Friday, December 12, 2003

Just a little reminder that the links on the side are politically-oriented blogs and sites. They do indeed somewhat reflect my politics, but those links are not relevant to this site, committed to nonpartisan Christian blather from myself. Nor do I always endorse what is written on pages to which I've linked. Just a reminder.
There's an awful lot of jabbering lately, in the form of Christian books on relationships. There are tons of them. I've even heard that some are good, and maybe they are. But why now? What is making relationships between men and women such a popular thing to talk about? Even the good books saying, "Let God handle your future" testify to young people perhaps unhealthily desiring relationships. If you don't believe me, what did you buy that book for? I'm not innocent of this, either. I think of relationships a lot. But I'm not reading any books on the subject. I'd rather think about God's goodness and mystery than be in a self-absorbed quest to discover why God hasn't given me a particular blessing yet. Easier said than done, but I'm trying. Imagine the outcry if mainstream evangelicals wrote books like, "Why Hasn't God Made Me Rich?" Think of the outcry, and rightly so. But noone tells all these romance advisors, "If you want to help me, then shut up already!" Yes, Josh Harris, that means you. Sorry. This is kind of a rant now, but if someone starts off a conversation with, "You ought to read this book..." and we're not discussing theology, or worship, or ecumenism, I'm cutting them off.
This post is slightly political, but cut me some slack; I'm going somewhere with this. On this subject, John Armstrong has been writing a lot in his Weekly Messenger for Reformation & Revival Ministries, so I'm giving him credit before I start. A lot of evangelicals are sold on the idea of smaller government, and free markets, and frankly so am I. But there are always holes, folks who fall through the cracks. The market is filled with sinful man too, as is the welfare state. The big question for all those who've entered the political fray is this: Are you willing to stand in the breach, when your politics isn't enough? When the free market leaves some behind, are you willing personally to right the wrongs of poverty? And you socialists, (and assorted other liberals) are you willing to stand in those same breaches when the welfare state fails, when your utopian dreams go down in flames? Christians, are we willing to speak "phophetically" to all sides of politics, and again be the consience of a nation? Christian fingerprints are all over almost every good reform in our nation's past--anti-poverty efforts, the Progressive Era, civil rights, even feminism. To sum up, let's do that again.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

One of the defining characteristics of evangelical Protestant theology has been certainty, and at that a certainty that extends to the most specific, seemingly trivial of matters. I ask plainly, have we sacrificed mystery for certainty? Or I should say, mysticism. Have we doctrinally parsed every page of the Bible so that it doesn't scare us anymore? And I don't mean that fleeing in terror sort of scared. I mean worship-inducing, awe-inspiring sort of scared. What sort of doctrinal assumptions do you make as you approach the Bible that might suck all the mystery (or all the correction) right out of it? Is your theology too comfortable? Can it, and start over. Well, what do you think? I would turn the comments on, but I don't know how. Very well, if you wish to comment, send all of them to: No spam.
I had some thoughts about theology. Some people see theology as a barrier to Christians and their walk with the Lord. True, some discussion is pointless infighting, with the sins of anger and arrogance at the forefront. But far too many Christians mistake "simply Christian" for easy, and an abscence of conflict. We should learn as much about the mysteries of God as we can. Furthermore, we should learn to speak the language of theology so we can explore these mysteries together. Sure, it will be somewhat jargon-filled, but we already have a jargon as Christians. Even the most basic of Christian doctrine seems fresh to any mind willing to dive into the mystery. We must at all costs avoid sin if we feel the need to dispute each other in matters of doctrine. Even to see some weaknesses in our own beliefs, or that of our particular traditions, the theological journey has merit. In any case, theology is another good place to see God's love for us in Christ if we look for it.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

This is my religious autobiography, intermingled with an analysis of Robert Wuthnow's After Heaven: Spirituality in America since the 1950s. Enjoy.

A Spirituality of Dwelling in the Incarnation

Spirituality in the United States has undergone profound change. The spirituality of dwelling that allegedly prevailed in the 1950s depended on unimpeded transmission and repetition of religious practices, and community orientation. Wuthnow rightly asserts that such spirituality is unlikely to survive the rapid change that this nation has seen. That shift from dwelling to seeking is quite apparent, yet the solution of a “practice-oriented spirituality” is little more than platitudes, speaking to a need that is not filled with generalities. God, ever-present as the Father, the Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, reminds us in the Scriptures and by his very presence that this culture is not so much faster, more materialistic, or any more lost than the one to which he spoke in biblical times. As we have learned from seeking, the certainty of faith and of God’s presence cannot be manufactured; it must be hard-won in spiritual battle. That battle is with ourselves, and with the culture in which we live. That Wuthnow uses such familiar terms to Christianity shows the empty victory of our return to “discipline” in the evangelical culture of the 1980s. My suggestion is an incarnational dwelling in Christ, with an implicit assumption there is such a thing as “mere Christianity.” It may involve the outright repudiation of “foundational theology”—that is, doctrine built upon a series of if-then statements, the result of which was firm denominational boundaries and open conflict. My own story will illuminate how this might be accomplished, and to affirm the general trend in American culture noticed by Wuthnow, (going from dwelling to seeking, and now stuck in the middle). Though I assert that this incarnational trend is more than just a digging in of the heels, and a culture war will be to no avail. The language of Christian faith ceased to be offensive, in the parable sort of way, because the wider culture diluted the meaning of the words by mistaking the universality of Christian concepts for a lack of specificity. In light of this, evangelicals have turned to smaller more fluid groups to rebuild their institutions, and more specific messages and means to carry them.
I was born on January 30, 1980, in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri. My father was a restaurant manager, and my mother is an account executive for a large company. My father’s family was nominally Catholic, and he left the Catholic Church at the age of ten, vowing never to return, stating that “They’re all a bunch of hypocrites.” Interestingly, my father’s apostasy prevented my baptism as an infant. My mother’s family has been notably irreligious. Her father was an atheist for 36 years. That has changed radically since my mother’s childhood. Our home, however, was entirely secular at the beginning. In 1986, my mother joined Alcoholics Anonymous, so the dynamics of our home changed slightly at that point, in that we acknowledged as a family that God now existed, though I nor my brother felt any need to call on God. My parents got divorced in 1982, and my mother had lost a companion to a swimming accident involving alcohol in 1986, prompting the change. After another broken marriage, my mother became a Christian in the spring of 2000. After feeling the effects of that marriage (which gave me a sister) I knew that God was watching, and hated injustice, and had been merciful to me and my family. It could have been far worse. Having encountered several Christians during my childhood at what always seemed the perfect time, I was finally lured into the Christian fold in 1997 by an FCA meeting prior to the school day, specifically by the public reading of Scripture. I do not know why I came to those meetings to this very day. These events may explain my quick embrace of a Calvinistic soteriology in college in 1999. It made perfect sense to me, and it still does.
We should place these things in the context of Wuthnow’s analysis now by noting the informal nature of the organizations that led to the conversion of my mother and me. AA is exactly the kind of seeker-friendly place that Wuthnow puts forth as the norm, while FCA’s nondenominational structure can bring it to places that a church cannot go. Yet it is also notable that these served as “stepping stones” to evangelical church settings. I believe that the Catholic Church is the epitome of dwelling-oriented spirituality, and the limitations noted by Wuthnow have been directly experienced by members of my family. However, we have seen spirited defenses of traditional Catholic doctrine in television and in print, as well as the internet by James Aiken, and by the Eternal Word Television Network, among others. The latter most especially has taken Roman Catholicism from a praxis-oriented faith to more of a unity in faith and practice, similar to Protestantism. I think that this will lead to stronger alliances between evangelicals on both sides the family, so to speak. Wuthnow has been correct to say that divisions run through denominations, not between them. But he underestimates the value of clubs and support groups, as well as the media, to be devices for networking for some to subvert the denominational structures altogether. Thus, they may not be the result of seeker-oriented spirituality, but rather shock-troops in a new Christian renewal. Many of these organizations find themselves populated by large numbers of young people. Organizations like FCA and many others have seen significant growth post 1990, well after the “decade of discipline.” Rather than getting resources from institutions, these groups are providing resources in the form of members, and their structure may be softening the doctrinal divisions between denominations once these people join established churches. Since the formation of some of these organizations has been in the aftermath of a culture war that has been lost, it has been quiet and unnoticed. There is nothing confused about this particular message. It’s going to be awhile before we see the effects of decentralization. It benefits these groups to lower their profile; it keeps the culture wars out of the work of churches. The cultural malaise is distressing, they might say, but also beneficial. No one is paying any attention. It is not cultural disengagement, but impacting culture in smaller doses. It makes sense for Wuthnow to highlight the fluidity of “buffet” spirituality; they’re the only ones talking. Churches have not all resorted to a “lifestyle witness” approach, either. Wuthnow goes to great lengths to show a Christian evangelical message as one among many, that some would simply market their faith as the best option, with utilitarian motives. But in addition to choosing cultural battles more carefully, evangelical leaders are beginning to realize “the medium is the message.” Inclusive, non-offensive messages calling for a return home from the 60s netted leaders with what they would describe as false converts, committed only to the most general of spiritual principles. The liturgical movement that is still growing among some evangelicals serves to redefine boundaries, placing the emphasis back on doctrine and confession, and away from market-driven strategies that drew people looking for a crutch. These messages have become more overt, yet less visible.
To conclude, the dwelling spirituality that prevailed in the perceived rise of evangelicalism in the 1980s lacked substance because it was utilitarian. Wuthnow traces an important pattern in the death of generational spirituality. But he is not demonstrating the inadequacy of a spirituality of dwelling; rather a kind of seeking masquerading as dwelling. In response, he proposes spiritual practice as an alternative to seeking and this new pseudo-dwelling. But without the particulars being named, answering “In whom do you trust?” every spiritual practice will be either flatly utilitarian, or transient. My Christianity does not merely help me cope with life. It is not a self-help program with a Christian label. It is the truth, and nothing more. The changing winds of popular spirituality are of no concern to me. We should have anticipated what Wuthnow is showing us: the decline of influence for churches in American culture. But I do not think that the loss of influence in wider society means that they have been fundamentally altered by the culture. We have learned quickly from our market-driven mistakes. The medium is indeed the message, and what was sown now has been reaped. Yet this dwelling in the Incarnation is the best answer. Dwelling as defined by Wuthnow was another form of seeking, (which is utilitarian) both before the cultural revolution, and in the return to discipline. He makes his lone error by supposing that the call for discipline was what remains of dwelling.

