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Two-Edged Sword

This is my personal blog. The main topic shall be theology, but since theology informs every area of life, one can expect a wide range of topics. I hope that all who visit find something they like. I welcome comment and discussion.

Updated: 2018-02-14T16:48:11.263-06:00


Missing Churches in Low Income neighborhoods - Why?


This Atlantic article on churches in poor neighborhoods is an interesting read if you look past the find one emotional example that the author thinks proves his point that characterizes a lot of writing in the Atlantic.  The main point is that half of new church plants opened in wealthier areas and church attendance is on the decline among the poor.  And perhaps that is because it takes a lot of money to run a church and a church in a poor neighborhood might have more financial needs to help out the needy.  But has he really found the reason, finances that churches are down in low income neighborhoods?  Did he miss a very plausible explanation?I think he did.  I will grant that low income neighborhoods might be less likely to receive church plants than in the past.  The rise in non-denominational churches probably effects this as they have no connections to help fund them from afar that a denomination would provide.  But I still think he has the causes reversed.  Churches are not being planted in low income neighborhoods because church attendance is down in low-income neighborhoods.  The author gives no proof for saying fewer churches leads to fewer attending when fewer attending can very well lead to fewer churches.  And I think there is ample reason to think the low-income flight from church is a product of a highly anti-Christian culture.  Sociologically speaking, the poor or lower economic classes are quicker to take on the traits of the super-rich, or the culture makers of society.  This is true in almost every category.  Francis Schaeffer noted this in his books on culture.  You can see it in things like baby name trends.  The rich pick unique names, the poor then take up those names and they finally filter into the middle class, but by then the name has become common and the rich have abandoned it looking for unique names again (see Freakonomics).  And what are the elite and culture makers saying about Christianity?  Christianity is the enemy more often than not.  Whether it is Christian bakers on the news as the backwater bigots or the evil group that empowered Trump, the enemy is evangelicalism.  Maybe they get it from movies like Dogma (1999) where the descendent of Jesus is an abortion worker and the entire thing is an attack on Christians, or more popular and subtle fair like Footloose (1984 remade in 2011), or in award winners like Brokeback Mountain (2005) with its positive portrayal of homosexuality.  Maybe it is from TV in the always award winning Handmaid’s Tale (2017-ongoing) or Modern Family (2009-ongoing).  Maybe it is from books like Da Vinci Code (2003).  The message is the same, church is not good, Christianity is the problem, not the solution.  So, the lower classes are responding and they are leaving church resulting in fewer in attendance and thus fewer church plants.  The Atlantic Article laments the fact that Christianity could help these people out physically and materially, yet the churches are not there.  But the lack of awareness of the real importance of Christianity and its message of Jesus Christ is striking.  For the author Christianity helps with “positive outcomes” and “assistance for struggling families”, but fails to realize such things are the by-product of the love of Christ manifested in the church.  It is by living out the faith that the Atlantic and Hollywood and many others have spent so much time tearing down.  In the end, the article provides a beautiful picture into a mind that sees nothing beyond the material and understands little to nothing about the faith.  But it does see the damage caused when people begin to abandon that faith.[...]

Thoughts on the current protests - GUEST POST


 A GUEST POST BY MY WIFE, Jenny JoI’ve been thinking a lot about the football players’ protests of the national anthem.  On the face of things, I don’t like it.  By any accounting, Americans are the most free, most wealthy, most generous people on earth, and we should be thankful for our citizenship here.  I think that this method of protest (disrespecting the symbols of our country) in order to make an unrelated political point so clouds the issue that many patriotic Americans can’t see beyond it.  And Trump’s nasty words had the result of making this past Sunday’s protests more about him than about anything else.  But, digging a little deeper to consider the protestors’ motives, I agree that this country has a police brutality problem.  President John Adams once said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”  As our society becomes increasingly more immoral, and as the citizens fail to restrain themselves, it follows that the heavy and inadequate hand of the government (the police) will do increasingly more of the restraining for us.  In such a climate, a few policemen (sinners just like the rest of us) become tyrannical, and a few become so jaded that everyone appears as a law-breaker.  Both situations lead to the abuse of the innocent.  How many times have we heard, on TV, in the movies, or in real life, a policeman say, “I AM the law?”  This perspective is very, very wrong.  I think there is almost no justification for a policeman to use his weapon against a citizen: only in the case of an immediate lethal threat to the policeman or an immediate lethal threat to someone else.  Unarmed people should never, ever be shot.  It is far better to err on the side of criminals eluding justice than the side of innocents dying.  This is an issue, a societal problem, worthy of our attention. Whenever controversial issues like this one come up, I always do lots of mental gymnastics, trying to turn the situation around to see how I’d feel if the shoe were on the other foot.  Would I approve of a professional athlete taking a knee to mourn the lives of all the innocent children murdered in abortion?  Mmm.  I might.  I would also admit that doing so during the national anthem communicates an anti-patriotism that I do not support and distracts from (nay, even harms) the original point of the protest.  And it downright angers people for whom love of country is a more important issue (than abortion, racial issues, or whatever).  As mature, thoughtful people, we have to admit that all issues aren’t equally weighted for all people.  Isn’t that one of the things pollsters are always asking in the run-up to elections?  For me, abortion is more important than racial tension or school spending or minimum wage because if we kill a person as an infant, then his race, his education, his income are all completely moot.  We have to ensure survival before we bother about secondary things.  Now I have good friends, church friends even, who believe racial equality is the more important issue.  While I disagree (and am happy to debate the essential import of abortion), I do refrain from accusing them of allowing their priorities to make them de facto supporters of abortion.  As also, by the way, they should refrain from accusing me of being a de facto supporter of racism.  This brings me back to the beginning.  In our society, we seldom consider the other person’s perspective this way.  Many voices in the public square these days are saying that valuing a love of country over a desire to end police brutality is the same as being racist.  And that’s not true.  Just because opposing racism isn’t a person’s highest ideal does not mean that it isn’t an ideal at all.  I suspect that NFL players would find many, many more people would rally to[...]

Tales from the Box Office


I keep up with the box office and movie industry.  I feel it gives a good pulse of society and culture.  I like to play arm chair movie manager just as much as the next guy, which seems to be a lot because people often write about the movie industry.  The Atlantic has a piece about the horrible box officeincome of the summer, especially the last month, and while The Atlantic writer gets close, she misses two major things that show her leftist bent.  Misunderstandings like this are why the industry is losing money to places like Netflix.  The first reason why the summer receipts are so bad is not so much betting on a few properties and putting lots of money into pushing certain movies, but rather the calendar itself has changed.  And of course we can always play the “maybe it would have been a better idea to put money behind the marketing of Captain Underpants rather than the Mummy”, I don’t think this is the real reason.  Rather, the changing calendar has changed the Summer Blockbuster window itself.  Take a look at the big money movies this year.  You won’t find an August opening movie until #22.  Yes, they are mostly still out, but in years gone by you would have found more higher on the list because August was still blockbuster season.  Why the change?  School.  Most kids are back in school by the second week of August now.  The time for movie theater trips is over.  Friday night football is usually going before September.  This is no longer movie time, but school time.  If you look at the list again you will find many pre-Memorial day releases.  Guardians of the Galaxy at #3, Logan at #6, and Fate of the Furious at #7 are both prior.  School is basically over for many by May.  They may be attending still, but meaningful school is over.  So movie time it is.  That gives them time to be out and well-reviewed by the time Memorial Day hits keeping financial returns strong.  Those movies also are all sequels so the movie goer is already invested.  No need to wait to release if the people are already waiting for you.  For movies appealing to younger children one can be released even earlier.  See Beauty and the Beast #1 and Lego Batman #8.  And yes if you look at this by opening weekend alone it does not change much.  Still no August releases until #20.  Dark Tower was probably a bad movie and would have had massive drop off, but I bet its opening would have been better if it had been released in July.  The same is probably true for the Hitman’s Bodyguard, which is a typical summer movie fare, but only garnered 21 million opening weekend thanks to it being after summer was over because school had started back. Its nice performance on Labor Day weekend shows that it suffered, not from story, but from the fact August people don't see as movie time anymore.  The other major omission from the Atlantic is the content of the movies that seem to make the most money.  Hollywood really does hate its main audience.  Just like political pundits cannot figure out how Trump won most of the country, they can’t figure out what makes a movie most of the country wants to see.  The top of the box office list is dominated by super heroes, which fundamentally are a good v evil tale.  The heroes are from the 40’s and 50’s and so are also fundamentally about American ideals including traditional morality.  That is half of the top 5.  In fact, every super hero movie released by Marvel or DC is in the top 10 including a Lego Batman movie.  The top spot is taken by an age old fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, which also then reflects good old morals such as not judging a book by the cover and such things that we used to want to teach our kids.  It did add in a few seconds of agenda pushing, but it was so in the background no one cared.  Dunkirk as well is about WWII where good [...]

