Friday, December 22, 2006

A Timely Decision

I guess you’ve heard by now.  Time magazine has named me it’s “Person of the Year.”  You too.  I wonder how many conversations that one has generated.  

Jay Leno quipped that Time should at least give all of us one free copy (which, looking back on it now, seems strangely and doubly ironic since it appears that all of the magazine’s content is free on the web).  

I wondered if it was a scene where everyone on the committee was way behind on Christmas shopping and they all needed to get out of there.  “You!” said someone recalling the ethos of those 1970s smiley faces.  “The Person of the Year is ‘You’!”  

Where was this idea coming from?   So I read the editorial.  Turns out, there’s a fair and reasoned explanation.  According to Richard Stengel, the Time choice was based on the facts . . .

“that individuals are changing the nature of the information age, that the creators and consumers of user-generated content are transforming art and politics and commerce, that they are the engaged citizens of a new digital democracy.  From user-generated images of Baghdad strife and the London Underground bombing to the macaca moment that might have altered the midterm elections to the hundreds of thousands of individual outpourings of hope and poetry and self-absorption, this new global nervous system is changing the way we perceive the world. And the consequences of it all are both hard to know and impossible to overestimate.”

Several months ago, I wondered in a post here if blogging was part of a real revolution, or if it was more like the CB radio of yesteryear.  I’m much closer to a good answer now.  But, then, what would you expect from Time’s “Person of the Year”?

I hope you have yourself a merry little Christmas.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Musical Movements

Music has always done things to me. For one thing, certain melodies and chord progressions have the ability to make me feel sad, undone even. Sometimes I cry, even if the lyrics that go along with the music aren’t all that sad.

I can still remember when I was very young, sometimes the congregation where my family worshipped would begin singing one of a handful of hymns that never failed to melt me. Before they’d sung the second or third line, I would burst into tears, stricken by the melodies or the harmonies or whatever it was that I heard.

What I’m describing has stayed with me through the years. But these days, it’s not so much the church songs. More often, it’s popular music and some classical pieces that blow me away.

For example, one of the most haunting songs I’ve ever heard is Pink Floyd's “Us and Them." If I happen to listen to it from beginning to end, the song never fails to send me into this glassy-eyed funk, with me loving it all the while. If I’m listening to it on the radio, and “Funkville” isn't where I want to go, then I have to switch stations. Immediately.

Ecstatic music also does things to me, like make me happily manic or manically happy. . . . Something like that. Some songs, especially when the volume’s cranked, make me sweat. When I’m having this sort of experience with music, I’m sure that my heart rate is much higher than normal. I could mention several songs here. But in the interests of not looking too much like a complete Philistine, I’ll simply say that most of those titles would be found in that section of your local record store labeled “Head Banging!”

When I was still in grade school I used to think that no one else had my sort of relationship with music. Who else was blubbering in church? I imagined that I was the only one who knew what I knew. As long as that illusion lasted, it was never a burden, like being the only kid who sees dead people. Instead, it was like a secret that I just kept to myself.

As time went on and my world got a little larger I realized, of course, that without it being exactly the same other people did know what I knew. Music did things to them too.

As I grew up spiritually, I came to recognize music as one the greatest things God ever gave us; both the capacity and all of the good reasons to sing and make music in our hearts. Isn’t is sweet?

And now, a few of my current favorites in sometimes-strange categories:

1. Favorite Traditional Christmas Song: “O Come, All Ye Faithful”

2. Favorite Traditional Hymn: “Love Divine” by Charles Wesley. The beginning of the stanza, “Finish then thy new creation . . .” is one of those tear jerkers for me.

3. Favorite Hymn I Really Don’t Know, but Have Heard a Time or Two: “Ancient Words” (by Michael W. Smith?) This one is something special. If a congregation sings it well right before the preacher stands up they’re guaranteed to get a better sermon.

4. Favorite Communion Song: “We Saw Thee Not” Tune by the Restoration Movement’s own “Singing Evangelist,” Knowles Shaw. My ears are older than the rest of me. Can you tell?

5. Favorite Movie Soundtrack: “The Sting.” Some of the best Ragtime ever.

6. Favorite Recorded Groove: Steely Dan’s, “Peg.” Exquisite guitar solo too. If you don’t feel five degrees cooler when you hear this song, check for a pulse.

7. Favorite Solo Album by Someone Who Previously Got Famous with a Band: Steely Dan front man Donald Fagen’s “The Night Fly.” (People who sell speakers for a living should be paying commissions for their use of this one).

8. Favorite Mostly-Unacknowledged Power Trio from Yesteryear: Triumph.

So, what does music do with you? Any favorite songs? Bands? Forgotten tunes? Memorable experiences with music? Let’s hear it.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Some Plans for Next Year

I’m making big plans for 2007. If all goes according to schedule, I’ll be taking trips to Connecticut (my daughter’s graduation), Colorado (family get-together) and California (professional meeting).

By virtue of my job, I get to visit and teach at a lot of churches in the Texas panhandle. If anything, I’ll be doing even more of that next year. One speaking gig I’m especially looking forward to is October’s “Friends Day” at the Comanche Trail Church of Christ here in Amarillo.

Starting in the fall, the Religion Department is hoping to offer two semesters of “Elementary Biblical Hebrew” at Amarillo College. I just hope my Hebrew holds up well till then.

And I’ll be reading. Here are some of the books, and a little bit about why:

Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson

I bought a copy of this book as soon as it came out. I heard about it on this radio talk show and was intrigued. It’s still sitting there on the shelf. Meanwhile, folks have been raving about it.

For me, reading fiction is sort of like waxing my car. I’m not drawn to it, and don’t do it very often. But once I get started, I like it and always feel like it was time well spent.

Michele’s constantly goofing on me because I rarely read fiction. She sees it the way I see non-fiction. Why would someone want to read the other? She’s been known to read some slightly-racy stories. So for those book debates that she usually wins, I’m fond of a standard retort in which I ask her about “Love’s Luscious Lust.” (Disclaimer: If there is such a title, Michele hasn’t read it. . . . I think).

A Greener Faith: Religious Environmentalism and Our Planet’s Future, by Roger S. Gottlieb

Several years ago, I got lost and found myself at the intersection of Christianity and conservation. Not that I’m much of an activist. I’m not. But I did use a little of my preaching-teaching time to put environmental issues in a theological frame (as opposed to a radicalized political frame). I want to read this book because it’s advertised as the “first comprehensive account of religious environmentalism.” Ooooh. (That other sound you hear is Michele scoffing in the background).

Evil and the Justice of God, by N. T. Wright.

I first met Tom Wright back in 1991. At a session on Romans during the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, the two people who sat down on either side of me were him and Gordon Fee. I felt like a dime between two silver dollars.

Anyway, when Wright delivered the Schaffer Lectures at Yale in 1996, the Divinity School and Religion Department were places where people like Wayne Meeks and Abe Malherbe would have had a lot more to say about Paul than Jesus. However, if others in New Haven had been lecturing about Jesus, I dare say it wouldn’t have been the sort of thing that Wright delivering.

On top of all that, he concluded his third and final lecture with something like an altar call for academicians. I thought I was dreaming and kept waiting for someone to stand up and say, “Hal-le-LU-jah!”

To his credit, and in his funny sort of way, Leander Keck followed Wright at the lectern and said, “Finally, someone who thinks that Jesus stood in a tradition.” (Remember the Jesus Seminar?) If ever there was an academic tour de force, Wright’s lectures at Yale were it, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Someone has said that Wright writes faster than most of us read. I’m doing my best to keep up.

The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life, by Parker J. Palmer

This one came out in the 1990s and established a good reputation for itself. Not long after it was first published, several of the faculty at a community college where I was an adjunct were reading the book and having regular get-togethers to discuss it. It was all the rage, and I’ve been interested in it ever since. It’s past time for me to read this one.

So where are you going next year? (If you get to go overseas, I’ll probably post your comment. But I don’t want to hear too much). Any gotta-read books?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Making the Grade

We’re nearing the end of finals week at Amarillo College.  That’s right.  Between now and the beginning of 2007, I have no more classes to teach, no more papers to read, no more tests to give, etc.

On the other hand, I do have final grades to figure and turn in, syllabi to revise (and, in some cases, produce), a bunch of administrative chores to do, a report to write, etc.  So don’t be too jealous.

Speaking of grades, one of the hardest things for me to do is to finally give that “F” to the student who deserves nothing better.  When I had to face that for the first time, I was lamenting about it to one of my mentors, Jerry Klein.  He’s one of the former directors of this Bible Chair, and he always has a good response to my questions.  

So there I was, fretting over assigning Fs, when Jerry said:  “Frank, years ago I concluded that for some students making an F is part of the educational process.”  Since then, I’ve repeated that one more than once.  But I’m still thankful that a huge majority of my students score anywhere from A to C.  It’s hard to see someone stumbling through the school of hard knocks.

