Friday, September 26, 2008

Retro September: Week Four

In October, this blog will feature a series of posts dealing with Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed and the website dedicated to debunking the movie, ExpelledExposed. All but the last article are ready to post. I hope to begin publishing them in early October. As far as I can tell, there is nothing similar appearing on the Internet. I have spent the month of September working on this project. So, instead of writing new posts, older posts have been republished. This week, leading up this series, I have republished a three part review of Francis Collin's "The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence For Belief."

Update: I have now finished the last article; it did not take me nearly as long as I thought it would take to write it. The whole series is waiting to be published. The only thing that needs to be done is to receive permission to quote from a website. Once that task is completed, I will immediately post the first article.

Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual: "The Language of God:A Scientist Presents Evidence For Belief" by Francis S. Collins, part III

(First Published on 4/2/07)

I don't remember what I ate last Friday evening, but I did finish "The Language of God." I didn't have any music that fitted the subject; this made me realize I don't have Gustav Holst's "The Planets" on CD or tape.
Francis Collins is no athiest. His story of how he turned from athiest to a believer in God makes compelling reading. It is also worth noting that he takes some athiests, such as Richard Dawkins, to task for their public statements not only denying the existence of God but expressing a desire to drive all religious influence out of all spheres of life. In my first post, I said I did not have enough information on Collins as to whether he professed to believe in Jesus. Towards the end of his book, Collins provides an answer. He states emphatically that he has placed his faith and trust in Jesus. He gives readers an account of his search for the truth once he abandoned his athieism. It makes good reading, as does the description of his growing awareness of his own sin within him. However, Collins stops short of claiming that Jesus is the only way to the Father. He is not willing to claim the exclusivity of truth contained in the Christian Bible. He just says that he is satisfied with following Jesus. If one chooses a different path to God, that is fine with him.
In determining whether the Genesis account of creation is true, or whether we are the product of evolution, Collins always claims that science is the final arbiter of truth. All our beliefs about how the earth and man came into being must conform to the findings of Darwinian evolution. To believe in the Genesis account is to reject all the findings of science. Why, if Biblical creation is true (according to Collins), then the scientific fields of physics, chemistry, cosmology, geology,and biology would suffer "a complete and irreversible collapse..." Not only that, but the teaching of Creationism by the Church could cause young Christians to desert the faith when confronted with "the facts of evolution." Collins states that this should be the Church's greatest fear. However, if the Church took his advice, young people would leave in droves because they will not place their faith in a God that cannot create a universe without corrective mechanisms to make up for "voids" in His physical laws. (See Part II which discusses this issue) Collins asserts that death is the price we pay for evolution. Why trust in a God like that? Collins wants us to believe in God, yet I can worship and trust the God whose perfect creation was marred by sin (which brought death and all its agonies into the world) rather than a diety who created evolution and all the harm done through "the survival of the fittest." It is interesting to note that while Collins maintains that God is the Creator of the Universe, he states that the physical world cannot tell us anything about God's character. Has not Collins read Romans 1 where Paul teaches that the natural world not only declares that there is a God, but that it also teaches us about God's attributes? How many people have observed the workings of nature and in doing so, have discerned a loving God as responsible? How does Collins account for the introduction of sin? He quotes C. S. Lewis (Not my favorite Christian writer nor even on my list of favorites. Does this shock you?) who himself seemed to allow for evolution within his belief system. Collin's quote of Lewis is extremely vauge about when sin was introduced or how. I myself have a hard time believing that "the survival of the fittest" preceded the introduction of sin.
While Collins appears sincere in his efforts to get atheists to believe in God, he also appears to be unaware of the incompatibility of evolution with the loving nature of our Creator. His view of Scripture seems to be based on the opinions of others (Augustine, Lewis) . He is right that one should not fear to study the natural world because one may lose their belief in God. Yet in the study of the world God created, we do need to take care who and what guides us. Collins's guides appear to be Darwin, "The Origin of Species", and evolutionary scientists. Another group that can serve as a guide is composed of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), His Word, and the Church. I prefer to follow the later group. So should you.

Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual: "The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence For Belief" by Francis S. Collins, Part II

(First Published on 3/27/07)

"A believer need not fear that this investigation will dethrone the divine; if God is truly Almighty, He will hardly be threatened by our puny efforts to understand the workings of His natural world."
This is a quote from Francis Collins in his book "The Language of God." What he is saying is that a study of the natural sciences should not cause one to forsake their belief in God. I agree. However, implicit in his statement is that the evidence for Darwinian evolution is so unassailable that those who believe in the Biblical Creation account must change their minds. He tries to comfort the reader by stating that one can reconcile their belief in God with evolution. Collins believes that evolution is a process through which God works and that man is a product of this process. "Freeing God from the burden of special acts of creation does not remove Him as the source of things that make humanity special, and of the universe itself. It merely shows us something of how He operates." This statement of Collins is meant to give confort to those who call themselves Christians but believe that the evidence for Evolution negates the Genesis account of Creation and Man's special status within the created world. A theologian once wrote Darwin revealing the same mindset as Collins. This theologian wrote that " is just as noble a conception of the diety to believe that he created a few origional forms capable of self-development into other and needful forms, as to believe that he required a fresh act of creation to supply the voids caused by the action of his laws." Am I supposed to derive comfort from this? Am I to put my faith and trust in a God who pronounced His creation "good" and man as "very good", or must I believe in a God whose work was incomplete and inadequate to begin with? Why would God create a work that was not complete in itself? If there are "voids" in the laws of the Universe which have their origin in God, then can there not be "voids" or defects in the moral law? Can we reconcile the Biblical God who judges nations for their treatment of the weak and vulnerable with a God who built into His creation "the survival of the fittest?" If there are "voids" in God's created world, why should I believe that He works out all things for the good of those who love Him? It was the belief in man as created in God's image that gave rise to the efforts to free others from slavery and ill-treatment. I wonder if evolution had been accepted sooner whether there would have been an end to these practrices, or would the excuse that "the survival of the fittest" been used as an excuse to maintain systems of bondage? What kind of loving God would purposely introduce the violence that plagues the animal world which the Bible clearly shows was introduced through sin? Collins believes that evolution says nothing about its author. This shows the shallow thinking of one who tries to reconcile God and evolution. Any God who creates the universe with the survival of the fittest as one of its laws cannot be the God of the Old and New Testaments. Any creator who cannot create a work that is "very good" cannot be trusted. Why should followers of Jesus in other countries put their life on the line for a God that is not an omniscient, omnipresent, loving Creator? Collins awe of God stems from the variety of the created world. I too am in awe of God's handiwork. But I love God's moral nature more and am smart enough to know this moral nature cannot be reconciled with the God of Darwinian evolution. There is a notion, which Collins repeats, that Darwin was a man of faith until he sailed on the ship Beagle. The fact is Darwin gave up on his faith in the God of the Bible long before his voyage. Had he not, he would not have made the conclusions he did. I could write more, but the library where I am posting is about to close. I hope to finish this book in one more reading on Friday.

Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual: "The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence For Belief" by Francis S. Collins

(First Published on 3/17/07)

Last night I threw some salmon in the microwave, turned on some Bach, and read the first three chapters of "The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence For Belief." The author, Francis S. Collins, is the head of the Human Genome Project and one the this country's leading geneticists. His research has achieved progress in the fight against cystic fibrosis, neurofibromatosis, and Huntington's disease. He grew up with no religious background to speak of and by his twenties claimed to be an athiest. His work with patients who had faith in God caused him to investigate the existence of God. This quest, which included the writings of C.S. Lewis, led him to abandon his atheism. Collins believes in a God who has designed the universe and who cares about and communicates with human beings. Collin's God may be known by faith and may be followed. He recounts the sexual assault of his daughter and speaks of his need to forgive the one guilty of this crime. He is struggling to forgive because he knows God wants us to forgive those who have harmed us. I do not know enough of Collin's background, nor have I yet read a definitive statement in his book that Collins has put put his faith and trust in Jesus as his savior. From what I have read so far, he believes all religions to be equally valid. Also, he believes that Darwinian evolution to be compatable with the Christian faith (or any other religion). Most of the rest of the book deals with the evidence for his claim. Next Friday, I will read as much as I can. For now, I will give my impressions of the first three chapters. The first chapter deals with his journey from atheism to belief. His account is brief and his style is easy for a scientific ignoramous such as myself to understand. He does a good job in presenting the scientific evidence that the universe and man himself was not just a cosmic accident. He repudiates the efforts of those like Richard Dawkins who try to explain the universe without reference to God. Collins also does well in his defense against Freudians who state that God is nothing more than a product of a man's psyche. Much of my disagreement with him will be expressed next week. Yet this quote from his introduction is revealing:
"This potential sythesis of the scientific and spiritual worldviews is assumed by many in modern times to be an impossibility, rather like trying to force the two poles of a magnet together into the same spot. Despite that impression, however, many Americans seem interested in incorporating the validity of both of these worldviews into their daily lives. Recent polls confirm that 93 percent of Americans profess some form of belief in God; yet most of them drive cars, use electricity, and pay attention to weather reports, apparently assuming that the science undergirding these phenomena is generally trustworthy."
I could not have believed that anyone could have made such a statement. In my forty-two years of experience, I have not yet discerned a movement among those who believe in God to make use of the technology that runs most of society. Why? Because they already do and have done so long before I or Collins showed up on the scene. Does this man know the Christian worldview that made modern science possible? (He needs to read " How Should We Then Live? " by Francis Schaeffer.) Can he be so ignorant of the modern lifestyles we Bible believers live. (I have THREE USB MASS STORAGE DEVICES!!!!) Does the acceptance of the phyical laws of the Universe necessitate that I accept Dawinian Evolution over Biblical Creation? Till next time...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Retro September: Week Three

Great progress has been made on the series that will appear in October. Most of it is written and what has been written is being typed. Only the last two articles are not written down. Research for the last article will be time-consuming; it may not be completed before the appearence of the first installment. I am committed to begin publishing the new series the first week in October, hopefully on the 2nd or 3rd. In the meantime, I have republished older posts. There is no theme that links them except the author's belief that these, along with the other posts published this month, are among the best that have appeared on this blog. The final entries for September will be related to the series appearing in October. I see that some have viewed my profile; it is my hope that those who read these articles feel free to comment. That is what bloggers live for!

On Reading Jane Austen

(First published during 3/07. As to comment #3, I have no idea who this person is. She has left the same exact message on other blogs. I would like to delete it, but I cannot find the delete feature for this post.)

