Sunday, April 29, 2007

Unlucky Break

Life is fragile. So are hips.

Yesterday, Mom missed a step, fell, and broke her hip. I was actually with her at the time, though not in the same room when it happened.

We ended up in the emergency room, of course, and she'll be having surgery today or tomorrow. I'm - conveniently - at the airport waiting for my flight back to ATL. Thankfully, I have a sister, brother-in-law, and nephew who live in Portland and can help out with things. It'll take a team effort, but I'll be mostly on the distant sidelines cheering.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

People Poison Everything

Richard Dawkins wrote The God Delusion, which has been on the NY Times bestseller list for some time. Then Sam Harris wrote Letter to a Christian Nation, which has been similarly popular. Now Christopher Hitchens weighs in with God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. I predict it'll spend several weeks (or more) on the bestseller list, as well. What's up with the onslaught of anti-religion books?

Here's an excerpt from Doug Wilson's blog, in which he reviews Hitchens' new book. I suspect that if you read this excerpt, you'll know just about everything you need to know about the book.

But the second response is to point out the logical problem with how Hitchens has arranged his thought experiment. Suppose his thesis was not that religion poisons everything, but rather that trousers poison everything. Since trousers are common enough, just like religion, it would not be much work at all for a person of Hitchens' abilities to assemble one horrendous story after another of one atrocity after another, and all committed by men in trousers. See, trousers poison everything.

The problem here is immediatley seen in the availability of counterexamples. We betake ourselves to look at this society, and then that one, and all the men in those societies wear togas. And, sure enough, we find that all the same atrocities are being committed in these differently-appareled cultures. Maybe trousers don't poison everything. Maybe men are a disgrace to trousers. For if trousers poisoned verything, one would think (naturally enough) that to get into a trouser-free zone would pretty much take care of the problem. But toga-men do all the same awful stuff. And then, so do loin-cloth men. Maybe togas don't poison everything either. Maybe men are a disgrace to togas.

The subtitle of this book is "How Religion Poisons Everything." And in this chapter, "Religion Kills," Hitchens points to example after example of religious people behaving badly. And I, for one, don't think he is making this stuff up. But for someone who bases an awful lot on reason, I think he needs to pay closer attention to what he is doing in the name thereof. His conclusion does not follow from the evidence being presented, not unless wet streets cause rain.

Perhaps Hitchens should take a step farther back and argue a much more plausible point, which is that "People Poison Everything." Go back to our trouser example. If trousers were the problem, then getting rid of them should get rid of the basic problem (making all due allowance for societal inertia). In the same way, if religion is the toxic waste in the system, then purging it should deal with the problem. So, then, what did almost a century of religion-free societies (Soviet Union, Red China, and so on) teach us about all this? We had quite a few trips around the sun enjoying life to its fullest, now that religion (that which poisons everything) was banished and gone. But son of a gun, the atrocities sort of picked up speed. The "poison" was purged from the system but the patient was still flat on his back on the hospital bed with his tongue hanging out.

When you look at abominable theistic societies and abominable atheistic societies, the variables are probably not the thing you want to appeal to in order to account for the constant, horrific result. We need to look for the constant. What might that be? People. People poison everything.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Who Are These Bozos? "Religious Group Attacks Religion in Healthcare"

The following article reads like satire, but it's from Reuters, which doesn't do satire. Apparently, the "Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice" thinks that religion should play no role in health care decisions. When you read the article, you'll wonder where they think religion should play a role. In a church, perhaps, but you gotta wonder even about that.

Notice the loaded terminology used throughout by the "Coalition" (and Reuters). Religious belief is interfering with personal rights. People with religious convictions are "imposing their points of view," which we know is always a no-no (unless it's your point of view). All 5 justices who voted against partial-birth abortion are Catholic men (not just Catholics, mind you, but also men - highly suspicious). Health care practitioners are exercising a "'so-called' religious or moral objection" (if it's only "so-called," then what is it really?). Women facing "problem pregnancies" should be able to exercise choice ("I'm pregnant. That's a problem. I think I'll have an abortion."). Courts should not interfere with "reproductive health" decisions (what the hell does abortion have to do with a woman's "health"?). And so on.

