-old (which did not end up being used when he died). It read:

The body of
Benjamin Franklin, Printer
(Like the Cover of an Old Book
Its Contents torn Out
And Stript of its Lettering and Gilding)
Lies Here, Food for Worms.
But the Work shall not be Lost;
For it will (as he Believ'd) Appear once More
In a New and More Elegant Ediction
Revised and Corrected
By the Author.

I thought that was cool.

It looks like I'll be out of blogging range until at least Sunday, January 7, 2007. Alas, my in-laws are kidnapping me and my family and taking us to Cancun. It will be rough, but I'm clinging to the words of Paul, "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us."

When I'm suffering on the beach in Mexico, I'm be thinking of you... or maybe not!

See you when I get back!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Mark Driscoll on contending for the faith in a post-modern setting

In this excellent sermon, Mark Driscoll says that we must contend for the following doctrines which are under attack in this post-modern age:
1) the innerancy of Scripture
2) the sovereignty of God
3) the virgin birth
4) the sinfulness of humanity
5) the substitutionary atonement
6) the exclusivity of Christ
7) the differences between males and females
8) a literal hell
9) the kingdom is in priority over culture

To be clear: He's not saying these are the only doctrines important to Christianity, but ones that are currently being challenged by "popular" theology.

new defender's study bible

This Christmas I received a CBD gift certificate from a family member. I decided to order myself a copy of The New Defender's Study Bible. It just came in yesterday. As you can tell from the cover, all of the notes in it are from the literal creationist viewpoint. I spent some time last night reading over the notes in various passages, especially Genesis 1 and 2. So far I'm very impressed with the effort that Dr. Morris has gone to in providing scientific explanations for every detail of the Creation account.

I like having a number of different study Bibles that give me different perspectives on the Scripture. Here are a few others that I recommend:

The Life Application Study Bible (NIV) - If a person asks me about a study Bible that explains difficult passages and provides insightful applications, I always point them toward this best-seller. Its got great study notes and indexes. I recommend the NIV for folks who want an easy-to-read translation. Its also similar enough to other Bible translations that a person doesn't get lost in a group Bible study when people are reading from different translations (as sometimes happens with The Message).

The Reformation Study Bible - This study Bible only comes in the ESV (my current favorite translation). It offers notes that are specifically Reformed/Calvinist in theology. However, its very charitable in explaining that some people understand passages differently and even offers the different explanations. I think this is a good study Bible to use in mainline non-dispensational settings, because many mainliners resist insisting that passages should only be interpreted one way. This study Bible is very clear on non-negotiables and very charitable in negotiables. Its general editor is R.C. Sproul.

The Ryrie Study Bible - This study Bible is available in a number of translations and offers the reader a clear interpretation of the Scriptures from a classic dispensational perspective. It doesn't usually offer differing perspectives, but neither does it claim to. I like this because it helps me understand the very popular theological perspective.

If you're in need of a last minute Christmas gift, you can still give a CBD gift certificate! I was very excited to get mine.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

re: abstinence

My new Thursday and Saturday commitment.

does God contradict himself?

Ray Pritchard recently posted a very good article where he challenges those who teach unbiblical doctrines based on the argument "God told me in my heart..."

The Lion in Winter

Last night my wife brought home this 1968 movie from the library. I had never heard of it. The story is set in 12th century England.

It is adapted from a play and has some of most mind-bending (in a good way) dialogue I've ever experienced. I find it very refreshing to watch an excellent old movie that is based on great acting and a stunning script rather than on special effects.

The cast not only includes Peter O'Toole and Katherine Hepburn, but also Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton, but much younger versions of them than I'm used to seeing. Great movie - and free, if you can check it out at the library.

JD's blogger profile is up!

JD has filled out his Methodist blogger profile at Locusts and Honey. Check it out!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

what is the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit?

In response to the efforts of the Rational Response Squad to try to get folks to commit the unforgiveable sin, I need to say, Guys, I don't think its that easy.

