Friday, December 7, 2012

Christian Carnival – December 2012 Edition

Welcome to the latest edition of the Christian Carnival, the monthly blog carnival featuring posts submitted from a diverse Christian bloggers on a range of topics. Below are this December’s selections:


“Are Christians Arrogant?” by Joel Furches on the Jarrettsville Christianity Examiner: The Examiner is a news resource that covers every topic. This article considers the prevalent concept that Christians are arrogant, self-righteous, or judgmental.

“Blog Index for Douglas Groothuis’ ‘Christian Apologetics’” by Maryann Spikes on Ichthus77: We are studying Dr. Groothuis’ “Christian Apologetics” in my apologetics group at church, using the study guides available at Apologetics315. This is an index of one post per chapter (so far up to chapter 15). Join the discussion :-)

“Christian View on Pagan Practices of Christmas Celebration” on Christian View: This post challenges the claim that certain traditions of Christmas celebration are pagan practices. Christmas tree, exchanging gifts, and Christmas carol are not pagan practices.

“God and Santa Claus” by Paul Rezkalla on the Christian Apologetics Alliance: Equating belief in God with belief in Santa seems to be popular among many atheists who have grown up in religious families but later abandoned their “childish” belief in God in the same way they gave up their belief in Santa Claus. Are we justified in giving up belief in God the same way we give up belief in Santa Claus?

“Kids without God: Atheist Website for Children” by Sarah on Penny of a Thought: Three general observations on the American Humanist Association’s new atheist blog for children.

“No One Knows the Date of Birth of Jesus, So Jesus Did Not Exist” on Christian View: One of the arguments of atheism and secularism against Christianity is that we do not have the birth certificate of Jesus and that we do not know his date of birth. Therefore Jesus did not exist, they argue. This post responds to that claim.

“Should Men Stay Out of the Abortion Issue?” by Clinton Wilcox on Pro-Life Philosophy: A discussion of a common pro-choice logical fallacy. This article was featured in a newsletter from the National Right to Life Committee.

“The Truth about the Virgin Birth of Jesus” on Christian View: This post analyses the virgin birth of Jesus in its cultural context and explains the meaning of virgin birth.

“When Did Christmas Celebration First Begin?” on Christian View: This post corrects the common misconception that the first Christmas celebrations began in the mid fourth century, and presents the truth behind the first Christmas celebration. In fact the first Christmas celebration began immediately after the birth of Jesus.


“Cylinders and Crosses” by Dan Lower on Keyboard Theologians: The experience of God’ massive and overwhelming nature is best found, for me, on sunny days or black nights.

“SEAL of God” by Disciple on Closer2Thee: SEAL of God is the story of Chad Williams, a US Navy Seal who became a Christian while going through Navy SEAL training.

“Wanting More” by Dean on Working On the Mission: God wants to give us more, but we need to want more. I’m not talking about material possessions, but about wanting more of God. This post was instigated by reading the prayer by A.W Tozer included at the start of the post.

“Who Will I Become?” by Kelly on Simple Awareness: Goals are important not because of what we accomplish with them but because of the person we become through accomplishing them.


“Flesh vs Faith: Hebrews 11:1” by Jim Klingenberger on Xulonjam: Another in my ongoing series attempting to define “Faith” biblically, this time looking at the famous characterization of Faith found in Hebrews 11:1.

“Hell and Possible Worlds” by Jeremy Pierce on Parableman: Response to an objection against Calvinism involving hell and possible worlds.

“How To Read The Parables With Jesus At Center” by Dave Moser on Armchair Theology: Using the example of the Good Samaritan, this shows how the parables point beyond our moral improvement to what Jesus did on our behalf.


“Angels in the New Testament” by Robin Bremer on Kingdom Living For End Times: We are God's children and are created like Him. The supernatural is part of who God is. Having interaction with the angels was normal in the Old and New Covenant. Angels are part of a supernatural lifestyle. One of a 12-part series of a study on Angels. This one is about our natural interaction with angels in the NEW Testament.

“Eyeglasses” by Ridge Burns on Ridge’s Blog: Ridge Burns talks about "settling for fuzziness" in his eyeglass prescription and in the Christian's walk with God.

“Happy Days” by James Nakamura on Nakadude - Knowing the Extraordinary from an Ordinary’s Perspective: My personal letter to my son on the day of his adoption. These are words from my heart but also words from the heart of His Heavenly Father.

“The Young Adult Body Part” by Sarah on This Is What Sed Said: [No comment provided.]

“T-t-t-talkin’ Bout My Generation (But Thinking About the One After Next)” by Carl Trueman on Reformation 21: A leader's orthodoxy and orthopraxy are only really evident in the line of succession he helps to establish... count no church leader as being truly faithful until you can see what steps he took to leave a faithful legacy.

“Why Religious Freedom Matters” by Tom Gilson on Thinking Christian: Philosopher Brian Leiter says he can’t think of any good reason to support religious liberty. Here’s an important one.

