Thinking Out Loud

February 13, 2019

Wednesday Connect

First of all thanks to those of you who responded to Last Wednesday’s “serious week” of highly focused items without the tabloid-style stories. The stats were encouraging. This week’s list needed to be completed by Saturday night, so apologies for things which broke earlier this week that I’m not aware of. Graphics like the one above appear at the start of the week on the Happy Monday feature from Clark Bunch. I love that type of humor. He will have posted something newer by the time you read this, so here’s a link to both this week and last week!

♦ The Archbishop rides again! First, he shocked everyone with his “speaking in tongues” revelation. Now this: ‘Who cares’ if you’re Protestant or Catholic?

♦ He was doing apologetics before some of the rest of us knew what the word meant. The UK’s Michael Green passed away last week, so Premier Magazine re-ran an interview it did with him in 2010.

♦ Before he died of a lethal injection, Dominique Ray was a Muslim who was on death row. All he wanted was to have his imam present in the chamber. “Ray has exhausted his death sentence appeals and now only seeks to die with a measure of spiritual comfort. Alabama automatically gives Christian inmates this benefit: Since 1997, the Rev. Chris Summers has witnessed nearly every execution in the state, kneeling and praying with prisoners just before they are killed.” The state of Alabama said no, even though the imam already had clearance to visit the prison

♦ …Alabama then solved the problem by banning all “spiritual advisors” from being present during executions; including prison chaplains.

♦ Essay of the Week: “It is an interesting fact that Christianity’s three most famous creedal statements, the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed, contain no moral doctrines.  They contain metaphysical doctrines, e.g. the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement; and what I suppose may be called historical-miraculous doctrines, e.g., the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the Ascension. But no moral doctrines: nothing about the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, the two great commandments – love God, love your neighbor.”

♦ What will your life be remembered for? Often it’s the things we do near the end. If we start poorly but end well, people remember the ending. If we start well, but end poorly, people remember the end. This article by Julie Roys solidifies the characterization of James MacDonald as a “mob boss.” What a shame if this is his ultimate legacy

♦ …On the weekend, one website was reporting MacDonald was already gone from Harvest. (This story may be updated or the situation may be altered by the time you read this. One of the drawbacks of an early deadline this week.) (For updated news, see the Twitter feed of WLS radio personality Mancow Muller.)

♦ They don’t just think evangelism is optional, but they actually dare to say it’s “wrong.” Barna Research “is releasing Reviving Evangelism, a new report based on research commissioned by Alpha USA. This study looks at the faith-sharing experiences and expectations of Christians and non-Christians alike. Among the major findings in this report is the revelation that Christian Millennials feel especially conflicted about evangelism—and, in fact, almost half believe it is wrong to share their faith.”

♦ Last week’s National Prayer Breakfast. I actually spent some time trying to find a good summary of the event and finally settled on this one. It’s one of those silly “5 things” articles where you have to click to get the next thing, but it covered details other had not, like who led worship and the bipartisan prayer moment.

♦ Provocative Headline of the Week: “Let’s talk about virginity-shaming.

♦ The people God puts next to you on an airplane; those moments when God says, “He’s not an airline companion in the next seat. He’s a mirror.”

♦ Justin Bieber talks to Vogue magazine: “Justin has been especially focused on his own moral development lately, what he describes as ‘character stuff.’ Last fall he made a decision to step back from music for the moment to focus on being the man he feels no one ever taught him how to be, and above all a good husband. ‘Just thinking about music stresses me out,’ he says. ‘I’ve been successful since I was thirteen, so I didn’t really have a chance to find who I was apart from what I did…”

♦ Chris Pratt talks with Stephen Colbert about trying The Daniel Fast, a Biblical diet

♦ …but actress Ellen Page has called Pratt out for attending Hillsong, which she sees as an anti-LGBTQ church…

♦ …meanwhile, the day after The Late Show appearance, Pratt remembered that it was Christine Caine who was the source of a powerful quotation that left Colbert deep in thought for a few seconds: “If the light that is within you is not greater than the light that is on you, the light that is on you will destroy you.” He says that quote has helped him survive Hollywood.

♦ Though it’s still not known how many LifeWay bookstores will be closing, current President Thom Rainer said the company “did all they could” to save them.

♫ Elias Dummer, lead singer for the band The City Harmonic has a new solo album, The Work, Vol 1. Check out the song Heartbeat

♦ Parenting Place: Everything you need to know about e-cigarettes in one infographic.

♦ “Unofficially, Disney World and Disneyland have had Gay Days since in the 1990s, but there has never been an officially sanctioned LGBTQ event until now.”

The original blog post for this has long disappeared, but I can’t think of a better day-before-Valentine’s-Day link: Biblical ways in which a man gets a wife.

♦ You’ve always wanted to find this: The best way to refute Jehovah’s Witnesses on their reading of John 1:1. You just have to memorize everything Donall and Conall say

♦ Finally, and I quote: “A man is suing his parents for giving birth to him without his consent.” An exercise in logic and bio-medical ethics.


source: Southern Baptist Memes

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February 6, 2019

Wednesday Connect

This week’s list starts out like many of them do, but actually manages to stay focused all the way through. Looking for tabloid stories? That contributor took the week off.

♦ Today’s lead item: If “Your church is more interested in defending against the outsiders than finding lost sheep;” or if “Your church is predominately known for its judgment and condemnation rather than its love and mercy;” then it’s easy: You’re attending an Old Testament Church.

♦ A Forrest Gump moment, or a complete fantasy? John MacArthur claims he was with civil rights activist Charles Evers when MLK was asassinated. Evers claims it simply isn’t so.

♦ Essay of the Week: Aging Grace-fully. A wonderfully written memoir of his grandmother by Philip Yancey.

♦ Francis Chan in an interview that “no one in the U.S. is reading” said this about being an Evangelical:

We walk around in America with so much arrogance. Everyone tweets, everyone blogs, everyone wants their voice to be heard. And I’m trying to explain to them: “I’m to shut my own voice out of my own head and trust his words above mine. How you label me for doing that is up to you. I’m just trying to be a person who follows the word.

♦ Retro: Another local church is going back to the hymn book. (For them, I hope this works!)

Our return to the hymnal will not cause us to turn our backs on the use of technology. We will continue to use screens and put words from the hymns on the screen, but we will put an emphasis on using the hymnal too—in order for us to follow the flow of the song and to learn how to recognize the direction of the notes so that we can remain on key as we sing. This will enable us to teach another younger generation on the importance of singing and how to use the hymnal to sing corporately to the Lord.

♦ Just as I Am: In a possibly related article a look at what Evangelicals call “The Invitation Hymn.”

Preaching worthy of the name calls for people to take specific steps. Granted, the response that is appropriate at the end of any lesson will not be the same for each person in the audience. But if the sermon does not call for any kind of response from anybody, it would be well to ponder why it was preached in the first place.

♦ Think that churches are dying in the UK? Check out the backstreets of London, England. But note, these are ethnic churches.