On March 19, 2006 I made a post about the blaspemy of the Holy Spirit entitled The Unforgiveable Sin. I thought I'd rerun that post to offer another voice on the issue. Here is that post:

Today I preached on Mark 3:20-35, the text that deals with "the blaspemy of the Holy Spirit," or the unforgivable sin. I've always been curious about what that meant and wanted to get a firm and simple understanding of it. What I came up with is that the unforgivable sin is "the continual rejection of all God's efforts to save you," or "the refusal to be saved."

I derived this definition partly from the context in Mark 3. The scribes from Jerusalem are looking at all of the people who Jesus has saved and delivered from demons and diseases by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus who saves and delivers and regenerates us when we believe in Jesus. They saw the evidence of the power. They could have responded in faith and been saved from their sins and joined the Family of the Forgiven. Instead, they responded with disgust and rejection. Jesus warned them that if they continued in that direction, they would never find and experience God's forgiveness.

The other source I found helpful was Jesus' teaching on the work of the Holy Spirit in John 14-17. Jesus says in 15:26 that the Holy Spirit will testify to people about him, and in John 16:8-11 that the Holy Spirit will convict people of their sin, Christ's righeousness, and the coming judgment. To respond to the Holy Spirit's conviction with faith and repentance results in salvation, to reject it is to reject the only source of salvation for the human race.

I believe that the opportunity to repent is offered us until the day our fate is sealed by death. Then our salvation or our seperation takes us into one of two eternal places. Never give up praying for those who aren't saved. Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you and use you in his ongoing efforts to save people.

repenting of the sin of joylessness

In the Epilogue of Desiring God, John Piper writes...
I am often asked what a Christian should do if the cheerfulness of obedience is not there. It is a good question. My answer is not to simply get on with your duty because feelings are irrelevant! My answer has three steps. First, confess the sin of joylessness. Acknowledge the culpable coldness of your heart. Don't say it doesn't matter how you feel. Second, pray earnestly that God would restore the joy of obedience. Third, go ahead and do the outward dimension of your duty in the hope that the doing will rekindle the delight.

This is very different from saying: do your duty because feelings don't count. These steps are predicated on the assumption that there is such a thing as hypocrisy. They are based on the belief that our goal is the reunion of pleasure and duty and that a justification of their separation is a justification of sin.

There is no conflict between gratification of desire and the enhancement of man's pleasure, on the one hand, and fulfillment of God's command on the other... The tension that often exists within us between a sense of duty and wholehearted spontaneity is a tension that arises from sin and a disobedient will. No such tension would have invaded the heart of unfallen man. And the operations of saving grace are directed to the end of removing the tension so that there may be, as there was with man at the beginning, the perfect complementation of duty and pleasure, of commandment and love.8

Monday, December 18, 2006

the martyrdom of Polycarp

From Desiring God pp.271-272, here is the story of the martyrdom of Polycarp

One example of such a powerful witness through suffering was the martyrdom of Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna who died in A. D. 155. His student Irenaeus said that Polycarp had been the student of the apostle John. We know he was very old when he died because, when the Proconsul commanded him to recant and curse Christ, he said, "Eighty and six years have I served him and he hath done me no wrong; how then can I blaspheme my king who saved me?"6

During one season of persecution a frenzied crowd in Smyrna cried out for a search to be made for Polycarp. He had moved to a town just outside the city, and three days before his death he had a dream from which he concluded, "I must needs be burned alive." So when the search was finally made, instead of fleeing he said, "The will of God be done." The ancient account of the martyrdom gives the following record:

So, hearing of their arrival, he came down and talked with them, while all that were present marveled at his age and constancy, and that there was so much ado about the arrest of such an old man. Then he ordered that something should be served for them to eat and drink, at that late hour, as much as they wanted. And he besought them that they should grant him an hour that he might pray freely. They gave him leave, and he stood and prayed, being so filled with the grace of God that for two hours he could not hold his peace, while they that heard were amazed, and the men repented that they had come after so venerable an old man.7

