Friday, June 15, 2007

Moving Day!

Not physically, but electronically...

As much as I have enjoyed my Blogger experience, I've discovered the World of WordPress. This blog will be continuing at:

There, I will also be adding more details about how to stay in touch, what I'm currently teaching, etc.

You can also find my blog about following Christ in America, This Land, at a new (old) address:

Friday, May 25, 2007

Breaking News: All Religions Are Not the Same

Recently, many mainstream secular writers have made the simple mistake of assuming that all religions - and all religious believers - are essentially the same.

Listen to Michael Kinsey summarize Christopher Hitchens' arguments from "God is Not Great":
How could Christ have died for our sins, when supposedly he also did not die at all? Did the Jews not know that murder and adultery were wrong before they received the Ten Commandments, and if they did know, why was this such a wonderful gift? On a more somber note, how can the “argument from design” (that only some kind of “intelligence” could have designed anything as perfect as a human being) be reconciled with the religious practice of female genital mutilation, which posits that women, at least, as nature creates them, are not so perfect after all? Whether sallies like these give pause to the believer is a question I can’t answer.
Robert T. Miller of First Things does a great job of analyzing this book review. Miller doesn't waste time breaking down Kinsey's and Hitchens' mistakes about religion, but I will. Let's take two. There is one religion that argues that Christ died for our sins - Christianity. There is another that claims that Christ did not die - Islam. Have neither Kinsey nor Hitchens ever noticed that Christians and Muslims disagree with one another? Let's take another - that the "argument from design" (which Kinsey conflates with Intelligent Design) is apparently inconsistent because of religious leaders' support of female genital mutilation. Huh? Have Philip Johnson or William Dembski become African animists without anyone noticing?

On a less serious note, the same kind of ignorance is found in Max Brook's World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie Way, a bestselling science fiction novel by the son of Mel Brooks. The novel is set ten years after "the zombie war" in which, yes, the living dead nearly took over the world, and it's structured as a series of interviews with survivors, war vets, political leaders, etc. Overall, it tries to give a "realistic" version of what might happen. Brooks takes into account regional and cultural differences as he imagines how different countries - the US, South Africa, China, North Korea, Israel - would react to the catastrophe. As sucker for post-apocalyptic science fiction, I was massively entertained.

But Brooks stumbles big time when he tries to write about conservative Christians. They are referenced a couple of times - dismissively called "Fundies" by a few characters - and they are mocked for their belief that zombies signal the end of the world, their panicked reactions, and, most curiously, an apparent wave of suicide cults formed by Christians.

First, if the dead begin to walk as reanimated zombies, "The End Is Near!" becomes a reasonable belief for everyone, not just Christians. Second, I know a lot about religious history, and I cannot think of a single suicide cult formed by theologically conservative Christians - or Christians of any kind, for that matter. Even Christian groups that sincerely believed that the world is going to end on a specific date. When that date comes, those Christians - well, they usually realize their mistake and move on. Mass suicides like Heaven's Gate or Jonestown were conducted by fringe, cult groups whose beliefs had almost nothing in common with traditional Christianity. Brooks seems to have made the same leap as Hitchens and Kinsey above - he knows that some religions have sanctioned mass suicide, so therefore it must be a common feature of any religion.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Living in the Dark Ages

I have been following the Hitchens - Wilson debate on with great interest. Overall, I think Douglas Wilson has been doing very well against a brilliant, vicious, and thoroughly unrelenting opponent. Hitchens' role in this world, I believe, is to bludgeon out hypocrisy, poor thinking, and overall stupidity. I am grateful when he turns his pen against things that I, too, dislike. However, he is not much of a spokesperson for his own "you don't need religion to be be good" argument. I love reading Hitchens' articles on I have a hard time imagining spending more than two minutes in a room with him without jumping out a window. Douglas Wilson, on the other hand, I knew only through the classical Christian school movement. It's satisfying to see that he seems to be a good foil for Hitchens.