13 Reasons Why And the True Tragedy


13 Reasons Why has created a lot of discussion since its release on Netflix.  It is based on a book, which I have not read, but I viewed the shows.  People feared a contagion affect, and it now appears to have been happening.  It was not hard to see coming.  When the hero of the show is the one who commits suicide, then you are glamorizing suicide.  But the real problem of the show is not that.  The suggestions for removing the death scene fundamentally miss the point.
In my opinion, the problem is the accurate portrayal of high school in a non-Christian/Post-Christian world.  Yes, the main character Hannah gets every possible type of bullying, which is probably unrealistic, but almost everyone is going to have experienced a couple of those types of bullying situations.  Hannah does seek help in the last show from the guidance counselor, but he has no answers.  The problem is not that he is just too busy, but that he has no real solutions.  The show seems to come up with some sort of “we should love each other more” answer, but that is just hot air and kids today know it.  They know they can’t be totally loving, and they sure know that the people around them are not going to be super loving.  Maybe a suicide would help for a time in a school, but even that would not be a permanent fix. 
That is the problem with 13 Reasons Why.  It asks the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?”  But it comes back with a different answer.  It comes back with “There isn’t one.”  When that is the answer, why keep living in discomfort?  Why keep going when everything is painful and hurts inside? 
The culture is learning that all the reasons suicide are wrong rest firmly on the Christian worldview that the culture is rejecting at every turn.  Without any idea of redemption, sanctification, divine love, thou shalt not kill, and being created in the image of God, suicide cannot be condemned.  The experts in those articles don’t want it to look peaceful, they want the suicide to show the pain and loss of the family.  But, the non-Christian world tells us to live for ourselves and that pain is bad.  Hannah was in pain, so she ended her pain.  Now her parents are in pain, they have the same option available to them. 
13 Reasons Why is a horrible show because of its non-Christian worldview.  But it does remind Christians that there are a lot of people out there that in pain, in search of comfort, and do not know the answer of belonging body and soul to the faithful savior Jesus Christ.  The church has an opportunity to reach those people.  To teach them about Jesus Christ and the cross. 

“For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened – not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.  He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.”  - 2 Corinthians 5:4-5

Hillbilly Elegy


I read the New York Times Bestseller Hillbilly Elegy, and it is a very good book.  It is well written, honest, and gives a glimpse into a life style many don’t know.  The subject matter makes the book tend towards sadness and pity, but has just enough humor in it to stop it from becoming overly depressing.  The book looks at not just the life, but the mind-set behind what we think of as Appalachia.  Full disclosure, I grew up in Appalachia.  So much so that when I read the opening chapter of this book and he said his family lived in Ohio from Kentucky, I thought “That is not Appalachia; that is not the South.”  I had to fight against my own upbringing to be able to listen to this Ohio guy talk about Appalachia.  I have been to many towns like Jackson, KY, and my own hometown would probably be Middletown, OH if Eastman chemical ever closed.  I imagine Kingsport maybe a lot like the Middletown that his grandparents moved to when their factory was still open.Remembering that I actually enjoyed the book, don’t buy the hype that this book is “a civilized reference guide for an uncivilized election” as Jennifer Senior from the New York Times writes.  It really has nothing to do with the election.  It is a look into a forgotten group of people.  Maybe this forgottenness played a role in the election, but the book is not really trying to address any of that.  It is a beautiful picture of a society that grows increasingly more lost.  The brokenness, the hopelessness, and the ever rising climate of drugs and violence are real.  I went home to Kingsport this year, the first time in four years, and the change is saddening.  There is such a thing as mountain poor, and this books shows it well.  It also ends up showing how that poverty does not stay in the mountains but ends up in places like Middletown, OH.  If you want a look at what poverty can do to people and to a community, then read this book.  It is revealing and eye opening.However, the book is ultimately very frustrating for not only its lack of answers, which it is upfront about, but also its inability to see the real problem staring it in the face.  JD Vance, the author, ends the book talking about some need for social safety nets are needed and how some problems the government can’t fix.  He is trying to advocate for some middle of the road kind of approach.  But, if he would just read his own book with a thought of Christ and the gospel, he would have the major portion of his answer.  Vance’s story involves a broken home, a mother who was a drug addict and a father who ran off.  Multiple marriages later, and more abuse than I care to think about, Vance escapes thanks to the GI bill and divine providence that goes unrecognized.  At one point in the book, Vance lives with his mother’s second husband and adopted father.  The father has found religion, admittedly a Pentecostal variety, but he is now married and with kids of his own.  Vance is surprised at how normal they are and how they don’t fight, they don’t scream, and they don’t hurt each other.  But, he does not stay because he feels he doesn’t belong and he will not give up his rock-n-roll CDs.  His own family, including grandparents, profess but never really go to church.  He often wonders why some make it and some don’t.  But, he often acknowledges the devastation of the broken home created by divorce and regrets the social ethic he learned of looking down on education and elevating fighting.  The problems Mr. Vance sees are sin, and the solution is Jesus Christ.  The problems stem from an unchristian worldview and can be fixed by the blood of the savior and following His worldview.  Yet, it is not really ever considered as an option.  It is heartbreaking to think of generations of those trapped in the hopelessnes[...]

Condemnation is Important


Sometimes what is not said is louder than what is said.  Consider this example of a parent with two kids.  One kid hauls off and punches the other kid right in the face.  The punch broke the child’s nose and required surgery to fix.  What would you think the child who punched his sibling would learn if all his parent said was “My thoughts and prayers are with your sibling.  I am glad the EMTs got him to the hospital quickly.”  Do you think that the parent would have taught the child that it was wrong to punch?  Did the parent discourage future punching?  The parent’s failure to speak words of correction has a greater impact than the parents words of sympathy.  Sometimes we have to be willing to say an act is wrong, vile, evil, or hateful.  We just do.I bring this up in regards to the amazing response of many to the recent shooting of Representative Steve Scalise, a Republican staffer, and some others at a baseball practice.  What is amazing about this response is what was missing.  Remember, this was a Democratic shooter hunting Republican lawmakers.  Let’s look at some twitter responses from leading Democrats.First Hillary Clinton:2 sides take the field tomorrow, but we're all ultimately on one team. My thoughts are with the members of Congress, staff & heroic police.Clinton offers no denunciation of the act itself.  Interestingly, her Twitter statement lacks any hashtag, which seems to imply she does not want it easily found or widely read.  For comparison, here is a Tweet from the day before from Clinton in which she remembers the anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shooting: My heart is with the loved ones of the 49 people killed at Pulse, the city of Orlando, & the LGBT community. #WeWillNotLetHateWinThe violent act in this case is a year old.  Clinton does use a hashtag, and calls the shooting “hate.”  Now onto Joe Biden, former Vice President:Jill and I are praying for the victims and their families. Grateful for courage of my former colleagues, first responders & Capitol Police.Again, no denunciation of the act itself.  Prayer and thoughts.  No indication of violence being evil or wrong.  Let’s look at his one year remembering of the Pulse Nigh Club shooting:We meet unspeakable tragedy and hate with unbound resolve. I stand with the LGBTQ community, today and every day. #OrlandoUnitedDay.Again this act was “hate.”  And we see that the Vice President understands hashtags, which were absent above. Tim Kaine is a senator from Virginia, and the latest VP candidate offered up by the Democratic Party: Praying for Steve Scalise and all hurt in the outrageous attack this morning in Alexandria.Again, no condemnation of anything.  Just prayers for the hurt.  He even uses the word Alexandria, which was the hashtag being used, but fails to make it a hashtag.  If you go to his twitter feed you will see that he does link to an interview he gave with NPR where he says we need better political rhetoric.  So, bonus points to Kaine for at least that much. Nancy Pelosi, the highest ranking Democrat Congressman: My thoughts and prayers with @SteveScalise, Capitol Police and staff at the shooting in Alexandria, VA this morning.No hashtag, no condemning.  Now her response to the one year anniversary of the Pulse shooting:Hatred will never defeat #pride. #OrlandoUnitedDayThat was hate.  It deserves hashtags.  And there is a video message attached where she condemns the attacks even more. Chuck Schumer, the highest ranking Democrat in the Senate: Saddened by news of the shooting in VA this am. Thoughts & prayers for Rep @SteveScalise & others injured & hope for a speedy recovery.No hashtag; no condemning the act.  He did have a second tweet later that thanked responders, but again, n[...]

