Saturday, December 29, 2012


As 2012 is the bicentennial of Charles Dickens’ birth, and Dickens had a major influence on how we celebrate the Christmas season, I thought it would be a good idea to read and comment on his Christmas writings. The best known of Dickens’ Christmas writings is, of course, A Christmas Carol. But Dickens produced a vast array of fiction with Christmas themes, as well as essays, every year. A portion of these can be sampled in the Penguin Classics edition of A Christmas Carol and Other Writings. I specify the Penguin edition because the notes in back are invaluable in providing background for modern readers. I label this review as contradictory because Dickens’ message concerning Christmas is contradictory. Sometimes his purpose to expose his readers to the harsher realities of life in Victorian England is undercut by his sentimentality. This review itself is contradictory as it is highly favorable to the literary merits of these writings while highly critical concerning Dickens’ message and influence concerning Christmas. Part I will cover the positive aspects of his writings.

A Christmas Carol is certainly the best of the selections. Its merits go beyond a great plot and memorable characters. Dickens’ use of humor was no small part of his success in making Ebenezer Scrooge a permanent fixture in our imaginations. This is the first description we have of Scrooge:

“Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his coffee in the dog-days (July 3-August 11, when the dog-star Sirius rises with the sun, supposedly the hottest days of the year. I told you the Penguin notes were invaluable), and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.

“External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, nor wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn’t know where to have him. The heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast the advantage over him in only one respect. They often came down handsomely (slang-give money generously), and Scrooge never did.

“Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, ‘My dear Scrooge, how are you? when will you come to see me?’ No beggars implored him to bestow a trifle, no children asked him what it was o’clock, no man or woman ever once in all his life inquired the way to such and such a place, of Scrooge. Even the blindmen’s dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up courts; and then would wag their tails as though they said, ‘no eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master!”

Dickens’ humor is on display in the short story which was the genesis of A Christmas Carol. In The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton (a person employed by a Church to care for the church property, ring the church bells, and dig graves), we have this description of Gabriel Grub, the forerunner of Ebenezer Scrooge:

“Gabriel Grub was an ill-conditioned, cross-grained, surly fellow—a morose and lonely man, who consorted with nobody but himself, and an old wicker bottle which fitted into his large deep waistcoat pocket; and who eyed each merry face as it passed him by, with such a deep scowl of malice and ill-humor, as it was difficult to meet without feeling something the worse for.

“A little before twilight one Christmas eve, Gabriel shouldered his spade, lighted his lantern, and betook himself toward the old churchyard, for he got a grave to finish by next morning, and feeling low he thought it might raise his spirits perhaps, if he went on with his work at once.”

What was Gabriel’s reaction to meeting little children in the street?

“…groups of children bounded out of the houses, tripped across the road, and were met, before they could knock at the opposite door, by a half a dozen curly-headed rascals who crowed round them as they flocked upstairs to spend the evening in their Christmas games, Gabriel smiled grimly, and clutched the handle of his spade with a firmer grasp, as he thought of measles, scarlet-fever, thrush, whooping-cough, and a good many other sources of consolation besides.”

As he digs the grave he sings to himself:

“Brave lodgings for one, brave lodgings for one,

A few feet of cold earth when life is done;

A stone at the head, a stone at the feet,

A rich juicy meal for the worms to eat;

Rank grass over head, and damp clay around,

Brave lodgings for one, these, in holy ground!

“ ‘Ho! ho!’ laughed Gabriel Grub, as he sat himself down on a flat tombstone which was a favorite resting place of his; and drew forth his wicker bottle. ‘A coffin at Christmas—a Christmas Box. Ho! ho! ho!’”

Though the Dickens portrait of a Victorian Christmas contains a great deal of sentimentality, there is a great deal of truth in the picture he paints. After all, he was writing of his own times for his contemporaries. If there was no truth in his portrayal of Christmas, he would not have had the credibility he had with Victorian readers. We learn the holiday rituals of Londoners when the Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge on a journey through the city. We learn what grocers had on stock on Christmas day in 1843:

“There were great round, pot-bellied baskets of chestnuts, shaped like the waistcoats of jolly old gentlemen, lolling at the doors, and tumbling out into the street in their apoplectic opulence. There were ruddy, brown-faced, broad-girthed Spanish Onions, shining in the fatness of their growth like Spanish Friars; and winking in their wanton slyness at the girls as they went by, and glanced up demurely at the hung-up mistletoe. There were pears and apples, clustered high in blooming pyramids; there were bunches of grapes, made in the shopkeepers’ benevolence to dangle from conspicuous hooks, that people’s mouths may water gratis as they passed; there were piles of filberts, mossy and brown, recalling, in their fragrance, ancient walks among the woods, and pleasant shufflings ankle deep through withered leaves; there were Norfolk Biffins (Norfolk cooking apples, rusty red in color), squab and swarthy, setting off the yellow of the oranges and lemons, and, in great compactness of their juicy persons, urgently entreating and beseeching to be carried home in paper bags and eaten after dinner. The very gold and silver fish, set forth among the choice fruits in a bowl, though members of a dull and stagnant-blooded race, appeared to know that something was going on; and, to a fish, went gasping round and round their little world in slow and passionless excitement.”

Dickens describes how families brought their Christmas dinners to bakers’ ovens on the way to church. This was done on Sundays and Christmases to keep the ovens hot because the bakers themselves were prescribed by law to use their ovens themselves on those days. We learn about twelve-cakes, large frosted cakes with figures made of icing, to be consumed on January 6th, the last day of Christmas festivities. London terraced houses are described as having central gutters in which snow would accumulate. Residents would have to shovel the snow off the roof (causing hazards for the pedestrians below) before it melted and drained into the houses. Neighbors took advantage of this necessity to engage in snowball fights. (I’m sure that most, if not all of these houses were destroyed in WW II.) When the Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge to observe the festivities at Scrooge’s nephew’s house, we learn how adults amused themselves. We also learn the kinds of gifts people gave. It’s surprising how people were satisfied with plain gifts, while at the same time, it is amazing how sophisticated some of the toys were back then. For someone who loves history, and likes to imagine what the past was like, these details are invaluable.

However, Dickens showed his readers the unfortunate lived. The Ghost of Christmas Present had two children under his robes:

“They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meager, ragged, scowling, wolfish, but prostrate too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with their fairest tints, a stale and shriveled hand, like that of age, had pinched and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked; and glaring out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters so horrible and dread.”

The Spirit explains that the boy is dread and the girl is ignorance. He warns Scrooge to avoid both, especially the boy, for what is written on his forehead is doom, unless it is erased. The Spirit challenges the city of London to deny their existence and to slander those who make their existence known. “Deny it…Slander those who tell it ye? Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And bide the end!” According to the notes, Dickens was referring to the failure to reform education because various factions disputed the nature of the religious instruction to be provided. Earlier in the story, when solicited for a charitable donation to help the poor, Scrooge condemns the poor to the workhouse and prisons. When Scrooge asks in real concern what help can be given to the two children, the spirit replies, “Are there no prisons?…Are there no workhouses?” Scrooge’s words are thrown back on him to shame him.

In giving Scrooge a vision of how others live, the Spirits provide a truthful picture of how those in unfortunate circumstances model contentment. Whether its Bob Cratchit’s family, or some couple, the wife who was once been engaged to Scrooge, we see Dickens’ ability to rise above sentimentality to accurately portray families who have learned to love and support one another and find happiness in the midst of want.