The busy scene at the Celestial Church of Christ is repeated at a half a dozen other African Christian temples on the same drab street and in the adjacent roads – one corner of the thriving African church community in south London. Around 250 black majority churches are believed to operate in the borough of Southwark, where 16 percent of the population identifies as having African ethnicity.

♦ Provocative Headline of the Week: Is ‘First Reformed’ the Best Faith Movie Ever or Pure Blasphemy?

♦ …While we’re on the subject: Do Christian film creators know their movies suck? (This whole article is a great insight to what goes on behind the scenes, and by that, I don’t mean on set.)

Who am I to doubt that? Maybe the Lord did want them to make a film. However, I doubt very much the Lord wanted them to throw together a script, buy a cheap camera, gather up a few friends from church and make a movie. Come on. Be real. If the Lord told you he wanted you to be a doctor, you wouldn’t buy a scalpel and start operating on people the next day.

♦ Which type are you? In what the author calls “10 Contemporary Evangelicalisms” there is a category classification that begs you to put an “X” in the box where you think you fit.  Which brings us to…

♦ Analogy Avenue: “You see, it’s supposed to work like this: The world of churches is like a big mall, and there are many different kinds of stores. You choose one store–ONE–and you go there for everything you need. You are LOYAL to that store. You BELIEVE in that store and what it’s all about; in the way it does things. You persuade others that your store is the one and only store real shoppers patronize. You buy name brand merchandise at every opportunity. It’s your store. Yes, there is a mall, but you only need one store.” An encouragement to shop the entire mall.

♦ Wow! Did my wife write this? Here’s an article that gives voice to all the women who are tired of Bible studies that are about feelings. A call for women’s ministry resources which get to the heart of genuine Bible study.

♦ With an already 30-year low birth rate in America, some residential neighborhoods are lacking amenities for families with kids. Municipalities are restricting permits for houses with multiple bedrooms and allowances for daycare centers.

♦ Pastor Place: I totally loved this short article, titled Fortnight Evangelism. “If you want to build bridges with the next generation, especially the boys, an easy point of connection is to talk about their world. And their world right now is one thing: Fortnite.

♦ Fallout continues for Karen Pence, wife of US Vice President Mike Pence, as the Christian school where she teaches has a tough stand on LGBTI lifestyles for staff and students, and now another school affirms they will no longer participate in events at Immanuel Christian School.

♦ Chicago area Youth Pastor Joshua Nelson who writes at The Sidebar Blog:

  • Regarding the youth in his church, someone once suggested to him they should “just sit on the sidelines until their time came.” That prompted the article Too Young For Church. However…
  • …Then, a week later, the other side of the coin: “Just as the Body is deprived if young people are not championed, so too is the church deprived if the elderly are forgotten.” Check out Too Old for Church.

♦ Who to watch: It’s been awhile since we ran links to the Young Influencers Lists by Brad Lomenick. The last two produced were for October and November of 2018. 

♦ In a post entitled “The End” Michael Gungor says this is the end for Gungor, the musical group. But haven’t we heard this song before? (Or one like it?)

♦ Canada Corner: Statistics Canada stopped collecting data on marriage in 2008. However, 30 prominent academics are asking the government agency to restart the practice.

Once you understand that marriage is a public institution and is a marker for things other than just your own personal relationship, you want to have that data to be able to discuss the other things it correlates with. For example, social isolation, childcare, aspects of eldercare, how public policy is designed around those issues. I think marriage would have a bearing on them.

♦ Continuing in Canada for a moment, this foster parents case continues for one couple:

…In the week of April 30-May 4 of last year, they met with a Child Services social worker. The social worker asked the couple, one of whom is a pastor, if they “still” believe “in some of the more outdated parts of the Bible” and if they considered homosexuality a sin. Last October, the couple received a letter from Child Services declining their application, stating that “the policies of our agency do not appear to fit with your values and beliefs.”

♦ Maybe it’s all Greek to you, but to him, Greek was a lifetime passion. Dr. Robert “Bob” Mounce passed away on January 24th at age 97. [His son, and also a respected Greek scholar, Bill Mounce reflects on his father’s death.]

♦ At what everyone must agree is “a particularly sensitive time in Israeli-Palestinian relations;” the dispute now centers on a new collection of artifacts in the West Bank which some are calling, a new cache of Dead Sea Scrolls.

♦ Leadership Lessons: Are two sites better than one? This pastor confesses to four mistakes his church made in going multi-site.

Finally…

…Not finally. We usually have a number of bizarre stories in the final few links here, but they distort the stats and just for this week, I decided to take this whole thing more seriously and just run some links to some solid news stories and opinion pieces that would be helpful to some of the people who read this each week, even if they’re not the majority.


Two months ago Mark Hall of Casting Crowns posted this on his Twitter account: “Doctors put me on vocal rest but I know there’s still plenty of ways that we can point to Jesus! How do you point to Jesus! Just started drawing again!” (The band has a new tour starting February 21st.)


Yes, they were serious. Now you can tell someone’s eternal destiny by their political party… I followed this account on Twitter for exactly five days. Some of the items they posted were informative, but there was no denying that overall tone of the organization could easily lead to someone’s spiritual demise, regardless of party affiliation. This is what the Gospel of Hate looks like. Sorry, no link for this one.


Miranda Rights for PKs (Pastors’ Kids)

January 30, 2019

Wednesday Connect

This week’s list delves into some social issues and honestly, it was discouraging to include these but I felt that in view of the New York State decision (which we’re assuming you heard) it’s worth keeping aware of these developments.

♦ You’ve heard of Jonah and the Whale; now meet Casey and the Bear. Did God send a bear to take care of a boy? How did the boy survive two days in frigid temperatures; weather so adverse the search was called off? We might never know.

♦ The second coming: Perry Noble (pictured) is back. At the first service at Second Chance, he reports 725 people attended with 18 first-time decisions. Read what he wrote before that first service.

♦ Essay of the Week: In the Boston Globe, the link between religiosity and generosity. “…'[N]ones” will outnumber Catholics by 2020, and will be more numerous than Protestants by 2035….[A] decline in religious ties is ominous for reasons having nothing to do with theology. America has always been extraordinarily charitable. But that generosity has been disproportionately linked to faith. As faith shrinks, charity — and the good works charity sustains — will take a hit.”

♦ No, it’s not a Babylon Bee article, and it’s not actually new. Earlier this week Drew Dyck (author of Your Future Self Will Thank You) posted a link to the Wikipedia page for the Two-Seed-in-the-Spirit Predestinarian Baptist denomination. (Never ceases to amaze me who gets a page on Wikipedia and what they feel doesn’t qualify.)