As well as he is doing, I wish that Wilson had made more of Hitchens' use of this quote from Heinrich Heine, advocating atheism in this modern age:
In dark ages people are best guided by religion, as in a pitch-black night a blind man is the best guide; he knows the roads and paths better than a man who can see. When daylight comes, however, it is foolish to use blind old men as
This plays on a central pillar of the Great Scientific Mythology. Following the fall of Rome, this mythology says, the Western world was trapped in the "Dark Ages," when virtually all important knowledge was lost and Europe labored under the yoke of mysterious and fanatical Religion. Beginning with the Renaissance and fulfilled in the Enlightenment, the Light of Science rescued us from this horrific era. We can now cast off the blindfolds of faith, belief, etc., and see clearly into the bright and boundless future, etc., etc. It's a great story - except that it's not true.

Heine died in 1856, so we have the advantage of historical perspective that he may have lacked. Considering the state of the world during the past 100 years, in which psychopathic tyrants have repeatedly seized control of entire countries and, with the consent of their citizens, slaughtered millions of their fellow citizens, in which school children have taken to murdering their parents and teachers, in which the largest and "most advanced" countries of the world have decided from time to time that forced sterilizations, compulsory abortions, and medical experiments on less-than-voluntary human subjects are sound public policy....

Can we really say that "daylight" has come? If religion is the best guide for "dark ages," then perhaps religion is exactly what we need.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

True Love

There is an amazing story from the NY Times this week about a couple adopting a little girl from China. Here's just a sample, from the moment after she's been handed her new daughter for the first time:
Despite the high heat and humidity, her caretakers had dressed her in two layers, and when I peeled back her sweaty clothes I found the worst diaper rash I’d ever seen, and a two-inch scar at the base of her spine cutting through the red bumps and peeling skin.
(HT: Steven Levitt at Freakonomics.)

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Lou Dobbs vs. Jesus

I have not paid attention to Lou Dobbs in a long time, but this commentary on caught my eye. Dobbs claims that religious leaders are "encroaching" on politics, particularly when it comes to illegal immigration, Dobbs' pet topic. Dobbs feels that it's inappropriate for religious leaders to criticize government policies regarding immigration, but at least he includes this great quote:
The Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners Magazine put it this way: "If given the choice on this issue between Jesus and Lou Dobbs, I choose my Lord and savior, Jesus Christ."

I don't often agree with Jim Wallis, but here I say, "Go, Jim!"

Then Dobbs kind of goes off the deep end. He counters Wallis by citing Romans 13:
But before the faithful acquiesce in the false choice offered by the good Reverend, perhaps he and his faithful should consult Romans 13, where it is written: "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established..."

Um, Mr. Dobbs, I hate to break this to you, but the last time I checked, you aren't a governing authority.

Monday, May 7, 2007

If Everyone is Family...

A remarkable passage from Larissa MacFarguhar's profile of Barack Obama:

When Obama, as a young man, went to Kenya for the first time and learned how his father's life had turned out - how he had destroyed his career by imagining that old tribalisms were just pettiness, with the arrogant idea that he could rise above the past and change his society by sheer force of belief - Obama's aunt told him that his father had never understood that, as she put it, "if everyone is family, no one is family." Obama found this striking enough so that he repeated it later on, in italics: If everyone is family, no one is family. Universalism is a delusion. Freedom is really just abandonment. You might start by throwing off religion, then your parents, your town, your people and your way of life, and when, later one, you end up leaving your wife or husband and your child, too, it seems only a natural progression.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

America's Pasttime

There is a good review at the NY Times today about "Reel Baseball," a DVD collection of early baseball films. It includes this remarkable plot summary for "His Last Game," a movie from 1909:

[T]he story is unusually pointed: a Choctaw Indian, the star pitcher of his local (integrated!) baseball team, is plied with drink by a pair of gamblers who want him to throw the game; in an argument he kills one of them and is immediately sentenced to death by firing squad.

