Monthly Archives: April 2005


Is the Bible a Rule Book?

Yesterday I wrote an extensive word about the public lecture of Dr. Robert A. J. Gagnon at Elmhurst College on Wednesday night, April 27. There is so much that Gagnon said that is worth repeating but for now I will give one simple illustration.

After an hour plus on the subject of sexual ethics and purity he noted that many will say to me, "The Bible is not a rule book." Yes, he noted, this is true for sure. "But it does make commands." Then he said, "The purpose of the Bible is to make us whole." This was followed by the profound question: "Is there a word of grace here in the midst of all these requirements for sexual purity and covenantal fidelity within a one-woman and one-man relationship?" Gagnon answered, "Yes, all of it!"

By |April 29th, 2005|Categories: Biblical Theology|

Challenging Same-Sex Marriage

"Challenging Same-Sex Marriage" was the title of Dr. Robert. A. J. Gagnon’s address last evening at Elmhurst College (IL). I was priviledged to be present among the 250 or so students and area attendees for a most amazing evening.

For those who do not know, Dr. Gagnon is associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (PCUSA), where he has taught since 1994.  He is a frontline Pauline scholar and the author of the finest book available on this subject: The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Abingdon, 2001). Dr. Gagnon’s work has influenced me more than any single author in this field. It is simply magisterial. He covers every possible shade of interpretation and destroys the case frequently made by certain Christian authors for homosexual practice. He also maintains the finest Web site available on the subject:

Frankly, Gagnon is hated by many in the mainline churches. This is because his work has done more to galvinize the biblical renewal movements on this issue than any single author. For example, his work is being used presently by renewal leaders to try

By |April 28th, 2005|Categories: Sexuality|

How Western Culture Undermines Faith

I have been reading a good bit by Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. He has authored over forty volumes, as well as scores of essays. No modern pope has written so much theology. One theme rises to the surface again and again in his writings: the tense realtionship that exists between church and culture.

Following Vatican II, in the 1960’s, Ratzinger argued that the detente that existed between the church and the world was leading the church astray. He wrote:

It is time to find again the courage of nonconformism, the capacity to oppose many of the trends of the surrounding culture, renouncing a certain euphoric post-conciliar solidarity. . . . I am convinced that the damage we have incurred in these twenty years is due, not to the "true" council, but to the unleashing within the Church of latent polemical and centrifugal forces; and outside the Church it is due to the confrontation with a cultural revolution in the West:the success of the upper middle class, the new "tertiary bourgeoisie," with its liberal-radical ideology of individualistic, rationalistic and hedonistic stamp.

He went on to argue that

By |April 27th, 2005|Categories: Culture|

The Danger of Being Precise

A long time friend, who followed me as the pastor of my second church, wrote me today. He noted that he was tired of wasting time being "theologically precise." Not that theology is bad, he noted, or even inherently wrong. My friend confessed that precise theology became "my idol." He added that this penchant for precision led to his "being driven to have a pure church to the point that I drove people away." That hurts! Me too.

If I have one regret about my reformation journey as a pastor in a real congregation this has to be it. I can forgive my light weight brain for it’s many failures. I can even handle the mistakes of judgment that I made over the course of twenty years. But it is very hard to forgive this—I worked overtime for a "pure church." I did it by using theology in a number of unhelpful ways. And the results were often deeply troubling.

My long time buddy concluded: "I want to speak the truth clearly to the upcoming generations. I want to think outside the boxes that almost collapsed in

By |April 26th, 2005|Categories: The Church|

More on Faith and Filibusters

It is regularly claimed, by some conservative Christians, that the "judiciary is out of control." I confess I would hate to be a judge in the present environment. Your are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If your life is not in jeopardy (think Atlanta a few weeks ago) then your career might well be. Or maybe your church membership. When Judge Greer (Florida) ruled on the Schiavo case a few weeks ago James Dobson called him "an evil man." The judge in question is a Republican. He is also a Southern Baptist, or at least he was until his pastor told him to leave the church for his judicial decision. I wonder if the pastor actually read the extensive court records before he made his decision to run Greer out of his flock? I did. I believe the judge gave a very clear and consistent ruling, whether you like it or not, given the laws of Florida and the facts of this particular case.