What's more ludicrous? That some people spout off this fatuous nonsense, or that one of the most respected news wires chooses to publish it?

Here's the article, if you haven't already had enough. And if you think I'm making all this up, here's the link to the original article:

Religious group attacks religion in healthcare
Wed Apr 25, 2007 1:32PM BST
By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A coalition of religious leaders took on the Catholic Church, the U.S. Supreme Court and the Bush administration on Tuesday with a plea to take religion out of health care in the United States.

They said last week's Supreme Court decision outlawing a certain type of abortion demonstrated that religious belief was interfering with personal rights and the U.S. health care system in general.

The group, calling itself the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, said it planned to submit its proposals to other church groups and lobby Congress and state legislators.

"With the April 18 Supreme Court decision banning specific abortion procedures, concerns are being raised in religious communities about the ethics of denying these services," the group said in a statement.

"They are imposing their points of view," Barbara Kavadias, director of field services for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, told reporters in a telephone briefing.
She noted that the five Supreme Court justices on the majority in the 5-4 decision were all Catholic men -- Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Anthony Kennedy, Justice Samuel Alito, Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Antonin Scalia.

All were appointed by conservative Republican presidents who oppose abortion, including President George W. Bush.

The group also complained about Catholic-owned hospitals that refuse to sterilize women who ask for it, refuse to let doctors perform abortions and do not provide contraception.

"Doctors, pharmacists and nurses are also increasingly exercising a so-called 'religious or moral objection,' refusing to provide essential services and often leaving patients without other options," the group said in a statement.

"And now, to make it worse, the government is codifying these refusals, first through legislation and now with the recent Supreme Court decision, where five Catholic men decided that they could better determine what was moral and good than the physicians, women and families facing difficult, personal choices in problem pregnancies," it added.

The group includes ordained Protestant ministers, a Jewish activist, an expert on women's reproductive rights and several physicians.

"The threat comes from a few, but powerful, religions and a few ... powerful religious leaders who pretend to speak for all religions," said Larry Greenfield, executive minister of the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago.

"Health care decisions ought to be made freely, based on medical expertise and individual conscience," he added.

The group wrote up a series of guidelines and asked for all health care providers to implement them.

They include allowing doctors to use best medical practices, providing comprehensive counseling on sexual or reproductive health and an agreement to honor advance directives -- including "do not resuscitate" orders.

"Refusal to provide health care would be balanced by alternate service delivery so that no one would be victimized when another exercises his/her conscience," the guidelines read.
Marie Hilliard of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia said she had grave concerns about the report.

"There is no recognition of the true meaning of the separation of church and state, which mandates that the free exercise of religion, including that of the provider, be respected," she said.

"What we have tried to avoid is to be coercive ourselves," Greenfield said. "We have tried to allow for the freedom of conscience of every participant in the health care system."

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Quitcherbitchen: Commuting Could Be Worse

We love to complain about traffic in Atlanta. And not without reason. But it could be worse. On April 19, The Wall Street Journal ran a story (p. A1) about the commuter trains in Mumbai, India. It's well written and well worth reading. The article's only available to subscribers, but you can read most of it here, with the added benefit of additional pictures.

Makes my air-conditioned single occupancy vehicle with surround-sound stereo seem like paradise.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Quitcherbitchen: At Least You've Got Food, a Place to Sleep, and an Internet Connection

[We'll leave ecclesiology behind for now in order to look at another topic of interest.]

Here's a site that provides comparative statistics about the world's demographics (it's more interesting than the way I just worded the description!): The Flash presentation is maybe 5 minutes long.

In a similar vein, will show you where you rank among the world's richest people. You may be surprised, especially when you see your percentile. Of course, we have a high cost of living here in the "first world," but still . . .

Monday, April 23, 2007

More About Calvin's "P"

My previous entry, "Calvin's 'P'," raised questions from a reader about eternal security, also known as assurance of salvation. Several of you commented on his thoughts (thank you), and Gene actually made me laugh with his word pictures of Jesus holding an eraser. All comments contained excellent points. My good friend Boethius seemed to try to shift the focus to the question of private judgment vs. the authority of the (Roman Catholic) Church - a little odd, since he was the asker of the original question in the post! I'm sure he only did this, however, since he sees the questions as being linked.