Over Christmas I reread Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. A family friend bought the Guthrie's a video production of the novel by the BBC. It is rare that I read works of fiction more than once, but I wanted to see how faithful the video was to the book. Very few of my Christian friends share my taste in literature. In fact, some of them think that Jane Austen is in the same catagory as the paperback romances one can find at any conveinience store. Watching movies made of her novels does not change their minds. Because Austen's plots involve one or more love stories, the whole story is dismissed as "just a love story." To this I ask, "Is Romeo and Juliet just a love story because it concerns a doomed romance? Are the novels of Dickens just detective fiction because crime is at the center of many of them? Is Braveheart just an action flick?"
In Austens lifetime (1775-1817), a new movement brought changes to all aspects of life. This movement, Romanticism, the importance of one's feelings were given priority over all things which restain them, whether those restraints were social convention, wisdom, family obligation or religion. While the movement is long since dead, its bitter consequences affected all aspects of life. (One can argue that the Nazi view of the German "superman" had its origions in this movement, as well as the introduction of eastern religions into western philosophy.) While Austen did not reject all forms of Romanticism, and she offered no systematic criticism of it, she can be considered one of Romanticisms first public critics. Two of her six novels stand out in this regard: Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park. In Sense and Sensibility, we do not just have a contrast between two sisters as to how they secure marriage partners. What we have here is an unfavorable contrast between two ways of life. Marianne Dashwood is the symbol of one who has totally absorbed Romantic ways of thought and behavior. Her feelings rule her life. To her, those who don't give feelings first priority, like her sister Elinor, are repressed, less than human. Marianne fears she will never marry because she can never find a man spectacular enough for her. When she finds such a man, Willoughby, he turns out to be bad. When Willoughby makes fun of another character, Colonel Brandon, solely because of Brandon's goodness, Marianne is swept up in the same type of thinking regarding her fellow mortals. Mariannes world view is embraced in one of England's greatest Romantic novels, Charlotte Brontee's Jane Eyre. In this novel, Evangelical Christianity is portrayed as an enemy of the emotions and therefore an enemy of true human happiness and fulfillment. The hero of a Romantic novel is usually handsome, but if not, is striking in appearence and spectacularly interesting. Not so in Jane Austen's world. The love interest of Elinor Dashwood is socially awkward and not of a passionate nature. In a Jane Austin novel, the men most likely to appeal to the Romantic imagination turn out to be bad, some very bad. The good men are those who do not invite curiousity at first glance, but further aquaintence reveals their true characters and their superior qualities as men. It is no wonder Charlotte Brontee hated Austen's novels.
In the Penguin Classics edition to Mansfield Park, Tony Tanner's introduction contrasts the two world views very well: "We are also made aware of the conflict between the joys of personality and the rigors of principle. We are shown the need to distingish between what is 'sweet' and what is 'sound', between what is 'pleasant' and what is 'prudent.' "Duty' of course is very important, but supperadded to it there must be 'delicacy.' And, a harder lesson perhaps, we are shown that the delightfulness of 'wit' (and who enjoyed that more than Jane Austen?) is trivial compared with the soberness of wisdom." Tanner quotes a letter written by Austen: "Wisdom is better than wit, & in the long run will certainly have the laugh on her side." Mansfield Park has similiar thematic material. In addition, it teaches us that life must be lived within limits; to live a life severed of all obligation to others is to deny the reality of life. This truth is still valid even if one's world of obligation includes people who are cruel and evil, as Tanner points out in his introduction. The fascination of the "new" is attributed to a society that has cast off its moorings, which includes its Christian heritage. The increasing restlessness of England's inhabitants at this time was one of Romanticisms results that Austen viewed with suspicion.
I do not think it possible that Christian's world views can be totally unaffected by their culture. That being the case, it is profitable to highlight those works which can affect thinking for the good. In the world of novels, Jane Austen is a good place to start.

Enoch Walked With God: A Sermon.

(First Published on 4/20/07)

Genesis 5: 21-24. Those who have studied Wesleyan history have come across the name John Fletcher. Origionally from France, he was saved and served as a pastor in England in the 1700's. John Wesley thought so highly of him that he stipulated that if he, Wesley, were to die, Fletcher was to assume leadership of the Methodist movement. Fletcher was a bachelor most of his life. For many years he debated the wisdom of marriage, thinking the demands of being a husband and father may interfere with his walk with God. Then one day he was reading this text. His attention was fixed upon verse twenty-two: "After he begot Methuselah, Enoch walked with God three hundred years, and had sons and daughters." Fletcher had before him a Biblical example of a man who not only married and had a family, but walked so close to God that the Lord took him unto Himself before Enoch died naturally. The example of Enoch shows all of us that there are no circumstances in life that can prevent us from living a holy life. Fletcher married his long time love interest and lived a short but happy life with her.

Can we walk with God as Enoch did? Can we pass down a Godly heritage to our families as Enoch did? Can we have a holy life without falling into the bondages of self-effort and legalism? Of course. Yet we must remember that there is one thing that is key as we do so. I'll mention that at the end.

Man can certainly pass down an un-godly heritage. Let's look at Adam's decendants briefly. When Adam and Eve sinned, they realized they were naked and were ashamed. The covered themselves with fig leaves and hid from God. (Gen. 3: 6-8) How different was Cain's reaction, after he killed Abel, when God asked him where Abel was. "I do not know" Cain told God. "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Gen 4:9) Cain had no shame. He lied to God and and tried to cover up the crime and showed disrespect in God's presence. A few generations later, we see Lamech not only killing a man, but bragging about it to his two wives. (Gen. 4: 19-24) In Genesis 3 and 4, we see the sin nature not only being passed down, but with each generation an increase a lack of shame before God and a decrease in the knowledge of who God is.

Not so with the sons of Seth, Adams son born after Cain killed Abel. I am sure Adam and Eve passed down a knowledge of who God is, and how their sin caused them to be expelled from the Garden of Eden. Geneis 4: 26 informs us that after Seth's son Enosh was born, man began to call upon the Lord. In these days men lived for hundreds of years. By my calculation (please inform me if I am wrong; math has never been my strongpoint) Adam lived until Noah was about sixty-one years of age. With these lifespans it can be seen how Adam, Seth, and family could pass down a Godly heritage as far as the generation of Noah. Enoch was in this family tree; so was Noah. Genesis 6:9 says of Noah that he was a just man, perfect in his generations and that he pleased God. Here we have before us scriptural evidence that we can not only walk holy before the Lord, but we can pass down a family heritage of being holy before God. (I am not saying that all members of a Godly family will choose to walk in God' s ways. I have not forgotten we have free-will.)

The New Testament calls us to be holy. I Pet 1:16 repeats the Old Testament command that we be holy because God is holy. Rom 8:1 points to the possibility that all who want to walk according to the Spirit can do so, if they want to repent of walking in the flesh. In I Cor 5:7 Paul exhorts us to "...purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you are truly unleavened..." This purging is not just a one time event, but to be done continuously. Repentence is for believers as well as those who are first coming to Jesus. We are called to be holy, and we are to pass down a heritage of living for God. But what is the key to all that we do? How can we walk as holy as Enoch walked? The key can be found in Heb. 11: 1-7. Verses five and six especially need to be focused upon: "By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, "and was not found, because God had taken him," for before he was taken away he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." It is faith that allows us to live holy before God. We often forget that while we are saved through faith, we are also sanctified through faith, not through our own efforts to live sinnlessly. And faith is the key to passing down a Godly heritage down through the generations. We can do everything right, yet if we don't act in faith, all our efforts to pass down our faith to the next generation will fail. Many who espouse holiness often fail to become truly sanctified because they forget that faith is the key. And so they live a lie before others, or come to the conclusion that holiness is not to be achieved in this lifetime. But not only does Scripture require us to be holy, Scripture shows us the way. And the way is through faith. (All Scripture quotations are from theNKJV.)