These are the positive aspects of Dickens’ Christmas writings. Part II will be an examination of the weakness of Dickens’ vision of Christmas.

Thursday, December 27, 2012


These are the items I found on the internet this year which stood out in my mind more than anything else:

In The Theology of Gift-An Other Directed Blessing, Dr. Ben Witherington of Asbury Theological Seminary illustrates God's grace with the giving of gifts without any thought of reciprocity. This short post appeared in June, yet it is a perfect devotional thought during the Christmas season.

Do you think the mudslinging in the 2012 election was the worst you have ever seen. What was thrown at Jesus and Paul was far worse, as Frank Viola demonstrates in Jesus and Paul Under Fire and the 2012 USA Presidential Election. 

Counting In Ministry: What You Measure Matters by Matt Friedeman, one of my former professors at Wesley Biblical Seminary. What the Church does outside its walls is the true measure of  its effectiveness as a witness for Jesus Christ. Dr Friedeman demonstrates this by highlighting the Church he pastors, Dayspring Community Church. In doing so, he shows how the evangelical Church will transform the culture. This article appeared in Asbury Seedbed.

"Hell will be filled with people who were avidly committed to Christian values. Christian values cannot save anyone and never will. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not a Christian value, and a comfortability with Christian values can blind sinners to their need for the gospel...Parents who raise their children with nothing more than Christian values should not be surprised when their children abandon those values. If the child or young person does not have a firm commitment to Christ and to the truth of the Christian faith, values will have no binding authority, and we should not expect that they would." So says Al Mohler in his article, Christian Values Cannot Save Anyone.

"The problem with the advanced West is not that it’s broke but that it’s old and barren. Which explains why it’s broke." This is a quote from Mark Steyn's Elizebeth and Our Barreness. Steyn memorably explains why lower birth rates signal a decline in civilization. Actually, this is from 2011, but it appeared after I posted the Best of the Web, 2011.

Calvinists Who Love Wesley by Fred Sanders. No explanation needed.

Here is a case of a non-Wesleyan honestly assessing Wesleyan theology. In this case, Thomas Cudworth calls out those theistic evolutionists who claim Wesleyan theology as a legitimate vehicle for their mingling of Christianity and evolution. See here, here, here,here, and here, this last being a review of Cudworth's articles from a United Methodist. Some of these articles are long. From Uncommon Descent. (I could not find a link to Cudworth.)

Are You Lovable? In other words, despite our fallen condition, is there anything in us that God could love? After all, we are still in God's image. This is the question John Stackhouse asks.

Extroversion. This is a trait that has ruined many ministers and laypersons of my acquaintance. Here is a good short article on extroversion from Jesus Creed, a blog I find interesting but theologically questionable.

I also am finding Out of Ur increasingly theologically questionable. But some of its posts are good. Such as this one, When Worship is Wrong. Here is a quote: "A University of Washington study has found that megachurch worship experiences actually trigger an “oxytocin cocktail” in the brain that can become chemically addictive. The same has been found at large sporting events and concerts, but attenders to these gatherings don’t usually attribute the “high” to God." 

"I no longer believe the lie that American Christians are “too political” and if we only spoke less about abortion we’d be more respected (the mainline denominations have taken that path for two generations, and they continue tolose members and cultural influence). From David French's An Open Letter To Young, "Post-Partisan" Evangelicals. The best reply to the evangelical left I have seen.

Why a female Christian removed her purity ring: I Don't Wait Anymore. From the Grace For The Road blog.

Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road? (Humor) from Kevin Jackson's Wesleyan Arminian blog. (With some minor contributions of my own in the comment section.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Life Worth Living

I once attended a debate on abortion between pro life Phyllis Schaefly and Sarah Weddington, the attorney who argued the pro choice side before the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade. When the debate was over, audience members were allowed to ask questions. One young woman stood up and claimed that she worked with people with disabilities. She stated that most disabled people are so miserable that they wish they had never been born. They also wish that they could end their lives. Her message: abortion prevents untold human suffering before birth, and assisted suicide ends suffering for those who believe their lives are no longer worth living. I didn't believe her then, or now. But I do not suffer any disability or chronic pain. So you might say my opinion is uninformed. O.K. You don't have to take my opinion seriously. But you should listen to those who do suffer pain and disability who believe life is worth living. I would hope that their voices are not drowned out by the voices of those who would end the lives of those they judge to be no longer of worth.

Here is the powerful testimony of a young woman who survived an attempt to abort her. I think this is the best thing I have ever seen on the internet.

George Will writes about the full life lived by his son who has Down Syndrome. Jon turned 40 this year. When he was born, the average life expectancy for those with Down Syndrome was 20. This rise is due to the positive change in the way the average person with Down Syndrome is raised. HT: Jesus Creed. Here is an article by Jennifer LaRue Huget: An Upbeat Look at Life With Down Syndrome.

Here is a story about a 31 year old paralyzed woman who decided she was a burden to others, so she starved herself to death. The link features the comments of one in worse shape than she was, but who believes she took the wrong path. There is a link to a Huffington Post story which contains similar comments from those who are disabled. From the Not Dead Yet blog.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Pro Life News, 2012

Scientists use 4D to capture a child in the womb yawning at 24 weeks. From Yahoo News.

Two scientists win the Nobel Prize for their work with adult stem cells. This is a refutation of the notion that only embryonic stem cells are capable of being used to regrow tissue.

Is it ethically permissible to kill newborn children? Three medical scholars think so and advocate their position which they call "After Birth Abortion." They argue that if it is ethically permissible to kill babies in the womb and those partially born, then it is ethically permissible to kill newborns. The story notes that those who advocate partial birth abortion differentiated this practice from killing a baby that has actually been delivered. From the Family Research Council (FRC) blog. Here is post from Uncommon Descent referencing an article written by a father of a Downs Syndrome child. He expresses his views on the subject.

Here is a Washington Post article by Melinda Henneberger on the horror women experience under China's one child policy and the plight of Chen Guangchen who fought against forced abortions in China. The question is asked, "Why are pro choice advocates silent concerning China's mistreatment of women?" HT: The Manhattan Declaration. Here is a short but very disturbing history of China's one child policy and forced abortions. HT: FRC. Its a wonder, considering the horror of China's one child policy, that a Chinese study linking abortion to breast cancer was actually conducted and published. From Life News. HT: FRC.

In the U.K., sex selection is the reason for an increasing number of abortions. If you are pregnant and know you are having a girl, many clinics will pave the way for you to have an illegal abortion. Abortion for the reason of gender preference is illegal in the U.K. One clinic doctor told an undercover reporter who told her she was pregnant and didn't want a girl, "I don't ask questions. You want a termination, you want a termination." Its called "family balancing." Here is a link to three articles on this subject from the FRC. Here is a paper on the effects of sex selection on birthrates around the world. The practice is apparently is not widespread in the U.S., but Planned Parenthood is willing to facilitate this practice. Here is an article with undercover video to prove this point. From the World Magazine blog.

A couple wins a "wrongful birth" lawsuit. An Oregon couple were told by a clinic that their baby had no abnormalities, when in fact, the girl had Downs Syndrome. The couple said they would have aborted the baby had they known. From the World Magazine blog.