Since this whole thing started out with him asking what I believe, I guess I should answer the question. What follows is hardly a Summa of my beliefs, but I intend for it to be a fair representation thereof.

Unless I've missed something, all of the commenters, including Boethius, would agree on the inspiration of the Bible and that our doctrines must not contradict the Word.

The difference is in epistemology. How do we know what we know? From the Church, from our hermeneutic, or from the Spirit leading us? In reality, I think it's some combination of the three - though I tend to think of "Church" as being somewhat synonymous with "historically orthodox beliefs." I'm always skeptical of anyone who shows up with novel doctrines that he believes he's just discovered after 2000 years of false Christianity. True divergence must always be suspect.

Admittedly, evangelical independence coupled with American individualism has led to some Protestants - leaders and otherwise - having some pretty wacky ideas. I won't attempt to defend Pat Robertson, Creflo Dollar, or Jim Jones. But in practice, it's not really happening that mainstream evangelicalism is coming up with novel theology all the time. In fact, our core beliefs are remarkably static.

That barely begins to address the question of "whose authority," but it's a start.

As for eternal security, I don't think this issue would be debated as hotly as it sometimes is if there were no ambiguity in the Scriptures. I don't believe that God is ambivalent on the subject, but His Word to us does not provide the indisputably clear answers that we would wish for.

I think you can make a case for salvation being "loseable," but I don't think that's the best answer. Here's why:
  • John 10.28, 29. Jesus says he gives eternal life to his sheep, and no one can snatch them out of his hand. If a shepherd is going to protect the sheep from all foes, even to the point of endangering his own life, I can't imagine that he will let them wander off on their own, no matter how badly they want to go.
  • 1 Cor. 11.27-32 talks about being judged by the Lord so as not to be condemned with the world. I suppose this passage could be taken to support or disprove eternal security, depending on the efficacy of God's judgment. But why would it be inefficacious?
  • Eph. 2.13, 14 has a sense of permanence when it talks about how we've been brought to God through the blood of Christ.
  • Heb. 10.14 says that Jesus, by his one ultimate sacrifice, has "made perfect forever" those who are being made holy. I don't see how I can be made perfect forever today, and lose that being made perfect forever tomorrow when I sin in a particular way. Rather, it sounds to me like the fact of salvation is settled, even as the outworking (aka sanctification) of that salvation is progressive.
  • In several passages, the NT uses the picture of adoption to describe what happens to us as those who belong to Christ. To my knowledge, in the Greek and Jewish cultures of the NT time, adoption was a one-way street, as it is in our society today. Once you get adopted into the family, you can't get "de-adopted" - not by the initiative of the parents, nor by the initiative of the child. Adoption is never conditional upon the child's assent or compliance.
So that's a basic outline of what I think about these matters. Others have expressed these thoughts much better than I, and certainly more comprehensively. For example, John Owen, in 1654, took about 500 pages to examine Perseverance. Even his book's title(!) displays the multifariousness of the subject:

OR, The certain Permanency of their 1. Acceptation with GOD, &
2. Sanctification from GOD. MANIFESTED & PROVED FROM The 1. ETERNALL PRINCIPLES 2. EFFECTUALL CAUSES 3. EXTERNALL MEANES Thereof. IN, 1. THE IMMUTABILITY of the 1. Nature 2. Decrees 3. Covenant and 4. Promises Of GOD. 2. The OBLATION and INTERCESSION Of JESUS CHRIST. 3. The 1. Promises 2. Exhortations 3. Threats Of The GOSPELL. Improved in its Genuine Tendency to Obedience and Consolation. AND VINDICATED In a Full Answer to the Discourse of Mr JOHN GOODWIN against it, in his Book Entituled Redemption Redeemed. With some DIGRESSIONS Concerning 1. The Immediate effects of the Death of Christ. 2. Personall Indwelling of the Spirit. 3. Union with Christ. 4. Nature of Gospell promises, &c. ALSO A PREFACE Manifesting the Judgement of the Antients concerning the Truth contended for: with a Discourse touching the Epistles of IGNATIUS; The EPISCOPACY in them Asserted; and some Animadversions on Dr H:H: his Dissertations on that Subject.
_________________________________________________________________ By
JOHN OWEN Servant of Jesus Christ in the Worke of the Gospell.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Before We Leave Easter

Easter was two weeks ago. But there's another sense in which, for us, it is every day. I think you'll find the following Easter sermon by John Chrysostom (349-407) encouraging. He was archbishop of Constantinople and wrote the liturgy that is used to this day in many Orthodox churches. He understood the Gospel.

Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!
Is there anyone who is a grateful servant?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!
If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.
To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!

You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!
Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry.
Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.

He destroyed Hades when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Chew Your Food

[I'll let "Calvin's 'P'" percolate for another day or two before I respond. Anyone else want to share any thoughts?]

Dwight Hill is an acquaintance of mine whose ministry is devoted to helping Christians be more Christlike in the working world (and beyond). He publishes a weekly e-mail you can subscribe to called "Facts of the Matter," and those messages are collected on his website, .

I have nothing against McDonald's, and I love their fries. But Dwight makes a good point about spiritual growth and life change not being amenable to the McDonald's formula. We'll get farther with a glass of wine and a nice, big cigar.

(slightly edited)

April 18, 2007


Amidst the hustle and bustle of your professional life, God has a spiritual work he intends to accomplish in and through you to the effect that you become the very character of Christ. In today’s hurried and harried “get it done now” world, three modern day values can well prove to be the bane of your spiritual life and ministry. These values are utilized in guaranteeing the successful production of McDonald hamburgers: Efficiency, calculability, and control.

Efficiency: Today, we are overloaded with Christian literature, and church related programs and methodology that promise quick and efficient fixes to complex spiritual life issues: Apply these 6 simple steps and viola: Victory is guaranteed over vexing sexual problems, a troubled marriage, or wounded past, etc. In previous generations, solutions to the sinful human condition came through deep commitment, as one poured and prayed over the Scriptures. This was a process that followers of Christ understood extended over a life time. Classic Christianity saw the journey “as a means of personal growth, engagement and transformation. The sorrows, tiredness, and dangers of the journey led to renewal and transformation…Today, however, the idea is to get to the journey’s end as quickly as possible with a minimum of inconvenience…”

The reality is that God’s working of His life into ours will not be accomplished in mini sound bites or by quick fix methodology. At best, the modern mind seems to demand a shortened process of shallow doses of time alone with God, to be caught on the run and sandwiched in between our work and our toys. The very idea that
spiritual transformation is a slow, deliberate process is vexing to most moderns who move at warp speed in the concrete jungle of PDA’s, Wi Fi, the “Journal”, multi-tasking, and pressurized deadlines.

The truth is that if God is to be known, He simply will not be rushed. Therefore, he is infinitely more concerned about the deliberate maturation process than he is in its “efficient” accomplishment. If we are to be transformed and liberated into His freedom, the maturing progression demands relaxed, quiet periods alone with God and His word as we ponder, soak on, and apply His eternal truths. In this context, there simply is no quick substitute for times of healthy introspection and soul-searching. Generic to this process of transformation is learning to cultivate the art of disciplined listening to the quiet voice of Jesus through the Spirit. “…My servant [Jesus]…will not shout or cry out or raise his voice in the streets.” (Isa. 42:1b, 2b) Yet we tend to resist His wooing: "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” (Isa. 30:15b)

QUESTION: In today’s inch deep and mile wide McDonaldized brand of efficient, “get it done now” Christianity, are you willing to break with this trivialized sub-culture and deliberately set aside sufficient, daily time to allow yourself to de-compress, and slow down – until the Spirit can penetrate, speak, convict, heal, transform, and lead? If not, you have already joined the McDonaldized “Christian” society of callow, trendy, will of the wisp, here today, gone tomorrow brand of insipid Christianity. And that, my friend is a modern day tragedy.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Calvin's "P"

My April 16 blog about Islam and Donald Trump elicited a thoughtful reaction from a reader. He asks whether, on the issue of eternal security, there's a via media between Calvinism and Arminianism - whether, perhaps, those two views miss what Scripture is really saying.