The construction of the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church originates from many angles. Philip Jenkins’ work, Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis, attempts to distill all the pressures for reform into the most pertinent elements, organized around a central theme: All the pressure points for reform had the effect of pushing the Catholic Church from a “sect” to a “church”. The three most compelling aspects of Jenkins’ argument are litigation, the media, and internal division. Once placing these factors within the argument, we can then critically evaluate Jenkins’ overall argument.
Litigation is potentially the most dangerous aspect of the scandal for the Roman Catholic Church. Damage awards have the ability to cripple the church, and at a speed not rivaled by bad media coverage. In addition, the possibility of high damages encourages false accusations, and true accusers who might have otherwise elected not to sue (125). Another interesting point deals with the litigation turning the church and victims (and their families) into enemies. The church could not reasonably be expected to preemptively help victims with medical costs, or even express sympathy, as this might be an admission of guilt. Two things make the case for Jenkins: First, the presence of litigation and openness to civil authorities shows a lessening of tension between the sect and wider culture. Second, the threat of successful litigation means the ability to extract concessions in doctrine and practice. Litigation also attracted one of the other agents for change, the media.
The media’s main function, according to Jenkins, was as a weapon against the hierarchy in the hands of the Catholic laity. The media gave reform groups within Catholicism a platform to express their grievances. Unwittingly, they gave the most credence to groups suggesting a change in the authority structure itself. For Jenkins, this fits with the media’s tendency to favor American democratic institutions. For them, it was a patriotic impulse Jenkins notes, with the authoritarian Roman Catholic Europe trying to drag its American branch backward toward traditional values and practices, and liberalizing trends within, nurtured by the media. The governance of the church has long been an issue with anti-Catholic and anticlerical groups. If the church looks like it is governed like an American representative democracy, this is an accommodation to the society at large, and is huge evidence of the transition from sect to church.
The internal division of the Catholic Church is a major factor in the pressure for change, according to Jenkins. Whether feminists pushing for the ordination of women, gay advocates, or their conservative traditionalist counterparts, the political factions in the Catholic Church have all seemingly had one target, according to Jenkins—the hierarchy. As we have discussed, the media has a preference for decentralized, democratic institutions. Groups on the left and the right took this into account, skillfully making political use out of doctrinal clarification stressing the equality of clergy and laity to draw firm distinctions between themselves and church leadership. The mere existence of this distinction demonstrates the culture’s intrusion into matters of faith—a politicizing of spiritual matters that betrays previous portraits of religious communities of unified bodies that impacted culture, but were not impacted by it. What makes these conflicts so important is that the threat to leave the church is real. The power of the threat is the realization by liberalizing groups that the image of unanimity is more important that doctrinal or spiritual purity. The nature of Catholicism (and some Protestant communities with episcopalian governance) is that strong authority and the appearance of harmony is desirable for leadership. The thrust of Jenkins’ argument is that leadership can concede points of doctrine and practice, reducing overall tension between Catholicism and the wider American culture, or decentralize power, minimizing itself as a target. In either case, Catholicism in the US will have become a church because the cultural pressures are too strong to maintain it as a sprawling, influential sect. Protestantism as a whole made the choice centuries ago that unity which leads to widespread accommodation to culture wasn’t worth it. To that end, decentralization and fracture was a regrettable side effect of preservation. Smaller communities with marginal impacts individually can afford to live in tension with culture; big ones cannot.
Three specific factors are instrumental in making Philip Jenkins’ argument that the American Catholic Church is in transition from a sect to a church. Specifically, these are litigation, the media, and church politics. Other factors were less compelling for that case. Psychology and the rise of therapeutic culture were mentioned as important catalysts, but the backlash within a receptive and reform-friendly media seems in the end to make the impact of psychologists and experts a wash. Media quickness to correct perceived excess, and in essence, to roll back successes and influence of groups that stood to benefit from abuse claims makes their ultimate influence unclear.
Also, that skepticism in the realm of therapy is linked to the cyclical nature of attitudes on child sexual abuse. I do not think a credible linkage can be made here because the skepticism about therapy (especially memory recovery) was created by actual cases of manipulation and error, not simply that the public had grown weary of the issue. Secondly, Jenkins merely asserts that attitudes on sexual abuse have been cyclical; he does not prove it. The repeal of sex psychopath laws in the 1960s does not prove that society had become more tolerant of abuse. In fact, Jenkins lumps behaviors together when talking about loosening sexual mores in the 1960s, but makes distinctions to prove the new “outrage” in the 1980s (77-79). What about cases originating entirely in the “age of sensitivity” from the mid-80s to the present? He claims that they were operating in a new cultural context when the abuse was discovered than when it occurred. But the Church of the 80s and 1990s should be well aware of the new context by now, and yet they rightly suffer criticism for inaction and favoring rehabilitation to removal.
In addition, Jenkins argues that the Protestant Reformation was a telling transition point for Protestant transition from a sect to a church in that the democratic nature of it was an accommodation to prevailing culture. As noted above, American Catholicism faces a similar decision point. However, it could be argued that the Reformation was a refusal to assimilate, in that the Church had become so political that it was indistinguishable from the surrounding culture. Perhaps the split was due to the noticeable lack of tension with culture, not a boiling over.
In sum, Philip Jenkins persuasively argues that the American Catholic Church is becoming a church as opposed to a sect in the sociological sense. Litigation, the media, and Church politics show the intermingling of cultural trends consistent with a religious body no longer in significant tension with the surrounding society. Points concerning therapy and changing attitudes about sexual abuse are less convincing for lack of evidence. Still, Pedophiles and Priests is very useful in mapping possible directions for Catholicism in America.
Well, I had to entirely rewrite the submission on Philip Jenkins' book, Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis. Therefore, I'll post the resumbmission for you here.
Too long not to post. Great Thanksgiving. We traversed all of Missouri, Kansas, and half of Colorado before arriving at our vacation destination in Colorado City. Thanks to Kevin Kettinger for driving 13 hours each way so I could celebrate. Seriously though, brother, there's only so much introspective acoustic guitar music I can take (John Mayer, Jack Johnson, Dave Matthews). Good times.

Monday, November 10, 2003

I had the worst cold ever, it seemed like. When the junk is in your lungs, that's bad news. Anyway, I went to a retreat with RUF-Mizzou and had a great time hanging out with RUF-Nebraska. Special thanks to John Stone, the Mosemans, Ross and Jenny Dixon, and "The Real Deal" Joe Choi.

Monday, November 03, 2003

An e-mail I sent to a pastor friend of mine: (Name witheld to protect the unwittingly famous)

Hey Friend,

Today in Religious Studies, we continued our discussion of Robert Wuthnow's book, After Heaven: Spirituality in America since the 1950s. Where we are right now, we were trying to contextualize the rise of evangelicalism in the 70s and 80s. You and other leaders know better than anybody how shallow segments of evangelicalism have become. Some people hijacked our way of speaking, of giving God His rightful place, and turned Christianity into an enormous self-help program, designed to provide people a "comfortable" place in culture. Personally, if I see a copy of Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People today, I'm gonna lose my mind. I don't want to be "effective," or fulfilled, or driven, I want to be a Christian. Please tell me that I'm not a statistic, that you and I are not just the products of a shallow cultural counterrevolution. How do we know we met the Word at all? It's not a crisis, I just want to know.