Pro life groups in Oklahoma launched an effort to enact a ballot measure declaring a fertilized eggs to be legal persons. The state Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional before voters had a chance to vote on it. From the Christianity Today Politics blog.

Pepsi has been working in conjunction with a research company that uses fetal cells of aborted babies to produce artificial flavor enhancers. The Securities and Exchange Commission has ruled that this practice falls under the heading of "ordinary business operations" and is a protected practice. HT: Gene Veith's blog. Pepsi has announced it will no longer be involved with such research. See here from Lifesite News.

The first reported death from RU-486 in Australia. The death occurred in 2010, but it was not reported for a year and a half. From the FRC. It took only a month for the whole world to learn about the pregnant Indian who died in Ireland. The story that was first put out was the expectant mother died because she couldn't get an abortion in Ireland, which has stringent laws on performing abortions. But it appears that other factors may have led to her death. Also from the FRC.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


My inner conservative has had its say concerning the election (See here). How should God’s church respond to the results? From a secular conservative viewpoint, one can take to heart that the margin of victory for President Obama was razor thin, that supporters of same-sex marriage barely outnumber those who are against it. Yet considering what this election means for the unborn, for the rights of Christians to participate in the culture, the Church can’t find much good to be gleaned from the results. The Church is getting advice from the evangelical left and the evangelical right on how to respond. The Church needs to ignore much of the advice from both sides.

The evangelical left tries to convince Christians that conservative Christian involvement in the political process has caused a mass exodus of young people from the Church as well as a rise in atheism. This has been the theme of many posts and comments on the Out of Ur blog and Scott McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog. According to these blogs and those like them, the religious right’s goal is to take control of the political process to advance its agenda. The results of the election supposedly show that the American people have finally said no to this religious right power grab. The results are supposedly confirmation that the Church should no longer prioritize pro life causes and the defense of traditional marriage; younger evangelicals are more interested in social justice for the poor.

There is indeed an exodus of young people from the Church. There also exists a much higher public profile for atheists. Yet are these trends attributable to evangelical Christian political activity? Lifeway did a study on why adults who grew up in the Church left when they became adults. 59% of the respondents cited “changes in their life situation.” Two of the specific life situations mentioned was hectic schedules and family responsibilities. In other words, what is drawing most people out of the Church is not the Church’s stand on social issues, but the lure of contemporary culture. “If you were of the world,” Jesus told his disciples, “the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (Jn. 15:19). The allegiance to the culture is what drives most people to withdraw from church. The young, who like to think of themselves as non-conformists, are the most conformist of all. Evangelical political activity in and of itself doesn’t offend the young in churches; the young are offended when evangelical stands on social issues threaten their standing with their peers. When Roe v. Wade was decided, the majority in this nation supported abortion,including evangelicals. But now opinion has changed. The debate over partial birth abortion helped change so many minds that there is now a pro life majority in the U.S. Even the former president of the National Abortion Rights Action League has admitted that abortion advocates have lost the battle for the hearts of the young. Polls show that the majority of young evangelical Christians are pro life. Being so doesn’t cost them in terms of acceptance with the culture at large. But a large percentage of young evangelical Christians are accepting of same sex lifestyles. The evangelical left states that this acceptance is the result of increasing contact with friends, relatives, and co-workers who are involved in such relationships. This assertion is correct. But what the evangelical left does not realize is that in making this assertion, it is admitting that the young are being influenced by the culture. Young evangelicals don’t want to be hated. As they are increasingly drawn into the culture, they will become less, not more, interested in the poor. A friend who is a youth pastor told me that the young don’t want to be bothered with pastoral visits. They prefer contact through social media. Social media is causing people to withdraw into themselves and become less social. They want to be left alone. The tweets, e-mails, and Facebook posts of young evangelicals are filled with God’s name, but their hearts are far from Him. They want to be identified with God’s brand name, but they don’t want to follow Him. As young evangelicals withdraw into their own private world, they will shun true accountability and friendship. As they close their hearts so to exclude fellowship, they will close their hearts so to exclude the poor as well. It will be conservative evangelicals who will bear the burden of seeking social justice for the most vulnerable, not the young influenced by the culture.

While the evangelical left misinterprets the results of the election, there are lessons from the results that conservative evangelicals had better heed. Too many evangelicals equate conservative social values with the gospel itself. For many, promotion of conservative social values is a safe substitute for witnessing for Christ. Our churches are full of people who bring their families to church to be exposed to these values, but who never have repented of their sins. Because churches are doing good things, such as standing for the unborn and traditional marriage, churches have become complacent, thinking all is well . I know a woman who has been involved with the pro life movement for years. One day she went to a revival service at another church. It was at that service that she realized she had not been born again. She had been brought into our church through the pro life movement, but being pro life and working to stop abortion did not save her. She had been involved with our church for years, and no one knew she had not been saved, including herself. Her testimony how she was saved at that service was a surprise to me. Much of the church’s social values are accepted by society at large. I used to participate in the annual Mother’s Day Walk for Life in my hometown. To my surprise, the response from most those who drove by was positive. And this is a university town. I was all for the Chick Fil A day to protest governmental coercion directed towards the evangelical beliefs of the company’s president. Many considered Chick Fil A’s record sales that day as a witness for the gospel. Yet I am sure that many, perhaps half, of those who showed up that day were not born again, but are just as opposed to government coercion as much as evangelicals are. I was heartened by the response, as well as by the failure of the counter demonstration. Yet this success made many evangelicals think that they had won the culture war and that this success would translate into political power. The election was a rude awakening. Evangelical social values are indeed held by a great many people in this country. But those values don’t translate into the passion necessary to transform this country. Nor do they create conditions necessary for a revival. As evangelicals, we must realize that the truly born again will always be in the minority. We will never be validated by a culture that is becoming increasingly secular.

