Thinking Out Loud

September 30, 2014

Currently Reading: N. T. Wright on The Psalms

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:27 am

The Case For The PsalmsOkay, I admit it.  I currently have four books on the go, and one should probably finish one before starting another.

N. T. Wright’s The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential should not be confused with Lee Strobel’s The Case for… series. I don’t think of this as apologetic, though in a way, it is a defense of the Psalter at a time when people’s reading habits probably direct them more to the gospels, the epistles or the history narratives.

Or more likely, they’re not reading at all.

He brilliantly notes themes and motifs that run throughout the collection and with the proliferation of Wright vids on YouTube, you can hear him speaking of the beauty of the various psalms as you read and his lament over what we are losing in the modern church, or have already lost.

“The enormously popular ‘worship songs,’ some of which use phrases from the Psalms here and there but most of which do not, have largely displaced, for thousands of regular and enthusiastic worshipers, the steady rhythm and deep soul searching of the Psalms themselves. This, I believe, is a great impoverishment. By all means write new songs. Each generation must do that. But to neglect the church’s original hymnbook is, to put it bluntly, crazy” (p. 5).

Still, I am 120 pages into what is about a 200 page, digest-sized hardcover, and I feel I can’t truly address the book without noting what others might consider superficial; namely that much of the book’s content is simply copious reiteration of the Biblical texts from the New Revised Standard Version. That, and the book’s cost $22.99 US/$25.99 CA has me questioning the value to the reader. The Case doesn’t purport to be an academic title, which would explain the shorter length in light of the higher price.

As a book-lover and someone with great respect for Wright, I like the book; but as someone who spends part of his week as a book-seller, I guess I just can’t make the case for The Case for the Psalms.


I admit this review may frustrate some especially fans of Wright, so I offer you another reviewer’s work as an alternative, Tim Peck at the blog Sojourner who goes into the book in great detail and with great admiration.

September 29, 2014

Currently Reading: Apologetics Beyond Reason

James W. Sire is the author of the landmark apologetics book The Universe Next Door (1976) and the more recent A Little Primer on Humble Apologetics (2006) and has been an editor at InterVarsity Press (IVP) for several decades. In the first chapter of Apologetics Beyond Reason: Why Seeing Really is Believing he explains that it might be time to chart a different direction.

Apologetics Beyond Reason - James SireFor those in our culture who put their trust in human reason, these apologetic approaches have worked well. Many Christians today read and benefit from them. Without the, thoughtful Christians would have too few resources to analyze the clever arguments and glossy lifestyles presented by our culture’s media, its pundits, its fraudulent experts and its passionate prophets of health and wealth.

But many in our postmodern world have come willy-nilly to distrust reason, and the arguments of the modern Christian rationalists now seem irrelevant, doubtful, lifeless. The approaches of C. S. Lewis and G. K Chesteron avoided this fate by clever and imaginative grasps of the paradoxes of the human condition. The value of human reason for them was to permit a conclusion to be wrested from within a framework of paradoxes. It took account of the human desire for simplicity, tied the reader in knots and then showed how Christian faith both accounted for the knots and then untangled them. Their work has attracted readers from across the intellectual spectrum from the simple to the sophisticated.

But highly sophisticated rational apologetics itself is limited to those who can understand it…

…There is another limitation in many arguments Christians use to prove the rationality of belief in God. The God who is “proved” is only a transcendent, impersonal God, maybe a Creator, but not necessarily personal. Only a God whose existence is important to human understanding or human flourishing is worth troubling about. The arguments may support deism as a worldview but be silent about the existence of a fully Biblical God. Of course, such arguments can be stepping stones to a fuller argument for the God of the Bible. And that’s no small matter…

Apologetics Beyond Reason pp. 16-17

He then continues along this line mixing the writings of classical literature and philosophy with his own story.  I’m only part of the way in, but it’s a type of subjective apologetics, or intellectual testimony. My words, not his; or at least not so far.

September 28, 2014

“We Don’t Go To Restaurants”

Eating Out

Depending on your social/church circle, it’s possible you’ve heard the phrase, “We don’t go to restaurants;” or even use it yourselves. Usually there are one of three underlying convictions at work behind the statement:

  • a sort of righteousness associated staying away from those places; which presupposes that every Waffle House is a seedy sports bar
  • a financial decision based on good money management, and rigid budget, or a distinct savings goal like a new car or new house
  • a stewardship decision which is spiritual at its root, but is coupled with a personal assessment of what constitutes a poor use of funds

There’s no denying it, there’s little in a restaurant you can’t make at home much cheaper, and there are some categories where the restaurant makes huge profits, such as appetizers, side orders, and drinks both soft and hard. Of course, there are also things that you can’t make at home at all, and the wisdom of ordering something that’s too labor intensive, involves esoteric ingredients, or involves the use of techniques or cooking appliances you don’t own is often your best use of the time and money spent eating out.