It seems the answer for the church is asking a lot of questions of each other. Is Jesus the means to a worldly end, like feeling good about yourself, or is He the focus of our spiritual devotion? Are we in it for our good, or God's glory? Yes, He is gracious to give us what is our greatest good--Himself. But we should be careful as Christians how we describe practical benefits from being a Christian. Often testimonies sound like Horatio Alger books. We need some serious and deep spiritual formation--revival of the truest sort--to avoid the practice of the Christian faith becoming a 12 step program with a cross attached. O Lord, let it be so for us.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Wow. Is it really true that the guy playing Jesus and the assistant director in Mel Gibson's The Passion got hit by lightning? I'd likely caution myself against interpreting that as a sign, but that's pretty weird. Let me say again if the movie is faithful to the Gospel accounts, there's no way it could be anti-Semitic. Even the one who died is Jewish. It matters not one whit the ethnicity of all the parties involved. In the beginning of the Christian church, everyone was Jewish ethnically. I seriously doubt that all those believers had a curious case of self-hatred. Does that make any sense?
I heard someone tell me once that I "wore my religion on my sleeve." Now, I have a great admiration for all those folks who can show the love of Christ without ever saying a word. But that's not me. Sorry if that bothers anyone. The gospel is foremost on my mind, and burned in my heart; thus, it is often the first thing out of my mouth. I don't pester people about it, but if I have someone's ear, (and trust) I'm going to talk about the most important events ever in the history of the cosmos. Jesus Christ is the God-man, who came to save sinners. And He showed us what "human" really means--what we will become.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Today, I inadvertently insulted my Religious Studies instructor, by stating that his post regarding a different number of commandments in Exodus 20 (Jews and some Christians say 9; the rest say 10) on our message board was "old news." I issue then a very public apology to him. My post may have reflected a disdain for his transmission of these facts, which I did not intend.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Imagine what King Herod must have thought when he heard of the child to be born in Bethlehem, the one some said would be King of the Jews: "How dare a child challenge my rule as King!" Remember that the Scripture says he killed all the male children in the town two years and younger in an attempt to kill Jesus. Matthew 2:18 speaks of Rachel weeping for her children, because they are no more.
Today at Mizzou, I saw a huge wall with information about alternatives to abortion, as well as graphic pictures of dead children. As you might imagine, it's very provocative. I could only look once. The baby I saw reminded me of Herod's genocide. "A child just like this one, Herod killed that day," I thought. Today is no different. Thousands of people say in their hearts, "How dare a child be born to ruin my plans! I rule my own life!" Take one look at a picture of this death; there's no way the argument that a fetus is a mass of cells (and not a person) will ever hold sway in your mind again.

Saturday, October 25, 2003

I read the first eight chapters of Ezekiel. Wow. You see a lot of idolatry today that goes unpunished, but not unnoticed. God's mercy in wrath is pretty evident as well, as he commands Ezekiel warn those he preaches to that they should repent. He really does want to show mercy, and it seems there God will stay his hand at the smallest obedience. That should not be lost as you read of the Lord's wrath. Also see Habakkuk 3:2.
Speaking of Glenn Reynolds, go to Instapundit. You'll find engaging commentary on all the issues of the day, replete with links to the actual articles. You'll find Instapundit among my links on the right of this page. If you find generally libertarian thought repulsive, (like you're a socialist liberal hippie) you won't like him. But everybody else likes him. And you should too!

Friday, October 24, 2003

Phil, your believer's bias is showing, but I love you for it. What great fun that was. We'll see if Miser Callahan likes this one better than the last. As Glenn Reynolds would say, read the whole thing.
Here's what I've been working on in its unabridged form:

Philip Jenkins’ work is a compelling starting point for studying the crisis in the Catholic Church. The book does an excellent job showing the social construction of the problem, giving a sloppy and uncritical media a central role in that construction. However, Jenkins has failed to demonstrate the relevance of the “anti-Catholic” or anticlerical tradition. There two reasons why this is so: One’s classification of anti-Catholic is entirely dependent on perspective. One would have to hold the position of the conservative bishops consistently and unwaveringly to make the charge stick. Secondly, the generally positive portrayal of Catholic religious practices and clergy in the mid-20th century until the emergence of the scandal in the 70s and 80s makes the claim that anti-Catholicism is on the rise tenuous, as this gives powerful evidence of assimilation. Thus, revising Jenkins on this point leaves us with an even better picture of the story than he painted.
The most striking fact about the criticism of the Catholic Church in the face of sex abuse is that most of the coordinated and influential indictments of the church have come from Catholics. From Faithful Voice, to Voice of the Faithful, to the National Catholic Reporter, the outrage from within was deafening. The reaction of bishops and the Vatican proves that the anti-clerical, anti-Catholic rhetoric is a sideshow for certain elements (like Greeley and the media) and had little significant impact on the actions of leadership. As Jenkins admits on page 53,

Although the [media] coverage may appear reflect to popular anti-Catholic
and anticlerical sentiment, in reality it owed far more to the political
interests of the activists and groups who used the media to project
their particular interpretations of the putative crisis.

The National Conference of Catholic Bishops approved a sweeping, tougher plan for dealing with abusive priests that was in turn approved by the Vatican. The conference in 2003 was carried on EWTN (a Catholic cable network). The fact that the position of lay ministers was on the agenda shows how far those lay groups had come to being an active agent of accountability. It would be hard for even the most conservative elements to claim that all those lay Catholics were disloyal, especially since they used the media (rather than being used). It might be legitimate in the past to claim Catholics were misled by a biased media, but those laypersons wielded the media weapon very effectively. Many of these Catholic lay groups also framed their calls for reform in religious terms, claiming and reaffirming their position in the Catholic Church by appealing to the church as the body of Christ, and positioning themselves as loyal members of that body. In so doing, they could diffuse any claim that the criticism was from without, by an ignorant enemy. The increasing power of Catholic laity could be described as a revolt, one that conservative bishops could not quell by blaming popular anti-Catholicism. The vast array of people demanding change were by no means monolithic, and so those demands reached critical mass. If the demand for change came from within, what is the relevance of anti-Catholic history?
The relatively calm period between 1930 through the mid-1970s seems to downplay the importance of anti-Catholicism as a force in the sex abuse situation. Favorable movies and books appeared, which Jenkins contextualized, and crystallized this way:

Before the 1970s, American cinema seldom portrayed a priest
in anything other than a heroic or saintly guise….[which] cul-
minated with John Ford’s The Fugitive….(58)

Also in this period, the Catholic Church had considerable authority to ban those things in popular culture it found objectionable, as evidenced by this boast:

There were in the course of the year sporadic slurs upon
the Catholic church across the country. In at least one
instance the offending publication was a secular college
paper. The Government found it necessary to ban certain
issues of these publications from the mails. (59)

The proliferation of positive representation, and the power to censor bad representation can be summarized in one word: assimilation. The assimilation of Catholics into mainstream society is a big factor in proving a dilution and irrelevance of anti-Catholicism in the debate about sexual abuse. Why? Because the emergence of the scandal occurred post-assimilation. Since non-assimilation fuels bigotry of this sort, how can we blame anti-Catholicism as a serious factor in the scandal’s salience? Somewhat defensively, Jenkins turns to the discussion of the scandals involving other denominations at the end of chapter three, weakening his case by speaking approvingly of Greeley’s statistics on the matter. He criticizes the media for not blowing up the scandal in the same manner as was done with the Catholic Church, ignoring the possibility that decentralized power, and an already powerful laity might help most Protestants in keeping scandals out of the media gaze. Indeed, if his distinction between “sin” and “crime” is valid, it might explain why Protestant churches felt less tension with society at large. Decentralized power means a willingness to interact with civil authorities. Part of the media’s involvement was a result of Catholic reticence to deal with civil authorities. Therefore, his church-sect and sin-crime formulations negate his points dealing with anti-Catholicism.
In conclusion, Jenkins’ analysis grossly overstates anti-Catholicism and anticlericalism. The media propagates those falsehoods out of sloppiness, not anti-Catholic bias. And by Jenkins’ own admission, the Catholic laity wielded the media very powerfully in stating its case. All the laity cannot be dismissed as having an agenda wholly antithetical to the hierarchy. Thus, with the impetus for change coming from within, this dilutes the anti-Catholic claim. The increasing power of Catholic laity was the prime mover in getting Church concessions, and the reason why the bishops could not rely on the long history of anti-Catholicism to resist change. Catholic assimilation into the larger society casts more doubt on the relevance of anti-Catholicism in the contemporary debate, since the scandal came to light after assimilation, by and large. By failing to account for an enormously powerful laity in most Protestant cases, Jenkins falls back on the history of anti-Catholicism to account for lack of media interest. Another aspect of the Protestant avoidance of media scrutiny was their openness to civil authorities, something that is relatively new for Catholicism, and mitigates claims of anti-Catholic bias. Even so, his work is a good starting point for this compelling issue.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Just so everyone understands, we did not study God's Word this past Wednesday, in light of Cubs-Marlins Game 7. Wholehearted sympathies go out to our own Cubs fan Brian Miller, and millions of his compatriots worldwide. I do think the Marlins represent the National League's best chance to win. Also, I do not have questions for the first five verses of Colossians 2. I was on a vacation of sorts, and my compatriot Christopher Yee composed the questions for that week. I'll simply post his questions. Fear not, loyal Safe Haven reader, you are in capable hands. I know there's only one of you, and you're teetering on the edge of leaving anyway. I wouldn't read this blog. Jason Kettinger's not all that interesting. He's probably choking on a mix of Coke, (the Best Soda Ever) and belligerent comments. Yes, he owns a bit of a temper, but some people deserve it, he says. For example, why would you build any political philosophy trusting a two-bit OPEC kingpin over the US President? EVER? Give me back the adulterous, dishonest, slimy Bill Clinton every single day, and twice on Sunday over some sheik who wants to make our gas prices 17 bucks a gallon. Oh, the poor sheiks don't like our "unilateralism"! Too stinkin' bad, I say. You get international peace acclaim by facilitating the decline of your nation, I guess. (Jimmy Carter, looking in your hapless, ill-informed direction.) If a head of state (who just ordered a beheading 'cause some guy tried to watch "The Price is Right") doesn't like my foreign policy, I've done a good deed. I hope Omar Im-kinda-Evil is nervous, too. I'm not going to stop by for tea, that's for sure. This Christian blog just got strangely political. Sorry. And don't call me a neoconservative.
Welcome to another week of Colossians. Here’s 2:6-23.