The esteemed conservative jorunal, First Things, even noted in it’s May issue that the problem in Florida was

By |April 25th, 2005|Categories: Spirituality|

Pardon Me, I Don't Get It

Today was dubbed "Justice Sunday" by a number of conservative Christian organizations. A nationwide television simulcast was hosted by folks at Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council, among others. The point of justice being promoted here is about stopping the filibuster in the Senate that has kept Bush judicial appointees from an up or down vote before the whole Senate. You would have to be politically news dead not to have heard about this issue and the impending actions to be taken in the Senate in the near future.

So what’s there to "not get" about Justice Sunday? Several things. First, the people who are conducting this effort suggest that the Senate’s refusal to vote on judicial nominees is somehow tied to the faith commitment of the nominees themselves. Second, the sponsors of Justice Sunday insist that the liberals in the Senate are beholden to special interest groups, thus they wield this power to block votes because of these particular groups. Of course they do. My question is "Who doesn’t?"

Personally, I confess that I would like to see these nominees voted up or

By |April 24th, 2005|Categories: Politics|

The End of Responsibility

I often read John Leo, a columnist for U. S. News & World Report. Leo is both balanced and reasonable. I believe his "On Society" column in the April 25 issue is extremely important. It is titled "The End of Argument." Leo shows that both the left and the right have engaged in a kind of public rhetoric that is growing steadily worse. The left has produced "Kill Bush" T-shirts and various whacky speech that suggests "the pig Bush must die." Some on the right, even Christians no less, have called for the death of Judge George Greer (a Baptist) for his controversial rulings in the Schiavo case. Greer’s pastor wrote him a letter asking him to leave the local church. There was no due process followed (cf. Matthew 18), at least there was none reported.

The present anti-court rhetoric is particularly intense, especially among very conservative Christians. These rumblings promote a kind of tyranny that is frightening. Tom DeLay, who seems intent on making his "hatchetman" label stick, made numerous inflammatory remarks about judges a few weeks ago and then, thankfully, apologized. You might hope

By |April 21st, 2005|Categories: Politics|

Just the Facts

A once popular program, in the days of black and white television, was a detective show called Dragnet. The famous sargeant on the program had a simple line that he used all the time to interrogate people: "Just the facts, Mam, just the facts." I have thought about how often we think that truth is simply getting the facts right.

My college student newspaper (The Wheaton Record) recently ran an editorial that underscored this business about "the facts." I was party to the facts in this case and I know that, though the facts seem very clear on the surface of the matter, the real facts are quite different from the assumptions made by the student editorial. The short version of the facts are as follows. A program was altered by the administration, over the course of more than twelve months, and in the process several popular professors were impacted directly, one choosing to leave the school. Both professors happen to be very good friends! At the same time I served on the committee that was convened by the administration to actually recommend these changes

By |April 20th, 2005|Categories: Spirituality|

Recommending a Systematic Theology Book

This morning I wrote an email to a very good friend who had written to ask me to recommend a systemtic theology book for a resource section that will appear in a booklet he recently wrote that will be published by a national ministry. I wrote the following letter:
Dear Brother:
I have been thinking a bit further re: systematic theologies for your intended general audience. I think first of Alister E. McGrath’s always excellent work. He writes readable, basic, and very sound stuff. His method is historic and biblical while his content is centrist and non-extreme in every way. He is an evangelical who is truly ecumenical and irenic without ever giving up any of the essential truths that are basic to Christian faith. His conclusions are always mainstream and orthodox without the quirks. He has a new book called Theology: The Basics (Blackwell, 2004). I highly recommend this as a guide for your readership. His larger book, still very accessible, is Christian Theology: An Introduction and then following it there is The Christian Theology Reader, in which he provides solid readings taken from historical theologians.
A little

By |April 19th, 2005|Categories: Biblical Theology|

The Loss of a Champion for Church Renewal

Dr. James Heidinger, the president of Good News, a renewal ministry in the United Methodist Church, wrote the following note this evening to members of the Association for Church Renewal (ACR), a group related to mainline Protestant renewal ministries:
Our dear friend and colleague in renewal, Diane Knippers, died this afternoon a little before 2 p.m. She had been failing for the last several weeks and was in the midst of chemo treatments, but had weakened enough that they could not continue them. Late this morning her kidneys began to shut down and several planned procedures were canceled. Her husband, Ed, was with her, as well as her Mother and Father, Vera and Clancey LeMasters, and her brother Doug.

Diane was a dear friend and colleague and a giant among those in renewal ministry. How we will miss her and her clear, mature voice. Many of you would not be aware that Diane was

By |April 18th, 2005|Categories: The Church|

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