Drastic Measures

“We have a problem,” he said gravely in his thick British accent. Our family was on our eleventh day in the United Kingdom earlier this summer. We had checked out of our place in the Highlands of Scotland and had been traveling all day in order to make it to England so we could check into our guest house in Whitley Bay. We were tired. We were carrying all our luggage. But there was a problem with the house, as he announced to us.


Yes, fleas. And the young man who was our host assured us that we couldn’t stay there that night—tired or not. Apparently while his family had been on holiday, their housecat had introduced an infestation of fleas throughout the whole house, including the beds and living room. They had returned earlier that same day and discovered that the whole house was hopping with the little biting critters. The young man physically blocked us from entering the house as he explained the situation. He and his family were busy feverishly cleaning, vacuuming, and using flea powder on everything.

And when we heard this news, we were suddenly not that tired, and not quite so eager to check in.

Take your time, really. Make sure it’s good and clean. That’s what was running through my mind.

And as I reflect on that experience in England, my mind wanders across Scripture to an obscure section of the book of Leviticus. In chapters 13 and 14, there are extensive rules and procedures for dealing with diseases of the skin, fabrics, and houses. Yes, houses. No mention of fleas there, but still some good advice for the people of Whitley Bay, at least in concept.

Leviticus counsels that a priest come to a house if there is a spreading mold. If the mold continues to spread after a week-long quarantine, then the plaster needs to be scraped off, the affected stones removed, and both thrown outside of town. If the spreading mold returns, then the whole house must be pronounced unclean and it must be torn down and deposited outside of town in an unclean place.

Pretty drastic, especially for a time when building a house was a big, expensive deal.

Would you tear down your house because of mold? Or fleas? How far would you go to correct a problem like that?

How about when it comes to your spiritual life? The truth is that sometimes our lives become like a guest house infested with fleas: fine on the outside, but filthy inside. And sometimes our souls can pick up a spreading mold of unchecked sin. So the question is, what will we do with our sin and filth? Will we take drastic measures to correct it—with vacuuming, scrubbing, and powder? Will we tear down the house, just to save our lives? Or will we tell ourselves that everything is okay and leave all as it is?

There was a silver lining to our stay in England. We didn’t stay in the flea house, but miraculously God provided another house a block over (which is another adventure story for another time). And there is a silver lining for all of us who have infestation in our souls. God has miraculously provided a way to be cleansed and forgiven. Jesus has taken all our sins and sicknesses into his body on the cross, so that we can be completely healed. So let us all pause and take a good look at our inner lives, to diagnose our sin. And then, let us take the steps necessary to address the problems we find there, knowing that God is able and willing to heal us.


Harmonizing in Translation

So I was reading Mark 11:1-11 this week, in preparation for a sermon.  I compared Mark with the other Gospels (since they all relate this account of Jesus’ arrival) and discovered that they use different words to describe the animal(s) that Jesus rode into Jerusalem.

Mark uses polos, the basic word for a young male equine mammal, a.k.a. a colt (either a horse, donkey, or mule).  Luke, like Mark, uses polos, and John employs onarion, a diminutive of onos (so a little or young donkey).  Matthew takes Zechariah literally and depicts both a colt (polos) and a donkey (onos).

In my research, I consulted the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), to see how they translated this passage.  And to my surprise, the HCSB translates all three different terms in all four Gospels as simply “donkey.”  And I am still puzzled why a translation that prides itself on being accurate would flatten out the four different ways the evangelists chose to tell this story.  Don’t get me wrong: I typically appreciate the HCSB.  I think their translation policy (a simple, hybrid between literal and dynamic) is excellent (except for how they render words for human beings, but that’s another post).

But I think they got this one wrong.

And worse yet, the only explanation I can think of, is that the HCSB translators wanted to create artificial harmony among the Gospels–to smooth over any perceived inconsistencies, perhaps in service to inerrancy.  It’s as if the translators (or editors) started with a liturgical picture–Palm Sunday, with Jesus riding on a donkey, and children waving palm branches around him–and then went to the text.  Which is eisegesis, by the way.  Which is not how you interpret Scripture, by the way.

Can anyone else explain this to me?  Any other theories?


Piers Morgan, Liberal Protestant

I know this was a while back, but it’s worth sharing and commenting on.