Me? Smug?... Moi?

(Originally Published on 4/9/07. The one comment was deleted because I thought it was dated.)

"It is actually very hard, in life, to achieve real disagreement. Mutual misunderstanding is far more frequent." Michael Novak.

There are some who try to avoid all disagreement. They find it distasteful if they have to hear an argument, or to participate in one. Then there are those who thrive on argumentation. If they cannot find a controversy, they will stir one up themselves. There are those in academia who believe that intellectual discussion is made up primarily of screaming at your opponents until all who disagree are silent. I fall somewhere in the middle. I do not purposely forment strife, yet I often learn more from argumentation than from any other public discourse. There is something about a good debate that increases understanding faster than just a lecture. When I engage in expressing what I think, then the errors of my thinking can be exposed. I have even had the experience of expressing what I have silently thought, and in the act of expression, I realize just how wrong I am. There are many people who sit in Church week after week who say nothing. When they become more vocal, they realize how much of what they believe about God and His Word are wrong. I know this by profitable experience. Paul did not shy away from debate. He spent two years debating (or reasoning) in the School of Tyrannus. (Acts 19)
The benefits from the exchange of ideas is one of the reasons I have started this blog. I like to debate. There are issues concerning theology and spirituality which I have definite opinions on. I have not been very successful in seeking those who also appreciate a good debate within the Church. Some think that nothing is worth arguing about, so they gain the reputation for wisdom by refusing to open their mouths. Then there are those who are upset with the certainty in which I state what I believe. They say "My John! You certainly are sure of yourself. You are actually certain that you are right. Why don't you settle down now. You are upsetting the equilibrium we sooooooooo value."
A desire to learn through debate is one of the reasons I started "The Hand." There are some issues I have certainty on. There are also areas of truth that I am still grappling with. Especially in the area of theology. Why should this be when I am a seminary graduate? Seminary was my first true introduction to theology. My reading of it was for the purposes of passing exams. Yet the study of it has fired my imagination and brought me closer to the Lord. I need to not only read theology, but debate it. I need the input of those who have delved deeper into theology to correct my thinking. And if there is no agreement among parties, at least a mutual understanding among them can be achieved.
This brings me to ask a question. A reader of "The Hand" thinks that I betray a certain smugness in my posts. The person thinks I express too much certainty that my opinions are right. Do you agree? The Hand awaits your opinion. Yet The Hand may certain that you are wrong.

Charles Dickens on Sin

(First Published on 1/30/08)

"If great criminals told the truth-which, being great criminals, they do not-they would rarely tell of their struggles against the crime. Their struggles are toward it. They buffet with opposing waves, to gain the bloody shore, not to recede from it." From "Our Mutual Friend" by Charles Dickens.

Is this your experience with sin? When we commit sin sometimes we claim that we have stumbled into the sin(s) unwittingly. Yet much of the time this statement is a lie. Often times we are drawn to sin, but do not commit the act, not because the act is sinful, but because there is an obstacle to our committing it and getting away with it. These obstacles can be either external (such as witnesses) or internal. One of my seminary professors, Dr. John Oswald, once compared David's reaction to seeing Bathsheba bathing on her roof to what Saul's reaction might have been. Knowing what we know about Saul, Saul probably would have left the scene immediately. Not because he was concerned with walking in holiness, but for fear that SOMEONE WOULD SEE HIM looking at her. We delude ourselves by assuring ourselves that these obstacles are an insurmountable barrier against commiting such sin, all the while we commit the acts again and again in our hearts and minds. The longer we cherish such thoughts, the more we begin to devise strategies to satisfy ourselves without any consequences. The more we want to sin, the more we begin to quench all internal obstacles. At some point we cross a line and desire becomes compulsion and the act is finally committed. We have deliberately removed all the obstacles to do what we want. Then we tell others that we were not truly ourselves when we committed sin. "I would never think about doing such a thing!" Sin is therefore added to with a lie. All the while we have sat in church wearing a mask. When David's sin was exposed, he repented and dropped his mask. He wrote Psalm 51, and commanded that it be sung in God's Sanctuary before all the people of God. He wanted the world to know who he was without God. We should be as willing to let the world AND THE CHURCH know who we are without Christ in our hearts. As a past disciple of Jesus once said, the Gospel is good news for bad people. May the thoughts of our hearts come under the scrutiny of the Holy Spirit so the works of our hands be pure and holy in his sight.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Retro September: Week Two

Progress on the series to be posted here in October is slow but steady. In the meantime, very little, or no new material will be seen here during September. So, this month, previously published material will be brought to your attention. This week, the four articles are linked by similar themes: our interaction with the rest of the world, either in terms of Christians carrying out the Great Commission or how we as Christians should react to America's role as the lone super-power. As I state in the articles, evangelizing the nations for Christ is close to my heart, yet I not only support America's current military endeavors but have no qualms about America current status in terms of military might. Some may think this to be inconsistent. Some Christians may think one cannot support both the Great Commission and America's current ventures overseas. I beg to differ. I hope that taken together, all four articles adequately explain how I can hold such seemingly divergent views in tension. The Hand (that's me!) looks forward to any comments you have on what has been posted this week, pro or con.

No Guarantee of Victory.

(Originally Published on 10/8/07)

Does fighting a just war automatically ensure long-term blessing? If the Lord makes use of the United States to prevent the spread of Islamic domination world wide, does it follow that the United States will not be subject to God's judgements? I am a supporter of the current military actions undertaken by the United States and I am one who believes the current surge in Iraq is working. I have no guilt feelings about the United States being the world's only super-power. The historical evidence is clear that for the most part, that power has been used for the good, not just the good of the U.S., but also for the good of the world. However, there is no confusion in my mind between the flag and the Cross. Just because we might be fighting a just and necessary war does not mean that the ultimate outcome will not signal the demise of this nation. Perhaps the Lord is trying to get our attention.