♦ Bringing the Bible back to school: North Dakota Rep. Aaron McWilliams has co-sponsored a bill — supported by no less than Donald Trump — to bring Bible classes back to school. “‘There’s a separation of church and state, but there’s not a separation of books from education,’ McWilliams said, adding that unless schools allow classes about religious texts, the state ends up ‘establishing a religion of secularism within our school by not having anything else.'” …

♦ …But Jonathan Merritt makes a valid observation “If conservative Christians don’t trust public schools to teach their kids about sex or science, I can’t imagine they want a government employee teaching kids about sacred scripture.” [Source: Twitter.]…

♦ …Meanwhile, Christian parents have more to worry about. Kids are referred to “experts keen to affirm their children as transgender,” according to journalist Abigail Shrier writing in the Wall Street Journal. “Parents said they were ‘terrified’ that opposing treatments recommended by therapists and others would result in their child refusing to speak to them…Therapists and psychiatrists undermine parental authority with immediate affirmation of teens’ self-diagnoses. Campus counsellors happily refer students to clinics that dispense hormones on the first visit.” …

♦ …And if you’re not disturbed enough, CBN News reports on a video on a channel for kids with more than two million followers which attempts to normalize abortion. “She compares having an abortion to a bad dentist appointment and a bodily procedure that’s ‘kind of uncomfortable.’ She also tells one child that she believes abortion is ‘all part of God’s plan.’” [The second link here is to the video itself, which CBN did not directly link to. If your computer is in an area where kids could hear the audio, discretion is advised.]…

♦ …Meanwhile, after the New York State decision, some are calling for Governor Andrew Cuomo to be excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church.

♦ There’s no succession plan. At some point, some megachurch pastors will want to retire. Nobody is waiting in the wings. Millennials don’t want the job. “In fact, we are seeing search committees or their equivalents taking longer and longer to find a pastor… we have a supply and demand crisis. The demand is growing, and the supply is small.”

♦ A former co-anchor of Good Morning America’s weekend edition, as well as a former co-host of ABC’s The View, Paula Faris has launched a podcast for ABC-News, Journeys of Faith. “An intimate look at how some of the world’s most influential people lean on faith and spirituality to guide them through the best and worst of times.”

♦ Yes, you can live without it. An interview with a 40-something pastor who has no cellphone. “I don’t see any negative impact on my ministry. I might be better. When I am listening to you, I am listening only to you. When you send me on a retreat to pray, I only pray for you and for our church…Before cell phones I was not considered a focused or warm and fuzzy person. But now the bar for what is considered focused has dropped so low that I am considered nearly super human in what I can accomplish.”

♦ This story reminded me so much of last year’s story involving John Chau, the young missionary who wanted to evangelize an isolated tribe off the coast of India. Only this time the story takes place in Brazil.

♦ Another website dedicated to exposing James MacDonald. Read the most recent post at Harvest Bible Chapel Fraud

♦ …and a well-known Chicago radio personality who was a friend of MacDonald’s speaks out against the pastor

♦ …I told you so. This article appeared on this blog in April, 2013 and drew 68 comments, which is unusual for Thinking out Loud. It showed where MacDonald’s priorities were then (as now) preaching about money and finances on Easter Sunday morning.

♦ The Bible doesn’t talk about politics? Not so fast. “…[T]he birth of Christ took place in the shadow of the twin pillars of a typical political Empire: economic power and military might.” (This is so well-written; I’m also featuring it Friday at Christianity 201.)

♦ Over at Internet Monk, Chaplain Mike is working his way through the book The Bible and The Believer by Mark Zvi Brettler, Peter Enns, and Daniel J. Harrington. In the third of three posts, he looks at the contribution of The late Daniel J. Harrington, who provides insight into a Catholic reading of scripture. (Be sure to track back and read the earlier parts to this, including the Jewish perspective, and also don’t miss the comments.)

♦ Make sure you copy right: Each year various types of “books, songs and films that entered the public domain on Jan. 1, 2019 — the first time that published works’ copyrights have expired since 1998.” The reason is due to a 20 year extension that was placed on the expiry date

♦ The church abuse story background: For those who want to play catch-up regarding the C. J. Mahaney story, this article about Mahaney and Together for the Gospel (T4G) is what you’re looking for.

♦ Q2019: John Mark Comer is among the featured speakers at this year’s Q. April 24-26 in Nashville.

♦ Provocative headline of the week: Evangelical Christians need an exit ramp from Trumpism. “Some of his evangelical disciples have explicitly said there is nothing he could do to lose their support. Yet a divorce is not impossible, and it won’t require white conservatives to suddenly back a Democrat. Trump’s white evangelical support has already fallen in the wake of chaos in the administration and the longest government shutdown in history. If the walls continue to close in around the president, he may yet lose even more support…”

♦ Book excerpt from What if It’s True by Charles Martin (Thomas Nelson, released 1/29)

Because if this story is true, then the King of all kings, the infinite God who spoke the Milky Way and me into existence — because He loves me deeply — stepped off His throne and embarked on a rescue mission to save and deliver a self-centered slave like me.

What kind of king does that?…

…You and I have a problem, and the appearance of a baby boy in a nameless stable in Bethlehem is our first clue that the problem is out of our control — that after a few thousand years of pleading with us to return to Him, He has come to us. To save us from ourselves.

♦ Adam Ford’s cartoons are too big to reproduce here, but with New York State’s recent abortion decision, this one is somewhat timely.

♦ Great marriage advice from Pat Boone, on the loss of his wife Shirley after 64 years together: “We didn’t have the perfect marriage, but it helps to marry a magnificent woman… You make your commitments to God and each other, and in troubled times, you hang on to the commitment to God, and to your kids. You see the problems through and you find you’re stronger because of it.”

♦ Sadly, another child sex abuse story involving a youth/children’s worker, only this time it’s at a satellite campus of the Texas megachurch headed by Matt Chandler.

♦ Finding that he can’t be a donor for his mother, an Ohio pastor gives part of his liver to a stranger

♦ Attendance was down at this year’s World Youth Day in Panama.

♦ Book Review: Lorne Anderson looks at how the lives of 14 people are reflected in Moral Leadership for a Divided Age.

♦ “If two or three of you…” With this new Click to Pray app you can agree in prayer with what the Pope is currently praying for/about.

♪ New Music: From Tampa, Florida, check out Never Leave Me from Reach City Worship

♪ … also new this week from popular singer musician performer Kirk Franklin, Love Theory.

♪ Singer Ray Stevens turned 80 last week. He’s recorded a number of gospel songs such as Turn Your Radio On and my favorite version of Love Lifted Me.

♪ Musician James Ingram died yesterday. His song Ya Mo Be There was a hit on progressive CCM stations.

♦ Finally, who else but Jon Crist:

 

 

January 23, 2019

Wednesday Connect

For those of you who love alliteration, this is the smiling Satan statue in Segovia, Spain. He’s happy. A little too happy as it turns out. See today’s final linked item.

So here we are again. Thanks again to our contributors. Today as usual there is good news, bad news, and strange news.

♦ Breaking as we come on the air: Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury speaks in tongues.

♦ The story at Harvest Bible Chapel keeps going. Both of these links are to blogger and broadcaster Julie Roys who has been relentless in separating fact from fiction in this unfortunate drama.

