Saturday, December 29, 2007

Am I Emergent?

Thanks to Brian LePort for the link to this theology quiz. This is probably about right. Maybe I'd go a little lower on emergent, but then I'd have to go lower on everything else too. I certainly wouldn't self-identify with the emergent movement, but I'm not terribly far from it.

This is such a cheater post, but I haven't even looked at the computer for all of Christmas week. This is my first time getting on and just for a short time. Just wanted to let you know that I'm still here. I have only read about 1/3 of the blogs I usually read, so sorry I haven't interacted with you all in awhile. Right now I'm busy trying to increase my vocabulary enough to understand David Bently Hart's Beaty of the Infinite that I just got for Christmas. Also, I am still planning on switching to Wordpress in a couple days. So there's still time for you to get that free book.

What's your theological worldview?
created with
You scored as Emergent/Postmodern

You are Emergent/Postmodern in your theology. You feel alienated from older forms of church, you don't think they connect to modern culture very well. No one knows the whole truth about God, and we have much to learn from each other, and so learning takes place in dialogue. Evangelism should take place in relationships rather than through crusades and altar-calls. People are interested in spirituality and want to ask questions, so the church should help them to do this.



Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan


Neo orthodox




Classical Liberal


Reformed Evangelical


Roman Catholic




Modern Liberal


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Bloggers Unite: Add a Jim West Warning Label

Jim West is shocked that anyone would find his blog a little too edgy. (It's not as if he has any strong opinions that someone might disagree with.) In particular, Michael Jackson added a warning label on his blogroll link to Jim's site. Personally I think this is quite a good idea and would encourage everyone to follow suit. This is a way that the blogging community can genuinely make the world a better and safer place for everyone.

-- Please note that it is very important that the warning be in ALL CAPS!--

Two memes

Bryan recently tagged me with two memes: the 'seven little known things' meme and the 'what's in your/on your' meme. I'll do them both as one post, but I'm not going to tag anyone at the end. It's like multi-level marketing. After you've done it once and gotten all your friends involved, you are more hesitant to do it again. So if you want to be tagged, leave a comment and I'll tag. I promise. Please specify which meme(s) you want to be tagged for, since these are two different threads, and ought not to get tangled.

Meme #1 - Share seven little know things about yourself.
1. I had the leading role, Ebenezer Scrooge, in my fourth grade class play.
2. I wore a UCLA T-shirt to my first real concert, Metallica, in 9th grade. I had all kinds of real concert T-shirts that I could have (and should have) worn, but I have always hated doing things just because everyone else is doing it.
3. During my first week in the dorms at college, I blasted Madonna's Immaculate Collection as loud as I could in my room. I had all kinds of other more appropriate CDs that I could have (and should have) played loudly, but I have always hated shunning pop culture just because all the 'cool alternative people' are doing it.
4. I signed up for Latin in college because I wanted to read the Bible in its original language. I figured out in the first week that the Bible wasn't written in Latin, but I took three semesters anyway. I have never done a thing with it. (A little like learning Russian to read Marx in his original language.)
5. I can recite the alphabet backwards in less than three seconds.
6. I routinely consider moving to another country (England, Israel, India, and Costa Rica are among the options that I often think of) but I probably never will.
7. I'm a total neat freak. Oh wait, no, I'm not. I'm the total opposite of a neat freak, whatever that would be called.

Meme #2 - What's in your/on your:
CD player?
The Ancient Church, lecture 5 (for a distance ed course). On my mp3 player I have the first three lectures of Church History by Gerald Bray. You can get all kinds of free evangelical seminary courses at

DVD player?
It's empty. I think the kids were watching a VeggieTales Larryboy show last. I don't actually watch movies. I'm a Christian after all. :) Actually the last movie I watched was Babylon 5: A Call to Arms. At the beginning of the year we borrowed season 1 of Babylon 5 and we finally finished all five seasons plus all five movies. Good times.

To Read list?
Henry Chadwick, The Early Church; J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines; Jaroslav Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (All for the same distance ed course, though the Pelikan book is part of 1000 pages reading that I get to choose for myself, and was on my to read list already).
I am still only half-way through Kevin Vanhoozer's Drama of Doctrine. It's a great book, but I keep stopping after each chapter to read other books. That's everything on the front burners right now. To see what's on the back burners, see my Amazon wish list.

To see list?
The Parthenon, Paris, Rome and Vatican City, the Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu, the Great Pyramids

I spend too much time on the computer. Also I'm thinking about the relationship between theology and knowledge, and the Resurrection of Jesus - both especially in terms of comments I have recently gotten, both on my blog and through email. This kind of stuff usually takes me a week or two to process.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas Mental Associations

Okay. Here is a little Mental Association game. You start with a topic and tell what unrelated thing you associate with it. Then you associate another unrelated thing to that. After the seventh association (the 'number of perfection'), you have to somehow bring it back to the first topic.

Today's association topic is Christmas. When I think of Christmas, I remember reading the Christmas story from Luke 2, year after year. Stories of shepherds mixed with stories of wise men and drummer boys and Christmas trees and Christmas queens and five good reasons to memorize your Christmas play lines. The nativity passages in the Bible became...

1. Out-of-context scriptures. When I became a Christan, I had trouble even reading Luke 2 without gagging. After several years (and several sermons and papers on Luke, portions of Luke, or Luke's theology), Luke 2 has finally been integrated back into scripture for me. Now when I hear the Christmas story, I snap into redaction criticism mode, where I think, "Oh that part is from Luke (or Matthew), and here is what he was doing in his narrative through that passage." The other main out-of-context scriptures I stumbled over as a new Christian were the passion narratives. They would always remind me of...

2. Jesus Christ Superstar. I would get to the last supper and start singing to myself, "What's the buzz? Tell me what's a happening." Like the nativity stories, I am finally over this reaction, but I also have never seen a production of Jesus Christ Superstar since I was in high school. I have heard lots of Christians who hate it, but I didn't recall anything seeing it then that was particularly blasphemous. I would like to see it again sometime, but I fear that I will spent the next year singing, "What's the buzz? Tell me what's a happening," every time I read the passion narratives. That happened to me for a week after seeing just a short snippet of it in...

3. Along Came Polly. Do you remember this movie with Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston a few years ago? Stiller's best friend (whose name I don't remember) was in a production of Jesus Christ Superstar. He was cast in some minor role (Judas?) but he was so full of himself that he thought he ought to jump in and play the role of Jesus. Now every time I start singing, "What's the buzz? Tell me what's a happening," all I can picture is the part in the movie where he jumps in during practice and starts singing, "Whyyyy shooould yooou want to know?" This little Asian guy timidly speaks up, saying, "But it's me. I'm Jesus." It was maybe one of the best presentations of arrogant pride (in the Biblical sense) I have ever seen. Ben Stiller has been in a lot of movies: "There's Something About Mary," "Zoolander," and others. But my favorite Ben Stiller movie has got to be...

4. Keeping the Faith. Ben Stiller plays a young rabbi who has been friends since childhood with Ed Norton's character, who grows up to be a Roman Catholic priest. And there's the woman from Dharma and Greg whose name I can't remember. My favorite scene is where Ben Stiller brings in a Black Gospel Choir to liven up their synagogue services. That scene, to me, is what church ought to be like. I got to have that kind of experience once during my...

5. Six Weeks Singing in a Black Gospel Choir. When I first became a believer, I had a friend in the UW Gospel Choir, and he invited me to join. I ended up dropping it after a few weeks, but I was in long enough to sing one concert. It was great fun, but I'll never forget how awkward I felt as one of maybe five white people in a choir of fifty or sixty, and the only white guy. It was an amazing experience that helped me catch just a little glimpse into what it feels like to be a minority. I had no problem with the music itself, but otherwise I felt totally out of place culturally. I said I quit because I didn't have time for it, but sometimes I wonder if it is just because I felt so uncomfortable. It was a great experience overall, and a fun part of my...

6. My College Life. Sometimes I regret dropping out of the Gospel Choir. I regret dropping out of the Marching Band after finding out I had only made Sweatered Alternate (which meant I wouldn't get to play unless someone else couldn't make it, but I would have to lug around everyone's equipment). I regret not doing more stuff during college. Sometimes I think should have gone to a smaller school than a state school with 40,000 students. I was too intimidated to ever do anything important. The only thing I ever really got involved in was church. But that was a good thing, because it changed my life. It was also the place where I met...