In ancient Israel, when the King and his subjects followed the Law, there was peace in the land. National sin brought God's judgement in the form of invasions by Israel's enemies. Israel's resistance against her enemies could be labeled as just wars, even though God was using these conflicts as judgement against sin. When Israel confessed and repented of its sin, the Lord brought victory against the invaders. But there came a time when God allowed idol worshippers to defeat and enslave His people as they acted less and less like his people. The Israelites believed that defeat and exile would never be their lot.

After Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire, many Christians convinced themselves that Rome and the Church were one. They believed that professing allegiance to Christianity was a guarantee against being overthrown by the Germanic barbarians on their borders. In 403, the Christian poet Prudentius wrote these lines expressing his confidence that God would never allow Rome to fall: "no barbaric enemy shatters my walls with a javelin and no man with strange weapons, attire and headress wanders around the city he has conquered and carries off my young men to transalpine prisons." ( ) Seven years later, the Visigoths overran Rome. For the Romans to have resisted, so to protect their homeland and citizens, could indeed be labeled a just war. Yet it was God's purpose for the Romans to lose this just war. In God's sovereignty, the Church survived, and eventually converted the Germanic invaders.

Then there were those who in the last century resisted yet were conquered by the Nazis. Unless one is a pacifist, I do not see how anyone could not consider the defeated as soldiers who fought a just war against an evil aggressor. In hindsight, should we say that because they lost, they should have surrendered without a shot? Of course not. When the U.S. entered WWII, humanly speaking, the chances of victory against Germany and Japan were slight, especially after the damage inflicted upon the U.S. Navy at Pearl Harbor. No matter what the outcome would have been, a war on the part of the U.S. against such enemies could not be labeled anything but just. To fight a just war does not guarantee that God will grant victory. The same was true in the past, the same is true now.

It is possible that the current war against hardcore Islam may go on for so long that our material resources be drained, our economy ruined and our fighting men depleted. It is possible that all our enemies rise up and wage war on us at the same time so that our armed forces will not be able to meet all these threats at once. We could lose our status as a world power. Yet if the U.S. chooses not to fight, this same outcome would surely be the result. (Even countries that have refused to support U.S. military operations have suffered from Islamic terrorism.) World-wide slavery was mainly stamped out by the British empire. For nearly the entire nineteenth century, the British spent much in resources so its navy could patrol the world's waterways to intercept slave ships, receiving no material reward in return. Yet it was God's purpose that the British empire fell within two generations after its efforts succeeded. Their humanitarian actions on behalf of slavery's victims did not stop God from determining to end their world-wide dominance. The fact that the United States has liberated more people and has fed more people and has raised the living standards of more people around the world, and is now fighting a just war against hardcore Islam, does not guarantee that it will emerge victorious. Yet the U.S. has no choice but to fight.

Could it be that having to lose young people in battle is God's wake up call that more severe judgement may be coming? Could God be trying to get our attention? Is this war a way of giving us the message that He is not pleased with this nation? That He is tired of a Church that praises Him with its lips yet its heart is far from Him? That He views our culture with abhorrence? In recent years it has been noted that the power centers of Christianity will move from Europe and North America to Africa and South America. Could the culture the U.S. exports be a threat to the purity and power of the world-wide Church? Perhaps judgement must come upon us to protect God's Church from contamination as it carries out the Great Commission. Perhaps the Church overseas is to be protected from our culture so that one day it will be an agent of renewal in this land. Perhaps this current war is a wake up call to those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus. Perhaps if we cut ourselves off from the things that prevent us from walking in holiness, if we repent, will not God forgive and empower His Church in this land? Could not more severe judgement on the part of God be averted? If this were to come about, then we as a nation would no longer need wake up calls from God in the form of the loss of our young in battle.

So The World Dislikes Us. What Else Is New?

(Originally Published on 10/11/07)

Sometimes I come across something on the Internet that calls for a response. Sometimes a long period of time passes before an opportunity to respond presents itself. Such is the case now. Many months ago I read a fine article by Gordon McDonald on the fall of Ted Haggard. ( ) However, in his analysis of the Haggard situation, McDonald managed to fit in a criticism of evangelical supporters of the current war effort. Here is what he wrote:

"Like it or not, we are pictured as those who support war, torture, and a go-it-alone (bullying) posture in international relationships. Any of us who travel internationally have tasted the global hostility toward our government and the suspicion that our President's policies reflect the real tenets of Evangelical faith. And I might add that there is considerable disillusionment on the part of many of our Christian brothers/sisters in other countries who are mystified as to where American evangelicals are in all of this. Our movement may have its Supreme Court appointments, but it may also have compromised its historic center of Biblical Faith. Is it time to let the larger public know that some larger-than-life evangelical personalities with radio and TV shows do not speak for all of us?"

In responding, let me begin with his assertion that "Any of us who travel internationally have tasted the global hostility toward our government and the suspicion that our President's policies reflect the real tenants of Evangelical faith."

In my twenty-one years as a follower of Jesus, I have had the privilege of fellowshipping with brothers and sisters from all over the world. Coming from different cultures did not prevent us from bonding with each other as we worshipped the same Lord. Yet because these brothers and sisters come from different lands, they do not understand our culture, government, or who we Americans are as a people. From time to time, that has led to heated discussions about America between me and them. In Seminary, one African brother was adamant that President Bush had the power to have the American Taliban fighter, Jon Walker Lindh, executed without a trial. I tried to explain to him that the President does not have such power, but to no avail. The only experience he had with which to interpret events in this country was his own knowledge of the way things have been done in his own country.

Also, Christians from other lands accuse Americans of having a world view that only takes into account what is good for America and never consider the interests or opinions of other nations. This fault does indeed exist and is need of correction. Yet when non-Americans consider the world, and the role of the United States in it, very often the main consideration that drives their thinking is their own countries interests. Another brother from Africa told me that whenever violence breaks out anywhere in Africa, it is the role of the United States military to be sent in to protect civilians. Little did he think that the American military has only so much capacity to move on so many fronts, let alone police the entire African Continent.

