Thinking Out Loud

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 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.

September 24, 2015

Tolkien and Lewis Unlikely Choices for Sci-Fi and Fantasy

by guest book reviewer: Ruth Wilkinson

A common piece of advice given to young writers is, “Write what you know.”

So how did a couple of turn of the century, word-geek, English academics become the preeminent fantasy and science fiction writers of the modern era?

Joseph Laconte - A Hobbit A Wardrobe and a Great War - Thomas Nelson In A Hobbit, A Wardrobe and A Great War (Thomas Nelson) History professor Joseph Loconte traces the parallel stories of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien through the cataclysm that was World War 1 and beyond to their shared discovery and exploration of epic fiction and alternate history.  Drawing from many sources – including historians, biographers and original writings – he connects the two young men’s experiences in the trenches, mud, fire and disease of The Great War with themes, characters and landscapes found in the Narnia series, Lord of the Rings and their other writings.

We come to understand what the fierce friendships, values and personal strength of the characters they created have to teach us about being human and at war.  Quoting Lewis, “For let us make no mistake.  All that we fear from all the kinds of adversity, severally, is collected together in the life of a soldier on active service.  Like sickness, it threatens pain and death.  Like poverty, it threatens ill lodging, cold, heat, thirst and hunger.  Like slavery, it threatens toil, humiliation, injustice and arbitrary rule.  Like exile, it separates you from all you love.”  And when Tolkien writes,”I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory.  I love only that which they protect,” is he writing about England or Middle Earth?

And we see the world through the eyes of Lewis, a teenager who had written off Christianity as “ugly architecture, ugly music and bad poetry”, and Tolkien, a young man of faith whose Catholicism survived the war intact, when his peers and culture had found God to be uninterested and absent, and therefore nonexistent.

Loconte examines the spirit of an age that worshiped science, eugenics, industrialization, technology and related forms of ‘progress’.  He lays out how those forces were put to use in a war that was more destructive and devastating than any in the past, and the profound disillusionment and cynicism that were born out of it. And, yet, Lewis is able, through his friendship with Tolkien, to rediscover “…the myth that has really happened” – the story of Jesus Christ – to turn from his skepticism and to write stories that “offer the only possible escape from a world divided between wolves who do not understand, and sheep who cannot defend, the things which make life desirable.”  Loconte writes, “Against the temper of their times, these authors dared to reclaim some of the older beliefs and virtues.  Their common Christian faith had much to do with this…”

This book challenges:  both to look back at the horror that humanity is capable of, and to look forward to the hope that Christ brings – when “everything sad will come untrue.”

August 24, 2015

Heresy for the Rest of Us

Would we call Buddhism a heresy? (p. 148)

Counterfeit Christianity - Roger OlsonThere is a striking difference between heresy and heretics, and as the question above illustrates, much depends on where you’re standing when you ask it. Theology and Ethics professor Roger Olson has written a book which occupies a middle ground between the usual academic text and a popular survey of cults and isms. Counterfeit Christianity: The Persistence of Errors in the Church (Abingdon) makes examining the plethora of Christian beliefs and doctrines accessible to the common parishioner, but is in no way light reading.

Olson has written many hardcover textbooks, but with this 176-page paperback seems to go out of his way to make this sideways look at church history more appealing to a broader readership, using some colorful imagery:

The Nicene Creed means that Christians are to believe in a God who is “one what and three whos.” The Chalcedonian Definition, hypostatic union, means that Christians are to believe that Jesus Christ is “one who and two whats.” (p.32)

Got that?

Or in the contrast between the Protestant and Catholics views of doctrinal authority, he quotes Modecai Kaplan:

Tradition always gets a vote, but never a veto. (p.39)

The approach is fresh, and some of it helps explains areas where non-theologians get stuck trying to untangle complex concepts:

In other words, the doctrine of the Trinity can be explained; the Trinity cannot be explained. The doctrine of the Trinity was never intended to be an explanation of God; it was intended to be a model that helps people think about God in a way that does not destroy the mystery of God, is faithful to God’s self-revelation in Christ, and protects God’s triunity from misunderstanding and distorted explanations. (p. 90, italics added)

And again,

Folk religion is to historic religion what astrology is to astronomy… Not all folk religion is totally wrong or heretical, but it’s a fertile seedbed in which heresy can grow and flourish. (p.140)

Organizationally, the book begins with two chapters outlining heresy and orthodoxy, five chapters dealing with what we might consider classic heresies, and three chapters dealing with modern, unofficial heresies; those not condemned by a particular historic council.

Many chapters offer prescriptions for confronting flawed teaching:

The only way to have it in its full and true reality is to delve deeply into the Bible and Christian history by studying the whole Bible, not just passages that support our values and desires, and all the great voices of the Christian past – especially those who suffered for swimming against the stream of their cultures.