7. My Wife. "An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels." (Proverbs 31.10) This was the verse I spent the morning meditating on before I asked her to court me. Yes, we did the whole I Kissed Dating Goodbye method. And you know what? It actually worked. We had our very first kiss at the altar. (Talk about a Big Red moment!) I have read a lot of people online (okay, actually just Chris Tilling) that make fun of courtship, but dangit, it just works. I am more in love than ever after almost nine years, and have five children to prove it. O how a family helps you to recognize how many things you take for granted, which brings me back to...

· Christmas. It seems I have spent a lot of time overcoming Christmas burnout. But now with a family, Christmas is more fun than ever. My kids are so wired. We're going to our church Christmas party tonight, where I'll lead everyone in singing Christmas carols, which I like again. It's all good.

It would be fun if some of you would pick up this theme and do your own Mental Association post on Christmas. I would like to see where it leads for other people. I would love to see this become a sort of pseudo-meme, but where you don't have to tag people at the end. Leave me a comment with a link if you decide to play the Association Game.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

I'm Less Introverted than I Thought I Was

I just found out about the online Myers/Briggs personality test at I accidentally clicked on the wrong test at first and got fooled into signing up for all kinds of offers. If you take the test, you shouldn't have to sign up for anything (other than an account). So make sure you click the right button. Here's my personality:

Click to view my Personality Profile page

Last time I took this, I came up as an introvert. The first time I took this, I came up thinking. I guess I'm close enough to the middle that I can fluctuate somewhat between them. But I'm high in the N and P categories. Anyone that knows me (and knows the categories) is probably not surprised by that.

I probably wouldn't have taken the test, but I like the fact that it gives percentages instead of just assigning you letters. I am probably closest to being XNXP, since I'm really only one question off in the first and third categories.

So here's what they said about me, bearing in mind that, as an extrovert I'm not very extroverted, and for being feeling-oriented I'm not that feeling-oriented.

About the ENFP
"They can't bear to miss out on what is going on around them; they must experience, first hand, all the significant social events that affect our lives."

- The Portrait of the Champion Idealist (Keirsey)"ENFPs are warm, enthusiastic people, typically very bright and full of potential. They live in the world of possibilities, and can become very passionate and excited about things. Their enthusiasm lends them the ability to inspire and motivate others, more so than we see in other types. They can talk their way in or out of anything. They love life, seeing it as a special gift, and strive to make the most out of it."

- Portrait of an ENFP (The Personality Page)"Friends are what life is about to ENFPs, moreso even than the other NFs. They hold up their end of the relationship, sometimes being victimized by less caring individuals. ENFPs are energized by being around people. Some have real difficulty being alone, especially on a regular basis."

- ENFP Profile (TypeLogic)
"outgoing, social, disorganized, easily talked into doing silly things, spontaneous, wild and crazy, acts without thinking..."

- ENFP Jung Type Descriptions ("ENFPs are energetic and enthusiastic leaders who are likely to take charge when a new endeavor needs a visionary spokesperson. ENFPs are values-oriented people who become champions of causes and services relating to human needs and dreams. Their leadership style is one of soliciting and recognizing others' contributions and of evaluating the personal needs of their followers. ENFPs are often charismatic leaders who are able to help people see the possibilities beyond themselves and their current realities. They function as catalysts."

- ENFP - The Visionary (Lifexplore)"Ranked 1st of all 16 types in using social and emotional coping resources and 2nd in using cognitive resources. "

Since the more detailed reports rank me as INFP, that's how I will continue to describe myself.

Jake's One Book Meme

Jake, at The Blah Blah, just got tagged with the One Book Meme. But since a book meme doesn't really make sense to post on an mp3 blog, I offered to let him guest post here. Here is how Jake responded:

1. One book that changed your life:The Cross and the Switchblade, by David Wilkerson - He goes into the inner-city gangs of New York with the gospel, almost gets killed, and changes kids' lives. What more could you ask for?

2. One book that you’ve read more than once:Disciples are Made, Not Born by Walter A. Henrichsen - I didn't choose to read it multiple times (but it is very good). I was in a number of groups that used this book about making disciples.

3. One book you’d want on a desert island:The Ultimate Guide to US Army Survival SKills - 962 pages of pure survival goodness.

4. One book that made you laugh:Through Painted Deserts: Light, God, and Beauty on the Open Road, by Donald Miller - It takes a little time to get rolling, but once the story picks up speed, you'll laugh as Donald and his buddy road trip half-way across America and find God in Oregon.

5. One book that made you cry:A Walk Across America, by Peter Jenkins - a great, encouraging, well-written true-life story that will make you laugh, cry, and want to travel the world. I cried hardest when his dog died, for whatever that's worth.

6. One book that you wish had been written:A Foundational Retrospective History of Egalitarian Cross-Cultural Movements among Endangered Hybrid Systematic Elves of Upper Norway. Either that or some really well-written, engaging novels based on Biblical stories and characters, some books that bring everything to life.

7. One book that you wish had never been written:The Koran (not even deserving of an link) - This book has destroyed so many people's lives. I couldn't think of a better one to permanently delete.

8. One book you’re currently reading:Light Force: A Stirring Account of the Church Caught in the Middle East Crossfire, by Brother Andrew - amazing stories and inspiring stuff about Christians making surviving in Muslim territory.

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read:Body Piercing Saved My Life: Inside the Phenomenon of Christian Rock, by Andrew Beaujon - a non-Christian journalist's perspective on the Christian music scene.

10. Now tag five people:Mudpuppy, Man of Steel, WorshipCity, Jaybrams, Matt

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Ascension: Evidence Against the Resurrection

I have concluded… that the Ascension represents my greatest struggle of faith – not whether it happened, but why. It challenges me more than the problem of pain, more than the difficulty of harmonizing science and the Bible, more than belief in the Resurrection and other miracles. It seems odd to admit such a notion – I have never read a book or article conceived to answer doubts about the Ascension – yet for me what has happened since Jesus’ departure strikes at the core of my faith. Would it not have been better if the Ascension had never happened? If Jesus had stayed on earth, he could answer our questions, solve our doubts, mediate our disputes of doctrine and policy.
Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew (1995), 229.
The primary story of the ascension is recorded in Acts 1, after the Jesus’ resurrection and 40 days of personal appearances. “He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1.9-11)

It is my contention that the story of the Ascension counts as historical evidence against the resurrection. Like Yancey, I am troubled by several issues related to the ascension. They pose a serious problem for building a historical case for the resurrection. Please keep in mind that I write this as a Christian who believes in the resurrection. Because I love the truth, I cannot simply shrug off difficult issues. Here is why I believe the story of the ascension counts as evidence against the historical case for the resurrection of Jesus.

There is one uncontested fact about the current state of Jesus: Jesus has not been seen publicly since the first century. Some individuals have seen him in visions. Some have claimed to have traveled to heaven and seen him there. Perhaps some even claim that he visited them on earth in the flesh. Even if we grant the veracity of all these experiences, it is clear that he is no longer a public figure. In considering the historical case for the resurrection, we must answer the question of where Jesus is now. There seem to be four possible answers:

1. Jesus rose bodily from the dead and ascended into heaven, according to Luke and Acts.
2. Jesus did not rise from the dead, and his body rotted away.
3. Jesus rose from the dead, and he is alive and well on planet Earth, living in obscurity.
4. Jesus rose from the dead, died a second time, and his body rotted away.

I am not aware of anyone who has seriously argued for the third or fourth options. As a living individual (option three), he would have less relevance than Elvis, who at least gets his picture on tabloids. If he died a second death (option four), his resurrection was practically irrelevant. Certainly Jesus would have no theological significance. The only plausible options, I believe, are the first two. Which option best explains the facts?

In Reasonable Faith (pp.295-8, also referred to in his debate with Gerd Lüdemann), William Lane Craig proposes C.B. McCullogh’s seven tests as a standard for accepting a historical hypothesis.
  1. The hypothesis, together with other true statements, must imply further statements describing present, observable data.

  2. The hypothesis must have greater explanatory scope than rival hypotheses.

  3. They hypothesis must have greater explanatory scope than rival hypotheses.

  4. The hypothesis must be more plausible than rival hypotheses.

  5. The hypothesis must be less ad hoc than rival hypotheses.

  6. The hypothesis must be disconfirmed by fewer accepted beliefs than rival hypotheses.

  7. The hypothesis must so exceed its rivals in fulfilling conditions (2)-(6) that there is little chance of a rival hypothesis exceeding it in meeting these conditions.
Craig argues that the resurrection hypothesis meets all seven of these criteria. My contention is that the Ascension hypothesis (which the Resurrection hypothesis seems to entail) fails at least four of these tests.