When Gordon McDonald travels overseas and encounters hostility towards himself for being an American, even from Christians, he should keep in mind that in some places, especially in Europe, the United States will be resented for being the world's only super-power. In Europe especially, there is hostility to the U.S. because Europe is no longer the dominant power it once was. Europe resents the U.S. taking its place internationally and outpacing them economically. Many overseas would like to see the U.S. defeated in Iraq simply out of envy. Other nations fear that to be seen supporting U.S. foreign policy may bring violence to their own lands. This was true during the Cold War; it is true now during the current war against Islamic terrorism.

I am not suggesting that one cannot legitimately disagree with American activities abroad. Nor am I implying that any such disagreement is solely the result of the factors listed above. What I am trying to convey to McDonald and those who share his opinions is that if there is hostility toward American actions, one cannot logically assume that America is in the wrong or that the hostility is completely justified. There seems to be an assumption on the part of some Americans that people from other lands are always wiser than we are and would handle international situations better than the United States.

To quote McDonald again: "Like it or not, we are pictured as those who support war, torture, and a go-it-alone (bullying) posture in international relationships." As for me, I don't like it. But this caricature is largely the work of those who oppose U.S. actions as a matter of course. Such was the case during the Cold War.

If a Christian from another nation were to ask me where the American Church stands on the issue of the current war, my answer would be that the American Church cannot be treated as a unified whole on this issue. As for the U.S. acting alone, I would point out that when any President takes the oath of office, he makes an oath to God that he (the President) will protect the United States from all threats foreign and domestic. To carry out that oath sometimes calls for the President to defy world public opinion if he believes the safety of the nation requires him to do so. After all, oaths are important to God and supersede the opinions of others. To fulfill this oath may require the President to take actions that make the United States very unpopular in the world.

"Our movement may have its Supreme Court appointments, but it may also have compromised its historic center of Biblical Faith." So says Gordon McDonald. I have never met McDonald, although I am familiar with some of his books. ( What I have read of his writings I found impressive.) Even though I do not know the man, I would guess that he would oppose any linkage between Christianity and patriotism. And he would be right. Were someone to label him a liberal non-evangelical for these views, that person would be guilty of an unfair stereotype. Yet when McDonald makes such statements as as he does above, he engages in the shameless stereotyping of those he disagrees with, those he charges with compromising Biblical Faith. I know many a brother or sister in Christ who disagrees with me on these issues, yet I would never charge them with compromising their faith. Because McDonald opposes current U.S. foreign policy, I would never accuse him of deviating from the faith. Shame on you, brother Gordon.

The War and Missions.

(Originally Published on 10/11/07)

(The following observations would have been included in the previous article, however, to have done so would have made the article too long.)

Missions is a subject that is close to my heart. I am committed to Christ's command to go and make disciples, here in the U.S., or if called, overseas. My home church has a great, up-to-date Missions Education Program. For seven years, I served on the Missions committee, the last three as chairman. I have good friends who serve the Lord overseas in dangerous places. As committed as I am to the cause of Missions, does it follow that my commitment must preclude me from supporting any action of my government that is unpopular with the rest of the world? Does support for the Great Commission make it impossible for me to support American military policies that make life difficult for Americans living abroad, including Missionaries? The answer is no.

I have heard Christians make the statement that American foreign policy should be subject to the need to facilitate the carrying out of the Great Commission. Because America is often confused with the Church, America should not do anything that would make it an object of hate in the world. To do so would endanger Americans living abroad, including those who are openly or clandestinely spreading the Gospel. I know of one Missionary family that served in a Muslim nation. The compound they shared with other Missionaries was invaded by locals who were enraged by a recent U.S. military action. Their property was damaged and some of them were man-handled. Eventually, they had to leave the country. It is possible that American foreign policy could trigger increased surveillance of Americans living abroad. This makes it dangerous for American Christians to evangelize. If caught, American Missionaries are most likely to be deported. However, those they have led to the Lord could be imprisoned or killed. The stakes are high, and I can sympathize with those who are concerned about how American actions can affect world-wide evangelization.

Yet consider this. When a President of the United States takes the oath of office, he swears before God to "...preserve , protect and defend the Constitution of the United States" to the best of his ability. Threats from outside the U.S. make it necessary at times for the President to take military action overseas. Were he not do engage in these actions, he would be violating the oath he made to God. Oaths are important to God; He does not lightly overlook oaths being violated. Remember that God would not have Israel break its covenant oath with the Gibeonites, even though the Gibeonites were among the peoples Israel was suppose to destroy. (Josh. 9) Paul commanded us to pray for all those in authority, that we may lead "a quiet and peaceable life" which is compatible with "all godliness and reverence." (I Tim 2:2) God set up governments so stability may reign. This stability makes godly living and the spread of the Gospel easier. Sometimes to preserve stability and protect citizens within their borders, nations must take military actions on other nations' soil. Paul states that those who wield the sword to preserve order are a ministry from God to us. There are times when fulfilling this ministry that those who wield the sword must wield it on someone else's territory. Failure to do so when those needing protection are threatened from abroad would be a failure to carry out the mission God gave those in authority.

Of course, I am not advocating that all actions done in the name of self-defense are the right actions. Military and foreign policy can violate scripture and therefore must be condemned by the Church. Yet to those who fear the consequences to the spread of the Gospel as the result of American military action, I would counsel to trust in God's sovereignty. While a President's actions may cause severe hardship to those who labor overseas for the Gospel, that President, when upholding his oath, is just as much in God's will as any missionary is. The Gospel will spread, nothing can stop it. Our own plans for its spread may fail, God's plans never will.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Retro September: Week One

The slower pace at which I have published on this blog may lead some to believe my enthusiasm for blogging has waned. However, that it not the case. Without going into details as to the reason for my smaller output, I do want readers to be aware that I will be publishing few if any new articles this month. Why? Because I am working on a series of articles that will appear in October. These will articles will be very different from the usual subject matter featured on this blog. In the meantime, each week in September, the Hand (that's me!) will republish material some may have previously viewed. This week will feature one sermon, two articles on the contemporary Church and a consideration of America's status as a superpower. Please feel free to comment. God bless.