So, if you had to give yourself a grade for 2006, what would it be?  What was your last F in life?  Did it serve an educational purpose for you?  Any recent As?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Introduction to Hinduism, 2

7.  The essence of every person is no different from the essence of the universe.  Hindus call the substratum of all reality Brahman.  When identifying Brahman as the essential human nature, they call it Atman.  To understand this better, consider the analogy:  a wave on the surface of the ocean is distinguishable, but is still “ocean.” In the same way, the individual, indeed all things, though distinct, are expressions of the one absolute essence, Brahman.

8.  However, to understand the nature of the Self at the level of intellect, merely from the neck up, is not enough.  What humans need is to experience our essence.  This experience is called “enlightenment” (alternately called bodhi, nirvana,jivanmukti, paravidya, etc.).  When an individual has this, only then is he released from the cycle of rebirth called samsara.

9.  To enliven consciousness so that Atman might be experienced, Hindus practice one or more yogas.  These are methods of awakening.

10.  Among Westerners, the best-known yoga is Hatha.  This yoga involves body positions called asanas and breathing exercises called pranayama.

11.  The Bhagavad-Gita, “The Divine Song of God,” often called “the Gita,” is one of the most recent (3rd century B.C.) and best-known and loved parts of the wide array of Hindu Scripture.  In the Gita, Lord Krishna tells the warrior prince Arjuna that there are three main paths to enlightenment:
  • Jnana Yoga, the “path of wisdom” (which involves the study of sacred texts, meditation, and an ascetic lifestyle).
  • Karma Yoga, the “path of action” (which involves close attention to ethics, compassion towards all living things, and service to others).
  • Bhakti Yoga, the “path of devotion” (which involves pilgrimages, ceremonies, ritual offerings, visits to temples, etc.).
12.  In spite of the way in which they’ve been characterized, Hindus do not think of themselves as polytheists.  Their basic outlook is monotheistic.  They believe that all “gods,” including Vishnu, Shiva, and Devi, the Great Goddess, are really just masks on the face of Ishvara, the One Irreducible God (see the Rig Veda X, 121).

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Introduction to Hinduism, 1

I’m reworking an “Introduction to Hinduism,” the kind of material that can used in the World Religions class, but also in a church class setting. What follows is the first half of an outline. Most of this material comes from Dr. Dana Sawyer, Professor of Religion at the Maine College of Art, Portland, ME. The other source is the chapter on Hinduism in Warren Matthews, World Religions.
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1. Unlike Buddhism and Christianity, Hinduism has no particular founder.

2. The origins of Hinduism disappear into pre-history. According to prevailing theory, what came to be called Hinduism began sometime around 1800 B.C. Aryans migrating to modern- day NW India brought with them their religion, which is reflected in ancient Vedic texts. They met the spirituality indigenous to the Indus Valley Civilization (the green section of the map). The blending of these two viewpoints was, evidently, the beginning of Hinduism.

3. For Hindus, the purpose of life is to find out the true nature of the self. That is, in Hinduism the big question is, “Who are you?”

4. Hindus believe that we reincarnate lifetime after lifetime because we are in ignorance (avidya) of our true nature. Knowledge of who we are will bring moksha, liberation.

5. Hinduism postulates two levels of the self: (a) There is the transitory self, bound by time and space and made up of the body, the mind, emotions, thoughts, and memories. (b) Underlying and implicit to the relative, transient self is an infinite, unbounded, eternal and unchanging self called Atman. The Atman, or higher self, was never more and never dies. It does not change because it is absolute according to its very nature.

6. The Atman is the essence of every human being. But this differs markedly from, say, the Islamic concept of the soul. For Hindus there is not a multiplicity of infinite Atmans. (In Islam, there are as many souls as there are people). Instead, there is one world soul at the base of all individual consciousness.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Surprised by Tears

Tears and the whole business of crying are odd.  Aren’t they?  

Sometimes you expect tears, but don’t get them.  Several years ago, a great and wonderful elder’s wife who meant so much to me died.   Not long after I got the call, I was traveling from Connecticut to Arkansas for her funeral.  

From the moment I got the news, to that first time that I saw her husband and family again, to “calling hours” and seeing her body, to the funeral, and finally the cemetery, I never cried.  Not even a little bit.  I can still remember how it bothered and embarrassed me, the absence of tears.  To this day I can’t explain it.

There are other times when tears come from nowhere.  Well, that’s stretching it.  They come from somewhere, just not the place you expected and can identify.  It happened just this morning.  

The course outline for the New Testament class said we were supposed to be covering the Letter to the Hebrews today.  After I returned the third exam (over Paul and his letters) and reviewed it with the students, I had about an hour left.  An hour.   . . .   To introduce and overview Hebrews.  . . .  Survey courses are so frustrating.

Anyway, after discussing how odd Hebrews is, and some of what’s going on behind the words of this letter, we started looking closely at the text itself.  I was eager to get to those parts where the speaker offers a theological interpretation (God’s view) of people suffering for the sake of Christ.   I was reading from chapter 2,

“In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.  Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family.  So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.”

That’s when and where it hit me.  I caught myself and within a second or two was able to go on.  But I never once expected such emotion.  And I still don’t know exactly how that happened.  

Of course I can say that I love how this prose, even in translation, seems much closer to poetry.  I might mention how Jesus owning up to me as his kid brother is such a tender image.  I can say how much it means to think that I’ve been miraculously born into the best family ever.  I guess it’s all of that and more.  

But, again, like the reasons why I shed no tears at the death of a loved one, I’m far from certain why I got all choked up this morning.

What about you?  Ever wished you could cry and expected to, but didn’t?  Ever been completely surprised by the arrival of sudden tears?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Here and There

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, you might check out last Friday’s prayer for Ted Haggard composed by Fred Peatross.

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A few days ago, I was reading a post by Larry James about his conversations with some folks from Azerbaijan, once a part of the former Soviet Union. Almost all of the people in the delegation were Muslims. 

It just so happened that the day before I read Larry’s post, I had heard a piece on National Public Radio about American politics and the Arabic term “jihad.” Here was the gist of the report:

“Jihad” simply means “struggle (for the sake of God).” As some Muslims see it, jihad should be external, against non-Muslims, and violent. Thankfully, only a small percentage understands it that way. For many Muslims, jihad is internal, a struggle against sin. In that sense, it corresponds to a Christian’s battle with the flesh, wrestling with the old man of sin. 

So one obvious question is, Should American politicians denounce violent, extremist Muslims as “jihadists”?  To someone fluent in Arabic, such a statement sounds like, “We oppose anyone who, in any way, struggles in behalf of God.” Is that really the message we want to send? 

It would be similar to someone overhearing an abuse of prayer in the name of Jesus and then concluding, “I oppose anyone who prays to God through Christ.” In the same way that not all “Christian prayer” truly represents Jesus and his Way, not all “jihad” is external and violent. Shouldn’t such an important distinction be recognized and acknowledged in political speech and commentary?
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Wade Tannehill is currently telling the truth about “full-time ministry” in the Churches of Christ.   . . . .   which is not to say he was lying before.
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Perhaps because he lives in Wisconsin, Bobby Valentine has been thinking about Christmas. He has some book recommendations for the readers on your list.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Sad Saga of Ted Haggard

Ted Haggard’s letter to New Life Church can be seen here.  I came across it over at Mike Cope’s blog.  Someone there remarked about how ironic and sad it was that, in this case, a homosexual prostitute has evidently been more truthful than a Christian preacher.  

What bothers me as much as anything is that Haggard’s confessions have apparently been one step slower than the evidence against him.  Your thoughts and reactions to this bombshell in the Evangelical community?  To Haggard’s letter?   To the amount and kind of attention this story has received in the media?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Did Paul Say, "Don't help widows under 60"?

My previous post is the beginning of a short project that I’m continuing here. What follows will make more sense if you’ve read the entry from Wednesday first.

Getting started, it’s probably best to explain that I’m a set-it-all-up, ducks-in-a-row kind of thinker. I do intend to explain my view of 1 Timothy 5:9. But in order to do that, I want to back up and take a run at it from the first part of the chapter. If you don’t have a Bible nearby, you can consult the NIV translation of 1 Timothy 5 here.

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In 1 Timothy 5:3-16, Paul discusses the church’s duty to Christian widows. Verses 3-8 teach that the church should honor those who are “widows indeed” (or “real widows”). According to Paul, “widows indeed” are those who have not only lost their husbands, but who stand in real financial need; that is, they have no living children who can care for them.

What should the church do for such women? “Honor” them. From the context it’s clear that Paul is not talking about a mere show of respect for destitute Christian widows. Instead, “honor” means “material support, financial help.” We would only dishonor widows if they received nothing but kinds words in response to their real needs. The Torah curses anyone who holds back what is owed to widows (for example, Deuteronomy 27:19; see also Exodus 22:22-24). James says,

“Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:15-16).