How do we receive Christ?

What does it mean for us to walk in him? (Christ) What kind of life will we lead?

What is the meaning of verse 7?

What is significant about the phrase, “just as you were taught”?

Why might philosophy, or certain kinds of philosophy, be a threat to the gospel?

What sort of human tradition is Paul criticizing here?

What does verse 9 say about Jesus? (See 1:19)

What does verse 10 say about Jesus’ position?

Who takes care of all our needs?

Why does Paul say we were circumcised by Christ? What was circumcision? (Gen. 17:1-8, 11)

What is the sign of the New Covenant? Note: Testament and covenant mean the same thing. (Romans 6:3-6)

What was our condition before we were believers? (Ephesians 2:5)

What does it mean that we are buried with him, and raised with him?

Why do we have a “record of debt”? What happens if you don’t pay the bills?

Who “paid the bill” for us?

Do we live to pay it again?

OK, OK: Bulger is pretty stinkin' good. We're not a Super Bowl team yet, but there is hope. Bulger rebounded from two early interceptions to throw 3 touchdown passes with over 200 yards. He's really mobile; even as the pass protection breaks down, he can get away to make plays. That's what makes the Rams dangerous. Their most glaring weakness isn't really hurting them (or most importantly, Bulger). If they block well in the running game, they could have Faulk, or Lamar Gordon, or my Uncle Steve taking handoffs, and it won't matter.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

OK, I need anger management classes after that last post. Seriously, though, let's look at something. It is positively scandalous to give actual meanings to words, and hold people accountable for their "poetic license" when they stretch those meanings. In the realm of the spiritual, I have heard it called the "scandal of particularity." How dare anyone suggest a Transcendant Other that actually has a name? How dare He be exclusionary! Thus, my claim is simply this: that the Bible forms a baseline of interpretation that limits what is acceptable. Yes, this means we should be able to critically evaluate spiritual claims based on what is a given for that person or group. For example, if someone says, "I'm a Christian, (or, I believe the Bible) but I don't believe Jesus is God" there should AUTOMATICALLY be alarm-bells going off in everyone's head (even if you're not a Christian, and you have no vested interest). Why? Because the Christian Scripture dictates something other than what has been asserted. As long as words have meaning, this is so. It doesn't wash to simply say that I have a narrow exegetical strategy that I'm applying to everyone else, because we all know how to read. You'd have to be thoroughly dishonest, or incredibly ignorant to miss some of this.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

I received my first paper back in Religious Studies. I expected an A, or something close. I got a C+. You have got to be kidding. I loved that paper. So much did I cherish it! Part of the problem stems from my use of the word "orthodoxy." No, I did not try to shove my beliefs down anyone's throat. I merely was trying to say that the new religious pluralism threatened traditional notions of Christian orthodoxy. I shouldn't have to tell my instructor the contours of what that might look like. I wasn't trying to put forward my view of orthodoxy, just to say that those who define what it is feel threatened. Duh. Also, I defined sacred space as any place where the presence of God is, or was. Which, in my view, seems self-evident from Exodus 3:5 and the rest of what I would call the Old Testament. To refute my basic definition, my instructor referred me to Jonathan 2 (which doesn't exist). I hope you're reading this, Chip. Because I expect better from you as well. If you're going to challenge my knowledge of the Bible, you'd better be right. Not to sound arrogant, but I know more of the Bible than the entire department, with the exception of Dr. Friesen. And yes, I'll put money on that. How does anyone expect to understand the religions and the people who practice them if you don't know their Scripture? They spend so much time talking about cultural forces, their analysis is always wrong. It's all about hermaneutics, Chip. Good hermaneutics creates lasting Biblical worldviews, and bad hermaneutics creates religions that are reflections of the changing cultures in which they live.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

I think I should make something clear today. Today, I want to talk about fundamentalism. You hear the term thrown around a lot in Religious Studies departments, but no one seems to be able to define what it means. Among these folks and religiously committed types, it seems to mean, "A religion with a bunch of zealots that scares me." After much refinement in the field, they came up with something similar to, "A religious movement characterized by stringent committment to certain doctrines." Positively stunning. You could call any Christian a fundamentalist by that definition! Right now, I have dozens of old lectures and conversations with my Religious Studies professors floating back to me saying, "You're only saying that because you have a personal narrow view of what a Christian is." Well, it's not a personal view, but you're darn skippy I have a narrow definition. I ask you, "In whom do you trust?" and you'll probably give me an answer pretty close to the Apostles' Creed (Or the Nicene). And the key is, you really mean it. And not only that, but those words you've spoken form the central, guiding reality of your life. The work of God to act in the world to save sinners, ultimately through the work of his Son, Jesus Christ, is the ultimate truth of this world. The price of tea in China, nor the societal debate between classical liberalism and classical socialism doesn't alter this fundamental reality. Christians have always had a way of impacting the world around them without being altered by it. Stained by it, or tempted, but never altered. And that's the bottom line.

Sunday, October 05, 2003

Please don't click on the ad banner above this site if it says, "A New Christianity for A New World" by John Shelby Spong. He's a heretic, and a liar. Just trust me on that. (Going into rant mode) We don't need a new Christianity, we need the old one. Things got all messed up when we started changing things, and adding things. Like I don't know who said Mary didn't have sex after the Lord was born, but that's just silly. Seriously, who did that? Scripture teaches us this. Just what do you think a "marital duty" is anyway? Ever-virgin, my foot. Joseph is liable to be the unhappiest married man ever, if that were so. (And if you're Catholic, and that last remark really bugs you, well, too bad.) And don't let anyone get away with saying, "Christians think sex is wrong," because that's easily the second-dumbest thing I've ever heard. And third, Christians think drinking is wrong. Where do people get this stuff? If you're a faithful Southern Baptist, it's cool. You don't have to drink alcoholic beverages. But I would like to point out that one of our sacraments (sacred rituals) involves bread and WINE, for all those incredulous folks who still don't believe me. Sure, we hate fermented drink. Yeah, you're right. The wedding at Cana (John 2) must've been a clever cran-apple blend. Ocean Spray would be pleased. Returning to discussions of sexuality for a moment, why do they call them "adult" movies, and "gentleman's clubs?" There's nothing adult about pornography. We don't call it that because of kids. If so, how come teen boys hide that Playboy collection from their mom? If it's so adult, it won't be a big deal right? C'mon, we all know sin when we feel shame in our hearts. There are no gentlemen at those clubs, either.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

I'm going to blog about a controversial topic now. Abortion is back in the news. Today, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 281-142 in favor of banning partial-birth abortion, or late-term abortion. Critics of the bill say it is an attack on Roe v. Wade. Or, an attack on the right to an abortion itself. The critics are absolutely right. Roe v. Wade is most likely the most unconstitutional piece of garbage ever to become the law of the land. Rather than secure "health care" for millions of people, it has caused the death of fifty million people, and ruined the lives of millions of others. Why won't pro-lifers permit a heath exception? Because prominent abortion doctors have admitted that they would classify the most blatantly elective abortion as a health-related one. "Life" or "rape" is clear enough; health is not. And an overturn of Roe would not mean automatic illegality, as most perceive. Rather, individual state laws would be reinstituted. So pro-life forces would have to prevail in every state. Some states have laws opposed; some in favor. The high court forced all people to submit to the social mores of an amoral few when it federalized abortion in 1973. A constitutional amendment would shorten the battle. If I were acting as a conservative, I would malign an activist court. But activism is precisely what will be required. An overturn of Roe v. Wade by judicial fiat could reverse the prevailing social climate (as it did in 1973) and pave the way for an Amendment. The 14th Amendment would provide the basis and context. It stipulates who is a citizen, and thus, compels states to abide by federal law. The 14th Amendment eliminated the ability of states to deny rights to black people since they had complete control over citizenship. Therefore, the new amendment might say:

"Pursuant to the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment, all preborn children are citizens of the United States, protected under law."

This presents some moral dilemmas as we consider exceptions, but we'll burn that bridge when we get there.

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

That last post is a great transition, because the next section of Colossians tells us some important things about Jesus. Without further delay, let's read Colossians 1:15-29.

What does this passage say about Jesus and the Father?

