Monthly Archives: April 2006

United 93

I saw United 93 this afternoon. The film is beautifully scripted, faithful to the facts that we know, and believable with regard to the facts that we must assume to know. It is, simply put, a deeply moving film. It should receive many critical awards if unbiased people give the movie the recognition it deserves. One gets a feeling, in seeing it, that is deeply spiritual, if I may be allowed to use that term in its broadest sense.

Parts of the story are known to all of us, at least those of us who read and watched the news over the last five years. Putting it all together in 110 minutes on film, and providing a compelling story line, make these particular events of 9/11 very, very human.

Small children should not see it. It is rated R for intensity and violence, which are both at the center of the story.

The practice of Islam, by the terrorists, is sensitively shown but faithful to what we know about how terrorists use and interpret their religion. The film

By |April 29th, 2006|Categories: Film|

A Seminary with Missional Vision

One of the joys of service that I personally share, as a minister-at-large, is serving on the boards of a few mission organizations and one seminary. One such school is Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield, Pennsylvania. In my opinion Biblical has become the leading missional seminary within evangelical Protestantism. It has a clearly defined vision of what it means to consistently develop leaders and pastors for Christ’s mission. You can read a great account of this “experiment” in theological education, aimed at equipping pastors for the church, at:

If you are thinking of a seminary education and want to be uniquely equipped for missional thought, especially to relate to emerging trends and culture, consider Biblical Seminary, a real bargain and a wonderful place to be taught by a great faculty. I know these folks. They are great!!!

By |April 29th, 2006|Categories: Education|

A Spoof That is Stranger Than Fiction

Sometimes an Internet spoof gets so close to the truth that it is hard for serious people like me to know the difference. Such was the case with my April 27 blog on “Home Churching.” Several wrote to let me know that I had clearly fallen for a satirical spoof that appeared originally in The Onion.

This blog offers my correction regarding my mistaken notion of factuality (quotes, citations, etc.), an admission regarding my humorous personal mistake, and some further thoughts about trends that I do see in the American church.

First, I clearly failed to check out the sources for my citations adequately enough to know that this was intended originally as a spoof. I got this story from a secondhand source and did not even know The Onion existed until last evening. I plan to visit the site and laugh a bit more myself in the days ahead.

Second, special thanks to several kind friends who called this error to my attention. All of us need to be corrected when we get something wrong. Friends

By |April 28th, 2006|Categories: The Church|

A Strange New Trend in Ecclesiology

A new trend has emerged in America in the religious education of children. It is called the “home churching movement.” "Home-churching," has been defined as an individual, family-based worship service. It is steadily gaining in popularity, as more parents seek an alternative to what they consider the overly humanist content of organized worship.

What inspired this revolution in ecclesiology? The woman who  may have pioneered the movement says she did it to "escape the damaging cultural influences of urban Mobile.” She adds that she was inspired to home-church when his 10-year-old son returned from Sunday school singing a lighthearted song about Zacchaeus; a tax collector befriended by Christ, and then later recited the parable of the Good Samaritan.

"I couldn’t believe that the liberal elite had infiltrated even the study of our Holy Scriptures," Tucker said. "It was bad enough that my youngsters were being taught evolution in public schools, but when I discovered they were learning to embrace foreigners and Big Government in Sunday school, I drew the line."

Home-churchers follow no liturgical form, creating their own services. Proponents of

By |April 27th, 2006|Categories: The Church|

A Catholic-Protestant Wedding?

During my formative childhood years, as a conservative Protestant evangelical, I was taught that a Catholic-Protestant marriage was actually an “interfaith” wedding and thus it should never happen. I was taught that both sides would compromise their faith in such an arrangement and the results would almost never be good. On our side, we simply did not see Catholics as Christians so this was an “unequal yoke” in our circles. (Pre-Vatican II many Catholics did not see us as Christians either! We were outside the church, thus outside salvation.)

My mother once dated a Catholic boy (she was a Baptist) for a short time. She regularly told her sons why she could never marry him, thus they broke up in due time. She sometimes reminded me, “You could have had a Catholic father.” This was meant to make me thankful that I had been spared the terrible fate of having a Catholic father since this would have confused and harmed me spiritually. (I wasn’t sure what to make of my Episcopal neighbor but I was assured he was at least a Protestant!)