But as he is digging his own grave, the townspeople show up and press him into service for a game. He pitches, wins for the home team and then returns to the open grave, where he is summarily executed.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Government-Approved Religious Symbols

After seeing the list of emblems available for military headstones, I'm now wondering why there was such a controversy over the Wiccan pentacle. After all, the list also contains such notable religions as Eckankar (the "Religion of the Light and Sound of God," led by its Mahanta, Living ECK Master Harold Klemp) and the Church of World Messianity.

Update: More information and analysis of the pentacle decision from

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Are Mormons Christian?

With the presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney and the upcoming release of September Dawn (a movie about a massacre of Christian settlers by Utah Mormons - with Dean Cain as Joseph Smith!), Mormonism is getting a lot of media time these days. Often, the question comes up, "Are Mormons Christian?" Many writers, who I think are not that familiar with either traditional Christian or Mormon theology, have tended to see evangelical Christians' suspicions about Mormonism as "yet another" instance of conservative Christians displaying intolerance. Take, for example, this story from the Religion News Service:
"The important thing is, why is all this [September Dawn, questions about Mitt Romney] coming up right now?" [Jan] Shipps says. [Shipps is a professor and "expert on Mormonism" at IUPUI.] Mormons used to live largely to the West, she says, but now "Mormons are everywhere. They are making converts that the evangelicals would like to make, so evangelicals are saying Mormons aren't Christian. All of a sudden you get this (attitude of): We're going to look at Mormon history, and we're going to find out what's really there."
In other words, evangelical Christians don't like Mormons just because they're jealous.

Or maybe evangelicals are more attuned to Mormon teaching than your average American. I attended a Mormon church for about a year in high school, during 1992 and 1993. I was invited by a friend, a girl I was interested in, and I got to know her and her family very well. Her father was a "stake president," meaning he was something like a lay bishop for our region of Kentucky, overseer of several local congregations. Their family had 10 children, age 16 to infant, and the father was extremely hardworking and concerned for his children's welfare. I remained friends with the family even after I stopped attending their church.

At the time, Mormon missionaries led potential converts through a 6-class series, leading up to an invitation to be baptized into the Mormon church. One of the first lessons dealt with "The Great Apostasy." (Apostasy means to abandon from one's religion.) Joseph Smith, and all Mormon prophets since, taught that Jesus' followers abandoned his teachings very shortly after his death and resurrection. The religion known as "Christianity" was, according to Smith, a corruption and distortion of "true Christianity." True Christianity had been absent from the earth from the late 1st century AD up until the moment in 1823 when Moroni presented Smith with the golden plates containing the Book of Mormon.

Augustine? Not a Christian. Francis of Assisi? Not a Christian. Theresa of Avila? Not a Christian. Martin Luther? Not a Christian. In fact, because "Christians" continued to follow the corrupt teachings of the apostates and refused to return to the "true Christianity" of Joseph Smith, later individuals like Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr., and Billy Graham were not Christians, either. Only Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and their faithful followers were true "Christians." All others were - and are - apostate. I was taught this as recently as 1992, by missionaries using official Latter Day Saints-published educational materials.

So, instead of asking whether Mormons are Christian, maybe the press should be asking Mormons whether Christians are Christian.

Jesus and Coca-Cola

I wish I spoke Italian. There's a fascinating new film coming out of Italy - 7 Kilometers from Jerusalem. It's about an Italian ad executive experiencing a mid-life crisis. He decides to go to Jerusalem to clear his mind. While on the literal road to Emmaus, he meets Jesus, and his life is transformed. I can't wait for this film to come to the States.

The film has been the subject of some very minor controversy. When Jesus gets into the ad exec's Jeep, he takes a refreshing drink from a can of Coca-Cola. The executive says something to the effect of "What an endorsement!" The Pope is perfectly fine with this - it's Coke that has concerns. No word yet on how Jeep is reacting.

[HT: Richard Owen via Ruth Gledhill]

Friday, April 13, 2007

Sure we pray, but...

