Monthly Archives: January 2007


The Super Bowl and Christian Freedom

This is, as millions already know, Super Bowl week. Nothing is hyped all across America quite like the Super Bowl. This game has reached amazing proportions when it comes to the viewing audience and massive commercialization. It is a stunning piece of popular culture and one doesn’t know whether to weep about it or celebrate. Some pietistic folk see this as clear evidence that there is little real difference between us and the ancient Romans in the Coliseum. Others think this is the greatest day of the whole year with the biggest event of all time at 5 p.m. Everything, so it seems, virtually comes to a halt for the Super Bowl.

Here in Chicago the event is, of course, really big with the Bears in the game. So, how important are the Bears this Lord’s Day? Well, big enough to alter many churches and their plans for the day. What few churches still have services of any sort on Sunday evening will cancel them this week, with only a few exceptions. One priest, whose parish does have an evening Mass (as

By |January 31st, 2007|Categories: Culture|

Institute for Religion and Democracy

Several months ago I was invited to serve on the board of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD). Frankly, I was stunned by this invitation. I will attend my first meeting in Washington, DC, in a few months. IRD’s purpose statement says that it is: (1) An ecumenical alliance of U. S. Christians, (2) working to reform their churches’ social witness, in accord with biblical and historic Christian teachings, (3) thereby contributing to the renewal of democratic society at home and abroad. IRD board member Michael Novak has written that Alexis de Tocqueville observed in the 1830s that "the first political institution of American democracy is religion" (which of course meant the Christian religion at that time). Novak speaks, in a statement such as this, of the bedrock vision of IRD. I deeply share this vision thus my desire to work with and serve alongside the staff of IRD in Washington.

IRD was born among mainline churches and Christians who felt that the social witness of their respective churches had been captured by people who denied the strong link between public

By |January 29th, 2007|Categories: Politics|

True Worship Feeds Both the Mind and the Heart

The famous Anglican archbishop William Temple provided perhaps the best definition of worship that I have ever read:

Worship is the quickening of the conscience by the holiness of God, the feeding of the mind by the truth of God, the purging of the imagination by the beauty of God, the opening of the heart to the love of God, and the devotion of the will to the purpose of God.

I think Temple’s definition is both full and theologically sound. I have discovered, over many years of worship in some of our most conservative evangelical churches, that true worship is quite uncommon. We put so much stress on “feeding the mind by the truth of God” that we do next to nothing to “purge the imagination by the beauty of God.” Our theology is so Word centered, in the very narrowest of senses, and our doctrine of creation is often limited to debates about the length of days in Genesis and the age of the earth, so we miss beauty. We treat physical matter, drama and art, as irrelevant to worship.

By |January 28th, 2007|Categories: The Church|

The Korean Revival and the Ministry of UBF

About eighteen months ago I had a lovely married female graduate student, a mother of two young children, who took several of my classes at Wheaton Graduate School (apologetics and spiritual formation). She had grown up in a tent-making missionary family in the Hyde Park section of Chicago. She learned a missional lifestyle from her father and mother in their home. As she listened to my classes and read the assigned reading she came alive to the subjects and the impact of the ideas.

This student’s dad, a professionally trained man, felt a call to leave his native Korea many years ago in order to evangelize in the United States, especially at the University of Chicago. (He has recently uprooted himself to move to Boston to begin a new mission church work all over again. The courage and faith of this man humbles me to even think about this move.) My student did her B.A. at the University of Chicago before coming to Wheaton Graduate School. She will receive her M. A. in May. She had witnessed incarnational evangelism as practiced in

By |January 27th, 2007|Categories: Missional Church|

Alexander Hamilton on Danger and Disgrace

I admit the statement struck me immediately with a sense that I needed to reflect on it further. I thought about it for some time today and then took down my dictionary to think about it more deeply.

The words I refer to are those of founding American father Alexander Hamilton, who created our central treasury, and in some ways gave to us the concept of a central federal government that developed after the Civil War. Hamilton is not, by any stretch of imagination, my favorite founder. But here is his quote that stopped me in my tracks today: "A nation which can prefer disgrace to danger is prepared for a master, and deserves one."

