Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas all!

I've got an email today from someone in Pakistan asking for prayer over the holidays, because the Taliban are threatening attacks. I read in the New York Times that Christians in Iraq are preparing for the worst. Meanwhile, I worry about my credit card bill and getting everyone's schedule to line up. I am glad I live in Canada and wish everyone every where a happy and safe holy day.

I've about six months left on my 1000 day goal. I started to re-read Fear and Trembling this week and one paragraph in particular spoke out to me:
In our time nobody is content to stop with faith but wants to go further. It would perhaps be rash to ask where these people are going, but it is surely a sign of breeding and culture for me to assume that everybody has faith, for otherwise it would be queer for them to be... going further. In those old days it was different, then faith was a task for a whole lifetime, because it was assumed that dexterity in faith is not acquired in a few days or weeks. When the tried oldster drew near to his last hour, having fought the good fight and kept the faith, his heart was still young enough not to have forgotten that fear and trembling which chastened the youth, which the man indeed held in check, but which no man quite outgrows. . . except as he might succeed at the earliest opportunity in going further. Where these revered figures arrived, that is the point where everybody in our day begins to go further.
Of course, Kierkegaard was being sardonic. We only assume we've arrived. We are saved and so His work in us must be done. Right?

Again, a Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Matthew Study

Last week I got a surprise comment on a post I made some time ago. At the end of 2006 I decided to do my own study of the New Testament. I made a couple of entries, covering the first chapter of Matthew and then decided to restart at my other blog. But I only got ten verses into chapter two before it was abandoned. I didn't decide to let it go, but I did.

But this comment got me thinking. I have been thinking of ways to direct my Bible study in the new year. I could at least try this again. Even if I had only written a chapter a month, I would have have finished Matthew by now. So I am going to try again. I may not get much further, but we'll see.

I am creating a link to this called Matthew. If I do more, I'll rename it.

My posts:

Matthew 1: 1-17

Matthew 1: 18-25

Matthew 2: 1-10

Matthew 2: 11

Mathew 2:12-23

Matthew 2: 1-10

Orignally published at David Bird, February 12, 2007

Matthew 2: 1-10: The Wise Men Come To Herod

The second part of the Nativity story centers around Micah 5:2:
But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.
Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah, but was a man of little status in their world. His book is considerably shorter as well, but contains some well known verses focusing on social justice: beating our swords into plowshares (4:3), that God requires justice, mercy, and humility before sacrifice (6:6-8), and the prophecy that the everlasting ruler will come from Bethlehem. Of course Bethlehem, in spite of being a small village, was already the home of a famous ruler. King David was born there.

This part introduces the famous Wise Men. We don’t actually know much about them. The Bible doesn’t say that there were three, or where they came from, or give us any other personal information. They are described as magi who had seen “his star in the east,” and who had come to worship the new King. A magi was an astrologer, or a sorcerer (it’s used that way in Acts 13). In Christ’s time the word was used to refer to foreign forms of magic, forms that were suspect, so it is strange that these men would come to worship the new messiah, but they recognized him for what he was and came to give him the worship he was due. Sometimes the children of the world are wiser than the children of light (Luke 16:8).

They presented themselves to Herod and his court. No one was pleased to hear the news. I’ll get more into Herod’s court in part four of the Nativity story. Herod didn’t know where the Promised One was to be born, which was interesting given his obsession with securing his place. He consulted with the chief priests and scribes and sent the wise men on their way to Bethlehem. Outwardly he was friendly. He told them that he wanted to worship the child too. Once they had finished with Herod’s court they saw the star and it stood directly over where Jesus lay. So why go to the court in the first place? It’s possible that they went to the court out of a sense of protocol. They weren’t conspiring against Herod, and honouring an alternative ruler without going to court might have made it seem as though they were. Alternatively, the star wasn’t constantly before them. It told them that a great king would be born to the Jews, but it didn’t reappear until after they saw Herod. That seems consistent with verses nine and ten:
When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
Why would they rejoice to see it, if it were there all the time?

Three News Items

Here are three interesting articles.

Some American soldiers are trying to preserve an ancient monastery in Iraq. The monks who lived there were martyred - read: murdered - in 1743 for refusing to convert to Islam, putting an end to community that was over a thousand years old. Christians in the area are still under attack.

Pew Forum has published another survey on religious beliefs, this one detailing the tendency to mix and match religious ideas. Not surprising, but interesting.