  • The last time we looked, James MacDonald was going to be leaving regular preaching duties, but would have continued speaking at Harvest Bible Chapel in Naples. The Naples pastor didn’t think that sounded right, and was promptly fired. He says if he’d known about the internal turmoil at HBC, he never would have allowed his formerly-independent church to join the HBC network. Now he wants his job back.
  • Harvest leadership team admits there were shortcomings concerning the firing of the Naples pastor. (Tuesday)

♦ A $452 billion (USD) Saudi “mega-city” project would destroy crucial historical and archaeological evidence including bulldozing the site where Moses received the Ten Commandments.

♦ A most distressing day for pro-lifers in New York State and everywhere else. A new “radical pro-abortion bill Tuesday that would allow unborn babies to be aborted for basically any reason up to birth.” It gets worse: “Protections for babies born alive after botched abortions also would end under the new bill. Additionally, the bill says the state cannot “deny, regulate or restrict” abortion, not even for common-sense reasons such as parental consent for minors, informed consent or limits on taxpayer-funded abortions.”

♦ Happening in Vermont: The story of Kelly Haines and Pastor John Longaker. “No one conducted a background check when a small church in southwestern Vermont hired a pastor in 2010…” From there, it’s a long story. Or if you prefer, check out this timeline constructed by the Burlington (VT) Free Press.

♦ Persecution Watch:

  • “During 2018, the Iranian Christian community, along with other religious minorities, continued to suffer multiple violations of their right to freedom of religion and belief. Ongoing surveillance of Christians by the authorities was often accompanied by harassment. The end of 2018 saw an unprecedented wave of raids on private house gatherings, leading to large numbers of arrests. Many Christians received prison sentences, or had sentences upheld by the court of appeal…” This link will lead you to a 9-page .pdf report.
  • For reports from four other countries, “The Christian Post spoke with believers from India, Iraq, Nigeria and one undisclosed South Asian country about the violence they and their communities have faced.”
  • For people in the world missions community, the release of the Open Doors annual World Watch List is always anticipated. Last week, the group issued the report, significant for the top-10 placement forn India. (In this case, the .pdf file link is a 68 page booklet; be sure to allow ample time.)

♦ Leadership Lessons: Fighting insecurity. “Consider the best leader in your life. What made them so effective? Why did you love them? It probably had something to do with how they empowered you to be your best. Not that their coaching and feedback was always easy and stroked your ego, but it was what you needed. And it was delivered in a way that moved you forward, rather than holding you back.”

♦ Those Catholic kids seeming to clash with a Native protester? You can’t always trust viral videos. “For most people, the meaning of moving images seems to relate to the footage inside them—the people, settings, and events that the camera pointed at and captured. But in fact, the way those elements were selected, edited, and re-presented has an enormous impact on the way they are received and understood. In the case of the Lincoln Memorial encounter, neither the original video nor the new one explains what ‘really happened.’

♦ Parenting Place: Just read this. Even if you don’t have kids. Turns out the opposite (and better) strategy to giving your kids a time-out is giving yourself a time-in.

Roger Olson on the wall. (As opposed to The Wall, a Pink Floyd album.) Sample: “Imagine that a political or natural disaster crisis occurred in Canada and thousands upon thousands of Canadian men, women and children fled it by crossing the border into the U.S. technically illegally? I wonder how many Americans would be up in arms demanding that a thousands mile long wall be built?”

♦ Reading Genesis: “According to C. John Collins, professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary and the Old Testament editor of the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible, both of these camps [creationists and evolutions] are fundamentally wrong for the same reason.

♦ Essay of the Week: Bath Night, Baptism and Happy Days. (Awarded not for the premise itself, but for the execution including some musical memories.)

The uploader has not made this link available in your country.

♦ After winning Christianity Today’s Book of the Year award for The Storm-Tossed Family, Russell Moore thanks the publication not only for the honor, but for the magazine’s very existence.

♦ An eight part series on The History Channel explores the life of Jesus from the perspective of eight people with whom he interacted. Jesus: His Life “will premiere with two episodes back-to-back every week starting on March 25 at 8 p.m. ET leading up to the week before Easter.”

♦ An unknown number of LifeWay Christian bookstores are closing.

♦ Headline which forced me to click through: Blackmail and the Gospel. You might consider this approach next time you get a spam email asking for money.

♦ New Music from Planetshakers: All Around (turn up your subwoofers).

♦ You’ve heard people talk about the music at Urbana events like Urbana 18. Listen to “You Are God” described as “a multilingual, multicultural worship anthem.”(Is this what singing in heaven will be like?)

♦ The cost of social media marketing for Christian publishers: This guy gets some rather incredibly expensive Bibles for free in exchange for reviewing them on YouTube, but given the small number of views relative to the retail prices of some of the Bibles, there’s something wrong with this picture.

♦ On the weekend we covered ABC-TV’s rehash of the Jim & Tammy Faye Bakker story. Here’s a 20/20 extra with some extra footage you didn’t see of what is now the home of Morningstar Ministries.

♦ John Crist’s advice on how to know whether or not you should cancel your services due to weather.

♦ ‘Before we begin today’s session a moment of prayer..’ Only at an Alaska assembly meeting, the invocation will be given by Pastafarians and Satanists.

♦ Finally, back to the “smiling Satan statue in Segovia, Spain.” (I just like typing that phrase.) If you read the story, he’s smiling for the same reason you’re often smiling. He’s taking a selfie. TIME reports that, “The Satanic sculpture was commissioned by the city council in hopes of drawing tourists to some of the town’s lesser-known neighborhoods, according to Spain’s El Pais newspaper. But residents were perturbed by the playful Prince of Darkness. [Again, notice the alliteration.] Some 5,500 people — approximately 10% of the entire city’s population — have signed an online petition calling for the project to be scrapped.”

Satan sneaks a selfie in Segovia.


It turned out we had another selfie picture in the files. Why should the devil have all today’s pictures?

 

January 16, 2019

Wednesday Connect

We’re back with another list of news and opinion pieces and music. Thanks to those of you who send links. We try to use relatively recent items, but sometimes an online article will rejuvenate an older article or video. [Picture, above: See third item below.]

♦ Our lead item this week: Joyce Meyer saying her views on faith and prosperity were out of line? Relevant Magazine: “Joyce Meyer has posted a surprising video on Instagram where she seems to walk back some prosperity gospel and ‘word of faith’ theology.” But then…

♦ …In verifying the story at Relevant Magazine we found this little story with this headline from last March: “Watch Joyce Meyer Make a Strong Biblical Case for Getting Tattoos.” There was no actual video to watch, and this is the article in full: “Well, this is probably not the headline you were expecting to see today. Popular preacher and author Joyce Meyer recently preached a message in which she made the biblical case for getting tattoos, and explained why Christians who use the Bible to argue against them are taking the Scripture out of context. She also said that she is actually thinking about getting a tattoo of her own.”

♦ Equally Ridiculous: ‘If you have a brain, you must choose Calvinism.’ “I viewed this discussion with frustration at the willingness of these men to insult and denigrate the intelligent and theologically minded Christians throughout time who have not found a home in Calvinism.” (To which I add, frustration at how the views of others have been caricatured and misunderstood.) If you are theologically minded and also have low blood pressure, this will raise it. 12½ Minutes of Gospel Coalition preaching to the choir.  (Sample quotation: “It’s hard to imagine young Evangelicals being animated humanly speaking by anyone more than someone like John Piper.”)

