Thursday, February 28, 2008

Goodbye, Bill Buckley

One adage goes something like this: If it weren't for Bill Buckley, we never would have had Barry Goldwater. And if it weren't for Barry Goldwater, we never would have had Ronald Reagan. I don't know enough to measure the truth of that. What I do know is that William F. Buckley Jr., who died yesterday, made a difference in our world.

I think that for many middle-aged people like me, it's tempting to assume that the political conservatism represented by President Reagan had always been there. Or, if it hadn't always been there, it was inevitable. It wasn't. One of the main reasons it emerged and took the shape it did was Buckley. In the words of his son, Christopher, "He founded a magazine, wrote over 50 books, influenced the course of political history. . . "

I can still remember flipping through the channels and coming across Buckley's show, "Firing Line." There he was, slouched down in his chair, talking with someone, using words I'd never heard before. What did those words mean? Maybe it was a good thing when something on television required a dictionary.

But it wasn't just the words. It was his accent. A kid in Oklahoma, I must have assumed he was British. And then there were those expressions: raised eyebrows, gleaming eyes, sly grin. He clearly took pleasure in friendly debate. And it seemed like one reason was, he knew it was unlikely that he'd be outdone.

You might not be on the same side Buckley was on. Either way, you have to admit he was a great thinker, a tremendous leader who fought the good fight.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

No Country for Old Men

Last night, Michele and Chloe and I went to see No Country for Old Men. Wow. . . . Directors Joel and Ethan Coen have out-done themselves with this bleak dream of a film, both heart-pounding and heart-breaking.

The trailers and the buzz about this movie have been out for a good while now. So as you may know already (spoiler alert), it all begins when Llewelyen Moss (Josh Brolin), a Vietnam vet and ordinary Joe who lives in Southwest Texas, goes hunting and discovers the grisly scene of a drug deal gone bad. His life changes when he spots in the distance the corpse of the man who'd been trying to make off with the loot, $2 million in cash neatly stacked in a big black case.

Not much later, Llewelyen has taken the money, been spotted by men who know that he has it, and realizes that it won't be long before someone comes knocking at his door. From there, the movie turns into an far-flung chase that involves the three main characters: Moss, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (played by Tommy Lee Jones), and the psychopathic arch criminal Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem). To discover how it ends (or doesn't) you'll have to see for yourself.

For those who haven't seen it, I'll tell you that this movie is not for the faint of heart. It's certainly not a pick-me-up. But that's putting it mildly. For all of it's darkness, There Will Be Blood, another fine film, is a picnic compared to the violence portrayed in No Country for Old Men. At the same time, the film includes a big dose of the quirky dark humor that we've come to expect from the Coen brothers.

Most of the on-line reviews I've read suggest that one of the main themes of No Country is the recent explosion of violent crime in the U.S. The story is set in 1980, ironically the year that the always-hopeful Ronald Reagan was first elected President. In a telling scene, both Sheriff Bell and one of his colleagues seem to think that it's gotten a lot worse since those earlier, better days when they were younger men. Now old men, these veterans of law enforcement feel lost in a wasteland of absolute disregard and brutality. As Bell says it in the opening voice over,

The crime you see now, it's hard to even take its measure. It's not that I'm afraid of it. I always knew you had to be willing to die to even do this job - not to be glorious. But I don't want to push my chips forward and go out and meet something I don't understand. You can say it's my job to fight it, but I don't know what it is anymore. More than that, I don't want to know. A man would have to put his soul at hazard. He would have to say, "O.K., I'll be part of this world."

Near the end of the movie, the recently-retired Sheriff Bell, feeling "outmatched," goes to visit his Uncle Ellis, a crusty old former lawman, now disabled. To me, this was the pivotal scene. Ellis tells his nephew, "Whatcha got ain't nothin new." The depth of evil that Ed Tom Bell has recently come to see? It didn't just arrive. It's not unprecedented. In fact, it can be found throughout human history.

"There is nothing new under the sun," said a wise man. And that includes the mind-numbing violence depicted in this movie. As much as we're impressed, rightly so, by the evil of our own day, the Bible says that there once was a time, leading up to the great Flood, that was worse than what we know. It was a time when, "the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5). Sometimes it feels like that's where we are. Yet the curtain of history still hasn't come down. I take that to mean that, along with this being a time of incredible wickedness, it's also a time that includes the hope of salvation and redemption.