When he was finally taken away and condemned to burning, they tried to nail his hands to the stake, but he pled against it and said, "Let me be as I am. He that granted me to endure the fire will grant me also to remain at the pyre unmoved without being secured with nails."8 When his body seemed not to be consumed by the fire, an executioner drove a dagger into his body. The ancient account concludes, "All the multitude marveled at the great difference between the unbelievers and the elect."9 This is what explains the triumph of Christianity in the early centuries. They triumphed by their suffering. It did not just accompany their witness, it was the capstone of their witness. "They overcame [Satan] because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even to death" (Revelation 12:11).

atheistic "evangelism"

There is a group calling themselves the Rational Response Squad who is trying to get kids and adults to go online and upload a video to YouTube confessing that they reject God. Its tragic and and evil. Learn more by clicking here. Please protect your kids from this junk.

tragic news

Last year I went with a group from our church to spend a week at the Red Bird Mission in Kentucky. We're going back this summer to spend a week there again. We've already begun raising funds. I was saddened when I got this information by email this morning from our district office.

A significant decline in contributions has created a crisis that may result in the closing of the school at Red Bird Mission, one of four mission institutions of the United Methodist Red Bird Missionary Conference. The conference is in an isolated area in the heart of Appalachia, a geographic region that stretches along the Appalachian mountain range from Mississippi to southern New York. Red Bird Mission School in Beverly, Ky., has been in existence since 1921. For the past three years the mission has been operating with a deficit, using reserves to meet the shortfall, said Fred Haggard, executive director. Donations can be made through the Advance Special #773726 and mailed to Red Bird Mission, 70 Queendale Ctr., Beverly, KY 40913. Secure credit-card donations can be made through the Red Bird Mission Web site at

Donations can also be made through your own local church.

What seems strange about this is that missions giving seems to be reaching record highs with giving going to disaster relief. I feel that why disaster relief is so so important, we need to continue to support the mission efforts that we were giving to prior to the larger scale disasters.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

how to write a letter to the editor

This morning I came across this article at the Christian Research Institute website entitled How to Write a Letter to the Editor. Here are the main points:

1. Remember that your ultimate aim should be to communicate truth for God’s glory (Matt. 6:33; 1 Cor. 10:31).

2. Choose a subject that you understand, feel strongly about, and concerning which you can express yourself clearly.

3. Make only one central point.

4. Write clearly, directly, and logically.

5. Avoid ineffective kinds of letters.

6. Make your letter pertinent to some recent issue that the publication to which you are writing has covered.

7. Keep your letter less than 150–200 words, unless the editorial page stipulates otherwise.

8. When writing for a non-Christian publication, remember that much of your audience is not familiar with Christian terms or concepts.

9. Use persuasion, not just proclamation.

10. Ridicule and rhetorical sharpness are dangerous, but sometimes effective, tools of writing; use them cautiously.

11. Be realistic about your chances of publication.

12. Remember to pray.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Piper on love and money

Much of the time when I post quotes on the blog, I do so because I want to have them easily accessible for my own personal edification. Hopefully others will benefit as well. Here are a couple more from Desiring God.

In his chapter on Love, Piper gives this helpful definition:

Love is the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of others. (119)
In his chapter on Money, he rebukes materialism, saying:

God is not glorified when we keep for ourselves (no matter how thankfully) what we ought to be using to alleviate the misery of unevangelized, uneducated, unmedicated, and unfed millions. The evidence that many professing Christians have been deceived by this [wealth-prosperity] doctrine is how little they give and how much they own. God has prospered them. And by an almost irresistible law of consumer culture (baptized by a doctrine of health, wealth, and prosperity) they have bought bigger (and more) houses, newer (and more) cars, fancier (and more) clothes, better (and more) meat, and all manner of trinkets and gadgets and containers and devices and equipment to make life more fun.