2. It lacks in explanatory scope. As Lüdemann suggested (Jesus' Resurrection: Fact or Figment?, 155) it does not explain the contradiction between the ascension in Acts 1 and that of Luke 24, where the times and locations of the ascension differ from one another. It does not explain why other biblical writers do not record an ascension. If the Lukan writings were removed from the canon, the issue of what happened to Jesus after the resurrection would almost certainly be a hot topic in Christian theology. There are hints that Jesus is in heaven in John and the epistles, but we are still left with (the original version of) Mark and Matthew. When read in their own context (rather than Luke's), Jesus’ final words in Matthew 28.20 seem to have a very different meaning: “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

3. It lacks in explanatory power. The best apologetic for Jesus’ resurrection would be public appearances. Imagine if we could hear the resurrection story for the first time. “Wow,” we might say, “you’ve made a very strong case that Jesus rose from the dead. I would very much like to meet him. I have all sorts of questions about what it would be like to be dead for three days.” The essence of Craig's response? “Well, um, you, ahh… can’t. Yeah, that’s the ticket. See, he, ah, he went to heaven. Yeah, that’s it. He went to heaven and now no one can see him. You just have to take my word for it. Look, didn’t I present compelling evidence.” This explanation does not seem compelling.

4 & 5. It is either not plausible or it is ad hoc. Craig has spent a great deal of time and energy arguing for a physical resurrection. Therefore the ascension must be a physical ascension. If Jesus actually came out of the tomb, then he actually flew up into space. But if so, did he go to the moon? … to Mars? … to another galaxy? A modern view of the cosmos creates certain problems for belief in a physical ascension. Roy Hoover posits that,

the idea of the resurrection is… dependant on a certain view of the cosmos, namely that the cosmos has a three-level structure: the earth is the middle part; above the earth is heaven or the heavens, the space occupied by God and the angels; below the earth is Hades, the realm of death and the powers of evil. ("The Contest Between Orthodoxy and Veracity" in Jesus' Resurrection: Fact or Figment?, 141)
In the same volume, Steven Davis responds to the three-story-universe view by declaring that it is a metaphor, not a cosmology. (79) “The ascension of Jesus was primarily a change of state rather than a change of location, but it was visibly symbolized for the disciples by a change of location.” (80) But there is no indication in the text that Luke believed, or expected his readers to believe, that Jesus’ ascension was anything other than a literal ascension. Bringing modern science to bear on the story is a matter of eisegesis (reading into the text something that is not there) rather than exegesis (letting the text speak for itself). This view may be properly accused of being ad hoc and contrived.

6. It is not in accord with accepted beliefs. It is not our experience that anyone can ascend to heaven. If the ascension story was told about another historical figure, would Craig be inclined to accept it? I doubt it because, in McCullough’s language, such a story is not in accord with accepted beliefs.

7. It may or may not outstrip any of its rival theories in meeting conditions (2)-(6). Those who do not accept the ascension must explain the rise of the early church, which was based on their belief in the resurrection, which was in turn based on (a)finding Jesus' tomb empty, and (b)Jesus' resurrection appearances. But there are a lot of events in history (especially antiquity) for which we do not have good explanations. The resurrection/ascension hypothesis perhaps outstrips its rivals, but given the difficulties associated with the ascension, they all frankly seem like conjecture. There are some historical questions which we must answer by saying that we simply don't know.

It is my contention that the Ascension hypothesis fails tests (2); (3); either (4) or (5); and (6). In light of this, the case for the Resurrection is not as strong as Craig and others would like us to think. At best, we may say that, although the evidence is somewhat ambiguous, the Resurrection seems to be the best hypothesis. It is disturbing, to say the least, to build my faith on a relatively uncertain hypothesis for describing somewhat ambiguous evidence. If this is not fideism, I don't know what is.

I would accept the historical hypothesis in an overall cumulative case for Jesus' resurrection, but I do not know what other lines of reasoning to pursue. I assert that we are justified (we are within our epistemic rights) in either believing or disbelieving in the resurrection of Jesus. But this is the beginning of the road to religious relativism and normative pluralism, which seems absolutely contrary to Christian orthodoxy. Thus I can no longer feel totally comfortable with evangelical theology unless I can (a)find arguments that make the Ascension more plausible, or (b)buttress the case for the resurrection with different kinds of arguments than Craig and others present.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christian Music Superbowl I

Okay. No one I know that reads my blog has voted on the first round of Jake's Christian Music Superbowl I yet. Tonight is your last night. After that it will be too late. Perhaps you think Christian music sucks and have just blown it off. Well most Christian music does suck, but not the artists that have made it into the FIRST EVER Christian Superbowl. Oh no. These guys are good. And if all you know of Christian music is what you hear on your local Christian radio, then you probably know four of the sixty-four artists that have made the first cut.

Jake says, "[Y]ou’ll see bands like Newsboys, Audio Adrenaline, and Third Day in the lineup. Few of my readers consider themselves fans of the more “normal” CCM bands, but since I felt they’ve made a significant mark in the world of Christian Music, I included them. Besides, as much as I respect the major label bands, I thought it’d be fun to see Third Day get crushed by Agents of Future or Newsboys get stomped by Menomena. Sort of a Revenge of the Nerds moment in the making. All in good fun, though."

Maybe you've thought to yourself, "but I don't know the bands." Well, you have a music link right there that is good for seven days. What better way to get acquainted with Christian music that doesn't suck.

Maybe you think to yourself, "I hate the term Christian music." Well so do a lot of people. Jake isn't that fond of it himself either. He has a great series going about whether Christian music best describes this music. Anyway, it's all kinds of fun.

Plus, did I mention that I thought up the idea? Jake's visitor traffic is two or three orders of magnitude bigger than mine. So he can pull something like this off. But he's giving away away mp3s. I could give away mp3s, but it would be me singing into my mp3 recorder, and I'm sure you would all love that.

Please do check out Jake's blog. Round 2 starts up on Friday.

The Craig/Lüdemann Resurrection Debate

Last week I asked the question of whether belief in the resurrection of Jesus is justified and referenced the book, Jesus' Resurrection: Fact or Figment?, edited by Kreeft and Tacelli. Here are my thoughts on that book.

The core portion of the book is the transcript of a 1997 debate at Boston College between William Lane Craig, a Christian philosopher and apologist, and Gerd Lüdemann, a German New Testament scholar. Tom Wright has also debated Lüdemann on this subject (though I have not been able to find a transcript), which added to my anticipation of the book. The book is comprised of four responses to the debate, two siding with each opponent, followed by response essays by both Lüdemann and Craig.

I expected to find strong arguments from both debaters, since each is highly respected in his respective field. I hoped to be challenged on some points, and be forced to think through the relevant issues related to the resurrection. I anticipated a straightforward and objective book.
Unfortunately, I was disappointed with the actual content of the book. Beginning with the debate portion itself, it seemed that Craig was clearly the better debater. In his opening statement, Craig laid out his argument and then critiqued Lüdemann’s position before it had even been given. This one-two attack and counter-attack seemed to throw Lüdemann mentally off balance. In a total spirit of confusion, Lüdemann tried to alter his opening statement on the fly to be more responsive to Craig. Perhaps he figured that he was already going to address the issues, so why not rearrange them to correspond with Craig’s four “facts”, critiquing Craig’s argument while laying out his own. Unfortunately, he succeeded in neither. This made for an awkward rebuttal for Craig, who had been given no real opposing position to respond to.

I personally felt that the debate gave a good show of Craig’s debating prowess, and left little room for the facts to do their own job. In short, I felt cheated. It could have been a much more satisfying debate for everyone had Lüdemann spoken first instead of Craig, which would allowed us to hear his original opening statement in full. Alternately, Lüdemann could have been given time for his first rebuttal before his opening statement.