Twice this week I've run across articles in secular magazines that use "praying in church" as shorthand for "you know, that church stuff." Here's one, from a New Yorker article about commuting:
The source of the unhappiness is not so much the commute itself as what it deprives you of. When you are commuting by car, you are not hanging out with the kids, sleeping with your spouse (or anyone else), playing soccer, watching soccer, coaching soccer, arguing about politics, praying in a church, or drinking in a bar. In short, you are not spending time with other people.
The other article, the source of which I can't remember, dealt with what unattractive/unpopular people did with their time prior to modern times. "Praying in church" was one of the options named.

This got me to wondering. What do unchurched people imagine that Christians do in church? "Praying" is probably the only experience that we have in common, which the unchurched would at least partially understand and respect. I've heard many people who don't go to church talk about praying on a regular basis. As far as the other actions in a typical service -
  • corporate singing: General American culture has now limited singing in groups to Christmas carols, and even those are on the decline.
  • a sermon: Probably seen as akin to a college lecture or motivational speaker, at best. Fictional sermons on TV and in movies tend to give a message something like "Be true to yourself" or "God is on your side." At worst, sermons are imagined to all be like Robert Duvall's character in The Apostle.
  • tithing: The closest equivalent - a group request for funds for general, unspecified purposes - might be the annual United Way request at the office.
  • fellowship: The Christian friendships I have at church, with fellow members of Christ's body, who pray with and for me, worship with me, and follow Christ alongside me, are of such a different nature than friendships based on work or common interests that I'm not even sure they deserve the same name.
  • the Eucharist/Lord's Supper: Do the unchurched even think of this when imagining church?
If you had never attended church, had never even visited one, what would you imagine the experience would be like? Would you even think of it in terms of an organized service? Or would your imagined church be more like one of those cathedral-esque Catholic churches that appear in cop shows so often, in the time between masses, empty except for a few lonely souls, presumably praying?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Give Me Some of Organized Religion

Barry Taylor writes about "fluid theology" in a recent Out of Ur blog, an excerpt from the new book, An Emergent Manifesto of Hope. His point is difficult to make out, but, as far as I can tell, he is calling Christians to accept the potential dissolution of the institutional church in favor of a "new way of living and being in the world" in our postmodern world. He concludes,
All of these thoughts can be summarized as a commitment to weakness rather than strength. “Muscular Christianity” and “robust faith” are views that worked well in modernity’s concrete world, but the viability of Christian faith in the twenty-first century is not guaranteed by claims to power and declarations of strengths and doctrinal postures. This is not a slide into relativism but a commitment to nondogmatic specificity. We can tell the gospel story without resorting to competition, exclusivism, or elitism.
Well, Christians have been calling us to abandon "competition, exclusivism, and elitism" for 2,000 years . Nothing new about that. I think I understand what Taylor is trying to get at, but he phrases it very poorly. He rejects "certainty," but shouldn't all Christians be certain in Christ, in God's love for us, in God's love for the world?

I understand the rejection of institutional religion that is dead and lifeless. Taylor favorably cites Bonhoeffer as the great example of trading "religion" for real Christianity. Absolutely, and when Bonhoeffer chose to promote "religionless Christianity" he, um, founded a church and a seminary. Hmm. Sounds pretty institutional to me.

The fact is, human beings need institutions. We need organizations. That's why they seem to spring up everywhere human beings exist. When you combine relationships, a common commitment to some value or cause, and one or more leaders, you naturally get an organization, whether it's a nuclear family, a clan, an army, a nonprofit, a business, a local church, or an informal formality like the Emergent Village. The question should be, What kind of institution will it be?

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Thursday, April 5, 2007

World Religions: Christianity

As more of an experiment than anything else, here are the slides from recent series of lessons on Christianity, part of my series at Lakeside Christian Church on world religions. If this is successful, I will add more, along with additional notes.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The The and the Dangers of Generalizations

In this post, Scot McKnight publishes a letter from a pastor struggling with some Christian leaders' reactions to the "emerging church," and an extremely lively conversation has ensued.

I am not going to comment on the post itself, but many of the comments talk about "the" emerging church or "the" evangelical church. This is a common, yet dangerous, practice. The world of Christian thought and practice is so diverse that it's practically impossible to summarize even what subgroups like "emerging" or "evangelical" Christians believe and practice. I do it myself, I know, though I shouldn't.