By |April 25th, 2006|Categories: Roman Catholicism|

An Important Reformed Distinctive

Reformed Christianity, in its richest and fullest expression, strongly emphasizes the biblical covenants. Surely this is one of the great distinctives of the tradition. This emphasis has sometimes been taken to conclusions that do not sound much like biblical teaching. They sound to me, to be honest, more like systematic theological categories created in the heat and smoke of polarizing battle. But, and this is very an important but, the tradition keeps alive this covenantal emphasis, which I believe is very important.

One aspect of the covenantal idea, often overlooked even in Reformed circles, is the communal nature of covenantal language and faith. We are meant to experience the covenant and we are meant to experience it in community. We are baptized into a covenantal  community on the basis of the promises of that covenant, thus when the covenantal idea first appears in the Old Testament it directly shapes Israel as a people around the cultus and the commandments of Yahweh.

Historically the Reformed confessions, and the Reformed churches of those confessions, have understood this covenantal doctrine to include personal

By |April 24th, 2006|Categories: Reformed Christianity|

Listening to Jesus in the Gospels

Did Jesus walk on a hard-to-see patch of ice, in the Sea of Galilee, instead of on the water, as the biblical text reports? This new suggestion that he walked on ice, from Doron Nof, a professor of oceanography at Florida State University, must be the ten thousandth such idea put forward since the Enlightenment. Nof says, “I am not trying to provide any information that has to do with theology here.” Really? Come on professor Nof. You are suggesting that the narrative can be read (interpreted) in a different way, which all scholars clearly agree to be the case. But you are also drawing a conclusion about the narrative that seeks to remove the notion of the “miraculous” for reasons that only you probably know. And we are not supposed to believe that this has anything to do with theology. Be serious. The best response to Nof’s theory was offered by biblical scholar Darrell Bock, who dismissed it by saying, “I’m cold to the theory.” So am I.

Worse than Nof’s thesis, in very different and sad way, is the reaction

By |April 22nd, 2006|Categories: Hermeneutics|

Seminary President Urges Renewal

Seminary presidents are generally wonderful Christian leaders. They are usually ministers, with a great deal of local church experience, who believe in the mission of their school and genuinely desire to equip good people to better serve the church. The problem comes when the president seeks to change a school that is in the grip of institutional paralysis, firmly set in long term ideological concrete. The job is often lonely and difficult. I was approached a few years ago about considering the presidency of a seminary. After I got over the shock (I was not qualified in my judgment) I quickly realized that the job was way beyond me and my abilities. My admiration for seminary presidents, ever since, is even higher as a result of this experience.

Dr. Nick Carter, the president of Andover-Newton Theological School (related to the extremely liberal United Church of Christ) apparently understands this challenge well. In a speech given shortly after his inauguration, Carter said:

The churches and denominations are crying out for new leadership. The assumptions of the past are no longer relevant; the

By |April 13th, 2006|Categories: Renewal|

Marriage, Parenting and the Words We Use

Everyone who is not comatose knows a huge debate is unfolding in this country about the legal basis, and definition, of marriage. Is marriage between one man and one woman, or simply a relationship between two consenting adults (e.g., same-sex marriage), or perhaps more than two adults (polygamy is making a legal comeback, no joke)? The Washington State Supreme Court, in November 2005, ruled in favor of de facto parenthood, another new word and concept to be watched. This concept is a growing popular option for courts, in about out ten states, to decide the visitation rights and legal relationships between children and adults who are not biologically related and not legally married. The particular case in Washington involved two lesbians who had ended a relationship and then a debate began about their respective rights to the child that one of the women had conceived through artificial insemination more than six years ago. Her partner assisted in the process and thus she now claims parental rights to the child they were rearing together.

Judges now award legal status to an adult who

By |April 11th, 2006|Categories: Marriage & Family|

Ideas and Conservativism

Richard Weaver, a prominent American social and political philosopher, noted several decades ago that “ideas have consequences” (Ideas Have Consequences, University of Chicago, 1984). A socialist by training Weaver eventually concluded that socialists were really “dry, insistent people of shallow objectives.” He opposed what he saw as the bankruptcy of the mass mind, ancient Gnosticism, and socialism. In the end he saw clearly that these were all supported by very bad ideas. Weaver argued that the world was both intelligible and free and the errors that plagued us could be solved by reversing the tragedies of unintelligent choice. For this reason my own political views are framed by constant vigilance against various bad ideas that I believe to are completely destructive to our way of life.

Cultural capital is inherited from others. Our cultural bank account is being drained by some very bad ideas, even from sincere Christians. This is why I argue that we should support those institutions that guarantee our liberty and security. These include institutions like the church, the family and our schools. It also includes the free-market, which

By |April 8th, 2006|Categories: Culture|

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