On Salon a New York woman talks about her 'closet' Christianity. Its easy to think she doth protest too much, but then you get to her readers' comments...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

China Cracks Down On Churches

On the eve of Obama's visit to China, the Chinese government has begun a campaign of harassment, closing churches and arresting church leaders. This sort of persecution isn't new, but beginning one just as an American president is about to arrive is. Traditionally Beijing looses up its anti-human rights position, sometimes even letting some arrested rights advocate go. What is different this time? For the first time since the US normalized relations with China, America has a government that has officially puts diplomatic good will ahead of human rights. This policy change was apparent last month, when Obama became the first president to refuse to see the Dalai Lama.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Is The Baptist Church A Cult?

The short answer is, No. Of course the Baptist Church is not a cult. A more complete answer would start with another question, Why would you even ask such a ridiculous question?

In the 60s and 70s new and foreign spiritual and religious ideas and practices began to gain a foothold in the West. “Moonies,” Hare Krishnas, and others. They were strange, perplexing, and sometimes just plain annoying. The devotion of their new found followers, more often than not, previously normal, middle class and educated people, mystified many. Then, in 1978, one group, the People’s Temple, committed mass suicide in their compound in Guyana. Over nine hundred people drank cyanide laced Kool Aid at the command of their leader, Jim Jones. Time magazine’s headline was “Cult of Death.” The word cult may well have a long and varied history, but since then its popular usage has been pejorative. To label a group a cult is to warn others against associating with it.

In recent years it has become to habit of some within the Evangelical movement to label anyone who is different as a cult. One site I visited listed everything from other religions (Buddhism, Hinduism) to handwriting analysis and the martial arts as cults. Even some aspects of Judaism. Typically, a cult has become defined as any group that veers from traditional doctrinal beliefs. This is a definition that raises two immediate problems. The first is that it is less than honest. When a group is called a cult, it is done knowing the term will raise alarm and distrust amongst those unfamiliar with the group. It is a derogatory term and it is being used as such. The second problem is that there is more than one tradition within Christianity. There are, in fact, a great many traditions and even within each tradition a great deal of variety and interpretations. That doesn’t mean they are all right, that you should accept all doctrinal teachings as equally valid, but it does mean that the practice of denigrating others as cults is essentially to replace apologetics with slander.

As an example of the ridiculousness of all this, I return to the first question, is the Baptist Church a cult? The Baptist Church has long taught that baptism plays no role in our salvation. Instead, it represents an outward sign of an inward act. We are saved once we accept the Lord as our saviour and are baptized out of obedience to His commands. But is this really a traditional Christian doctrinal belief? Let’s look at five Churches. I start with the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches. I realize that many in the Evangelical movement reject much of what these two bodies profess, but they are the oldest Churches, with the oldest traditions. To counter these concerns I also look at three of the oldest Protestant Churches, the first to turn from Rome. What I have done is looked up their statements on baptism. I don’t mean to assert that all of them hold identical beliefs or that there aren’t differences within the groups, but they all agree that there is more to baptism than it simply being an outward sign.


It forgives all sins that may have been committed prior to a person's baptism including original sin and it relieves the punishment for those sins.

Christian baptism is the mystery of starting anew, of dying to an old way of life and being born again into a new way of life, in Christ. In the Orthodox Church, baptism is "for the remission of sins" (cf. the Nicene Creed) and for entrance into the Church; the person being baptized is cleansed of all sins and is united to Christ; through the waters of baptism he or she is mysteriously crucified and buried with Christ, and is raised with him to newness of life, having "put on" Christ (that is, having been clothed in Christ). The cleansing of sins includes the washing away of the ancestral sin.
Calvinist (Presbyterian):

Baptism signifies:

the faithfulness of God,
the washing away of sin,
putting on the fresh garment of Christ,
being sealed by God's Spirit,
adoption into the covenant family of the Church,
resurrection and illumination in Christ.

From the Thirty-Nine Articles:

XXVII. Of Baptism.

Baptism is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from others that be not christened, but it is also a sign of Regeneration or New-Birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed, Faith is confirmed, and Grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God.

Holy Baptism is God’s gracious act by which He bestows on the baptized the gifts of forgiveness of sins and adoption into His family.
Again, I am not saying that these Churches hold identical views on baptism, or even that every church within their fellowships holds the same view (at least, in regards to the Protestants), but all of them have traditionally accorded baptism some role in our actual salvation. Unlike the Baptists. If a cult is any group that teaches something other than traditional Christian doctrines, where would that place the Baptists? Let’s look at two responses Baptists may make. The first would be to point out that their position can be dated as far back as the Anabaptist movement of the early Reformation. This is true, but it does raise the fact that there is more than one tradition in Christendom. A perfectly legitimate position for anyone to make, in fact, it’s the one I am making, but it that undermines the argument that anyone who teaching doctrines that differ from those of my tradition is in a cult.