Let me use my own church as an example. Most Americans, I think, would classify us as "evangelical," if they were familiar with that term. Our church tradition, however, historically had very little interaction with the broader Protestant tradition: we have published our own magazines, read our own Bible commentaries, founded our own colleges, etc. That changed about 20 years ago. Today, our church incorporates some unique beliefs and practices that developed in isolation from the wider church with beliefs/practices borrowed from, say, Bill Hybels or Beth Moore, to just give two examples. At the same time, there are many elements of Hybels' and Moore's theologies that our church either outright rejects or simply ignores. Other giants of "the" evangelical world - like J. I. Packer or John Stott - are practically unknown. For many of our members in their forties and fifties, Francis Schaeffer was an enormous influence, but younger members have no idea who he was. Rob Bell has gained currency among our members in their 20's and 30's, but no one in our church has even heard of Brian McLaren. An increasing number people are reading John Piper, while others think that Reformed theology is practically heresy.

Even within just one church, it's difficult to generalize. And now a generalization about generalizations: painting with a broad brush can be easy. You can create a straw man that's easy to knock down with your arguments. Since you get to paint with your own brush, you don't have to interact with specific positions or find a real basis for your criticism. You discover that you're always rights, and anyone else is wrong, if you want them to be. It's intellectual softness that does nothing to advance the Church.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Frustrations with Origen

In reading God's Rivals, I became very frustrated with Origen. On the one hand, we have a legitimately brilliant theologian and pastor, a la Bonhoeffer. As McDermott writes, "By night he studied the Bible and by day he prepared his students for martyrdom." On the other hand, Origen was quite comfortable engaging in wild speculations - for examples, he theorized a Mormon-like pre-existence, where our obedience or disobedience to God resulted in the context of our birth (rich/poor, Christian/nonChristian, etc.). Origen apparently felt that he would throw out these ideas and allow the church to determine which to be true and which to be heretical. He got his wish, unfortunately. In 553 (300 years after his death), he was declared a heretic at the Second Council of Constantinople.

Review: God's Rivals

Gerald R. McDermott. God's Rivals: Why Has God Allowed Different Religions? 2007, IVP.

McDermott raises an interesting question with his subtitle, and he turns to the Bible and to early Christian writers for some answers. A great idea: in North America, where Christianity is by far the most dominant religion, it's easy to forget that the Bible and the church were birthed in societies obsessed with a multitude of gods and religious systems. McDermott notes, as well, that Greco-Roman philosophy was itself a religious system, based on the idea that God could be discovered through reason. McDermott devotes one chapter each to surveys of the Old Testament, New Testament, and the writings of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen.

The insights that McDermott are surprising, at least to me. Using passages such as Daniel 10:13 (referencing the "prince of Persia," a spiritual being with authority over Persia) and Deut. 32:8-9 (where God allots nations "according to the number of the gods" - McDermott favors "sons of elohim" instead of "sons of Israel" based on manuscript evidence), McDermott argues that the OT hints at the following:
  • YHWH created "the hosts" as spiritual beings with varying degrees of authority.
  • Some of the spiritual beings were given authority over nations or ethnic groups, such as the archangel Michael over Israel.
  • These spiritual beings have largely rebelled against YHWH. This is connected to the fall of Lucifer.
  • Because of their rebellion, these spiritual beings have led men and women to worship them instead of worshiping the true God.
It's important to note that McDermott only suggests this as a possible reading. The early Christian writers he covers, however, take it as a given that the gods of other nations are fallen angels. In subsequent chapters, McDermott reviews Paul's famous words regarding principalities and powers, and the varying views of the four early Christian writers he chose. The Christian writers wrestled with the major question of how much truth other religions contain. Their answer, to differing degrees, is "some." Clement goes so far as to suggest that other religions may be God's covenants with other nations, analogous to God's covenant with Israel, covenants which point to and are to be replaced by the new covenant of Jesus Christ.