🇨🇳 Persecution Watch — China: The [Early Rain Covenant] Church in south-west China has been shuttered and [pastor ]Wang and his wife, Jiang Rong, remain in detention after police arrested more than 100 Early Rain church members in December. Many of those who haven’t been detained are in hiding. Others have been sent away from Chengdu and barred from returning. Some, including Wang’s mother and his young son, are under close surveillance. Wang and his wife are being charged for “inciting subversion”, a crime that carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison…Early Rain is the latest victim of what Chinese Christians and rights activists say is the worst crackdown on religion since the country’s Cultural Revolution, when Mao Zedong’s government vowed to eradicate religion.

📖 This ain’t the theology textbook you’re accustomed to, but it would help you understand many a discussion you’ve possibly overheard. Scot McKnight’s preview of Contemporary Theology: An Introduction – Classical, Evangelical, Philosophical and Global Perspectives (Zondervan) by Kirk R. MacGregor is 50% comprised of the chapter titles, but what a list it is! Included are “a collection of names, movements, and methods that pervade theological and biblical discussions.”

✟ …Also recommended by Scot McKnight, this article: Has someone ever told you they are a theologian? What do they actually do after they arrive at the office and punch the clock? “…By implication then, all those who grapple with the question of God are, in one way or another, theologians. They might be very poor theologians, amateur theologians, professional theologians, perhaps even theologians whose work is widely recognized in the life of the church – but theologians they are…”

♀ On Sunday, Dana Trent invited people to post pictures of women in the pulpit. “Our daughters, nieces, sisters, and neighbors need to see themselves represented in worship spaces. This is what a preacher looks like.” Check out the pictures in the thread.

♦ With the passing of former SBC President Bailey Smith, the words which became a legacy: “It’s interesting to me at great political battles how you have a Protestant to pray and a Catholic to pray and then you have a Jew to pray. With all due respect to those dear people, my friend, God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew. For how in the world can God hear the prayer of a man who says that Jesus Christ is not the true Messiah? It is blasphemy. It may be politically expedient, but no one can pray unless he prays through the name of Jesus Christ.”

📣 “The sermon is generally the most important element of most Protestant church services (most take between 25 and 45 minutes), but there are serious doubts about its effectiveness and Biblical basis.” Check out this very lengthy, very thorough look into how we learn, suggesting that it’s time to reconsider the sermon.

♦ “Science is rational, faith is irrational.” Ever have someone say that to you? “To me, the only answer is to yield the point, but to dispute the assumption. Your friend is attacking you because they are assuming that the word ‘irrational’ implies ‘bad’ — that anything that cannot be rationally explained is, in itself, bad. Yet this is in itself a case of generalizing too far, and our hypothetical challenger would have to agree that there are many non-rational things in the world which are fairly uncontroversially natural and good…”

📖 Releasing February 1st from Eerdman’s: Mere Calvinism. “Learn why the teachings of Calvinism not only matter, but can renew your trust and hope in the gospel!” (Because goodness knows, without it, the gospel is pretty hopeless.)

♦ Apologetics Alley: At the YouTube channel Pints with Jack — obviously set in a bar with equal parts beer and C. S. Lewis — a 5½ min. discussion about the question, “What is the point of Christianity?

✈ Yesterday marked ten years since “the miracle on the Hudson,” where US Airways pilot Chesley Sullenberger pulled off the feat of a lifetime. The spiritual lesson in this is that while we sometimes only have precious seconds to make a decision, we can draw on a lifetime of training and experience.

♦ Here’s a fairly comprehensive weekly spiritual inventory. Sample “#8 Who knows more about God today because of my witness this past week?

🎬 Opening in theaters this MLK weekend: Canal Street featuring music by TobyMac, Social Club Misfits, Hollyn and many others. After being arrested for the murder of a white classmate, a young black man’s father fights in court for his son’s vindication. Watch the trailer or visit the website.

♦ Relational Dynamics: Most of us don’t want criticism and don’t want negative feedback. “I have spent so much of my life carefully calculating what would earn me affirmation, attention, and accolades. I wanted to be highly revered and deeply loved. I did all I could to be the good kid, the smart kid, the capable kid, the best friend, the funniest, the kindest, the holiest, the most responsible… And it worked.”

♂ Combating a culture of toxic masculinity: ICYMI, here’s that Gillette commercial everyone’s talking about.

♦ Parenting Place: When your kids are looking at things online you wish they hadn’t seen. “You know, kids today, they’ve seen modeled that when they have questions, they take it to the internet. So our kids are just doing what we functionally taught them to do over their younger lives. So, that puts a burden, a responsibility on us to monitor what they’re looking for. Because, clearly, looking up body parts in the Encyclopedia Britannica or in the dictionary is going to yield different results than just looking it up on Google.”

♦ Anchorage, Alaska (Huffington Post): “A conservative Christian law firm that once defended an evangelical baker who refused to bake a cake for a gay couple is now representing a Christian charity that refused to let a homeless transgender woman stay in its overnight shelter… The [Hope Center] charity has reportedly refused to provide information about its public funding, which would help determine whether it is a place of public accommodation that could be required to follow the [city’s] anti-discrimination law.

🇮🇱 In Haifa, Israel, a firebomb was hurled at the museum currently displaying the McJesus sculpture by Finnish artist Jani Leinonen. Christians want it take it down, but in an unusual twist, so does the artist.

★ Chris Pratt and fiancée Katherine Schwarzenegger: Apparently the celebrity couple feels living together is okay as long as you’re engaged. Katherine “– whose dad is movie star Arnold – only agreed to move in with A-lister Chris Pratt after he’d popped the question, because co-habiting would be against their strict religious beliefs.” 

♦ After I compile the list, I check out the links Michael and Eric have posted at Phoenix Preacher and see how many we had in common. (Their list goes up on Tuesday.) We had three, and then I saw these:

♦ Remember the ‘Bruce Jenner’ message on the church sign? The pastor who posted it has resigned to stop people leaving the church. 

♦ Podcast of the Week: Chris Fabry discusses self control with Drew Dyck author of Your Future Self Will Thank You.

♫ Part of the Hillsong UNITED 2019 tour, Mack Brock’s song Fresh Wind Fresh Fire borrows from a book title by Jim Cymbala. 

♦ Tweet of the Week: A social media history of philosophy. [See also below.]

♦ Finally, thanks to my son Aaron for discovering the Bible Illustrated videos on YouTube. Here’s the first one he sent me, showing the difference between Roman Catholic Christians and Orthodox Christians.



A brief history of Philosophy


Digging a Little Deeper

From the creator of Thinking Out Loud, check out Christianity 201. Guaranteed distraction-free, faith-focused blogging with fresh posts every day at 5:35 PM EST. www.Christianity201.wordpress.com

May 5, 2017

The Book Which Launched J. Warner Wallace

Four years ago, most of us did not know the name J. Warner Wallace. Today his two bestselling books have made him a leading voice in Christian apologetics. I’ve received a copy of Foresnic Faith the newest from him and hope to review it here in the near future.