But does this indicate that conservative evangelicals should abandon the political arena. The evangelical left hopes that this would be the case. But so do some on the evangelical right. Both liberal and conservative Christians contend that because the early Church didn’t participate in the political arena, neither should the Church today. However, the early Christians did not have the option to participate in the political arena. They were subjects of the Roman Empire, not citizens in a democracy. But the early Church did engage the culture. In the Roman world, the weak did not survive. If someone became sick, families most often abandoned them. If soldiers became too old to perform their duties, they were executed. It was the Church’s ministry to the sick and the infirm which birthed hospitals into existence. It was the Church’s ministry to the most vulnerable which converted the Empire more than anything else. Tertullian reported that when Romans witnessed how Christians treated each other as well as those outside the Church, the Romans would exclaim “See how they love one another!" Some conservative evangelicals think the Church’s witness consists solely of declaring the need of being born again. They say our fight is not against abortion or same sex marriage, but for the gospel. How would these evangelicals have responded to Christian missionary efforts to stop the practice of burning widows in India? Would they have cautioned Mary Slessor, a missionary to the African nation of Nigeria, to just spread the gospel and not be concerned about the practice of exposing twin infants, a practice she was instrumental in stopping? I hear the Christians left and right say evangelicals have no business operating in the political arena. Do they condemn the actions of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani in Iran? Nadarkhani is the pastor who until recently released from prison faced execution. He was arrested for questioning the Muslim monopoly on childrens' religious education. Was the pastor right to petition the government on these matters? The Shouwang Church in China holds an outdoor demonstration every Sunday to protest the government’s refusal to allow the Church to have a building of it's own. Is this a sin? In East Africa, widows are often forced off their land by their deceased husband’s family. Should the Church stay out of this conflict and not petition the government on their behalf? Should the Church quit its campaign against human trafficking? The first Christians didn't have the option to democratically influence the government. However, they used what options they had to influence government and the culture. Tertullian sought to influence the culture through the written word. Here is what he wrote concerning attempts to coerce Christians in religious matters : "You think that others, too, are gods, whom we know to be devils. However, it is a fundamental human right, a privilege of nature, that every man should worship according to his own convictions: one man’s religion neither harms nor helps another man. It is assuredly no part of religion to compel religion—to which free-will and not force should lead us—the sacrificial victims even being required of a willing mind. You will render no real service to your gods by compelling us to sacrifice. For they can have no desire of offerings from the unwilling, unless they are animated by a spirit of contention, which is a thing altogether undivine." (From Dan Chapa's Traditional Baptist Chronicles blog.) Was it permissible for Christians to influence society through the written word, but not permissible for modern American Christians to engage in the legal and political process to prevent the government from coercing them in matters of conscience? Is it permissible for Christians in other lands to seek to influence their government's policy towards the Church, but not permissible for American evangelicals to do the same? Christians feed the poor in response to scriptures command. Should not Christians use every legitimate weapon at their disposal to challenge New York City's ban on feeding the homeless? Should Christians stay out of such matters and just share the gospel? Someone recently wrote (I forget who) that non involvement in the political and cultural arena indicates a lack of care concerning God’s world. Christian social values are not the gospel. But Church history shows that wherever the gospel has been preached, the Church has actively influenced the surrounding culture on behalf the most vulnerable. And this in turn increased the impact of the gospel in the culture at large. Who were those most resistant to Jesus' ministry in the gospels? It was the religious leaders. But when the Church solved the problem of feeding the Grecian widows in Acts, "Then the word of God spread, and the number of disciple multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith." (Acts 6:7) It was the evangelical revival in England that spawned the anti-slavery movement as well as a host of other reforms that made society more humane. Secular historians credit John Wesley with preventing England from having its own French Revolution. Wesley said that there is no holiness without social holiness. What he meant was that as one grows in holiness, one begins to share God’s love for the poor and oppressed and becomes actively involved in lifting their burdens. Wesley’s last letter was written to William Wilberforce, encouraging him in his battle to end slavery in the British Empire. Wesley wrote, "Reading this morning a tract wrote by a poor African, I was particularly struck by that circumstance that a man who has a black skin, being wronged or outraged by a white man, can have no redress; it being a "law" in our colonies that the oath of a black against a white goes for nothing. What villainy is this?" (From The United Methodist Women website.) There was no counsel from Wesley to Wilberforce to leave the political arena.

Even if a great revival sweeps this land, there will be a day when the forces of secularization will triumph. In the meantime, the Church is called to engage in social holiness, which entails involvement in political and cultural engagement. Social values are not the gospel. That is true. It is a temptation for the Church to forget this, as well as to rely on the political process alone to win the war of values with the secular forces arrayed against the church. When the Church falls into this temptation, the proper response is repentance, not withdrawal, even in the face of certain defeat.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Reflections On The 2012 Election, Part I

The election is over. My inner conservative tells me the wrong man won. Yet no one can state with certainty that God’s will was not done. While Mitt Romney was better qualified, one can say that neither was the right man for the job. Some may say that President Obama’s victory thwarted God’s will for this country. It may be that the choice we had reflected God’s will for a country that has turned its back on Him. We could say that the choice we had was what we deserved. When Americans, including those who claim to be Christ’s disciples, are incensed by bad calls from replacement refs and grieve not that the two parent family is now the minority in America, God will give us leaders that will accelerate our decline. This line of thinking will be emphasized more in part II of this post. In part I, I would like to analyze the election from a politically conservative point of view.

Mitt Romney was not the best candidate we could have put forward. His voters were more motivated by defeating Obama than out of any loyalty to Romney. Like George W. Bush, Romney saw himself primarily as a manager who would bring his business skills to governance. While such skills are valuable in managing government, the downside of this self-image is that managers are not visionaries. They are oblivious to the need to inspire. Romney’s message was, “I have business experience. I can turn our economy around.” I am sure he had the skills. But he lacked the ability to move audiences. His history of flip-flopping on issues prevented him from gaining the loyalty of conservative voters. Here is an interesting little statistic. Over the years, I have written three blog articles concerning Romney which featured his name in the title. The page views of all three combined total less than 100. I wrote one article on Rick Santorum in December of last year. That one article has had over four hundred page views. Mitt Romney was not able to generate interest in Mitt Romney. I didn’t vote for Romney in the primary, even though he had sowed up the nomination at that point. (In truth, he bought the nomination with his own money.) With his record, Obama should have been beatable. Yet conservative voters were told by the experts that Romney was the only candidate capable of beating the President. One reason, we were told, was that Romney emphasized the economy and put social issues on the backburner. Santorum, we were told, didn’t have a prayer because his only issues were abortion and gay marriage (which was untrue). Romney deemphasized social issues and lost. Now the same experts tell us voters were turned off by conservatives’ stand on issues such as abortion and same sex marriage. I wonder which battle will be more ferocious for conservatives in 2016, running against liberals or the attempt to purge conservatives from the Republican Party. Obama’s win is certainly not an endorsement. He barely squeaked by in the popular vote. He lost eight million voters who supported him in 2008. Ever since 1832, incumbent presidents who won reelection increased their share of the popular vote. Not Obama. If three million registered Republicans did not stay away from the polls, Romney would have won by 180,000 votes (although Obama may have still won in the Electoral College). Many of these voters probably thought Romney was going to win and so did not bother to vote. A candidate who was more inspiring would have brought many of these voters to the polls.

Despite the propaganda from the Democrats and the media, liberalism didn’t carry the day everywhere. Alabama, Montana, and Wyoming passed measures limiting Obamacare. The conservative position on taxation was victorious in Washington, Arizona, South Dakota, and Missouri. Oklahoma voters said no to government race-based preferences in college admissions, public contracting, and government hiring. Montana voters voted against boundless benefits for illegal aliens. They also supported parental notification for minors seeking abortions. Republicans increased the number of governorships they hold. They not only took the governorship in North Carolina, they increased their share of congressional representation as well as took control of the state assembly. The GOP took control of the Arkansas legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. It also won super majorities in Tennessee. (I am assuming that most of these wins are conservative wins which will be beneficial to implementing policies Evangelical Christians can support.) Yes, two states and Washington D.C. approved same-sex marriage. This may, or may not, signal a trend. These are the only victories for those favoring legalization out of over thirty electoral contests. We will see if legalization will carry the day in states which have already voted legalization down, especially since Obama will not be on the ballot.

Conservatives still have an uphill battle to climb. Why is that? I’ll begin by reposting part of an article I wrote on 11/6/08 after Obama’s election. It is called The Bush Effect and the Conservative Dilemma:

"First, who is it that generally gets elected President? Those whom the public knows little about or those who have been out of the national spotlight for years. FDR was a Governor, not a Washington politician. Eisenhower was not a political figure. JFK was a Senator, yet he was an unknown quantity. Nixon had been out of office for eight years. Carter was totally obscure. Reagan was a former Governor. Clinton was a Governor. Bush II ditto. Obama is certainly the most obscure in his origins of any recent President. Ever since the election of James Polk in 1844, most of those elected President were what we call "Dark Horses." Our greatest President, Lincoln, was one of the most unknown quantities ever to reach the White House.