[There is] a need for American Christians to receive missionaries from Christian movements in the Global South where Christianity is thriving and, by all account, God’s involvement in day-to-day life is evident. (p.152)

Overall, I feel this title is something needed in the religion/apologetics/church history book market at this time. Again, this is not a textbook — though it could certainly serve as an undergraduate text — but has great potential for the average churchgoer who wants to go deeper into an understanding of false doctrine in the Christian era.

Review copy provided by Augsburg-Fortress Canada

July 25, 2015

Worship Moments

Filed under: Christianity, worship — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:34 am

Last week we attended an outdoor Sunday service in which the focus was honoring and respecting God’s creation. Toward the end, I was reminded of a poem I thought we had posted here, only to learn I had done so on a different website. On Friday’s post at Internet Monk, there was a statement that “American readers will refuse to read poetry.” Reading the poem there, I was reminded again of the one below.  I know nothing of the author of this poem, which I had memorized when I was much younger; in fact I had always thought it was written by Tennyson. Some conservative Christians will bristle at the phrase “Mother Earth,” but I love the premise of the first verse and last verse especially.


Scott, Frederick George

THIS is God's house--the blue sky is the
 This wood the soft green carpet for His
Those hills His stairs, down which the brooks
   come stealing
 With baby laughter, making earth more

And here His friends come, clouds, and soft
   winds sighing,
 And little birds whose throats pour forth
   their love,
And spring and summer, and the white snow
 Pencilled with shadows of bare boughs

And here come sunbeams through the green
   leaves straying,
 And shadows from the storm-clouds over-
And warm, hushed nights, when Mother
   Earth is praying
 So late that her moon-candle burns ill

Sweet house of God, sweet earth, so full of
 I enter at thy gates in storm or calm;
And every sunbeam is a joy or pleasure,
 And every cloud a solace and a balm.

May 23, 2015

Do We Have a Right to Happiness? — Part Two of Two

You need to click back to yesterday for part one, but knowing a few of you won’t, I’ve begun by repeating the introduction. Thanks again to Martin and Nancy for allowing us to run this. To read the whole thing at their blog, Flagrant Regard, or leave them a direct comment, click the title below.

C.S. Lewis For The 21st Century (2)

Have you ever, on the recommendation of a teacher, book-review website, or a friend, began to read an old book – a classic – only to discover a few pages in, “I just can’t get into this … the language is so archaic!”

Nancy and I thought it would be a challenging exercise to modernize one of our favourite essays from C.S. Lewis found in his compilation of short works, entitled ‘God In The Dock’.

The essay we chose was “We Have No Right To Happiness”. I set out to rework the article in a way that I thought would align closely with C.S. Lewis’ original style, but with a modern spin via sentence structure and word choices.

Nancy read my modernized version and felt that she too could bring some 21st century life to the piece by structuring it more like a blog post.

Below represents each of our individual attempts to present the powerful, highly prophetic message penned by Mr. Lewis that examines humankind’s pathetic attempts to justify that which is unjustifiable – that we have the supposed ‘right’ to be happy in this world.

Please feel free to provide feedback with respect to our efforts to modernize the essay and, more importantly, share with us your reflections on C.S. Lewis’ thoughts re the society-eroding, self-entitlement posturing that so many among us now eat, breathe and sleep in this present day.

We Have No “Right to Happiness” by C.S. Lewis
Adapted from the article of the same name by Nancy Douglas of Flagrant Regard

“Well, I just think everyone has a right to do what makes them happy …”

So said my girlfriend the other day when we were chatting over lattes. Luke had divorced Laura to be with Michelle who had likewise divorced her husband to be with Luke. They were hopelessly, madly, in love and, barring unforeseen health or employment issues, they were set for life in the happiness department. My friend continued giving her opinion that it was abundantly clear that neither Luke nor Michelle had been happy in their marriages. It didn’t matter that they were in love with their exes at the outset – because life happens, time passes, and looks get lost by the wayside. Things had changed.

There are any number of reasons why marriages fail and people get kicked to the curb but it does always seem to be an outworking of someone in the relationship deciding that they have the right to do what makes them happy.

Sadly, Laura committed suicide some months after her marriage dissolved. Of course, Luke was distraught but never showed regret that he had left the marriage. He always maintained they had grown apart and were floundering in the proverbial loveless marriage. When Luke had serendipitously met Michelle, she was like no one he had ever met before and leaving his marriage was, as he saw it, his only chance – his last chance – at real happiness.

I began to think about the idea of having the ‘right’ to be happy.

We live in a world where our happiness and, conversely, our misfortune is often predicated on circumstances beyond our control. That being the case, it seems that to expect – to have a ‘right’ – to be happy doesn’t seem like something that can or should be depended on; any more than we can expect or depend on perfect weather every Saturday in June so that all brides will be smiling. You pick your date, send out your invites, and take your chances.