What does this say about Jesus and creation?

What was the purpose of creation?

What does it mean that "he is before all things"?

What function does a head have for a body?

What must happen before the resurrection on the last day?

What does verse 19 mean? (This is HUGE)

How does Jesus make peace, and with whom?

Who is "you" in verse 21?

What then is true about all people, whether they are Christians or not?

Why is Christ's death important?

How are we holy and blameless?

How will we be made holy and blameless? Are these two truths contradictory?

How can we be stable and steadfast? Why does the gospel help us do that?

Are the afflictions of Christ not complete enough for the church? (Must ask a Pastor)

If the truth of Jesus Christ is the Word of God fully known, what does that say about God's plan before Jesus? Was it different?

Why do you think God is making himself (mostly) known through the Gentiles? (Non-Jews)

Why does the church proclaim Christ?

And by whose strength do we do this?

Monday, September 29, 2003

What is Christology? Good question. Christology is the study of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Or, "Who is Jesus, and what did He come to do?" That, I think, is the most important question that anyone could ask. Your answer determines your destiny. Christians take the rock-solid foundational answer to this question for granted. It's not obvious to everyone that Jesus is the Lord, the Son of God, the author and perfecter of our faith. If you believe Jesus in this way, it is a miracle. We are then vessels for His glory, and nothing else. Most heresies that have ever appeared undermine Jesus and his work. They have to do that very thing, because He is the center of it all.
I would encourage everyone to buy (or just read) The Many Faces of Christology by Tyron L. Inbody. There's a great chapter on evangelical Christology (think: Christian Christology) so that's worth it all by itself. According to the author, "evangelical" does not simply mean Protestant, either. It was simply the Reformation that demanded the real Church stand up and identify itself. The book's also useful to look at unorthodox hermaneutical approaches (like Marxist Christology) for comparison.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Well, I have a paper topic for my Religious Studies class. Since we are studying 9-11 as a religious event, I thought of something like, "9-11 Memorialization as a Function of Sacramental Awareness." "Sacramental Awareness" is defined as the extent to which ordinary things are seen as divine, or reflections of the divine Presence. The book that I lifted the concept from is called Living from the Center. The author is not a Christian, in my estimation (Orthodox confessional Christianity, see Apostles' Creed) but he's trained in theology, so his knowledge is useful for thinking theologically and sacramentally.

Monday, September 22, 2003

I read the whole chapter for context, friends, and we're gonna have even more fun next week in Colossians 1.
Today begins our study in the letter of Paul to the Colossians. I'm using the English Standard Version, or ESV. I'll simply post whatever questions I have about the text right here. I'm wanting to avoid quotation as much as possible, as not to run afoul of those publishing rules. So, here we go, Colossians 1:1-14.

What is an apostle? Does it have anything to do with "by the will of God" in verse 1?

What is a saint? And if it is any believer, how come it says, "saints and faithful brothers" in verse 2?

What is grace?

Why is Paul thanking God for their faith? Why doesn't he thank the Colossians? I know the "right" answer, but isn't that thought-provoking?

What does in mean to have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ?

What is the gospel? Why can we trust in Jesus?

Why do we love one another?

Why does Paul describe the gospel like a plant with fruit?

How are grace and truth related?

What did Epaphras do? And why is he a "servant"?

Why is the Spirit mentioned? What is He doing?

When it says, "with the knowledge of his will" (v. 9) what kind of knowledge is it, and how much can we know?

What is spiritual wisdom and understanding? Why is it important? What is the purpose? Or the end?

Why must we ask God to help us live in a manner pleasing to Him?

The Scripture mentions endurance, patience, and that God would strengthen us with all power. That is, His power. Why is this written here?

What is our inheritance?

I can't quite put this in question form, but it must have been a lot of power to transfer us from the kingdom of darkness into Christ's kingdom.

What is redemption, and the forgiveness of sins?

Friday, September 19, 2003

And I do not think the evangelical denominations are just interest groups for the GOP. Rather, I feel that the mainlines are interest groups for whatever social cause is in fashion. Without the Gospel, they are just civil groups that make religious noises every now and then. Christians in posession of the true Gospel can stand outside the political fray and make valuable contributions to both parties. Yet as long as one party (the Democratic Party) remains committed to defending "abortion rights," they will not gain the allegiance of Christians who might generally agree with other policies.
I was reading about mainline church opposition to U.S. invasion of Iraq. My instructor was lamenting (or observing, to allow a claim of objectivity) the lack of impact those leaders' opinions had on Bush's policy. The list of denominations was less than impressive. ELCA, PCUSA, United Methodist? C'mon. Most real Christians are either considering leaving these denominations, or have already done so. If Christians perceive that the Gospel itself has been forsaken, why would leaders' opinions on "just war" theory mean anything? You can't assume that the more "conservative" elements are all Southern Baptists and independent evangelicals, either. Religion scholars have failed to account for the creation of new "mainline" denominations to replace the others, where doctrine and practice has remained strong and traditional, better explaining the huge groundswell of support for the war policies of our President. This is a much better explanation than hordes of independent evangelical Jerry Falwells. Christianity still has an enormous influence (though diminished) on national policy.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

So, today is the day for talking about whether Christians can lose their salvation. Can we? Depends on what a "Christian" is. Someone who walks, talks, and even acts like a Christian might not really be one. (1 John 2:18-19) "False sons in her pale," indeed. But we are assured over and over in Scripture that we will not fall away on account of God failing us. (John 6:37-40, Ephesians 1:13-14, John 10:27-30) Nor can we commit any sin so great that we cannot be forgiven if we truly repent (1 John 1:8-9). The real theme of Romans 8-9 is not election, but rather assurance. The same could be said for the first two chapters of Ephesians. How did we get where we are, and where are we going? Will God lead us out of the slavery of sin to perish in the desert of our own efforts? Surely not! The same grace that called us out of sin and death will sustain us. If we were dead in our transgressions and sins (Ephesians 2:1) and we were made alive with Christ (Eph. 2:5) surely He is strong to hold us. For that grace is not haphazard, and it is never withdrawn. Philippians 2:12-13 reminds us to fear and tremble, not in terror, but in awe because our God is at work in us (and through us) and He will not fail!
What of those warning passages like 2 Peter 2:11-22, or Revelation 2? What do you feel as you read them? Do they cause repentance, or are you unmoved? Do you sense Jesus' deep love, or do you feel nothing? If we want to follow Jesus, we will not "accidentally" fall out of His grace. If we live in complete willful disobedience all the time, however, should we not fear that we are lost? But Christians today need assurance more than they think. "Once saved, always saved" doesn't do this assurance justice at all; it reduces everything down to a moment, or a decision. But God's people endure, and grow. They do not believe in Christ, and never think of him again. They must be sanctified, made more like Christ. Jesus prayed this for the apostles and for us in John 17:17. He said we must stand firm. And by grace, we will.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Crumpets. Tea and crumpets. I can't think of anything to say. It has been my experience that no one ever reads 2 Peter. That is, unless they're quoting something about losing your salvation, or other such foolishness. I'll do what can only be described as a column on this. Anyway, I've read Paul's letters a billion times, but has anyone ever quoted from the book of Amos? I've had people ask me if that book is in the Apocrypha. No, it's in the Old Testament, and it's not disputed. Don't ask me about Joel, either. You should know this stuff.
Today, class was supremely interesting. It's my Congress and Legislative Policy course. My instructor said that parties are getting stronger, and becoming more ideologically pure (less overlap). Let's hope so.

Monday, September 15, 2003

Much was made of the fact that George W. Bush did not meet with a single bishop (including his own) from the United Methodist Church before deciding to move against Iraq. On the other hand, I saw his bishop on a program discussing religion and salvation. If one is a Christian, or even knows a lot about it, one expects to hear a certain answer to the question, "How must I be saved?" Regardless of denomination, the answer, with little variation always is: "Repent and believe in the name of Jesus, God's only Son, our Lord." Never changes. Never should. Well, this guy said some ridiculously pluralistic drivel about how all religions are the same. Yours truly had to conclude that perhaps this man was no disciple of Jesus at all. I myself am not the Judge, but were I the President, I'd ignore this man's "religious opposition" to my policy in the same manner.
I don't have any worries about Warner keeping perspective. But I know that I'd have a hard time if it was me.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