But what if a widow has children or grandchildren? Paul says that in that case, those people should learn to practice real religion by returning something to their parents. I love what David Lipscomb wrote in his commentary on this passage:

“None can ever know the intensity of a mother’s love for her child, her constant self-denying life to help the child she has borne. Now a child should remember this and return it in kindness, when the mother grows old. . . . What we render in kindness and love to our parents, God accepts as service to him.”

The description of the “true widow” does not end with this one point. Beginning with verse 5, Paul describes her as a praying woman who trusts in God (like Anna in Luke 2:36-37). On the other hand is the widow who chases after only pleasure (verse 6). A widow who lives like that has no claim to on-going support from the church. Paul closes this section by saying that if any one does not provide for his own, he’s denied the Christian faith and is actually worse than an unbeliever.

It’s my belief that in verses 9-16 Paul is not talking about any and all true widows in the church. Instead, he’s talking about a special class or distinct order of widows. Notice that Paul does not say, “Don’t help a widow who is less than sixty . . .” Instead, he says, “Do not enroll (or, put on the list) a widow who is less than sixty . . .” It’s a vast difference.

In all probability, the group Paul refers to beginning with verse 9 was responsible for taking care of certain tasks in the church. Notice that there is a character sketch of the kind of widow the church allows to be enrolled. It’s no accident that at other points in this letter where Paul provides a character sketch (for elders, 1 Timothy 3:1-7; for deacons, 3:8-10, 12-14; and for “the women” who may be female deacons, 3:11), the description pertains to someone who will be in a position of responsibility in the church.

My main reason for taking this view, which draws a line between the end of verse 8 and the beginning of verse 9, is simple. It makes no sense to think that only widows who matched the description in verses 9 and 10 (including “the rule of sixty”) would have received support from the church.

No doubt there were many near-helpless Christian widows, much younger than sixty, who could and did receive support from the church (Galatians 6:10; James 1:27). Not to mention that it’s inconceivable that Paul, a Christian rabbi, could have issued instructions to the contrary. A self-described “Hebrew of Hebrews,” Paul knew that the Jewish Scriptures spoke up for “the orphan, the widow, and the stranger in your midst” more than 50 times; and he likely knew a tradition that says the more often a teaching is repeated, the more important it is. No right-thinking person believes that a young, godly, but destitute widow suddenly becomes worthy of the church’s support upon turning sixty years old.

For these reasons, it is better to understand verse 9 as the beginning of a new section which speaks of a different group. According to this view, a “true widow” is a Christian woman of any age who has no family to care for her. But beginning with verse 9, Paul is not speaking about “true widows” in general, but about a unique group of widows who were placed on a list, enrolled. That is, past the common age for remarriage, they were qualified for and committed to what most of us would call full-time ministry.

If this view is on target, then no one should say, “There was a time when Paul said, ‘Be sure not to help a widow unless she’s at least sixty years old'.” Again, not only is that inconceivable, it also ignores the fact that the verb in 1 Timothy 5:9 is not “help” but rather “enroll.”

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

1 Timothy 5:9

Over the last couple of years, 1 Timothy 5:9 has become a popular verse among some folks in the Churches of Christ. Strange.

In the New International Version, it reads as follows: “No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband,” . . . The character sketch of the widow who may be placed on the list obviously continues. But verse 9 is enough for those who want to make a point. And their point goes like this:

What group of elders would want to say, “We’ve decided that, as a church, we’re no longer going to help any widow of the congregation unless she is--in the words of 1 Timothy 5:9-- over sixty.”? What church would stand for a decision like that? Wouldn’t we think it was foreign to the Spirit of Christ for a group of elders to announce a policy like that? And yet, there it is in black-and-white in your Bibles! If a widow is only 59, don’t help her.

That’s a near verbatim statement from a recently-preached, wide-distributed sermon which, of course, has a larger point to make. And that larger point goes like this:

When we come across a passage that says “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent” (1 Timothy 2:12), maybe we should treat that statement the same way we treat the one in 1 Timothy 5:9. Paul didn’t intend for it to be applied in every church in every time. Because if he did, then in order to be consistent, we would have to cut off all widows 60 and under from services and assistance provided by the church. So, again, this means that twenty centuries later we have the same right, even responsibility, to look at 1 Timothy 2:12 in a different way, just as we look at 1 Timothy 5:9 in a different way.

I’d like to suggest that 1 Timothy 5:9 says no such thing. As the week goes on, I'll explain why.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A Tonic for Tired Preachers

One of the things I remember about preaching Sunday in, Sunday out was the grind.  Not that I ever would have talked about it much, because preachers are supposed to love the fact and the act of preaching.  

And I did, . . . . whenever it felt good to me, or when people said genuinely-nice things about my preaching.  But anytime my sermons felt like big, fat zeros, or whenever it seemed like I was disconnected from everything and everyone important to me, it was natural to wonder if preaching was what I was supposed to be doing.  Most weeks, I didn’t have much opportunity to dwell on those kinds of questions; I had to start working on my next two sermons.  

(I know, I know, dubious assumptions, failure to acknowledge the biblical preachers who had it much rougher, etc., etc.  But it still happens.  Just ask your preacher in private).

I think it was my teacher Phil Slate who told me that the great Batsell Barrett Baxter used to say, “The tyranny of preaching is that Sunday comes every seven days.”  I always took some comfort in knowing I wasn’t the only one.

Now, if you’re a preacher and any of this is sounding familiar to you, I have a book recommendation.  And, no, this isn’t one of those books that you’re supposed to read because you’re supposed to have read it, and you won’t be considered a real preacher by the hot shots until you do.  Instead, this is one of those books that will send you right back into the Word and will change the perspective from which you see it.  J. I. Packer called it “A powerful tonic for tired preachers—a book that digs deep into the theology, strategy, and spirituality of pulpit preaching.”  Years ago, I discovered it to be all that and more.  

The book is The Supremacy of God in Preaching, by John Piper.   It’s out in a revised edition now.  Mine’s a copy of the original which, after I had first discovered it--I don’t remember how or when--I would pull it off the shelf about twice each year.  It never failed to lift my eyes so that I could see again the center of the universe and source of my help.  A few snippets:

On the job of the preacher:

“It is not the job of the Christian preacher to give people moral or psychological pep talks about how to get along in the world; someone else can do that.  But most of our people have no one in the world to tell them, week in and week out, about the supreme beauty and majesty of God” (p. 12).

On the goal of preaching:

“The wonder of the gospel and the most freeing discovery this sinner has ever made is that God’s deepest commitment to be glorified and my deepest longing to be satisfied are not in conflict but in fact find simultaneous consummation in his display of and my delight in the glory of God.  Therefore the goal of preaching is the glory of God reflected in the glad submission of the human heart.  And the supremacy of God in preaching is secured by this fact:  The one who satisfies gets the glory; the one who gives the pleasure is the treasure” (p. 26).

On sappy sermons :

“He [Charles Spurgeon] said to his students: ‘We must conquer—some of us especially—our tendency to levity.  A great distinction exists between holy cheerfulness, which is a virtue, and that general levity, which is a vice.  There is a levity that has not enough heart to laugh, but trifles in everything; it is flippant, hollow, unreal.  A hearty laugh is no more levity than a hearty cry’.”  (p. 58).

So preachers, once you know what you’re going to preach next Sunday, and have spent some time with the text, I think you’d be wise to spend, say, a Thursday afternoon with Piper’s book.  Trust me on this one.

Oh, if you want to get a free sample of where Piper’s coming from and what the book is like, read his sermon by the same title here.  Good stuff!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Scary Movies

When I went home for lunch today, I saw this re-run on “Bravo” about the “100 Scariest Moments in Movie History” or some such.  

Now, I’m not one (usually) to incite fear or suggest that people watch something or go somewhere that’s going to really scare them.  However, . . . .  the show started me thinking about movies I’ve seen through the years that really “got” me.  Off the cuff, and in no particular order, here are ten from the thriller-horror genre that made an impression on me and that I’ve watched, most of them, more than one time.

1.  Jacob’s Ladder (ripped off from “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”?)

2.  Don’t Look Now

3.  The Silence of the Lambs

4.  Halloween

5.  The Hitcher

6.  The Dead Zone

7.  Phantasm

8.  The Sixth Sense

9.  The Exorcist

10.  The Shining (i.e., 1980, Stanley Kubrick’s)

Seen ‘em?  Commentary?  Additions?  Subtractions?  For Christians, what is the upshot of horror films, assuming there is one or more?  How do you interpret human fascination with thoughts and images that cause us to lose sleep, bladder control, etc.?  Are you a fan of the genre?  Or do you advocate distance?  Why?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

2 Thessalonians 2

This morning’s New Testament class is set to do a survey of 1 and 2 Thessalonians.  Of course, in a very short time, we can re-read Acts 17:1-10 and also read both of the letters.

When I did this with the Life of Paul class a few weeks ago, we had a good give-and-take on 2 Thessalonians 2, especially verses 6-9.  Of course, I can go and read what Abe Malherbe has to say about this.  I’ve already gotten F. F. Bruce’s take.