Two concluding thoughts: First, McDermott wants to recapture the Bible's and the early church's view of other religions as having spiritual components. There are real spiritual beings behind these other religions; they are much more than simply "mistakes" or human searches for God. Because they originate with spiritual beings originally created by God, other religions contain some kernel of truth. McDermott writes,
This also means that other religionists are not our enemy...Our real battle, as Paul advises us, is not against human beings - flesh and blood - but against "the cosmic powers of this present darkness" (Eph. 6:12). (165)
Thus, our attitude toward other religions should be respectful and characterized by "patient persuasion, not hostile argument."

Second, McDermott does an excellent job of bringing early Christian writers to life. Using Eusebius' history of the early church, McDermott interweaves the theologies of these writers with their personal testimonies and contexts. He leads me to desire to read them for myself.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Give It Away Now

Gregg Easterbrook writes that the super-rich (Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Paul Allen, et al.) should give away a far higher percentage of their net worth. Compared to the average American, the super-rich donate a pittance of their net worth, and keep far more than they (or all of their descendents) could ever use. Easterbrook asks,

Why do the super-rich hoard? Certainly not because they need money to spend. As economist Christopher Carroll of Johns Hopkins University points out in an upcoming paper, the super-rich save far more than they could ever spend, even with Dionysian indulgence. Gates' fortune must throw off, even by conservative estimations, about $6 million a day after taxes. You couldn't spend $6 million every day of your life even if you did nothing all day long but buy original art and waterfront real estate. The fortunes of Allen, Knight and others mentioned here throw off at least $1 million a day after taxes. Nobody can spend $1 million every day.

Carroll speculates that the super-rich won't give away money they know they will never use for two reasons: because they love money, and because extreme wealth confers power. We know already that people who give their lives over to loving money surrender their humanity in the process. As for clout, Carroll quotes Howard Hughes: "Money is the measuring rod of power." That $53 billion ensures Gates will be treated with awe wherever he goes. If he gave away 78% of his wealth like Carnegie did, he might be universally admired, but he would no longer be treated with the same degree of fawning reverence. He might even, someday, find himself in the same room with someone who has more money!

I would add another, less cynical reason why they don't give more: it's too hard. That may sound strange, considering the massive, obvious needs in the world, combined with the large staffs that these men can employ to find worthy causes. But the nature of philanthropy makes it difficult to pipeline hoards of money into charity.

Compare philanthropy to the stock market. If I have $1 billion, any stock broker in the country would be falling down all over himself to invest my money. Further, it would be relatively easy to tell whether my $1 billion was "working." I could check my portfolio weekly - even hourly if I chose - and see whether my net worth was going up or down. My portfolio would be invested in one or more businesses, and there are a multitude of clear measures - such as revenue, expenses, profit, market share, sales volume - I could check to see whether the business was heading in the right direction or not.

There are no monetary returns with philanthropy, and no comparable standardized measures like market share. Even the most tangible measures - number of meals served - tell only part of the story. Maybe the charity served 50% more meals to the homeless than last quarter. But the mission is to reduce hunger. Are more meals a sign of success in feeding more people, a sign of failure because more people are hungry? Further, a stock broker would know exactly what to do with an extra $1 billion. I would argue that most charities would be at a loss over how to handle a sudden doubling of their budget. There would be no guarantee that the money would be spent appropriately, and, unless the billionaire attached a multitude of strings, no way to change the direction of the money once given to the charity. Ironically, the profit motive in business has created a model of scalability and the means to process money that philanthropy has yet to match.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

This Just In: Wikipedia Wrong!

Yet another case of Wikipedia providing bad information:

MIAMI (AP) -- Actor-comedian Sinbad had the last laugh after his Wikipedia entry announced he was dead, the performer said Thursday.

Rumors began circulating Saturday regarding the posting, said Sinbad, who first got a telephone call from his daughter. The gossip quieted, but a few days later the 50-year-old entertainer said the phone calls, text messages and e-mails started pouring in by the hundreds.