The Profane Person: A Sermon

(First Published on 02/27/07)

Read Hebrews 12: 12-17.
Growing up, I was not noted for my Sports ability. My atlhetic endeavors caused considerable laughter among my classmates. I always looked forward for a new school year because I was under the misapprehension that somehow, I would be stronger, faster, more skillful; I would be a new John Guthrie. Every year, I was brought back to reality. In tenth grade, a new aquaitance came up to me and said"From now on, your name is not John Guthrie. It is Tom Pridemore." Tom Pridemore was an outstanding player for West Virginia University. This was meant to be sarcastic. With a few people, the name stuck. To this day, there is a woman from my High School class who thinks my name is Tom Pridemore. For a few people, the nickname sterotyped me; I became a "type." I represented Sports at its worst.
The name Esau became a type. A real man, his behavior made him a representitive of a type of person. Unfortunately, he represented a type of person the writer to the Hebrews warns us to avoid. Esau was labeled a profane man. For one morsal of meat, he sold his birthright to his brother Jacob. The Genesis account clearly portrays him as one who gives up the good, the eternal, for the physical need of the moment. While God had said to his mother that Jacob would be the child of promise, Esau's birthright still entitiled him to a certain status as the eldest. Yet he gave these things away for food. He married women who were not approved of by his parents, they worshipped idols. For the sake of pleasure, he gave continual grief to his parents. He disregarded them and their God. Once he realized he had been tricked out of his father's blessing by his brother, he wanted to murder his brother. Esau was a man who lived for the moment, one who lived just to gratify his own appetites. Unlike Moses, who forsook the pleasures of sin for the righteousness of Christ. This is what the writer to Hebrews warned us against becoming.
Lets look at the Hebrews passage closely.
12:12-13. The writer compares our spiritual life with the limbs of our bodies. If one ties up a limb of our body for a couple of months, that limb becomes useless through disuse. We have to retrain ourselves to use that limb. The writer is talking about disuse, not injury. Failure to cultivate our walk with the Lord causes our spiritual life to stagnate. We have to work to bring that relationship back to health.
12:14-16. We are called to a walk of holiness. But not just for ourselves. We are to watch to make sure no brother or sister falls away from the grace of God. Failure to do so causes our brothers and sisters not only to become bitter themselves, but these will also corrupt the rest of the Church in their disobedience. These disobedient ones will become like Esau, the profane person who sold his birthright, who only cared about instant self-gratification.
Yes, we are to examine our own walk with the Lord. But we are also to watch and protect everyone that we can. We are to restore those who fall. We are to protect the Church. We will be held accountable for our attempts to see our brothers and sisters reach their full potential in God. Failure will produce a Church full of those who seek to gratify their senses.

Missional: Cutting Edge, or Strategic?

(First Published 03/05/07)

The Emergent Church describes itself as "Missional." My simplified definition of the term refers to reaching out beyond the walls of the our churches to reach the truly needy. The Emergents ask the question: "Would Jesus attend the average evangelical church, or would He be found ministering to the homeless, drug-addicted, AIDS afflicted, or with any other vulnerable group?" Good question. The last ten years of my twenty year walk with God has been affected by this question. I am in my third year of prison ministry. My current involvement with such a ministry is discipling those who have served their sentences so they will not return to their former ways. When I was a pastor, I was on the board of a Crises Pregnancy Center. My question is this: "What is the best direction for the Church to emphasize as a whole as it seeks to be missional? Cutting edge, or stategic?" Let me explain.
Emergents reject much of the ministry the Evangelical Church has engaged in. They believe the evangelicals have sold their souls to the religious right, that the Church has pursued a political agenda that is at odds with the Gospel. The result has been the ignoring of the very kind of people Jesus focused on during His earthly ministry, particularly the poor. Emergents believe that campaigns against abortion and homosexuality have resulted in the condemnation of people Jesus loves. The emphasis on keeping the family out of poverty, intact and sexually pure irks many Emergents.
Emergents believe that ministry to the poor is "the cutting edge", not just "where it is at", but what Jesus would be most concerned about. If that is where they feel led to minister, then praise God for them. I too believe with Wesley that there is no holiness without social holiness. We are not just to proclaim the Gospel to the world, but we should fight to undo what Satan has brought through poverty and injustice. Paul exhorted Titus that as a pastor he was to show himself a model of good works. (Titus 2:7) But are the Emergents right in claiming that such an emphasis on poverty and homelessness is to be sought by the church, rather than "Focusing on the Family?" Are they right in their assertions that the church has excluded the poor from its focus? My answer is in agreement with the following quote by Don Feder. (I have never heard of Mr. Feder before. I do not know who he is.)
"Since their political awakening in the mid 1970's, while evangelicals worked to end the scourge of abortion and stay the steady mark of social decay...they have simultaneously raised billions to fight famine in Africa, build houses for the poor, rehabilitate addicts and to provide to the most destitute among us. The Religious Right's crusade to save the family---opposition to abortion and so-called safe sex marriage---might itself be seen as charity. The family is the first and most important social welfare agency. Funcional families raise children who won't end up living on the streets or pregnant and on welfare at age 16. If the left succeeds at distroying the American family, there will be homeless shelters, soup kitchens and rehab centers as far as the eye can see---assuming there is anyone left to man them." ( )
Yes, we must minister too all groups most Churches ignore. But we need not reject the campaign the church has waged on behalf of the family. By waging this fight, there will be fewer joining those ranks who the Emergents prefer to focus upon. We need to be missional. But our outreach needs to be strategic, not cutting edge. It makes more sense to work to keep families intact than just to focus alone on those who have fallen victim to its destruction. And yes, while the evangelical church has waged this campaign, those who have been seperated from homelife have been ministered to as well. I am not one who wants to paint a rosey picture of the church or family life. Views as to the weaknesses of both will be reserved for future posts.

Is it the Book of Acts all over again?