What say you?  What’s going on in this passage?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

This-n-That

Interesting, isn’t it? For fundraising events, folks like Regis Philbin and Walter Cronkite are invited to speak at Freed-Hardeman University.

But when Lubbock Christian University hosts the World Mission Workshop? Freed-Hardeman withholds its support because a member of the Independent Christian Church is one of the keynote speakers.

- - - - -

For those interested in learning a lot more about faith, ethics, and the environment, “the first comprehensive account of religious environmentalism,” can be found in a June 2006 release from Oxford Press, A Greener Faith: Religious Environmentalism and Our Planet’s Future. I’ve yet to read it. But it looks interesting.

- - - - -

When it comes to classes, sermons, lectures, etc. there are times when, in spite of any real preparation, something just clicks and the whole thing goes very well. There are other times when, in spite of having worked and prayed and fretted and worked, the presentation turns out to be a big fat zero.

Having experienced the former, some people conclude, “I guess this means I’ve gotten to that point where I don’t have to work so hard anymore.” This is always followed by a major meltdown, pride going before a fall and all that sort of thing.

After an experience with the latter, some people conclude, “Why try?” This is also followed by a catastrophe, because no work and all play makes Jack a clueless boy.

So, preachers and teachers and other sorts of presenters, I advocate preparing as well as you can every time. That way, you can shrug off the strike outs and take satisfaction in the homeruns, not to mention that your long-term batting average will be higher.

- - - - -

Yes, that last metaphor was a set up: GO CARDS!!!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Statement from Freed-Hardeman

A news article from the on-line edition of the Christian Chronicle got my attention. The title? “Unity discussion takes center stage at Freed-Hardeman.”

Earlier, I had seen ads for this event. But the article was the first report I’d come across about the “Contemporary Discussion” that took place at Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tennessee, back on October 14th.

The article notes that the organizers and participants of the “Discussion” were focused not only on what unites the Independent Christian Churches and the Churches of Christ, but on what still divides them, namely, the Independents’ continued use of musical instruments in worship, contrasted with the a cappella practice of the Churches of Christ.

I was struck by one of the leading quotes in the article. Representing Freed-Hardeman, moderator Earl Edwards reportedly said, “Now, some have seemed to think, and sincerely so, that it takes nothing but exchanging Bibles and embracing one another [to create unity].”

This is simply wrong. The fact is, many genuine, spiritual leaders among the Churches of Christ and the Independent Christian Churches today do not think that exchanging Bibles and embracing one another is what establishes unity between the two groups.

Instead, what they believe--if I may say so--is that Jesus Christ, into whom we were all baptized by one Spirit, united us by his blood and his new life; and, furthermore, it is foreign to the Spirit of Jesus to tolerate a wall in the territory that belongs to Christ.

Speaking first as a Christian, but second as one who was schooled at Freed-Hardeman, those are my own convictions. Thoughts?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Love Thy Neighbor, Conservatively

From a sermon by Myron S. Augsburger, “Love Thy Neighbor.”

“In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth” (Isaiah 42:3-4).

As Jesus’ disciples, his ministers of reconciliation, we are involved in a mission of justice to provide equal opportunity to all, opportunity to come into God’s family. We should love our local and global neighborhood enough to promote the kingdom of God and its values worldwide! We do this through the many Christian disciples who carry this expression of love and justice outside the four walls of our churches, into the orders of the common life. George MacLeod expresses this most effectively:

“I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the center of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town garbage heap, at a crossroads so cosmopolitan that they had to write his name in Hebrew, and in Latin, and in Greek, at the kind of place where cynics talk smut and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble. Because that is where he died. And that is what he died about. And this is where [the church] should be and what [the church] should be about.”

Many evangelical Christians are very reluctant to accept the fact that poverty for the millions is directly linked to injustice, to power struggles that increase the gap between the haves and the nave-nots.

- - - - - - - -

Too, it seems clear enough that increasingly one facet of the distance between the haves and have-nots of the world is “environmental,” related to the use and stewardship of natural resources which must be managed wisely.

I wonder: What would it look like if, more and more, Christians, as an act of faith, were conservationists? What would we say to our children? What would we hear in church?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Best Preaching on Earth

I plan to highlight and ask for your reactions to/readings of a few more texts. But till then, I’m passing along my review of a book that has come to mean a lot to me. What follows is the piece as it appeared in the May 1997 issue of the Christian Chronicle.

Stan L. LeQuire, editor. The Best Preaching on Earth: Sermons on Caring for Creation. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1996.

According to Psalm 19, the wonders of creation give testimony to the glory of God. But what if we ravage and ruin such wonders? Polluted rivers. Strip-mined mountains. What kind of witness can these provide?

Galatians 5:14 says that the entire law is summed up in the single command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But what if my way of living damages and depletes my neighbor’s world? Can I honestly say that I’m loving him as myself?

Recently, a growing number of people who take the Bible seriously have been making such points in order to show that the environment is no mere social or political issue, but that it is first and foremost a biblical and theological issue. Out of this conviction comes a new book of 22 sermons under the clever title The Best Preaching on Earth. The editor, Stan LeQuire, is director of the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN) based in Wynnewood, Pa.

The collection is divided into six parts, each dealing with a different element of the book’s basic theme. The sermons in Part One, for example, respond to the question, “Is caring for creation really a biblical agenda?” Part Two contains three sermons that answer a common objection: “Isn’t our primary calling to the fulfill the Great Commission?” At the end, Part Six reveals how some preachers have challenged their congregations to get involved.

The book closes with two appendices. The first provides additional sermon ideas; the second tells about the EEN, its mission and services.

Like any other collection from a variety of sources, this book has it highs and lows. A few of the sermons are severely weakened, if not fatally flawed, by skewed interpretation of the Bible. Some of the preaching seems to ask for little more than a flutter of the heart. By way of contrast, the sermon by John Stott, “The Works of the Lord,” presents a rich, biblical theology of the environment; and Ron Sider’s “Tending the Garden without Worshiping It,” both instructs and inspires us to respect and care for our world.

Concern for the environment is with us to stay. The church can be thankful for this condition. Because this is our Father’s world, environmental issues provide Christians with a broader platform on which to speak of the Creator and his creation, and to teach that caring for the earth is part of fulfilling the two greatest commands. The Best Preaching on Earth gives several good examples of how to go about doing just that.

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The Amazon page for this book is here.

Monday, October 16, 2006

So Very Good

“God saw that the light was good” (Genesis 1:4).  

As children many of us learned that from this point forward God frequently reflects on what he has created and declares it “good” (Genesis 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25), and at the end “very good” (v. 31).  

To you, what part of creation is so beautiful, so exquisite, so delicious, so magnificent, etc. . . . .  that it unmistakably tells you about the goodness of God?

By the way, if you haven’t read Genesis 1:1-2:3 in a while, read it again.  Slowly, drink it in.

Friday, October 13, 2006

On Preaching the God of Creation

Several years ago, while still one of those Sunday in, Sunday out preachers, I decided that each year I would completely dedicate at least one of my morning sermons to the biblical doctrine of Creation.

This was a bit of a surprise to me. For one thing, I’m not the outdoorsy type. I think that’s mainly because I’m way too wimpy, and never saw the connection between sleeping on the ground and fun.

Then there’s the fact that I grew up in Southwest Oklahoma. And with all of its wind and drought and hail, that place had never taught me much about growing things. My dad, who spent his wonder years on his grandparents’ farm in Iowa, had a hard time adapting to that part of our lives in Altus, a place that I love by the way.

So how had I come to my decision? I think it was mainly from my growing :-) appreciation that, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” And then, he shaped them and filled them with all sorts of delightful creatures and beautiful plants . . . I woke up to that. Of course, it probably helped that at the time I was living in Connecticut. What a beautiful place.

However it happened, something just clicked and all of a sudden, I “got” songs like Psalm 104 and “This is My Father’s World” and “Day is Dying in the West.” Ever since, one of my favorite things to pray has been the second verse from "Father of Mercies":

Father of mercies, God of love,
Whose gentle gifts all creatures share,
The rolling seasons as they move
Proclaim to all Thy constant care,
Proclaim to all Thy constant care.

At the time I had my "conversion" I was also studying passages like Romans 8:18-25, where Paul goes out of his way to insist that the scope of God’s redemptive plan is cosmic, that all dogs do go to heaven as it were.

Then, and on top of all that, I was getting tired of my congregation hearing about our Father’s world from no one besides Rush Limbaugh and his rants on environmental issues. How much of that could they take and still think Christianly about flowers and grass and trees?

So I decided to do what I could; to say out loud what I had heard in a whisper.

Next time or two, I’ll talk about some passages and maybe mention a book that helped me along the way. But before then, I want to take a long walk.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

From the "Life of Paul" Class

Among the many Roman gods and goddesses was Diana. The twin sister of Apollo, Diana was thought to care for the countryside and for wild animals. She also presided over childbirth.

Among the Greeks, Diana took on some of the characteristics of the goddess Cybele. She also went by a different name, Artemis.