Stewardship and wise financial management are both good goals, but in the first category, sometimes people over-spiritualize their passing on both fast food and slow food and do so in a way that leaves other feeling somewhat judged. The usually not verbalized response would be, “What, you go to Applebee’s? And you call yourselves Christians?”

It’s an almost Puritanical approach that usually also involves not going to movies or sporting events, ether; but can run to things like not purchasing a book or CD or treating yourself to a wall-hanging for the front hall.  In the extreme, it leaves no room for hobbies, recreation, or just plain fun; it denies the possibility of fun or even smiling, let alone laughing.

Let me be really clear, the financial reasons for staying away from fast food at lunchtime are valid, and the consequential behaviors resulting from stewardship are not to be condemned. You do better at the grocery store, and you do best shopping the outside aisles of the grocery store. However even there, I think people deserve a treat every now and then, and treat can be defined differently; like the couple we met at the burger joint who were there to celebrate their first anniversary.

So where does your household land the plane on this one?

Image: The Atlantic (click to link)

 

 

September 27, 2014

What I’m Hoping to Accomplish Here

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:50 am

Thinking Out Loud ScreenshotIn theory anyway, some day I’ll look back at what’s posted here and possibly regret a few articles and might start deleting some. But in the meantime, I try to deliver a decent product 7-days-a-week to my readers.  Here are some questions I must either ask now or ask later…

1. Was it informative?

My opinions leach out all over this blog, but hopefully I also provide raw information, spot new trends, help readers make connections to other resources, and even educate my readership about things they didn’t know.

2. Was it helpful?

The passing on of information by itself doesn’t really guarantee that reading said articles will make any difference in the life of readers. My goal should be to communicate for life change; to write in the hope that the day’s topics and focus is not only interesting but practical and beneficial.

3. Was I authentic?

People create all types of false personas on social media. I don’t want people to meet me in the real world and find me to be anything less than what my online trail would indicate. That includes the possibility of me deceiving myself into thinking that by virtue of this blog — and its numeric success — that I’m something I am not.

4. Was it fruitful?

The first three questions were probably sufficient, and I could have left it there, but one of the things I long for on a personal level is to see the fruit of the various endeavors that occupy my time. It’s not a matter of looking for validation as much as simply wanting to experience that organic moment when the seed takes root in the lives of people both individually and collectively. I think it’s a question we need to ask of anything we’re involved in.

September 26, 2014

The Rise of the Anons

Twitter page

Let me begin today by saying you don’t have to be on Twitter to read Twitter feeds. I did this for the longest time before jumping in myself.  (If you’re familiar with these, be sure to read the last paragraph.)

One thing Twitter has brought us is the creation of accounts that either are pretending to be someone well known, or simply represent broad categories, in our case perhaps youth pastors or church secretaries. These anonymous accounts are sometimes called anons.  While anonymous blogs also exist, Twitter seems a medium most suited to this.

We don’t have space today, but in addition to what follows there’s a Fake Mark Driscoll (@NotDriscoll, somewhat dormant the last two weeks) and I couldn’t find the one purporting to be Steven Furtick’s $1.75M house (yes, a house Tweeting) but there is Not Steven Furtick (@FakeFurtick) but again, some of these arise during a period of headlines and then go quiet for awhile.

One such account is Chet Churchpain (@Churchpain) who for some reason uses Rainn Wilson (from The Office) as his image; interesting only because of Rainn’s strong religious views.  Sample:

  • I don’t know if I’d ever have become a Christian if not for that “God Answers Knee-Mail” church sign. So inspirational.
  • So, Hillsong United is not an Australian soccer team?

We devoted a whole article here last year to Church Curmudgeon (@ChrchCurmudgeon), though he’s now gone from 63,000 followers to 72,000. Some of his best pieces lately transform his love for coffee into hymn parodies:

  • Drink up, drink up your coffee Ye soldiers of the bean! Each drop will wake and keep you Sustained by your caffeine!
  • Coffee, coffee, how I’ve drunk you How I’ve brewed you o’er and o’er Coffee, coffee, precious coffee O for beans to brew you more.

though I liked this one, too:

  • As a measure of thanks, I sent Bono some free Gaither tapes.