Skipping the Church


This post over at A Cry for Justice is indicative both of what I like about the site and of what makes me deeply uncomfortable about it.The site has published an open-letter type response to an allegedly real letter from a pastor to an abuse victim (non-physical abuse).  I am not defending the pastor’s letter in any way.  I don’t know enough to say anything about the pastor’s situation at all.  So don’t misconstrue this as an endorsement of his letter. What I appreciate about the open letter is how clearly the real pain is communicated.  First, I do think pastors need to realize that often when a person speaks about a spouse’s emotional manipulation (I prefer that word to the term “abuse” so that we can keep the distinction between the crime of physical abuse and the sin of spiritual tyranny), he/she is already at the end of the rope.  The sufferer has reached the tipping point.  It is not a new problem in the marriage but a long-standing pattern.  Hope has been lost.  Second, I’m thankful for the reminder that when a pastor approaches marriage counseling, he ought to consider that one of the marriage partners could very well be a rank pagan.  Pretenders and hypocrites exist within our churches.  Pastors are probably the easiest to fool since we see the people the least.  Spouses witness the hypocrisy the most.  Third, divorce is a biblically acceptable outcome in some situations.  Divorcing couples are not a sign of a failing church or ministry; sometimes they are just the by-product of the depravity of man.What I find deeply troubling about the open letter is its low view of the church.  And it’s regarding this point that I find myself unable to endorse this open letter (much less A Cry for Justice overall).  This letter begs the pastor to listen.  And he should.  But what the author basically is saying is, “I tried all the Christian stuff already, please grant me a divorce, now.”  Just as the pastor needs to understand that the wife (or whoever is the offended party in the marriage) is at the end of her rope, that person needs to understand that the church has only just now been apprised of the situation.  The church cannot jump straight to the end and just say, “I am sorry for you, here is your divorce.”  We can’t do that because ours is a “ministry of reconciliation.”  We can’t do that because Jesus Christ’s grace is real and can change lives.  It changed Saul into Paul.  It can change anyone.  We can’t jump to the end because, while the wife may have tried everything by herself, she has not tried anything with the backing and support of the church.  That fact is important.The open letter makes clear that pain and suffering are real, and the husband in that case needs to repent.  He is acting sinfully.  However, the author’s efforts to change her husband are not the same as the church’s.  The church can add its voice to the call to repent, the call to recognize how much the husband’s behavior has hurt his wife and his kids, the call to turn to Jesus and away from sin.  One of the important lessons from Matthew 18 is that the one who refuses to listen is not to be treated as an unbeliever or a tax collector until after he has failed to listen to the church.  I do not see that attitude in the letter.  And that concerns me. Ultimately, what I am arguing for is to involve the church much, much earlier in the process.  Go to your church well before you reach the end of your rope.  If your spouse gives you the silent treatment at home, don’t endure it for months, involve the elders and pastor right then.  Is he yelling and screaming and blaming you for financial problems that are not your fault?  Call the pastor.  Did he kill a[...]

Misunderstanding love and hate


Ben Mallicote writes about faith and politics at the group blog  His newest pieceis written in condemnation of the phrase: “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”  I dislike the phrase, as well (it comes from one of Augustine’s letters, not from the Bible); however, I strongly disagree with his post. 1. Ben misunderstands hate. I assume that he was motivated to write this article to address the hate he sees in the world.  I wish he had given it some context, because it’s been my experience that people use that phrase, “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” in order to take sin less seriously, not in order to give freer rein to hate.  Unfortunately, Ben did not define what he means by hate.  He does assert that those with whom we have relationships (children, friends) are ineligible recipients of our hate.  So from the outset, he conflates “hating the sin” and “hating the sinner” without offering any justification for doing so.  I would wager that’s the point where he loses his argument with the people who are enamored of the phrase.  Then he writes that since we are categorically incapable of hating our children, we should also refrain from hating people groups such as gays or Muslims.  (I don’t see the thought progression, there.)  Then he abruptly switches to talking about love.The problem Ben has is that he’s using a worldly definition of hate in which hate appears to be the opposite of love.  But this cannot be.  God is love.  Yet God hates (Psalm 5:4-6; 11:5; Romans 9:13).  He hates things like lying (Proverbs 12:22), idolatry (Deuteronomy 7:25), and arrogance (Proverbs 16:6-9).  He also hates people such as idolaters, evildoers, and lovers of violence. (Psalm 5:4-6, 11:5)  So then, what can the Christian know of hate?  Hate is an emotion, and it is not sinful.  It is a God-given emotion.  There is a time to hate (Ecclesiastes 3:8).  Hate is an emotional opposing and a standing against something or someone (Psalm 26:5).  Thus we are called to hate the enemies of God (Psalm 139:21).  It can be easily misused, and when we direct it wrongly, we do sin.  We ought not hate simply because we don’t like someone’s actions.  Hate is rightfully directed against the unholy actions of those who stand against God.  It is also directed against the unbeliever himself because the unbeliever stands against God, and that stand is disastrous for the unbeliever.  I agree with Ben that it’s hard to separate the sin and the sinner; apart from Christ, the two are inescapably connected.  In hell God won’t be punishing sin; He’ll be punishing sinners.  Jesus reminds us of the dire state of the unbeliever when he tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:43-44).  Hatred of the enemies of God does not rule out love.  It does not rule out pity.  It does not rule out prayer.  We are emotionally opposed to those who stand against God, but we are also desirous of seeing them switch sides and come to faith in Jesus Christ.  We are against the promotion of sin, but that does not mean we are against repentance unto life.Now, this doesn’t mean that I’ll be marching in a parade with a sign that says, “God hates (fill in the blank with pet peeve).”  The people at Westboro Baptist Church misunderstand hate, too.  They use the world’s idea of hate and impute it to God.  They seek to belittle, curse, demean, and vilify others.  That is not Biblical.  Our speech is still always to be seasoned with grace.  We cannot condone or excuse sin, but that does not mean our language should be unkind. I need to point out that we ARE capable of hating those with whom we have a close relatio[...]

Lacking Hope


There is a great need for the comfort and hope of the gospel today.  We can see it in the culture around us. And no I don’t mean politics.  Politics is downstream of culture.  I think it is most obvious in young adult literature and movies. Take a look at what is popular and for the most part is dystopian futures and zombies.  Both have been around for a long time, but never were they so popular.  You have your “1983” and “Fahrenheit 451”, but they did not start a rage in dystopian writings.  Even 1993’s “The Giver” did not jump start the idea, although Lois Lowery’s book did have the main character as a teenager, which is what future dystopian writings would capitalize upon.  Enter “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins in 2008 and we have our beginning.  This series of books not only sold millions of copies, but launched a film franchise that made big time bucks.  Also, it was followed by books like “Divergent” (2011) by Veronica Roth, and then the “Maze Runner” (2009) by James Dashner.  Each selling millions and spawning movie franchises although not quite to the same level of success as Hunger Games.  Those are just the big massive successes.  We could also count “Uglies” (2006) by Scott Westerfield, “Across the Universe” by Beth Revis, and “The Knife of Never Letting Go” (2008) by Patrick Ness just to name a few. All of those books have teenage heroes, fight against a corrupt system, everything is already ruined and will not get better even when the protagonist wins, and is easily comparable to aspects of high school (I am not the first to state such similarities). Now add in the popularity of zombies.  Again “Night of the Living Dead” has been around for sometime, but the genre has really taken off thanks mostly to “The Walking Dead” (2003) comic book, which is still on-going, and its resulting TV series, and “Resident Evil” (1996) video game, which has since become a film franchise as well.  This has helped spawn both movies and books such as “I am Legend” and “World War Z”.  The genre is popular enough that it also has some comedy books such as “Pride Prejudice and Zombies” (2009), which is now coming to a theater near you and “Shaun of the Dead” (2004). The majority of these books, movies, and games have little to no real hope and often the real threat is not the zombies, who seem to be more of the setting than the problem, but other non-zombie survivors.  “The Walking Dead” particularly dives into the idea of living in a world without morals because it is without structure.  What does civilization look like in such a world and is it even possible are regular themes. This is a change in what young adults have traditionally read.  In times past people read “The Chronicles of Narnia”, which is full of hope and goes from disorder to order, or they read “Little House on the Prairie”, which is about hard work and finding a good life without things, or “A Wrinkle in Time” which is a good vs. evil fight.  The difference in themes is stark and obvious.It is not hard to see that this change reflects something lacking in our culture and something that speaks to young adults.  They are hopeless.  Just look at the ending of the Hunger Games Trilogy.  They have fought this profound evil of making kids fight to the death for sport to keep people in line, and when the “good guys” win, they want to re-instituted the same thing.  So, the heroine kills the new leader rather than the old one.  They are both the same.  No real hope.  Even the brief glimpse of her future she and her husband suffer from the scars of their life mentally.  Yes they have kids, but we learn noth[...]