A second response is to turn to scripture. A foundational Christian principle (at least within the Protestant traditions) is sola scriptura: by scripture alone. The Bible is the final authority on doctrine. All others are subject to it. Only teachings that are in the Bible, or can be logically deduced from scripture, are true. Anything that contradicts scripture cannot be accepted as true. What does the Bible say about baptism and salvation?

(I am quoting the ESV.)

1 Peter 3:18-22

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
Just as the ark saved Noah and his family from the flood, God’s judgement on mankind, so baptism now saves us.

Acts 2:38

And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Acts 22:16

And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.'
In the first scripture (2:38) Peter has just preached and the crowd responded by asking how to be saved. He told them to repent and be baptised and that God would fill them with the Holy Ghost. Why were they to be baptised? “For the forgiveness of your sins.” In the second scripture (22:16) Paul is recounting his own conversion. Jesus had stopped him in his tracks and revealed Himself, and calling Paul to preach the gospel, but Paul still had to be baptized and have his sins washed away.

I have known Baptists respond to these scriptures by asserting that we are saved by faith alone. That anything else is ‘works’. That doesn’t really explain how these scriptures could mean anything but that baptism is a part of God’s salvation plan. It’s a teaching, formally called sola fide, goes all the way back to Martin Luther. But what did Luther have to say about baptism?

To put it most simply, the power, effect, benefit, fruit, and purpose of Baptism is to save. No one is baptized in order to become a prince, but as the words say, to 'be saved.' To be saved, we know, is nothing else than to be delivered from sin, death, and the devil and to enter into the kingdom of Christ and live with him forever.
Obviously he say no contradiction in the ideas the we are saved by faith in Christ redemption alone, and that Jesus requires all His followers to be baptized in order to enter into that redemption. Baptism is not a work of the flesh.

If our doctrines are to be built on scripture alone we must not try to explain away what these three scriptures - 1 Peter 3:18-22, Acts 2:38 and 22:16 - say. Each explicitly link salvation and baptism. To say otherwise is to distort the literal, obvious, plain meaning of the text.

Before moving on I want to talk about two examples of just that kind of behaviour. There are two other scriptures linking salvation to baptism and some responses I have heard could only be asserted by someone desperately wanting to put their preconceptions ahead of what the scriptures say. I point this out because I realize that those who don’t have an interest in this debate may have trouble believing these arguments are put forth in any serious manner and I don’t want you think I am selecting them because they are so obviously weak. People actually make these arguments.

John 3:1-8

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him." Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."
Most would say that the water and spirit Jesus is talking about is baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Not so, reply many wanting to diminish the role of baptism. According to them Jesus is talking about natural birth. The water is the woman’s water breaking prior to birth and the spirit is the baby’s first breath. If so, is Jesus saying to Nicodemus, ‘Yes, you must enter a second time into your mother’s womb’ or is He saying that all who are born are saved? I’ve never heard a Baptist come right out and teach either position.

And, Mark 16:16:

Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
Its hard to think of a more obvious scriptural teaching than this one: to be saved you have to believe and be baptized. Oh, but the doubters reply, just because those who believe and are baptized will be saved, that doesn’t mean those who believe and aren’t baptized won’t be saved. That’s like arguing we are saved by faith, but not having faith doesn’t mean you aren’t saved! The reason baptism isn’t mentioned in the second half of the sentence because those who don’t believe won’t be baptized, but the meaning of the first half is clear and obvious: those who believe and are baptized will be saved.

The fact that the last two arguments could be made without being met with scorn and derision reflects another aspect of this problem. Not only are there different traditions, but many of them have built up networks of schools, institutions, and media that allow them to operate without interacting with other traditions. They are all in their own little bubbles - the Evangelical bubble, the Catholic bubble, the Mainstream, or Liberal, Protestant bubble - and they can see each other, but the don’t interact in any meaningful way and their preconceptions about the other groups are rarely challenged. Everything they come in contact with reinforces their own views and preconceptions. Some bubbles are bigger than others. The Evangelical bubble dominants much of contemporary Christian culture, certainly pop culture, and it in turn is widely influenced by Baptists. That’s why I chose the Baptist Church as my example. No, the Baptist church is not a cult, but the five churches that I quote in support of the importance of baptism represent four out five of the world’s Christians! That’s right. Most Christians belong to churches that believe baptism serves a role in God’s salvation plan.