If you’re interested in contributing to a future Christian Carnival, please head over to the “Submit A Post” page on the carnival’s main blog. See you next month on January’s host blog, Thinking in Christ.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

First Book in the San Gabriel Valley

"Bookworm" by ajeynes
Wonder what it’s like for a child in poverty to receive his or her very own first book? I do. Back in the summer of 2007, some coworkers and I volunteered to read to children at the Greater Watts Childcare Center. (I blogged about this a long time ago, actually!) On the final day we participated, we helped the staff hand out books, backpacks, and school supplies. The children were ecstatic! They were used to books. The center was filled with them. But this time they got to keep the books as their very own!

When I learned about First Book, I was ecstatic. Here was an organization completely dedicated to providing “access to new books for children in need.” With dozens of regional all-volunteer advisory boards sifting through available children’s literature, “First Book has distributed more than 90 million books” throughout the United States. What’s rather surprising though is the fact that, out of nine advisory boards located in California, none serves impoverished children in the San Gabriel Valley. I took that as a sign, and contacted the organization about forming one.

Right now the First Book – San Gabriel Valley Advisory Board is still in its developmental stage. There’s a multi-step application to get it approved, and the first step is to find willing and able volunteers. I’m hoping to launch a big ad campaign in local newspapers, magazines, and maybe even ratio and television stations to generate interest. The advisory board needs to be made up of diverse individuals, reflecting the professional and cultural composition of the target community, who can brainstorm ideas on how to raise funds, select books, and select recipient groups. If there’s anyone else concerned about illiteracy, your help in building this team would be greatly appreciated. If you’re located in the SGV area and interested in participating, please send me an email. And any donations – definitely appreciated! – will be directed towards advertisement. (Please note that, right now, they wouldn’t be officially to First Book and, therefore, not tax-deductible. However, I’ll make sure that any early supporters are recognized. If the advisory board isn’t approved, remainder funds will be donated to First Book.) Thanks!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Review: The Myth of the Muslim Tide

The Muslim Problem. It’s true that every generation of Americans experiences some sort of fear and dread of a massive invasion of undesirables. The utopian Puritans feared the pacifist Quakers. The Anglican planters feared the Baptist-converting Scots-Irish poor. The Federalists in office feared the Republican-leaning French and Irish. The white Christians feared the Chinese Confucians. The list goes on.

Unfortunately, any discussion about the perceived threats of some immigrant group is clouded by conflicting worldviews, contrived facts, and sloppy reporting. Case in point: When Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy produced Shariah: The Threat to America: Team B II Report, many concerned Christians promoted it without seriously analyzing its content. Two clues should’ve alerted its readers: First, unlike the historic anti-Communist Team B, the Team B II didn’t have access to secure information by which to draw their conclusions. Second, it was such a badly written report, full of misrepresentations and fallacies, that anyone who was anti-Muslim should’ve been embarrassed about it.

There’s a lack of calm, serious discussion about possible threats from immigrant groups, especially those whose racial, religious, and cultural identities vary significantly from the norm. Couple this with the population doom scare, and we’ve got a serious problem. Enter journalist Doug Saunders, neither a friend of Islam nor a stranger to terrorist attacks. In The Myth of the Muslim Tide: Do Immigrants Threaten the West?, he confronts some of the key arguments levied against Europe’s and America’s newcomers. What he exposes are a deep Christian envy of Muslim success and what I’d say is a historic American desire to see a spiritually weak Europe fall. Most complaints about the Islam religion can easily be made about Christianity and Judaism, and the charges of non-patriotism are often equally true or worse for non-Muslims in every country.

What I appreciated most is the way Saunders handles the population arguments, showing how facts are often misconstrued and how broader trends are ignored in favor of demographic reports that produce mass hysteria. “Demographic transition” is occurring in Muslim countries, as would be predicted with ongoing changes in the economy, women’s education, and politics. While many Americans would have us believe otherwise, evidence shows that Muslim immigrants do assimilate with the native cultures, politically, culturally, and – yes, most definitely – demographically.

Although I was generally pleased with Saunders’ work, I do question his constant appeal to the past. Yes, Eastern European Roman Catholics and Jews have unquestionably assimilated. Even Latin Americans, West Indians, and Asians, who he neglects to mention, have pretty much assimilated. But the hidden assumption behind Saunders and others pointing this out is that the assimilation of a previously spurned immigrant group is desirable. If the past tells us anything, it would be that the assimilation of Muslims into the American mainstream is inevitable. But to say that that’s the way things should be requires a judgment call, and one I doubt any nativist would agree with.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Review: ‘Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel’

Awkward but witty, the soon-to-be released Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel isn’t gushworthy, but it captures the intellect and personality of the woman who made “fashion editor” a permanent part of the English language. The documentary film screened last Monday, courtesy of LACMA’s Costume Council, who lasted year featured the highly entertaining Bill Cunningham New York. In contrast, Diana Vreeland is considerably more subdued in its humor. Audio and television interviews take the place of narration, so the viewer literally hears the story of “Mrs. Vreeland” in her own (often exaggerated) words. As to boost the effect, her life is caricatured through clips from Audrey Hepbern’s Funny Face (1957) and the French film Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? (1966).

Unschooled but intelligent and worldly (in the best sense), the dancer-housewife-socialite revolutionized the fashion magazine industry. She made fashion models celebrities, celebrities fashion models, and socio-cultural commentaries a regular feature of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. Having experienced style from the 1920s to the 1980s, she was a natural choice as consultant for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. A woman who knew everyone you might say “worth knowing” and pushed the limits of acceptability in fashion, she nevertheless seemed to be following that which was perfectly logical and acceptable to her. She refused to be confined by a “feminist” label, and she didn’t allow a lack of conventional beauty to deprive her of a passionate marriage.