In the book as a whole, the editing favored the Christian position in several ways. First is the imbalance between philosophy and New Testament scholarship. Craig, a philosopher, had his argument strengthened by Gundry, a New Testament scholar. Lüdemann had no similar support on the philosophical side. Second, the editors chose a debate that had already been conducted. They already knew that Lüdemann had faired poorly. Third, the editors framed the book at the start with an introduction that emphasizes the Christian implications of the debate. I’m not sure that a non-Christian would be in agreement with Copan and Tacelli about the importance of the issue. (It is primarily Christians that are interested in these sorts of debates, as demonstrated by a brief glance at reviews of this book on Finally, the book was framed at the end with Craig’s essay rather than Lüdemann’s, even though a strictly objective arrangement would likely follow their order in the debate.

This book can establish a grid for later reading on the resurrection. However, parts of the grid, especially the non-evangelical perspective, will need to be supplemented with more substantial books. A stronger case can be made against the resurrection than this book presents, so we should not be led to think that Lüdemann has given us the best that a skeptic has to give. Lüdemann’s concluding suggestion for a “new language of interpretation” (158) is particularly troubling. Looking to the gnostics for his inspiration, he states that “one’s stability is not assured by trust in the creator but rather is threatened by it… [T]he Gnostic idea of the unwavering race opens up an area of stability, steadfastness and depth – in short a ground on which I can stand in the struggle and mystery of life into which all of us have been thrown.” (161) He is not far from Anton LeVey’s vision for humanity as presented in The Satanic Bible. This sort of spirituality is blasphemous to the theist, bizarre to the naturalist, and unlikely to win either.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Roger Olson's Postconservatism

Last week I checked out Roger Olson's new book, Reformed and Always Reforming. Ironically, I found it in the library at our local fundamentalist college. I may not have picked it up otherwise, but I was so surprised to see it on their shelves that I had to read it.

The book is essentially a manifesto for postconservatism, a term with Olson essentially coined. Olson defines postconservatism mostly in reference to conservative evangelicalism, which he believes is dominated by theologians that are obsessed with setting boundaries and tightly defining what it means to be an evangelical. Conservatives, he argues, are almost always opposed to fresh theological proposals and operate from a reactionary standpoint towards any revision of classical doctrines.

Postconservatives on the other hand are open to new ideas. They tend to be frustrated with theological systems that confine theology to head knowledge (which consensus has unfortunately labeled 'propositional truth'). Without rejecting the intellectual component of theology, postconservatives want to refocus theology on heart knowledge and our response to God. Postconservatives are more concerned about orthopathy (right experience, referring, I assume, to the need to be 'born again') and orthopraxy (right action) than with orthodoxy (right belief).

One can sense that Olson is frustrated with the reactions he has received from the theologians he has grouped under the conservative banner, including Millard Erickson, Wayne Grudem, D.A. Carson, and J.I. Packer. Olson's tone sometimes conveys the message that he just wants these guys to stop picking on him. Though I agree with him that conservatives often go too far in their reactions against postconservatives, Olson's focus on their differences makes it more polemic than necessary. He lacks the nuance of a postconservative like Kevin Vanhoozer, and draws more fire upon himself as a result. "Some [conservatives] have expressed harsh criticism, if not condemnation... of [another postconservative's] theological project while embracing and applauding Vanhoozer's. The fact is they are very similar." (121) Hey playground bullies, he shouts, shouldn't you be picking on him too! That's not fair!

That is not to say that he is necessarily wrong in his appraisal of the reaction from conservatives. In reference to Open Theism, his observations are right on: "It seems to me that conservative evangelical reaction to open theism has been nothing short of hysterical... All in all, it seems that the open view of God needs much more careful study and dialogue among evangelicals, whereas many conservatives seem to wish to halt study and dialogue and focus energies on drawing boundaries that exclude open theists from evangelical communities." (125-6) Amen.

Olson does a good job of commending postconservative theology, especially to those that are disenchanted with the similarities between fundamentalism and evangelicalism. The book functions as a sort of 'on ramp' to progressive evangelical theology. Or, to alter the metaphor slightly, he effectively draws the map of what he considers postconservative theology. It is no surprise the Yvette recently came away from the book with a massive reading list. Olson marshalls an impressive array of theologians in at least partial support of his program: the late Stan Grenz, Alister McGrath, Kevin Vanhoozer, Henry Knight III, Clark Pinnock, Miroslav Volf, and F. LeRon Shults.

Unfortunately, Olson draws and redraws and redraws the map several times. Readers are re-introduced to Stan Grenz an Kevin Vanhoozer four or five different times. He examines several aspects of postconservative theology in turn, often repeating himself each time. For instance, he mentions Grudem's (inaccurate) list of thirty-four conservative theologians four separate times (pp.9, 21, 173, 188). The book has about 125 pages of valuable information stretched into 237 pages. If he were fun to read (like N.T. Wright for instance) I wouldn't mind so much, but the last hundred pages or so were a chore rather than a delight to read.

The biggest flaw I can see with Olson's view of postconservative theology is that in attempting to straddle between liberal and conservative soteriologies, he ends up falling into a chasm of inconsistency between them. He states, "where right experience (orthopathy) and right spirituality (orthopraxy) are present in Jesus-centered living, authentic Christianity and even evangelical faith may be present even if doctrinal correctness is not yet fully present -- provided that movement in the right direction is clearly discernible." (84) In other words, you don't have to be orthodox to be a Christian, just moving towards orthodoxy. But he provides no reasons for this to be so. If salvation is dependent on an experience with God alone, why assume that such an experience will necessarily lead one closer to orthodoxy? If orthodoxy is an important component of salvation, then why simultaneously deny its importance. Either orthodoxy is necessary or unnecessary for salvation. In this matter, postconservativism has either moved too far from conservatism or not far enough. One senses that this is a vestige of conservatism that Olson is (inconsistently) not prepared to part with. Thus to liberals, postconservatives are still conservative in every sense that matters.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Is Belief in Jesus' Resurrection Justified?

May I suggest that, fundamentally, the way we know Christianity to be true
is by the self-authenticating witness of God's Holy Spirit? Now what do I
mean by that? I mean that the experience of the Holy Spirit is veridical and unmistakable (though not necessarily irresistible or indubitable) for him
who has it; that such a person does not need supplementary arguments or
evidence in order to know and to know with confidence that he is in fact
experiencing the Spirit of God... How then does the believer know that
Christianity is true? He knows because of the self-authenticating witness of
God's Spirit who lives within him.
- William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 32-4

What bothers me about Bill Craig (pictured here with two people I have never met) is that he is so absolutely overconfident that he is right. There are very few self-authenticating experiences in life - experiences that you can be so sure of that there is no way that you could possibly be wrong. Decartes' famous statement, "cogito ergo sum" (I think, therefore I am) seems to be self-authenticating; statements of feeling are self-authenticating, like, "I feel hungry." The fact that you feel it is proof that you feel it. But outside of a few examples, no experience is ever self-authenticating. There is always some room for doubt - maybe you misinterpreted, or don't have all the information, or have been deceived or something.

If you allow this line of reasoning, then you have to allow the legitimacy of Mormonism. They tell you to pray about the book of Mormon and God will confirm to you that it is true. They have this same sort of confidence that their religious experience is self-authenticating. It just doesn't hold up. I'm not saying anything here that Craig himself is not aware of, so I'm really not sure why he advances this argument.

But the place where this reasoning really bothers me is in his defense of the resurrection. There has probably not been anything that has shaken my faith so much as reading Bill Craig's defense of the resurrection. Take, for instance, his argument with Gerd Lüdemann in Jesus' Resurrection: Fact or Figment?. Craig acts as if he has an absolutely rock solid case for the resurrection and that you couldn't possibly doubt it so long as you have all the historical evidence. Lüdemann, who has no philosophical training, is a really lousy debate partner and presents a confused and weak argument. There are gaping holes in Craig's argument, but you'd never know it from Lüdemann's presentation.

I will leave the holes in Craig's argument for another post. What really bothered me was how he came back to this idea of self-authentication in his concluding statement. He was smart enough to save this point to the very end, because it does not count as real evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. And yet the real reason Craig believes in the resurrection is not the historical evidence. "So if you ask me why I believe Christ is risen from the dead, I would not only point to the historical evidence, but I would reply in the words of the old hymn, 'You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart!'" (p.65)

The orthodox Christian faith rests, at least in part, on a defense of the resurrection. But the evidence to compel someone to believe in the resurrection is not that good. Say, for instance, that we had the same historical evidence for the resurrection of Abraham Lincoln. Would he be inclined to argue that Lincoln too had risen from the dead? I doubt it. The real reason Craig feels the evidence is so good is because it is confirmed by the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. But the inner witness of the Holy Spirit cannot function as valid evidence any more than it can function as valid evidence for the veracity of the book of Mormon.