A little over a year ago, I unequivocally stated that Kurt Warner should be the starting quarterback for the St. Louis Rams. Today, I am changing my decision. It pains me to write this; I love Kurt Warner. He's my favorite football player. In case you're wondering, yes, it is because he's a Christian. Warner plays for my hometown team, and he's my brother in Christ. (Aside from the fact that he's also really good) Yet, Marc Bulger is better. I won't say that I'll have a Marc Bulger card or jersey. I won't follow his career when he leaves the Rams. But he deserves to start for my team. I will never have the intense loyalty to Bulger as I do to Warner, and Marc will have to understand that is true for many St. Louis fans. If they trade Warner, there's going to be an uproar. But what else will you do? 47 million dollars was paid to Warner after the Super Bowl victory. You can't have a backup with that much money! A seven-year contract. This is only year four. This trade's a no-brainer. All that being said, I feel I need to remember Warner's accomplishments. Three of the best years from the quarterback position ever were turned in by Warner. He owns the highest career passer rating (AKA QB rating) in football history. He is also a two-time Most Valuable Player, Super Bowl Champion, and Super Bowl MVP. Yet I hope he puts his worth not in these things, but in Christ, who is "the fullness of him who fills everything in every way." (Ephesians 1:23b, NIV)
You may be thinking, "Jason, it's only football." And you would be correct. But some people make their living playing this game. No doubt Kurt Warner derived some measure of pride (and rightly so, in this case) being the best quarterback in football on the best team in football. The Rams were every bit of that once, and so was Kurt. Now it is no more. It doesn't even feel like the same team. Even if they win another title, they'll never be like the '99 Rams. They were invincible. I mean that. Warner threw 41 touchdowns that year, with the record standing at 48. Some guy named Dan Marino did that. Some argue Marino is the best ever. Anyway, I'm going to remember the guy who gave a fairly winning-deprived football town (remember the football Cardinals?) its only title. If we won in 1940 or something, just stuff it, 'cause nobody alive now was there, and nobody cares.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

On the eve of the two-year anniversary of the attacks on our country, I should say something. First, we're going to hear a lot of blather about how President Bush uses overtly religious language to cast his foreign policy in favorable terms. Supposedly how he really believes in the American Civil Religion, that we have a special place in the world, how Americans think we are a "chosen people" like we are God's very own...yadda yadda yadda, blah blah. Look, people: We happen to live in the modern day equivalent of the Roman Empire. Nations rise and fall in this time based on what the United States does, and does not do. If that makes you squirmy, it should. It doesn't change the fact. Now, with all that power comes obligation. You want some religious language, here's some. To whom much is given, much is expected. You had better believe we're going to make sure people understand the gravity of the choices we make. And if you were in posession of this power, you'd try to use it, hopefully for some long-term collective good. And if that articulation comes out a little utopian, and--Heaven forbid!--religious, well, too bad. At least you understand we're serious.
Some might say this nation-building is really arrogant, that we shouldn't say our culture is better. Well, I will. The West is better, and if that really bothers you, get over it. We're not debating whether chopping off the heads of people we don't like is a healthy thing. I refer you to the Ranting Screeds of James Lileks, who makes this point better than I.
I know my country is not God's kingdom. I know the Lord's wrath will come on many things American. But I also know that other things American are worth fighting for. End of Story.
Speaking of John Calvin, sometimes good things do come out of France.
I'm nursing a Coke, dreaming up belligerent comments to spew at Captain Hall when he reads the last post, and e-mails me to say that Maddux is overrated. Bring it then, untutored wretch! (I stole that insult from John Calvin)
Greg Maddux won his 14th game of the season the other day. If you don't watch baseball, Maddux may be the best pitcher of his era. He wins without throwing hard, or striking out many. He is noted for having the fewest pitches per start of any pitcher in baseball, yet his total innings reflect an ability to go deep into games. In short, he's efficient. Greg has won at least 15 games for 15 consecutive seasons, a record only matched by Cy Young (the greatest pitcher ever). Maddux has won 287 games. 300 wins means automatic Hall of Fame entry. Furthermore, modern pitchers pitch every fifth day. It was thought that none from this era would approach 300, so special exceptions for wins would be made. But Roger Clemens accomplished this, and Maddux will do so next season. These facts show the utter, complete dominance of Maddux (and Clemens) over his peers.
I put "I'm not even sure I understand what I just said" as comic relief. It's pretty heavy stuff. Folks don't like it when you sound too sure of yourself. There is an intuition among Christians (and teaching to back it up) that knowledge is not owned. Nothing I say is truly mine, even as people might say, "What you said made sense." Have you ever been amazed at the words from your own mouth? Truly, God is at work to speak His love to us, and through us.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Let me clarify creeds, and what they are. If Christianity is the true religion (big IF, I know) then there will be A) clearly indentifiable, consistent teachings, and B) clear irrefutable evidence of those beliefs in practice. Core teachings are those that survive, and transcend the various disagreements between those who claim Christianity as their faith. The Reformation (whether viewed in a positive or negative light) shows how this works. If you are a member of a Bible church in the backwoods of Kentucky, your Scriptural exegesis will never go beyond, or violate, the basic creedal confessions of the early church. Because they represent the battle for the most crucial aspects of Christianity. (Apostles' Creed, Nicene Creed, Chalcedon) You can't be on the wrong side of these, and still be a Christian. Even among those who reject creeds, the core doctrines are safely within those bounds. The reason is that the Protestant impulse is to reaffirm the core doctrines with Scripture itself. At best, you end up back where you started. When challenged, faithful teaching and preaching showed itself in the clarity of those confessions. All minor conflicts give way, because it's black and white, bare bones Christianity. That is not to say that we defer to creeds. Rather, that faithful exegesis leads to a clear confessional history that can be observed. I'm not even sure I understand what I just said.

Monday, September 08, 2003

It's good shorthand, that's why have creeds! If somebody asked you, "What do you believe?" what will you do, drag them through an exegesis of the whole New Testament? Right. Sure you will.
We were talking about memorials in my Religious Studies class today. I think a key feature of memorials is hope and joy. Death must have meaning. And not by itself. There's two ways this goes: First, you can have a notion of "salvation by death." That is, if someone dies, they're automatically in a better place. This is really popular these days. No one likes to hear that their loved ones either stopped existing, or they are in Hell. Your second choice is earthly existence only. This one is dumb. Our hearts cry out how unfair that is. Read the aforementioned Psalm 73. "The wicked better get theirs!," we cry. You may be wondering, "Jason, why can't people just believe anything they want? Aren't all religions the same?" If you can seriously look at the testimony of history, and current events, telling me they're all the same, you're bold indeed. Now, I know how they love to focus on witch hunts, and Inquisitions to avoid the plainly obvious Truth. Those unfortunate incidents have more to do with political power and liars than anything else. The fact is, everywhere the Good News is taught and believed, peace and justice reign. (At least among adherents) What is that good news? I refer you to the Apostles' Creed. For all you folks who don't like creeds, too bad. "I believe the Bible" isn't all that helpful. Yet, remember that no creed has authority in itself, but that it restates clearly the testimony of Scripture.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Let's talk about the Anglican Church. Having a gay bishop is the least of their problems. I hope Episcopalians here in America, going off the deep end in doctrine, poisoned by political correctness, get separated from the larger faithful community around the world. Those who advocate such lawlessness cause a once proud communion to be no church of Christ.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

A lot of noise about Justice Moore lately. The ACLU crowd is probably right, but I also think they can deal with it. God rules and reigns over this country, and every other one. And no, I don't mean that generically. The God of Israel wrote those laws. He is the only true God. Tolerance is an idol, and like every other one, it will burn. I'm not going to apologize for the Christian past of many American leaders. There's been preference, and rightly so. We're right, that's why.

Friday, August 08, 2003

Psalm 73 is a great one. It speaks of how we notice the wicked, the selfish, the arrogant, getting ahead, while we have chosen a harder road of following God. And it doesn't really seem worth it. God says it will be worth it when He comes again and makes a new heavens and new earth, but be honest. Can you imagine that? Can you wrap your mind around such a far-off promise? Sometimes, we've got to grab onto smaller things first. Like Him getting us through this day.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

I went to a concert last night. A really cool Norwegian guy opened up. Then Liz Phair. Then Jason Mraz. You've got to listen to this guy; he was amazing. There were no throwaway songs. It was a great show. He's got this great jazz-pop sound that I like. Wonderful voice.
Yes, Captain Hall, I am aware of Lidle's post-All Star break performance. But this year, I don't think it will happen. I'm Cory's biggest fan in Missouri at least, and he's just not getting it done. I traded him in my fantasy league. (Lidle and Manny Ramirez for Andruw Jones and Pedro Martinez) I'm still going to root for him.
Let me clarify some thoughts on marriage, and the words I used. Marriage is seen in Genesis 2, and God shares a bit of His design for it there, as well as other places. When I say "Christian" I'm applying it retroactively, shortening Judeo-Christian. It belongs to God's people. When other people (non-Christians) do it, they are participating in something spiritual, and in a particular way, whether they know it or not. Why do people get married in churches? Why does every guy qualified to marry someone say, "We are garthered here today in the sight of God..." Many people aren't religious in any sort of way, yet they often desire these things. If the United States of America wants to give other unions the same kind of monetary benefits, legal status, etc. as marriages, it may do so. It is true that Christianity has preferential treatment within our law. Christians and others heavily influenced by the gospel founded our nation. We shouldn't apologize for this, or be made to feel guilty. But the point is, marriage is not simply a contract between two people. It is an expression of divine sanction and blessing. Every person probably knows this. No minister could ever attest to divine sanction or blessing, that which is a sin. If a minister does this, he's not a minister, and a marriage has not in fact taken place. You can't call anything else a marriage. Sorry.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

And another thing: Bush knows he'd better not mess with the Kingdom of God, which is infinitely more powerful than the United States. The church isn't going anywhere.
Tomorrow doesn't mean tomorrow, I guess. Sorry. Let's get real for a minute. President Bush has indicated his support for current law defending marriage as that between a man and a woman, and seems to be supporting a Constitutional Amendment to that effect. I happen to think it's quite necessary. Marriage belongs to the Christian church. It is a testament to the power and influence of Christianity that everyone else gets married, and calls it that. But I can think of no way that the rights of people can be enhanced by calling every kind of union a marriage. A lot of folks aren't even satisfied with granting legal standing to civil unions. The only result of changing the definition of a marriage (and that is what it is, make no mistake) is to undermine the right of free association of Christians. Basically, this is a free speech right of citizens to believe whatever they wish, and to hang out with those who believe similarly. Even if the end result of that belief, if put into practice, would deprive others of their rights, it is protected in the First Amendment. That's why you can't get arrested for being in some unpopular group (like the KKK). But alas, what if the government started saying to Christian ministers, "You must marry these two people (who are homosexuals, for example)." They must either compromise doctrine, or break the law, which compromises doctrine.