Watch Piers Morgan get owned by Penn Jillette, the famous magician and atheist.

Jillette more-or-less understands Roman Catholic theological method—specifically, that individual interpretation and democracy (the church moving with the times) matter little to Catholic doctrine and dogma.  He does a decent job of summing up the Catholic view of tradition: It’s not supposed to modernize, it’s supposed to be God’s unchanging will for the church.

On the other hand, Morgan actually demonstrates the liberal Protestant theological method quite well: quote Jesus’ own words (as recorded in Scripture—but no other parts of Scripture, mind you); if the Gospels don’t record Jesus saying something about a particular subject, then we can do what we like.

Jillette obviously doesn’t agree with the Roman Catholic Church’s stance—on anything, really—and he’s a little sloppy with his history and theology (e.g., the bit about Luther), but he’s basically right: if you’re a Catholic, you either agree with your church, or you don’t.

Some Thoughts on the National Day of Prayer

I’m glad we have a National Day of Prayer.  Our own community observed the NDOP with a service of prayer that included all the churches (!) in our community.  Praise God.  It was great because Christians from very different backgrounds came together and actually prayed!  Powerful stuff.

But there seems to be a strange confusion with the National Day of Prayer, a conflation of church and state.

And that confusion is exemplified by Greg Laurie, the honorary national chairman of the NDOP, in his article in the Washington Post.  He starts out:

Everywhere we look in America, we see signs of decline. That’s because we have largely forgotten God, but the good news is God has not forgotten us.

Pretty good, so far.  Decline.  Remembering and turning to God.  Check.  But then he immediately veers off into the ditch.

In 2 Chronicles 7:14, God says, “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”  In other words, America has two options: judgment or revival.

Or not.  If he had bothered to read 2 Chronicles 7, he would know that the context is in the dedication of Solomon’s temple and the LORD’s appearance to the king.  The “my people” is not a nation-state somewhere in the future in the New World.  But “my people” is the faith community, Israel.  Not America.

Yes, I know it can be confusing that in the Old Testament “Israel” refers to a political entity and God’s spiritual people, rolled into one.  They had kings and judges, as well as elders and priests.  The problem is that of analogy.  The contemporary analog of ancient, biblical Israel (as a political-spiritual entity) is not America-and-Christians—except for maybe if you’re a Mormon.  Because if that were true, Barack Obama would be our king/high priest, and Harry Reid and John Boehner would be heads of the Sanhedrin.  But the best analogy for Old Testament Israel, as we read the Bible today, is simply the church.  Jesus is our king and high priest.  And our ecclesiastical leaders function as priests and elders in the OT.  Much better, yes?

Laurie goes on with the mistaken analogy:

Unlike Rome, the United States was built on a Judeo-Christian foundation, but we have strayed dramatically from the vision of our Founding Fathers. Freedom of religion seems to have become freedom from religion. We have removed God from our schools, our sporting events, our public places and our workplaces.

So let me trace the comparison: Our modern “Israel” (aka the United States) was established by divinely guided prophets (the founding fathers); we have strayed from their pristine vision of theocracy by kicking God out of our public life.  Therefore, we are crumbling and need to repent and return to God (even, apparently, the non-Christians among us), reclaiming him in all public places.

Perhaps this has a lot to do with whether you think America was founded as a “Christian nation” or a “nation of Christians” or a secular republic that took no official, precise doctrinal stance on the nature of the almighty Creator mentioned in the founding documents.  Or something else.  But this recounting of America’s history seems a little sloppy and simplistic.

Even Laurie’s last analogy (the repentance of Nineveh after the preaching of Jonah) is flawed.  (And don’t even get me started on his non sequitur about America and the End Times.)  In the ancient world, people groups were bound by social, religious, political, and cultural/linguistic forces (e.g., Assyria and Israel).  Today, we are not.  Our nation, like it or not, does not have one official “god.”  It is set up so we are free to practice our faith as we see fit (unless it’s something illegal!), and that is a good thing.  If the founders had set up an official state church, by the way, Greg Laurie would have to find peace as an Episcopalian!  Or maybe a Presbyterian or a Congregationalist—the other two dominant faith groups in the New World.  The “God” mentioned in the Enlightenment-saturated documents of our founding fathers is probably not the same as the triune God revealed in Jesus Christ, the eternal God-Man who died for humanity’s sins and was raised from the dead, but rather an indolent deistic personality that passively oversees the affairs of humankind.