In New Testament times, Artemis was worshipped in places like Ephesus where the massive temple dedicated to her was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

According to Acts 19, when Christianity began to grow and radiate from Ephesus, the silversmiths and artisans of the city were disturbed. According to their spokesman, Demetrius, their concerns were based on two facts.

First, their income depended on the ability to sell statues devoted to the worship of Artemis. Second, there in Ephesus the Apostle Paul was convincing people that "man-made gods are no gods at all" (Acts 19:26). Christianity was eliminating jobs!

No doubt, the take-home trinkets sold by the artisans looked much like the large-scale statue of Artemis shown here. This example is housed in the Ephesus Museum in modern-day Turkey.

Of course, everyone wants to know: Are those eggs or breasts? I don't think anyone knows for certain. Most often, they're called breasts. However, if so, they are . . . how to say . . . anatomically incorrect.

Either way, they're even more provocative than tatoos and piercings, which makes you wonder if there's something written across the back side of her shorts: "Artemis Rules!"

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Website for American Studies

American History buffs, check it out. 9 million individual items arranged in more than 100 collections. The materials come from the Library of Congress and other institutions, and include writings, sound recordings, prints, even sheet music that document the American experience.

Major headings for the collections include, African American History, Maps, Native American History, Presidents, Religion, and Women’s History.

I haven’t had a chance to do much exploring yet, but this looks to be terrific: www.memory.loc.gov

Monday, October 09, 2006

U.S. Population Growth

It will likely happen sometime later this month. The population clock at the website for the U.S. Census Bureau will pass 300,000,000. For the numerically-challenged, that’s 300 million. . . . people.

To get a feel for the recent population growth in the United States, consider: In 1967, that figure was 200 million. In less than 40 years, the number of people in this country has increased by 100 million, the fastest rate of growth among the world’s “developed” countries.

For mission-minded Christians in the United States, at least two facts associated with these numbers are significant.

First, about 40% of the current increase is due to immigration. And, no, they’re not all from Mexico. The world is arriving on American shores, in U.S. airports--and, yes, from across this country's borders--every day. Living anywhere around a major population center in the United States provides plenty of anecdotal evidence.

Second, of course, births account for the rest of the increase. And of those, nearly half are Hispanic. Nearly half, with Spanish as a first language.

The world is changing. And if, in the style of “the ugly American,” the world to us is U.S., even (or especially) that world is changing.

Dear God, as servants of Christ, as those entrusted with divine mystery now revealed, please help your church to be faithful and full of courage. In Jesus' name, amen.

--------------

U.S and World population clocks are located in the upper right part of the homepage for the United States Census Bureau, here.

Information Source: Kenneth J. Cooper, "300 Million and Counting," AARP Bulletin (October 2006) pp. 3-4.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Stone-Campbell Encyclopedia, 2

Picking up my copy of The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement for the first time in months, I remembered how I had first searched in vain for two entries that must have been there, but aren’t:

1. There’s no article on The Spiritual Sword. This is one of those glaring omissions, especially in a reference work that includes entries for journals like “Integrity” and “Mission.” Putting aside one’s religious persuasions and sensibilities, objective assessment would conclude that “The Spiritual Sword” has carried as great or greater an influence--albeit in the opposite direction--than the other two journals. Not to mention that of the three, the Sword is the only one still being published. (“Mission” last appeared in 1987. “Integrity” was last published in 2002).

2. Nor is there an article for Thomas B. Warren (1920-2000). I never met “Brother Warren,” as he’s often been called. But I’ve heard a lot about him.

At different times in his career as an educator, Warren taught at Abilene Christian College, served as the chairman of the Bible Department at Freed-Hardeman College, and was a professor at Harding Graduate School of Religion, where he exerted a tremendous influence on the best and brightest Church of Christ preachers of the post-war generation. Among them was, for example, a young man named Rubel Shelley.

From 1969-1989, Warren was the editor of “The Spiritual Sword.” He was also a staff writer for “Gospel Advocate” magazine. He also wrote and edited a number of books that were widely circulated among people in the Church of Christ.

Warren was also a significant religious debater of the mid-20th century. Most notably, he debated the question of the existence of God against the well-known British philosopher and atheist Antony G. N. Flew.

I still think The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement is a fine reference work. I just think it would be even better if it included entries under the two omissions I’ve named here.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Stone-Campbell Encyclopedia

The latest issue of Restoration Quarterly (Volume 48, number 3) includes a review of the Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, edited by Douglas A. Foster, Paul M. Blowers, Anthony L. Dunnavant, and D. Newell Williams, and published by Eerdmans in 2004.

One of the things that makes this review interesting to me is that it’s written by a non-Campbellite historian, James D. Bratt, who teaches at Calvin College. It’s not that often that you get to hear how others see you and your family. Not only that, the review is wise and well-written, a fair and candid assessment of what used to be called the American Restoration Movement, and this new encyclopedia about it. For a taste, here’s the opening paragraph:

“This is a monument to a movement. As a monument, it tells of persons great and small, the beliefs that animated them, the organizations they formed, the works they accomplished. It is also a monument in the other sense of the term, orienting the traveler to a landscape that, beneath its surface simplicity, hides no end of twisting paths. The movement it memorializes aimed to be the final and definitive reformation of the Christian church, clearing out the thick underbrush of creeds that had accumulated over eighteen hundred years of history with the blade of the Bible plainly read and rationally understood under the fair sun of American liberty. That, the movement’s prophets hoped, would open the door to the one house of Christian unity.”

Nice, huh? Anyway, reading the review sent me back to my copy of the Encyclopedia. I had spent a lot of time looking through it when it first arrived last year. But since then, I’ve busied myself with a million other things and had almost forgotten it.

Thumbing through it again made me want to read it from beginning to end. (Yeah, I guess Michele is right. I really am one of those geeky people who would enjoy reading an encyclopedia). But this one really is a fine piece of work and belongs in the library of any student of American religious history. Which is not to say that it’s perfect. In fact, there are a couple of omissions that I want to mention next time.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Just in Time for Halloween

And now for something entirely different:

To my knowledge, Jesus has yet to endorse “Frankly Speaking.”  And no, I’m not holding my breath.  

However, He does do advertising for a church website called Cross Rev Connect.  When Jesus gets through with his announcement, move your cursor around the frame and notice how his eyes follow it.  It’s like the incarnate Lord is one of the Brady kids lookin’ over at Alice.  This should get a few votes in the Creepy Website contest, which I just started.  Other nominations?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Learning How to Teach

This morning, the New Testament Survey class is getting better acquainted with the life and letters of Paul.  For their exercise in contextual thinking, the students are being asked to pair off and to read Romans 14:1-6 and Galatians 4:8-11.   The questions are: 

1.  Does a first-time (or “surface”) reading of these two passages suggest that Paul has a consistent view on whether it’s alright for Christians to observe special days? 

2.  Is it possible that, between the writing of Galatians and Romans, Paul has not changed his mind, and that his viewpoint on this topic is consistent? 

3.  If your answer to question 2 is “No,” then explain why the two passages cannot be reconciled.  And if your answer to question 2 is “Yes,” explain how these two apparently-inconsistent passages can be reconciled.

I’m passing this along as an example of how one teacher raises the issue of contextual interpretation.  It’s just one part of my attempt to develop and identify good models and strategies for changing the dynamics of class time from “my answers” to “their questions.”

It seems that the old and usually-inefficient model of “the sage on the stage” is dying.  (I say “usually-inefficient” because I’ve known a few fabulous lecturers).  The model that seems to work better for most teachers and which students increasingly expect and prefer is “the knowledgeable tour guide.”

Thoughts?  Suggestions?  Ideas?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Questioning Tradition, Looking for Answers

I recently came across a blog post and discussion about the tradition of church meetings on Wednesday and Sunday nights.

One fairly-common response might be characterized like this: “I understand mid-week meetings.  A few days after Sunday, it’s good to be with your church family and to be reminded of the things that matter most.  In fact, some of my best times, highest moments, have been on Wednesday nights.  But I just don’t get the Sunday-night thing.”

Maybe not, but if you’re a long-time member of the Church of Christ, chances are the habit of “Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night” feels sacrosanct.  Doesn’t it?  

Not only that, to even suggest that maybe we should perhaps think about considering (dare I say it?) not meeting a second time on Sunday seems like a deal with the devil.  

But having now touched the ground where Faust might have feared to tread (brave me), not to mention that I’m well into my fifth decade of going to church meetings three times a week, I want to ask:

1.  Where did Sunday-night meetings come from anyway?  Where and when were the beginnings of that tradition?  An armchair church historian, I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t have a clue about this one.  Yes, I could start digging on my own.  But I won’t make the time to do that these days; and, besides, I can ask you.

2.  I’m aware that things are done differently from church to church.  In fact, assuming the norms as much as they often do, Church of Christ people might just be surprised to discover the real diversity among the congregations.  (I say that, of course, believing that I have visited many more congregations of the Church of Christ than most of our people.  And I’m right about that).  But here’s my question:  For those who have tampered with the time-honored tradition, what are the variations?  Why were the changes made?  And how has that alternate weekly rhythm worked out for the church?