We never repeat book reviews here. I’ll re-purpose other content, but generally the book reviews are limited to a specific time period when the book is fresh. Today an exception…

The book that started it all

Every decade or so a great work of apologetics appears which breaks the boundaries of the discipline and reaches a wider audience. Josh McDowell did it years ago with Evidence That Demands a Verdict; Frank Morrison with Who Moved the Stone? and more recently Lee Strobel brought a large audience to the discussion with The Case for Christ series.

Enter former Los Angeles County homicide investigator J. Warner Wallace and his book Cold Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. (2013, David C. Cook).  Like Strobel, Wallace was a skeptic turned believer, and like McDowell, Wallace leaves no stone unturned in his study of the reliability of scripture, from obscure passages to those central to core doctrine.

The book is divided into two parts, the nature of cold case investigation — and this case is 2,000 + years old, and the particular evidence that the Bible offers. But first one other book comparison, and you won’t see it coming. Years ago Philip Keller wrote A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. People loved that book because there were particular insights that only one who tended sheep could offer toward interpretation of the text that begins “The Lord is my shepherd.” In many respects, Cold Case Christianity offers the same type of intimacy with the subject matter that only an insider who has worked in this vocation can contribute. So if you feel you’ve read enough apologetics titles to last a lifetime, allow me to offer you one more! 

It’s important to note that Wallace approached this originally from the perspective of an atheist. While the evidence in this case is compelling, I found the first part of the book (which is more than half of the total) most interesting. Possible recipients of this book would include men (Father’s Day is coming) and anyone who reads mysteries or watches mystery or suspense or programs related to the justice system on video or TV.

In a sense, in Cold Case Christianity you, or someone you know who is sitting on the fence in terms of belief, are the jury. So the other possible recipients of this book would be anyone who is investigating Christianity; including people who might not read other books in the apologetics genre.

The second part of the book is the evidence itself. Here, Wallace brings in much from non-Biblical sources, satisfying the oft-voice complaint that some apologists are simply using the Bible to prove the Bible.

This is a handbook I intend to keep within reach and will no doubt refer back to many times.

The sophomore release

Two years later, Wallace returned with a similarly structured book looking at a slightly different subject. Again, with Forensic Faith just coming to market, I decided to make this a two-for-one.

In God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe (David C. Cook) J. Warner Wallace applies his unique skills to the idea of God being behind what we might call creation. But we need to watch using the word creation in describing this book, since creation science is concerned with origins and answering the “How did we get here?” type of questions. Rather, this is more about intelligent design and bypassing the How? and When? questions to look more at What?; or more specifically the complexity that exists in the world pointing to a master designer; a designer who exists outside the realms we can observe or quantify.

The last distinction is important to Wallace’s argument; he compares it to cases where detectives would have to determine if the killer was in the room or came from outside the room. The analogy is very fitting, but the proof isn’t contained in one chapter or another, but in the aggregate of a case built on a foundation consisting of an amalgam of evidence and syllogistic logic.

The evidence “inside the room” points to a very specific “suspect.” He’s not a malicious intruder. Although I’ve titled this book God’s Crime Scene (in an effort to illustrate an evidential approach to the investigation of the universe), God hasn’t committed any crime here. In addition, God is not an unconcerned intruder; He isn’t dispassionate about His creation. (p. 201)

God’s Crime Scene is intended therefore to make the argument for the existence of God accessible to the average reader through the comparisons to anecdotal cold-case detective work, and the use of cartoon-like illustrations. But make no mistake, this is not light reading.

This time around, I found myself gladly absorbing the chapters that were more philosophical and epistemological in nature, but totally over my depth in the sections that relied more on biology and physics. I could only marvel that the author was able to present such a wide swath of material which was so multi-disciplinary.

Still there were elements of the argument that were not lost on me. Even a child could see the resemblance of a machine-like mechanism in the human body and a man-made machine that forms a similar function, the latter being something we know was intelligently designed. Or the logic that if we agree that the brain is distinct from the mind, then it’s not a huge leap to the idea that a soul exists.

This is a textbook-quality product that will appeal to a variety of readers with an assortment of interests in this topic and offers the additional payoff of further insights into detectives’ investigative processes. You don’t have to understand every nuance of every issue to both appreciate and learn from Wallace’s writing; and it is in the cumulative assembly of all the various subjects raised here that Wallace is able to mark the case closed…

…You can learn more about the books and ministry of this author at ColdCaseChristianity.com .

December 6, 2016

Where We Left Off Yesterday

post-truth


Post Truth: Part Two

post-truth-bannerSo as you remember from yesterday, I was starting to write a piece for C201 — it was really going to be more of a scripture medley — on the concept of truth which is timely right now since the Oxford Dictionary people proclaimed post-truth as their “Word of the Year.” Previous year Oxford winners, going back from 2016 include: emoji, vape, selfie, omnishambles, GIF and at Global Language Monitor (some randomly selected words): microaggression, fail, hashtag, Olympiad, drone, meme… You can find more words in this Wikipedia article.

So I got to the point where I was ready to post some scriptures from TopVerses.com; verses like:

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:32

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” – John 18:37

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6

“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” – John 4:24

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. – John 16:13You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. – John 8:44

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. – John 1:8

“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father – he will testify about me.” – John 15:26

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. – John 4:23

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever – The Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. – John 14: 16,17

It gave me great joy to have some believers come and testify to your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. – 3 John 1:3,4

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. – John 1:17

It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. – 2 John 1:4

If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 1 John 1:6

…and that’s when I start to notice that most of the verses posted — I had a few more yesterday — are all sourcing from the writings of the Apostle John in his gospel and his three epistles.  At that point I felt I should acknowledge this detail:

This isn’t all the verses on the page which contain the word truth in the NIV. You can read the entire list at this link. However, it’s interesting to note the number of occurrences of this word in the writings of John. Many of the above texts are from his gospel and the word occurs in each of the three epistles we have in our Bibles.

Traditionally, John’s is the gospel given out for evangelism purposes. It is consider an apologetic argument for the divinity of Christ. In a post-modern — and now we can add post-truth — world, there is no objective truth. I have written elsewhere that if you want to reach post-moderns with the person of Jesus Christ, perhaps the synoptic gospels are a better way to go. Now I’m rethinking that. Perhaps we need to continue, as the Apostle John does, to wave the banner for truth.

Seriously, I was indeed leading the charge for Christian publishers to rethink the convention of making John’s gospel the only gospel sold separately as an individual scripture portion. (The exception being the American Bible Society and its worldwide associates.) If we’re going to reach the Millennials, it would seem that Mark, Matthew or Luke would be the better choices.

Now I’m not so sure.

Which of course led me to yet a second postscript in yesterday’s article at C201, namely the whole similarity between the post-modern mindset and the post-truth mindset. I don’t want to sound like that old preacher who shows up at the end of the summer while the pastor is taking a week off, but it does all sound like ‘the same old lies being recycled over and over again.’ (Maybe you actually have to be an old preacher to have witnessed a sort of life cycle of worldviews.) The lies that truth is subjective; that there is no objective truth to be found.