Bad Church Secretary (@ChurchSecretary) is what its name implies.  Today:

  • When pastors do it all day its called Outreach and Discipleship but when I do it they say its “Slacking on Facebook & making personal calls”
  • You can cover up errors in tweets after they are posted, but as soon as you scroll they show up under the White-Out.

Youth Group Boy (@YouthGroupBoy) is also self-evident, though much of the premise seems to be the boy missing youth group.

  • Don’t tell my ymin “I’m not coming tonight,” instead say “I’m going to try and make it, but I’m not sure.” Give some hope to be crushed later.
  • If there’s one thing I want my youth minister to know it’s how the old youth minister did things.

The other side of this coin is Then My Youth Said (@thenmyyouthsaid):

  • Me: I’m excited, our interns start working on Sunday. #ThenMyYouthSaid: Good, you can finally get back to sleeping in your office all day.
  • Youth praise band paying worship music before Bible study tonight #ThenMyYouthSaid: “We need backup dancers.”

Which brings us to Bible Student Say (@BibleStdntsSay), a Twitter account that remains anonymous by necessity (though we think we know the college in question). These are actual quotations from remarks or essays:

  • “Society tries to integrate science into the Bible, saying that the universe couldn’t be created in 6 days. Genesis turns it on its head.”
  • “Contrary to these beliefs, an atheist believes that the future is controlled by our human people.”

(We need to devote an entire column to this one, and the author really needs to write a book.)

Then last night we met Yael (@YaelHeber), who was taking shots at our Calvinist friends. Actually, I’m not entirely sure she’s anonymous, it could be her real name but the Tweets had the feel of an anon:

  • I tried to be Reformed, but I apparently don’t like to argue enough. My application was rejected.
  • When people tell me they are reformed, I want to ask which prison they were in.

But wait…there’s more.  Part of the fun of playing this game is that many of the anons follow each other, which leads many new discoveries. Click following at the top of their page and… you’ll know what to do…

September 25, 2014

Doing the Church Tour

church-hopping bunny 2

I’ve written about this before, but was reminded again after reading an article by Peter Chin on the blog Third Culture, the newest page launched a few days ago by Christianity Today. He called it, Why A Little Denomination Hopping Is Not A Bad Thing

It begins:

Sometimes, I’m a little embarrassed to be identified as an American Christian because it feels like we fall into one of two camps: either we hate everything that we are not familiar with, or hate everything that we used to like.

A good example of the former is a controversy that recently sprang up at Gordon College, where undergraduates were scandalized at the introduction of a strange and foreign type of worship experience during their chapel services: gospel music. Yes, GOSPEL MUSIC, one of the oldest and richest liturgical traditions in American faith.

Examples of the latter are too numerous to count. The Christian blogosphere and publishing industry are filled with memoirs of people ranting about how terrible their church experience was growing up, and how their current place and style of worship is what Jesus had in mind all along. When cast in this adversarial light, what should have been personal stories of finding one’s home in faith instead read like a harrowing escape from a doomsday cult, and serve as yet another salvo in our nation’s already raging cultural wars.

These two tendencies have unfortunately come to define Christians in this country, that we either despise everything with which we are unfamiliar, or the exact opposite…

church hopperThere are some great Tweetable moments in the article:

  • It is this exposure that allows me, and others who share my background, to avoid that terrible tendency to either despise other Christian traditions, or despise one’s own.
  • [D]o any of us willingly and easily engage with things with which we have no exposure?
  • I don’t believe in a denominational promised land, just an eternal one.

To read the full article, click the title above or click here.


I started to write this as a comment, but it got lost in the ether. So I’ll share it here.

In my local community, I tell people they need to “do the tour.” I recommend taking four weeks. If you’re Evangelical do the high church tour. If you’re Mainline Protestant check out the Pentecostals and the Wesleyans. These days, with multiple services, you can do this and still not miss anything back home.

I also tell them that the point isn’t to consider making a switch, but to return with a richer understand of your own denomination’s place in the broader spectrum.


Related:

September 24, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Pope Clement Coffee

The links are on me!  Actually, the Religious Newswriters Association people were all at a convention last week, so mysteriously, there was no news.

Our closing graphic is from eScapegoat, which allows our Jewish friends to transfer their sins to a goat roaming the internet collecting sins for Yom Kippur.  (Note: No actual Halachic atonement implied.) Click the image below to visit.
eScapegoat

 

September 23, 2014

Book Series Review: Biblical Imagination by Michael Card

Michael Card - Biblical Imagination Series - IVP

After reading Mark: The Gospel of Passion, I really trust that a generation or two down the road, when people have moved on past Michael Card’s music, this set of four commentaries on the gospels by the veteran Christian musician will still be read and enjoyed.