I believe we can have ‘rights’ as far as what is legislated and guaranteed by the laws of the society we live in. For example, we have the ‘right’ to basic education because, here in Canada, we are given that privilege through taxation and public policy. That is why it is called ‘public’ education.

I can also understand a ‘right’ as it relates to a contractual obligation. If someone hires me to design a logo for them and I design it and charge them $100, then I have the ‘right’ to expect to be paid $100 for my work.

Back to my friend’s statement – “Well, I just think everyone has a right to do what makes them happy …”

What my friend was not saying was that, however you need to find happiness, whatever you need to do to be happy, is not to be held up for criticism or judgement beyond a bit of neighborhood gossip – because nobody knows the ‘whole story’.

The American Declaration of Independence laid down at the outset that one of the basic rights of any American citizen is the right to ‘the pursuit of happiness’. That did not mean that people should be entitled to pursue happiness outside of the law (i.e., through murder, rape, robbery, etc.) – but by lawful means. But this is too broad-based for what my friend meant. My friend is not philosophically deep. She watches The Bachelor and thinks the Tea Party is the party at Witzend in Alice in Wonderland. What she simply and solely mused was that people have the right to be happy when it comes to sex. Her view has been ‘trending’ for some time now and you have to look no further than the plethora of partnering change-ups in Hollywood at large.

There is no room for a counterpoint in today’s society. But, if you could get a word in, the counterpoint would be that, happiness aside, Luke’s leaving Lisa for Michelle was done in direct contravention of their marriage vow. That overarching solemn promise made up of subsets of conditions wherein two people promise that they will never leave each other – no matter what. This promissory social contract is sealed either in a civil ceremony or before God and, in both cases, before witnesses. Happiness is not even figured in to the marriage vow which is one of duty of care for the other – again, no matter what.

Today, our sexual impulses and proclivities have been put on a pedestal of preposterous privilege. And where sexual ‘happiness’ is not the order of the day, heinous acts have occurred. When lack of sexual happiness has been the motive behind murderous and unjust actions, the headlines have still – even in this day and age of post-modernism – spoken loudly and clearly in defense of the innocent. We don’t have to look past Susan Smith and the drowning of her two young sons so that she could pursue a relationship with a local wealthy man to find where the utilitarian doctrine of the ends justifying the means is so egregiously lopsided in favor of the means.

The problem with sex is that it makes more towering promises than any other emotion. All our desires make promises – that new car, that new house, that new job, that next You Tube video with over a million views – but none more so than the promise of sex. To be in love involves the irrational yet irresistible conviction that it will last forever and that our beloved will supply us with deep-rooted, passionate, lifelong sexual happiness. Everything is at stake. If we miss the chance to be in love or, as we are speaking of here, to get back in love, life will not have been worth living. Anything in the way has got to go – and fast. So thought Luke and Michelle. So thought Susan Smith.

But, if we establish a ‘right to (sexual) happiness’ which supersedes all the ordinary rules of behavior, we are chasing after the wind because the object of our behavior (erotic passion) is illusory and wishful. In the movie, The Life of David Gale, in a soliloquy on happiness, the main character portrayed by Kevin Spacey warned, “Be careful what you wish for. Not because you get it, but because you’re doomed not to want it once you do. Living by wants will never make you happy.”

As time permits, those experienced at long-term relationships know that erotic passion can sometimes last a good long time but that it will most certainly wane. For those relationships that continue long after erotic passion has waned, it is not because of the promises made at the outset. It is because the two people have found true love and contentment outside of the sex act, and have otherwise strived to make their relationship both mutually beneficial and sustainable.

In a few years, it is likely that Luke will leave Michelle to fulfill another last chance at sexual happiness. Or she him. And, again, my friend will say that she believes they have a right to be happy. That is, if her husband, Chris, doesn’t decide in the meantime that he has a right to be happy with that bubbly new hire in the Corporate Marketing Department. That could change her perspective.

For the here and now, the ‘right to happiness’ is predominantly the dominion of the sexual impulse. But, what if this ‘feel good’ principle creeps into other areas of our lives to the point where every impulse in every person has the ‘right’ to be indulged?

I hear the ticking of the doomsday clock …


For the original article and other incredible essays and thoughts from C.S. Lewis, you can purchase “God In The Dock” at your local Christian book seller or online via any number of online book retailers.

May 22, 2015

Do We Have a Right to Happiness? — Part One of Two

I’ll keep my intro short so you can get right into this. Thanks to Martin and Nancy for allowing me to reproduce this here, but if you want to send them some link love — or not have to wait until tomorrow for part two — click the link in the title below. Comments here are open, but to communicate with the authors directly, use the link below as well.

C.S. Lewis For The 21st Century

Have you ever, on the recommendation of a teacher, book-review website, or a friend, began to read an old book – a classic – only to discover a few pages in, “I just can’t get into this … the language is so archaic!”

