The World Wide (Religious) Web for Monday, October 31, 2011

HAPPY REFORMATION DAY! “Abandon the Reformation, Abandon the Gospel.”

While many other challenges to Reformation theology could be identified, these two examples sufficiently demonstrate that Reformation theology continues to be at the center of discussion. Many younger evangelicals are embracing Reformation theology today. But the challenge we will face lies in how to defend Reformation theology to light of new ideologies that seek to undermine its credibility. I believe that the linchpin in the effort to defend and apply Reformation theology today can be found in the simple truth made so clear by Luther himself—namely, that the gospel itself is at stake, just as it was in the 16th century. To abandon Reformation theology is to abandon the gospel.

Make sure to read Martin Luther’s 95 Theses sometime today. On this day in 1517, Luther nailed the theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, setting off a chain of events that (unwittingly) led to the Protestant Reformation.


FACTS WITHOUT VALUES? “Why Christians Need a Secular World.”

To be secular is to be “non-religious” not “anti-religious.” Science requires the acknowledgment of simple facts without regard for their “value” in supporting any grand system. The separation of fact and value is what has empowered the great engine of knowledge-creation we call science. It is another of the important changes wrought by science as it matured. We must be able to pursue simple facts about the world — the mass of the proton, the mechanism of cell division, the age of the earth, the origin of life, the relationship between humans and other life — without an a priori assumption that these facts will necessarily support any particular religious worldview.

I see no reason why a religious believer should regard a simple fact as somehow hostile, just because it is a so-called secular claim. The discussion of the planetary status of Pluto, or the veracity of recent claims that neutrinos are exceeding the speed of light are secular discussions, with no obvious religious significance — and certainly no anti-religious aspect.

This is what secular should mean to religious believers: finding facts without worrying about how they fit into their value system. Such facts can then be analyzed to see whether or not they support a religious worldview but as simple facts they should not be perceived as threatening.


DAWKINS, “JESUS WOULD’VE BEEN AN ATHEIST”: “A little quiz for Richard Dawkins, super-duper Scripture scholar.”

Now, there is no doubt that Jesus interpreted and understood the Law and the Prophets in ways that were viewed as radical or unsettling by his first-century Jewish audiences. But—and this is crucial—it wasn’t because he “publicly advocated niceness” or rebelled against the “Ayatollah-like God of Abraham and Isaac”; on the contrary, he said, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them” (Matt. 5:17), and he also made the startling claim, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am”, thus claiming divinity and aligning himself fully with the afore-mentioned “Ayatollah-like God of Abraham and Isaac”.

The key point is this: the radical and startling nature of Jesus’ statements about the Law and Prophets is rooted in his clear claim to be the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, his insistence that he was the definitive and final interpreter of the same; and his belief, in sum, that he was, in his very person, the New Law and the final and great Prophet promised by Moses. In other words, the “interesting and remarkable about Jesus” was not that he rebelled against aspects or characteristics of Yahweh (since he didn’t), but that he claimed to be one with Yahweh, who he addressed as “Abba”: “I and the Father are one” (Jn. 10:30)…


THE IMPORTANCE OF DEFINING TERMS: “Debate: Is Social Justice Essential to Church’s Mission?”

Although the debate never really turned into a heated exchange, the discussion also became an exercise in attempting to define the Gospel and its relation to social justice.


I HOPE NOT! “Are Christians Losing Their Generosity?”

Tithing to churches has reached its lowest level in at least 41 years — and of the smaller amount churches are receiving, a smaller proportion of church funds is serving the needy outside the congregation. These are two of the findings from an analysis of church tithing and giving patterns from 1968 to 2009 by Empty Tomb, Inc.

The study focused on mainline denominations but also included some evangelical Protestant bodies.


FREE SPEECH FOR ME, BUT NOT FOR THEE? “The Westboro Problem: Free Speech, Public Decency, and Constitutional Doctrine.”

This modern approach to freedom of speech makes it almost impossible for our society to maintain a decent standard of public discourse and public conduct. Laws seeking to enforce such a standard must now face the Supreme Court’s rejection of presumed constitutionality. They approach the bar as constitutionally guilty until proven innocent, so to speak. Moreover, the substance of the modern speech tests tends to disfavor the very idea that society has any interest in protecting the moral quality of its public discourse. Civilized societies—even societies that must be regarded as free by any reasonable historical standard—always have recognized that some forms of expression are harmful to individuals and to the common good. Yet the Court’s modern approaches—preoccupied with clear and present dangers, or imminent lawless actions—deny such moral common sense, insisting instead that speech may only be regulated when it threatens some other harm beyond itself.


EXODUS, EXILE, EXPECTATION: “A New Kind of Urban Ministry.”