Rogue One and Thoughts on the New Direction of Star Wars


I saw Rogue One, and it is a good action movie.  It felt a bit more like a Star Wars film, but without any character development.  Droids still steal the movie.  It is not directed by J.J. Abrams so no need to worry about crazy light flares.  But it does fit with the new direction of the franchise set by Abrams.  So here are a few thoughts now that we have two movies from the new direction.

First, it is clear that the concept of the Force has changed.  The Force is now acting on its own, and has a will.  People seem to pray to it in Rogue One, and it can look as if Rey might be doing the same thing in Force Awakens to change the momentum of her light saber fight.  This makes the ground split between Rey and Kylo Ren have new meanings as well.  The Force did not want Rey to kill Kylo.  Everything now is part of the will of the Force.  It is taking the Force from a more Eastern mysticism to something closer to Christian conception of a personal god. 

This is different from Lucas’s view of the Force.  Even in the Phantom Menace where it is mentioned the Force has a will, but then it also obeys your commands.  Lucas used the Force as more of something that gave people abilities, and can be used rightly or wrongly.  Now with this new view of the Force having a will, it brings with it a host of complications.  What does it mean to return the Force to balance, as they discussed in the Prequel Trilogy?  Why did the Force allow the Emperor and the evil he wrought?  Vader killed younglings after all.  Why does the Force have a light side and a dark side? 

Second, these movies are no longer really fantasy kids movies.  Force Awakens was the first film to earn a PG-13 rating, and this movie, Rogue One, is a war movie where, well, when you see the end you will understand.  At least Rogue One is a self contained movie unlike Abrams’s Force Awakens where the mystery is never revealed. 

Third, the original trilogy was great in creating characters.  After all, we love those characters enough to have all these other movies.  It still stands as one of the best trilogies ever.  The Prequel was not as good.  Some of the characters failed miserably.  But, it did a good job of showing the government go from a Republic to an Empire.  That was well done.  The belief that councils and republics don’t work well continues in Rogue One.  Force Awakens showed us some great new characters, but gave us very little and left with so many questions that it was annoying.  Rogue One does not give great character development, but does a good job of showing the evil of the Empire and the nature of the war that does not come through in the original trilogy. 

Fourth, Rogue One should have had a slightly different ending.  Princess Leia being in that massive fight makes no sense.  Worse yet, the beginning of Star Wars now feels like stupid pathetic lies.  It seems as if Leia and the guy who said it was a diplomatic mission are a little like PR guy for Saddam Hussen. 

Fifth and finally, the technology of allowing dead people to appear in movies is amazing.  It will be bad in the long run as now the dead can be used to advertise beer or Snickers, but it is impressive technology.  The moral questions of who owns the likeness of dead people is what will be interesting.  Still, it cannot be denied that seeing some of the original people was fun. 

Go see the movie, and hopefully Abrams will give us a better movie in 2017.

Mockery in the Church


I recently wrote about the decline in discussion thanks to the rise in mockery.  It was in the context of why we have Trump vs. Clinton.  It turns out that Trump won and in large part because the middle of America felt put upon and scorned by the mocking left.  I was not surprised.  But now I must say that I have long been bothered by the same trend in church.  Mocking is often now the way the church communicates too.  Douglas Wilson is excellent at it with a sharp wit and a sarcastic tongue.  He helped popularize the heresy of Federal Vision with his mockery.  But it has gone from the controversial to the church mainstream in the Babylon Bee.  I see this posted everywhere I go on social media.    Some of the Bee’s stuff is quite harmless using well-worn jokes as fodder like the need to end a sermon on time.  Others are more satire directed at new evolving ways of communicating on social media.  But more and more are mocking of people directly.  And not always individuals but large groups.  Some were so popular they were fact checked by Snoopes.  Now mockery in and of itself is not sinful.  We do see it used in the Bible.  Surely Paul is mocking to some degree in Galatians 5:12 where he wishes those who would require circumcision would emasculate themselves.  God participates in a bit of mocking or sarcasm at least in his conversation with Job in Job 38.  God knows where Job was when he set the limits to the waters, and he knows Job cannot hook the Leviathan.  But it was used to make a point.  Job need his sense of importance and power torn down by God, which God did to Job’s spiritual benefit.  But we also see the Bible warn quite a bit about mocking such as Proverbs 3:34 or the incident in 2 Kings 2:23 where the she-bear tears apart some mocking children.  So there is a limit, a time and place, for the use of such communication.  The problem today is the overuse of mockery.  Jesus and Paul could mock, but that was far from their only weapon.  It had a place and a purpose.  The majority of the conversation was to build up.  They mocked to bring a listener to change by laying bare his folly.  But they never ever left someone there.  Tearing down without building up is not good at all.  It clears out the strong man without filling the house with the Spirit.  Jesus mocked and so did Paul and Elijah and others, but can we find a Scriptural example where the mockery was not done in order to bring about change, but rather to bring about a laugh.  Did the disciples sit around and tell jokes to each other about the Pharisee who was eaten by a wolf on Saturday because he could not exceed the proscribed number of steps for the Sabbath?  Probably not.And here in lies the rub, for me at least.  Do we believe this mockery is effecting change?  Is this tearing down leading to a building up?  Does anyone really think Joel Osteen is reading this, much less motivated to start using the Bible correctly?  Do we think this helped any followers of Osteen?  Do we think it helped protesters in the streets?  Are modern worship services starting to tone it down after seeing how they are likenight clubs thanks to the Babylonian Bee?  Is the mocking of the anti-gluten diet craze really changing minds?  Of course not.  But is the conservative Reformed crowd being affected by this mockery?  We don’t make these mistakes, but what is the attitude portrayed toward those that have contemporary worship or were so upset by the election they took to the streets?  Is it compassion and love?  Even Jesus loved the Rich Young Ruler when he poin[...]