If we look at the roster of Republican candidates from the 1990's, almost all of them were well known Washington insiders: Dole, Kemp, Quayle, Graham. While we have two potential leaders in state office now, Palin and Jindal, why is there such a dearth of quality Conservative Republican political figures outside of Washington that can rise to national leadership?

The first element of the Conservative Dilemma is that there is a natural antipathy among Conservatives to make government a career. Conservatives distrust government and have no desire to control peoples' lives. They may consider it an honor to represent the people for a while, but they have no desire to make public service a lifetime calling. Liberals, on the other hand have an overwhelming desire to achieve control over every aspect of our private lives and are willing to spend their lives regulating you and me, patiently waiting for the day when we will have finally surrendered all our liberties to the governing class.

The second element is that Liberalism/Socialism lends itself to lofty rhetoric. Political stars are made of those who can roil the passions of the ignorant with high sounding but empty oratory. The promise to take care of everyone from the cradle to the grave is more capable of aligning itself with this oratory than a message of helping ourselves without the assistance of government. While Conservatism has a few giants of political discourse, such as Reagan, it is harder for a Conservative to join great oratory to the Conservative message.

This dilemma is the reason why there are fewer viable national Conservative candidates. This dilemma is the reason why Conservatives are the underdog in the struggle against Liberalism. This dilemma is the reason why Bush was the only viable alternative in 2000. For Conservatives to prevail in the future, they are going to have to develop candidates who are genuine outsiders to the Washington establishment who can articulate true Conservative ideals. True Conservatives, unlike Romney, Huckabee, or Paul. Reagan was elected because some wealthy California businessmen recognized his potential and gave their lives and money to getting him elected. We need the same dedication among monied Conservatives today to elevate viable Conservatives from state politics to national prominence. If this was realized sooner, perhaps Conservatives will have more than one candidate to choose from instead of being stuck with a viable but quasi Conservative."

The 2012 election bears this out. We saw conservatives in the House retain their majority, yet conservatives seem to have difficulty finding quality candidates to run for the Senate. Part of the reason has to do with what I wrote in the 2008 article. Liberals seek out promising young people who are trained to articulate liberal positions and to implement them once in power. For those of us who graduated from secular colleges and universities, we can remember when elections were held for student government. There were always certain candidates who always had the most professional looking posters. They almost always won. And many end up in political positions, mostly in Democratic administrations. Liberal political operatives fund these candidates. When I was in college, there was one candidate in student government whose tuition was paid by a local lawyer. Soon after this person graduated, this individual ended up in the state House of Delegates and then the state Senate. It is expected that this person will end up either in Congress or as governor. Liberal political science majors are given the right scholarships through the assistance of liberal Democrat political science professors. This helps these students gain greater access to the powerful. Bill Clinton was sponsored by Senator William Fulbright and received a Rhodes scholarship. Obama and his wife were also sponsored. Future liberal politicians are trained to articulate and implement liberal positions. Conservatives have no such network or training on such a scale. Many conservative candidates are new to politics. They become alarmed over the direction the country is taking and so they decide to enter the political arena. Their heart is in the right place, but to the public, they appear to be hopeless amateurs. I think Paul Ryan was an exception. This kind of trained sophistication was probably the reason why when he was asked a question on abortion at the Vice Presidential debate, Paul Ryan paused before he spoke. Ryan didn’t want to misspeak as Todd Akin and Richard Murdoch did on the issue. I especially felt sorry for Murdoch, whose words were twisted to mean something he didn’t intend. Yet those who publicly advocate a pro life message have the responsibility to learn how to articulate that message. Failure to do so results in ridicule, lost elections, and more aborted babies. In the 2008 post, I wrote how liberals have an intensity to regulate our lives and patiently wait until we have surrendered to them all our liberties. This intensity gave birth to the permanent campaign. After winning in 2008, the Obama campaign never closed its campaign offices. Their campaign headquarters vastly outnumbered Republican headquarters. This allowed Obama to win in states such as Iowa, where pro life conservative voters have traditionally vastly outnumbered pro choice liberals. Obama began running negative ads against Romney months before the campaign began in the fall. Romney didn’t even try to answer these attacks until the convention. Apparently Republicans still think that presidential campaigns don’t begin in earnest until after Labor Day. Haven’t they learned anything form Clinton’s election yet? Conservatives may have outreach to Hispanics and African Americans. They have conservative positions on political and social issues. But liberals have influenced them to vote according to demographics, not principle. Conservatives have yet to mold their political passion into as an effective political weapon as liberals. It remains to be seen whether they will be overwhelmed by a liberal passion which never seems to cool and will not rest until their opponents are vanquished.

After the election, some conservative writers tried to console their readers. They said for every 1992, there is a 1994, for every 2008, there is a 2010. There is some truth to that. We cannot forget that the forces that shaped the 2010 election still exist and may thwart much of the liberal agenda. Yet this may have been THE big election. Obamacare will be the law of the land. There is no prospect of Congress repealing it. If we ever have conservative control of both houses of Congress and the presidency, it may be so entrenched it may never be repealed. Its scope will only expand. Romney’s election may have been our only chance for repeal. And even then, considering his past record, it is possible he would have let it stay in place. Had he tried to repeal it, a Democratic Senate probably would have stopped him. For this, we can thank Chief Justice John Roberts, whose decision allowed Obamacare to remain the law of the land as a tax. I am convinced he did so as a political maneuver, hoping that by not striking the law down, healthcare would have been the issue that would defeat Obama. God has given us the leaders we deserve.

Friday, October 26, 2012


I have on occasion eaten lunch at the Beckman Institute cafeteria on the Campus of the University of Illinois. One day I was joined for lunch by a fan of ever expanding government power. In praising government largesse, my friend waxed eloquently upon the state’s underwriting of the Beckman Institute, which includes its cafeteria. “Just look at the size of these walnuts!!!” he rhapsodized. His enthusiastic praise reminded me of David Bamber’s portrayal of Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice (The A &E version). While rereading Pride and Prejudice last winter, I realized that the nature of class conflict in Jane Austen resembles the conflict concerning government expansion today. In Austen’s England, those on the top rung of society used class as a means to regulate the lives of everyone else, threatening the aspirations and well being of those less fortunate. Today, it is the ruling class epitomized by President Obama and government bureaucrats which threaten to gain control over a citizenry becoming ever more dependent upon government. These reflections have led me to this temporary departure from utter seriousness.

Mr. Collins never ending obsequious praise of his patron, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, is eerily similar to the praise heaped on big government by those who want government to provide for all our needs. Austen’s characterization of Mr. Collins could just as well apply to these people as well big government aficionados in the media: “he had never in his life witnessed such behavior in a person of rank (government ‘experts,’ officials who have at their disposal unlimited taxpayer funds and who know better than we do in all matters), such affability and condescension, as he had himself experienced from Lady Catherine (big government types).” Paul Ryan warned against a society run by power hungry bureaucrats where “everything is free but us!”

Mr. Collins’ willingness to allow Lady Catherine to control his choice of wife resembles those who advocate government control over our choices in life: “Twice has she condescended to give me her opinion (unasked too!) on this subject…Allow me, by the way, to observe, my fair cousin [Elizebeth Bennent] that I do not reckon the notice and kindness of Lady Catherine de Bourgh as among the least of the advantages in my power to offer. You…must be acceptable to her, especially when tempered by the silence and respect which her rank will inevitably excite.”