"Saturday I rose from the dead and then died again," the Los Angeles-based entertainer told The Associated Press in a phone interview.

I love Wikipedia. It's a great way to get a quick overview of virtually any topic. Good articles also refer to you to helpful, reliable references. In some areas, it's far and away the best resource I've found - for example, comic book characters, software comparisons, and, maybe unexpectedly, theology. With topics that a) many people with b) divergent perspectives c) care strongly about, then Wikipedia works quite well. Bad information is quickly squelched.

The problems arise when people don't realize that literally anyone can edit Wikipedia. I think this is partly Wikipedia's fault. It's easy to miss. The home page only calls itself "the free encyclopedia." The English main page goes further, calling itself "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit," but this important statement disappears when you actually view an article. I would wager that most people stumble upon Wikipedia entries through Google searches and never even seen the "anyone can edit" statement.

The term "encyclopedia," for most people, connotes authority. Further, most people don't know what a "wiki" is, so they miss the important element of Wikipedia's name. If Wikipedia's tagline was "the free community resource" or "the free user-created encyclopedia," then I bet less confusion and litigation would occur.

At least Sinbad has a sense of humor about it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Religion Reporting

I wish that reporters who cover the religion beat knew their theology better. For example, in this article, which is about the efforts of "moderate Christians" (those who follow Christ in moderation?) to counter teachings about the rapture. The writer, Andrea Hopkins, does a pretty good job of comparing Tim LaHaye's Left Behind novels with the teachings of the of Lutheran and Episcopal ministers she interviews, but she slips late in the article when she confuses the rapture with the second coming:

The success of the graphic novels is just one indication of the strength of belief in rapture, Armageddon, and the subsequent second coming of Jesus Christ. A 2006 survey for the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found 79 percent of American Christians believe in the second coming, with 20 percent believing it will happen in their lifetime.
I should hope that all Christians would believe in the second coming, since Jesus himself promised that it would happen, and it's been included from the very beginning in foundational documents like the Nicene Creed. But the rapture is a distinct sub-belief, believed only by premillenialists, and then only by some premillenialists.

Also, Hopkins, as well as some of the ministers she interviews, seem to think that the rapture is based on Revelation, when the true foundation of rapture theology is 1 Thessalonians. I really wouldn't expect the average reporter to pick up on this, but it's disappointing that these ministers aren't a bit more precise.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Lotteries: We're All Winners!

This article from the NY Times describes a study which argues in favor of lotteries. The study found that simply imagining you could win has beneficial psychological effects.

“The people who denigrate lottery players are like 10-year-olds who are disgusted by the idea of sex: they are numb to its pleasures, so they say it’s not rational,” said Lloyd Cohen, a professor of law at George Mason University and author of an economic analysis, “Lotteries, Liberty and Legislatures,” who is himself a gambler and a card counter.

Dr. Cohen argues that lottery tickets are not an investment but a disposable consumer purchase, which changes the equation radically. Like a throwaway lifestyle magazine, lottery tickets engage transforming fantasies: a wine cellar, a pool, a vision of tropical blues and white sand. The difference is that the ticket can deliver.

That sounds more like an argument in favor of lifestyle magazines. Sure, you can't buy them for a buck, but the pictures are prettier.

If the real benefit of lottery tickets comes from your imagination, couldn't you just, um, use your imagination? Since when do I need to pay the someone a buck for the privilege of daydreaming that I have a boat?

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Why I Hate Sports (or How is this Christian education?)

The NY Times is reporting that the NCAA is no longer accepting transcripts from 4 high schools, including Luther Christian Academy in Philadelphia. Some of the key factoids about Luther Christian from the article:
  • The basketball coach, Daryl Schofield, is also the only teacher.
  • Four students told the NCAA that they are not required to attend class.
  • Schofield bragged that the school is adding a library next year (so, up until now, they did not have one).
  • The NY Times paraphrases Schofield saying that most of the students have already graduated high school, but "need another year of exposure as players."
  • To come into compliance with the NCAA, Schofield - again, the basketball coach and only teacher - said that he's planning to attend a conference on Christian education.
This isn't the only basketball team-disguised-as-a-school that calls itself "Christian." I'm also reminded of incidents from the past couple of years in which "Christian" high schools used over-age football players in order to win games against rivals.