Is there a biblical model, then, that describes better the situations of churches and Christians in cities today—that retains the valuable features of Exodus and Exile while accounting for our responsibility for our communities? Yes, and it is rooted in the 50 days that make us Christians—from Resurrection, through Ascension, to Pentecost. This story redefines our relationship not just to God but to our world. It is a story summed up in one word, Expectation, that keeps us rooted in and responsible for the flourishing of the world precisely because we have a hope outside of history in the usual sense.


MY SMOKIN’ HOT WIFE: “Beauty and the Beast.”

It’s fair to say that—for all our pious jabbering about being attuned to other, “higher” criteria for our spouses—Christians really don’t contest the top priority many give to comparative physical attractiveness. Christians and non-Christians alike tend to marry at or near “their level” of attraction, neither scoring someone “out of their league” nor dipping too far down into the barrel. It’s a very human thing, and a permanent trait in the marriage market. Don’t feel you have to apologize for it. But nor should you deny that it’s true.

My discussion of marital mentalities in Premarital Sex in America hints that Norval was onto something. In Chapter 6, I explore not only who marries young, but who divorces young, and why. Wouldn’t you know it—physical attractiveness plays a part. Attractive mates are the most apt to wonder whether they “settled” too easily and too early, especially given their own (presumed) recognition of their continued elevated value in the wider mating market. Thus, predictably, more beauties than beasts opt out of marriage and back into the pool. Although only 9 percent of young-adult men in the sample reported being divorced (by age 24), 19 percent of the most attractive men—rated as such by themselves and the interviewer—were divorced. The same pattern is present but weaker among women, which makes sense: as I’ve stated elsewhere, women are in a structurally weaker position in today’s mating market, and comparative physical attractiveness is typically not quite as big a deal to women as to men. I talk about why that is in Chapter 3 of Premarital Sex in America. (Tune into this blog long enough, and you’re sure to hear more about sexual economics.)


THREATENING? “War on web sleaze: Church of England Threatening to withdraw millions invested in ISPs over rise of internet porn.”

The Church of England is threatening to use its financial power to stem the tide of internet pornography.

It is considering withdrawing the millions it has invested in Internet Service Providers (ISPs) unless they take action.

Concern over the easy availability of vile images which demean women and corrupt the young has intensified following the disclosure that Jo Yeates’s killer Vincent Tabak was obsessed with websites showing sexual violence, bondage and strangulation.


TULIP ALERT: “The Calvinist Infiltrators.”

On October 19, a high-ranking official in the Southern Baptist Convention named resurgent Calvinism as the “top challenge” facing the congregation for the foreseeable future—quite a statement, especially when considering what an outside observer might imagine to be the usual suspects (social issues, religious liberty, or theological disagreements with other faiths). Yet, though this internal rift began quietly, it has been the subject of a number of recent books, including the new pair “For Calvinism” and “Against Calvinism”, written by Michael Horton and Roger E. Olson, respectively. The proliferation of introductory primers like these seem to testify to the growing awareness of this debate, and the effort to get older-style evangelical leaders to ‘wake up’ to this ‘threat’ seems to be shifting into a higher gear.

Speaking of Against Calvinism, make sure to watch my interview of Roger Olson about that book:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Martin Luther’s 95 Theses

On this day in 1517, Martin Luther nailed the following 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. (Editor)


Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther
on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences
by Dr. Martin Luther (1517)
Published in:
Works of Martin Luther:
Adolph Spaeth, L.D. Reed, Henry Eyster Jacobs, et Al., Trans. & Eds.
(Philadelphia: A. J. Holman Company, 1915), Vol.1, pp. 29-38


Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg, under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and of Sacred Theology, and Lecturer in Ordinary on the same at that place. Wherefore he requests that those who are unable to be present and debate orally with us, may do so by letter.