They will object: Does not the Old Testament promise that God will prosper his people? Indeed! God increases our yield so that by giving we can prove our yield is not our god. God does not prosper a man's business so he can move from a Ford to a Cadillac. God prospers a business so that 17,000 unreached peoples can be reached with the gospel. He prospers a business so that twelve percent of the world's population can move a step back from the precipice of starvation. (198)

By the way, this book and many others are available free online at

Piper on God as our Physician

John Piper's book Desiring God is really ministering to me. On page 247, Piper offers this quote from Daniel Fuller about how God designs a unique life calling for each of us which might be seen as our personalized program for restoration of life. I found it very helpful.
Daniel Fuller uses this picture of patient and doctor to show how the effective missionary avoids the presumption of assisting God:

An analogy for understanding how to live the Christian life without being a legalist is to think of ourselves as being sick and needing a doctor's help in order to get well. Men begin life with a disposition so inclined to evil that Jesus called them "children of hell" (Matthew 23:15).... In Mark 2:17 and elsewhere Jesus likened Himself to a doctor with the task of healing man's sins; He received the name "Jesus" because it was His mission to "save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). The moment we turn from loving things in this world to bank our hope on God and His promises summed up in Jesus Christ, Jesus takes us, as it were, into His clinic to heal us of our hellish dispositions.... True faith means not only being confident that one's sins are forgiven but also means believing God's promises that we will have a happy future through eternity. Or, to revert to the metaphor of medicine and the clinic, we must entrust our sick selves to Christ as the Great Physician, with confidence that He will work until our hellishness is transformed into godliness.

[One] implication to be drawn from the doctor analogy is that while he will prescribe certain general instructions for all his patients to follow, he will also make up individual health regimens for the particular needs of each patient. For example, he may direct some to leave their homeland to go to proclaim the Gospel in a foreign land. There is great temptation in such circumstances for people to revert to the legalism of thinking that they are being heroes for God because they are leaving their homeland to endure the rigors of living in a foreign land [this was Peter's problem]. Those who are directed to do hard jobs for God must remind themselves that these rigors are simply for their health. As these difficulties help them become more like Christ, they will sing a song of praise unto God, and as a result "many will see it and fear and put their trust in the Lord" (Psalm 40:3). People who regard themselves as invalids rather than heroes will make excellent missionaries.

(Daniel Fuller, Gospel and Law: Contrast or Continuum? [Grand Rapids Eerdmans, 1980], pp. 117-19. From a letter to Father Perez in Francis M. DuBose, ed., Classics of Christian Missions [Nashville: Broadman Press, 1979], p. 221 ff.)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


I feel that God may be calling me to pull back a little bit. Thursdays and Saturdays are days that I'm home with my family. I think I'm going to try to practice the spiritual disciple of abstinence on those days, abstinence from blogging that is. I love blogging, but I need to practice slowing down.

For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
"In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength."
- Isaiah 30:15

northern lights

I just stumbled across this photo gallery of incredible pictures of the Northern Lights.

a time to be born and a time to die...

Yesterday a friend shared with me that when she was younger her grandmother always told her that God has a big book. And in that book beside each of our names are two dates, the day we are to be born and the day we are to die.

We were talking about whether it said that anywhere in the Bible. The only Scripture that I could come up with to support that idea, expressed that way, is Psalm 139:16: "And in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them" (NASB).

I think my friend was saying that this idea of the big book of beginnings and ends had brought her comfort as she rested in God's ultimate control over what happens to human beings.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

how do scriptures like these speak to the Church today, if at all?

Jude 3-4
Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

2 John 9
Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.

1 John 2:23-24

No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father.

2 Timothy 4:3-4
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

I'm not claiming that I know for sure. I just wrestle with what texts like these say to a pluralistic society.