An unusual and forceful woman, Diana Vreeland certainly makes for a life well worth the study. The film was based on a book by the same name title written by her granddaughter-in-law, Lisa Immordino Vreeland, and includes interview clips of her sons, grandsons, and even a great-granddaughter curiously reading advice snippets from her Harper's Bazaar column “Why Don't You?” Although “Mrs. Vreeland” apparently wasn’t the most conventional of mothers – in fact, she often was seen as extremely embarrassing – the family isn’t trying to use the film to sway the audiences’ impressions of her. Fact is fact, and corroborated by the testimonies of multiple witnesses (e.g., photographers, models, designers). I think it’s safe to say they’ve preserved her legacy with truth.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Thoughts on the Popol Vuh

From Wikipedia: "Against a backdrop of three stairs, a Maya ballplayer drops on his right knee to meet an exaggeratedly large ball. From a Maya Central Lowlands vase, 650 - 800 AD."
Probably the most widely-known New World creation myth is that of the K’iche’ (or Quiché) Maya of present-day Guatemala, the Popol Vuh* (“Council Book”). It’s known to us today through the work of a parish priest Francisco Ximénez, who transcribed the K’iche’ language and translated it into Spanish for preservation in 1701. There is some debate over whether or not his source was a pre-conquest document in Mayan script or the oral traditions of the K’iche’ people. There are, however, pre-conquest artwork depicting characters and events found in the Popol Vuh found on a number of documents and pottery, attesting to the age of the story.

If I were to summarize the Popol Vuh, I’d call it a sports hero drama, centered around the ancient Mesoamerican past-time of ballplaying. Like many B movies from the 1980s and 1990s, the plot consists of the “bad guy” team beating the “good guy” team, and the “good guy” team coming back for revenge. I can just imagine the twins Hunahpu and Xbalanque running around with their index fingers in the air shouting, “We’re number one!”

From Wikipedia: "The oldest written account of Popol Vuh (ms c.1701 by Francisco Ximénez, O.P.)"The creation account is polytheistic and serves to establish the origins of the K’iche’ Mayan people. Unlike the God of the Bible, the K’iche’ Mayan gods undergo trial and error, creating various human-like creatures and essentially pronouncing them “not good,” (i.e., unsuitable for service to the creator deities). In the text, these mistakes provide an explanation for the existence of monkeys, but would also allow the K’iche’ Mayan to easily incorporate H. erectus, H. neanderthalensis, and even Bigfoot into their myth. On the other hand, like most creation accounts, the Popol Vuh is ethnocentric rather than universal, serving to establish the origins of the K’iche’ Mayan people and verify its royal lineages of the K’iche’ Mayan. It doesn’t really allow for human existence outside of the Mayan and a perhaps a few non-Mayan nations found in Mesoamerica.

As scholars have no doubt discovered long before me, I noticed some interesting parallels between the Popol Vuh and the Bible while reading the K’iche’ Mayan account. One is the presence of a type of Eve and a type of the Virgin Mary found in the sports hero twins’ mother, Blood Moon (or Lady Blood), the virgin daughter of the lord Blood Gatherer. Like Eve, Blood Moon disobeys a higher authority by seeking fruit from a forbidden tree, and like Mary, she is impregnated by means other than natural sexual intercourse. Most importantly, also like Eve, through her comes redemption by the birth of her sons.

Two things about this redemption story contrast it with the Christian one. First, it’s the redemption of sinless (or more accurately, tricked) gods rather than sinful man. Second, although it’s an inspiring heroic tale, it doesn’t hold any special promise for mankind. However, the central point seems to correlate well with the Jewish creation account. The humans’ purpose in life is to glorify and serve the creator gods and care for the natural world in which they’re placed. And we can assume that any failure to do so would clearly not bode well for them.

*Before reading the Popol Vuh, I was only vaguely familiar with its name. I initially read Dennis Tedlock’s Popol Vuh: The Definitive Edition of the Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life and the Glories of Gods and Kings (Touchstone, 1996), but later discovered Allen Christenson’s Popol Vuh: The Sacred Book of the Maya (University of Oklahoma Press, 2007), which is also available free online. The latter is supposedly considered a superior translation. Also helpful in understanding the context of the work were the animated film Popol Vuh: The Creation Myth and the Maya (1987) by Patricia Amlin (above) and video and other interactive resources from the Invitation to World Literature, Part 8: Popol Vuh, provided by the Annenberg Foundation.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Thoughts on Zechariah

Detail of Zachariah: Claus Sluter, Well of Moses, 1395-1405Remember back in those Sunday School days? We kids would try to outdo each other in our Bible knowledge, chiding the ones who foolishly believed that Jesus was born in a manger and sticking up our noses at those who couldn’t pronounce Habakkuk. The subject of angels came up often enough. Movies like It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) and Angels in the Outfield (1994) we believed were leading souls astray by equating those heavenly beings with dead people who’d gone to heaven. We’d roll our eyes and declare that angels were always men and never had wings, let alone had to earn them.