Anyone?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Test Answers

True or False? Here and there, I provide a little explanation. For those places where I don’t, take a look in Luke.

1. True
2. False. It’s the Old Testament
3. True
4. False. It’s Luke, chapter 2
5. True
6. True, by far.
7. True
8. False
9. False
10. False, it was Matthew
11. False. Jesus was from Galilee
12. False. It was Capernaum
13. True
14. True
15. True
16. True
17. True
18. True
19. False
20. True
21. True
22. True
23. False
24. True
25. True

B. Multiple Choice

1. b
2. d
3. a
4. b
5. d
6. b
7. c
8. a
9. c
10. b
11. c
12. a

Saturday, September 23, 2006

From the Rodeo to the Land of the Sacred Cows

On second thought, since it’s so quiet around here on the weekends, I’m waiting till Monday to give the answers for the test in the previous post.

---------

Last night, we went to the big annual fair they have here in Amarillo. Of course, there was a midway with lots of rides and expensive food. We were there mainly for the rodeo, which featured a good number of the world’s top contenders in that rough-and-tumble sport.

I can still remember the days when the National Finals Rodeo was always held in Oklahoma City (a real cow town, unlike Las Vegas which simply out-bid OKC). One year back in the day, I got to tag along with a friend and his family who had tickets to the NFR. Our seats weren’t terrible, but weren’t the best either, which made it all the more surprising when we discovered we were sitting next to Larry Mahan, who struck me as one of those people who wasn’t quite prepared to be semi-famous.

After the rodeo, we walked through the livestock building, peering at all the show horses in their stalls. What beautiful animals they are.

-----------

Who hasn’t had the experience of hearing his or her religion sized up by someone else who clearly doesn’t understand? Consider the following:

“In the beginning was the Divinity in his splendor,
manifested as the sole Lord of creation,
and he upheld the earth and the heavens.
Who is the Deity we shall worship with our offerings?”

The source of the quote? It’s the Rig Veda (X, 121:1), one of the foundational scriptures of the religion known as Hinduism. Notice again the language of “sole Lord.” It doesn’t sound polytheistic, does it? And yet, polytheism and henotheism (a type of polytheism that acknowledges the supremacy of one of its gods) are the terms often used to size up Hinduism.

Ask a well-read Hindu if his or her religion is polytheistic, and you’ll likely hear that all of the different deities in Hinduism are simply different masks on the same Deity. In the same way that I am a son, a brother, a father, and a husband, yet still the same person, so the gods of Hinduism are ultimately not essentially different gods.

Christians are not polytheists. But they do believe that three distinct persons (or however you want to speak of the Father, the Christ, and the Spirit of God) have the character or quality of being God. On this point, I don’t know that the outlook of Hinduism is really that different from the outlook of Christianity.

Other experiences? Thoughts? Comments?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Know Your New Testament?

Here’s part of the first exam my New Testament Survey students took earlier this week. It covers some introductory and background material plus the content of the Gospels, especially Luke. (Don’t worry too much about my posting the exam; I basically write new tests every semester). So, wanna try it cold? Print it off and take the test. I’ll post correct answers tomorrow.

A. Write either (T) rue or (F) alse to the left of each number:

1. In Jesus’ day, the average Jewish person would have no dealings with a Samaritan.

2. For understanding the New Testament, the most important background literature is the Dead Sea Scrolls.

3. The Pharisees were a well-known and highly-respected group in the time of Jesus.

4. Of the Four Gospels, only Matthew tells a story from the time when Jesus was twelve years old.

5. The Gospels refer to more than one person called Herod.

6. The New Testament is the best-attested document from antiquity.

7. One day when Jesus read the Bible and preached at the synagogue, the people got so mad they tried to kill him.

8. In writing his gospel, Luke does not refer to previous attempts to tell the story of Jesus.

9. When John the Baptist began his ministry Nero was Caesar, the Roman emperor.

10. Luke is the gospel writer who tells us about wise men (or magi) who followed a star to the place where Jesus was born.

11. Jesus grew up in the district of Perea.

12. In the early days of his ministry, Jesus seems to have adopted Caesarea as his home away from home.

13. Jesus once claimed that he came to bring fire on the earth and cause division in families.

14. The Gospel of Luke reports a part of Jesus’ family tree.

15. The opponents of Jesus claimed that he used demonic powers to perform his miracles.

16. Jesus once acknowledged that he and John the Baptist had very different personalities and styles.

17. Luke sometimes reports not only the words of a parable, but also indicates to the reader why Jesus told that parable.

18. Jesus’ parable about tenants and a vineyard infuriated some of his hearers.

19. Luke’s description of the crucifixion is quite graphic. It mentions, for example, Jesus’ blood and the hammers and spikes that were used by the Roman soldiers.

20. Some of the parables of Jesus are intended to make a single, identifiable point.

21. There is a connection between the military campaigns of Alexander the Great and the original language of the New Testament.

22. The Gospel of Luke reports the ascension of the resurrected Jesus.

23. According to Luke, the resurrected Jesus appeared to his followers only once.

24. When eleven Apostles of Jesus were told that his tomb was empty, the message was dismissed as nonsense.

25. When he spoke of his motives in telling parables, Jesus said that there were intended to conceal the message as well as reveal it.


B. Multiple Choice. Circle the letter next to the correct response:

1. Which two of the Four Gospels include infancy narratives, stories about the birth of Jesus?

a. Matthew and Mark
b. Matthew and Luke
c. Matthew and John
d. Luke and John

2. How many of the Four Gospels refer to the life and ministry of John the Baptist?

a. one
b. two
c. three
d. four

3. Jesus was born in _________________.

a. Bethlehem
b. Nazareth
c. Capernaum
d. Jerusalem

4. Jesus grew up in what town?

a. Bethlehem
b. Nazareth
c. Capernaum
d. Jerusalem

5. What prompted the people of Jesus’ hometown to reject him?

a. Jesus healed on the Sabbath
b. Jesus cast some demons into a herd of pigs
c. Jesus encouraged the people to pay their taxes
d. Jesus referred to God’s love for non-Jews

6. Name the region that Jesus did not visit during his teaching ministry.

a. Perea
b. Babylonia
c. Samaria
d. Galilee

7. When Jesus was transfigured on a mountain, which two Old Testament characters appeared with him?

a. Moses and Aaron
b. Moses and Joshua
c. Moses and Elijah
d. Moses and Isaiah

8. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, close friends of Jesus, lived in what village?

a. Bethany
b. Bethel
c. Beelzebub
d. Beersheba

9. Jesus spent most of his final week before the crucifixion in what city?

a. Nazareth
b. Bethany
c. Jerusalem
d. Capernaum

10. Unlike Protestant Bibles, Roman Catholic editions of Christian Scripture include more than a dozen additional books commonly known as __________________.

a. the Apocalypse
b. the Apocrypha
c. the Acropolis
d. the Athanasius

11. _________________________ is the name that has been given to the question of why the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke look so much alike, why the contents of these books are so similar.

a. The Similarity Problem
b. The Synchronic Problem
c. The Synoptic Problem
d. The Symphonic Problem

12. Most often, Jesus referred to himself as _________________________.

a. Son of Man
b. Son of God
c. the Christ, the Messiah
d. Son of David

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Fine Music from Donald Fagen

Tradition has it that Solomon penned the erotic Song of Songs when he was young, the prudential Book of Proverbs at midlife, and the bleak realism of Ecclesiastes in his final years.

Donald Fagen would no doubt scoff at any comparisons between himself and the great king of ancient Israel. But the co-founder of the Grammy-award winning group Steely Dan could hardly deny the parallel to his own trilogy, a recently-completed set of autobiographical albums.

In his own words, Fagen’s first solo record, The Nightfly “is sort of looking from the standpoint of youth.” Released in 1982, its best-known track, “I.G.Y” exudes the naive confidence of those years that emerged just after World War II and the Korean War. A young man looks to the future and imagines

A just machine to make big decisions,
Programmed by fellows with compassion and vision.

Fagen’s 1993 album, Kamakiriad, relates the journey of an aging man who experiences rebirth when the dealership drops off a nifty new car. In the first track, “Trans-Island Skyway” we hear the driver bragging about his sophisticated ride:

It’s a steam-power 10.
The frame is out of Glasgow.
The tech is Balinese.

But for all of its gadgets and power, the Kamakiri can’t speed past life’s final destiny. In the last track of the album, our traveler through life thinks about a favorite music club and waxes philosophical:

If it feels right, just drive for the light.
That’s the groove-essential facts
Someday we’ll all meet at the end of the street,
At the teahouse on the tracks

This year, that’s thirteen years after the last album, Fagen released Morph the Cat, yet another collection of musical gems polished to a high gloss (the sort of music you hardly ever hear on the radio anymore).