(First Published on 02/22/07)

The American Interprise Institute ( is a Conservative Think Tank operating out of our nation's capital. A secular organization it is, however, it does study religious life in the U.S. Its website states that it has 280 articles on religion that than be accessed from the site. Last May much of their magazine was devoted to the subject. One article, "Small Town Religion" by Bart Hinkle ( ) caught my attention.
Mr. Hinkle seems to be of the mind that the mega-church is the church of the future because it replicates the Church in the book of Acts that converted the Roman Empire. Mega-churches from across the country are profiled by Mr. Hinkle. These churches have outreach programs that cover any possible human need and interest. Programs for all age groups, from the womb to the tomb. Counseling for addictions, groups for those in the same profession. Coffee shops (Java Jireh), bookstores, How to "Anything" classes (How to Balance Your Budget, How To Eat Like a King or Queen on a Shoestring Budget) Then there is the worship that de-emphasizes the wrath of God. (I think you might see my bias against mega-churches creeping into the tone of this post.) Not only do mega-churches seek to minister to those within its walls, they have many programs, such as homeless shelters, that minister to those who have been forgotten by the rest of society. To their great credit, they were in the forefront of meeting the needs of those displaced by hurricane Katrina. The success in feeding and housing those most affected embarrassed both state and Federal relief agencies.
But how do mega-churches hearken back to the days of the early Church? The article quotes experts and pastors who credit their small-group emphasis. It is in these groups where "seekers" first find a sense of community, of being cared for. As the number of such groups grow, their influence on society increases. Over the past few decades, the US has seen its neighborhoods decrease in influence as we become more autonomous, less dependent on one another. This has created a sense of alienation and a longing to belong. The megachurches have tapped into this phenomenon by providing a sense of family and purpose. The last paragraph of Hinkle's article sums up well this turn of events: "And so these big churches, and the many small groups they foster, recapitulate the early church itself. Christianity, after all, began with just one man and twelve disciples, and ended up as a mighty edifice that utterly transformed not only communities but also world history. So touching individual lives, creating community, and shifting the wider society is an old formula, one that still works powerfully in ways big and small and far too numerous to count..."
This leads me to ask, is the transformation Mr. Hinkle and others are seeing line-up with the transformation we are to experience as followers of Jesus Christ? Yes, the early church met in peoples' houses and spread the faith throughout the known world. But that early growth resulted from a gospel preached that did not de-emphasize God's holiness. These early Christians were told to count the cost before they made a decision for Christ. Tranformation did not occur among a group of religious consumers, but those who attended the Apostle's teachings (whether or not they liked the Apostle's delivery) and those who did not forsake fellowship. Some might compare the small groups of today's mega-churches to Wesley's small groups. But the secret of Wesley's success was not in creating an atmosphere where people felt like they "belonged", but in creating a forum where people could be accountable to each other concerning their walk with Christ. Without accountability, there is no transformation as scripture speaks of transformation. I do not judge anyone who attends a mega-church, nor do am I critisizing any specific mega-church pastor in this post. If mega-churches are transforming society and the church for the better, than praise God for that. However, as I survey the landscape, I see no evidence such a transformation is taking place.

American Power

(First Published on 04/06/07)

Today I began reading Edmund Morris's "Theodore Rex", the second in Morris's exhaustive three part biography of Theodore Roosevelt. The first volume, "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt", won the Pulitzer Prize in 1980. This volume covers Roosevelts's presidency (1901-1909). Morris touches upon T.R.'s views of American Power in the preface. This leads me to discuss the greatness of T.R.'s vision of the future, how America and the world has benefitted from it, and America's status today as the lone "Superpower."
There are some who are uncomfortable with America's power as compared to other nations. Some believe we are not to be trusted with such power; some lament the fact that we are a superpower at all. There are those within the Church who think that America's current military and economic strength is in violation of God's Word. Others within the Church, such as myself, believe that America's current position was thrust upon her. The combination of geography, natural resources, and the ambitions of other nations gave America no choice but to seek to become a World power. This fact was recognized by our Founding Fathers as well as succeeding generations. By 1900, T.R. and others realized that being a world power meant we had strategic interests all over the world. And as the Empires such as Britian, Russia and Germany had no more room to expand, it was foreseen by T.R. that these empires would wage war on each other to gain world supremecy. The U.S. and its southern neighbors would be targets; there was no way America could avoid the fight if it did not want to come under the domination of European powers. Roosevelt foresaw that Germany would be the major threat. That was why he was so intent on building the Panama Canal. To do so, the American government under his leadership took advantage of a revolution in Columbia; America used its power to carve a new nation, Panama, out of Columbian territory and then American companies went into the new nation to build the Canal. Roosevelt has been roundly criticized to this very day for his conduct. A decade later, Congress voted to apologize to Columbia. Yet in terms of military strategy, Roosevelt showed himself to have saved his country and the world by building the canal. Without it, we might be speaking German today. While T.R. could not have forseen the rise of the type of Empire as Nazi Germany, he still saw that Germany would be the main threat and that the Canal would be of supreme importance in terms of survival. Not only the nation, but the world owes him gratitude for his actions. No American political leader can pretend that we do not have interests overseas, nor can they completely forbid the use of American power except for the defense of our shores. Those who pretend otherwise will be overwhelmed by historical forces beyond their control and be forced to act. Morris quotes Roosevelt on the fate of "great nations": "The weak and stationary have vanished as surely as, and more rapidly than, those whose citizens felt within them the lift that impels generous souls to great and noble effort. This is only another way of stating the universal law of death, which is itself part of the universal law of life...While the nation that has dared to be great, that has the will and the power to change the destiny of the ages, in the end must die,...[it] really continues, though in changed form, to live forever more." T.R's vision of American interests abroad involved more than the aquisition of territory, according to Morris. Liberation and democratization was his goal for the entire western hemisphere. While America's conduct in other nations is not free from condemnation(the Mexican War comes to mind), it is hard to see how these nations could be enjoying the freedom they enjoy now without the presence of the United States. And to maintain this presence requires the U.S. to maintain its strategic interests all over the world. (Again, I am not using this as an excuse for abuses of power). This is not chest-thumping "America is always right" militaristic jingoism. This is just simple reality.