Fast forward a good fifteen years later. For some odd reason, every time I’d read through the Bible in my teens and early twenties, I hadn’t noticed the possible implications of a short passage:
Then I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, two women coming forward! The wind was in their wings. They had wings like the wings of a stork, and they lifted up the basket between earth and heaven. - Zechariah 5:9 (ESV)
A couple of years ago, when a woman at church mentioned there were no female angels, I posed the question to her: What are these creatures? She couldn’t answer. I made a suggestion.

Now, you might argue that “angel” (מַּלְאָ֖ךְ in Hebrew, ἄγγελον in the Greek LXX) is used for the messenger with whom the prophet interacts throughout the book. The beings in 5:9 are distinctly described as “women” (נָשִׁ֤ים, γυναῖκες), not “angels.” But recall that many beings we call “angels” are just as distinctly described as “men” (e.g., הָֽאֲנָשִׁ֔ים or ἄνδρες Genesis 18:22, אִישׁ in Daniel 10:5, ἄνδρες in Acts 1:10), without “angel” used in the near vicinity or even at all. Often we read the word into the text, assuming that it’s appropriate.

Now the Jews and the Roman Catholics have organized entire hierarchies of angelic beings according to their perceived natures and roles. I have no idea where these two “women” would fit into them. What is questionable is why Christians feel so strong about there never being female-looking “angels.” The argument I remember hearing as a child was that angels had to appear as men in a patriarchal society in order to be respected. Now as an adult, I see that this fails on multiple points:

  1. Human women in positions of authority (at minimum one judge, a number of prophetesses, and a few queens) have the same problem.
  2. Strange men don’t automatically earn people’s respect just because they’re male. (Case in point: Luke 1:18).
  3. Anyone, regardless of apparent sex or gender, doing supernatural things is going to get people’s attention, including the son of a carpenter from the wrong side of the tracks.
  4. Angels obviously have different roles to play.
The final point is the most relevant here. The two “women” seen by Zechariah neither spoke to him nor, to the best of our knowledge, interacted at all with humanity. Only male-looking ones did. No socio-cultural gender boundaries had to be crossed for the beings in 5:9 to get their job done. In other words, I’m puzzled as to why Christians feel so strongly about this controversy over female-looking angels. I just can’t see how it would influence, pro or con, any doctrinal position involving women’s roles and position in the home, church, or abroad.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Book Review: Brandon Hatmaker’s ‘Barefoot Church’

Our religious culture is a consumer culture. Whether through worship services or other church activities, most Christians are spectators rather than an integral part of the action. Brandon Hatmaker, senior pastor of the Austin New Church and co-founder of Missio, wants to change all that. In Barefoot Church: Servicing the Least in a Consumer Culture (Zondervan, 2011), he reminds us that, in the words of James, pure religion requires serving the poor and oppressed, not sitting on the sidelines a few times a week expecting to be entertained. Hatmaker wants to get every member of every church involved in community service projects, which unfortunately have taken a backseat to evangelism.

There’s a backlash against this view primarily because church leaders tend to fear “social gospel,” the preaching and teaching that society can be saved through prohibition, soup kitchens, and improved sanitation, rather than through Jesus Christ. This isn’t what Hatmaker’s promoting. He’s calling Christians to return service to its rightful place beside the proclamation of the Gospel. He’s looking for barefoot Christians, those willing to give up their shoes for the homeless on the spot, regardless of whether or not there’s an opportunity to convert them.

Right now, churches direct most of their resources to “getting people in the door.” This method has failed to produce the kind of growth expected. The “unchurched” don’t have their material needs met, and the “dechurched” have left because church, as church is usually done, appears irrelevant to the real world. The solution? Hatmaker advocates a major structural overhaul. His most controversial suggestion? Canceling morning worship service once a month so that the congregation can go out and actually meet the needs of the community.

When a church’s priorities change, Hatmaker foresees real progress being made. Why obsess over attendance counts when there are orphans to adopt and sex trafficking victims to rehabilitate? And what about partnering with other organizations to give Christians an opportunity to connect with those demographics underrepresented in church, like college professors? The refusal to do so, he points out, is often connected with an unwillingness to set aside some church agenda to get a service job done. In addition, churches crave public recognition for their work, pitting them against nonprofit organizations as competition instead of allies with common goals.

I enjoyed Barefoot Church largely because it got straight to the point. Yes, there were plenty of stories to illustrate the problem at hand along with Bible verses to convince the reader of the necessity of service, but Hatmaker focuses on the logistics of getting a program set up without burning out leaders or guilt tripping members who don’t have time. One area he doesn’t touch upon nearly enough is conflict within a congregation. Breaking away from the norm will likely cause division. Hatmaker sort of assumes that his readers are working within an autocratic system in which a senior pastor can create new projects and change church structure at whim. However, those coming from situations tightly controlled by the congregation, a team of elders, or a denominational authority need more advice on how to win over others. Yes, the church should make service a priority, but for small congregations especially, everyone needs to be on board with the idea.

P.S. Hatmaker also has written the Barefoot Church Primer: An 8-week Guide to Serving through Community to help churches get started.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Review of James S. Woodroof’s “Famous Sayings of Jesus”

One thing I enjoyed about attending the 2012 Pepperdine Bible Lectures was getting the opportunity to chat with the authors. James S. Woodroof, a nice-looking elderly man from Tennessee, had come out of retirement to write a little devotional titled Famous Sayings of Jesus: Timeless Teachings for Today (2012) and was marketing it as a resource for children’s Bible classes. I picked up a copy and, recently, finished reading it.