When anyone argues that a group is a cult because their teachings don’t reflect traditional Christian doctrines, it is the speaker and not the group we should first be wary of. They lack either a basic knowledge of Church history and the many traditions that exist within Christianity, or the ability to defend their own views in an honest manner, or both. I don’t believe all traditional teachings are equally valid. No one could. Many churches have adopted contradictory views on a variety of issues. To know which are true, however, requires careful, and prayerful, study, so be careful when someone resorts to slander to end discussion. Truth doesn’t reinforce itself with dishonesty.

Monday, June 29, 2009

June 29, 2010

I haven't posted about my one thousand day program in a while, and I don't think I've posted about it on this blog at all. A year and a half ago, on my other blog, I made this post:

What happens on June 29, 2010? Its the thousandth day from now (including today, October 4, 2007). For a while now I have felt a growing dissatisfaction with my spiritual status quo. I don't know what it is exactly -- if I did I'd address it -- so I am giving myself a period of time to figure out what it is and what to do about it. I didn't want it to be a short time -- this is serious -- but I didn't know how long. After some consideration I decided on one thousand days. More than two and a half years. If I can't at least get a handle on it by then, I haven't been trying.
(Yes, I think my calculations were off by a couple of days.)

The time since has not exactly flown by, but while I've waited for the spiritual penny to drop there has been more progress in many areas of my spiritual walk than it often feels like. I have developed the habit of early morning prayer, getting up most mornings and starting my day with a half hour of prayer. I have read my Bible through from cover to cover from the first time in years, and I went on a three day (72 hour) fast, something I've only done once before. That was when I was a new Christian. When you're just starting out, its easy to push yourself to new levels, but over the years you start to settle. It would be nice to believe that you have simply done all the easy levels and that things have slowed because you're working from a 'higher' level, but that's not really true. And its not just me. I've noticed this in others.

There are other things to be happy about, but right now I am enjoying the prospect of shaking off the dross and rekindling things. In my second year in the Lord a lot of things happened to me and I made some decisions that would bear consequences down to the present day. Yesterday I was thinking about today and the next year, and it occurred to me that this could be a new second year. A time to move forward again from the position of a mature Christian and a mature person. I was only a teen back then.

I am still waiting for the spiritual penny to drop, for the big 'Aha!' moment, but right now I am happily looking forward to the next year.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Bible Reading

I finished reading my Bible yesterday. The whole thing, cover to cover. I don't know how many times I've done it, probably because I haven't done it in years. Perhaps a decade. I was using a reading chart designed to take you through in a year, reading a few chapters a day. I did it in fits and starts and took about eighteen months. A knowledge of God and the scriptures is a basic part of any Christian's spiritual foundation and there isn't any better way of gaining it than reading the Bible. I just wish I could be more systematic. I have developed the habit of getting up early and praying most days. I need to develop a similar one for reading my Bible. I don't think its necessary to read from cover to cover, the Bible wasn't written with that in mind, nor do I think its necessary to read it all in a year (or eighteen months, in this case). The Bible isn't supposed to be approached like any other reading project. You need to take the time to aborb it. Still, I using a yearly chart keeps you to a schedule and reading all the through ensures you read everything and aren't concentrating on the parts that interest you most.

The Bible I used was the King James, the New Cambridge Paragraph Bible With Apocrycha (the Penguin paperback edition). I especially liked its formatting, which prints the text as a single column per page. The papers covers, however, did't weather much use and I had to buy a covering for it. This was the first time, in my twenty eight years as a Christian, I read the Apocrypha. I have other Bibles that include it, but this is the first time I've read it. The Apocrypha is a collection of books, or additions to books, that were a part of the Greek translations of the Old Testament that the early Church used, but not a part of the Hebrew Bibles the Jews were using. Whether the Greeks Jews added them, or the other Jews dropped them, or never used them at all, is something we may never know. When Jerome originally translated the Vulgate he wanted to remove them, but the Church said no. When the Reformation happened the Reform churches did remove them, first setting them a part between the Old and New Testaments, and then dropping them all together. The rationale for initially keeping them, even though they weren't considered scripture, was twofold: tradition, they had been a part of the canon for a very long time, and they added to readers' understanding of the world of the New Testament. I've found them interesting enough to include in my next read through, which I am going to start July 1. This time with an English Standard Version (that also includes them). I am going to supplement my readings with William Barclay's New Daily Study Bible commentaries and have already picked up the first two volumes, which cover Matthew.