Calvin, of course, is believed to have taught the doctrine of "Perseverance of the Saints." I say "believed to have taught," because no one on earth has actually read his complete works (smile). Some 50 years after his death, the Synod of Dordt formulated a response to an Arminian document. The five points they offered as contradictory to Arminianism have become known as the Five Points of Calvinism. In English, the five spell the acrostic TULIP, and the "P" stands for Perseverance of the Saints.

So let's take a look at Calvin's "P". Anyone care to comment on my reader's question?

Good morning Arnold,

I just read your post on Islam/Trump and it raised a question for me.

As I understand it, your theological convictions constitute an elegant hybrid: a practice-driven compilation of various strands of Protestantism. From the title of your blog it is clear that you are not trying to resolve all of the tensions within scripture into a neat systematic package. Though not the main point of your entry, your statements at the end of the entry about "security" prompted a few reflections (and a question). There seems to be two positions at play behind your words: eternal insecurity (Islam) and eternal security ('once saved always saved'- Baptist). Of course the latter could also be derived from a Calvinist view (we did not choose to become Xians and therefore cannot "unchoose"). I looked up the verses you cited and while they certainly overthrow the "insecurity" position, they do not seem to support (necessarily) the Baptist/Calvinist position. I wonder if you have considered a third position (which the verses also support): we respond to God's initiative/grace in becoming a Xian, and continue to respond to such grace throughout our lives, i.e., we (mysteriously) live in three temporal orientations at once: we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. But, since freewill is an essential part of our created human nature, we can reject God's grace through an extreme act of the will, thereby making "shipwreck" of our faith. Yet such a shipwreck is not easily achieved. (He is, after all, the hound of heaven!) While we live in the state of grace (i.e., we continue to respond to and cooperate with Christ's gracious initiative) we have "security."

Applying this at the personal level, I know that I am in a state of grace and that all of the verses that you cited apply to me. I do not need to prove my worthiness of X's love or hold on to the hope that somehow, just maybe, I may squeak into heaven. But at the same time (since I do not hold to the Baptist/Calvinist view of eternal security) I cannot know that I will not, at some point in the future, turn away from God and reject him. In that sense I do not have "eternal security." This was, of course, the main psychological (and perhaps pathological) issue for Luther. He could not believe that he was in a state of grace. He needed assurance not only for the present, but for the future as well. I spent the first 18 years of my life in the hell of eternal insecurity. I am very sympathetic to Luther's problem. These fears are what made Calvinism so very attractive to me (in addition to its rigor and coherence). Furthermore, given modern, Protestant Xianity's rejection of the sacraments as "means of grace," it is not surprising that most Evangelicals would cling to an "eternal security" position. I would very much like to hear more of your current thinking on this matter.

Of course, this is an extremely important question for anyone engaged in evangelism and discipleship. Al Kimmel (a.ka., the Pontificator) wrote extensively on the various ways of understanding "security" in light of seeking to share (and live) the gospel. If your head isn't already hurting, you might find these entries to be of interest.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Today I am officially old. Or middle aged. Or something. I don’t know what I am, but it seems safe to say that I’m at least beyond adolescence.

I like the wisdom of “old age,” but not the look. Seeing myself in the mirror was never a pretty sight, but now it’s downright disorienting: Who is that old guy, and what’s he done with my body?

Actuaries could tell you how much longer I’ll be on this earth, but they only calculate averages. In fact, my life is somewhere between 45% and 99.9% over. “What is your life, but a vapor?” (James 4.14).

On the other hand, if Jesus’ promise of eternal life is true, my life has barely yet begun.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


30+ people dead at Virginia Tech.
A friend's uncle commits suicide.

Another friend cheats on his wife and has an affair with someone in his ministry.

Something's wrong with us.

"This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun. The same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of men, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead." - Ecclesiastes 9.3

Monday, April 16, 2007

How Islam Helps Us Understand Donald Trump (or is it the other way around?)

Saturday morning, I was streaming the BBC while shaving and heard a thought-provoking interview/discussion between John Humphrys and Tarik Ramadan. Humphrys is a reporter and news anchor. A former theist, he's doing interviews with a Christian, a Muslim, and a Jew and inviting them to convert him back to belief in God. Ramadan is a Muslim academic and theologian. We would probably call him a "moderate."