The book is really two bound together, one on the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:2-12) and one on the parables. In the first, Woodroof’s stated goal is to present the well-known “Blessed are the…” verses in what he calls “relationship language,” in effect translating Christ’s statements into easy-to-digest instruction for how believers are to interact with others. For example, “Blessed are the merciful” (Matthew 5:7) becomes a lesson on being willing to forgive others. “Blessed are the persecuted” (v.10) becomes a lesson on tolerating unjust treatment. These might seem straightforward, but as I thought about it, my Sunday School teachers never really explained what it meant to be “poor in spirit” (v.3), one who “mourns” (v.4), or “meek” (v.5) in such a way that left me as a child with a clear understanding of what God expected of me. Woodroof turns the oft-confusing passages into lessons on humility, confession, and putting others first over our personal “rights.”

Despite the topic’s apparent suitability for children, the book’s target demographic seems to be older readers, who’d better relate to the author’s personal stories and World War II illustrations. I was surprised not to find a single example taken from Old and New Testament stories. (Maybe one sneaked by me, but I doubt it.)

In part two, Woodroof appeals to his readers to reconsider the role of grace in Jesus’ parables. I’m not read up on the controversy over grace within the Churches of Christ – I was raised Christian Church, and we talked about grace – so I had some difficulty following the author’s very sketchy discussion on the topic. His goal is to convince Christians to pay more attention to the themes and structure found in the parables, not defend his own views, but a footnote directing the reader to other books on the subject would’ve been helpful.

All in all, I wish the second part on parables had been fleshed out more. The unified book is an illusion, and the smaller-than-average margins, making it difficult to read, are a testimony that each part could’ve been published on its own. Add the crowded look, inconsistent formatting, and typos, and the book seems like a rush job. Few will probably read it, which is unfortunate because there are some real gems inside.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Thoughts on Judges

Tel Dan-Israeli Gate (Wikipedia)
One of the saddest stories in the Book of Judges is the account of the Danite conquest of Laish. When the Israelite tribes were assigned their respective territories under Joshua, the people of Dan received the central coastal area, including the city of Joppa (Joshua 19:40-46). Unfortunately, the Danites lost their inheritance to the Amorites (Judges 1:34-36). Rather than fight for their God-given land, the Danites decided to claim other land, and in time another god, as their own (Judges 18, cf. Joshua 19:47).

The city of Laish, or Leshem, was far north in the mountains of Lebanon, at the Aramean border. In other words, it lay beyond the designated Canaanite lands that God had handed over to the Israelites. Its people are thought to have been Phoenician because of the apparent cultural and political ties with Sidon (Judges 18:7, 28). No mention is made of their sins. Instead the Bible refers to them as “quiet and unsuspecting,” isolated from the corruption around them (Judges 18:7). The Danites seized the opportunity to slaughter them and take their land (Judges 18:27-28, cf. Joshua 19:47).

In defense of the people of Dan, they did believe that they had the blessing of their Lord, as conveyed through an impostor priest (Judges 18:1-10). However, upon discovering their error, they should’ve sought to correct it, as the Mosaic Law prescribes in various case laws dealing with accidents and unintentional sin. Instead they set up a rival god, in defiance of the primary commandment, presumably one that was more lenient about killing innocent people and stealing their property.

There’s an important lesson to be learned from the Danites’ atrocities. God’s people can be lured into a false sense of entitlement. This was true for King David when he called for Bathsheba, ignoring laws against adultery and coveting thy neighbor’s wife (2 Samuel 11). This was true for King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, who justified coveting, baring false testimony, murder, and stealing (1 Kings 21). This has been true for Christians who for centuries have made excuses for warring against, killing, plundering, and raping both their brethren and unbelievers, all the while claiming that they’re just taking what they deserve. And the contemporary political scene reeks with those seeking more and more ways to legally confiscate others’ property and procure taxpayer funds for pork barrel projects.

When Christians get an inflated view of their own importance, many don’t have the slightest feeling of apprehension when it comes to stepping on other people’s toes. Life becomes a zero-sum game, and obviously God’s chosen feel that they must do whatever it takes to come out on top. Too bad being a servant to others rarely comes to mind.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Thoughts on I Timothy

“Let no one despise you for your youth.” I’ve been hearing 1 Timothy 4:12a quoted a lot recently, and it’s occurred to me that there are two ways that people have interpreted this verse, one I’d argue being obviously incorrect.

First, let’s put all arguments aside concerning just how old Timothy was. Although important to any study of his life, it’s basically irrelevant to my point here. We know that Paul met a disciple, not a child, well-known to Christians in Lystra and Iconium (Acts 16:1-3) and some years later, wrote to him while, according to church tradition, he was serving as the bishop (i.e., pastor or elder) in Ephesus (cf. 1 Tim. 1:3, 2 Tim. 1:18). It’s probably safe to assume he was at least thirty. At any rate, we can trust that he was suitably trained for the position, even if some members of his congregation thought he was still wet behind the ears.