Monday, December 11, 2006

J.B.Phillips on the character of the Gospels

Page 334 of Desiring God has this awesome footnote:

After translating the Gospels into "racy modern English," J.B. Phillips wrote the following in The Ring of Truth (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1967), 57-8:

I felt, and feel, without any shadow of doubt that close contact with the text of the Gospels builds up in the heart and mind a character of awe-inspiring stature and quality. I have read, in Greek and Latin, scores of myths but I did not find the slightest favor of myth here. There is no hysteria, no careful working for effect and no attempt at collusion. These are not embroidered tales: the material is cut to the bone. One sensed again and again that understatement which we have been taught to think is more "British" than Oriental. There is almost childlike candor and simplicity, and the total effect is tremendous. No man could ever have invented such a character as Jesus. No man could have set down such artless and vulnerable accounts as these unless some real Event lay
behind them.

response to "an evangelical"

Henry Neufield recently posted a response to my post what is "an evangelical"? I think he does an excellent job of succinctly explaining why he would not call himself an evangelical and why he disagrees with my interpretation of Christianity.

I respect Henry and his ideas and the way that he respectfully stated them.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

John Piper on defending the faith

A couple days ago, I finally began reading John Piper's classic book Desiring God. On page 331, he gives this admonition to Christians:
Whenever a Christian converses with a non-Christian about the truth of the faith, every request of the non-Christian for the proof of Christianity should be met with an equally serious request for proof for the non-Christian's philosophy of life. Otherwise we get the false impression that the Christian worldview is tentative and uncertain, while the more secular worldviews are secure and sure, standing above the need to give a philosophical and historical accounting of themselves. But that is not the case.

Many people who demand that Christians produce proof of our claims do not make the same demand upon themselves. Secular skepticism is assumed to be reasonable because it is widespread, not because it is well argued. We should simply insist that the controversy be conducted with fairness. If the Christian must produce proof, so must others.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

a man of one book

I love this John Wesley quote (from the preface to his Standard Sermons):
I am a spirit come from God, and returning to God: Just hovering over the great gulf; till, a few moments hence, I am no more seen; I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing, -- the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way: For this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: Here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be _homo unius libri_. [A man of one book.]

Friday, December 08, 2006

Paul's tomb

My friend Bandlady sent me a link to this article about the unearthing of the Apostle Paul's tomb.

Augustine on Inerrancy

A very cool resource that I've been using lately is Theopedia. You should check it out. In its entry entitled The Inerrancy of the Bible, it shares this quote from Augustine, sharing his view of inerrancy:
"it is not allowable to say, 'The author of this book is mistaken'; but either the manuscript is faulty, or the translation is wrong, or you have not understood."
Interestingly, Theopedia also lists the doctrine of Inerrancy as a basic belief of Christianity. Here's their list of Basic Christian Beliefs:
The deity and humanity of Christ
The bodily resurrection of Christ
The doctrine of the Trinity (including the deity of the Holy Spirit)
Salvation by grace through faith
The second coming of Christ
The inerrancy of scriptures
Virgin birth of Jesus
The existence of Heaven and Hell
the Resurrection of the dead
Life everlasting

response to Rob Bell's "Bullhorn"

I came across this video response to Rob Bell's Bullhorn video. It was created by The Way of The Master Radio. I guess Kirk Cameron and friends have a different understanding of the gospel than Rob Bell and friends.

umc 101

There's an online course about the basics of of the United Methodist Church. It will begin soon. Register here.

who is a child of God?

I was unable to blog yesterday due to the fact that our home computer is nearly dead. We're trying to figure out burial/replacement plans. So for a few days (at least) I'll only be able to blog from the church office.

One thing I've been thinking about for the past couple of years is how we use the phrase "child of God." I seem to often run into a liturgy where it is implied that every created human being is a child of God.

I know that this is a nice-sounding thing to say about someone, but I don't see it supported in the Bible. From what I can tell a child of God is one who is adopted into the family of God through faith in Christ. This more limited view of who is a child of God and who is not seems to be what is suggested by John 1:10-13:

10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

From what I can tell, this passage seems to suggest that being named as a child of God is a "right" that is actually withheld from anyone who does not believe in/receive Jesus, and graciously granted to those who do receive him.

I know that someone of a different theological persuasion may argue that it is unkind, arrogant, or uncharitable to say that only those who have received Jesus are children of God and in the family of God.

I have a friend who says that we are all morally obligated to yearn for universalism to be true. I think we should yearn for everyone to become a child of God and be saved. But in the meantime I cannot buy into a Christian faith that is not built upon the truth that is laid out in the Bible, which seems to me to clearly say that a "child of God" is someone who has believed in/received Jesus.