Friday, May 22, 2009

God Is Love, Part Two

In my last entry on this subject, some time ago, I discussed how the scripture ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8 and 16) is linked to God’s inherent oneness. In this follow-up I want to discuss how the idea that God is love is linked to His omniscience. God is love because God is omniscient? That may not make sense on the face of it. How about if I rephrase it and say, God is love because He understands you perfectly? He knows everything about you, including how you feel, what happened to you, and what your motivations really are.

Sometimes when we talk about His omniscience, we imagine a big eye in the sky. A heavenly close circuit camera recording our every thought and action. This is a very limited understanding of His knowledge of us. The Bible says God looks on the inward man (1 Samuel 16:7). He looks beyond our actions, both mental and physical, to see why we are the person we are, and He not only does this with perfect clarity, but His understanding is even greater than our own. That is, He not only understands us when others don’t, He understands us when we ourselves aren’t sure of what is happening or why we behave the way we do.

What He doesn't do, however, is confuse explanations with justifications. Just because He understands why we make a mistake, it doesn't necessary follow that He will accept the mistake. We commonly do. I am sure we've all read of some trial in which there is an acquittal that simply makes no sense to us. There may be a technical, legal reason behind it, but sometimes juries seem willing to accept the most ridiculous explanations. Once, in the US, a man was acquitted of two murders because he had eaten some junk food and his blood sugar was high. There are many less bizarre examples and there is another consequence to this behaviour. We often won't hear an apology because we fear that in listening to why the person wronged us we are implicitly agreeing to accept their explanation. So we simply refuse to listen. God doesn't do that, either.

We all want understanding. We all want someone to identify with us, just as we identify with those we love. Their problems become our problems. Their aspirations our aspirations. Because God is omniscient He can be that person for us. He won't lie to us when were wrong, but His capacity for forgiveness is limitless. And His love for us is as boundless as His knowledge of us.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Pray Without Ceasing, 1 Thes 5:17

That it was a great delusion to think that the times of prayer ought to differ from other times. That we are as strictly obliged to adhere to God by action in the time of action, as by prayer in its season.

That his prayer was nothing else but a sense of the presence of God, his soul being at that time insensible to everything but Divine love: and that when the appointed times of prayer were past, he found no difference, because he still continued with God, praising and blessing Him with all his might, so that he passed his life in continual joy; yet hoped that God would give him somewhat to suffer, when he should grow stronger.

That we ought, once for all, heartily to put our whole trust in God, and make a total surrender of ourselves to Him, secure that He would not deceive us.

That we ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed. That we should not wonder if, in the beginning, we often failed in our endeavours, but that at last we should gain a habit, which will naturally produce its acts in us, without our care, and to our exceeding great delight.

That the whole substance of religion was faith, hope, and charity; by the practice of which we become united to the will of God: that all beside is indifferent and to be used as a means, that we may arrive at our end, and be swallowed up therein, by faith and charity.

That all things are possible to him who believes, that they are less difficult to him who hopes, they are more easy to him who loves, and still more easy to him who perseveres in the practice of these three virtues.

That the end we ought to propose to ourselves is to become, in this life, the most perfect worshippers of God we can possibly be, as we hope to be through all eternity.
The Practice of the Presence of God, The Fourth conversation
Brother Lawrence, 1605-1691

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The End Of Christian America

They say that once the national media picks up on a trend it is already passed. I've blogged about the decline of evangelicalism here and at my other blog and now Newsweek has discovered the trend with a major cover story, The End of Christian America.

Christian Right Defeated

James Dobson retired this week. As the head of Focus on the Family he was the last nationally recognized leader of the evangelical political right. I know some are promoting Rick Warren as his successor, but he doesn't (yet) share the same status. This is the first time since Falwell in the 70s that the movement has been without a figurehead. Dobson left the stage admitting the of defeat of their national agenda:

We tried to defend the unborn child, the dignity of the family, but it was a holding action... We are awash in evil and the battle is still to be waged. We are right now in the most discouraging period of that long conflict. Humanly speaking, we can say we have lost all those battles.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Quitting Church

All the numbers point to it. The clergy (quietly) admits it. Evangelical Christianity is on the verge of a serious decline. It is perhaps only a generation away from the near collapse mainstream churches saw in the 60s and 70s. There is a growing number of books on the subject - I have already reviewed The Fall of the Evangelical Nation - and I have just finished Quitting Church: Why The Faithful Are Leaving And What To Do About It by Julia Duin, the Religion Editor for the Washington Times.