C. S. LewisNancy and I thought it would be a challenging exercise to modernize one of our favorite essays from C.S. Lewis found in his compilation of short works, entitled ‘God In The Dock’.

The essay we chose was “We Have No Right To Happiness”. I set out to rework the article in a way that I thought would align closely with C.S. Lewis’ original style, but with a modern spin via sentence structure and word choices.

Nancy read my modernized version and felt that she too could bring some 21st century life to the piece by structuring it more like a blog post.  (Click the link above to read today, or wait until tomorrow’s post for part two.)

Below represents each of our individual attempts to present the powerful, highly prophetic message penned by Mr. Lewis that examines humankind’s pathetic attempts to justify that which is unjustifiable – that we have the supposed ‘right’ to be happy in this world.

Please feel free to provide feedback with respect to our efforts to modernize the essay and, more importantly, share with us your reflections on C.S. Lewis’ thoughts re the society-eroding, self-entitlement posturing that so many among us now eat, breathe and sleep in this present day.

We Have No “Right to Happiness” by C.S. Lewis
Paraphrased by Martin Douglas of Flagrant Regard

“After all,” said my friend Clare, “they had a right to happiness.”

We were discussing something that once happened in our own neighborhood. Mr. A, had deserted Mrs. A and got his divorce in order to marry Mrs. B, who had likewise gotten her divorce in order to marry Mr. A. And there was clearly no doubt that Mr. A and Mrs. B were very much in love with each other. It was equally clear that they were not happy with their former partners. If the newly formed couple continued to be in love and if nothing failed with respect to their health or financial security, they might expect to be very happy.

Mrs. B had adored her husband at the beginning, but then he was severely injured in the war. It was said that he had lost his virility and had also lost his job. Life with him was no longer what Mrs. B had bargained for.

Poor Mrs. A, too. She had lost her looks was no longer her vivaciousness self. It might have been true what some had said – that she had become worn down by having and raising Mr. A’s children and nursing him through a long illness that overshadowed the early years of their married life. But please don’t think that Mr. A was the sort of man who nonchalantly threw a wife away like the peel of an orange he’d sucked dry. Her suicide was a terrible shock to him. We all knew this, for he told us so himself. “But what could I do?” he said. “A man has a right to happiness. I had to take my one chance when it came.”

I went away thinking about the concept of a ‘right to happiness’. At first, this sounds to me as odd as a ‘right to good luck’. I believe (whatever any particular brand of moralists have to say) that for the most part our happiness or misery hangs on circumstances outside all human control. A right to happiness doesn’t, for me, make much more sense than a right to be six feet tall, or to have a millionaire for your father, or to have good weather show up whenever you want to have a picnic.

Now, I get that a ‘right’ is a freedom guaranteed me by the laws of the society I live in, therefore I have a right to travel along the public roads because society gives me that freedom (that’s what we mean by calling the roads “public.”)

I can also understand a ‘right’ as a claim guaranteed me by the laws, and as it correlates to an obligation on someone else’s part. If I had a right to receive $100 from you, this is another way of saying that you have a duty to pay me $100. If the laws allow Mr. A to desert his wife and seduce his neighbor’s wife, then, by definition, Mr. A has a legal right to do so, and we need not bring in talk of ‘happiness’.

But of course that was not what my friend meant. She meant that Mr. A had not only a legal but a moral right to act as he did. In other words, Clare is (or would be if she thought it through) a classical moralist after the style of Thomas Aquinas, Grotius, Hooker and Locke.

She believes that behind the laws of the state there is a Natural Law. I agree with her and I hold this conception to be common knowledge in all civilizations. Without it, the actual laws of the state become an absolute. They cannot be criticized because there is no norm against which they should be judged. The ancestry of Clare’s maxim, “They have a right to happiness,” is high-minded in nature. In words that are cherished by all civilized souls (but especially by Americans), it has been laid down that one of the rights of man or woman is a right to “the pursuit of happiness.” And now we get to the real point.

Just what did the writers of that grandiose declaration mean? We’re quite sure what they did not mean. They did not mean that everyone was entitled to pursue happiness by any and every means including, say, murder, rape, robbery, treason and fraud. No society could be built on such a basis. They meant “to pursue happiness by all lawful means”; that is, by all means which the Law of Nature eternally sanctions and which the laws of the nation shall sanction.

Yet here is where I disagree with my friend: I don’t think it’s obvious that people have some sort of unlimited “right to happiness”, as she has suggested.

For one thing, I believe that when Clare says “happiness,” she means simply and solely “sexual happiness”, partly because people like Clare never use the word “happiness” in any other sense. But also because I never heard Clare talk about the “right” to any other kind of happiness. With respect to her political views, Clare, being rather leftist in her approach, would have thought it scandalous if anyone defended the actions of a ruthless financial tycoon on the grounds that his happiness consisted in making money and he was pursuing his happiness. I also never heard her (a serious non-drinker herself) excuse an alcoholic because he was ‘happy’ when he was drunk.