Blame Jon Stewart for the 2106 Election


It is hard not to be confused by how the American 2016 presidential election has come down to Clinton and Trump. They are hated by almost everyone and have the highest disapproval numbers ever.  How did this embarrassment happen?  Obviously the answer is complicated, but let me suggest one reason you might not have considered.  Jon Stewart.  Stewart, the former host of the Daily Show, helped bring America to its knees and has led us to the farcical match up of Donald Trump against Hillary Clinton.  Let me explain.In 1999, Stewart took over The Daily Show on Comedy Central, a news satire and talk show, turning its focus away from pop culture and toward politics and the national media.  He interviewed political guests such as presidential candidate John Kerry.  As host of this program, Stewart repeatedly criticized Crossfire, a current events debate program airing on CNN.  Eventually in 2004, the hosts of Crossfire invited him to be on their program as a guest.  In that appearance, he stated that Crossfire was hurting America, and he called the hosts “political hacks” and worse.  He rejected the concept of a two part only (liberal-conservative) worldview, and in turn he rejected the political discourse that took place on Crossfire.  Within three months, Crossfire was cancelled by CNN.  A little over a year after Stewart’s appearance, his own Daily Show launched a successful spin-off, The Colbert Report.  Both The Daily Show and The Colbert Report were comedy shows that garnered their laughs through mockery of politics, politicians, and political beliefs.  Both shows concentrated their jeering on conservatives with very little spent on the liberal/progressive side.  Originally this was explained by Stewart as simply a consequence of the Republicans presenting a bigger target since they were in power; however, when Barak Obama became President, both shows continued to focus their fire on Republicans, conservatives, and conventional values.  The serious-minded debate show on CNN died, Daily Show ratings went up, especially among young people, and Liberal politicians noticed.  Not only did they all want to appear on the Daily Show and the Colbert Report, but this joking-at-the-conservative's-expense began to be imitated by Progressive Liberals.  By the time of the 2016 presidential campaign, Stewart’s method of dealing with political opponents with mockery is the main way politics is done, and it is not a coincidence.      Bill Maher is another comedian who reflects this trend.  From 1993 until 2002 he hosted a show called Politically Incorrect.  It was not as contentious as Crossfire, usually incorporating guests from various viewpoints speaking together in a light debate style on various topics.  The show was canceled before Stewart’s appearance on Crossfire, but well after The Daily Show was growing in popularity.  Maher then launched his own mocking show called Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO. This show has a much more liberal tone and jeers conservatives with jokes such as: “Conservatives don’t believe in facts.”  In 2008 he filmed a “documentary” titled Religulous, designed to make fun of religion and deter people from belief.  In 2008 the people of Minnesota actually elected a comedian to the Senate, further bolstering this movement away from thoughtful, even-handed debate and toward sarcasm and mockery as a primary means of political expression.  The drive to destroy one’s opponents with ridicule rather than argumentation was well-established on the political Left and is evidenced in the fact that most people believe that Sarah Palin, Republican candidat[...]

More Hyde on the 4th Commandment


Hyde makes the claim that there is no way around the fact that the Lord’s Day is the Christian Sabbath.  And the article and a good portion of the podcast are discussing the pronouncement of Dort concerning the Sabbath.  Rev. Hyde claims that this shows agreement with the Puritan position, and I disagree.  Now Dort is probably a bit closer than the Heidelberg to the Puritans and closer than the Second Helvetic Confession, and close to in-line with Jan Laski, but not in agreement with the Puritans.  First let us remember that this is not the Synod of Dort that was all the Reformed from across the Continent.  This was the same synod, but the foreign delegates had left by this point.  It is what is called the ‘post-acta’ portion of the Synod.  So this is only the Netherlands.  A Netherlands that was in the midst of being highly influenced by the Puritans from England.  William Ames was currently ministering in the Netherlands and was serving as a help to the Synod President, and the Dutch had a church in London as well.  Thus the Dutch had internal divisions on this subject.  Gomarus was against the Puritan view and Voetius was for it.  Both at the Synod.  Dort has six points regarding the 4thCommandment.  The first point speaks of having a ceremonial and moral aspect.  The ceremonial nature of the commandment that includes the “rest on the seventh day” and the “strict” manner of observance according to point 2.  Hyde states the ceremonial aspects as the “day on which the Sabbath fell” and the “strictness” (Regulae. pg.171 see article link above).  But that is not what the text seems to say.  The word “rest” is included.  Hyde’s formulation assumes the Sabbath will continue, but that is actually what is being debated.  The moral portion, according to point 3, is one day a week needs to use for worship and all that gets in the way of that should be rested from or stopped.  So note that there is no equation of the seventh day with the first day.  Just one day a week is required.  The fourth point is the Sabbath of the Jews is abolished, and Sunday is to be hallowed.  This is a follow up on the ceremonial points, this is all abolished.  Strict observance is abolished.  The Sabbath is abolished.  No mention of a new Christian Sabbath.  The word Sabbath is used only here to say it is abolished.  Point 4 does seem to be saying that Sunday is the day appointed to worship, but it is not the same as saying it is the Sabbath.  The fifth point now references the long standing tradition of worshipping on Sunday.   It is saying that it is now a well-established tradition.  That should have weight.  Point 6 then speaks of consecrating the day to worship by resting from servile labor and all recreation that gets in the way of worship.  It is not a call to rest form all work, nor from all recreation.  So this is clearly less than the Westminster.  Still, it does go further than the Heidelberg.Just in case anyone thinks I am crazy, Douma comments on Dort and the fourth commandment saying “the Synod did not come up with a strictly Puritan pronouncement” (The Ten Commandments pg.144).  He too argues it is a compromise statement.  It is not a Puritan interpretation because the Puritans make rest on the day as well as worship part of the continuing moral force of the commandment.  The Heidelberg does not.  This pronouncement from Dort does not.  It says you have to rest from stuff in order to worship, but that is not the same as what the Puritans are arguing for.  They want[...]

Rev. Hyde and the Sabbath


One cannot click around for more than a few seconds before running across someone slobbering all over the Puritans and talking of their greatness.  Everyone wants to be part of Puritanism now and show how Puritanism is Reformation theology down the line.  Rather than admitting that Reformed theology has some breadth to it, many desire to simply make everyone into a Puritan.  No example is better than the idea of saying there is no difference between the Continental and Puritan view of the Sabbath or 4th Commandment.  The latest example of this is Rev. Daniel Hyde.  He is a guest on the Christ the Center Podcast Episode 450 (congrats on that number by the way) and has an article being republished in the Confessional Presbyterian arguing that everything was always Puritan Sabbatarianism.  Rev. Hyde and the hosts make this claim at about the 5 minute mark.  They go on to talk about how sometimes the application is different, but the principle is the same.  And proof is offered in that the URC is very strict on the Sabbath and a lot of Presbyterians are not.  And it must be said this is true; however, it is because the URC holds the Puritan view of the Sabbath not because there is no such thing as a Continental view.  From this point on in the podcast they talk of the “myth” of the Continental view or the “so-called” Continental view.  Rev. Hyde does attempt to prove this from the Heidelberg Catechism Q.103.  At the 18:31 mark and again at the 20:30 mark, Rev. Hyde quotes from the HC and reads the answer as “and that I especially on the Sabbath, that is the day of rest, . . .”  He makes a big deal about the inclusion of the word Sabbath.  The problem is the word Sabbath is not in the answer.  Now it is my understanding that while the URC has adopted the Three Forms they did not adopt specific wording or versions until this past Synod (which I do not have access to), so it might be in whatever version Rev. Hyde is using.  However, Ursinus’s commentary on the catechism does not include Sabbath, nor does any RCUS version of it, nor does the Christian Reformed Church, or really any version I can find.  The Heidelberg avoids the word Sabbath.  Hyde concludes at the 21:20 mark by saying “There is no way around it, The Lord’s Day is the Christian Sabbath.”  I disagree.  Rev. Hyde has told us the Dutch are real strict about Sunday’s but he has not shown us that it comes from the Confessions nor has he dealt with the ample proof that the Lord’s Day is not the Christian Sabbath.  Remember this quote from the Second Helvetic Confession Chapter 24 “Besides we do celebrate and keep the Lord’s Day, and not the Sabbath, and that with a free observation.”  The Second Helvetic makes a distinction between Lord’s Day and Sabbath.  Not an equation.  And remember the Second Helvetic is the single most widely adopted Confession of the Reformation.  Calvin’s 1545 Catechism is similarly focused on saying that “the observance of rest is part of the ceremonies of the ancient law, which was abolished at the coming of Jesus Christ” (Q168).  The Lord’s Day is not the Christian Sabbath, and if I read Calvin right, not even required to be Sunday.  Add to that Ursinus’s Major and Minor Catechisms, which speak of honoring the ministry and removing hindrances, but fail to call the Lord’s Day the Sabbath and specifically says the time and place is set by the church.  Also the Larger Emden Catechism, which gets closer to what Hyde wants, states the external Sabbath is maintained “when the church of God is honored in its office [...]

Activism vs. Action


The Gospel Coalition has a blog up trying to figure out why the videos showing Planned Parenthood selling baby parts did not have any affect on anything.  They have five main reasons including over estimating the pro-life mood of the country, focusing on illegality vs. immorality, not coordinating with other pro-life groups, not anticipating the attacks, and not having a marketing strategy. 

I agree with some of those and not with others, but I don't think this is why they failed to change any laws or politicians on the matter.  And the reason is simple.  Today people have replaced action with activism.  Success is not measured in change, but in hashtags created. 