I still believe in Jesus' resurrection. I believe for the same reason that Craig does: He lives within my heart. But I don't think I have sufficient epistemological justification for that belief. Moreover, I am skeptical that any historical argument will really be satisfactory (not even N.T. Wright's, with all his scholastic superpowers). When the early Christians first proclaimed Jesus' resurrection, they were not advancing historical arguments. It seems I am searching for a different line of reasoning that is more in line with theirs.

So I think we are within our epistemic rights to believe in Jesus' resurrection. That is to say, if we accept the resurrection on fideistic grounds, we can come up with rational arguments to justify the fideistic jump we have already made. But the belief still ultimately rests on fideism. I think this is what I was getting at a few weeks ago with my Theology is not Knowledge post. Theology cannot be truly public because it rests on this fideistic assumption that Jesus rose from the dead.

You may not agree with me that Bill Craig's (or Tom Wright's) historical arguments are not compelling. I hope to revisit that issue soon. But if you were to accept my premise that the Craig's arguments are not compelling, do you think the rest of what I've said follows?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Why Don't People Change?

I am coming back to another question that routinely bothers me: why don't people ever change? Sometimes people will experience a huge change when they become Christians, but then after that things just flat line. Whatever you're like after you've been a Christian for a year is pretty much how you'll be for the rest of your life. So if you suck, well, you're pretty much doomed to suck forever.

Many of my friends would blame the people. But my first inclination is to blame the system. Isn't Christianity supposed to transform lives? And it does. But then it stops. Why? What happens? Is there something we've missed? Dallas Willard and Richard Foster would say we need the spiritual disciplines. Perhaps that's the problem. But doesn't it seem like it ought to be more clear in scripture what is missing?

I am writing right now out of frustration with myself. Anytime I score myself on different character issues, I always score low in self-discipline. Always. I'm average to excellent on everything else, but self-discipline always gets me. I had to take a character and personality assessment for seminary and they scored me in about fifteen different areas. For self-discipline, on a scale of 1 to 10, I scored a 1. A ONE! Now I would put myself at a four, or maybe a three, but a ONE!? I can only hope that the scale is skewed because seminary students tend to score higher than the average population.

When I was going through the answers with the counselor they assigned, I asked him the question: How do you get self-discipline without self-discipline? It seems like you need some in order to get some. He laughed. I didn't really mean it as a joke.

I'm thinking that the difference between new Christians and older Christians is that new Christians realize how far they are from God's standard, and constantly pray for better character. Older Christians usually blow that off. So I'm thinking that's the answer. I've been praying recently for godly character. I just didn't want to have to actually change...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

More Potential Blog Names - Free Book Still Available

I promised to send some crappy book from my personal library to the person that comes up with the best blog name for me when I switch to Wordpress on January 1. Nick Norelli has been trying really hard. (It seems so out of character for Nick to try to score free books, doesn't it?) Nick suggested that I go with a biblically inspired title, like his fundamentalist-sounding blog title, "Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth." So in an effort to be more like Nick, I found a few biblically-inspired names that might fit my blog.

These are probably not appropriate for children, since I have taken them pretty much straight from the Bible. Be warned.

Wine, strong drink, or Whatever Your Heart Desires (Deut 13.1)

Able to Enter
Tagline: No one who is emasculated or has his male organ cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord. (Deut 23.1)

His Eye was Not Dim nor His Vigor Abated (Deut 34.7)
Tagline: And I have five children to prove it.

And the Crap Came Out (Judges 3.22)

My Little Finger is...
Thicker Than My Father's Loins (1 Kings 12.10)

No Limit to Windy Words (Job 16.3)

Hatred for Vain Idolaters (Psalm 31.6)

Complaining and Murmuring (Ps 55.17)
Tagline: Evening, morning, and noon

Make Their Loins Shake Continually (Ps 69.23)

Hating Them With the Utmost Hatred (Ps 139.22)

There is Nothing Better Than to Eat and Drink (Ecc 2.24)

Money is the Answer to Everything (Ecc 9.19)

Don't Spread Your Legs to Every Passerby (Ezekiel 16.25)

Keep those ideas coming. You still have a few more weeks to get yourself that book.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Christmas shows and songs

Last month I wrote a little rant about my frustration with the lengthened Christmas season. I finally figured out why it bothers me so much. All through high school I was in both band and chorus. (Apparently our school wasn't cool enough for 'choir'.) Every fall we would rehearse for the Christmas concert, which was the climax of the semester. So I spent two hours of every day for three months of every year singing and playing Christmas songs. Some years I would be singing a different arrangement of the same song I was playing in band. So I was probably humming "O Come All Ye Faithful" for about a QUARTER of my high school career! (And that's counting summers!)

I was so happy when I finally got to college and no one even thought about Christmas until after finals (which some years did not end for me until December 23). I like Christmas music a lot more now. I sit around the living room and sing them with our kids. And as long as they are confined to December, I'm okay with that now.

We watched Frosty the Snowman the other night with the kids. I haven't seen it since I was in grade school. I remembered it being a lot longer, but then everything seems bigger when you're a kid. I've become a lot more sensitive to the magical elements in kids programs since I've become a parent. It's not that I think it teaches kids that magic is real, but rather that it teaches kids that magic is not real. According to the biblical narrative, magic is real, and it's on par with idolatry. But I thought to myself that we're probably just being overly protective Christian parents. Our kids are pretty smart, and we had a jolly happy time together.

After Frosty was another cartoon, "Frosty Returns." Neither Diana nor I remembered this one. It had John Goodman in it and we guessed it must have been made in the early nineties. But here's what really freaked me out. The first scene shows all the children happy about the first snowfall and all the adults mad about it. That seemed a little strange. But then in the second scene, a boy says to his sister, "Let's go outside and construct a fertility goddess." My wife and I turned to each other sort of stunned. In unison we declared that we were done with TV for the night (which we rarely watch anyway) and sang Christmas songs. Yipes. What was that all about? A fertility goddess? Maybe we weren't being overly protective after all. I would have liked to have watched the rest so I could see how the theme plays itself out, but not with my kids.

It would be fun to watch Rudolf this year, if we catch it at the right time. But I wonder if they will have a sequel where Burger Meister Meisterburger sacrifices children to Molech. Or maybe they will have a winter solstice celebration and dance naked around the Yule log. Or perhaps they'll get all the children singing Christmas songs for three months of every year in order to endlessly torment everyone who was ever in high school band and chorus.

Friday, December 07, 2007

I am a Christian Because of the Necronomicon

I tagged Tom yesterday with the One Book meme. I now have leverage for teasing, knowing that a computer programming book changed his life. But the book he wishes had never been written is the Necronomicon (from the movie "Army of Darkness"). This reminded me of an incident that happened to me in High School that absolutely freaked me out, so I thought I'd share it with y'all.

This was in my pre-post-Lutheran days when I was a nominal Christian but went to church weekly with my parents. I had no real firm beliefs, but I loved to sit around and speculate about God, meaning of life, and all those sorts of things. A friend of mine, Jess, said she had a friend I had to meet. He liked to talk about those things too.

We went over to his house and the three of us sat out on his porch talking. He was the first goth kid I ever met. We talked about philosophy and reincarnation (which I argued against by default) and Satanism and all sorts of crazy things. After about, oh I don't know, 45 minutes or an hour, he turned to me and asked, "Have you ever heard of this book? It's called the Necronomicon?" I answered, "No, I don't think I have." "Are you sure," he asked. "It's called The Necronomicon."

And all of a sudden something trippy happened to me. I'm not sure I can really explain it. It's like I wasn't there for about two or three seconds. I had an overwhelming sense of great tragedy, like the sense you would have visiting a Nazi gas chamber and thinking of all the millions that died. It's like I tapped into a sense of devastating regret on a cosmic scale. Then I felt the presence of an evil being, laughing at it. Then it was over.

"Gee, look at the time," I said. Jess and I split as fast as we could. She said she felt the same thing, though it was hard to tell exactly.