Disgrace? The word means a loss of favor or a downfall from a position of respect. It also refers to a cause of reproach or a thing or person involving dishonor. So, if I read Alexander Hamilton correctly, he is saying a nation that prefers to become a reproach, or to be deliberately deceived, or to willfully dishonor itself rather than face a serious or

By |January 26th, 2007|Categories: History|

To Surge or Not to Surge: The War in Iraq and Our Future

The general public, if they still care at all, watched President Bush’s State of the Union address on Tuesday evening, January 23. Almost everyone had an opinion, especially about the Iraq portion of the speech. Glenn Beck, the conservative talk show host on CNN, said 85% of the speech was “bull-crap,” the typical political stuff one expects. In some ways I agree. He also noted that the part of the speech that really mattered, about 10% of it, was the controversial part. This was the part about Iraq and America’s long term security in the world. Beck applauded the president and noted some amazing lines in the speech that were a clarion call to the leadership of this country to not run from the battle where the front is now engaged, namely in Iraq. I have wavered on this point but I am now convinced that this is true. I am not sure that we can win in Iraq. I am severely critical of how we pursued this battle for the last two years or so. I think military historian Thomas Ricks, in the

By |January 25th, 2007|Categories: Politics|

The Protestant Principle: What "Sola Scriptura" Means and Why It Matters

Protestants confess that Scripture alone has ultimate objective religious authority in the life of the Christian and the church. This does not mean, however, that divine revelation comes only through Scripture, a common mistake made by some evangelicals. Though the Scriptures reveal Christ immediately, or directly, more subjective forms of authority have also had a proper and important place. This is often denied by the more rationalistic sorts of Reformed Christians.

I would most definitely include, in a proper understanding of authority, holy tradition. By this I refer to the Holy Spirit speaking to the church down through the ages in the various ways that Christians have heard him through Scripture leading the church and helping Christians reach consensus about important subjects. We also listen for the Spirit’s voice in reason, properly understood as thinking God’s thoughts after him and not as rationalism. The same is true in experience, where real change leading to obedience is the obvious result of the Spirit’s work upon us and the church. By experience we gain insight into God’s nature and our human conduct. This happens

By |January 24th, 2007|Categories: Reformed Christianity|

Solving the Church Government Debate is Not the Issue

On October 3 I wrote a blog titled: “The Church: A Stumbling Block to Real Change.” In that blog I cited a friend who commented on the problem of changing culture while still through working and serving in a local church context. This blog generated a fairly wide response in private at the time. I had a most thoughtful response from another reader in October that I think is still worth reading and reflecting upon by a wider audience. (My friend prefers that he remain anonymous.) 

I have to say that I agree with virtually everything my friend relates in these comments. I have long urged churches to not make their institutional well-being their goal. Far too many think that getting the eldership concept right, or rewriting the church constitution to fix their unique problems, or finding the right pattern of doctrinal ecclesiology and teaching it, will bring life and blessing to a local church. My experience tells me something very different about the nature of a healthy church. (This holds true in all contexts, regardless of the nature of the government;

By |January 23rd, 2007|Categories: The Church|

Bear Down Bears

I promise to limit trivial banter about pro football to few entries but the nation now knows what many of us in the Windy City already knew, Chicago does have a very good football team this season. The Bears not only beat the media darling "Katrina sympathy" Saints very handily, but they did it the old fashioned way, with very good defense. Now they play in Super Bowl XLI on February 4. (You know you are aging when you can easily remember the first Super Bowl and Green Bay’s win and it seems not too long ago!)

I am also pleased that the Indianapolis Colts won. No so much because I am a huge Colts fan as that I grew weary of all the trash talk about Peyton Manning not being able to win the big game. Peyton Manning is a class act and a really good guy. You win as a team and you lose as a team. Why so much is made out of a proven great quarterback who can’t win the biggest game I will never understand. The Bears clearly

By |January 22nd, 2007|Categories: Personal|

My Friend Joe and Our Mutual Love for Baseball

My friend Joe Ragont, a graphic artist who has done a lot of work for me over the past decade or so, is a huge Cubs fan. It is no secret that I am anything but a Cubs fan. Friendship, however, overrules the angst of baseball rivalry. Joe celebrated his 68th birthday this week and I gave him a baseball book to celebrate. It was a huge book with fascinating stories about the numbers players have worn down through the past 75 years or so. (Until about 1930 no team wore uniform numbers. The Yankees were the first and assigned numbers based on their starting batting order, thus Ruth wore number 3 and Gehrig wore number 4, etc.)

This little birthday celebration got us both dreaming about the season and how teams like the Sox, Braves and Cubs would perform this year. Joe was a bat boy for the 1954 Cubs and knew every number of every player on the roster when I quizzed him on Thursday at lunch.

All of this got me to reading baseball quips today for the sheer

By |January 20th, 2007|Categories: Baseball|

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