So, what concerns me about the way some Christians use this passage? Recently, I discovered that some treat it as a command directed to laymembers: “Do not despise a male for his youth,” or something along those lines. The verse becomes a prooftext against anyone questioning someone’s ability to take on a particular job in the church. If you dare say someone is too young, immature, or untrained, apparently this verse should shatter all doubts. Any resistance then becomes blatant disobedience to a biblical command.

But notice that this direction was addressed to Timothy, not the church in Ephesus. It’s found in a pastoral epistle, not a general one. It’s for training church leaders specifically, not the congregation as a whole. Paul instructs Timothy to set an example for the congregation and continue to teach sound doctrine (1 Tim. 4:11-16). By being a proper leader, Timothy would not give anyone cause to despise him. The burden was entirely on him. If he failed, I seriously doubt that Paul would’ve criticized the Ephesians for questioning Timothy’s suitability for his position.

Criticism related to someone’s youth, lack of maturity, lack of experience, or lack of education isn’t necessarily borne out of age discrimination. It’s an explanation offered when a person in a given position appears to have failed. When those criticisms arise, it’s not the congregation’s job to stifle it. It’s the responsibility of the church leader to prove otherwise.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Review: Apricot Brown is ‘Miss Undefinable’

Apricot Brown Digital Press Kit
Picked up an interesting book at this year’s Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival. Apricot Brown: Miss Undefinable is first in a series authored by Dana Drucker-Solano and illustrated by Sky Hand Zan. Apricot Brown is a cute, wacky superstar who encourages other mixed kids at Hope Fisher High School to resist the pressure to conform to social expectations. Together, the “Remix Generation” rejects the notion that kids have to choose and stick with one identity, instead advocating adopting from many and changing them at will. The reader is introduced to three of Apricot Brown’s alternate personalities – the Latina “Chica Bonita,” the Japanese “Bo’Bey Girl,” and the Jamaican “Rasta Fairy” – scheduled to appear in upcoming stories.

Apricot Brown targets today’s pre-adolescent girls with simple rhyming lyrics (or poetry, if you will) that sound to my culturally illiterate ears like hip-hop (incidentally, itself a hodge-podge of musical styles). The colorful art resembles that of computer animation in a glossy graphic novel. The book is highly attractive, but I remain unimpressed with the content (in contrast to my little brother who found the content slightly impressive but the book not attractive at all – and insisted on mentioning this).

The central message is one of self-improvement through esteem-boosting, feel-good messages (i.e., self-religion). It’s about recreating and adopting cultural identity, itself a social construct, while simultaneously denying society’s cultural definitions and classifications. In other words, it seems a bit confused. I’m all for redefining yourself, adopting from other cultures, and embracing a fluid identity. However, Apricot Brown seems to live in a pretend land where, as an outsider, she’s welcomed as a fully-fledged member into any culture. That might work for fiction, but as a book aiming to improve its readers, it seems to create – outright encourage – a false impression that kids can and should claim any cultural identity they want. What’s ironic is that Apricot Brown’s alter-egos adopt the hyper-stratified Hispanic culture, the hyper-homogeneous Japanese culture, and the supremacist and ethnocentric Rastafari culture.

Even more problematic is the sheep mentality of the kids in Apricot Brown. While the “Miss Unidentifiable” challenges those who impose cultural boundaries, those around her just follow suit. In other words, the book’s message could backfire, essentially telling readers that it’s cooler to be a part of the “Remix Generation” than to just be yourself.

Book two is in the works, so we haven’t seen the last of Apricot Brown. She’ll continue to find fun ways to encourage kids to think outside the box when it comes to identity. I just hope she quits with some of the self-love mumbo-jumbo. I’m not convinced that that’s the healthiest way for mixed kids to learn to accept themselves.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Wednesday Devotional: ‘God Is Love’

“God is love.” Although many Christians dismiss this saying as trite and even unorthodox, it’s entirely biblical. The Apostle John summaries all of God’s character into that one word, ἀγάπη (I John 4:8). Love is so central to His nature that having love is equated with knowing God (I John 4:7-8; cf. John 8:42). So it should be of no surprise that we as humans, made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27), are repeatedly called to love each other (Matthew 5:43-48, 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 6:27-36, 10:25-37; John 13:34-35, 15:9-17; Romans 12:9-10, 13:8-10; 1 Corinthians 13; you get the point.). Love isn’t just evidence of the Spirit of God dwelling within us, but it’s a fundamental part of our God-like nature.           

This post’s topic is based on the Wednesday Devotional Theme covered on the fourth Wednesday evening service at Alhambra Church of Christ.

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Look at Entrepreneurs’ Do-It-Yourself Marketing Month

The buzzword is “branding,” and I believe it illustrates exactly what’s wrong with Entrepreneurs’ “Do It Yourself” Marketing Month (June). Every blogger, self-published author, and start-up owner wants to get his or her name out there. Perfectly understandable. They want fame and fortune like the rest of us. Yet have you noticed that those who focus on “branding” tend to forget about producing anything? You must have seen some of those blogs. No content for months because the blogger is trying to attract a readership. And those social network profiles. They say “Follow me!” on Facebook and Twitter, but the number of status updates since activating the account is…zero. And what about working day and night on designing the perfect company logo before a product is even available…because…oh, it hasn’t even been developed yet.