What I took from that encounter is that there really is a supernatural realm, and at the very least, there really are evil beings. Even when I doubted the existence of God, this single event has kept me from ever considering humanist materialism as a viable option. It kept me pushing forward to try to figure out what is true. And it is the reason why, when I really embraced Christianity for myself, I needed to be in a charismatic church. Though I've come a long way since that experience, it has had a profound impact on my life.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

One Book Meme

I begged Bryan L to tag me with the "One book meme" that started a year-and-a-half-ago. I'm like the pathetic kid on the playground, running up to whoever is it and yelling, "Tag me, tag me!" just to get some attention. (This will all change January 1 when I join the cool kids at Wordpress. Then people will tag me without me asking. Oh yes, they will tag me.)

1. One book that changed your life:
N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (1992)

2. One book that you’ve read more than once:
Stanley Grenz & Roger Olson, Who Needs Theology? (1996)

3. One book you’d want on a desert island:
John Lofty Wiseman, SAS Survival Handbook: How to Survive in the Wild, in Any Climate, on Land or at Sea (2004)

4. One book that made you laugh:
Anders Henriksson, Non Campus Mentis: World History According to College Students (2001)

5. One book that made you cry:
John Perkins, Let Justice Roll Down (1976)

6. One book that you wish had been written:
The author of Matthew, I Acts (Matthew's version of the history of the early church, with Luke's version becoming II Acts)

7. One book that you wish had never been written:
Joseph Smith, The Book of Mormon (1830)

8. One book you’re currently reading:
Kevin Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine (2005)

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read:
David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite (2004)

10. Now tag five people:
I tag Jessie, J.K., Brian, Tom, and Daniel

Get a Free Book!

It seems like all the cool people are moving to Wordpress. I have decided that I can't be cool unless I switch too. So I am planning to make the move at the beginning of January. But I need your help. "Sandwiches There" is frankly a stupid blog name. Before that, I was "The Hungry Scholar," but that made sense when I was only interacting with non-scholars. So what should my blog be named once I move? If you suggest the winning name, I will send you a FREE BOOK! Yes, you read correctly. I will send you a book from my very own book collection. And if it's a really really great name, maybe it will be a useful book too! Wow, the excitement is making me all giddy. If you offer me a blow-it-out-of-the-water name, I will even consider buying you something from your Amazon wish list.

(It will really have to be just amazing since I'm pretty much broke and need to feed my five small children. But we can sacrifice food for a few days. It's really no big deal.)

But in addition to the prize, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you helped make a real difference in the world. Good luck!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Nominations for Christian Music Superbowl I

Jake is starting up the first-ever Christian music superbowl, where he will pair up different Christian recording artists and have people vote on who beats whom. It should be great fun. Jake is asking for nominations for bands. I am not nearly as knowledgeable about the scene as some others are (especially the kind of cool indie stuff Jake usually writes on), but I thought I'd post my own list of three artists who ought to make the list.

1. Leonard Jones. Leonard is the worship leader at Morning Star Church, pastored by Rick Joyner. He leads the greatest worship team I have ever heard. This is true jam band worship and they rarely have a song that times in at less than eight minutes.

2. Glenn Kaiser. Glenn is the frontman for REZ/the Resurrection band, which was one of the key Jesus People bands. He is also the head of JPUSA (Jesus People USA) which puts on Cornerstone music festival each year.

3. Burlap to Cashmere. I saw these guys play years ago at Summerfest in Milwaukee. They are great instrumentalists and are a lot of fun. The song that first hooked me was "Diggy Dime" from their first album, which is (I think) in 5/8 time. From the same album, "Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth" is probably the coolest Christian song based on a cheesy bumper sticker phrase that I've ever heard.

By the way, don't miss the opportunity to become part of the bucket brigade and get yourself a free Josh Clubb CD. I haven't participated yet, but perhaps soon...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


In a time in which everybody is a post-something-or-other, I think I can affirm that I am a post-Lutheran. I am no longer a Lutheran, but it is same to say there are some vestiges of Lutheranism that will probably be forever with me.

In Wisconsin, most people who grow up going to church were either raised Catholic or Lutheran. Several years ago I noticed that when I was talking to people that had blown off the religion of their youth, the Catholics differed markedly from the Lutherans. A Catholic may not have been to church for 20 years but will be all over you if you rip on Mary or the Pope. A Lutheran that has not been to church will not care at all who you rip on, whether Martin Luther, Augustine (if she even knows who Augustine is), or Jesus Himself.

I noticed the other day that there is something that binds all backslidden Lutherans together, something that has escaped my attention, but I think is quite true. At the popular level Lutherans are not defined by what they are, but by what they are not. If you want to get a Lutheran's goat, start talking about praying to Mary or the infallibility of the Pope. There is one thing a Lutheran is and will always be: NOT CATHOLIC.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Theology is not Knowledge

I so totally don't get theology right now. This is another perennial issue that I revisit every so often. Right now I am working through Vanhoozer's Drama of Doctrine, which is generally a very stimulating book. But I find myself butting up against two internal obstacles that keep me questioning the validity of the entire theological project - not Vanhoozer's specifically, but Christian Theology in general. So I decided to blog about it, not to advance an argument against the discipline of theology, but to try to articulate the reasons that lie behind my involuntary emotional reactions. I hope, perhaps with the help of some commenters, to make some sense of it all. So here, to the best of my ability to discern it, is why I get frustrated with theology:

1. Theology is not knowledge. Knowledge, at least the concept I have in mind, is inherently public. It can be confirmed or denied by others. Theology, on the other hand, depends on certain judgments made by a private community, the church. Now I think there is such a thing as private knowledge, knowledge that is legitimately held by only one individual, but these are typically about personal matters (personal health or sex life, for instance). If the claim to knowledge refers to something in the public domain, then I don't think it can be called knowledge if it is only held by a private individual or community.

By way of contrast, Biblical studies, whether Old or New Testament, deal with knowledge because they are essentially historical disciplines. Regardless of what private views people may have about God, they may all equally discuss Paul's view of God as presented in the New Testament - the data is publicly accessible. Likewise, philosophy of religion counts as knowledge because it is dependent on the laws of logic. Regardless of people's private views, they may all equally discuss whether certain beliefs are logically consistent. Perhaps a shorthand way to express this is to say that if you can't teach it at a public university, it's not knowledge.

2. Closely related is the notion that theology is speculative. Now I know that theoretically theology is not speculative, but theologians define a method and then follow that method to produce results. Yet I still get the feeling that what Karl Barth did was sit around and think up cool ways to think about God, and he made everyone go, "Wow, that's deep." But it's still just thinking; it's still just speculation. The real work, it seems to me, is being done by the biblical scholars, who continually work to help us get a fuller sense of what the biblical texts mean.

On the other hand, the main reason why any of this matters is because Christians believe it and want to order their lives accordingly. Thus I could make a case that the work of theologians is vastly more important than the work of biblical scholars. That is the main reason I sometimes feel a pull to pursue vocational theology. But I am not excited about the thought of devoting my life to a discipline that is speculative and doesn't result in knowledge!

I suppose the way through this is either to redefine theology, or to redefine knowledge and the value of speculation. It seems that my objections to theology are themselves theological , and I suspect they are somehow self-referentially defeating. The point of this exercise, though, was not to advance an argument, but to sort out my life. I welcome your thoughts.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

An Evangelical Standard: Five Books

A few years ago, before I had decided to go to seminary, I was talking with a friend, Scott Anderson, who had gotten his M.Div. from Trinity (where I'm going now). Of course, we got to talking about books, and I wanted some book recommendations. I asked him to recommend five books to me. I have been thinking about this list the past few days. It seems like a standard sort of evangelical list, though not at all the list I would produce now. It became sort of a point of departure for me in thinking through what I think is important.

Here was his list (produced from memory):

1. Christian Theology, by Millard Erickson. For Scott, this is the standard Evangelical theology, laying a solid foundation while interacting with non-evangelical positions.

2. "A good volume on church history." I was a little irritated by this one, since I wanted a specific recommendation. Perhaps we might fill in Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley.

3. One book of the Bible. "You should pick a book of the Bible, and study it until you understand it thoroughly." Again, I was a little annoyed with this recommendation, since it wasn't really a specific book. But I understand the thrust behind it - we should have some depth in our biblical knowledge, not just breadth.

4. A Theology of the New Testament, by G.E. Ladd. We should know how the Bible fits together.

5. The Hermeneutical Spiral, by Grant Osborne. It is not enough to read the Bible, but we must understand the complex issues involved in interpreting it. I have had Osborne for a couple classes now, but I still haven't read this book. He mentioned a few years ago that he was revising it for a second edition, so I decided to wait. The second edition is out now, so I suppose I should get with the program.