Other Scriptures that seem to support this view would be Romans 8, Galatians 3:26; 4:6.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Dawkins argues for emotions-based ethics

Richard Dawkins on the speciesist attitude of homosapiens

"Human beings are not just like great apes. They are great apes.... Its a matter of the merest accident that the intermediates happen to be extinct."

God and pain

I've heard this quote many times, but came across it in its original context a couple of days ago:

"Pain insists on being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."

(C.S.Lewis, The Problem of Pain, p.91)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

a way forward?

There are many ideas floating around in my mind as I try to process the last couple days of learning with Diana Butler Bass. I know I'll be drawing on this teaching summit for a long time. At this point, I want to try and organize a few central pieces that I can hang my thoughts on.

1) We have been believing (and thus living in) the wrong story.
Diana shared from her own journey how she had long bought the line that the mainline churches are in decline and that only theologically conservative churches are growing. She actually studied American Church History for years, and was taught and bought the story that the mainline churches are like a sinking ship, like the Titanic going down, and their day is over.

After buying into this idea she was shocked when she stumbled onto a large, dynamic, non-conservative Anglican church in California. If the mainline is in decline, how could this church be growing faster than the conservative Calvary Chapels and Vineyard churches in the town?

This forced her to re-examine the mainline decline paradigm and she discovered that it actually is not true. After much study, she has found that there are many thriving mainline churches out there. She embarked on a study of them.

I questioned the adequacy of the mainline decline theory when I stumbled upon some myths about megachurches, which I reported in an earlier post. It turns about that 5% of megachurches are United Methodist, while 4.4% are Calvary Chapel. I've been interested in Calvary Chapel for a long time, being I'm a Chuck Smith Sr. fan. There's hardly any chance that you'll find a UMC as conservative as any Calvary Chapel church, but we have more megachurches than they do.

The results of Diana's research show that its actually Intentional churches which show vitality, and Established churches which are in decline. (At least, that's how I process what she said. If anyone remembers her stuff better than I do please correct me. I welcome it!) Established churches are stuck in an organizational model which served well the era from 1870-1960. Intentional churches (or practicing churches) began sprouting up around the 1970's, which happens to be the time of the formation of many of the conserative churches which are now thriving.

Mainline churches who have moved into the Intentional church model are vital, just as Intentional conservative churches are vital. A very crude and inadequate way of explaining what an Intentional church is would be that it is somewhat "purpose-driven" (sorry Diana!), not necessarily the in the Rick Warren model, but sort of. They choose what they are going to do and be based on the richest of the last 2000 years of church practices. Instead of worrying about survival, they focus on service, hospitality, reflection, study of God's Word, etc.

2) The liberal/conservative paradigm is not an adequate construct for measuring vitality.
Diana shared how the liberal/conservative paradigm has been passed down to us from the modernist/fundamentalist controvery of the early 20th century. When the modernists started pushing social gospel and higher biblical criticism, those who were against it formed a movement known as fundamentalism, to preserve what they saw as orthodoxy. For the first part of the 21st century, the modernists and liberal churches flourished and swelled with pride and satisfaction. Their bubble burst in the 60's (the end of the Established church era/the beginning of "mainline decline"). Because of the high level of tension that existed from this controversy, many people are still sold on these labels and fighting this battle.

Diana says this battle is no longer the story that we're in, though many people believe it is. When mainline churches begin to decline, the conservatives began to blame "the liberals who are destroying our denomination and causing it to shrink." Likewise, the liberals began to blame the conservatives. All the while, the truth is that there are Intentional liberal and conservative churches flourishing, and Established liberal and conservative churches floundering.

So there is not only a liberal...conservative spectrum (though it does certainly exist), there is also an Established...Intentional spectrum. Diana says that when the waters get rough, everyone is looking for who to throw off the boat in order to regain God's blessing. The liberals think we need to throw the conservatives off the boat, and the conservatives think we need to throw the liberals off the boat.