In the closing scene, the newly-retired Sheriff Bell seems completely dejected. He tells his wife about a couple of dreams he'd had the night before. In the first, he had lost some money that his father (also a career lawman) had given him. Here, Bell gives voice to the the haunting fears of people who live with a legacy, who stand in a great tradition. Will I be so weak that I'll fumble and forfeit what others have worked so hard to earn?

In the second dream, father and son are riding horseback through the snow. The father passes, holding a lit torch. He'll set up a campsite and build a fire up ahead. Eventually, the son will meet the father there.

Will that be a time when Bell has to give an account for what he did, who he was? Maybe that's the idea. Either way, by now the viewer is convinced that in spite of his confusion and doubt, the good sheriff would do well in any such judgment. Besides, he would be with his father, the one who had gone ahead and prepared a place for the two of them.

Could a dream like that be interpreted as a longing for restoration and never-ending relationship? That's the way I read it, because that's what I'm hoping for. People were not meant to age and die in an evil world. We were created to live with our father forever.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Introducing the Apostle Paul

My "New Testament" class meets tonight. Students will start off by taking the first exam (over the Gospels and Acts). Then we'll start the next major unit: Paul and His Letters. What that means is, I'll have about two hours to introduce Paul (yes, with a good break in the middle).

Because I teach a full semester course on "The Life of Paul," I have plenty of lecture notes and hand-outs, etc. So I have more than enough material for this introduction.

But I want to ask you: If you were in my shoes tonight, what would you be sure to cover, or at least mention? This is a freshman-level college course. And the Bible knowledge that my students bring to class represents a wide range.

So, what should be included in any decent "Introduction to Paul"? What are teachers most likely to overlook? Would you emphasize basic biography? Thought and theology? The worlds that Paul lived in (i.e., Jewish, Greek, and Roman)?

Whaddaya think?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Attack Ad on Mark Henderson and the Quail Springs Church of Christ

In my previous post, I mentioned my distaste for the ad that appeared in "The Oklahoman" last week, the one lambasting Mark Henderson, preacher for the Quail Springs Church of Christ. The ad violates the standard of Christian propriety. It also contains several errors which, if recognized, would have prevented it from seeing the light of printed day.

Before I talk about that, though, I want to clarify something: I don't intend my criticism of the ad to be a defense of the decision made by the Quail Springs elders and their preacher. I still prefer, and would argue for, a cappella worship. But in addition to that, I have my questions about the way in which this change at Quail Springs was made. Maybe there was due process before the decision was announced. However, from this distance it seems as though many members at Quail Springs were surprised. Was that the case? I don't know. Either way, preachers and elders should pay close attention to that section of Christian ethics that would fall under the heading "the ethics of congregational change."

About the ad: I said, among other things, that it contains a good bit of Scripture twisting. What follows are three of the more glaring examples:

2 John 9

The ad states that instrumental music in Christian worship takes a person “outside the doctrine of Christ.” But take another look at the passage in context. A reading of 2 John clearly shows that “the doctrine of Christ” refers specifically to the doctrine that Christ came in the flesh. So how does the music question fit into that? One thing I've noticed is that people sometimes want to place anything and everything under the heading "the doctrine of Christ." That way, if you happen to cross one of those many lines, then you're outside of the doctrine and, according to the verse, don't have God. That's nonsense.

Galatians 5:4

“You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” The ad states that this verse applies to pro-instrument people when they refer to Old Testament passages that mention instruments in the worship of ancient Israel. But once again, the meaning of the verse and its application in the ad have absolutely no connection. In Galatians 5:4, Paul is speaking against the idea that Christian men must be circumcised in order to be true members of the family of God (see the many references to this in Galatians 5:1-12). Another part of the mindset in the Galatian churches was that all Christians had to observe the various "days and months and seasons and years" of Judaism (Galatians 4:10). Contrary to the ad's mishandling of the passage, the question of whether it's proper to appeal to the Old Testament for a certain practice is nowhere in view.

Romans 16:17

The authors of the ad cite this verse as the basis for their marking of the Quail Springs preacher. But had they done the least bit of study, they would have discovered that Romans 16:17 gives no support for the practice of publicly branding another Christian.