What five books would you recommend in a similar situation? The audience is an educated Christian without seminary training.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

What is Christian Music?

Check out Jake's discussion of what constitutes Christian music. I think it is a hard question to answer, at least if you want to be consistent with other areas of your life. The problem, I suppose has to do with how we categorize art. Does it matter what the faith commitment is of the person who wrote the lyrics? Or the singer? Or the other instrumentalists? Well, to some extent it is going to have an influence on the song. On the other hand, if a Christian sings a song about a kitchen chair, is that a 'Christian' song?

I am not ready to throw out the term Christian music just because it is slippery. There are certainly some songs which are explicitly Christian, as well as others which explicitly are not. As for the gray area in between, I will be interested to see what Jake concludes when this is all done. In the meantime, it is worth checking out Patrick's theology of Indie Rock from last January. I don't agree with everything he has to say, but you will be repaid for the the time it takes to read and think it through.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Hendrix-inspired worship

I led worship tonight at our Wednesday night worship service at church. I am sick as a dog. I'm not sure exactly how sick dogs are, but I'm sure I'm at least that sick. No one could sub for me, so I had to go. I was doped up on NyQuil, and we had some kind of funky incense burning. My head was spinning. I turned to the other guys on the worship team and said, Man, it's just like real rock-n-roll, except I can worship God with a clean conscience. At times I felt like people in the congregation were just staring at me, but all in all I felt like it went pretty well, like God was pleased with our offering. Even if reality faded in and out in the midst of it.

I'm going to try to go get better. I have lots of papers coming up, so I have to get well again. Good night.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Tyranny of Christmas

I have been irritated my whole life with the way "the Christmas season" dominates over a month of each year. That is nearly 10% of our lives! The rest of our year is filled with engaging ideas, interesting music and variety. But suddenly the Christmas season hits, and a huge segment of our population shifts into a whole different canon of overplayed music.

Yesterday on my 2-hour-commute to class I accidentally heard several Christmas songs on the radio, on, I think, three different radio stations. I just wanted to scream. Does the Christmas season officially begin after Halloween now? Has Thanksgiving been overrun, like a small town that is overtaken as its nearby metropolis continues to swell? I am wondering if the Jehovah's Witnesses that came to my door were right that Christmas is really a pagan holiday. I can see Pan playing his Christmastime pipes on November 1, and the world bows to worship.

Call me a Scrooge, I guess.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

One Hell of a Sleight-of-Hand

I've got all these thoughts going on now and I've got to get them out. Brian left an insightful comment on my pluralism/inclusivism/exclusivism post from April. I argued for a separation between theological exclusivism (the belief that those who do not believe as we do are wrong) and soteriological exclusivism (the belief that those who do not believe as we do are not saved). He wrote:

(1) Your proposal concerning theological and soteriological exclusivism/pluralism only works if it can be proven that within a theological construct, exclusivism or pluralism is not a central element. If it is, then we cannot separate dogmatism concerning a particular theology from the declaration of that theology concerning who is and is not saved.
Thanks for your comment, Brian. First off, the pronouncement of soteriological exclusivism on the basis of theological exclusivism has such drastic consequences that I cannot help but ask myself, what if a piece of the puzzle is put together wrong? What if we have misunderstood the way the atonement works? What if salvation is an issue about knowing God instead of an issue of eternal destiny? Who are those people standing outside the New Jerusalem (Rev 22.24-27) after all the sinners have been thrown into the lake of fire(in 20.15)? We must resist answering these questions too smugly.

Have you ever done this little sight test. Read the the words in the triangles on the picture. Read them out loud. Go ahead. Do it right now.

If you thought it said, "Paris in the spring," "Bird in the hand," and "Once in a lifetime," you are wrong. Read them again. This time put your finger on each word as you say it. The words the and a are repeated in each triangle. In our quickness to make judgments, it can be easy to miss important details. My point is simply that it is so easy to be wrong.

But my real issue is that I think we miss the point when seekers ask about soteriological exclusivism. The typical response seems to go: (1)The fact that hell awaits those who reject Jesus is inherent in our theology, (2)Our theology is plausible based on other factors (things like manuscript evidence or arguments for the resurrection), therefore (3)The fact that hell awaits those who reject Jesus is plausible. But internal consistency was not the issue behind the seeker's question. I think most seekers have no problem with (2) unless it leads to (3). The plausibility of Christian theology is undermined by soteriological exclusivism.

The conclusion of my argument in the original post bears repeating:

The problem many of my friends have with Evangelical Christianity, I would suggest, is not its claim to theological exclusivism. It is rather in the fact that traditional evangelical theology includes a harsh pronouncement of soteriological exclusivism. I am not convinced that our faith has a strong enough epistemic foundation to make such bold exclusivist claims. I think what people find offensive is not when we claim “Jesus is Lord,” but when we claim “if you don’t believe the gospel you will go to hell.” To conflate the two forms of exlusivism and then defend theological exclusivism seems to me a rhetorical sleight-of-hand which does not really address the issues my non-Christian friends typically have.

Wishful Dreaming About Life After Death

I remember losing an important business receipt years ago. I spent an entire night tossing and turning about where I would find the receipt. Several times throughout the night I actually dreamed I found it, only to wake up and realize it was just a wishful dream -- in reality I was no closer to finding the receipt than I was before the dream. Thankfully I did find the receipt the next day in my office wastebasket and was thrilled that I could have a good night sleep again.

Sometimes it seems people exercise a similar kind of wishful dreaming about our personal salvation. In particular, I want to respond to a comment made by John Botscharow after Brian's post on who will go to heaven. John wrote, "There is a... solution to this conundrum: each religion has its own heaven and its own hell. You go to the heaven or hell, as appropriate, for your particular religion, and that includes atheists."

How is this line of reasoning any different than my wishful dream? We do not have the liberty to decide what happens after we die, but we do have a responsibility to ourselves to make sure that what we believe lines up with the evidence we have been given. As far as I am aware, the evidence only points in a few possible directions:

1. Materialism - there is no god, and there is nothing beyond this life.
2. Revelation - God has revealed Himself through one of the world religions, and He will one day judge the world according to that revelation.
3. Reincarnation - We will come back as another human, or perhaps as an animal.

The evidence to commend option 3 seems to be that some eastern thinkers arrived at this position after having an enlightenment experience. Option 1 has many intelligent defenders who would point to scientific data (or perhaps the lack of credible data for anything else). On the whole, I find option 2 most compelling because there are good reasons for believing that God has given us Revelation (or I would not be a Christian). But I can at least understand all three positions; I can dialog with them since we are on the common ground that we must base our views on some kind of the evidence.

John's 'solution', by contrast, appears to be nothing more than pop-speculation. My question to John is, what evidence can you possibly provide for this strange belief? No major world religion teaches anything like this; no one claims the scientific data points in this direction. So far as I can tell, the only thing you have to support your position is the fact that you like it, which is nothing more than wishful dreaming.

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Golden Commandment

"Just as you want people to treat you, treat them in the same way" - Jesus (Luke6.31)

I had always thought of this as a verse about ethics - you ought to live this way because it is the right thing to do. But a few weeks ago I was going through the story of Jacob with the kids for homeschool. We talked about how Jacob schemed and lied to get his birthright and blessing, and how later on Laban tricked him with his wives. There is an implicit argument here that you WILL be treated as you have treated others. Of course the argument is not explicit, and perhaps not everything we do in this life will have direct repercussions in this life - but often they will. So I think Jesus' statement is not so much about ethics as about wisdom, learning how to live your life in accordance with God's spiritual laws of the universe.

The golden commandment, then, is quite similar to Paul's assertion in Galatians 6.7: "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap." I wonder how many times the things that happen to people are the spiritual result of things they have done earlier in life. And the people who cry most loudly, "Unfair, unfair!" are actually reaping what they sowed.

Of course, the book of Job reminds us that not everything that happens to us is the result of our actions. But let us not conclude from it that nothing is.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Preaching in a Liturgical Setting

I went to an Episcopalian church service last Sunday (for a paper I'm writing). Overall, I enjoyed it. Something that stuck out to me was how different it is when the preacher preaches after the readings rather than reading the scriptures as a part of the sermon. There is something strange about having already read the passage and put it away. The preacher cannot say, "Look with me at verse four," because it is past that time in the service for having the Bible out. Something about it seems to undermine its very purpose. Instead of going to the Bible for the message, we are attempting to remember what we read. The whole purpose of expository preaching (as its proponents often argue) is to make sure the message of the sermon flows from the biblical text itself rather than being imposed upon the text. But the message is blunted when the text is not in front of the congregation during the preaching.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope.