Duin has been a religion journalist for some time, a position that has allowed her access to many people in leadership, and to many people who have left their positions of leadership. The reasons for the decline seem as numerous as the people leaving, but certain themes emerge. The church has very little to do, or to say, to the lives people live through the rest of the week. It concentrates it efforts on winning the lost and consequently leaves the mature Christians to go hungry. What is taught is watered down in order to be inoffensive and the lack of serious teaching is reflected in the unchristian lives so many expressed Christians live. The Church is coming apart at the top with many ministers and leaders burnt out or discouraged. Tired of trying to live perfect lives for others, tired of not being fed, tired of having to find a niche within the existing structure or risk being ignored.

I am not surprised by any of this, having gone to church for almost thirty years. Duin herself came in to the Church through the Charismatic Jesus movement of the 70s and wonders what happened to it. Where is the Spirit now? Has it been completely shut out, locked down in order to allow programs to run smoothly? Her book is long on descriptions, but offers little in the way of solutions. Of course, that may not be her fault. Authors don't necessarily provide their book's subtitle.

Duin makes a lot of good points. One of the book's sharper points is when she makes the connection between sexual struggles, being single, and the Church's need to help unmarried Christian connect. Anyone unfamiliar with the Evangelical community might think that's blindingly obvious, but to too many inside the community its not. They actually are blind to the obvious. The book might have been stronger still if she had spent some time addressing the many conflicting opinions and solutions people have adopted. Some fault the Evangelical movement for not adapting to the world of the 21st century, particularly in its views towards women, but many of the people spoken to have turned instead to churches, such of the Orthodox, who aren't known for accommodating modern trends. Sometimes Reform theology is seen as the problem, but when one minister faults Charismatics for being Arminianist Duin lets the statement stand without comment.

I suspect that the audience for this book are the many Christians who feel isolated. Who wonder if they're the only ones suffering through these discouraging times. Of course, many people feel this way at some time in their walk and then reconnect. My own feelings about the possible end of the Evangelical movement, as we know it today, is mixed. I agree with many in this book that in its efforts to become 'seeker friendly' it has watered down too much of its identity, and that the result is exactly the opposite of what it intended. It has become less relevant, not more. My strongest concern at this time is that its self-destruction will leave behind a burned out generation. One that is so convinced that it already knows everything, that it can't listen to what it wants to hear. Whereas in my review of Wicker's book I said that the Evangelicals will simply adapt to a new reality, I am now wondering if they will have "ears to hear." It may well take the rise of a new generation before we see a broader revival within the North American Church. Let's hope not.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Biblical Dualism

For the longest time I have been meaning to post some Bible studies and thoughts I've had, yet I never seem to. So here is the first. It began as a Bible study I taught last year.

Dualism is an age old concept when it comes to religion. Good versus evil. Light versus dark. God versus the devil. The idea is pretty much set in the popular imagination and in pop culture. God sits on his throne, ruling from Heaven, and Satan sits on his, ruling from Hell. Biblically and theologically this is complete nonsense. God and the devil aren't counterparts or equals. God alone is all-powerful, the creator of Heaven and Hell. And of the devil. God is unique. He doesn't have an opposite. The devil, however, does. His opposite is the Church. That's the true dualism of the Bible, the devil versus the Church. But even here it gets complicated.

Outlining the contrast between the devil and the Church could not be easier.

The devil is a destroyer, John 10:10a:

The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy...
And he is without truth, John 8:44:

Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.
The Church, on the other hand, is called to restore that which Satan has destroyed, it has a ministry of reconciliation, 2 Corinthians 5:17-19:

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.
We are instruments to be used to complete Jesus' goal, Luke 19:10:

For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.
We are to be bringers of life, John 10:10b:

I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
And holy, Ephesians 5:27:

That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
But it goes beyond simple contrasts. Before Calvary Jesus described Satan as the prince of this world, John 14:30:

Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me.
Following Calvary the Church is both king and priest, Revelations 1:6:

And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
In theory this conflict should be a very simple one, because a breach has been made for us into the devil's kingdom. Until the invention of the cannon cities would protect themselves against their enemies by building strong walls around their perimeter. But each wall had at least one hole, or breach, in it: the gate. The city needed its gate in order to connect to the world around it, but if the gate fell to the enemy, the city so followed. The Bible says that the gates of Hell cannot stand against the Church, Matthew 16:18:

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
So the Church exists to undo the devil's works. We have been given authority over his kingdom, to destroy it. And that is why the devil attacks us. He isn't simply doing whatever it is he does. He fears us and takes our threat to him far more seriously than we often do ourselves. He knows he was defeated at Calvary and he knows that he was no power over the Church. But he also knows that the Church is made up of men and women, sinners saved by grace. He knows that there are only two ways for us to exercise our God-given authority, through prayer and fasting, Mark 9:28-29:

And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, Why could not we cast him out? And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.
And by submitting ourselves to God, James 4:7:

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
And here is where we fail. To defeat him we don't need arcane rituals and incantations, we simply need to submit ourselves to God and resist the devil. In practice, however, we prefer to neither submit to God nor resist the devil. The devil is invidious. If he can't win, we'll destroy as many as possible. Biblical dualism, in a nutshell, is: the devil works to destroy and the Church to restore. We have all the power of Heaven at our disposal, but don't avail ourselves of it. Satan has been defeated, but is willing to use whatever means he can in his efforts to do as much harm as possible. So where is God in all this? He is far from neutral. He defeated Satan on the cross and He is happy to empower His Church to the extent that we will allow Him. All we have to do is submit ourselves to His will.

I Want To Be Surprised, But

New Scientist reports a comparative, state by state, study on the use of porn in the US. These aren't casual users. These are people who actually pay to access pornography. There is a positive correlation between the conservative, church going, family values states and porn use. The more conservative one claims to be, the more likely that same person is secretly logging on to porn. Yes, I know there are a lot of us who don't do this, but I also know there are too many who do. Study after study has found little or no difference in the behaviour of those who claim to be Christians and those who don't. If the Church has no moral authority in the eyes of society at large, it is because it has no spiritual authority in the eyes of God, and it has no spiritual authority because it doesn't walk the walk. It says one thing and does another.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Bible And Literature Quiz

The BBC site has is a short quiz about the Bible and literature, specifically on identifying Biblical allusions in classic lit. I hadn't read a lot of them, but still got nine out of ten by relying on my knowledge of the Bible. The one I blew was the only one I guessed at. Try it.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Getting Your Saints Right

Not being a Catholic, I don't really understand all this, but then many Catholics don't appear to understand it either. If you are praying for a new love, don't pray to St. Valentine. The proper saint is Raphael. Valentine is the saint for those you already have their special someone.

Its not mentioned, but Raphael is actually an angel. I didn't know they sainted angels.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

June 29, 2010

A while ago I set myself a goal to shake off the spiritual status quo. I don't know even now what that means, but I wasn't happy where I was so I gave myself 1000 days, until June 29, 2010, to change... something. This month will bring me to the half way point. On the other blog I had been giving one hundred day assessments. I am not going to do that here. I may not mention the countdown again this year. I don't know. There is something on the horizon that may have some real consequences in my spiritual walk, but I can't discuss it at this point. Its something I have to let happen, which grates a bit. I'd rather just deal with it, but I think letting it happen is the Lord's will in the matter. Once it does happen I'll be able to talk about it.

In other news, I created a link to my earlier dispensationalist writings. That's the last of the 'old news.' All new content from here on!


When I began this blog I had just finished a study of Dispensationalism. This page links to posts I did then, and to an article on Dispensationalism and modern Israel I did for subter.

Leaving Dispensationalism Behind

Methods of Interpretation


The Dispensationalist Outline of History

End Time Miscellany

Dispensationalism: A Look At II Peter 3

A Black Cheque

Saturday, January 31, 2009

That's About It

Today I put up links to my personal testimony and some book reviews. I am going to add a link to the pieces I did on Dispensationalism back when I started this blog and that will be it for old business. I could have done that much today, but I hurt my thumb last night - I cut it well washing dishes - and my hand hurts if I type too much. As far as I am concerned, its on to new business!

My Testimony

I grew up in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and life had not been good. My mother and my biological father had split up shortly after I was born. A sister of mine had died and the house was full of recriminations. My mother married my step-father when I was still a pre-schooler. He had a lot of things going for him but even when I was very young he was well on his way to becoming an alcoholic. Their marriage was stormy and short and ended with me being raised by my step-father. I sank into what I later realized was depression and became disconnected from those around me. The years from my parents’ divorce to my high school graduation were long and desperate. Once I reached eighteen I was ready to put it all behind me. To start my life over. That was what a move to Whitehorse, Yukon offered. I moved there because someone had offered me a summer job. I was at a turning point.

I had family in Whitehorse and began meeting lots of new people. One was a neighbor, a Pentecostal woman, named Lisa. She talked with me at great length, telling me what the Bible teaches and how the Spirit of God moved in her church. My childhood in a mainstream church did not include much in the way of Bible teaching. I had been allowed to skip church altogether from a young age so I was curious about the many things she told me. People were ‘healed’, people ‘danced in the Spirit’, they were ‘filled with the Holy Ghost’ and ‘spoke in other tongues’. She showed me accounts of miracles which had happened in the Bible, and she then explained that they still happened at her church.