Are these schools part of a trend of Christians breaking rules and compromising students' education for the sake of sports success, or is it more of a general societal trend? Does it have anything to do with the idolization of Christian athletes as role models for the faith?

IMHO, Christians need to develop a theology of sports - I'm completely serious about this - that unpacks the meaning of sports and competition within the Christian life. This is an opinion I've had for a while. Sports is a HUGE factor in American culture, but there are rarely sermons that address sports as more than a metaphor or example of some other point. Without a theology of sports, which puts sports in the proper perspective and explore how they can be a fruitful part of a Christian's life, it's so easy for their importance to become overblown.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Catholics and Protestants

A Question from Class: Would a Catholic see a member of Lakeside (or other Protestant Christian) as saved? I'm just curious as who they define as "saved"--those with a personal relationship with Christ, those who observe the sacrements, those who observe sacrements at a Catholic church, etc?

My Answer:
Great question! I am in the middle of reading a book that talks about exactly that.

Are Protestant saved, according to Catholics? Before Vatican II, the answer would have been simply, "No." There is a Catholic dogma that states, "outside the church there is no salvation," and that was understood to mean that Protestants are "outside the church." (But not Eastern Orthodox churches - Catholic theology has recognized them as "true churches" for several hundred years.)

Vatican II changed all that. There was a document called Lumen Gentium ("Light to the Nations") that acknowledged that there are true Christians, who are truly saved and in whom God is truly working, but who are not part of the Roman Catholic church. In other words, it recognized for the first time (!) that you can be Protestant and still be saved. Vatican II also spurred the Catholic Church to find common ground with other churches, with the idea that, as theological differences were worked out, those churches would "come home" to the "Mother Church" ( i.e. Rome). (That hasn't exactly happened the way they planned.)

But (there's always a but!), a church like Lakeside is a bit of a puzzle to Catholic theology. That same Lumen Gentium defines "the Church" as those who "preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter" - i.e. the pope. Catholics view church as "top down," starting with Christ, then flowing the apostles, and only then to the people. It's the popes, bishops, and priests who form the foundation of the church. They don't have a very good grid for understanding "bottom up" churches, where the church is first and foremost a fellowship of believers, who then elect and ordain their own leaders. So some Catholics would hesitate to even call Lakeside a church! ( I think from Acts and 1 & 2 Corinthians, however, that it's pretty clear that we are.)

Finally, in terms of who is saved, I decided to look it up in the Catholic Catechism, which the official word on pretty much everything. When speaking about the people of God, it says that
One becomes a member of this people [of God] not by a physical birth, but by being "born anew," a birth "of water and the Spirit," that is, by faith in Christ, and Baptism.

That's really close to what Lakeside says! It's just a small matter of defining "faith" and "baptism." :)

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Why I Love Sports :)

It's quotes like this one, today's lead sentence from Tom Verducci's Inside Baseball:

One year after Game of Shadows, one of the most important books of our time...

Well, no, it's not "one of the most important books of our time," but in the world of sports, it is. And in the world of sports, nothing matters except sports.

If you hate sports, that's one more reason to hate everything about sports: the inflated sense of self-importance that takes for granted that hitting a ball with a stick and/or catching said ball with a glove is worth millions of dollars per year.

If you love sports, it's one more reason to love them: the real problems of the world can be laid aside for a few moments so that we can argue about who's best at hitting that ball with a stick and/or catching said ball with a glove.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Gordon Smith's Courage and Calling

Near the end of Courage and Calling, Smith raises a very challenging question: When is the right time to leave an organization? He offers one answer - that if your only reason for staying is to get a paycheck, then you should leave. He tempers his argument to say that there are materials needs that sometimes require us to have a non-vocationally-related job. This is something I am going to be praying about.