Thinking Out Loud

March 20, 2019

Wednesday Connect

He liked to kill “high value” animals. This picture best encapsulates the legacy that James MacDonald is leaving. See below for story.

A summary of one couple’s $72,000 worth of donations to Harvest Bible Chapel. They want a refund. See below for story link.

And so, our second year under our current name begins. Don’t forget the top clicks from Wednesday are published on Twitter a day or two later. Connect to @PaulW1lk1nson on Twitter. Also be sure to see the item which appears at the very bottom of today’s column about a Catholic Herald reporter in the UK.

■ Breaking: “The annual Templeton Prize, which recognizes outstanding contributions to “affirming life’s spiritual dimension,” was awarded Tuesday to Brazilian Marcelo Gleiser—a theoretical physicist dedicated to demonstrating science and religion are not enemies… An agnostic, he doesn’t believe in God—but refuses to write off the possibility of God’s existence completely.” 

■ Paying someone to do your homework:

It takes time to prepare a sermon well. Those who don’t have time to prepare their own sermons ought to do something else. The one thing they ought not to be doing is getting on stage to satisfy an audience, to keep the numbers high, and to do what it takes to make those happen. Do your own work, preacher. It is a pretense to preach someone else’s sermon or to give the impression the work is your own.

■ Last one out, turn out the lights. Fox News predicts the end of brick-and-mortar church as we know it. There are some insights in this piece, but they were too anxious to sensationalize the perspective; hence the headline, “Church as we know it, is over.” (To which Scot McKnight replied on Twitter, “No. A thousand times, no.”)

■ So how on earth did Harvest Bible Chapel get that seal of approval from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA)? There’s not a direct answer here, but apparently it wasn’t the only thing wrong at ECFA. The organization’s president was a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), but for 15 years had let his license lapse and was using the title improperly

■ …and one couple is demanding a refund of the $72,000 (USD; see summary picture above) they donated to Harvest Bible Chapel given what we now know. (Be sure to watch the video; and then multiply this by hundreds and hundreds of other families which did the same.)…

■ …The whole bear thing: A non-religious blogger at Patheos provides a reasonable lens through which to view the whole sordid Harvest Bible Chapel thing.

The pricey excursion was just one example of misappropriation of ministry resources, other similar letters from previous and present church staff say, which were submitted to the elders several weeks ago…MacDonald used church funds to purchase over $500 worth of cigars, and gave a waitress a $400 tip with church funds…Butters also explained in his letter to the elders that MacDonald demanded his office be renovated in 2013, which cost $150,000

■ …And in this 5 page .pdf file posted to Wartburg Watch, read one elder’s reasons for keeping quiet for so long

Just Added: Speaking from within the movement, a definition of “Reformed Fundamentalist;” including four characteristics, and four prescriptions to avoid becoming one. Great analysis!  

■ Worship Workshop: An Anglican walks into a Saddleback site and… Seriously, the point of this is not to skim it quickly (which you may) but to then click the link to the second part where the author breaks down the differences from a liturgical perspective. Again, don’t miss part two. Which brings us to…

■ …Saying what needed to be said re. the song “This is How I Fight My Battles:” The writer notes, “There is zero theology in this song. And for an about seven minute song — at least this YouTube version — there are a total of 15 unique words across basically two phrases. The song boils down to this: “This is how I fight my battles” repeated 4 dozen times. Then: “It may look like I’m surrounded, but I’m surrounded by you” Repeated just as many times… [I]f it wasn’t for it being sung in a church there is nothing to indicate this is even a song about God at all.”

■ Avoiding a negative message:

Church growth experts tell us that people want a “positive” message. This temptation to dilute the gospel has produced a new recipe for a trendy sermon. We start with some great motivational speaking (“Your past does not define your future!”), add a few quarts of cheap grace (“Don’t focus on your sin!”), pour in some prosperity gospel (“Run to this altar and grab your financial breakthrough!”), flavor it with some trendy pop psychology (“It’s all about you!”) and you end up with a goopy mess of pabulum that not even a baby Christian could survive on.

In contrast, “Paul gave his spiritual son Timothy clear instructions on how to keep his message on track.”

■ California Governor Gavin Newsom placed a moratorium on the death penalty last week and Evangelicals are thrilled. “We’re losing so much and gaining nothing in return. It’s time to let the death penalty go.”

■ What if, in all the miracles Jesus performed, he wasn’t so much operating in the divine, as much as he was modeling for each and every one of us what we could do if we fully exercised our spiritual gifts? That question gets asked in this 33-minute podcast with Rich Birch and Toronto area pastor John Thompson…

■ …John Thompson has also created an eight-part series of short videos dealing with spiritual practices and gifts which is available online for free. Watch them at

■ Rebranding the Bible: “Its hardcover Bibles sell for $78 and paperback softcover books are $38… Last year, the company sold more than 10,000 Bibles and made $300,000-plus in sales; Alabaster believes sales will triple in 2019 with some upcoming wholesale deals.” A new series of visually impactful Bible editions are made to connect with an Instagram generation.