In the Name our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

  1. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.
  2. This word cannot be understood to mean sacramental penance, i.e., confession and satisfaction, which is administered by the priests.
  3. Yet it means not inward repentance only; nay, there is no inward repentance which does not outwardly work divers mortifications of the flesh.
  4. The penalty [of sin], therefore, continues so long as hatred of self continues; for this is the true inward repentance, and continues until our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
  5. The pope does not intend to remit, and cannot remit any penalties other than those which he has imposed either by his own authority or by that of the Canons.
  6. The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring that it has been remitted by God and by assenting to God’s remission; though, to be sure, he may grant remission in cases reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant remission in such cases were despised, the guilt would remain entirely unforgiven.
  7. God remits guilt to no one whom He does not, at the same time, humble in all things and bring into subjection to His vicar, the priest.
  8. The penitential canons are imposed only on the living, and, according to them, nothing should be imposed on the dying.
  9. Therefore the Holy Spirit in the pope is kind to us, because in his decrees he always makes exception of the article of death and of necessity.
  10.  Ignorant and wicked are the doings of those priests who, in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penances for purgatory.
  11. This changing of the canonical penalty to the penalty of purgatory is quite evidently one of the tares that were sown while the bishops slept.
  12. In former times the canonical penalties were imposed not after, but before absolution, as tests of true contrition.
  13. The dying are freed by death from all penalties; they are already dead to canonical rules, and have a right to be released from them.
  14. The imperfect health [of soul], that is to say, the imperfect love, of the dying brings with it, of necessity, great fear; and the smaller the love, the greater is the fear.
  15. This fear and horror is sufficient of itself alone (to say nothing of other things) to constitute the penalty of purgatory, since it is very near to the horror of despair.
  16. Hell, purgatory, and heaven seem to differ as do despair, almost-despair, and the assurance of safety.
  17. With souls in purgatory it seems necessary that horror should grow less and love increase.
  18. It seems unproved, either by reason or Scripture, that they are outside the state of merit, that is to say, of increasing love.
  19. Again, it seems unproved that they, or at least that all of them, are certain or assured of their own blessedness, though we may be quite certain of it.
  20. Therefore by “full remission of all penalties” the pope means not actually “of all,” but only of those imposed by himself.
  21. Therefore those preachers of indulgences are in error, who say that by the pope’s indulgences a man is freed from every penalty, and saved;
  22. Whereas he remits to souls in purgatory no penalty which, according to the canons, they would have had to pay in this life.
  23. If it is at all possible to grant to any one the remission of all penalties whatsoever, it is certain that this remission can be granted only to the most perfect, that is, to the very fewest.
  24. It must needs be, therefore, that the greater part of the people are deceived by that indiscriminate and highsounding promise of release from penalty.
  25. The power which the pope has, in a general way, over purgatory, is just like the power which any bishop or curate has, in a special way, within his own diocese or parish.
  26. The pope does well when he grants remission to souls [in purgatory], not by the power of the keys (which he does not possess), but by way of intercession.
  27. They preach man who say that so soon as the penny jingles into the money-box, the soul flies out [of purgatory].
  28. It is certain that when the penny jingles into the money-box, gain and avarice can be increased, but the result of the intercession of the Church is in the power of God alone.
  29. Who knows whether all the souls in purgatory wish to be bought out of it, as in the legend of Sts. Severinus and Paschal.
  30. No one is sure that his own contrition is sincere; much less that he has attained full remission.
  31. Rare as is the man that is truly penitent, so rare is also the man who truly buys indulgences, i.e., such men are most rare.
  32. They will be condemned eternally, together with their teachers, who believe themselves sure of their salvation because they have letters of pardon.
  33. Men must be on their guard against those who say that the pope’s pardons are that inestimable gift of God by which man is reconciled to Him;
  34. For these “graces of pardon” concern only the penalties of sacramental satisfaction, and these are appointed by man.
  35. They preach no Christian doctrine who teach that contrition is not necessary in those who intend to buy souls out of purgatory or to buy confessionalia.
  36. Every truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without letters of pardon.
  37. Every true Christian, whether living or dead, has part in all the blessings of Christ and the Church; and this is granted him by God, even without letters of pardon.
  38. Nevertheless, the remission and participation [in the blessings of the Church] which are granted by the pope are in no way to be despised, for they are, as I have said, the declaration of divine remission.
  39. It is most difficult, even for the very keenest theologians, at one and the same time to commend to the people the abundance of pardons and [the need of] true contrition.
  40. True contrition seeks and loves penalties, but liberal pardons only relax penalties and cause them to be hated, or at least, furnish an occasion [for hating them].
  41. Apostolic pardons are to be preached with caution, lest the people may falsely think them preferable to other good works of love.
  42. Christians are to be taught that the pope does not intend the buying of pardons to be compared in any way to works of mercy.
  43. Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better work than buying pardons;
  44. Because love grows by works of love, and man becomes better; but by pardons man does not grow better, only more free from penalty.
  45. Christians are to be taught that he who sees a man in need, and passes him by, and gives [his money] for pardons, purchases not the indulgences of the pope, but the indignation of God.
  46. Christians are to be taught that unless they have more than they need, they are bound to keep back what is necessary for their own families, and by no means to squander it on pardons.
  47. Christians are to be taught that the buying of pardons is a matter of free will, and not of commandment.
  48. Christians are to be taught that the pope, in granting pardons, needs, and therefore desires, their devout prayer for him more than the money they bring.