Clare is, in fact, simply doing what I think the whole western world seems to have been doing for the last forty-odd years. When I was a kid, all the progressive people were saying, “Why all this prudishness? Let’s treat sex just as we treat all our other impulses.” I was simple-minded enough to believe they meant what they said. I have since discovered that they meant exactly the opposite. They meant that sex was to be treated as no other impulse in our nature has ever been treated by civilized people. All the others, we admit, have to be restrained.

For instance, absolute obedience to instinct for self-preservation is considered cowardice. An ever-increasing desire to collect things will have us in the grip of greed. Even sleep, normally a welcomed respite, must be resisted if you’re a officer on guard duty. But every unkindness and breach of faith seems to be condoned provided that your object is to have “four bare legs in a bed.” It is like having a moral standard where stealing fruit is wrong except if you steal nectarines. And if you protest against this view? You are usually met with rhetoric about the legitimacy, beauty and sanctity of “sex”. You get accused of harboring some Puritanical prejudice against it – that you view sex as something disreputable or shameful. (I vehemently deny being guilty of such a charge: Venus, Aphrodite, Our Lady of Cyprus – I never breathed a word against you!)

If I object to kids stealing nectarines, must I then be thought of as someone who disapproves of nectarines in general? Or even of kids in general? It might be the stealing I disapprove of, you figure?

The real situation is skillfully concealed by saying that the question of Mr. A’s “right” to desert his wife is one of “sexual morality.” If I may continue with the fruit analogy, robbing an orchard is not an offense against some special morality called “fruit morality.” It is an offense against honesty. Likewise, Mr. A’s action is an offense against good faith (to solemn promises), against gratitude (toward one to whom he was deeply indebted) and against common humanity.

Our sexual impulses are thus being thrust into a position of preposterous privilege. The sexual motive is taken to condone all sorts of behavior which, if it had any other outcome in view, would be condemned as merciless, treacherous and unjust.

Now though I see no good reason for giving sex this privilege, I think I see a strong cause, and it is this: the nature of a strong erotic passion, which is completely distinct from any heat-of-the-moment, fleeting appetite, makes more towering promises than any other emotion.

No doubt all our desires make promises, but not so impressively. To be in love involves the almost irresistible conviction that one will go on being in love until one dies, and that possession of our beloved will supply us with not just merely frequent ecstasies, but settled, fruitful, deep-rooted, lifelong happiness. Hence, all seem to be at stake. If we miss this chance we shall have lived in vain. At the mere thought of such a doom we sink into fathomless depths of self-pity.

Unfortunately these promises are often found to be quite unfounded. Every experienced adult knows this to be the case with regard to all erotic passions (except the one he/she is feeling at the moment). We discount the world-without-end pretentiousness of our friends’ romantic liaisons easily enough. We know that such things sometimes last and sometimes don’t. When they do last, it is not because they promised at the outset to make it last. When two people achieve enduring happiness, this is not solely because they are great lovers but because they are also – I must put it crudely – good people; controlled, loyal, fair-minded, mutually adaptable people.

If we establish a “right to (sexual) happiness” that supersedes all the ordinary rules of behavior, we do so not because of what our passion shows itself to be in experience, but because of what it professes to be while we are in the grip of it.

So while the bad behavior is real and works miseries and personal ruin, the happiness which was the object of the behavior turns out again and again to be illusory.

Everyone (except Mr. A and Mrs. B) knows that Mr. A, in a year or so, may have the same reason for deserting his new wife as he did for deserting his old one. He will again feel that all is at stake. He will again see himself as the great lover, and his pity for himself will exclude all pity for the (current) woman.

Two final points remain:

1. A society in which marital infidelity is tolerated must always be in the long run a society adverse to women. Whatever a few songs composed by men and/or satirical offerings might say to the contrary, women are more naturally monogamous than men; it is a biological necessity. Where promiscuity prevails, they will therefore always be more often the victims than the culprits; domestic happiness is more necessary to them than to us. And the quality by which they most easily hold a man – their beauty – decreases every year after they’ve reached maturity, but this does not happen to those qualities of personality we find in women. In the cut-throat promiscuity war that rages on, women are at a double disadvantage – they play for higher stakes and are also more likely to lose. I have no sympathy with moralists who frown at the increasing lewdness of female provocativeness. These are signs of desperate competition and fill me with pity.

2. Secondly, though the “right to happiness” is claimed chiefly for the sexual impulse, it seems to me impossible that the matter will remain there. Once such a fatal principle is condoned in that department (our sexual natures) it will sooner or later seep through into our whole lives. We therefore advance toward a society where not only each person but every impulse in each person claims no-holds-barred permissions. And at that time, though our technological skill may help us survive a little longer, our civilization will have died at heart, and will – don’t even dare add the word “unfortunately” – be swept away.