With the artist nearing the end of his sixth decade, one would expect something a little different. And although the grooves are as deep, the lyrics as wry, and the sounds are silky as ever, what Fagen delivers is truly something new. This time around, Donald’s talking, again in his own words, “a lot about death.”

And what’s he got to say? Nothing you don’t already know, at least for now. But what a way to say it. I’ll blab some more about it soon. Maybe even next time.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

This-n-That

Call me a sissy?  I’ll hit you with my purse.  Suggest that my religion is not so nice?  I’ll kill you!  

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Bumper Sticker:  “COMPOST!  A rind is a terrible thing to waste.”

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Last Saturday morning I attended a seminar, hosted by Amarillo College, on Hinduism.  The presenter was Dr. Dana Sawyer who teaches religion courses at the Maine College of Art and at Bangor Theological Seminary.

The lecture, question-and-answer, and the visuals were terrific.  Overall, the session moved one of those things I wonder about to the front burner; the question of how Christianity interfaces with the big religions of the world.   Any thoughts?   Observations?  Recommended books?  Stories to share?

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What a significant day at the United Nations.  From what I gathered while listening to the Today show, President Bush will speak at the U.N., followed a few hours later by the President of Iran.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

About Books, 5

7. One book you wish had never been written: Hmmm. Mr. Obvious suggests Mein Kamph, by Adolf Hitler. I think it was Bobby Valentine (a.k.a. the Stoned-Campbell Disciple, not the Mets’ former manager) who mentioned Why I Am a Member of the Church of Christ. Any book that collapses the way of Christ under the ecclesiology of one branch of the American Restoration Movement? Yep, that’s a good pick. Right after the Self-Help books, you’ll find it in the section labeled “Self-Serving.”

8. One book you’re currently reading: Regulars here at Frankly Speaking won’t be surprised. I’m reading the Qur’an, this edition.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

About Books, 4

5. One book that made you cry: Billy, by Albert French.

The tears were unexpected. So when they came, it was like a dam had burst. Here’s a blurb I found at Amazon:

1937. Mississippi. Two teenage girls. Two young boys, ages ten and twelve. A fight ensues and one of the girls ends up dead. The community is outraged and more interested in revenge than justice. Why? The girls are white and the boys are black. Should that matter? Regardless, it does. French unapologetically drops the reader right into the times with all its prejudices glaring. It's impossible to avoid an emotional reaction to Billy. The grief of the families' losses, Billy's confusion about what's happening to him as well as what happened during the fight, and the blatant racism all serve to make the reader question whether things have really changed since 1937 or whether all that racism really just boiling under the surface searching for any excuse to break free.”

6. One book you wish had been written: The Authority of the Old Testament, by Alexander Campbell.

Several years ago, Everett Ferguson argued that after Campbell preached and published his “Sermon on the Law,” others ripped some of his statements from their polemic context, absolute-ized them in ways that Campbell never would have, which gave rise to the borderline (or downright) Marcionism of the Churches of Christ.

And don’t tell me it ain’t that bad. Several years ago--to cite just one example from my experience--a deacon in the congregation where I was preaching at the time asked me, “Why do we need the Old Testament at all?”

Oh, and then there was the time when my fellow Bible major at Freed-Hardeman asked me if the O.T. was inspired. After thinking about it for a minute, I told him I thought it was, but wasn’t sure why I thought that.

Ferguson also said that in order to find out how Campbell himself thought of and used the Old Testament for the church one should read his book, Familiar Lectures on the Pentateuch. I get the impression they’re not so familiar, Alex.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Qur'anic Backgrounds to Osama bin Laden

Could a true expression of Islam hope and bring harm against non-Muslims, especially Jews and Christians?

“Fight against such of those to whom the Scriptures were given as believe neither in God nor the Last Day, who do not forbid what God and his apostles have forbidden, and do not embrace the true Faith, until they pay tribute out of hand and are utterly subdued.

“The Jews say Ezra is the son of God, while Christians say the Messiah is the son of God. Such are their assertions by which they imitate the infidels of old. God confound them! How perverse they are!” (Qur’an 9:29).

Why has Osama bin Laden financed the mujahideen and al-Qaeda and, more-recently, lived in caves? What are (some of) his religious reasons?

“Believers, why is it that when it is said to you: ‘March in the cause of God,’ you linger slothfully in the land? Are you content with this life in preference to the life to come? Few indeed are the blessings of this life, compared to the life to come.

“If you do not fight, He will punish you sternly, and replace you by other men. You will in no way harm Him: for God has power over all things.

“If you do not help him [i.e., Muhammad], God will help him as he helped him when he was driven out by the unbelievers with one another. In the cave he said to his companion: ‘Do not despair, God is with us.’ God caused his tranquility to descend upon him and sent to his aid invisible warriors, so that he routed the unbelievers and exalted the Word of God. God is mighty and wise.

“Whether unarmed or well-equipped, march on and fight for the cause of God, with your wealth and with your persons. This will be best for you, if you but knew it.” (Qur’an 9:38-41).

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

About Books, 3

3. One book you’d want on a desert island: Hmmm, this one’s a tuffy. If there was a Complete Idiot’s Guide to Raft Construction, I’d want that. But there is no such book. . . . I checked. Of books that actually exist, and assuming that I’m stranded on that desert island, with no phones, no lights, no motor cars, etc., I’d have to go with The Best Short Stories of O. Henry. I haven’t read them all. But being stranded would give me plenty of time to finish up and then read them again and again.

4. One book that made you laugh: Juvenal’s Satires. Some people have this really insightful and wicked sort of wit. I’m not one of them. Juvenal was. If you ever get the impression that human nature has changed, this guy will cure you.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

About Books, 2

The Labor Day weekend came and went way too fast.  It was a nice break, though.  This part of Texas saw a slow, soaking rain on Saturday, exactly what we needed.  Today it’s back to classes where, this week, the subjects are:  

(1) African religions (which I know next to nothing about)

(2) Pauline chronology (which is harder to handle than a greased pig, not that I have or plan to)

(3) Overviewing the life of Jesus (Why didn’t we do this in any of the Bible classes I attended growing up?)

(4)  Surveying Numbers and Deuteronomy.  (Survey courses are tough in that, in order to keep pace, you’re constantly deciding what not to cover).

Now back to the book list:

2.  One book that you’ve read more than once:  Again, I just have to mention two books.

Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue, by Edwin S. Friedman.  I still don’t exactly understand Bowen theory.  But I’m convinced it contains a lot of truth.  I have Ken Danley to thank for telling me about this one.  Thanks, Ken.

And then there’s Forgotten Truth: The Common Vision of the World’s Religions, by Huston Smith.  In a Genesis class at Harding Graduate School, Dr. Jack Vancil referred to this book with obvious admiration.  I wrote down the author and title in my notes.  A few months later, I came across a paperback copy in a used bookstore in Memphis.  It’s been with me ever since.  This is the sort of book that a modern-day Paul would want to read before preaching a modern-day Mars Hill sermon.  All genuinely-religious outlooks have more in common with each other than they have with philosophical materialism.

Friday, September 01, 2006

About Books, 1

Hey! Look at me! I got tagged! Ooh, and by someone whose blog is listed in the sidebar at Mike Cope’s, no less.

Actually, this is the second time I’ve been tagged. The first time, tagged by Steve Duer, I was so out of commission, and I didn’t respond for the longest time. Finally, I started putting together my wise and wonderful response. But that was before I had discovered the straight-from-Word-to-Blogger trick. Of course, I was predestined, working on revision #5 I think it was, to completely lose the post. So I did the mature thing: I cried and quit.

This time, I’m going to respond and tag in installments not for fear of loss (although that would be reason enough), but for the same reasons I haven’t posted anything in the last three weeks. My excuses for the downtime are many and myriad. But they’re mainly about the following:

1. Trips to Oklahoma and New Mexico

2. New and returning faculty stuff. (And because of odd circumstances, I’m both new AND returning).

3. The flurry associated with the first two weeks of school.

The above sort of looks like a syllabus, doesn’t it? That’s significant. Oh, which leads me to ask, Where did we get that weird form where nouns that end in “us” go to “i” in the plural? I’m guessing that came from folks who thought that saying syllabuses sounded silly. Anyway, don’t you know ESL students lvoe that sort of exception to English noun endings.

Okay. Now for that first part of the response to the tag:

1. One book that changed your life: Like most readers of books, I want to say, “Which time?” What I mean is, it seems like different books come along at different times in your life and change the way you think and look at things from that time on.

But if I had to pick only one book, I’d have to say, Jesus—God and Man, by Wolfhart Pannenberg. It was assigned to me during my student days at Harding Graduate School in Memphis. At the time Dr. Doug Brown was the Theology Department there and I signed up for his course on “Christian Evidences.” What a mind-expanding drug that was.

Anyway, I picked the topic “Christology,” and was told by Dr. Brown to read and report on what was then Pannenberg’s magnum opus.