For example, twenty five years ago, Dr. Jack P. Lewis published the short article, “Mark Them Which Cause Divisions.” It first appeared in an issue of the Firm Foundation dated February 22, 1983. Five years later, it was reprinted in a collection of Lewis articles called Exegesis of Difficult Passages (Searcy, AR: Resource Publications, 1988) 111-115. Evidently, it should be required reading in preacher training schools everywhere. Here's how Lewis begins:

"The obligation, almost universally felt among our preaching brothers, to label other preaching brothers who hold positions thought to be erroneous, rests upon a misunderstanding of Rom. 16:17 which in the KJV and ASV reads:

Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.

Under the influence of the KJV and the ASV, we have men who apparently feel their chief mission in life is the branding in the eyes of the whole church all those who differ with them. We have a type of journalism whose chief function seems to be to attack the reputation of those who differ . . ."

Sound familiar?

In his characteristic style, Lewis goes into a study of the biblical text, giving attention to every fact. His conclusion is that Paul's meaning in Romans 16:17 is that Christians are to "take notice of" those who cause divisions. And, in 1611, the publication date of the KJV, that's exactly what "mark" meant. To quote Lewis again:

"The verb 'mark' in 1611 meant 'to take notice of'; it carried no connotation of branding. It did not suggest that one should do what the Lord did when he put a mark on Cain. . . . Today, apart from the phrase 'mark my word,' 'mark' is seldom used in the sense of 'take notice of' but does primarily carry the sense that it is most commonly understood by our people when they read Rom. 16:17. They register the meaning they know best, not asking themselves if that is the correct one."

Lewis concludes by saying that he has no problem with spiritual vigilance, but that he does have a problem with religious vigilantes. So should every Christian.

For the sake of comparison, you can see the ad here.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Quail Springs and Mark Henderson Get Written Up

If you're a member of the Churches of Christ, then you had to expect this would happen. But it still makes me sad and angry. I'm talking about what appears to be a full-page ad in "The Oklahoman," the state-wide newspaper, dated Wednesday, February 6, 2008.

What's all the fuss? As I mentioned in a previous post, the Quail Springs Church of Christ in Oklahoma City has added a Sunday service that includes instrumental music. So now, evidently, three preachers from non-instrumental churches are out to show that Mark Henderson, the preacher at Quail Springs, is more than wrong. According to them, he's a bad person.

The preachers libelously call Henderson "a false teacher." And they attempt to cover such ugliness with the cloak of religious obligation: "Pursuant to the Lord's instructions in Romans 16:17" they say, "congregations all across Oklahoma and Texas have marked" the Quail Springs preacher. They even include a photo of Henderson, as though their ridiculous ad were some sort of wanted poster. Of course, they challenge him to a public debate. And when Henderson refuses to take them up, they'll probably claim he's afraid to defend his position because he knows he's in the wrong.

Words fail me. I can't come up with something that would adequately express my disgust. (Actually, I probably can, but I'm not going to write it here). At any rate, I have to say that this makes me sick.

It is one thing to disagree with someone. But it is another thing for those who represent Christ to do something like this in public. On the one occasion when these "gospel preachers" had the opportunity to speak to an entire region, what was their message? An unwarranted attack on a brother in Christ.

Not to mention that the text of the ad is riddled with misapplication of Scripture. I think that will be the subject of my next post. Until then, if you've got the stomach for it, you can see the ad here. News articles that have appeared in "The Oklahoman" include the following:

"Quail Springs Church of Christ will add service with musical instruments" dated January 26, 2008.

"Instrument use strikes discord in area church," dated February 7.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

World Convention 2008

I'm curious. How many of you out there in Blogland are planning to go to the next World Convention?

Maybe you've never heard of it. Until recently, I had only heard of it. And I've never been to one. Here's some information from the official website:

Conventions bring together people from the 'Christian' family of Churches (Christian - Churches of Christ - Disciples) from around the world. The assemblies focus on meaningful worship (including outstanding preaching and inspirational music), learning (with study of significant themes), contemporary evangelism (Bader Lectures) and global fellowship. All ages are catered for. World Convention is the 'flagship' of the churches with their origin in the 19th Century Restoration Movement.

The Convention meets every four years. And I have to say, it certainly is World. In the recent past, it's been held in places like New Zealand, Canada, Australia and, most recently, Brighton, England.