March 3, 2015

First Person Faith

B. J. Stockman

This first ran here three years ago under the title “A New Type of Bible Translation” It was produced by B. J. Stockman and appeared as a guest post at another blog that is now dormant.  Stockman called the concept “Preaching to Yourself” and it involved taking a chapter of an epistle and re-interpreting it in the first person, so that instead of it being Paul writing to a first century church, it’s me making a declaration to live out the things Paul is teaching. You might want to pause here and read his introduction to the first chapter.

I had already posted a link to the original introduction and first chapter of Galatians, when I decided to share it in our family Bible study evening that night using the section of chapter three I had posted at Christianity 201, and also reading the original text from my NIV Study Bible. What amazed me was how this reconstruction of the text served as commentary; how much it brought the text to life.

I thought I would allow you to look at Galatians chapter five in parallel.

Freedom in Christ

1It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

7 You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? 8 That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. 9 “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” 10 I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty. 11 Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. 12 As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!

Life by the Spirit

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.


  • Jesus set me free. Therefore I will not submit to any “yokes” of slavery that are add-on’s to the Gospel no matter how spiritual they may seem. My freedom hinges on Jesus’ work—nothing else. (5:1)
  • I will stand firm in the Gospel. My right-standing before God is due to Jesus not something that I do or don’t do. I stand firm in Christ not self. I know that love for the Gospel will breed humble Christ-confidence not prideful self-confidence in my life. (5:1)
  • I recognize that if I receive something else besides Jesus, like circumcision, to increase my spiritual standing before God Jesus is no benefit to me. The benefits of the Gospel come from Jesus alone. (5:2)
  • When I receive religious traditions and law as well as the person of Jesus, I place myself under obligation to keep the whole law. In light of this, I trust Jesus and thus reject everything else as a means to finding favor with God. (5:3)
  • I know that seeking justification from law is falling from grace. Falling from grace isn’t so much a direct rejection of Jesus, but an indirect acceptance of anything else besides Jesus to make me right with God. If I treat Jesus as only a piece of God’s saving work, I sever myself from Jesus. Therefore I will seek to sever all those things from my life which disconnect me from Jesus even if others think those same things connect me to Jesus. (5:4)
  • I wait for the hope of righteousness through the Holy Spirit and by faith. Righteousness comes from the work of the Spirit not through my works. (5:5)
  • I believe that faith works through love. Faith is not empty. Faith is filled with love. Therefore by faith I believe that Jesus alone means everything, and that religious traditions like uncircumcision or circumcision mean nothing. (5:6)
  • I desire to run my race well, and I believe that I run best not by adding things to the truth of the Gospel, but by trusting the truth of the Gospel. I will train myself daily with the Gospel believing Jesus’ work on my behalf. I will begin my days not doing work for Jesus but trusting Jesus’ work for me. (5:7)
  • God calls me to Jesus—not Jesus plus something or someone else. God loves persuading people to the sufficiency of his Son not to self-sufficiency. (5:8)
  • I know that my life and the church as a whole can become filled with leaven—filled with things other than Jesus. Since leaven spreads quickly I will seek to be on guard against any particles of the leaven of legalism and law-living in my life and the community of faith that I am a part of. (5:9)
  • I recognize that false teachers who sneak into the community of faith and preach another Jesus or in addition to Jesus will come under judgment. (5:10)
  • I believe that the cross is a stumbling block. It is offensive. I will not be surprised then when moralists are offended by the radical grace of Jesus, nor will I be surprised when false teachers attempt to undermine the centrality of the cross of Jesus in the church. (5:11)
  • Paul uses harsh language when speaking of false teachers. He wishes that those who advocate circumcision along with Jesus as a means to salvation would go all the way and castrate themselves. Therefore I will not be soft on false teachers who know better. (5:12)
  • I will use sarcasm for the sake of the Gospel to reveal the foolishness of false teaching. Sarcasm is not to reveal my cleverness but to point people to Jesus. (5:12)
  • My freedom in Christ is not a freedom to sin. Therefore I resist tendencies to turn the radical grace of God into license. Instead Gospel-freedom moves me to serve and love others, not serve and indulge myself. (5:13)
  • Since the Law is fulfilled in loving my neighbor as myself—I will love Jesus and love other people. Radical grace emboldens me to love radically not sin radically. (5:14)
  • I will not engage in biting and devouring other people through my self-centered words and actions, but will seek to build up the church. (5:15)
  • By faith I will walk by the Spirit so that I do not carry out the desires of the flesh. I will not fight flesh with flesh, but flesh with Spirit. (5:16)
  • I know life is war and that an inner conflict of flesh versus Spirit wages within me, and within those in the church. Therefore I will seek to live by the Spirit, and will strive to be patient with others and forgiving toward others knowing that perfection will not be achieved till Jesus returns. (5:17)
  • Because of Jesus I am not under the law, but led by the Spirit. I will avoid living a life led by law, and pursue the Holy Spirit’s work in my life. (5:18)
  • I will seek to kill the following sins in my life: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and other things similar to these. I take the warning of Paul against these things seriously, and will not play with sin. I know that playing around with particular sins end in practicing and being addicted to the same sins. At times I will examine myself and ask the opinion of others to see that I am not engaging in these sinful deeds. (5:19-21)
  • I know that those who practice and live consistently in these sinful lifestyles will not inherit the kingdom of God. I will not lift my noses at others who engage in these things, but will live soberly knowing that I too could become entangled in them. Also, I will not be controlled by my past when I have engaged in these things (even if the past means yesterday), but I now ask Jesus to forgive me and ask for the Holy Spirit to enable me to kill my sin and bear the fruit of the Spirit. (5:19-23)
  • I desire and ask the Holy Spirit to produce the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in my life. I know that these aren’t fruits plural but fruit singular, and that I am called to walk in all of them not just some of them. I will not settle with my current level of maturity, but desire growth in the Spirit. (5:22-23)
  • Because I have died with Jesus, I have died to the flesh and these sinful passions and desires. Therefore I will live and act like I am dead to them, because I really have died to them. I don’t kill sin in order to die to sin and in order to be alive to Jesus. I kill sin because I’m dead to sin and alive to Jesus. (5:24)
  • Because I live by the Spirit due to the person and work of Jesus I will walk by the Spirit. I know that this is not passive, but an active pursuit. Therefore I ask God for help and for more of the Spirit’s work in my life. I desire continual fillings of the Spirit so that I am empowered to walk filled with the Spirit. (5:25)
  • I know the Spirit hates boasting, and challenging, and envying my brothers and sisters in Christ. Therefore I will strive to boast in others successes, encourage others in their faith, and rejoice when others are blessed. I believe that the Holy Spirit works supernaturally, but sometimes the great work of the Spirit is found in the “simple” things like an encouraging word or holding one’s tongue. (5:26)