The interview itself (which you can listen to here) was fairly predictable, but it got more interesting when they discussed the question of who goes to Heaven. It's conceivable to Ramadan that the 9/11 hijackers may have gone to Heaven, because no one knows what thoughts might have gone through their minds in the last two minutes before their planes crashed (Ramadan does not, however, seem to endorse their violence). Asked whether he, himself, would go to Heaven, Ramadan answered, "I hope so." He explained that, as a sincere Muslim, you can only do your best and hope for the best. At the end of your life, God will make the determination where you go, based on how you've lived your life. You can hope for mercy.

These statements help me understand Muslim extremism and terrorism. If you can never be sure whether you're saved, you may feel the incessant need to demonstrate your zeal in the service of God. To bring His kingdom to earth by any means necessary. To fight evil relentlessly. Especially if your holy scriptures seem to encourage such behavior.

It reminds me of that piece-of-**** show, The Apprentice. I'll save my rants about the show until later (or never), but the relevant part is this: You work and work and work, and try and try and try, and at the end, you go to the Judgment Chamber and hope for the best while fearing the worst. In Islam, you "compete" against yourself, not against others, and more than one "winner" can ultimately enter Heaven, so the parallel isn't perfect. But the lack of assurance is there, as is not knowing your destiny until the last moment. (For the Muslim, however, there is one sure way into Heaven, and that is dying as a martyr. Isn't that encouraging.)

As for me, I'm thankful for Jesus, who opens the door, shows us the way, and gives us life (John 14.6). For the One who promises not to cast out those who come to Him (John 6.37) and who's committed to preserving His "sheep" through this life and into the next (John 10.28, 29). He is the martyr, not we (John 10.18). And because of all the above, we don't have to wait until the final judgment to know whether we belong to Him (1 John 5.11-15).

Our final point of encouragement? The confident assurance that when we see Jesus, whatever He may look like, he won't be sporting a Donald Trump comb-over.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Islam Is Not Your Friend

Tawfik Hamid was once a member of Jemaah Islamiya, an Islamist terrorist group led by Al-Qaeda's second in command. He now lives in the West and practices medicine.

On April 3, The Wall Street Journal ran a fascinating 1,000-word essay by him about what's wrong with Islam and what's wrong with the West's response to Islam. I've excerpted about 1/3 of the essay below, but I encourage you to read the whole thing at this link.

It is vital to grasp that traditional and even mainstream Islamic teaching accepts and promotes violence. Shariah, for example, allows apostates to be killed, permits beating women to discipline them, seeks to subjugate non-Muslims to Islam as dhimmis and justifies declaring war to do so. It exhorts good Muslims to exterminate the Jews before the "end of days." The near deafening silence of the Muslim majority against these barbaric practices is evidence enough that there is something fundamentally wrong.

The grave predicament we face in the Islamic world is the virtual lack of approved, theologically rigorous interpretations of Islam that clearly challenge the abusive aspects of Shariah …

…[It] is ironic and discouraging that many non-Muslim, Western intellectuals--who unceasingly claim to support human rights--have become obstacles to reforming Islam. Political correctness among Westerners obstructs unambiguous criticism of Shariah's inhumanity. They find socioeconomic or political excuses for Islamist terrorism such as poverty, colonialism, discrimination or the existence of Israel. What incentive is there for Muslims to demand reform when Western "progressives" pave the way for Islamist barbarity? Indeed, if the problem is not one of religious beliefs, it leaves one to wonder why Christians who live among Muslims under identical circumstances refrain from contributing to wide-scale, systematic campaigns of terror …

Western feminists duly fight in their home countries for equal pay and opportunity, but seemingly ignore, under a façade of cultural relativism, that large numbers of women in the Islamic world live under threat of beating, execution and genital mutilation, or cannot vote, drive cars and dress as they please.