■ The Latter Day Saints’ test of conviction has a strange descriptor; they say you feel “a burning your bosom.” One apologist just finds it not sound logically:

The burning in the bosom I find to be a weak argument. I can understand it’s very emotionally appealing and I do know ex-Mormons have said that there is nothing like the experience of the burning in the bosom. If you pray and you get the burning in the bosom, well that confirms that the Book of Mormon is true. If you don’t get it, well, you just weren’t sincere or something of that sort. The test is in essence unfalsifiable.

■ An undated article on the Life.Church website pays tribute to life in Middle America, and from a Christian perspective, its ten secret super powers.

Essay of the Week: It began with the dumbest Tweet of the week: “If you do rich people stuff, eventually you will be rich. If you do poor people stuff, you will eventually be poor.” That was Dave Ramsey. Some were nonplussed.

Ramsey’s sentiments about wealth disparity is an a oversimplification bordering on cruelty. When someone spends years responding to life’s complications with platitudes and proverbs, they tend to think of these teachings as absolutes over time. Particularly when someone has climbed from a state of poverty to one of financial wellness…Boiled down to its most basic form, this is karma by another name. It’s the bad advice of Job’s friends personified in 21st century American terms

■ Testimony Time: This was on Reddit on the weekend. Why I left Islam and Turned to Christianity.

■ Details you might have missed in the Apostle’s Creed: The meaning of ascended and seated

♫ New (to me) Music: From the land of Hillsong, comes CityAlight. This was actually posted back in November; but I hadn’t heard of them. This is their most-watched video, Yet Not I, But Through Christ in Me

♫ Obscure Music: The duo known as Wild Harbors. “Chris Badeker met Jenna on his first day at McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. They started singing together long before they were a couple, playing ’90s cover songs and leading worship at on-campus events.” Their song, “The Ballad of Wallace and Jessie” only had 232 YouTube views as of last night, but got me curious. The composition “takes its inspiration from a story…about a young orphan in Scotland named Jessie, who had a premonition of the Titanic sinking shortly before she passed away. In her dream, Jessie saw a man named Wallace playing the violin on the ship’s deck, calming passengers on their way to the lifeboats. The couple… decided to wrap a melody around his story.” 

■ Analogy of the Week: The Bible as compost pile, as opposed to cookbook.

■ Conference Calendar: The Water To Wine Gathering takes place June 13–15 at Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Missouri. One of the speakers defines the conference goals in a blog post.

■ Where you live, do kids take a year off between high school and ‘what’s next’ as what’s called a ‘gap year?’ Here’s an alternative program that a Canadian university came up with for kids from five Christian high schools.

■ Everybody’s welcome: From a mainstream website, a from-the-inside-looking-out look at Waffle House restaurants. “Waffle House does not care how much you are worth, what you look like, where you are from, what your political beliefs are, or where you’ve been so long as you respect the unwritten rules of Waffle House: Be kind, be respectful, and don’t overstay when others are waiting for a table. Besides, everyone who has ever stepped foot in a Waffle House has a story to tell…”

■ If you’re late to the party in terms of finding a good book to read during Lent, here are three suggestions

■ …and from our Catholic Corner: Lent in New Orleans is more than just Mardi Gras. Read about the tradition of constructing St. Joseph Altars

■ Worth repeating: Large Evangelical “organizations such as The Gospel Coalition have self-consciously sought to drive and thereby control the small-r reformed world by buying up the talent and overseeing who gets to speak, what gets said, who gets reviewed, who is in, who is out.”

■ Christian music streaming service The Overflow has shut down after it has proved no longer sustainable financially. (Customers are promised refunds in April.)

■ A good news story: The man was taking advantage of the little girl’s mother being in the restroom, but a teenage boy ignored his mother’s advice and got involved.

■ Those Hollywood celebs could have saved thousands of dollars, since committing bribery to get your kids into homeschool is much cheaper

■ …Same premise, different satirical website, different type of school.

■ Finally, yes! Even at his new home on Patheos, the American Jesus March Madness Bracket is back for 2019. Who will win? Mormon’s vs. Latter Day Saints? (I think the other option was “The Church,” but, oh well.) “Girl Wash Your Face” vs. “Girl Get Some Footnotes?” Shane Claiborne vs. America’s love affair with guns? Donald Trump autographing the Bible vs. Donald Trump actually reading the Bible? You’ll have to check it yourself. Explanations will be posted today, and you have until the end of the day today (midnight, CST Wednesday) to enter.

Much of what’s on would never make the cut here, but I found this one interesting food for thought.

■ This is for real. It happened to a journalist and columnist for the UK Catholic Press and means legal trouble and possibly jail time. Read the story at Christian Post. A GoFundMe page has been set up for her legal defence.


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