A few takeaways about the process itself:

  • You can do this. Yes, you. Great Bible study motivator.
  • Your small group, Sunday School class, youth group can do this.
  • You can repeat this process with the same book months or years later and get new results.
  • Some of you are familiar with a practice of ‘praying the scriptures’ and this can be seen as a variant on that.
  • Be sure to read the introduction mentioned above to learn more about the process.

About the author (from B. J.’s blog, 5:21)

B.J. lives on the redwood coast of California with his beautiful wife Kate, daughter Grace, and son Adoniram. He has a passion for leading people deeper into the gospel of grace in Jesus and the glory of God. He graduated from Bethany University with a B.A. in Biblical & Theological Studies, has studied at Fuller Theological Seminary, serves pastors around the nation through Docent Research Group, and has a real day job too.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit (vs 25)

January 31, 2015

Faith Itself is Not a Destination

Bruxy Cavey:

“We treat faith in our culture much like a painting that you hang on the wall. It’s something you go and look at. Look at my faith. Faith is a beautiful thing. But biblically faith is a connecting concept to connect you with something else. It’s not an end point destination that you stare at but it’s something you stare through. In other words, faith is more like a window that you install in a wall, not a painting you hang on a wall. It is something designed to help you see through the wall or whatever barrier is there to see … the outside of your particular world.”

~Bruxy Cavey, author of The End of Religion and Teaching Pastor of The Meeting House, an eightteen-site church in Ontario, Canada from the series Get Over Yourself, part six, December 13, 2009

October 21, 2014

The Protestant Kid and The Crucifix

Yes, this is the third time around for this column, but it’s been four years…

When I was in the sixth grade, my friend Jimmy Moss and his family moved to Morristown, New Jersey, where he later decided that his life calling was to enter the priesthood.

I have never seen Jimmy since. I doubt very much he goes by ‘Jimmy’ now. “Father Jimmy?” Okay, it’s possible.

crucifixJimmy’s family were Catholic. I know that because we had several discussions about it. Not so much Jimmy and I. Mostly my parents and I. It was considered necessary that I know a little about this particular take on Christianity should it ever come up.

Later on, I decided to check it out firsthand. Much later on. I think I was in my mid-twenties when I first attended a mass. I was working for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in Toronto at the time, and there was another girl in the office who also had never been to a mass, and so we both agreed that on the next weekend we would attend a mass.

I remember several things about that mass. It was the middle of summer and the sermon was short. If there was one at all. If there was, I can tell you the announcements took up more time. It seemed like we were in and out of there in about twenty minutes. In truth, it couldn’t have been much more than twenty-five.