Full disclosure: I obviously haven’t read the entire series of four books, but I believe Mark to be representative of all four of the Biblical Imagination series, published over the course of four years by IVP (InterVarsity Press).

The format is somewhat reminiscent of the Daily Study Bible series by William Barclay. In the case of Mark, there are sixteen chapters and most have at least three subsections, while a few have at least double that. So reading devotionally each subsection a la Barclay, this would give you 63 days of reading, excluding four introductory sections.

But reading an entire chapter at once is most rewarding.  While Card acknowledges one place where the chapter division is rather awkward, he does manage to find beauty in the way Mark arranges his stories from the life of Christ. In chapter five he notes three people are held captive, “one by demons, one by disease and one by death.” In chapter ten, four questions that are put to him by various individuals or groups. And there are some recurring themes, such as the imagery of bread.

Some of this is standard commentary fare, but then this is where the “imagination” part of the series title kicks in and where the heart of Michael Card, the artist, is most evident. For a sample of this, click to this excerpt from the story of The Transfiguration, which I posted yesterday at C201.

The other option is to read the books — and keep them on your bookshelf — as commentaries. It’s in the fulfillment of that objective that I find the enduring quality of his writing.

With each of the four books in the series, completed by this spring’s release of John, there is a companion CD available. Two weeks ago here we looked at the CD which corresponds to the book of Mark. (The books are shown in the graphic above in the order in which they were released between 2011 and 2014.)

I was struck by the readability and practicality of Michael Card’s approach. He goes deep in many places, but it doesn’t frustrate or intimidate the reader, and in the case of Mark, like Mark himself, he moves quickly from scene to scene.

Do I have any complaints? Only that having the one book and CD is causing me to covet the rest of the series!

 


 

Books and CDs were provided to me by the Canadian distributor for InterVarsity Press (IVP) who know where they can send the remaining titles if they so choose!

Michael Card - CD series based on the Gospels

Postscript: Note that the books and CDs each have distinct titles:

John: A Misunderstood Messiah
John: The Gospel of Wisdom
Luke: A World Turned Upside Down
Luke: The Gospel of Amazement
Mark: The Beginning of the Gospel
Mark: The Gospel of Passion
Matthew: The Gospel of Identity
Matthew: The Penultimate Question

September 22, 2014

When You’re Too Old for Youth Group

Young AdultsIn the small town where we live, the problem of creating fellowship contexts for people who’ve outgrown the church youth group has landed right in our own home. Our oldest son has completed his Electrical Engineering degree, and as he waits for that one resumé that is going to bear fruit, he finds himself somewhat starved for contact with other humans.

This isn’t a college town. This is a place you leave for college. It’s somewhat of a retirement community as well, so demographically, it’s not ideal for single 20-somethings. So the rather sparse numbers of young adults drops even further in September.

None of the churches here are large enough to start a group on their own. It would have to be interdenominational. So everyone’s challenge becomes no one’s challenge and nothing gets done. The need is recognized — we know we’re talking about four dozen people at minimum — but the project is always set aside in favor of more important priorities.

I can’t do this. I’ve realized that after doing a church plant nearly a decade ago. The person who leads such a group really needs to come out of the target demographic. I can be supportive. I can provide resources. I can offer wisdom. I can help create publicity and awareness.  But that “alpha person” needs to emerge who has some passion and energy to see it happen. The group should be organic, no pastor or older person can do something for this demographic.

So…what options exist for young adults where you live?  Does your community have this covered, or is there a ministry gap like there is here?

September 21, 2014

Climbing the Ministry Ladder

Filed under: Church, ministry, writing — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:25 am

Conrad sat in the living room staring at the “yearbook” that Central Church had given him when he resigned several years ago. Well, “resigned” wasn’t exactly the right word, but other than that, there was nothing about his time pastoring the 700-member church that did not evoke fond memories.  He was only the third pastor Central had ever known, and while he did not experience the rapid growth of his predecessors, he’d seen the church grow from 556 members to 703.

Not that it was about numbers.  Well, maybe it was. His first church was 168 members, but he was only there for three years. Then he jumped at the opportunity to go to a 289 member church, where he stayed for five years. Next, he entered a four year term with the 374 member — oh, my goodness; it really was about numbers; he couldn’t believe he had remembered all that detail.

Short StoriesBut Central was the pinnacle as it turned out, twelve years, and average weekend attendance just under a thousand in two services, with 703 of those people full members.

And then he got sent to East Valley on an interim pastor assignment, that ended up lasting six years. Smaller numerically. A little backward culturally. He was balding now and the 414-member church was an older demographic that signified, along with his own age, the numbers might start dropping. And then it did.