  49. Christians are to be taught that the pope’s pardons are useful, if they do not put their trust in them; but altogether harmful, if through them they lose their fear of God.
  50. Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the pardon-preachers, he would rather that St. Peter’s church should go to ashes, than that it should be built up with the skin, flesh and bones of his sheep.
  51. Christians are to be taught that it would be the pope’s wish, as it is his duty, to give of his own money to very many of those from whom certain hawkers of pardons cajole money, even though the church of St. Peter might have to be sold.
  52. The assurance of salvation by letters of pardon is vain, even though the commissary, nay, even though the pope himself, were to stake his soul upon it.
  53. They are enemies of Christ and of the pope, who bid the Word of God be altogether silent in some Churches, in order that pardons may be preached in others.
  54. Injury is done the Word of God when, in the same sermon, an equal or a longer time is spent on pardons than on this Word.
  55. It must be the intention of the pope that if pardons, which are a very small thing, are celebrated with one bell, with single processions and ceremonies, then the Gospel, which is the very greatest thing, should be preached with a hundred bells, a hundred processions, a hundred ceremonies.
  56. The “treasures of the Church,” out of which the pope. grants indulgences, are not sufficiently named or known among the people of Christ.
  57. That they are not temporal treasures is certainly evident, for many of the vendors do not pour out such treasures so easily, but only gather them.
  58. Nor are they the merits of Christ and the Saints, for even without the pope, these always work grace for the inner man, and the cross, death, and hell for the outward man.
  59. St. Lawrence said that the treasures of the Church were the Church’s poor, but he spoke according to the usage of the word in his own time.
  60. Without rashness we say that the keys of the Church, given by Christ’s merit, are that treasure;
  61. For it is clear that for the remission of penalties and of reserved cases, the power of the pope is of itself sufficient.
  62. The true treasure of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God.
  63. But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last.
  64. On the other hand, the treasure of indulgences is naturally most acceptable, for it makes the last to be first.
  65. Therefore the treasures of the Gospel are nets with which they formerly were wont to fish for men of riches.
  66. The treasures of the indulgences are nets with which they now fish for the riches of men.
  67. The indulgences which the preachers cry as the “greatest graces” are known to be truly such, in so far as they promote gain.
  68. Yet they are in truth the very smallest graces compared with the grace of God and the piety of the Cross.
  69. Bishops and curates are bound to admit the commissaries of apostolic pardons, with all reverence.
  70. But still more are they bound to strain all their eyes and attend with all their ears, lest these men preach their own dreams instead of the commission of the pope.
  71. He who speaks against the truth of apostolic pardons, let him be anathema and accursed!
  72. But he who guards against the lust and license of the pardon-preachers, let him be blessed!
  73. The pope justly thunders against those who, by any art, contrive the injury of the traffic in pardons.
  74. But much more does he intend to thunder against those who use the pretext of pardons to contrive the injury of holy love and truth.
  75. To think the papal pardons so great that they could absolve a man even if he had committed an impossible sin and violated the Mother of God — this is madness.
  76. We say, on the contrary, that the papal pardons are not able to remove the very least of venial sins, so far as its guilt is concerned.
  77. It is said that even St. Peter, if he were now Pope, could not bestow greater graces; this is blasphemy against St. Peter and against the pope.
  78. We say, on the contrary, that even the present pope, and any pope at all, has greater graces at his disposal; to wit, the Gospel, powers, gifts of healing, etc., as it is written in I. Corinthians xii.
  79. To say that the cross, emblazoned with the papal arms, which is set up [by the preachers of indulgences], is of equal worth with the Cross of Christ, is blasphemy.
  80. The bishops, curates and theologians who allow such talk to be spread among the people, will have an account to render.
  81. This unbridled preaching of pardons makes it no easy matter, even for learned men, to rescue the reverence due to the pope from slander, or even from the shrewd questionings of the laity.
  82. To wit: — “Why does not the pope empty purgatory, for the sake of holy love and of the dire need of the souls that are there, if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a Church? The former reasons would be most just; the latter is most trivial.”
  83. Again: — “Why are mortuary and anniversary masses for the dead continued, and why does he not return or permit the withdrawal of the endowments founded on their behalf, since it is wrong to pray for the redeemed?”
  84. Again: — “What is this new piety of God and the pope, that for money they allow a man who is impious and their enemy to buy out of purgatory the pious soul of a friend of God, and do not rather, because of that pious and beloved soul’s own need, free it for pure love’s sake?”
  85. Again: — “Why are the penitential canons long since in actual fact and through disuse abrogated and dead, now satisfied by the granting of indulgences, as though they were still alive and in force?”
  86. Again: — “Why does not the pope, whose wealth is to-day greater than the riches of the richest, build just this one church of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with the money of poor believers?”
  87. Again: — “What is it that the pope remits, and what participation does he grant to those who, by perfect contrition, have a right to full remission and participation?”
  88. Again: — “What greater blessing could come to the Church than if the pope were to do a hundred times a day what he now does once, and bestow on every believer these remissions and participations?”
  89. “Since the pope, by his pardons, seeks the salvation of souls rather than money, why does he suspend the indulgences and pardons granted heretofore, since these have equal efficacy?”
  90. To repress these arguments and scruples of the laity by force alone, and not to resolve them by giving reasons, is to expose the Church and the pope to the ridicule of their enemies, and to make Christians unhappy.
  91. If, therefore, pardons were preached according to the spirit and mind of the pope, all these doubts would be readily resolved; nay, they would not exist.
  92. Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Peace, peace,” and there is no peace!
  93. Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Cross, cross,” and there is no cross!
  94. Christians are to be exhorted that they be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and hell;
  95. And thus be confident of entering into heaven rather through many tribulations, than through the assurance of peace.