The tendency of many Westerners to restrict themselves to self-criticism further obstructs reformation in Islam. Americans demonstrate against the war in Iraq, yet decline to demonstrate against the terrorists who kidnap innocent people and behead them …

Tolerance does not mean toleration of atrocities under the umbrella of relativism. It is time for all of us in the free world to face the reality of Salafi Islam or the reality of radical Islam will continue to face us.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Fattest Nation on Earth

A couple weeks ago, I was in Orlando on business. I stayed in an expensive hotel on Disney property and took our business partners to dinner at an even more expensive Disney hotel. At both these hotels, we had occasion to visit the pool areas.

You know how in the movies, everyone by the pool is beautiful? How the men are gorgeous and the women are muscular? Well, real life at Disney is nothing like that. Poolside at Disney looks more like a convention of pears, grapes, and eggplants, but nobody's wearing a costume. Makes you wish they were.
No wonder people go to the Internet when they want to see beautiful people.

The Wall Street Journal recently quoted World Health Organization statistics, which show the following estimated obesity rates for people aged 15 years and over ("obese" = BMI >30):
  • Japan 1.6%
  • China 1.7%
  • France 7.2%
  • Germany 20.7%
  • U.K. 22.9%
  • U.S. 39.2% We're #1! We're #1!

American dominance is always comforting, but aside from American superiority, what conclusions can we draw from these statistics?

  • Speaking English makes you fat. It's probably because of all the lazy vowels (which, in the U.S., are worst in the South, and that's where the fattest people are).

  • Speaking Asian languages makes you skinny, because it takes a lot of energy to speak such difficult languages.

You can't really disagree with this. Statistics don't lie.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Happy Birthday, Dad

Today would have been my dad's 85th birthday. He died almost 5 years ago.

He and Mom adopted me when he was 35, which probably explains why he always seemed to be tired. But he meant well, and I believe he did the best he knew how to do at raising me and my sister.

He was a child of the Depression, and that steered his approach to finances all his life. He and Mom were known for their frugality (Christmas trees should never cost more than $5, for example), and they always lived below their means. He did like to travel, though, and he took me on my first "big" trips, to D.C., Yellowstone, and Glacier National Park. Cheapness and a love of travel are at least two of his traits that rubbed off on me.

During World War II, he protected Alaska from attack. I guess he did OK, because Alaska is still there. I suspect the greatest hazard was terminal boredom, but he survived.

After nearly 80 years of spiritual apathy, he came to faith in Christ, a year or two before he died. I'd been praying for him for 30 years.

I'll see him again.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Male:Female Imbalance

I chuckled this morning while reading the latest entry from Friendly Atheist. Although he and I are polar opposites in many of our beliefs, I enjoy hearing a bit about how the "other side" thinks.

At my church, where I help out with the young adults group, we have an imbalance in the ratio of men to women. For some reason, we do a great job of attracting women, but the men are a little more reluctant to attend, to commit, and to get into discipleship groups. Of course, we have some great guys who do all of the above, but numerically we're out of balance by a ratio of maybe 2:1.

So I was intrigued by Friendly Atheist's comments about his own groups, which are overwhelmingly male. What does it all mean? Is religion for women, and atheism for men? Is there something in our constitution that inclines us that way? Or does it have something to do with the "personality" of these groups and how they operate?

And how do we Christians, who believe that the Gospel of Jesus is for all persons - even males - get more guys to show up and to commit to follow Him? Maybe we should start raiding the atheist conventions?

Here's Friendly Atheist's blog entry, lightly edited (by me) for clarity:

At the AmericanAtheists convention, there were more women (at least ratio-wise) than I’ve seen at just about any other atheist/skeptic event. It was nice to have them there, but this convention, like all others, was short-lived.

It raisesthe question of why there are relatively few women in the secular movement. Why is it when I go to any atheist gathering (a convention, a local group, or a campus group), there are an overwhelming number of men?

It’s a strange question to ask, considering the presidents of American Atheists (Ellen Johnson), Atheist Alliance International (Margaret Downey), and the Freedom From Religion Foundation (co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor) are all women.

What’s more, even the previous presidents for each organization (Madalyn Murray O’Hair, Bobbie Kirkhart, and Anne Nicol Gaylor, respectively) were women. O’Hair and Gaylor were also their groups’ founders.

(How many major Christian organizations can say all that?)

Plus, we have the always-awesome Skepchicks.

So where are the other secular women?