Let me explain.  I think if you were to have asked people in congress and many they would think that they did an all out assault on Planned Parenthood, and they would be surprised so many think nothing happened.  Even the article admits that dozens of investigations were launched, media attention garnered, and even congressional investigations.  This is activism.  But since nothing changed, there was no action.  Congress did not put forth any new law.  The FBI did not prosecute.  The laws were not changed.  Funding was not cut.  No action. 

This is the world we live in.  Think for a moment about all the stunningly awful things that have happened.  Email scandal - no action.  Benghazi - no action.  IRS scandal - no action.  Lots of talk about all of it,  No action. 

But let us leave the realm of politics.  And we can see the same behavior.  Boko Haram kidnaps girls and forces them into slavery.  No action.  A hashtag was created and sad faced pictures posted.  So activism was done.  Now we can all move on.  Terrorist attack in Boston.  Hey we can now all buy Boston Strong t-shirts, but no real action to fight terrorism happened.  We can change our FB profile to make our pic covered with a French flag, or we can "pray for Nice", but we will do nothing else.  Action is not the goal.  Activism is. 

Today it is enough to be seen to be caring.  It is about looking good and being on the right side of history.  It is not about participating in history, or writing history or doing anything at all.  For sometime one's intentions have been the measure of whether something was good or bad.  Outcomes were unimportant.  That social program was meant to help the poor.  It does not really matter if it does or not, the intention was good.  The intention of putting the bands in the church is to be evangelistic, so it is good.  It doesn't matter whether we ought to put bands in churches, the intentions make it good.  This is simply the next logical step.  I just need you to see my intentions, I don't need to do anything.

So why did the Center for Medical Progress expose on the evil of Planned Parenthood fail?  Because we live in a "look at me" combined with a "do nothing" culture. 

Taylor is not Trump


Recently Politico began a stream of thought that the Republicans could be the Whigs because Trump is like Zachary Taylor.  Sadly, it is an article that understands little of history and in fact are just making stuff up.The Whig Party did dissolve not long after winning the Presidency, but it was not Zachary Taylor’s fault.  In fact, the Politico article skims past the actual reasons.  Taylor was close to the perfect Whig candidate, a candidate who stood for next to nothing.  The problem with the Whig party was that it was always a party that simply opposed Andrew Jackson and his principles.  They were not united by any real set of beliefs.  Thus, the quotes calling the nomination of Taylor a betrayal of Whig principles are laughable because there were no Whig principles.  Even the article notes it was a “strained” coalition of Northern and Southerners who were against Jackson.  The quotes from abolitionists like Greeley are not universal for the Whigs because they had a large group of Southerners.  Taylor was chosen because he could stop the party from splitting by not having a real position on slavery.  This was always the Whig way.  Clay stands as the perfect example.  He owned slaves, but was not really for slavery, but not really an abolitionist either.  Clay is the picture of the Whig Party, and it slowly became an impossible place to be.  That is hardly Taylor’s fault.  It is also not exactly fair to claim Taylor an outsider.  Yes, he had never held office, but he was a general, and that had always been a path to the Presidency.  Washington, Jackson, and Harrison had all be war heroes.  And every one of them had been opposed by people for not having the right background to be President.  Yet, we can see from the way James K. Polk managed that war that he very much understood the war hero who comes out of the Mexican American war will be a candidate for President.  And in fact, both major generals, Scott and Taylor, stood for nomination.  Being a general during war was at this time in American history, an acceptable path to the Presidency.  In fact, the election of Taylor and his resulting Presidency (and that of Fillmore who followed after Taylor’s death) was probably the high point of the Whig movement.  It is during this time that the Whig party controls congress as well as the Presidency.  It is during this time that Clay pushes through the Compromise of 1850, with the help of Stephen Douglas.  This adds California to the rolls as a free state.  No minor feat.  It kept America together during that struggle, and that is exactly what the Whig platform had always been.  Together.  This led to them ignoring and compromising over and over.  Their greatest member, Henry Clay, is known as the Great Compromiser.  Their death came when the public no longer wanted compromise, but a more permanent solution.  The Whigs failed to see this and died.In the end the Whig Party died not because of the lack of success that Taylor had as President.  In fact, he did not even make it out of his first term before dying.  Taylor had little impact on the Whig Party’s ultimate doom.  The election of Taylor does show the seeds of the ultimate doom of the Whig’s but not because of Taylor, but because of the presence and success on the ballot of Martin Van Buren.  Van Buren the former Democrat President ran as a Free Soil candidate and garnered lots of votes.  Not enough to win anything, but enough that he changed the election.  And it [...]

Celebrity Pastor and Seminaries


You read a lot today about the Celebrity Pastor and the problem and even how to fix it.  Opinions vary on the causes and solutions.  Sometimes it is an overhaul that includes no multisite churches, or the Evangelical Industrial Complex, or calls to humility and proper ambition, or even just simple accountability.  But I wonder if there is another factor . . . seminaries.

Today the vast majority of seminaries use “celebrity” professors as a way to lure you to their seminary.  These seminaries almost always have at least one well-liked, well published professor.  The better the finances of the seminary the more publishing by more professors, usually also equals more students.  You don’t need me to name the big names at each seminary you probably know them off the top of your head.  Besides the problem here is not in professors who write good books, but in the attraction students have to them. 

Modern seminaries also love distinctions.  You need something that sets your seminary apart.  What makes Westminster in Escondido, CA different than the rest?  What makes Mid America distinct so that you should go there?  Yes, this is promoted and encouraged.  And it is hard to blame the seminaries for doing it.  It is what businesses are supposed to do.  Carve out your place and grow that place.  And independent seminaries are no different. 

So perhaps part of the “celebrity pastor” begins with seminary.  We want future ministers to go to the seminaries with big names, but then when they get into the pastorate we don’t want them to pursuing having a big name or follow other pastors with big names. 

If we really want to fight against the cult of celebrity, we have to fight it everywhere, including in our seminaries.

Rethinking Seminaries Part 6


The Apprentice Model of the Seminary has many advantages over an academic model.  First and foremost among them is that it returns training of ministers to the church.  Today in the Academic model most Presbyterian and Reformed churches garner graduates from many independent seminaries around the country.  Independent seminaries like Reformed Theological Seminary (insert whichever city name here), Mid America Reformed Seminary, Westminster Seminary California, Westminster Theological Seminary, New Geneva, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and the list goes on.  In almost every instance the diploma serves as proof that the man is ready to at least sit for exams.  Most denominations have a program that oversees men pursuing the ministry, but it often is little more than checking up on studies at the seminary.  There a few denominations that have denominational seminaries, but they still have the problems of the academic model.  The CRC and Calvin Theological seminary exemplify the tail of the seminary wagging the dog because the academic institution was not so much under the church as over it.  The Canadian Reformed Church also has a seminary in Hamilton.  It too is on an academic model.  Even here the graduates are assumed to be ready for service in the church without really ever having been around serving the church.The Apprentice Model gives a different kind of oversight for the denomination.  Each candidate would be intimately known, along with his family, and his gifts and abilities along with his spiritual temperament would have been assessed regularly, by both the pastor serving as the mentor, but also the elders.  The pastor would be able to train him theologically, and when he was ready, he would then begin to get his toe into ministry.  He would be able to do some guided teaching, maybe lead catechism, eventually give a sermon or two.  The elders would be able to give feedback and see all of it.  The apprentice would meet and sit in on Consistory or Session meetings and learn the value of elders up close and know how the system works.  The giftedness in teaching could actually be evaluated and not just his giftedness at writing a paper.  A paper and a sermon are not the same thing.  Being able to read Turretin and teach 1st graders are not the same thing.  This way the church has complete oversight over both the instruction and the student.  If the student is not cut out for the ministry, he can be gently told, and the apprenticeship can stop.This is direct oversight by the church over every area of ministerial training.  It is not mediated through an independent contractor, who may have other motivations or not share your ideals.  It is better for the student as well because he has not had to uproot his family, quit his job, and sink thousands of dollars into something that he may not be called to do or cut out for.  He would be able to see what ministry was first hand, and see if he still felt this was his calling.  He would be able to do so at low cost and low risk, so that if either he was not cut out for it or decided he was not called to do it, an easy exit would be painless for him and his family.  The Presbytery and Classis could then proceed to a theological exam to see if he was knowledgable enough for the ministry.  Frankly, this is the part that most denominations do well.  The exams are great to discover knowledge.  Where they are weak is in character, calling, and commitment.  These are [...]