Don’t get me wrong: I love having the National Day of Prayer.  And yes, we need to repent and return to God.  And when I say “we,” I don’t mean “America,” but I mean “us Christians.”  And yes, it is our job as Christians to make a difference in our society, inviting unbelievers to put their faith in Christ and to embrace lives of righteousness.  But that is a spiritual calling, not a political agenda.


The Planned Parenthood God

I just had to share this, a blog in the New York Times.

Never mind that President Obama addressed the largest abortion provider in the United States and firmly stood on one side of a contentious political debate.

Never mind that air traffic controllers get axed because of the budget sequester while Planned Parenthood’s federal funding remains sacrosanct.

Never mind the rich irony that President Obama, who passed a massive new healthcare interference bill designed to nudge the behavior of the populace, is quoted as saying, “when it comes to a woman’s health, no politician should get to decide what’s best for you.”

No, never mind all that, because that’s just typical of our corrupt, depraved political system in America.

But look at the woman in the picture from the event.  There’s something chilling about her garb that grabs me as a Christian and a pastor.  Apparently, she is a clergywoman–hence, the clerical collar and stole.  But do you see what is printed on her stole?  Yes, that’s the Planned Parenthood logo.  Chilling.

Now, before you accuse me of being partisan, imagine a clergyperson wearing a stole with an NRA symbol on it.  Or Burger King.  Or Fox News.  Or Wal-Mart.  Or whatever.  See the problem?  The problem is when Christians willingly kneel at the altars of strange gods who have nothing to do with the one true God revealed in Jesus Christ.  I don’t know anything about the woman in the picture, but the image reminds me more of the priests of Molech and the unfaithful Israelites, than it does faithful ministers of Jesus Christ.

Lord, have mercy.

Take a Deep Breath: Windows 8 Isn’t That Bad

I know: a ringing endorsement, right?

But after spending a few days with my new desktop computer that runs Windows 8, I have to say that it’s not bad.  Strange.  Different, yes.  But okay.

There’s been lots of polarized discussion about Windows 8, ever since its debut last fall.  (Just today, I read one blogger who is vocally abandoning Windows 8 for Mac and another blogger who is cautiously supporting Microsoft’s evolution.)  So when I bought Windows 8 for a desktop, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

And that’s really what it boils down to: expectations.  If you assume that Windows 8 will be buttoned-down and “normal,” just like the beautiful, stable Windows 7, then you will be disappointed that it’s got all these charms and live tiles—and that it doesn’t have a stinking Start button!  And if you assume that Windows 8 will be a totally new, seamless OS that is the same on a phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop, you will be disappointed that the desktop still looks a lot like Windows 7 (and Vista, for that matter).

My main observation (concern?) is that Windows 8 is forked—like it has a dual personality.  In the Metro UI, it’s got the cool, colorful, flat style that Microsoft has been cultivating of late.  But in desktop mode (and when using the Windows Explorer), it looks pretty much like Windows 7 and the traditional Windows model.

If I have any feedback, it’s that Microsoft probably should’ve gone fully one way or the other: either develop the OS totally around the Metro idea, or just perfect the traditional Windows look—but not split the difference.

Otherwise, we should probably just relax.  Take a deep breath.  Windows 8 works just fine.  It’s solid.  It’s functional.  It’s okay.  It isn’t that bad.

Good-bye NIV84 and TNIV

During Holy Week I heard the news that the 2005 Today’s New International Version (TNIV) and the 1984 New International Version (NIV84) had been removed from BibleGateway, leaving behind only the New International Version (NIV2011), the New International Reader’s Version (NIrV, a kids’ version), and the Anglicized NIV.  YouVersion also followed suit.

This is a significant shift, taking away the possibility of using the NIV predecessors and consolidating behind the NIV2011.  Marvin Olasky, writing in World Magazine, did some research why the NIV84 went missing (he doesn’t seem to care much that the TNIV disappeared).

According to him, BibleGateway has said, “The NIV’s worldwide publisher, Biblica, has requested that we remove the older 1984 and TNIV editions from BibleGateway, and we are complying with their wishes.”

On the positive side, Biblica seems to be solving the problem they created when they produced parallel-track translations with the NIV84 and the TNIV back in 2005.  Now there is no fragmentation; just one NIV.  Like it or not.