Lady Catherine herself serves as a model all big government advocates seek to emulate. Elizebeth Bennent observed her delivering “her opinion on every subject in so decisive a manner, as proved that she was not used to have her judgment controverted. She inquired into Charlotte’s (the woman who eventually married Mr. Collins) domestic concerns familiarly and minutely, and gave her a great deal of advice as to the management of them all; told her how everything ought to be regulated in so small a family as hers, and instructed her as to the care of her cows and her poultry. Elizebeth found that nothing was beneath this great lady’s attention, which could furnish her with an occasion of dictating to others…Elizebeth soon perceived, that though this great lady was not in the commission of the peace for the county, she was a most active magistrate in her own parish…and when any of the cottagers were disposed to be quarrelsome, discontented, or too poor, she sallied forth into the village to settle their differences, silence their complaints, and scold them into harmony and plenty.” Lady Catherine reminds me of the presumption of President Obama when he told a lady that her 100 year old mother who had a pacemaker had no right to expect medical treatment to extend her life any further. He stated that she should be given a pain pill and sent home to die. If he is reelected, his wishes will be the government’s command.

Who better in Pride and Prejudice represents the forebears of those in government and the media who disdain ordinary citizens, who doubt the capacity of individuals to govern themselves? Caroline Bingley, of course: “…how insupportable it would be to pass many evenings in this manner—in such society…I was never more annoyed! The insipity, and yet the noise—the nothingness, and yet the self-importance of all those people!” She reminds me of all those liberals who could not stomach George W. Bush as President, not just because they hated his policies, but also because he came from Texas. She is a precursor of those big government types that consider everything between Washington, D.C., New York City and California to be fly-over country. Miss Bingley’s description of an accomplished woman not only reveals her contempt for most other women, it mirrors the modern liberal bias against women who try to follow a more traditional path: “…no one can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half-deserved.”

As for those establishment Republicans who disdain the people who make up the conservative base, any one of these could lay claim to these words of Mr. Darcy, “The country…can in general supply but few subjects for…a study. In a country neighborhood you move in a very confined and unvarying society.”

Pride and Prejudice’s heroine, Elizebeth Bennent, embodies the spirit that seeks to maintain the rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” When Lady Catherine de Bourgh seeks to use her position to make Elizebeth bend to her will, Elizebeth replies as any citizen who refuses to submit to an all powerful government would: “…I am only resolved to act in that manner which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me.”

Lady Catherine de Bourgh/President Obama’s reply: “Obstinate, headstrong girl! I am ashamed of you! Is this your gratitude for my attentions to you…Hear me in silence…This is your final resolve! Very well. I shall know how to act…I hoped to find you reasonable; but, depend upon it, I will carry my point…I am seriously displeased.”

Thursday, October 4, 2012


(To read Part I, click here. To read an explanation of the title “Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual,” see the links section on the right side of the screen.)

I expected to find areas of disagreement with the second half of Edward Gilbreath’s Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical’s Inside View of White Christianity. I expected to vehemently disagree with his chapter entitled “Is Jesse Jackson an Evangelical?” However, I was surprised to find no major points in which I could disagree with Gilbreath. The author made a conscious decision to avoid making moral judgments upon political matters. “I have learned the hard way that it’s best not to talk politics among friends, especially when they’re evangelical—you might get your head bitten off.” In referring to conservative evangelicals, Gilbreath admits to sharing many of their moral instincts which led him to vote Republican: “In fact, whether I like to admit it or not, I’m generally one of them. Up until the 2004 election, there was never any doubt which party would get most of my votes. Though I have long identified myself as an Independent, the white evangelical influence runs deep in my bones. After college, I instinctively voted for Republican candidates because I figured that’s what I was supposed to do as an evangelical.” I suppose white evangelicals, including myself, always expect minorities to be liberal in both theology and politics. I remember a good friend of mine, a white evangelical, predicting that Clarence Thomas would be a liberal justice once he was confirmed to the Supreme Court. So I guess some of that state of mind played into my expectation that I would be disagreeing with Gilbreath on a number of issues. I also did not expect Gilbreath to defend conservative African Americans who have aligned themselves with the Republican Party. He included the chapter, “God is not a Democrat or Republican,” partly to defend conservative black evangelicals from attacks made by liberal black evangelicals. He quotes one black evangelical: “The Klan in Memphis when I was a boy denied me the right to think what I wanted. We shouldn’t get to a time in our lives when our own people deny us the same right to think.” Gilbreath is concerned that politics has divided the African American church as much as it has divided white Christians from each other. And he is rightly concerned with conservative evangelicals identifying their political positions with the gospel itself, as well as loosing sight of God’s love for those whom they disagree with.

Gilbreath uses the life of Martin Luther King Jr. to illustrate how white evangelicals have separated social issues from the gospel message. He points out that King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” was written to clergymen who felt that it was not for Christians to actively challenge social injustice. He quotes King from this document: “In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I’ve heard so many ministers say, ‘Those are social issues with which the gospel has no real concern,’ and I have watched so many churches commit themselves to a completely otherworldly religion which made a strange distinction between body and soul, the sacred and the secular.” Like John Wesley, King believed that Christians engaging society on behalf of those most vulnerable was a natural outgrowth of God’s love dwelling within Christians. Gilbreath quotes King: “The church once changed society. It was the thermostat of society. But today I feel that too much of the church is merely a thermometer, which measures rather than molds public opinion.” As Gilbreath points out, white evangelicals operate according to the same philosophy today in engaging society on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. “Political engagement is no longer taboo for conservative believers.” However, conservative believers can be charged with separating themselves from the poor, they can be charged with making the gospel message purely about individual salvation while ignoring what Wesley called “social holiness.” One of the most damaging wounds to evangelicalism was self-inflicted; the white evangelical church refused to get involved with the civil rights movement. And its current failure to make itself visible in the struggle against the social ills plaguing minorities today makes it appear more and more irrelevant.

As I wrote above, I was surprised at the chapter on Jesse Jackson. It was a balanced portrait of Jackson, dealing with the good and the bad. However questionable Jackson’s theology and actions, Gilbreath believes Jackson’s true legacy will be those African American Christians who he inspired to minister to those within and without the church. Many African Americans credit Jackson with teaching them to reject the separation of the sacred and secular that so incensed Dr. King. Gilbreath quotes Dwight Perry: “What I find missing in a lot of evangelical Christianity is a focus on the importance of social justice. We understand the evangelistic part, but there is still a need for someone to cry out for justice. Jessie fills that void for a lot of us.” Even though my feelings toward Jackson are still mainly negative, I am glad to know that his influence has born fruit in the ministry toward those in need. Gilbreath acknowledges that Jackson’s old school tactics need to be replaced, as well as Jackson’s moral failures and his pursuit of publicity. Yet he educates readers concerning the roots of Jackson’s rage, as well as his desire to be seen and heard. He quotes Jackson about growing up in the shadow of Bob Jones University, “which had the audacity to preach to us about having saved lives while they advocated a white supremacist God.” Jackson has spoken of his father who served as a janitor in white churches: “The strange thing…was that my father could clean up a church on Sunday afternoon but couldn’t attend it on Sunday morning.”