Before he knew it, he was doing a meaningless job in the district office waiting out the years to retirement. He had ridden the entire parabolic curve of church size.

He put the yearbook down and sighed.

“You’d better get ready to go;” his wife Carla admonished from the kitchen, “The service at Whispering Willows starts at 2:00 PM.”

So this is what it comes to, he thought.  Sunday afternoon chapel services in the local seniors’ home.

The pianist assigned from the Salvation Army didn’t know any of the hymns he’d bookmarked. “We tend to do Army music;” she confessed, “But I can do Amazing Grace and How Great Thou Art.”

“That’s all they ever want to sing anyway;” Conrad told her, and at 1:55 Whispering Willows staff started wheeling in the dozen-and-a-half women and three men who had signed up to go to chapel that week, plus two staff. Okay, a few of the residents used walkers, but he noticed that everybody that week had some type of appliance necessary to get them around.

At 2:00 he opened in prayer.  At 2:01 they sang How Great Thou Art. At 2:05 they sang Amazing Grace. At 2:08 he asked the pianist if she would play a little number from her Salvation Army hymnal. She gladly obliged, but the tune was unfamiliar and the melody was incomprehensible. But now it was 2:10.

Conrad checked his watch again. These services ran an hour, usually 40 minutes of singing and a 20 minute message. He knew he needed to stretch, so he asked if anyone had any prayer requests. “Just put your hands up.”

Surprisingly a woman in the second row did just that. He nodded toward her to share anything with the group and she said, “This isn’t the dining room.”

“No it isn’t;” Conrad replied.

Silence.

More silence. He noticed the ticking of a mantle clock he’d never noticed before. Things had never been this quiet.

“You know;” the retired pastor said, “I come here each month and I’ve never really told you much about myself, so before I share today’s scripture reading and message, perhaps I should share my story.”

So he spoke about his call to ministry late in high school, and how he had gone off to his denomination’s Bible college, and how he graduated and started climbing the ministry ladder. The problem was, as he had done before leaving for Whispering Willows, he was sharing more about the metrics of the various churches than about anything else that had happened in those various communities.

There was no story about Fred, or Jill, or Michael, or Jennifer, or anyone else. It was about the 168 and the 289 and the 374 and the 703 — there’s the high point again — and down to the 414. There was no reference to Carla standing by him in all those years in ministry, or raising a daughter and two sons in those various churches.

And then Conrad stopped. He had been listening to his own story. And he realized that it sounded pathetic.

It wasn’t that all he cared about were the numbers; it’s that he was bitter about never again getting the adrenaline rush associated with being able to speak to a thousand people each weekend. About being bounced down to a smaller church. And then left to deteriorate in a useless administrative position in the district office.

Another resident raised a hand, this time one of the men.

“You left out a number;” he said; “22. There’s twenty-two of us here, twenty-four if you count yourself and the woman who can’t play the piano.” (Of course he had miscounted by one, but…)

“Well actually;” he said, trying to do some damage control, “I think she did those hymns really well, she just doesn’t know the ones that are in your book.”

“Well I grew up Salvation Army, so hey, Miss, do you know Thou Christ of Burning, Cleansing Flame?”

“I don’t think we know that–” he started to say, but the pianist suddenly lighted up and launched into a rather rousing introduction, uncovering previously hidden keyboard skills, and the man stood to his shaking feet and in a loud and clear voice sang verse after verse.

As it turned out the song had a hook, a line that repeated constantly and by the 4th verse, all the residents were singing. Singing loudly, “Send the fire, Send the fire, Send the fire.”

By now it was 2:40 and he was back on schedule.

He read the text for the message, a sermon from the files of the glory days at Central Church, slightly shortened to fit the 20-minute window. In his mind he was back there. Two services. A thousand people every weekend.

One of the two staff members held up a cardboard sign that said “One Minute Left.” He thanked everyone for coming and gave a short benediction.  The staff members started getting ready to pull wheelchairs out of rows and into the hallway.

“Wait a minute! Stop!” yelled the man who had introduced the last song into the service mix; “That number you forgot. We aren’t 703 members, but there’s twenty-two of us, and we’re the best damn twenty-two people you’ve got right now.”

Conrad looked deep into the man’s eyes, and then noticed the smile.

And then he smiled back.

And then time froze and the staff stopped moving wheelchairs and everyone waited for Conrad to say something in return, except he couldn’t think of anything. Nothing at all. So he said the first words that popped into his head.

“This isn’t the dining room.”

 

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