But this time around, the host city is Nashville. The dates: July 30-August 3. Interestingly enough, the Convention has never been held in a Bible Belt city. So I think it's a safe bet that this, the 17th World Convention, will be the biggest ever. By the way, of the three keynote speakers, the one from the Churches of Christ is Mike Cope.

Anyway, my plans for 2008 aren't quite set. But if I can make this big Stone-Campbell Family Get-together, I'm going. Even if you don't go, you might want to check out the website. Look around the links. You'll find that the site contains a good bit of interesting information.

The home page is www.worldconvention.org/

Monday, February 04, 2008

Jesus Loves Women, Minorities, and Outcasts Too

"Ten Lepers" by James C. Christensen

In both the fall and spring semesters, I teach "The New Testament." It's a basic first-year course where we focus on content. This time around, it's a night class, Mondays from 7:00 to 9:45 p.m. Tonight we're scheduled to explore a part of the NT that has become one of my favorites: Luke and Acts.

I've heard it repeated many times before: as he tells the story of Jesus, Luke puts a good bit of emphasis on how Christ paid attention to and elevated the overlooked and often-despised people of his world, namely women, Samaritans, and various sorts of outcasts. But I never realized how pronounced this was until I recently saw a list of passages that are unique to Luke. Each passage listed below is found only in that Gospel:

Women

1. Mary encounters an angel (1:26-38)
2. Mary and Elizabeth (1:39-45)
3. Mary's Song (1:46-56)
4. Jesus raises the widow's son (7:11-17)
5. The sinful woman forgiven (7:36-50)
6. Women who supported Jesus (8:1-3)
7. Mary and Martha (10:38-42)
8. Woman healed on the Sabbath (13:10-17)
9. Parable of the widow and the judge (18:1-8)

But it's not just women. Luke seems to have a soft spot in his heart for telling the stories of various kinds of people, some who were deeply despised:

Shepherds and Lepers, Tax Collectors and Samaritans

1. Shepherds at Jesus' birth (2:8-20)
2. The Good Samaritan (10:29-37)
3. Ten lepers healed, including one thankful Samaritan (17:11-19)
4. Pharisee and the tax collector (18:9-14)
5. Zacchaeus, the tax collector (19:1-10)

Luke could have told a lot of different stories about Jesus. But, writing by inspiration, he told these ones. I wonder, if Jesus had lived in our times, of all the people He might have encountered, which ones would Luke recall?

Friday, February 01, 2008

Quail Springs Church Adds Instrumental Music

Last Saturday's issue of "The Oklahoman" (easily the biggest newspaper in the state) contained an article about the recent decision by the Quail Springs Church of Christ in Oklahoma City to add a Sunday service that includes instrumental music. You can read the article, which is mostly a Q&A with with Quail Springs' preacher, Mark Henderson, here.

In response, Dr. Glover Shipp, a long-time missionary, teacher, and writer among the Churches of Christ, has reportedly written a letter to the editor of "The Oklahoman." I don't know if the paper has published the letter, but you can read it here.

Something I noticed about Shipp's remarks: Although he does cite, in a positive way, a handful of New Testament passages that mention singing, he does not resort to the exclusionary principle of the silence of the Scriptures. Instead, he immediately turns to the historical side of the argument: instrumental music was unknown in Christian worship for centuries, and was rare for many centuries even after it was introduced. He quotes Roman Catholic sources to make his point, and also mentions the a cappella tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy. Finally, he notes ;-) the loud instruments heard in many worship assemblies these days, and the fact that many of the people at those assemblies simply don't sing.

I find all of this intriguing at many different levels. Here's one. In recent memory, the silence of the Scriptures was one of the first points our people would make in an argument about the use of instrumental music. In fact, in his fairly-recent and congenial book, Sing His Praise: A Case for a Cappella Music as Worship Today (1987), Rubel Shelley includes the exclusionary principle in his array of arguments for a cappella worship. (This book is one of my favorites on the subject, by the way). But it seems as though the problem associated with this argument--namely, the kind of book you have to assume the Bible is--has had the effect of discrediting this one aspect of the non-instrumental position. Am I right about that?

Either way, as I read Glover Shipp's letter, I was reminded of what Darryl Tippens says in his recent booklet, That's Why We Sing: Many of us reared in Churches of Christ have heard a number of arguments for a cappella singing that seem to carry far less weight than they once did. (p. 19). I think he's right.