And apparently Marvin Olasky doesn’t like it.

Nursing an old grudge about gender neutrality, Olasky uses the news for an excuse to hunker down and demand that true believers stockpile copies of the “classic” NIV84 and to rail against the NIV2011’s faults.

There is no official word whether Olasky will be starting an NIV84-Only movement.

Stay tuned.


Some Theses for Discussion

I know that the plural of “anecdote” is not “trend,” as many sensationalistic journalists assume.  But something is afoot these days, in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and Protestantism at large.

In 2011, Norman McCrummen, a pastor for a PCUSA congregation retired and subsequently became a Roman Catholic layperson.  I know of other cases of pastors–Presbyterian and otherwise–who have become Roman Catholics, so Norman’s interview was intriguing.

I want to use his thoughts as a springboard for further discourse–my own theses for discussion.  If some are to be believed (e.g., Phyllis Tickle), we are living through another reformation of sorts.  So let’s think about how the plates are shifting under us.

McCrummen said that the erosion of biblical authority “didn’t happen overnight in the denomination, and the whole of liberal Protestantism is facing a crisis in that it has accommodated cultural norms to the point of breaking with Biblical authority.”  Is liberal Protestantism truly reaching a breaking point?  Is all of Protestantism, in all its varied forms, unraveling?  Or is this just endemic to liberalism?

Here are my other (somewhat random) theses for discussion:

1) It’s not too controversial to say that Liberal Protestantism has jettisoned the historic doctrines of Christianity.  Where is the limit of accommodation, when it no longer becomes a recognizable form of Christianity?  McCrummen said, in his interview, “Technically…in a Protestant church, anything can be up for a vote, and that happened in my denomination [regarding sexual ethics]…In secular culture, truth is whatever you decide it is.”  A friend of mine pointed out that the church (at least in the U.S.) has been cozy with the culture for a long time; however, at this juncture, the church (liberal, conservative, evangelical) has been unceremoniously dumped by the culture.  So the question is how do we respond?  Pull back and regroup as a separate entity?  More accommodation?  As my friend said, “For many, the response is to run as hard as they can after the culture, shouting, ‘Baby, come back!  I can change!  It’ll be different this time!  I promise!'”

2) Low-church evangelicals have done away with historic liturgy (including a recognition of sin during the worship service), mostly because of human concerns.  Occasionally you hear about some evangelical who has liberalized his opinion about one thing or another (see Jay Bakker or Rob Bell).  Is it only a matter of time, then, before evangelicals start to compromise core Christian doctrines in the name of “seekers,” in order to make their faith more palatable?  We all know that evangelicals revere the Bible, but there’s no agreement on essentials, and there’s no formal principle in evangelicalism for guarding the basics.

3) Some confessional Protestants (e.g., Anglican, LCMS) take seriously the preservation of “the faith” that was once entrusted to the saints, but they seem to be the exceptions.  Even in my own denomination, “reformed and always reforming” seems to have become a justification for evolution.  What does it mean “to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people,” while still being Reformed? (Jude 3b NIV)

4) I would argue that most Protestant bishops (e.g., Methodist, Episcopal, ELCA) grossly misunderstand the episcopacy’s role in guarding the faith, even in their Protestant traditions.  They are more likely to see themselves as administrators, church growth coaches, or–worst of all–agents of change.  If you buy into the idea of an episcopacy (and many Protestant traditions don’t), what is the bishops’ proper role in protecting and transmitting the essentials of the apostolic faith?  It is my observation (and McCrummen’s, too) that the Roman Catholic magisterium correctly understand their role and identity by not changing the faith handed down to them.

5) Higher criticism, Modernism, post-modernism, and the proliferation of various interpretive hermeneutics (e.g., feminist, liberation, and racial and ethnic categories) have chipped away at the so-called perspicuity of Scripture, so it’s not as definitive to say, “What does the Bible say?”  (I do believe that there is an existing theology in Scripture, but it’s not always perfectly clear–like for baptism and eschatology.)  So where does authority come from in the church?  What is the role of a regula fide (rule of faith) or the creeds in defining the boundaries of Christianity?


About That Revision Blind Spot…

While I’m clearing the decks of my Weblog backlog, I thought I’d comment on Michael Brooks’ article at The Christian Post–which is oddly familiar to my last post about revisionists.