For the small firm, do-it-yourself marketing makes a lot of sense. You just don’t have the budget to hire an advertising staff. However, there needs to be an appropriate balance between doing that and actually spending time on whatever it is that you love and hope to be successful at. Take six-year-old artist-entrepreneur Ruthie from this One Big Happy comic strip. It looks like she’s learned her lesson about directing all of her resources towards a highly effective marketing campaign. I hope a number of bloggers out there follow suit.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Team Paul Versus Team Jesus

If you’ve hung around a non-denominational church, chances are that you’ve heard a preacher or other leader brag about following God, not man. As Christians, we strive to be “of Jesus” and not of anyone else – Paul, Apollos, Cephas, etc. (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:11-13). This is especially true within the Restoration Movement independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. Many members despise the term “Stone-Campbellite” precisely because it implies the sort of denominational bickering over manmade doctrines and ideas that Calvinist, Lutheran, Mennonite, and a whole host of other non-biblical names suggest. Well, I’ve got news, people. We’re most definitely “of Paul.”

What do I mean by that? When the New Testament canon was debated over and organized, the question was whether or not a particular book conformed to the “Synoptic Gospels” (i.e., the accounts written by Matthew, Mark, and Luke). That was the standard up to which all teaching and preaching was to be held (cf. Galatians 1:6-9).

Unfortunately, the norm tends in a different direction. The words of the Apostle Paul are used to introduce pet doctrines and generally serve as the final word in debate. He’s the go-to person for discussion about the purpose of baptism and the nature of grace. Arguments on dispensationalism and predestination pretty much stand or fall on his word. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, Paul provided us with more material to work with than any other first century church author. However, I’ve seen how fanatical Christians can get as they use their understanding of Paul as the foundation for interpreting the rest of the New Testament.

Why not go in the opposite direction? Because the Gospels and non-Pauline Epistles are considered inferior to Paul’s letters. First, everyone is still subconsciously in lock-step with reformer Martin Luther’s decision to base his theology entirely on Paul and tear James out of his Bible. Second, many Christians consider the Gospels to be less relevant to the Church today than Paul’s letters because Paul addresses so many practical issues. Third, Peter and James are shunned as perpetual sinners because of the situation involving the Judaizers (cf. Galatians 2:1-14), which somehow nullifies everything else they did and said. I’m not sure what excuses are used for Hebrews and Jude, but it’s apparent that all five of John’s books are treated as mere eschatologically appendices to Paul’s books.

Not only does this elevation of Paul’s letters above the rest of the New Testament force a particular method to interpretation (e.g., “What does Paul say?”), but it also allows people to rely too much on their sense of a “plain reading” of Paul. Peter did tell us: The things Paul speaks of are difficult to understand, and the result is false doctrine (cf. 2 Peter 3:15-16). I’m not going to outright claim who is and isn’t too ignorant to understand, but I will suggest that, before any personal or group Bible study on anything written by Paul, Christians should ask, “What about me?”

Monday, June 4, 2012

Review: ‘Face 2 Face’ – The Off-Line Social Network Documentary

When I first heard about filmmaker Katherine “Kat” Brooks’ film project, during her Kickstarter “crowdfunding” campaign, I told myself I would attend the Los Angeles movie premiere and add to her growing collection of off-line hugs. Haven’t managed to meet the second goal, but yesterday, I did at least get an opportunity to see Face 2 Face at the Dances with Films Festival in Hollywood.

Kat Brook’s film was motivated by the cruel realization that, after major surgery and a suicide attempt, none of her real-life friends had come to visit her. So she sought out fifty strangers from her Facebook Friends list to connect in person. Dare I say, they ended up being the real friends.

With so much interview footage, the film could’ve been taken in any number of directions. Brooks chose to highlight the human need for physical affection, sympathy, and emotional support during trials. Her own experiences – fractured family situation, child molestation, rape, confusion over lesbian identity, smoking and drug addiction, feelings of loneliness – are interwoven with those of her Facebook friends as she tries to make sense of her purpose in life.

There’s a saying, “Humans are a social animal.” For me, Face 2 Face seemed to reveal the truth in that statement. By nature, we are socially-dependent, seeking love, understanding, and appreciation. In other words, we yearn for acceptance, and we thrive on it. And it’s most important to receive that acceptance, not when we’re at our best, but when depression leads to suicidal thoughts. When a beloved rejects advances. When cancer or car fires shake our sense of security in life.

Face 2 Face is a powerful film, but a little sad in that it provides no real answers, probably because the filmmaker is still on a quest to find them. What she did achieve, however, was provide her audience with a reminder that a Facebook friend is not just a number but a real person with real hurts and real needs.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Political Wives

Surely, they’ve crossed your path a few times. They’re probably the most delusional people on the planet. No, I’m not talking about the cast of a new reality television show. And no, I’m not talking about politicians actual wives…or their mistresses for that matter. I’m talking about campaign managers, local organizers, and the whole lot of worshipping peons that are quite willing to devote the best years of their lives to promoting their favorite candidate.