I'm sort of freaking out right now. I have so much going on. I have all kinds of papers due this week. We're doing a one-week non-stop (170 hour) prayer meeting at church, and I really ought to cover some of the time slots. Plus I would really like to find a job so that Diana can come back home with the kids, which she really really wants. I am just feeling a bit overwhelmed right now. And I have to figure out how to pay for all these classes (and the rest of the books I need... and the rest of our bills... you know how it goes).

And on top of it all, I have this crazy feeling like I really ought to go to SBL in San Diego in a few weeks. It seems absurd, but, I don't know. I'll gladly take donations. Second best would be advice on how to get really good deals to make it happen.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Muslims and the Power of God

It is illuminating to read the reasons that Christians who are former Muslims give for converting. In a recent study conducted at Fuller Seminary in California, J. Dudley Woodberry looked at converts from many Muslim peoples and nations. The top three reasons given are:

1. The way Christians they were in contact with lived their lives
2. Visible manifestations of the power of God
3. Frustration with the way Muslims they were in contact with lived their lives
4. Dreams and visions, especially of Jesus.

Half the answers given are charismatic/pentecostal kinds of answers. Number 2 included healings, answered prayer, and deliverance from demonic spirits. Obviously, it is not the nice, tame Christianity of either Evangelicals or Liberals that is drawing Muslims. It is an honest-to-God supernatural faith with the power to back it up.

By the way, what ever happened to AlHaj? His blog seems to have disappeared several weeks ago? AlHaj, are you still around? I still owe you a defense of the doctrine of the Trinity.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Quest for the Perfect Bible

Last night before I went to bed I spent an hour or so looking through the CBD catalog at Bibles. I dreamt all night about finding the perfect Bible. CBD has, I don't know, seven to ten pages of Bibles in their catalog, so there's a lot to look through. I was disappointed that I did not see one original language Bible. I guess there was one interlinear Bible, but that one is based on the centuries-out-of-date scholarship of the textus receptus.

I seem to get a new Bible about every three years. I am on a quest for the perfect Bible, which of course changes from season to season in my life. I started with the RSV I was given at confirmation. Then when I became a Christian, a friend of mine showed me the Student Bible, put together by Philip Yancey. I don't know what it is about the Student Bible, but there's something about it that says, "The Bible is cool. Read me." There really are not a lot of extras, and the 'helps' are not amazingly helpful, but there is something about it's layout that makes me, even now, think, "Wow, what a great Bible." For all the options out there, this one is still the best to give to a new believer.

Unfortunately my student Bible was only paperback, and it quickly became dogeared and beat-up. Time for hard cover. My parents took me to the bookstore to buy me a Bible for my birthday, and I picked out some generic study bible in the NIV. (For what I was looking for, I should have graduated to the NIV Study Bible, but I didn't know better yet.)

It was, I think, a year or two later that I asked my pastor what translation he preferred. He highly recommended the NASB. A few months later I bought my first NASB, the most literal translation available. This time I graduated to bonded leather. Though there were no book introductions or study notes, but I discovered the use of the side column references. I used them all the time to find parallel passages in the synoptic gospels, OT references, similarly themed verses, etc. The mini-concordance in the back was also quite extensive. Between the concordance and the references, I could usually find just about any verse that would come up.

The only thing that bothered me about the NASB was the stupid idea of the translators to refer to God with the pronouns Thee and Thou. But this really bothered me. Imagine my delight when, in 1995, the translators released an updated version with the Thees and Thous gone! I immediately bought a new one, this time in genuine leather. Do you know the difference between bonded and genuine leather? By this point I sure did. Unlike genuine leather, bonded leather is strips of leather glued on to a cardboard back. If you use it with any regularity, the glue will begin to come loose and the leather will start to fray, especially at the corners. Genuine leather is much nicer.

Once I started to learn the original languages, though, English bibles were no longer as exciting. My most recent Bible is built of two Bibles: an interlinear Greek/English (with UBS4/NA27 text) and parallel NRSV; and the Jewish Publication Society's (JPS) Hebrew-English Tanakh (Old Testament). I put grocery-bag book covers on them (just like high school textbooks) and taped them together, creating a complete Bible. What a cool idea, I thought.

But in practice I am very frustrated with this solution. First, it doesn't sit open like a single book. Whichever I have open sits awkwardly on top of the other book. I could deal with this, but a much bigger frustration is that I have no cross references or mini concordance. I didn't realize how often I use them until I no longer had them. Now I am absolutely lost whenever I get to the point of, "Oh shoot, what's that one verse?" Or reading through Matthew, I read a passage and I want to remind myself quickly whether the passage has a parallel in Mark. So I end up keeping my old NASB open next to me as I read, which entirely defeats the purpose.

Eventually I hope to graduate to a straight Hebrew/Greek Bible (which does include cross-references, though no mini-concordance). But even then I'm not sure how happy I'll be with it. I could do away with the Greek/English interlinear, but I will also lose my ability to read through, say, the gospel of Mark in a single sitting. Plus, I use my Bible too much "on the fly," and I don't think I'll ever be at the place where I can interpret on the spot for whomever I'm talking to.

Maybe I just have to use a computer Bible on laptop or handheld as my primary Bible. Something about that just seems wrong, though. I still want my primary Bible to be printed on real, physical paper.

My perfect Bible for this stage in my life would have: (1)Greek/Hebrew, (2)Parallel English translation; (3)Cross-references. It would also be great if it had (4)a mini concordance (in English, I suppose), and (5)still fit in my bag. I suppose I'm living in a dream world, but I'm not quite willing to admit defeat yet. I would love any advice from anyone else who has gone through a similar struggle.

What is your Bible story? How many Bibles have you gone through in your life? Why did you switch from one to another? Drop me a comment. I would love to hear.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Challenge of Chrisendom

I've been thinking about this interview with Chris Tilling over at Pisteuomen for a few days now. I read Chris's blog more than about anybody else's blog because, well, it's just dang funny. He's got a Charismatic background but he gets frustrated because, contrary to the tendencies of the bulk of common Charismaniacs, he actually likes to think. He's a Ph.D. student, so he's smarter than me. But what is most fun is that he is absolutely irreverent towards people's sacred cows, so you're almost certain to get offended at least once. (Which I have. But what fun would it be otherwise?)

Here is a brief response to four points Chris made:

1. "I think the pastor has the greatest responsibility to preach honest sermons, not to gloss over difficulties, gray areas and real differences of opinion."
Amen. The gray areas are one of the the primary reasons I left the pastorate to go back to school for my M.Div. I think we have an obligation to sort the stuff out fairly without just parroting the received traditions.

2. "Scholars would do a major service for the church if they enabled people to get beyond disorientation. I suspect that explains a great part of Bishop Wright's popularity."
Tom Wright, more than anyone else, was responsible for my plunge into the disorientation of scholarship. So even though I think he is pretty much the coolest scholar ever, part of me thinks he sucks.

3. "I am a theology/NT-o-phile, if you understand me. I salivate over books, read them almost non-stop, and am all-in-all a bit obsessive compulsive about turning the next page."
I admit that I am challenged by this statement. See, I love books. I love to look at books. I love to handle them and hold them. I love to read the dust jackets and flip through them and make piles of them. But I have to admit that I can tend to lose interest about half way through reading them. Sometimes it's from information overload and I need time to process, sometimes it's because I just get bored. This has really inspired me to press through and to want to become obsessive compulsive about turning the next page.

4. "By the way, I’m just joking about the Fundie shooting, of course. I know lots of lovely Fundie Christians–far better people than me. And bullets cost too much. Give me fifteen minutes with a golf club–that would be cheaper!"
Though most of what Chris writes is awfully funny, there comes a point where his pseudo-scholarship and lame-blog humor just makes me feel, well, crappy and defiled. Is this supposed to be funny? Sorry, but taking offense at gratuitous violence is not a sacred cow. Chris Tilling, you should be ashamed of yourself.

So today I (1) openly disagreed with a comment he made; (2) dissed Tom Wright; and (3) called his blogging humor pseudo-scholarship and lame; so I get three (or depending on when he reads this, four) fingers up from Mr. Tilling. I feel honored.

Thanks for the blog, Chris, and thanks for the interview, Michael.