Rethinking Seminaries Part 5


So what is the better way than seminaries?  I think it is the apprenticeship model. 

The whole world used apprenticeships for every kind of vocation for centuries.  You go and stay with a person already in the vocation.  You learn from him, are taught by him, get hands on experience that ends up helping both you and the man already in the job, and then you are ready and you go out on your own.  The same principle is easily applicable to ministry.

One could easily argue that this is the model used in the New Testament.  Jesus had twelve disciples.  They each went out and they appeared to train up men and send them out.  Paul for example always seemed to have men around him.  Timothy, Titus, Luke, and a host of others.  Barnabas could be argued to have been with Mark or maybe he started off around those at Jerusalem like Peter.  Mark would later be with Barnabas.  Mark is usually (according to tradition) with Peter too.  But at the very least we can say the Apprenticeship model fits with Titus 1:5 and 1 Timothy 4:6-16 and other verses.  I do not argue this is the only way, I just think it a better way that what we are doing now.

The basics of this model are people who desire to get into the ministry go to be with a pastor, perhaps even their local pastor, who then apprentices the man.  He takes him under his wing, teaches him, and gives him firsthand experience in the ministry.  And I think there is a big role here for elders in that church as well. 

I can hear people already complaining that this is not academic enough.  But yes, academics would be involved.  It would simply be done on the Cambridge / Oxford system, sometimes known as the Tutorial System.  The pastor would be assign readings, the student would do them on his own, and the duo would discuss.  Oral communication would be at a premium, which is the way an eventual pastorate would be.  Writing could be required to help people organize their thoughts.  I disagree that this would be a lowering of actual knowledge gained.  I simply think this would return pastoral education to a way in which people actually were trained and prepared for the pastorate.

Having ever so briefly outlined the model I recommend, I will in future posts outline some benefits of this model.

Rethinking Seminaries Part 4


Seminaries present problems because they are based on an academic model.  This means that like any graduate school, you have to pick up and move to take years of classes.  It is true that today many seminaries offer a lot of work over the internet, but that is just watering down the actual point of the seminary, class room instruction.  Adam Parker penned a very nice letter to his wife about her wonderful labor during his five years in seminary, and I don’t want to diminish the love and care this letter shows to his wife.  I want to emphasize the problem with seminaries this letter shows.  Adam notes that it took 17 years after his becoming convinced he had a call to ministry to get to the place where he could go to seminary.  Seventeen years!!!!  Now, it was probably lengthened by his marriage and having children, but he did not even meet his wife until two years after he had decided he was called to the ministry.  Adam knew he was called to serve God as a pastor, but took 17 years before he was able to start training for ministry and another 5 to complete it.  In other words if Adam felt called to the ministry at age 22, he is finally able to begin following that call at age 44.  The main reason for the delay is seminary.Seminaries are expensive.  They usually have multiple professors (three at least) who need full time salaries, and probably a full time fundraiser.  Also they are going to need some part time staff like a secretary or two, maybe a janitor, and probably one professor who only teaches from time to time, but makes the catalog look better.  This does not include insurance, a building, and travel expenses, promotional material, and office supplies.  We could go on, but the point is it takes money and lots of it to run a seminary.  At least a portion of that is going to come from the student in tuition.  Seminaries also take time.  Remember the whole model is class room based, so we have to be in a class room for classes.  You need to be in class to earn three credit hours for each class.  There are academic standards to be met, so you can’t just pretend a class earns three credit hours.  You actually have to meet enough to earn it.  Plus you need to be doing out of class work, and so many hours per every hour in class is expected (Academic standards again).  And you need to do it for at least three years so that the degree looks academically rigorous enough.  This makes full time employment during school difficult.  If you have full time employment, it makes full time school difficult, expanding the number of years you are there.  I don’t know how old Adam is, but what I do know is that seminary has cost him 22 years of serving the church and following his calling.  Yes, he apparently has preached some while in seminary.  That is good.  The Jackson area benefits from having so many students able to help with preaching.  But, guest preaching during seminary is more like filling in than working in the church.  It is amazing to think that the way we train people to work in the church so far removes them from the church.  It takes them into a setting they will never see again in church work.  And it stops them from actually being able to do what they feel called to do for something like 22 years.  There has to be a better way.[...]

Rethinking Seminaries Part 3


One of the fundamental planks of Dr. Pipa’s defense of seminaries is the superiority of Princeton to other methods of training men for the ministry.  There are somethings that cannot be denied about Princeton.  Princeton was a place of great learning.  There is no doubt those who graduated had a tremendous education.  Princeton made a bold and beautiful stand for orthodoxy for a little over 100 years.  That cannot be denied either.  Nor can it be denied that in 1929 Princeton Seminary went liberal.  Yes, it is true Princeton was orthodox for more than 100 years and that is longer than every other seminary, but it still went liberal.  But, it must also be noted that remaining orthodox for 100 years is not the same as being the best way to train pastors.  The stand for orthodoxy is impressive precisely because of how liberal most seminaries are and how fast they go liberal.  This really ought to be seen as the exception that proves the rule that seminaries are not the best way to educate men for the ministry.  But let us look beyond the fight for orthodoxy.  For here is the real key to the discussion.  Were the men who graduated from Princeton good ministers, better prepared than those who came before them being trained in a different manner?  Think about the great graduates of Princeton Theological Seminary.  You think of men like Charles Hodge, Casper Witsar Hodge Jr., Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, Geerhardus Vos, and J. Gresham Machen.  You know what these men had in common?  They never served a church as pastor.  B.B. Warfield was an evangelist briefly and stated supply a couple of times, but never a full time pastor.  And these are not the only names that fit this bill either (O.T. Allis, James Moffat, and J.A. Alexander for example).  Princeton had trouble training men for ministry.  Listen to the evaluation of David Calhoun, a Princeton Seminary supporter, commenting on Princeton ignoring complaints from the student body in the early 1900’s.  “Princeton had maintained faithfully the founder’s priorities in promoting ‘solid learning’ and ‘piety of heart’, but it had lost something of Alexander’s and Miller’s ability to teach and model for the students skills of ministry” (Princeton Seminary Vol. 2 pg. 269).  Or again, Princeton faculty “concentrated their energies on fighting to maintain the legacy that they had inherited from Archibald Alexander, Samuel Miller, and Charles Hodge.  However, in Old Princeton’s desperate struggle, attention to some very good things was lessened.  Sturdy biblical exposition, great preaching, and more evangelistic and missionary zeal – along with its stalwart defense of the faith – would have strengthened the Princeton cause” (Ibid. pg. 398).  Calhoun explains why this was the case, “It was difficult to find the scholar-pastor-preacher combination to fill the need, and there was apparently some reluctance on the part of the faculty to develop this department fully, fearing that it would detract from the more “academic” work of the seminary” (Ibid., pg216).  And there lies my chief complaint about the modern seminary.  It is based on the “academic” model, and what will always be stressed above all else is academics.  Dr. Pipa is holding Princeton out as a standard even though Princeton willingly sacrificed preaching and practical pastoral theology in favor of aca[...]