So I wrote:

I can never write on a topic like this without thinking of the song One Rule for You. I looked at that song 4½ years ago and typed out the full lyrics at this article at Thinking Out Loud.

But today, just for you, I’ll save you the need to click:

One of my all-time favorite songs is by 80’s UK mainstream band After The Fire (ATF) which also happens to be a Christian band.  Since we changed the rules here to allow video embeds, I realized it’s never been posted on the blog.  This song basically expresses the frustration that many of us feel when trying to give testimony to what Christ has done for us around people who grew up in a postmodern mindset.

“That’s good for you, and I’ll have to find something that works for me.”

But truth, if it is truth, has to be truth for all people. There cannot be a “truth for you” and a “truth for me.” The postmodern condition is, if anything, a quest to deny the existence of absolute truth. But if you’re flying from New York to London, you want a pilot who believes that 2+2=4, not one that believes that 2+2=5, or that there are many different answers.

That’s what this song is all about.

What kind of line is that when you say you don’t understand a single word
I tell you all these things, you turn around and make as if you never heard

What kind of line is that you’re giving me
One Rule for you, one rule for me

Too many people try to tell me that I shouldn’t say the things I do
I know that you would only do the same if it meant as much too you

What kind of line is that you’re giving me
One Rule for you, one rule for me

They say believe in what you like as long as you can keep it to yourself
I say if what I know is right, it’s wrong if I don’t tell somebody else

What kind of line is that you’re giving me
One Rule for you, one rule for me

written by Peter Banks & Andy Piercy

 

August 16, 2016

Once Again, God’s Not Dead

God's Not Dead 2 BillboardReleasing today on DVD, this is, by my count, the third movie in a highly successful franchise for Pure Flix Entertainment, if you count the first God’s Not Dead from 2014 and then 2015’s Do You Believe? Like Snakes on a Plane, the film’s intention is clear from the outset; you know what you’re expecting.

With Do You Believe? I remarked at the time that there were more characters, more plot lines to follow and a lot more on-screen action compared with GND1 . With God’s Not Dead 2, there is less activity. This is a more cerebral film providing food for thought for the skeptic as well as the already converted. In some respects, I felt this 2016 movie was more ‘preaching to the choir,’ though I’ll grant that its potential to impact the unbeliever is still present.

With the two previous films, I observed that one of the major wins was the ability to transcend Christian clichés and awkward screen moments. This time around, I decided that a certain number of each may be inevitable if one is going to portray authentic Christians doing Christian things.

There were also what some might consider gratuitous appearances by two Christian apologists, J. Warner Wallace and Lee Strobel, but their presence was essential to a major plot point, though it’s unclear how the lawyer in the courtroom scene in which they appear was able to snag them. (Gary Habermas and Rice Broocks also appear.)

Melissa Joan Hart realistically plays the central character in the movie, a teacher under threat of losing not only her job, but everything else in a punitive action hoping to curb the presence of Christianity in the classroom once and for all. Her crime isn’t so much quoting what Matthew attributes to Jesus as it is doing so from memory, with conviction and being able to cite chapter and verse.

Jesse Metcalfe is cast as her somewhat inexperienced atheist lawyer who might not get the whole Jesus thing, but understands clearly the issues the case raises.

Hayley Orrantia of The Goldbergs TV series is student who is the supposed victim in the legal case in which her parents are the plaintiffs. Other cast members include Pat Boone, and Duck Dynasty‘s Sadie Robertson. And yes, The Newsboys are back. 

Boone also gets this line early in the film, “That’s the thing about atheism, it doesn’t take away the pain, it just takes away the hope.” Another key line is in the graphic above, a billboard which — in a real life imitates the film moment — was refused space at the Republican National Convention last month as being “too political and way too incendiary.”

Having fewer plot lines and characters to track than Do You Believe? made this more enjoyable, but with this third film in three years, I do wonder if the genre is being overworked. On the other hand, fiction is a great vehicle for apologetics — including some of my favorite books — and so I was fully engaged as the movie developed. 

Note: If you’re watching the DVD, be sure to continue through the closing credits for what is either an interesting sequel-begging scene, or a nod to the composers who end their pieces with an unresolved chord.


Movie has been provided courtesy of Sony Home Entertainment Canada and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

I received a screening link, features on the full DVD include:

  • Deleted Scenes
  • Man, Myth, Messiah with Rice Broocks
  • Between Heaven and Hollywood with David A.R. White
  • Visual Effects of God’s Not Dead 2
  • Filming in Arkansas
  • First Liberty
  • Trailers
  • English and Spanish Audio
  • English and Spanish Subtitles

 

 

October 30, 2015

Currently Reading: Gunning for God by John Lennox

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:46 am

I must be unintentionally driving my book promotion and publicity contacts a little crazy. Lately I’ve been reading and reviewing books that are (a) not new and (b) not from the usual gang of publisher suspects, but are in fact things friends have loaned to me.  Not having the same obligation to review by a certain day, or to have read the whole book, I’ve been posting things here when I’m about half-way through, only to realize afterwards that I want to finish the whole book before returning it.

Gunning For God - John LennoxSuch is the case for Gunning for God: Why the New Atheists are Missing the Target by John Lennox (Lion Books, 2011). I’m not a science guy exactly, but I am finding this extremely easy to follow and the author’s style very engaging. Lennox will be 72 next week (he shares a birthday  with Billy Graham) and to the best of my knowledge is still a Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University (which gave us that other part-time Christian apologist you may have heard of, C. S. Lewis).

The book’s purpose is not to argue for the existence of God, or a particular model of creationism, but rather to point out the flaws in the arguments of the major proponents of what is termed The New Atheism, which Lennox points out isn’t new at all. And item by item, he does refute their arguments and even the right of scientists to delve into certain issues of philosophy or moralism that are beyond their purview.

But while there are areas where the author feels strongly that Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins are somewhat lacking in scholarship (such as Biblical interpretation) or have wandered outside their boundaries of their respective fields (such as ethics) or have taken a leap of logic (such as imposing conditions on Christianity that would never be accepted if the shoe was on the other foot) he chooses to disarm them gracefully.

Christian apologetics doesn’t fascinate every Christ-follower, but I would argue that people need to include books like this once in awhile to have a balanced reading diet. This one hits all the high notes and is certainly one of the best resources to counter the arguments being made by those on the other side.

 

September 28, 2015

Resolving the Four Different Versions of the Sign on The Cross

sign on Jesus' cross

A few weeks ago here I reviewed the new book by J. Warner Wallace God’s Crime Scene and back in 2013 we looked at his first book Cold Case Christianity. Of all the various possible approaches to Christian apologetics, the methodology used by this cold case detective is really resonating with reviewers and readers as the internet is abuzz with positive responses from the denominational spectrum.