The World Wide (Religious) Web for Friday, October 28, 2011

YEAH, WHAT HE SAID: “It’s the Spirituality, Stupid: Vital Congregations Cultivate Personal Piety.”

Even though research shows spiritually alive churches are the most likely to grow, the percentage of U.S. congregations reporting high spiritual vitality declined from 43 percent in 2005 to 28 percent in 2010, according to the latest Faith Communities Today survey.

The drop was accompanied by a decline in the emphasis given to spiritual practices such as prayer and scripture reading across nearly all groups aside from white evangelicals and congregations with 1,000 or more attenders.

The most notable slide occurred among white mainline Protestant denominations, which have been aging and losing members faster than any other major religious group.

The reasons are varied: Declining financial health in the recession saps morale; aging memberships are less likely to embrace new forms of worship; some denominations have shifted emphasis away from personal piety toward social service programs.

It’s not, however, because they don’t know any better.


MISTAKES WERE MADE, BUT… “What’s Right with the Religious Right.”

Yet I now feel no desire to distance myself from the people in the Religious Right.  Rather, on Saturday I was proud to be in their midst.  These are people who believe that life is an inestimable gift and a sacred treasure, to uphold and protect from the very first moment of conception to the very last breath.  These are people who believe that marriage should honor the pattern shown in scripture, that children should be reared by loving mothers and fathers, that families form the best bulwark against poverty, and that our culture should give careful thought to the influences and temptations it puts in front of its young people.  And these are people who believe that the government should form a final safety net, but that families and churches and local institutions should be the first line of defense, and the second and the third — that our commitment to the social good should be wise and should steward our resources for generations, rather than excusing and facilitating generations of poverty — that the government has a role to play in regulating the economy and defending against unfair business practices, but that its influence should be as minimal as possible in order to maximize freedom and maintain the efficiency of the free market — and that our market should encourage creativity, initiative and self-reliance, the dignity of man made in the image of a Creator God.  They also believe that a culture that is richly seeded with what is truly true and good and beautiful, and leaders who are shaped by classical Judeo-Christian values, can have an extraordinarily beneficial effect upon our nation.


THE DIALOGUE OF FAITH AND REASON: “Pope Benedict’s Interfaith Outreach.”

Benedict’s decision to include agnostics, to whom he dedicated the conclusion of his address, was the choice most revealing of his priorities. In acknowledgment of their presence, Thursday’s official program called for “reflection and/or prayer,” and the day itself was rechristened one of “reflection, dialogue and prayer.” Thus at a gathering of religious leaders, worship had become optional.

This change, redefining the group as united not by faith but by the desire for peace and justice, ruled out any interpretation of their meeting as an advertisement for religious syncretism. Even more importantly, opening the dialogue to nonreligious “seekers of the truth” underscored one of the major themes of Benedict’s pontificate: the need for Western culture to restore its dialogue between faith and reason, and thus to rehabilitate the concept of objective truth in the realms of metaphysics and ethics.

This audacious goal has unsettling implications for Catholicism’s relations with other faiths. After all, if religion is of more than merely subjective value, and if its many varieties are not just different expressions of the same reality, it follows that some religions are truer than others. And Benedict has never hidden his conviction of where the truth in its fullness lies.

However undiplomatic it may seem in certain contexts, Benedict’s emphasis on objective truth is, by his lights, essential to the agenda for which he prayed in Assisi. As he told a European ambassador last week, social justice is based on norms accessible to all, derived not from divine revelation but from “reason and nature”—that is, from “universally applicable principles that are as real as the physical elements of the natural environment.”


COMPETENT TURK WATCH: “A Mormon-Catholic Ticket Would be Groundbreaking and Typically American.”

The religions of our presidential nominees say a lot about our diversity and increasing tolerance, famously so with Catholics. When Al Smith was the Democratic nominee for President in 1928, it was shocking and another Catholic wouldn’t be on the ticket until 1960. Then Catholics began popping up as veeps: William E. Miller on the Republican ticket in 1964; on the Democratic side, Ed Muskie in 1968, Sargent Shriver in 1972 and Geraldine Ferraro in 1984. John Kerry was the last Catholic to top a presidential ticket. No one made a fuss and the Kerry campaign found the number of Americans who were even aware of his Catholic faith and for whom it mattered to be inconsequential.