Brooks, who I assume is an evangelical Protestant (in line with CP’s general character), takes on revisionists who are trying re-package the gospel message to make it more relevant.  His basic message, contra those who want to modify the Christian gospel, is that “simplicity is at the heart of the Gospel, not innovation.”  To which I respond, “Hear, hear!”  The church’s job has always been to conserve and transmit its simple message to the next generation and to an unbelieving world.

I hope Brooks wasn’t just aiming his fire at liberal revisionists in liberal denominations, though, because there are many church leaders in Brooks’ own evangelical camp who have modified the Christian message in their ultimate quest to be “relevant” to the culture.  I could name names, but I will protect the guilty.  Just think of all the feel-good, prosperity-gospel-loving, personal-fulfillment life coaches preachers on TV.  The liberal revisionists are an easy target, of course, but there are scores of evangelicals who could take Brooks’ message to heart.

It also struck me as odd that Brooks referred to evangelical Christianity–what some used to call “biblical Christianity”–as small-o “orthodox Christianity.”  I have also noticed this trend in Christianity Today, one of the few paper magazines I read: substituting “orthodox” for “evangelical” or “biblical.”  (Albert Mohler uses this word frequently, too.)  This is a curious word choice, since we Protestants, while being ostensibly centered on the basic gospel message, are not “orthodox” per se.  Or maybe I should say we’re not capital-O “Orthodox.”  (Here’s a good question: Is it possible to be little-o without being capital-O?)

I have to say this delicately, but we Protestants are on thin ice when we accuse others of modifying or innovating Christianity.  (We’re also on thinner ice when we accuse others of dividing the church or engaging in schism.)  Yes, the basic Protestant narrative says that our reformers reclaimed the simple gospel message and returned to the New Testament church.  But there are plenty of innovations we have made to Christianity since then: liturgical, theological, ecclesiological, missional.  Sola scriptura, the sinners’ prayer, the evangelistic meeting, inerrancy, dispensationalism, having a printed Bible are all innovations.  There are lots of terms we use that don’t correspond to the earliest church, either: “getting saved,” “accept Jesus into my heart,” “surrender,” “washed in the blood,” and “make a decision for Christ,” to name a few.

So an exhortation and a question:

Let’s be careful when we accuse others of being revisionists when we are often blind to our own revisions.

And what would it look like if we (Protestants) truly conformed our message to the basic, nascent, apostolic gospel, propagated in the second half of the first century, before we had Bibles or inerrancy or TV preachers?  (Or is that even possible?  Oh wait, that’s two questions.)  Discuss.

Only Slightly Revisionist

It’s a popular (but untrue) meme among liberal and revisionist scholars of early Christianity: that the Orthodox/Catholic/Nicene leaders in the early church solidified their power and subsequently squashed the diverse, feminist strands of Christianity that flourished in the first couple of centuries of the church.  Usually these revisionist scholars submit as evidence for their claims the Gnostic “Gospels” that emerged well after the first century, that they claim were blocked by those in power.

So I’m thankful for Timothy Paul Jones’ article refuting revisionist claims that other “Gospels” were barred from the New Testament canon by the powerful.

But while refuting the revisionists, Jones commits a tiny revision himself.  Jones is a Baptist scholar at a Baptist seminary.  And he retells church history with a distinctly Baptist slant.  Which is fine.  Except that the early church was not Baptist.  At least not as we understand Baptist today.

Jones says that in A.D. 199, Serapion “became the lead pastor of the leading church in Syria, the church in Antioch.  As the leading pastor in Antioch, Serapion was responsible not only for his own church but also for several smaller congregations in the area.”  That would be the job description of a bishop, or even a patriarch, but not a “lead pastor.”  “Lead pastor”–a distinctly 21st century megachurch term–makes it sound like Serapion called weekly staff meetings to “cast a vision,” to deal with the issues of opening a new satellite campus in the suburbs of Antioch, and to work out the details of the new worship service targeted at 20-somethings.  I’m surprised Jones didn’t refer to Serapion’s jurisdiction as a “conference”!

Jones may not like the terms “bishop” or “patriarch”–since Baptists are radically congregationalist–but that doesn’t change history that by the time Serapion lived, the church was firmly episcopal.