Rethinking Seminaries Part 2


Continuing a discussion about seminaries started from Dr. Pipa’s article “Seminary Education” from the Confessional Presbyterian 2007, we move into the discussion of how seminaries came into existence historically.Dr. Pipa begins with the catechetical school in Alexandria.  This began as a place to train new converts, but apparently at some point begins training men for the ministry too.  Dr. Pipa admits that this first seminary fails and leads the church into error because of its foundation on the allegorical approach and Greek Philosophy.  This example then seems to be as much against seminaries as for them.The Middle Ages presents the monasteries as the equivalent of seminaries.  Here Dr. Pipa suggests the monks were often better educated than the priests, and he points to Jerome in Palestine and Cassiodorus in Italy.  The problem here is he often neglects how in the middle ages the monks were bigger problems too.  It is the monks of Egypt who kill Bishop Flavius of Constantinople at the Robber Council of Ephesus.  It is the monks who demand the reinstatement of images and the Second Council of Nicaea while many priests were opposed to the images.  Leaving out such prominent negative examples seems to cast doubt on the supremacy of this method of training men for the ministry.  One could also make the argument that training men to be monks is not the same as training men for the ministry, but we will not pursue that avenue.  I must admit that I am a little surprised Dr. Pipa leaves out the school of Charlemagne.  Perhaps because it was not meant to be for men going into the ministry, but just people in general.  Although it seems probable that some of Charlemagne’s illegitimate children were educated here and ended up in the ministry like Hugo and Drogo.  It was here Charlemagne gathered Alcuin, Theodulf of Orleans, Einhard, and others helped create a Caroligian Renaissance.  If Dr. Pipa ought to include counter examples, so should I.  Dr. Pipa then points to the early Universities that helped spawn the Reformation.  The University system clearly aided the rise of the Reformation with the majority of Reformation leaders coming from Universities.  However, this could also serve as a counter example.  The point of the University was to turn out men in the Roman Catholic Church, but failed miserably by letting people read the Bible and allowing criticism of the church and non-conformity.  While these university/seminaries were great for the Reformation they failed in their job to provide an educated clergy for the Roman Catholic Church.Dr. Pipa also notes the early American colleges that were meant for training ministers.  Harvard was founded just a few years after the colony itself was founded.  It was clearly important to the Puritan men.  He goes onto say that when “Harvard began to slip, Yale was formed; when Yale began to slip, Princeton developed. (pg.225)”  This is true, but shouldn’t this be another sign of the problems with seminaries?  And if we continue to look at this trend when doctrinal divisions arise the parties often responded with their own college.  College of Delaware was Old Side to combat Princeton (New Side).  Kings and Queens college were founded by opposing sides of the Dutch Reformed church.  We could go on.  This seems to point to a controversial nature embedded in seminaries th[...]

Rethinking Seminaries Part 1


In the 2007 edition of the Confessional Presbyterian (vol. 3), Dr. Pipa has an article entitled “Seminary Education”.  And it is a defense of seminaries as the way to educate our future pastors.  I would like to challenge that article because I am no longer convinced seminaries are the way to go.  Dr. Pipa begins by admitting that formerly Presbyterian ministers were the best educated men in town, and that is no longer true.  He admits that this may be the worse trained generation of ministers ever and points not just to not being the best educated, but also to the state preaching and churchmanship as proof.  He also freely admits the high cost of maintaining seminaries serves as another strike against seminaries, but he continues to believe it the best idea.  Dr. Pipa then goes into a biblical defense of seminaries.  The main biblical support for seminaries is the “sons of the prophets” found in places 1 Samuel 10:5.  Dr. Pipa’s main argument appears to be that there was a group of people called “sons of the prophets” who appear during the time of Samuel and continue and appear to dwell with prophets and serve them.  Dr. Pipa argues that from these men are drawn future prophets, so they are sort of a prophet in training.  His proof for the assertion that most prophets came from the school of the prophets comes from Amos 7:14 where Amos denies being a sons of the prophet, but rather a man who shepherded.  He claims they studied and became the historians of the divided kingdom and he points to verses like 2 Chronicles 12:15 as proof.  Although those verses speak of Iddo the Seer and names prophets, it never says the person was from the Sons of the Prophets.  Dr. Pipa also assumes that bible training would have taken place as well as musical training and poetry readying them for life as a prophet.  Dr. Pipa concludes then the Sons of the Prophets were OT seminaries.  Now, I think this is shaky proof at best.  We don’t really have an example of an attender of the “sons of the prophets” becoming a prophet.  Amos specifically says he was not one.  Elisha is not one despite the Sons of the Prophets being around.  Isaiah is not one.  Jeremiah is not one.  Ezekiel is not one.  Thoes three were priests.  Daniel does not appear to be one.  Neither does Zephaniah, who may also have been a priest.  These are a lot of exceptions.  The best picture of someone who was a son of the prophet being a prophet himself is in 1 Kings 20:35 where a certain man of the sons of the prophets commanded someone to strike him and he died when he did not, and that son of the prophet then delivered a prophetic message to Ahab.  Dr. Pipa is assuming that the rest of the prophets came from the sons of the prophets.  But let me put forth an alternative suggestion.  Perhaps these sons of the prophets are the source for the 400 false prophets of 1 Kings 22.  Here there are four hundred men who are pretending to be prophets of God, but are accepted by the king and many others as legitimate prophets.  I have read some who suggest these are the 400 prophets of Ashoreth that are not mentioned as being killed by Elijah on Mt. Carmel, but how would they be accepted as legitimate if they all switched from Ashoreth to Jehovah?  Something has happened to make people believe these prophets are legiti[...]

Trump, Evangelicals, and the Mega-church


Donald Trump.  He is the front runner to be the next President of the United States.  And he is doing so with large evangelical support.  This has many baffled and searching for explanations.  Is it pent up rage?  Is it an anti-establishment mood?  People are desperately searching for an answer to the question how could evangelicals vote for Donald Trump?I have my own theory.  Mega-Churches.  I don’t think we should be all that surprised that Donald Trump is winning evangelical votes.  The surprise is based off the premise that evangelicals care about spiritual issues, and thus they are not only going to pay attention to issues like abortion, but also pay attention to the content of one’s character.  This I think is no longer true.  The new model evangelical is a mega-church evangelical.  And this model is different.  According to some studies at least 10% of Protestants today attend a mega-church each Sunday.  The number is probably a little higher when we limit it to evangelicals and remove the liberal mainline Protestants from the equation.  The number is even bigger if you count the churches that are imitating mega-churches, but have not achieved the actual magic number to be a mega-church (which is 2,000).  This is a significant number of evangelicals attending mega-churches or mega-churches-lite.  What is it then that makes this group so different?  The answer is the mega-churches and mega-church attender are generally personality driven not doctrinally driven.  The day of the evangelical choosing based on beliefs is long gone.  Today churches are chosen based on the personality behind the pulpit (personality should not be confused with character).  Evangelicals choose their church based on names like Andy Stanley, Mark Driscoll, Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, and Craig Groschel.  Evangelicals are not choosing churches based on names like United Methodist, Southern Baptist, and Reformed Church in the United States.  And these mega-church pastors for the most part are not stopping at one church.  No, they have multi-site churches today so that even more people can choose to come to their church even if they are in Seattle and the worshiper is in Phoenix.  These mega-church pastors have larger than life personalities, and it comes across in person or through the TV screen worship broadcast.  The mega-church is at its base a personality driven phenome.  Just in case you disagree let us just review some facts.  Crystal Cathedral evaporated into bankruptcy once Robert Schuller left the pulpit.  His own son could not do anything about it.  Now the church has been sold.  Bill Hybels saw attendance at his church plummet when he stepped back to be the “international minister”.  Jimmy Swaggart had 7,000 worshippers on a Sunday before his scandal.  After his second scandal the church dropped to about 500 on a Sunday.  Now that he is back on airwaves again, the church is back up to about 5,000.  Mars Hill did not survive Mark Driscoll’s departure.  In fact at least a couple of the satellite locations completely closed as well.  One could go on.  So if this is how many evangelicals choose church, why are we surprised this is how they choose a President?  Evangelicals are voting for Trump because they are attracte[...]

More St. Barthlomew Massacre


Oh you didn't really think that the slaughter of Huguenots in France was over did you.  Death was everywhere.  In the country side, in the cities, everywhere.  Refugees reported that instruments of death had been erected in every town and village in France. 

September 17th saw the beginning of the massacre in Rouen.  The killing was done in Paris and some other places, but it was not yet done throughout the country.  Rouen had sought to protect the Huguenots because of a kindly governor.  But commands from the king came for him to depart Rouen and try to calm the countryside of Normandy.  When he left, the massacre began.  Many Protestants had been arrested or turned themselves in for protection in the prisons.  All the prisons in the city were now full and other Huguenots stayed in the Parliament house.  Those were killed first, then the prisons slaughtered and any who were left in town ridden down and killed or forced to convert.  About 3,000 converted to Romanism before the end of the year.  Many had fled prior to the 17th as the houses of the rich were simply looted because they had left.  Many crossed the channel to Britain.  Thus the majority of the killed were poor or middle class.  After the massacre complete the dead were stripped naked and their clothes given to the needy of the town.  Numbers differ widely on how many died, but what is known is that over 16,000 Huguenots lived in Rouen before the slaughter and only 3,000 remained after it.