Saturday, July 26, 2003

More tomorrow. The Lord bless you on His day, as you meet him in worship Sunday!
I heard the St. Louis Cardinals were interested in Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Cory Lidle. The Jays asked for J.D. Drew in return. If Lidle's ERA wasn't 5.00, I'd do it. I also think Drew is worth a Greg Maddux or Russ Ortiz. Let me digress: If Maddux wants to sign with the Cardinals prior to next season, they'd find the money. Fernando Vina, peace. Stephenson, pack your bags. Tino would take a pay cut. But I love Tino Martinez, so they'd have to keep him. Greg Maddux is the man.
And another thing: I hope they don't find any WMD in Iraq. I want to hear Bush say, "Oops! I really thought he had them!" That roughly translates to, "I needed some selfish reason to do it, since simple humanity isn't a good reason for some of my political foes." Ha Ha.
Right now, my beautiful internet radio station is playing "You Were Mine" by the Dixie Chicks. You're saying, "Why are you listening to those commies?" Don't lie. Because I adore the Dixie Chicks. Yes, I'm an arch-conservative who doesn't give a rat's appendix about Natalie Maines' opinion of Bush. If I got rid of all the music I owned made by liberals, all I'd listen to is audio transcripts of Neal Boortz. Geez. Anyway, I was flipping through the channels last night, and this Joe Scarborough guy was on. Ed Asner was blathering about McCarthyism and unpopular opinion. That guy wouldn't know censorship if it smacked him in the head. I think folks have been extraordinarily patient with all those anti-Bush predictions that turned out wrong. It's not antiwar, the war had nothing to do with it. Yeah, the media classified what Natalie Maines said as antiwar. She said she was ashamed our President was from Texas. Does that have anything in it about a war? I didn't see it. But they're not biased or shallow, are they?

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Journey is playing on my internet radio station. I love Journey, and I love the idea of all my favorite songs for free. There are some I don't like, but it listens to me, so if I really hate a song, I can tell it never to play again. My favorite song right now is "Bus Driver" by Caedmon's Call. I find Christian music annoying, but those guys are great.
Lance Armstong took the kiddies to the woodshed yesterday at the Tour de France by winning the fifteenth stage. He leads overall by 1:17. No one cares, you say. Perhaps. But I care, for three reasons:

1. I watch all sports;

2. I enjoy watching Americans being the best at everything;

3. I enjoy watching the French be humbled by an arrogant Texan (again).
June 11, Wow! I really stink at this! Finished Frank Herbert's Dune. I also read "The Lord's Supper" by Robert Letham. It's nonfiction theology, in case you didn't pick up on it. It's a great overview of all the different views on the Supper, the strengths and weaknesses, and the like. He puts forth the Reformed view of a spiritual presence of Christ in the sacrament, but not a physical one. The Westminster Confession mentions what they saw as idolatries and errors resulting from transubstantiation. (The bread and wine physically becomes the body and blood of Christ) A more moderate position is the Lutheran, consubstantiation, yet Christ is still physically present. To their credit, the men at Westminster were much less harsh toward the Lutheran position. The questions that a Christian has to ask himself is, "Are the problems of a physical presence valid?" Also, does the Bible require a physical presence? Or, if one tends toward the Supper as simply a memorial, are there problems in that as well? Important questions are these. This is perhaps the most important privilege we have as God's covenant people. All people would benefit from thinking about it. It is not only the territory of theologians.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

All 3 of you who long for me to post more than once a week are blessed, for I will be more faithful from this day forward. In addition, I've no plans tomorrow, so BLOGGING ALL DAY!
I'm reading Dune, by Frank Herbert. It's easily one of the best stories ever told, in my view. I love the Fremen. Their image in the story as passionate warriors reminds me of Christians. That is what we are. Herbert uses religion as the backdrop in his tale. The themes and mindset of the faithful in Dune will be a comfortable chair for Christians reading the story. Still, the "messiah" is far from perfect, and you may reject the idea that religion is simply a tool for political ends. It's a wonderful story.
Happy Birthday to my sister Alyse! She's 14. She's also in California, the lucky little troll.
Blast! Not enough runs for the Braves last night. Maddux was average, giving up three runs in 7 innings. Cory Lidle gave up 6 runs in six innings, and got a win for Toronto against Pittsburgh. That's sick, if you ask me.
In response to an e-mail from a friend about gay rights, I wrote this: Actually, I could give a rip about what the government does in the area of civil unions. Go for it. The state and its affairs are different from God's Kingdom and laws. I have several conditions, however:

1. Do not call it a "marriage."

2. Should I be a minister of the Gospel, the state shall not compel me to join two people of the same sex. (Unless the Republic is collapsing, this won't happen)

3. Find some way to insulate the healthcare system and the taxpayers from the higher cost of care.

As for what you said, God's Word speaks for itself, so I need not waste time blathering about the subject. But I think your feelings on this will lead you into more opportunities to share the Gospel, and that cannot be bad. You will have a comfort level that many Christians don't have. Too many Christians find homosexuality to be the worst sin in the world, and folks can sense this. I worked with a guy who is gay. A good guy, and hilarious. Anyway, the fact that he is gay never came up. I shared my life and my faith because he's not a Christian, not because he's gay. And whatever things in life that we need to let go of, the Holy Spirit is faithful to turn our hearts from them. So, if we ourselves cling so tightly to things of this world, we would be fools to condemn unbelievers who do the same. Funny that we should be talking about this. RUF was about how we're worse than we think, yet far more loved and accepted than we could possibly know. Oh, wait! That's the Gospel! Brent Herriman (or is it an 'a') told a story about a preacher who walked into a bar where prostitutes hang out in New Orleans. One of the ladies he met had a birthday the next night. They threw a party there, and she was floored. She leaves, the preacher prays. The bartender says, "You're a preacher? What church?" (Shocked that he'd even talk to her, or the others) He replied, "I belong to the church that throws birthday parties for whores at 3:00 AM." Me too.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

As you may have noticed from this blather-riffic content lately, I believe we're living in some crucial times. But all moments and all times are crucial. As the Scripture says, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." May it be that we can show His glory in peace.
I have great hope for this Middle East peace process, and its developments. If indeed great people can indeed have an impact, if they can change the course of history, then I place a great deal of hope and trust in the President of the United States. In these moments, he has great opportunity to use his great power (and will) for the benefit of all. Peace through strength, he says. Well, Mr. President, the strength you need now is not from bombs or cruise missiles, but the strength of character, and of resolve. As others in the blogosphere have noted, the US is the prime mover. Short of the Israelis and Palestinians, no other party will act so decisively one way or another, as will the United States, and its leader.
I just watched an Andre Agassi tennis match at the French Open. He was facing this Argentine named Guillermo Coria. They say Coria's good, but it has really got me thinking. I saw Agassi try every shot in the book, and this kid had the answer every time. Have you ever watched the great tennis players finish a point? They will hit a shot and know that there's no way the ball's coming back. It's that arrogance, the arrogance of high skill. Yet Coria took the biggest punches, and hit back. I waited for the kid to crack; I waited for The Great Player to show this upstart why he was Andre Agassi. But it never came. When the match hung in the balance, there was no fire in the eyes of Agassi. I've seen it with Sampras, and Greg Maddux, like I've never seen: Oldness. I know you're saying, "All the greats get old," but it's deeper. It's not physical, it's mental. If Randy Johnson pitches until he's 45 and his arm falls off, tough. But if he loses the will to dominate, that's when he (and the other greats) should walk away. It's been difficult to watch sports lately, witnessing all my heroes not only lose a step, but lose their edge. I am a sports fan, and a melodramatic one at that. We're the folks who love Bob Costas and his unique ability to turn a sporting event into The Most Important Event Ever. People might say, "I like players making great plays," but I'll go further. I like the great players making great plays. The best moments in sports happen when you turn to a buddy and say, "See, just like I said he would." That is, when a great player silences his naysayers one more time. Like Andre and Pete did at the U.S. Open last year. Jack Nicklaus at the '86 Masters. I want to see that again.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

If you don't have any commentaries by James Montgomery Boice, you're missing out. Boice died recently, so there will be no more. He's amazing. I own The Parables of Jesus, and Acts: An Expositional Commentary.