She said the truth is that Christianity is sailing into unchartered waters, and what we really need to do is get all hands on deck!

3) There is a big difference between tradition and custom.
Tradition is the richness of Christian practice from the last 2000 years and a lot of it is good. Customs are particular practices that a church just got in the habit of doing, which may or may not be beneficial.

An example of a custom could be having a Wednesday night soup supper during Lent. It may have very little theological significance attached to it. However, it can become very engrained and hard for a church to let go of, if it somehow becomes "canonized" (my word) in an Established church model.

A tradition would be the rich soul-searching season of Lent which allows time for deep reflection. There are a number of wonderful practices that will allow us to benefit from this tradition of Lenten reflection. The Intentional church will love and utilize the practices that work toward their intended purpose. The Established church will stick to its custom of soup suppers and decline and lose morale.

Here are some questions I'm thinking about tonight:
1) Is it possible for us to respect each other's different interpretations of doctrine without demanding that others conform to our interpretation?
2) Can we turn Established churches into Intentional churches with God's help?
3) Can we humbly focus on building Intentional churches without demonizing folks of on the other end of the liberal/conservative spectrum?

As an evangelical, I want to work side by side with my centrist and liberal brothers and sisters to build Intentional churches, but I need to be allowed to be who I am as an evangelical. I want to be able to let them be who they are as liberals. I want to be in mission without fear being demonized myself and without demonizing others.

It seems that it will take a great deal of emotional maturity for Diana's model to work for us, but for the first time in long time, I see a possible way forward. May God grant us the grace we need to do his will, to let his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

(Much more could be said about the terms "Intentional" vs. "Established." Check out Diana's website at I just picked up her new book Christianity for the Rest of Us. I haven't read it yet, but will share more from it as I dive into it. I would also recommend The Practicing Congregation, which I have read. I know Gavin blogged through this book at one point, but I couldn't find it in his archives.)


I just stopped by the church office on the way home from the teaching summit with Diana Butler Bass. I told my kids I'd be home when they got up from their naps, so I can only write a little now.

First, thanks to everyone for your thoughts on the meaning of being "an evangelical." I'm glad I've got an online community of comrades to work through these important issues with. I just briefly glanced at Locusts and Honey and saw a good deal of discussion about doctrine that I want to catch up on.

Second, the teaching time with Diana Butler Bass was very helpful. I've been to many leadership events and meetings that I leave from feeling discouraged and clueless about what on earth we're supposed to be doing in ministry at this time in history. D.B.B. has spent a lot of time and research trying to understand the current ministry climate and its historical significance. What she has to offer feels to me to be the most productive and hopeful analysis and solution that I've seen yet.

I'm very encouraged by what I took in the last two days. I'm trying to process it and will share more later.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


I will be out of blogging range for the next day or two. The Bishop asked some of the clergy in our conference to attend a training summit with Diana Butler Bass. I'm looking forward to learning what she has to teach us. See you Tuesday or Wednesday.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

biblical inerrancy and science

Another question I've been pondering lately is how the doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy fits in with science. I just came across a ministry called Answers In Creation. The front page of their site has these words:

Welcome to Answers In Creation, a creation science ministry believing in an inerrant Word of God, a literal interpretation of Genesis, and a billions of years old earth.

Did you know that you can be a conservative Christian, and believe that the earth is billions of years old? You can even believe in evolution and be a Christian. There is no conflict between modern science and the Bible.
They really like this Billy Graham quote:
"I don't think that there's any conflict at all between science today and the Scriptures. I think that we have misinterpreted the Scriptures many times and we've tried to make the Scriptures say things they weren't meant to say, I think that we have made a mistake by thinking the Bible is a scientific book. The Bible is not a book of science. The Bible is a book of Redemption, and of course I accept the Creation story. I believe that God did create the universe. I believe that God created man, and whether it came by an evolutionary process and at a certain point He took this person or being and made him a living soul or not, does not change the fact that God did create man. ... whichever way God did it makes no difference as to what man is and man's relationship to God."
I hope to check it out more later.