What it did for me? It led me to realize that a Christian--even one who was intellectually-engaged—didn’t need to check his or her brain at the door before worshipping the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I can’t begin to express what a joyful relief that was to me. But when people walk up to authors they’ve never met before, and hug them? I know what that’s about.

I suspect that Jesus—God and Man isn’t read as often as it was before the publication of Tom Wright’s newer book, The Resurrection of the Son of God.

Trust me, if you manage to wade through either one or both of those books, you’ll be glad you did.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Keepin' Religion Real

(What an interesting time to be teaching about World Religions! The observations and comments I offer in this post were put together before the events of the last few days).

As I prepare to teach a course on World Religions for the first time, one thing I frequently meet up with is the attempt to sidestep or gloss over those parts of the Qur’an that deny the legitimacy of Judaism and Christianity, and that express divine judgment against everything but Islam.

As a Christian, I might not start out with Jesus’ words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except by me.” Maybe I would. I probably wouldn’t start with Paul’s assertion that when Christ returns, the Lord “will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”

But the fact is, even after our analyses, interpretations, and “yes, but”s, those passages invariably draw lines. Better yet, they identify lines that were drawn by Christ himself. If the Christian gospel is true, then those lines are decisive.

Again, those wouldn’t be the statements I’d start out with in talking about Jesus and his kingdom, or in teaching a unit on “Christianity” in a World Religions course. But neither would I try to hide them. And why would I try? What they say explicitly is something the New Testament says implicitly many times. And why would I want to? C. S. Lewis wrote to the effect that there’s a “Great Divorce” between heaven and hell, between what’s true and what isn’t. The New Testament says that the dividing line is Jesus. As a Christian, as a teacher, would I do someone a favor by pretending it was some other way?

Judging from the politically-correct versions of Islam being foisted onto the American public, though, one would get the impression that no straight-thinking Muslim ever thought the Qur’an had anything bad to say about non-Muslims and their differing beliefs.

Exhibit A: I have a packet of material titled, “Teaching Islam and the Arab World.” Its author evidently hopes that no one will ever read sections of the Qur’an other than the ones the author quotes. Here’s how he works. He quotes from the Qur’an 2:136 as follows:

“Say: We believe in Allah and that which is revealed to us, and in what was revealed to Abraham, Ishma’il, Isaac, Jacob, and the tribes, to Moses and Jesus and the other prophets from the Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and to Allah we have surrendered ourselves.”

Then the author comments: “Thus, in Islam, the prophets are seen as spiritual brothers to one another. Some commonly known figures who are considered prophets in Islam include Noah, Jonah, Abraham, Ishmail, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon, and Jesus.”

Sweet, isn’t it? And true enough. But why doesn’t the author quote the statement that prompts the Muslim to “Say” what he says? In the Qur’an, here’s what immediately precedes the “Say” section quoted above:

“They say: ‘Accept the Jewish or Christian faith and you will be rightly guided.’ Say: ‘By no means! We believe in the faith of Abraham, the upright one. He was no idolater’.”

The way the passage is cropped and quoted in the study packet seems to be motivated by a desire to avoid the very point of the text: Christianity and Judaism are not along side of Islam. They are superceded by Islam. My question is, Why not just acknowledge that that’s what the Qur’an says?

In our study of Islam this semester, I won’t attempt to portray Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as some sort of happy trinity of Abrahamic religions. Why? Because it ain’t so.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Writing Tests

If you want to get an education, try putting together a test.  One of my projects this week is to complete writing the pretests for the following courses:  

1.  World Religions
2.  Introduction to the Old Testament
3.  Life of Paul
4.  Introduction to the New Testament

Each test will be made up of 12-20 multiple-choice questions over the broad, basic knowledge that students should certainly have acquired by the end of the course of study.  (Wow, that sounds so professorial).  I want to get an idea of the knowledge level that students are starting out with.  

Of course, I’m starting with the final tests from last semester.  But in many cases, the information is too detailed and/or advanced for a pretest I think

In writing these tests, I’m learning once again how hard it is to come up with good, even test questions.  Any suggestions?  Ideas?  An already-produced test? (with answer key, please)

On a related note, sometimes I wonder about the place of tests in the learning process.  It seems that everything has to be quantified anymore.  And the value assigned to testing has gone up in recent years.  So, we’re stuck with tests, I suppose.  Hey, maybe I should make them write tests; I said it was learning process.

When I was a student at Freed-Hardeman, Clyde (that’s “Doc”) Woods sometimes told about an old rabbi who taught at Hebrew Union College, but who detested giving tests. (I get the impression that yeshivas don’t use written tests like we do).  The rabbi would register his rejection of testing as follows:  “Vy should I ask you vat-choo know?  I know vat-choo know!”

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Reflections on the Rally

Ever since last Saturday’s Klan rally and my own participation in the anti-Klan protest, two passages of Scripture have been swirling around in my mind:

The first part of Psalm 97:10 says, “Let those who love the Lord hate evil.” I wonder, what does it look like when people who love God embrace the other side of that?

According to the immediate context, hating evil includes some sort of outward expression. As the verse goes on, the command is accompanied by this assurance: “for he guards the lives of his faithful ones, and delivers them from the hand of the wicked.” Clearly then, godly anger isn’t some tricky blend of two emotions, anger and reverence. The passage obviously implies that because of their hatred of evil, the “faithful ones” eventually say or do something that consequently and necessarily incites the wicked.

I went to Saturday’s rally mainly because as a Christian I didn’t want the Ku Klux Klan, a group with a reputation for murderous racism, to stand at the front of City Hall and spew their ugly rhetoric without some sort of repudiation. By the way, I reject the opinion piece in today’s Amarillo Globe-News that suggests that if protesters had only stayed away from the rally, the Klan would have had an audience of maybe two or three clueless teenagers. The on-line edition includes photos of grown men standing with the crowd, wearing Confederate head scarves, and proudly returning to the KKK their Nazi salute! At one point Saturday afternoon, it dawned on me why we couldn’t build the cheer, “Go away, KKK!” At least some of those around us were Klan sympathizers. The protest was significant.

I’ve also been meditating on James 1:19-21: “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you.”

Last Saturday, I relearned something about anger. Like the child who grows up, breaks free from and overwhelms the good parent, anger quickly outgrows even righteous indignation and begins to act on its own.

Many people in the protest group wanted to do more than simply make noise and drown out the words of the Klan. At certain points during the rally it became necessary for lines of policemen, dressed in riot gear, to approach the crowd and keep things from escalating. The animosity was infectious and at times I felt like a shark that had caught the scent of blood.

Just after arriving at City Hall, I asked a black man standing nearby me what he thought and how he felt about what we were witnessing. He talked about how he was surprised that we still had visible expressions of the Klan. Then he said, “But one thing’s for sure: only God can straighten this out.”

Monday, August 07, 2006

We Went to the KKK Rally

Last Saturday morning, my two teenagers and I talked things over and decided to go and protest at the Ku Klux Klan rally that afternoon. I’ll write about some of our experiences and reflections later today or first thing tomorrow, plus maybe a photo or two.

The Sunday edition of the Amarillo paper included two front-page stories and a reflection piece on the KKK rally at City Hall, and the alternative rally, which was held at the Martin Luther King Jr. Park in another part of the city. To access the stories and photos, you may have to register at the Globe-News website. For some reason, the linkage from this site isn't woking so well, so you might have to take the long way around to the website, www.amarillo.com

Friday, August 04, 2006

Another Plan for the Klan


According to a front-page story in today’s Amarillo Globe-News, a group called Go Away KKK! is planning to be downtown tomorrow “to counter the Ku Klux Klan’s rally by drowning out its speakers with noise.” A KKK group from San Angelo, Texas has been issued a permit to demonstrate on the steps of Amarillo’s City Hall from 3-5 p.m. this Saturday.

Milissa Milam, a spokesperson for Go Away KKK! noted the Klan’s reputation for all kinds of violence and racism, and is calling for residents of Amarillo to show up at the Klan rally with “pots, pans, drums, guitars, whistles, air horns, radios—anything that makes noise.”

A Go Away KKK! poster that accompanies the story in the paper claims that at a recent KKK rally in Austin, TX “protesters got the Klan to leave in just 20 minutes by overwhelming them with noise!”

Today’s editorial in the Globe-News frequently quotes Martin Luther King Jr. and continues the paper’s endorsement of the “Community Unity Day Celebration,” planned by the local NAACP and scheduled for 3-5 p.m. at the MLK Park in Amarillo, far from City Hall.

As I mentioned in a post two weeks ago, other local voices have suggested that people here should completely ignore the Klan’s rally and go on as usual. At least one local pastor has planned a church prayer service to coincide with the rally.

By the way, I have no idea of the source of the photo in this post. But as I was looking through images on the Web, this one fascinated me. I can't get it to post any larger (without serious blurring); the white in the background is a Klansman. The face of a child, the competing principles, life lessons learned early . . . This one’s worth well more than a thousand words.

So, if you lived in Amarillo, Texas, where would you be tomorrow afternoon? Why? I’ll keep you posted.