What are key steps in producing true racial reconciliation with the Church? In interactions with evangelical leaders of all races, Gilbreath focuses on intentionality among the pastoral staff and on the role of the lead pastor in particular. He states that there must be a healthy mix of races, genders, and cultural backgrounds on the pastoral staff. But just a visual demonstration of multicultural ministry is not enough. The pastoral staff must clearly articulate a multicultural vision continually lest the vision slowly perish. And it is the lead pastor who has the greatest influence on congregations accepting the vision. “Our local church pastors,” Gilbreath writes, “may not all be as dazzling as T.D. Jakes or Rick Warren, but back home at their average size churches, they set the tone. That’s why in the evangelical movement’s pursuit of racial reconciliation, the role of the preacher cannot be stressed enough. For many believers, whether or not they embrace the call to racial unity in the church is often a direct result of the premium their pastors place on it.”

Gilbreath cites Michael Emerson and Christian Smith’s book Divided by Faith as identifying the key obstacle to true racial reconciliation within the evangelical church: the individualistic gospel preached by white Christians. He quotes African American pastors echoing this view: “Evangelical theology has robbed the church of a healthy dialogue on race relations, because everything that is not primarily about evangelism—like godly social justice—is put on the shelf as secondary.” Evangelical preachers preach a gospel that is primarily concerned with how one gets to heaven, while ignoring issues concerning social holiness, which is a major theme throughout scripture. Without a recovery of social holiness, there will be no racial reconciliation. With the loss of social holiness, the church has lost its prophetic voice. If social holiness is not restored, then perhaps white Christianity will be supplanted by Christianity with third world origins. (I am speaking for myself in this last sentence.)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Its been about a year and a half since the feature “Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual” has appeared on this blog. (See the links section at the right for an explanation of this title.) One of the last entries in this series (10/9/10) highlighted some of the best articles appearing on Edward Gilbreath’s Reconciliation Blog. This post and the next will examine Gilbreath’s 2006 book Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical’s Inside View of White Christianity. This is one of those books that has been on my radar screen for a long time, but has taken me years to get around to reading. Much of the current discussion upon race is highly toxic and even Christians can add to its toxicity. Gilbreath writes with a disarming style which prepares white evangelical readers to be open to his rebuke of the white evangelical establishment. Part autobiography, Gilbreath explains how his life long mission is to bring about racial reconciliation among the races within Evangelicalism. He brings to our attention the heartbreak black evangelicals have experienced in attempting to be viewed as equals within the evangelical church. He also identifies what he believes are the obstacles within evangelical institutions that prevent African Americans and other minorities from becoming equal partners with whites in the work of advancing God’s Kingdom.

When Reconciliation Blues was published, Gilbreath was editor at large for Christianity Today. He also had experience working at other evangelical organizations. In serving these organizations, he was the only African American, or one of the very few, among a vast majority of white coworkers. He shares his own frustrations as well as others in working in such an environment: “Others share…observations about being disconnected, patronized, marginalized, misunderstood. Yet, like me, they know that the evangelical world is where they belong. For better or worse, this is where God has called us to serve him. This is home.”  He writes of the loneliness of acting as a representative of his race while being stifled in the process; the pain of “being invited to the table but shut out from meaningful decisions about that table’s future.” Once, his superiors told him that if too many articles on the black church were featured, white readers would be offended. Gilbreath defines “reconciliation blues” as the knowledge that in matters of race, it is business as usual, even within the Church.  

Many blacks have abandoned white evangelical institutions. Gilbreath states that the average tenure for blacks working at such institutions is four years. Many blacks have even abandoned the term “evangelical,” even though they still believe the gospel message the term is supposed to convey. Gilbreath quotes one such discouraged  worker: “I reject the evangelical label; I am a Christian. Although I understand the term to refer to people who share their Christian faith, I have never used it to identify myself because of its cultural and political overtones (i.e., white Chrisitan conservatism).” Gilbreath laments this, as he likes the term. To him, the term encompasses what he believes about the Christian life. In particular, it conveys the necessity of being born again, having Jesus as the center of one’s life, and having a spirituality that is personal but not private. Yet he recognizes the difference between biblical Christianity and “the Christ of the white evangelical culture.”

Gilbreath quotes an African American preacher, Russell Knight, who defines racism while distinguishing it from prejudice. Anyone can be prejudiced against someone because of their race or class or culture. One is a racist when one is not only prejudiced against another but is also empowered by the system to hurt or harm the object of his prejudice. According to Knight, minorities in America cannot be racists because they have no power; only whites deserve the label racist. I’m not sure I accept the distinction. Before Hitler took power, was he merely prejudiced against the Jews and then only became a racist when he and the Nazis took power? What about someone who is currently a member of the KKK? Eighty years ago, the Klan was a senior partner in the white power structure in Southern States. It actively used its power to harm blacks. Today, the Klan is powerless to stop the progress of African Americans. Are Klan members now merely prejudiced? Gilbreath quotes Knight because it was a sermon by Knight in a student chapel service that changed Gilbreath’s life. That sermon destroyed Gilbreath’s complacency concerning his own position within the white evangelical world. From that point on, he began his transformation from silent integrator to one who would be a voice for racial reconciliation. I am curious if Gilbreath accepts Knight’s distinction between prejudice and racism. I wonder if that distinction plays a role in Gilbreath’s thinking today. Perhaps I’ll get my answer next Friday when I read the second half of the book.

Many whites, including evangelicals, think that with the passage of the Voting Rights Act, racism has disappeared from American life. Gilbreath knows better. While African Americans are protected against discrimination by law, more subtle forms of racism exist. Gilbreath and others refer to this as institutional racism. Where does institutional racism appear? In failures of public schools in urban areas. In imbalances in the criminal justice system. In the financial world; it is a fact that blacks and Hispanics are charged higher rates of interest by banks. The Church in America certainly has a history of institutional racism. I never knew that Martin Luther King’s application to an evangelical seminary was denied because he was black. His only other option was a theologically liberal school. Gilbreath sees that the problem of racism in the evangelical Church will not disappear until evangelical institutions accept multi-racial leadership on boards and presidencies. Gilbreath states that progress will be seen only when whites are willing to be led by people of color. One obstacle to this happening is money. Christian organizations do not want to offend their funding base. “Whether it’s a matter of donors,” Gilbreath writes, “subscribers or even Church members, it’s a lot easier-and cheaper-to keep an existing patron than to find a new one. When Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6: 24), he was foreshadowing one of the fundamental complications of running a Christian organization today. Ask any pastor or ministry leader; it’s a crazy balancing act. Yet it speaks to the heart of where our priorities are, and who we are as a people of God.” Gilbreath is not hopeful that things will change with the emergence of a new generation. While the young make a great noise about challenging the status quo, they are most likely to fall into the same pattern as their predecessors. “Like daytime soap operas, the actors may change but the storylines endure.”

Gilbreath’s life changed after hearing Russell Knight preach concerning racism in the Church. But Knight also spoke concerning racial reconciliation. He quoted 2Cor. 5:20: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God was making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” Knight asked those present that day what kind of ambassadors for Christ they were. Were they ministers of reconciliation? Gilbreath dedicated his life to reconciliation from that day forth. He quotes someone else in defining reconciliation: creating a climate where people deal honestly with racial and cultural issues with an emphasis upon action so that leaders make changes based on feedback learned from dialogue. Reconciliation will be proven to have occurred when different styles of leadership and self expression are welcomed. People from all cultures will be considered capable of ministry and will not be expected to hide their cultural distinctives. Before he heard Knight speak, Gilbreath had read the word “reconciliation” in scripture, but had not realized its significance. In that student chapel service, he came to realize that reconciliation is the Christian’s job description.