At another site I found this picture which seems to be making the suspicious claim that Chinese dinosaurs did not have heads!

what is "an evangelical"?

The past few days I've been thinking a lot about what I mean when I say that I am "an evangelical." I know that the word "evangelical" can be tricky to define. For example, I was talking to a friend at Annual Conference this last summer. She said something that sounded rather "liberal" in my mind. I responded to her, "Oh, I guess I just assumed that you were an evangelical." She said, "I like to consider myself an evangelical liberal."

I know this is a category that some United Methodists place themselves in, and they have every right to do so. I won't try to explain for them what that means. I just say this to make the distinction between how different people use the word "evangelical." From what I can tell, saying that I am an evangelical, is different from using evangelical as an adjective.

For the sake of distinction, I have at least once called myself "a conservative evangelical." I did so not because I think the adjective "conservative" is really necessary, but to let people know that I'm not an evangelical liberal. I'm an evangelical.

As I've been thinking about this, here is a list of things that I consider to be true of people who are evangelicals. (This is a work in progress.)

1) They believe that Jesus is the only Savior of humankind.
This means that no other religious pathway, other than Jesus, will lead to God. There is no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of blood. Every human being has sinned. The only available candidate to die for another's sins is one who has no sins of his/her own. Jesus, the only sinless human being, is the ony substitute who has ever lived. He paid the sin debt for the entire human race in his blood.

2) They believe that the Bible is God's Word.
This doesn't mean that Jesus is not the Incarnate Word of God. While Jesus is the Incarnate Word of God, the Bible is the written Word of God. One could say the Bible is the Word of the Word (hat tip to Mike Rayson). This means that even the parts of the Bible that are written by Paul, Peter, John, or Solomon, are the Word of God. This also means that in order to get a full picture of who Jesus is, one must look as much at what Paul said about him as one must look at what he said about himself.

3) They believe that the Bible should have the final say in understanding every moral issue. This means that if scientific research suggests that a different moral understanding of a behavior might be appropriate, the evangelical would stick with what the Bible says on the issue.

4) They believe that the miracles in the Bible (the Virgin Birth, the Physical Resurrection of Jesus from the Dead, etc) were actual historical events.

5) They believe that heaven and hell are both very real eternal destinations.

6) They believe that the only way to escape hell is through faith in Christ. They would say that this does not make God unjust, unloving, or unfair, because hell is what humans deserve for being desperately wicked. God's love and desire to redeem wicked human beings is demonstrated in the cross of Christ. Evangelicals do not find the doctrine of hell incompatible with God's incredible love for the human race.

7) They believe the earliest Christians, including the apostles, were evangelicals. This means that being "an evangelical" is not some new invention, but what it really means to be a Christian.

Here's a list of clarification statements to hopefully answer questions before they are asked.
1) Some evangelicals would say that its not possible to be a true Christian unless someone is an evangelical. I would hesitate to say that for a number of reasons, even though I would call myself an evangelical.
2) Evangelicals have made some horrific mistakes throughout history.
3) Anyone who believes the Doctrinal Standards of the United Methodist Church at face value would be what I consider an evangelical.
4) I believe John Wesley was an unapologetic evangelical.
5) An evangelical should never dismiss the social responsibilities that accompany being a follower of Christ, under the argument that right doctrine is more important than right behavior.
6) I believe evangelicals have good things they can learn from liberals ("evangelical liberals" and just plain "liberals").

Friday, December 01, 2006

not up for debate?

John at Locusts & Honey is saying that the doctrines of the literal Virgin Birth and the literal Resurrection of Christ are spelled out clearly in the Doctrinal Standards of the United Methodist Church. I would add the following oft debated doctrine (from our Confession of Faith) to the "not up for debate" list:

Article XII—The Judgment and the Future State
We believe all men stand under the righteous judgment of Jesus Christ, both now and in the last day. We believe in the resurrection of the dead; the righteous to life eternal and the wicked to endless condemnation.