I didn’t know where to turn in the missal to follow the order of service. Someone nearby spotted my confusion and informed me we were in “the sixteenth Sunday of ordinary time,” or something like that. But they were flipping back and forth between different sections of the missal, which didn’t help.

I also remember the guy standing at the back reading a copy of the tabloid Sunday paper. I don’t think he ever looked up from the sports pages. I was later informed that “being there” was paramount. It was important to attend apparently, even if your heart wasn’t in it. Just show up.

Which would explain the guy who was wet. The way I figured it, he must have lived directly across the road from the church. He had jumped out of his backyard pool, donned the minimal amount of clothing, and joined the newspaper reader at the back of the sanctuary. He was the one dripping water droplets on the floor. Really.

I didn’t go forward to “receive the host,” i.e. take communion. But I tried my best to sing the two hymns. And I knew the words to repeat the “Our Father.” And my reflexes were quick enough not to launch into, “For Thine is the kingdom…”

Most evangelicals have never been to a mass. Nearly twenty-five years later, I would attend again. Once every quarter century. I guess that makes me a nominal Catholic.

…Anyway, I was often invited into Jimmy’s home. I remember several things about it all these years later. The first was that if I stayed for supper, Jimmy and his two brothers had to wash their hands before and after meals. That was new to me, then, but it’s a practice I’ve adopted recently since discovering the world of sauces and salad dressings. A good meal is one where I leave with sticky fingers that require a rinse.

crucifix2The second was the presence of crucifixes. I think they were spread throughout the house; but the memory may be of general religious icons; there may have only been the one at the front door.

This was a Catholic home. That was communicated to every guest, every salesman, every one of the kid’s friends. I couldn’t avert my eyes. Jesus was there on the cross, and he didn’t look happy.

We didn’t have a crucifix in our home. Crosses in my evangelical world were distinctly sans corpus, a phrase I just made up mixing French and Latin. As kids in Sunday School we were told that Catholics have crucifixes and Protestants don’t. I wonder sometimes if it would have been good if we had one.

(Which reminds me of the Catholic child who entered a Protestant house of worship for the first time, and seeing a cross at the front of the sanctuary, blurted out “What have they done with the little man?”)

For Christmas 2009, the Gregg Gift Company brought out some kind of ornament for the front hall that says, “This Home Believes.” I don’t think one’s expression of belief should be reduced to a sign, or that a sign should be expected to carry the burden of verbal witness, but I often wonder if we should have something at our front door — like the Mezuzah on Jewish homes — that alerts guests, salesmen and friends that “This is a Christian home;” preferably something that contains in its iconography the unmistakable message of the core of Christianity.

Something like, oh, I don’t know, maybe a crucifix.

January 23, 2014

Christian Denominational Heads in Israel With Canadian Prime Minister

The Canadian falls at Niagara are probably frozen as you read this

The Canadian falls at Niagara are probably frozen as you read this

Sometimes I make a discovery online only to recognize that another blogger can handle the story better. Besides, with a 72% American readership, stories about my home and native land aren’t really all that interesting. So I passed on this and besides, the link list took priority yesterday.

In Canada, many of our political scandals have to do with the misspending of funds. With one tenth of the U.S. population, budgets are smaller and errors generally don’t run into the billions, as they might south of The 49th Parallel. But when the Prime Minister decides to take 208 people with him to Israel, it’s hard not see a future scandal in the making. At the very least, it’s an obscene amount of spending. The government is covering the airfare for 30 of the 208, and hotel (and presumably this entails some food) for all of them.  This does not include an official delegation of 31 which traveled on whatever the Canadian equivalent is of Air Force One.

But a handful of the travel party were the heads of some of this country’s largest Evangelical denoms.

Don Simmonds from Crossroads Christian Communications
David Wells, Pres. of Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (PAOC)
Don Hutchinson, Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC)
David Hearn, president of Christian & Missionary Alliance (C&MA)(and his wife)
Stephen Jones, president of Fellowship of Evangelical Baptists of Canada (FEBC)
Shawn Ketcheson, pastor Trinity Church, Ottawa

The EFC thing actually duplicates the three denominations since it is the umbrella group to which they all belong. No mainline churches are represented; no Presbyterians, no Anglicans, no Roman Catholics and no one from the United Church of Canada, whose ministers are now moving to become Canada’s first clergy trade union.

Should the Evangelicals have accepted this gift? Honestly, methinks not, especially should the word ‘scandal’ ever become attached to this little junket/photo-op. Okay, for the business representatives that are part of the 208, it’s more than a photo-op, but for a Member of Parliament who was caught by CBC news begging to be allowed in to the Western Wall with the PM for some pics, it was more about domestic politics back home than foreign relations.

But like I said at the beginning, this type of story really isn’t my beat, so we’ll throw you over to investigate journalist Bene Diction.

(you were supposed to click that!)
(Bene can take all the tough questions!)

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