The next half of the book deals with political issues. I know I will have some disagreements with Gilbreath. I know he voted for Obama. I did not.

Gilbreath has not posted anything on his Reconciliation Blog for over a year. He has concentrated on his other blog, Urban Faith. I have not had a chance to examine it for a while. 

Reconciliation Blues is published by Inter Varsity Press.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Biblical Archaeology News 2012

A 1st Century Fragment of Mark's Gospel?:

Up to this point, we have no Gospel manuscripts dating from the 1st century. Liberal scholars assert that the Gospels we have were produced centuries later than what the Chuch has always maintained. And these Gospels, liberals charge, were rewritten to advance the theological agenda of one faction within the Church after it expelled its opponents from its ranks. If a Gospel, or a fragment of a Gospel from the 1st century was discovered, this would be a major refutation of the liberal position. It has been announced that such a discovery may be announced next year. Here are the details from a transcript of the Hugh Hewitt interview with Dr. Dan Wallace of Dallas Theological Seminary (HT: Larry Hurtato's blog) : . Here is a cautionary comment from Dr. Hurtato's blog (HT: Ben Witherington's blog):

Ancient Bethlehem And The Mattanyahu Seal

From the Archaeological Daily: An ancient seal has been discovered proving the existence of Bethlehem as a city in the Kingdom of Judah from between 1006 and 586 B.C. This is the first physical evidence of Bethlehem as an ancient city from that time period outside the Bible.

From Dr. Claude Mariottini's blog: A seal was excavated bearing the name of Mattanyahu. This seal could have belonged to one of ten such characters bearing this name mentioned in the Old Testament. See here.

Jesus' Tomb Discovered?:

The Discovery Channel ran an Easter Special claiming that archaeologists have discovered the tomb of Jesus. Ben Witherington effectively debunks this assertion: . Here is another refutation by Dr. Craig Evans, Payzant Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College of Acadia University . Larry Hurtato provides links to analyses written more for scholars than for the general public:

The James Ossuary:

An Israeli antiquities dealer has been found not-guilty of forgery by an Israeli judge in the case of the James Ossuary. The James Ossuary is purported to be the burial box of the bones of James, the brother of Jesus. The dealer was also aquitted of charges of forging an inscription concerning the Temple in Ancient Jerusalem. Here is background information from Claude Mariottini's blog. Unfortunately, the judge in this case may rule that the Ossuary be destroyed (from Ben Witherington).

Thursday, May 10, 2012

"The Only Way To Deal With The Golden Calf Is With A Sledgehammer": John Oswalt Addresses The 2012 Graduating Class Of Wesley Biblical Seminary

Dr. John N. Oswalt, Visiting Distinguished Professor of Old Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, gave the commencement address at the 2012 graduation ceremony at Wesley Biblical Seminary (WBS). (Dr. Oswalt was Research Professor of Old Testament at WBS when I attended WBS. His message to the graduating class: if one is to survive in ministry today, there had better be a depth in him or her greater than anything that they will meet in the form of broken individuals. The greatest danger of a seminary education, Dr. Oswalt warns, is that it trains us to appear spiritual when we are not. It teaches us ways to project an image when all we are really doing is seeking what we think is our own self interest. To be a successful minister in God's eyes, self interest is the main enemy to be dealt with. And it must be dealt with ruthlessly, or it will not be dealt with at all. "The only way to deal with the Golden Calf is with a sledgehammer" Dr. Oswalt says. In place of self interest, we must have an undivided heart, a passion for God. The mission of WBS, proclaims Oswalt, is that we can have a heart that is wholly God's. A joyous ministry is the by-product, not the end, of having an undivided heart. Here is a link to Dr. Oswalt's commencement address. (Click the link to the WBS podcast page.) It is 29:04 in length.

In the near future I will be reviewing two books by Dr. Oswalt: The Bible Among the Myths and Called to Be Holy.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Major New Commentary on Hebrews By A Wesley Biblical Seminary Professor

Dr. Gareth L. Cockerill, Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Wesley Biblical Seminary, is a major American authority on the book of Hebrews. When I attended Wesley Biblical Seminary, Dr. Cockerill was the chairman of the Hebrews Study Group for the Evangelical Theological Society. (I don't know if that is still the case.) Dr. Cockerill was chosen to write an updated commentary on Hebrews for the New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICOT). This new commentary is to replace the commentary written by the late F.F. Bruce. To be chosen for such a task is a tribute to Dr. Cockerill's scholarship as F.F. Bruce was one of the 20th century's most renowned New Testament scholars. Roy Ingle, at his Arminian Today blog, has a good review of Dr. Cockerill's commentary here. ( Roy does misidentify Wesley Biblical Seminary (WBS) as Wesley Seminary. WBS is in Jackson, MS. The other seminary is in Indiana.) Dr. Cockerill has written other commentaries on Hebrews. His Hebrews: A Commentary for Bible Students is an excellent resource for pastors who wish to teach a series on Hebrews from the pulpit or in a class. Dr. Cockerill wrote the Guidebook for Pilgrims to the Heavenly City so that Hebrews could be shared with a Muslim audience. Dr. Cockerill's commentary is published by Eerdmans.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Not The Father's Moses

Plans are in the works for Steven Spielberg to produce a remake of The Ten Commandments. However, Spielberg's Moses will hardly resemble the Biblical portrayal of Moses. Spielberg's Moses will be predominantly a war-like figure, instead of the humble leader the Bible tells us he was. See here.

Moses is not the only Old Testament figure that is going to receive the modern Hollywood treatment. Russell Crowe has signed on to play the role of Noah. Rumor has it that the those producing the film are less interested in the religious significance of Noah's story than as portraying Moses as the first environmentalist. So, there you have it folks. We have Hollywood appropriating a historical figure from the one true religion to serve environmentalism, just one of the many religious alternatives to the Gospel.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Christian Persecution: The Top 50 Offending Countries

Christianity Today’s Liveblog reports that Christian human rights advocate Gao Zhisheng is still alive. This good news has been confirmed by relatives of Gao who were permitted to visit him in prison recently. For background information on Gao, here is a paragraph on him I wrote in 1/11:

Chinese Christian lawyer and human rights activist Gao Zhisheng has defended the rights not only of Christians but of other religious groups as well, such as the Falun Gong. For this, he has been arrested by the Chinese government and undergone torture that even he cannot completely describe. His family and associates have also undergone incredible persecution. Here is an article from Christianity Today Liveblog which quotes a letter from Gao describing what he has endured. CT Liveblog also links to a forward to a book written by Gao describing the humanly unendurable persecution he, his family and his associates have undergone. If this article doesn't motivate you to pray for persecuted everywhere, your heart must indeed be very hard.

Here is list of the 50 countries were Christian persecution is the most severe. (From World Watch List , HT: Gene Veith) China is number 21. Four “allies” of the United States, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Pakistan are in the top 10. As I was working on this post, I saw that the top Muslim leader in Saudi Arabia has stated that all Christian churches on the Arabian Peninsula must be demolished (From the Washington Free Beacon, HT: Jesus Creed).