The purpose of education, at least from a Christian perspective, is not simply academic achievement or increased GDP. Education is one aspect of spiritual formation, in which we learn how to love and serve one another as Christ has loved us. Classrooms with differentiated learning serve “the least of these,” even if they lead to less academic success for peers with higher IQ’s. But I would argue that differentiated classrooms serve the high-achievers too. In some ways, classrooms with differentiated learning mirror the kingdom of God, a kingdom in which merit does not gain us a seat at the king’s table but rather the invitation of the king to understand ourselves as dependent and vulnerable human beings who are both gifted and loved.


TECHNOLOGY ETHICS: “The fog of blogs.”

That blogs can be used both rightly and wrongly is a claim hardly in need of justification. But the assumption often seems to be that if one can blog, and can blog for the church or for right reasons, then blogging is a commendable activity. But, again, this is simply to sanctify a question cast in utilitarian terms. Instead we want to identify what role blogs play ethically within the life of the church and what they are doing to us.


THE (OTHER) HOLY LAND: “Archaeology in Turkey: Major Finds in Asia Minor.”

A deadly 7.2 magnitude earthquake has drawn renewed global attention to Turkey. For archaeologists and early church scholars, the country was already a renewed focal point. A surge of archaeology projects in the country have uncovered more of the Christian legacy of Paul and other early evangelists. But archaeologists from the U.S. and other countries face growing barriers put up by Turkish authorities.


BIBLE STUDY: “Is God Angry or Loving?”

If you are troubled by passages in the Old Testament in which Yahweh got angry, here are three pieces of advice. First, ask why Yahweh got angry. Be open to finding a legitimate reason for his anger. Second, read the whole context. Yahweh did get mad at Israel in Exodus 32, but only after he had freed them from slavery, rescued them from the Egyptian army, fed them with manna, provided water for them, and met with them at Sinai. He was mad because they committed adultery on the honeymoon. Given the context, it makes sense that Yahweh got mad. Third, have reasonable expectations. You won’t be able to resolve all the problems. But some work will help you understand these passages better and save you embarrassment over your lack of biblical knowledge and over the behavior of God.

I reviewed (and recommended) David T. Lamb’s God Behaving Badly here. This article is adapted from a chapter in that book.


HAPPY HALLO JESUS WEEN! “All Candy, No Jesus: Halloween in America.”

Why does Wiccan Eric think that the Jesus Weeners are getting so roundly mocked? “Jesus Ween isn’t about anything other than ‘uh, Jesus is cool, and Halloween is evil.’ Well, if you’re the kind of person who’s going to consider celebrating Jesus Ween in the first place, you already think Jesus is cool.” He added that since Halloween is “a day of taboo-breaking, even for those who are not pagan,” Jesus Weeners might be seen as fun-trouncers.


HAPPY HALLOWEEN REFORMATION DAY! “Trick or Treat: Satan, Jack Chick, and Other Halloween Horrors.”

I think it’s safe to say that if the Lord hates Halloween then he must despise Chick tracts. When a well-intentioned but overzealous Christian gives these “comics” to a child it must be, as Chick would say, a slap in the face. If you are the type of person who does this on Halloween I only have one word to say to you: repent.


DON’T CON A CON MAN! “Magicians say their craft makes them see religion as just hocus-pocus.”

Not all magicians—even those who are skeptics—agree that magic and spirituality don’t mix.

“I think there is a deeper and more real link between magic and spirituality than between magic and atheism,” said Eugene Burger, a teacher of magic who also holds a divinity degree. “I think for most people who have moved from magic to atheism it is based on a false generalization—that because some things are tricks, all things are tricks.”

The World Wide (Religious) Web for Thursday, October 27, 2011

RELIGIOUS POLITICAL AGNOSTICISM: “Why It’s Difficult to Derive Political Affiliation from the Bible.”

I think it’s fine that people bring their religious convictions into their political decisions, as we should with every aspect of life.  However, I’ve become skeptical that there is any one “right” way of doing this.  Moreover, I’m uncomfortable with any message, either explicit or implicit, that suggests that “if you’re a Christian, you should be a _______ (fill in the political party).”

At this point in my life, I would say I’m a political agnostic—I just don’t know if there is one, right way to politics.


IRONY WATCH: “A Religious Test in Reverse.”

Baptists were once among the most persecuted victims of government tyranny. Now they risk becoming the persecuting majority their forefathers feared.


THE CHRISTIAN & THE STATE: “Why Capital Punishment is not such a Capital and Christian Idea.”

Here’s the rub however. Jesus quite clearly calls Christians to an ethic of non-violence and an ethic of forgiveness, however grievous the wrong done to us. I will speak to that in a minute. At a minimum what that means to me is that while the secular state may well ‘not bear the sword in vain’ and may even have a Biblical right to do so, Christians themselves who wish to follow the ethic and example of Jesus must abandon that right, and have nothing to do with capital punishment. Let others do what they feel is right according to their own value system, but there is a higher calling on the life of Christians, a higher law and set of principles they must answer to—- namely Jesus and the law of Christ.


FOR RICHER AND FOR POORER: “Strong Marriages and Economies.”