Friday, May 23, 2003

I just wanted to type "skippy" on my blog. I saw that somewhere...but what a funny word! Hi, Kate Germain.
I read 1 John today, too. I read 2 Peter because I don't know it too well. Maybe once before, really closely. But 1 John is such a familiar comfort to me. It's the greatest circular argument ever! Would you expect any less from the Spirit of God? I didn't think so. A wise man told me that if you read 1 John and you still think you're a Christian, then you are. You're darn skippy you are.
It's perseverance time again! This time, it's all about 2 Peter. He reminds us in this second letter that any notion we have of "eternal security" should be based on the grace of God. His grace, as opposed to a fatalistic attachment to the biblical doctrine of election. There are real battles to be won in our lives by God's grace. Because of election, we take hold of grace, taking the warnings seriously. We do not sit idly by, waiting for a glorification we have no part in. No one should ever quote Philippians 2:12 or 2:13 separately. They go together. That's a bold thing to say, but I'm serious. I can tell if someone is a zealot Calvinist, or a fearful Arminian by which one of those verses they quote. It's a pet peeve. Confessions of a Calvinist annoyed by Calvinists (some of them).

Thursday, May 22, 2003

What did I learn this week? That no person should spend too much time dwelling on failure and sin. We are far worse than we think, and yet I have been taught that for every look we take at our sin, we should take ten looks at Christ. Indeed, that notion is founded solidly on Scripture: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:1-2, NIV)

Saturday, May 17, 2003

I mean no disrespect to all the other instruments on Earth, but sometimes you've got to break it down with an acoustic guitar. Just do it. It will be cathartic for you. Write a song, for pete's sake! It's fun! Guys, girls love it when you write songs. Provided, of course, that you have other good qualities. If you're just a jerk, too bad. A man of honor and integrity is the ideal. Be like Jesus and write songs. And don't say your uncle Jason never gave you any advice.
If you don't have have any Dutch friends, you need to get some. Just to hear Christopher T' hoen say "Dockers" is priceless. Seriously, I'm so glad to have met him over this past year. A wealth of humor, sensitivity and wisdom, Chris is a great blessing to me. Thanks, Dutchman.
The semester didn't go well. I failed my English class. Why can't I read what I'm told? Blast! Thanks be to God, who gives us all things, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Remember that there are blessings (spiritual and material) in Christ right now. I'm looking forward to RUF Mini-Summer Conference on Monday, starring Hugh Barlett and "The Real Deal" Joe Choi leading worship.

Friday, April 25, 2003

The duck addage doesn't work for Christianity (see last post). Jesus taught us this when He said, "Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' (Matthew 7:22-24)

All right, I've got to comment on Rick Santorum and sodomy laws. First, in Rick's defense. It is a fallacious argument (or problematic) to say, "The government has no place in the bedroom." If that indeed was the assertion, then what Rick said is quite true. How could we regulate more obvious (generally agreed upon) inappropriate behavior? We do that on behalf of minors all the time. But the best argument is that government should not regulate sex between consenting adults. It's a breathless waste of time for anyone to pass laws against homosexual sex, or enforce them. I wish America was a Godly nation. I wish we ALL believed in our Lord Jesus Christ. I wish sin wasn't here. But we cannot as Christians conscript others into our morals. We try this all the time. Christians are so eager to have others at least act like them that Christian political organizations don't even quibble about doctrine. That's garbage. That's a false religiosity. ONLY the grace of God revealed in Jesus Christ and the conviction of the Holy Spirit changes the heart of a man. Our nation was a 'Christian' nation only because we had the influence to make unbelievers act like we do. My opinion: Homosexual acts are wrong. That's quite clear from God's Word in Scripture. But as much as I'd like to make our law reflect God's law, I cannot compel it. We have much to fear from compelled morality imposed by the state. We cannot make the same mistake, no matter how great our cause, or how great our King.

Friday, April 18, 2003

There's something I need to say. I know what it's like to get some theologically inclined fellows in a room who like to get provincial about doctrine. I really don't know who started the game of exegetical "Can You Top This?" but someone decided that Jesus was not going to return. I know how it starts: you want to take the time texts seriously, and you don't want to be premillenial. And then all of a sudden, you're embracing a stance that may place you outside the faith. I would encourage anyone who's embraced "realized eschatology" to give it up.

Saturday, April 12, 2003

My boss Kendall sits here next to me. He's a huge Royals fan. 9-0, about to be 10. What the heck!
Hey! Hold on! If you were a hot dog, would ya eat yourself? I know I would. I’d be delicious…Oh, sorry. I forget sometimes that I’m not Harry or Will. Regardless, I love hot dogs. I’ll probably get 100 e-mails about how unhealthy, bad for the environment, and un-American they are. They’re the next target after some people succeed in convincing us that SUVs are from Satan. Or at least they know Jesus wouldn’t drive one. I forgot that there’s no Satan in that worldview, because there’s no Hell. “Too many bad vibes, man.”
Hello to the three people who read this blog. I can't figure out what I'll write for my second Religious Studies paper. Those smart-alecs out there who said, "Jesus?" are positively brilliant. We know that part. But which aspects of Him shall I write about? I was thinking of sheep. Sheep are mean, and gross. Not to mention stupid. And that context sheds a different light on John 10. People have this mental image maybe of these cute, happy, well-mannered sheep. Oh, no friends. You'd have to say it's an apt discription of Jesus' followers, if A) you know anything about the apostles, and B) If you're a Christian, and you know yourself.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

John Kerry's comments were ill-founded. In a time of war, the President should expect some measure of support from other political leaders simply as the Commander-In-Chief. As the article says, there is plenty of time for election shenangans after the war is over.
JK is dead. I regret to inform all his loyal and loving readers that he has accidentally choked on a combination of coke and belligerent comments. The two evidently do not mix well. Unfortunately, he still hasn't learned his lesson. As I write this, he sits here trying to dissuade me from making this post, nursing coke all the while. He even contends that I can't figure out what to say next. "Blathering randomly" as he puts it. He should know.
Good grief, I stink at this! Sorry, Nate. Let's talk about some of the problems one encounters if one says that "your truth is not my truth." Subjectifying religious experience in this way excludes the person who says, "Eureka! I have found it! I found the Truth!" We don't struggle with this quite so much in other areas of life, like science. But hellfire and brimstone will be poured on the one who dares suggest that there's one way to God. And that is amusingly ironic, don't you think?

Monday, March 03, 2003

Bible Study Boys: Read Ephesians 3:1-13.
I find my studies amazingly relevant to the task of ministry, meeting people, and communicating the gospel of Christ. In my literature class, I meet the postmodern storytelling of Borges. In Spirituality, we confront the mystical as intensely personal, and therefore ineffable, presented by William James. We also wrestle with the postmodern feminist critique of James by Grace Jantzen called "Power, Gender, and Christian Mysticism." This should be good. Let me express myself concerning postmodernism: It is absolutely foolish, and naturally counter-intuitive to seek truth or openness by casting everything into doubt. Silly Borges.

Monday, February 03, 2003

Nate! Do you still have that phone number? Bah!
Scripture of the day: 1 Corinthians 11. Yes, the whole chapter. C'mon, it won't hurt! This is why we get throttled all day long: we don't know the Scripture like we should. I'm just as guilty.
Annie Dillard: I can't figure her out. She has so much natural imagery. She so self-reflective, it's almost vain. Will I shred the Christian mystics the same way? I hope not. But really. WHAT IS HER DEAL?
My inherent tension: I find myself a member of a really self-reflective, open-ended, open-minded spirituality class. As one discusses the purpose of human existence as a Christian, one is confronted with the boldness (some might say arrogance) of claiming One and Only Truth. I should say that I do so with not a little compassion for those who seek and have not yet found. Yet, I find myself guilty of that very thing, and joyously so. Praise be to the LORD Almighty, the true and only God!

Thursday, January 16, 2003

Hey Nate, who's Rachel Lucas? Sweet, Kettinger, don't check your own links.
Anybody like hockey? Let's go Blues! Is it just me, or is Al Macinnis making a bid for Greatest Defenseman Ever? I like him, anyway.
Oh, and Institutes of the Christian Religion is good, but very difficult. And quite frankly, I don't think I would invite John Calvin over for dinner if he were still here. Seems like a jerk to me.
We'll be permalinking to some really sweet theological documents like the Westminster Confession of Faith and 39 Articles of Faith (Anglican). Both of these in particular articulate the core theological positions of the Reformation. That whole "second wave" thing, not quite as good. As for those people who say, "I don't read anything except the Bible," "No Creed but the Christ, yadda yadda blah blah", etc, it has been my experience that these documents show us how good some of our brothers are at interpreting Scripture (no small talent, to be sure) but also serve to highlight that we as individuals don't read Scripture that closely. There's more than meets the eye. In any case, Scripture, as always, remains the only infallible rule of faith and life.
Wow. A long time away! Sorry. But noone reads this anyway. Hi, Nate. Hi, other Nate. Welcome back. I've been trying to keep this blog relatively apolitical, but it's really difficult. In that spirit then, I may start another.