With my curiosity aroused I decided to attend a service at the First Pentecostal Church of Whitehorse on the last Sunday of July, 1981, to see for myself. Even though I sat at the front, I spent much of the time watching the congregation worship. The Holy Spirit was strongly moving on me, and the very next week I returned to church and repented of my sins and was baptized by immersion in Jesus’ name. The church was constructing a new building, and I participated as much as I could. In the last service at the old building I went to the altar, and asked the Lord to fill me with His Spirit. I was filled with the Holy Ghost and began to speak with tongues, just as the church did on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2).

The year I spent in Whitehorse was the most important one of my life. I became a Christian and I met my future wife. In time we moved to Victoria, BC, to raise our family, and so that I could attend university. There were many blessings, particularly the birth of my two daughters, but there were also some hard trials. The hardest came in 1989, when my marriage ended. When we separated, my wife took the girls to her home in the Yukon, and I found myself sinking back into the same depression that had stolen much of my adolescence years.

When I became depressed my views and behaviour was undercut by feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. It destroyed all of my motivation and prevented me from reaching out or appreciating anything. Often I would question the value of serving the Lord, because my darkened mind rejected everything. But thankfully my earlier experience with the Lord prevented me from walking away. By that time I had lived for the Lord for the better part of a decade. I knew the truth of God’s Word and I knew the Lord personally. Even feeling that I was without hope, I knew that I had experiences I could not deny. In the Bible, when people began to be offended by Jesus’ teachings, many stopped following Him. He asked the twelve if they too would go. Peter answered, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.’ (John 6:68) This scripture was one that spoke to me again and again throughout this period. Even though I didn’t feel I was currently getting anything at all out of my spiritual walk, I knew that there wasn’t anywhere else to turn which would offer me anything more than I’d already experienced in Jesus. I was fully persuaded!

After about a year of suffering, during some special services our church hosted, I went forward and asked for healing. As hands were laid on me and I was prayed for (1 Peter 2:24, James 5:14) the spirit of heaviness was lifted by the power and presence of the Almighty God. A couple of months later I recieved custody of my daughters. There were still trials ahead, but freed from the deadening, crippling depression, I was able to see past my circumstances. ‘[W]hen I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me.’ (Micah 7:8)

Today I can look at where the Lord has me brought and appreciate all the blessings He has given me, including a strong family and a happy marriage, and the knowledge that His hand is on my life. Today I am setting down deeper roots in the Lord. Challenging myself and finding out that richer, greater levels of commitment are always met by a richer, greater flow of His Spirit in my life. When things are dark and I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, I know that He knows and that He will be there for me. It’s a question that was settled long ago and continually is bearing fruit today!

Book Reviews

One things I have been doing at the other site is reviewing books. There aren't many, yet, and I am going to link directly to that site, instead of reposting here. Future reviews will be here at Christian Beta.

Jesus and Yahweh: The Divine Names

AD 381: Heretics, Pagans, And The Christian State

The Fall Of The Evangelical Nation: The Surprising Crisis Inside The Church

Quitting Church: Why The Faithful Are Leaving And What To Do About It

The Lost World of Genesis One

All Or Nothing: A Short History Of Abstinence In America

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Relaunch Prep Continues

Looking over 2008 posts that might be reposted here, there aren't a lot to consider. I made 19 religious or spiritually themed posts in 2008. About one every two or three weeks. I know that's a lot for some bloggers. There were links to news items, countdowns on my 1000 day goal (more on that later), even a re-post from here. There were a couple of book reviews I am thinking of linking to here. You may have noticed that the links I did have here are gone. A couple were more a appropriate to the other blog and the rest were dead. A couple of years is a long time in cyberspace. One thing I will be reposting over here is my testimony. Before I do any of it though, I am going to look through the rest of my hiatus period and see if there is anything else I need to consider moving. I intend to have it all done by the end of the month.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Christian Beta Returns

After about 25 months I have decided to revive this blog. I am not entirely sure about the when and how at this point. Originally I put this one on hiatus and started another with the idea of putting all my interests under one roof, but over the last two years my other site, David Bird, came to represent my geekier interests (comics, SF, and such) and stopped being the more generalized site I had imagined. I am okay with that. It just developed its own identity over time. Rather than force it back into the orginally intended mold, I am bringing this one back. I will probably link to some of the stuff I have there, but I don't think I'll repost it here. We'll see. Anyway. Good to be back. I am looking forward to a good year for Christian Beta in 2009.