The long-term fortunes of the modern economy depend in part on the strength and sustainability of the family, both in relation to fertility trends and to marriage trends. This basic, but often overlooked, principle is now at work in the current global economic crisis.

That is, one reason that some of the world’s leading economies — from Japan to Italy to Spain to the euro zone as a whole — are facing fiscal challenges is that their fertility rates have been below replacement levels (2.1 children per woman) for decades. Persistent sub-replacement fertility eventually translates into fewer workers relative to retirees, which puts tremendous strains on public coffers and the economy as a whole. Indeed, one recent study finds that almost half of the recent run-up in public debt in the West can be attributed to rapid aging over the last two decades.

Finally, it’s not just fertility that matters; it’s also marriage. At least in the West, children are more likely to acquire the human and social capital they need to thrive in the modern economy when they are raised in an intact, married family. In the U.S., for instance, children are more likely to graduate from high school, complete college and be gainfully employed as young adults if they were raised in an intact, married family.

And around the globe, men are more likely to give their work their fullest effort and attention when they are married; this is one reason men worldwide enjoy “marriage premiums” in their income, ranging from about 14 percent (Mexico) to 19 percent (United States) to 35 percent (Russia). So, at least when it comes to men, research suggests that marriage has important implications for worker productivity.


A REST STOP ON THE DIVORCE SUPERHIGHWAY: “A Modest Proposal to Reduce Unnecessary Divorce.”

The Second Chances Act proposes new model legislation that includes a one-year waiting period for divorce, along with a requirement that parents of minor children considering divorce take a short online divorced parenting education course, which would include information on reconciliation. Spouses could trigger the one-year waiting period without actually filing for divorce by sending their mates a formal letter of notice. These requirements would be waived in cases of domestic violence.


WHEN DISCIPLINE BECOMES ABUSE: “Religion And Discipline: Report Explores Punishing Children In The Name Of Religion.”

Last month, Larry and Carri Williams were arrested and charged with homicide by abuse in Washington after their adopted daughter Hana was found naked and unconscious in the family’s yard and pronounced dead at the hospital, the Skagit Vallery Herald reports.

Hana, 13, showed signs of physical abuse and malnutrition, which were thought to have contributed to her death. Court documents indicated that the parents used to lock Hana in a closet and “played the Bible on tape and Christian music for her while she was locked inside,” KOMO explains.

The couple, who are parents to seven other children, reportedly followed advice from controversial book, “To Train Up A Child,” which indicates it’s acceptable to spank children with objects, leave them outdoors in the cold, and withhold food as forms of punishment, KOMO reports. The book, written by evangelist Micheal Pearl and his wife Debi, reportedly encourages the use of objects to spank children. Prosecutors said the couple used a flexible plumbing tube, the Toronto Sun points out.


HELL HOUSE: “Christian Haunted Houses: Scaring the ‘Hell’ Out of Teens?”

Christian haunted houses are an odd form of attractional ministry. While many church youth programs seek to draw in teens with video games, junk food, and paintball, these “hell houses” attempt to attract adolescents with promises of gore, violence, and Halloween scares. But it’s only once participants get in the door that some discover it’s all been a bait-and-switch. The goal is not just to scare them, but to evangelize them.


BREAKING NEWS FROM A.D. 30: “Paul Did Not ‘Invent’ Christianity.”

It’s not rare to encounter people who claim that Paul “invented” Christianity. The basic idea is that Jesus taught a pure and ethical form of Judaism that focused on God and gracious living, while Paul developed a religion that worshiped Jesus rather than God. Though this idea literally makes no sense historically, it’s gotten a lot of run. Even the occasional serious academic book “blames” Paul for perverting Jesus’ message in inventing Christianity.

However, every bit of evidence we possess demonstrates that Paul did not, in fact, invent Christianity. Let’s begin with how Paul came to follow Jesus in the first place. The book of Acts claims that Paul, having already persecuted some believers in Jesus, has a visionary encounter with the risen Christ. Paul himself describes that encounter as an “apocalypse,” or a revelation. In any event, Acts agrees with Paul that the new apostle turned for support to a community of believers that already resided in Damascus.


TO DO OR NOT TO DO: “Weird Weddings; Funny Funerals.”

There are limits, of course. I will not give wedding vows while skydiving, snorkeling, or riding shotgun in a NASCAR pace car. I have never been asked to do any of those things, but I just want everyone to know up front that there is a line I simply will not cross. Other than that, if all we are talking about is bad taste with no real impairment to the proclamation of the gospel, sure. Though “other than that” sometimes does open a pastor up to some remarkably goofy stuff.


AMISH-ON-AMISH VIOLENCE: “FBI investigating Amish beard-cutting attacks.”

I don’t know which aspect of this story is more bizarre: the beard-cutting or the FBI’s involvement.

