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?


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


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


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


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?


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.