Really, in the most painfully traditional sense, political campaign staff and volunteers make good “wives.” And they’re only too happy to be in polygamous marriages. They’ve pledged eternal fidelity and genuinely wish you would do so too. In fact, they insist on it. They’re extremely vicious when you refuse to blindly support their man. Don’t think Mr. Third-Party or Mr. Little-Fish-in-a-Big-Pond has what it takes to win the election or primary? Keep it to yourself. The Mrs. will find you – I guarantee it! – and corner you in broad daylight. Or bombard you with links to really bad YouTube propaganda.

And I could go on for hours about broken campaign promises and positional flip-flopping. Take for example an incident involving one local promoter when I voiced concern that my congressman wasn’t adequately representing those who put him in office. “So-and-so didn’t support the bailout.” Excuse me? He wrote a tome and preached a sermon about why he acted contrary to the angry demands of an overwhelming majority of his constituents. Political wives aren’t even puppets. They’re pre-programmed robots designed to contradict anything negative without thought.

What about legal or social misconduct? Indeed, love covereth a multitude of sin. And you’re a bad person for not loving unconditionally and unquestioningly.

What about poor etiquette or dress? You’re a snob.

What about studies showing that sign waving on street corners is a waste of time? You’re a bad person for not getting the word out. Eight hours in the hot sun is nothing compared to one car honk from an already-committed voter.

What about the cell phone minutes eaten up by recorded reminders to vote? Don’t you like receiving personal messages from God?

What about cell phone minutes eaten up by pushy salespeople? If you’re not making phone calls, you’re not one of us and need to be converted.

What about the sixtieth email soliciting funds? The political wife has given up a career, family, and all self-respect to ensure that “God’s will” happens on Election Day. And you’re complaining about money?

And what’s the most hilarious thing about all this? Ha! Political wives almost always are men. Often men who have too much pride to act that way for their spouses: Fight for Men’s Rights! For their bosses: Fight for Workers’ Rights! For their religious and political leaders in general: Fight for Individual Sovereignty! Yet when it comes to working the clock for a campaign, they welcome social emasculation. They’re so committed to the man that they don’t care. I hope they receive nice Valentine’s Day gifts.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Dear Professor

Last Friday, I was on campus to grade the ScanTrons for the multiple choice portion of my students’ final exams. Earlier in the semester, a professor had set out stacks of unwanted books, but I hadn’t had the time to look through the pile until that morning. Among old textbooks, I found John Warwick Montgomery’s History and Christianity which looks how historical methods are applied (or misapplied) to the New Testament record. The copy had been discarded from a local Christian college’s bookstore in 2000 (according to the stamp inside), and apparently made its way to my colleague’s office via a concerned student:
Dear Professor -----, Okay, bad start of this note. You said, and quite rightly, that most Christians, once you start examining their belief structure, you find them having a central belief system about as sturdy as pudding. This book examines and argues for Christianity from history, and is one of the many reasons I love history. My hope is that, as a historian, you will find the argumentation scholarly and of interest. I am not the type to follow anything or anyone blindly, and the case within I hope you do not find a waste of your time. As I will be up the road at ---------, and taking a course at --- in the fall, if you wish to speak with me, don’t be too slow to call or write.

The note was signed with the student’s name, phone number, and email address. It’s obvious from the tone that he was trying very hard to appear polite and formal and avoid sounding as uneducated and uninformed. As I scanned his note, I began to feel sorry for him. Why? I can imagine him vigorously scrawling on the inside cover with the sincere belief that his endorsement of a “scholarly” book would win instant approval. Although it’s impossible to tell whether or not the professor ever looked at Montgomery’s arguments, I strongly doubt it because of my knowledge of similar instances. It’s not necessarily a slight on the authors chosen, but a statement about reality. People – especially intellectuals and academics – listen to their social equals. A zealous student, poorly armed and in this case too insecure approach the target in person, isn’t going to impress even his Christian professors.

Do I think he should’ve left the professor alone? Of course not! Worse would be to entirely give up on the skeptical to outright hostile academics. But what I’d like to see is a better approach to witnessing, one that’s more likely to produce results. Maybe a series of office hour conversations that give both parties an opportunity to elaborate on their views, and specifically, the student an opportunity to earn the professor’s respect. Maybe an invitation to hear a speaker or witness a public debate featuring well-known and respected academics that the professor might be familiar with. But quietly gifting a book that the average professor doesn’t wish to take the time to read, even with an invitation for further discussion, doesn’t seem effective. Our goal as Christians isn’t to tallying up high number of tracts we distribute. We want to convert souls. And to do that, we need to meet people where they are.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Novel Homeschoolers: Rebecca Vaughn Is on

Like ancient Celtic history? Check out my sister’s new short stories – “The Politics of Benadel” and “The Finding of Cinuit” - (free to Amazon Prime members!). Back in 2002, Rebecca Vaughn began writing a fictitious account of Christian Britain’s third high king Ambrosius Aurelianus (called the “Pendragon”). This has slowly materialized into a six-book series beginning with Son of the Burning Rowen. Rebecca also has been working on its prequel, the forthcoming The Beast of Caer Baddan, about Owain Finddu, Prince of Glouia, and a number of shorter works that serve as appendices to the Pendragon’s story. “The Politics of Benadel” highlights the sort of political maneuvering female royals resort to in desperate situations. “The Finding of Cinuit” looks at the often shaky relationship the between the Celtic people and their Pictii (Novantae) neighbors. Please take a peek at my sister’s Author Facebook Page for more information and announcements.