Still there are times when I look back at my reviews — especially after a book really takes off — and wonder if I could have done more to whet my readers’ appetite for the author. So when I saw this excerpt sitting unattended in an unlit corner of the blogosphere, I figured, ‘Hey, Wallace is all about crime, let’s do some stealing.’ I think you’ll agree what follows is worth reading, and since my own detective work reveals you guys don’t always click through, the excerpt is here in full. (Click the title below to read at source.)


Why Are There Four Versions of the Sign on Jesus’ Cross?

It’s not uncommon for skeptics of Christianity to point to differences between the New Testament Gospel accounts as evidence of corruption or unreliability. I’ve discussed many of these alleged contradictions in my talks around the country, and I’ve written about many of them here at ColdCaseChristianity.com. One example sometimes offered by critics is the sign posted above the cross of Jesus. The simple, brief message of this sign is recorded by all four Gospel authors, yet none of them record precisely the same words. How could these four men fail to record the same sign, given the importance of the moment and the brevity of the message? Look at the variations offered by the Gospel authors:

“This is Jesus the King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37)
“The King of the Jews” (Mark 15:26)
“This is the King of the Jews” (Luke 23:38)
“Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19)

In evaluating alleged “contradictions” of this nature, I think it’s important to remember a few overarching principles related to eyewitness testimony (I describe many of these principles in my first book, Cold-Case Christianity). Even though I accept and affirm the inerrancy of Scripture, inerrancy is not required of reliable eyewitnesses. In fact, I’ve never had a completely inerrant eyewitness in all my years as a homicide detective. In addition, I’ve never had a case where two witnesses have ever agreed completely on the details of the crime. Eyewitness reliability isn’t dependent upon perfection, but is instead established on the basis of a four part template I’ve described repeatedly in my book and on my website. But beyond these generalities, much can be said specifically about the variations between descriptions of the sign over Jesus’ cross. I take the following approach when evaluating multiple eyewitness accounts, and the same methodology can be used to evaluate these signs:

• Identify the Common Details
When interviewing multiple eyewitnesses, I listen carefully for common features in their testimony. In every witness observation, some details are more important than others; some aspects of the event stick out in the mind of the observers more than others. In this case, one expression is repeated by all four authors: “the King of the Jews”. Why does this one aspect of the sign appear repeatedly without variation? These words describe the crime for which Jesus was executed. Jesus was crucified because He proclaimed Himself a King; He was executed for His alleged rebellion against Caesar. This is consistent with the trial accounts we have in the Gospels and also accurately reflects the actions taken by the Roman government against other popular rebels. While we, as Christians, now understand God’s plan related to the death and resurrection of Jesus, the authors of the Gospels are simply recording the one most prominent feature of the sign: the description of Jesus’ crime.

Cold Case Christianity• Recognize the Perspective of Each Eyewitness
Every witness offers a view of the event from his or her unique perspective. I’m not just talking about geographic or locational perspectives here, but I am also talking about the personal worldview, history and experience every witness brings to the crime. All witness testimony is colored by the personal interests, biases, aspirations, concerns and idiosyncrasies of the eyewitnesses. In this particular case, an important clue was recorded by John to help us understand why there might be variation between the accounts. John said, “Then many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.” The sign was written in a variety of languages and we simply don’t know how much variation occurred between these translations. The perspective and life experience of each author now comes into play. Which translation was the author referencing? Even more importantly, what were the concerns of the author related to the event? Some witnesses are more likely to repeat a victim’s name than others (if, for example, they knew the victim personally). Others will focus on something about which the witness had firsthand knowledge. I’ve seen an incredible amount of variation between reliable accounts on the basis of nothing more than personal perspective.

• Consider the Conditions of the “Interview”
In working cold cases over the years, I’ve read my fair share of investigative supplemental reports containing eyewitness accounts. I’ve come to recognize the role interviewers have on the accounts given by eyewitnesses. Years later, when re-interviewing these same eyewitnesses, I’ve uncovered additional information simply because I asked questions neglected by the first interviewer. When evaluating an account from the past, it’s important to recognize the location, form and purpose of the interview. This will have a direct impact on the resulting account. Something similar must be considered when evaluating the description of the sign on Jesus’ cross. We simply don’t know precisely the purpose of each author or the conditions under which each author wrote his Gospel. Why, for example, is Mark’s version of the sign so brief? Why, for that matter, is Mark’s entire Gospel so brief? Was there something about Mark’s personality accounting for his brevity (there does seem to be some evidence of this given the short, emotionally charged nature of his account), or was something even simpler involved (like a shortage of papyrus)? We’ll never know for sure, but we simply cannot assume each author was writing under the exact same conditions. No two witnesses are interviewed in precisely the same way.

• Differentiate Between Complimentary and Conflicting Accounts
When comparing two eyewitness accounts, I am more concerned about unresolvable contradictions than complimentary details. In fact, I have come to expect some degree of resolvable variation in true, reliable eyewitness accounts. While there are clearly variations between the sign descriptions in the Gospels, these dissimilarities don’t amount to a true contradiction. Consider the following reasonable message on the sign:

“This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”

If this was the message of the sign, all four Gospel accounts have captured a complimentary, reliable summation of the sign, even though there is some expected variation between accounts. None of these accounts contain an unresolvable, troublesome claim like:

“This is Judas Iscariot, the King of the Jews”

If one of the accounts contained this information, we would truly have a conflict worthy of our attention. There’s a difference between complimentary variation and conflicting description.

• Assess the Opportunity for Collusion
Whenever I am called to a crime scene as a detective, the first request I make of the dispatcher is to separate the eyewitnesses before I get there. I request this so the witnesses won’t have the opportunity to talk to one another about what they’ve seen. Witnesses will sometimes try to resolve any variations before I get there. I don’t want them to do this; that’s my job, not theirs. Instead, I want the messy, sometimes confusing, apparently contradictory accounts offered by every group of witnesses in such a situation. There have been times, however, when witnesses have the opportunity to consult with one another for several hours before I arrive on scene. When this is the case, and their individual accounts still vary from one another, I usually have even more confidence in the reliability of these accounts. When people have the opportunity to align their statements, yet still refuse to do so, I know I am getting the nuanced observations I need to properly investigate the case. The Gospel authors (and the early Church) certainly had the opportunity to change the descriptions to make sure they matched, but they refused to do so. As a result, we can have even more confidence in the reliability of these accounts. They display the level of variation I would expect to see if they were true, reliable eyewitness descriptions.

If the four authors of the Gospels had written precisely the same words throughout their Gospel accounts, skeptics would be no more confident in their content. In fact, I suspect, critics of the New Testament would be even more vocal in their opposition. The Gospels are appropriately varied and nuanced, just like all multiple eyewitness accounts. The variations between the sign descriptions is further evidence of this expected variation. This level of dissimilarity should give us confidence in the accounts, rather than pause. Why are there four versions of the sign on Jesus’ cross? Because the accounts are written on the basis of eyewitness observations. They demonstrate the characteristics we would expect if they are reliable descriptions of a true event in history.

~J. Warner Wallace

Both Cold Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene are available from David C. Cook Publishing where you buy quality Christian products.

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