The World Wide (Religious) Web for Wednesday, October 26, 2011

COMPETENT TURK WATCH: “When Baptists Voted for a Heretic.”

The Baptist alliance with Thomas Jefferson helps illuminate recent controversies over Pastor Robert Jeffress’s negative comments about Mitt Romney’s Mormonism. It reminds us that there was a time when conservative Baptists were willing to support a presidential candidate whose personal beliefs starkly differed from their own. As of 1800, Jefferson was still fairly quiet about his religious skepticism. (After he retired from politics, it became clear that he did not believe in the divinity of Christ, the Trinity, or the miracles in the Bible, including Jesus’s resurrection.) But Jefferson had already said enough to convince some Federalist opponents that Jefferson did not believe in traditional Christianity. So why would the Baptists of 1800 support a man whom opponents called a “howling atheist,” while some Baptists today refuse to support Romney because of his Mormonism? The difference is that Baptists in 1800 understood that politics often requires making alliances with people outside the evangelical fold, in the interests of shared public priorities. For the Baptist supporters of Jefferson, the top priority was religious liberty.


UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: “Anti-Christian Backlash After South Sudan’s Secession.”

Emboldened by government calls for a Sudan based on Islamic law since the secession of South Sudan, Muslim residents have attacked Christians trying to finish constructing their church building near Khartoum. Meanwhile, local authorities are threatening to demolish three other church buildings that already exist.

Muslims in the north, where an estimated 1 million Christians still live following the secession of South Sudan on July 9, fear the potential influence of the church, they said.

They want to reduce or restrict the number of churches, so that they can put more pressure on believers,” said a church leader on condition of anonymity.



Some atheists are intellectually serious.  Some are not.  There are several infallible marks by which an atheist might show himself to be intellectually unserious.  Thinking “What caused God?” is a good objection to the cosmological argument is one.  Being impressed by the “one god further” objection is another.  A third is the suggestion that theism entails a belief in “magical beings.”  Anyone who says this either doesn’t know what theism is or doesn’t know what magic is.  Or (no less likely) doesn’t much care one way or the other – it’s another handy straw man, useful for those who want to believe that theistic arguments are manifestly fallacious or otherwise silly, or who find it rhetorically useful to pretend that they are.


PRIVATE INTERESTS & THE COMMON GOOD: “SlutWalkers, Occupiers, and Idiots.”

Both SlutWalk and OWS idiots highlight the need for institutional commitments to practicing the virtues. The long history of Greek philosophy and Christian asceticism is founded on an insight that contemporary culture desperately needs to recover: namely, that the only social cure for sin and evil is spiritual practice. Aristotle understood such practice to be like unbending a stick: that is, unbending the human heart in the opposite direction of vice so as to find its center in virtue. Augustine similarly understood that such “unbending” occurs only through the participation in communities of conversion, rooted in the shared desire for goodness.

The idiot wants to critique institutions. The wise person wants to call institutions to recover the virtues. I agree with Gandhi’s basic insight: be the change you want to see in the world. Practice the virtues; interrupt the patterns of unhealthy imitation of sin. And don’t be an idiot about it; be a citizen.


SHE’LL REGRET IT WHEN SHE’S 40: “Barbie Gets Inked… Yawn…”


THE GREAT RECESSION HAS NOT CANCELED THE GREAT COMMISSION: “Missionary Money: Easier to Give, Worth Less than Ever.”

Financial turmoil in global markets continues to play havoc with the value of the U.S. dollar, but technology continues to make the transfer of donor dollars to missionaries quicker and easier.


IN GOD WE…DOUBT? “Why It’s Good to Doubt God.”

Doubting God is painful and frightening because we think we are leaving God behind, but we are only be leaving behind the idea of God we like to surround ourselves with—the small God, the God we control, the God who agrees with us.


A GOOD PRAYER: “St. Thomas Aquinas’ Prayer for Scholars.”

Ineffable Creator,

You who are the true source of life and wisdom and the Principle on which everything depends, be so kind as to infuse in my obscure intelligence a ray of your splendor that may take away the darkness of sin and ignorance.

Grant me keenness of understanding, ability to remember, measure and easiness of learning, discernment of what I read, rich grace with words.

Grant me strength to begin well my studies; guide me along the path of my efforts; give them a happy ending.

You who are true God and true Man, Jesus my Savior, who lives and reigns forever.



WHO’S “WE”? “Are we turning Steve Jobs into a saint?”

CNN asked four experts on religion and technology to weigh in on whether former Apple chief Steve Jobs is achieving a kind of secular sainthood. Here are their responses…


HONEST WORK? “Can a Christian work in the marketing field?”

Lately I’ve been wondering if a Christian CAN (not should, but CAN) would in the field of advertising–as it operates today in America.  It seems to me that the marketing industry has become so powerful and pervasive AND deceitful that a Christian would have to compromise his or her principles of honesty to work there.

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