Here are some possible theories that were brainstormed at a bar with a group of guys over the weekend:

  • The men scare them off

  • Girls don’t enjoy philosophical discussions

  • There are too many gay men at atheist events… why should women bother coming?

That’s a short list that needs to be expanded.

I’d argue for the first one. Imagine an Atheist Meetup event (or any situation, really) with 9834823 men and one woman. She will be hit on by damn near everyone. It’s frightening. And it changes the whole dynamic of how the guys act. If there was a more even split between the sexes, this wouldn’t be so bad, but we’re nowhere close to that. And if the girl is cute, we’re all in trouble.

What are the solutions to this problem? Besides trying to tell men to stop being so damn creepy, I’m not sure…

One suggestion that was mentioned was that we should ban women from attending the conferences altogether. They’ll get mad, organized, and show up to the events to boycott. And that way, we’ll have some more women at the conferences.

There must be a better way, though.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Easter Got Stuck Down Below

Due to technical difficulties, my Easter post got stuck a couple notches below this one. If you'd like to read it, it's just below "Your Jesus is Dead." Or this link should take you directly there.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Between Friday and Sunday

Tombs and Wombs

While at the concert last week of Bach’s St. John Passion, I had a new thought – new for me, that is. The text from the book of John says that Jesus was laid in “a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid” (John 19.41). For some reason, it struck me that this is a parallel with his birth. He was born from a virgin womb, and He was buried in (and rose from) a virgin tomb. If there’s any theological significance to this, I haven’t yet figured out what it is. But it is a nice symmetry.

News You May Have Missed: Ahmadinejad, The Press, and Easter

When the 15 British sailors were released from Iran a couple days ago, the press uniformly reported that President Ahmadinejad said he was releasing his prisoners as an Easter gift. For example, the New York Times ran this AP version: "Irans's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said he had pardoned the sailors as an Easter holiday gift to the British people.”

That caught my eye, because I wouldn’t expect the president of Iran to care much about a Christian holiday.

What did he really say? MSNBC ran a longer version of his remarks, and they’re informative:
“Ahmadinejad said he had pardoned the sailors as a gift to the British people and to mark the birthday of Islam's Prophet Muhammed and Easter. On the occasion of the birthday of the great prophet (Muhammad) ... and for the occasion of the passing of Christ, I say the Islamic Republic government and the Iranian people -- with all powers and legal right to put the soldiers on trial -- forgave those 15."
“The occasion of the passing of Christ.” Would somebody please tell the press that the death of Jesus isn’t the definition of Easter?

(More about this story at

Friday, April 6, 2007

Your Jesus is Dead.

Erzähle der Welt und dem Himmel die Not:
Dein Jesus ist tot!

Tell earth and heaven the sad news:
Your Jesus is dead!

-- From Bach's St. John Passion

Χριστός ανέστη

Χριστός ανέστη εκ νεκρών,
θανάτω θάνατον πατήσας,
και τοις εν τοις μνήμασι,
ζωήν χαρισάμενος!

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

(From the Orthodox Liturgy)

If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead . . .
. -- The Apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 15

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday commemorates the evening of:
  • The Last Supper

  • Jesus' washing of the disciples' feet

  • The Upper Room discourse

  • The institution of the Eucharist (Communion, for my Methodist friends; Lord's Table, for the Presbyterians)

It's also the evening when Judas betrays his master and Peter denies knowing him at all.

Our mental picture of the arrest is usually something like this:

But if we had been there, I think it would have felt more like this:

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Easter Meditation: More From the St. John Passion

Ich, ich und meine Sünden,
die sich wie Körnlein finden
des Sandes an dem Meer,
die haben dir erregt
das Elend, das dich schläget,
und das betrübte Marterheer.

I, I and my sins,
as numberless as the grains
of sand on the seashore,
have brought down on you
this misery that you face,
and this woeful host of torments.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

A New Blog

My friend Patrick is a golf pro who lives in China. Some of you know him. He just started a blog, and you can find it here (and in the list of links on the right).

Monday, April 2, 2007

There Was a Concert, Too

Had my car not been towed, the most memorable part of the weekend would have been the concert I mentioned earlier: the Atlanta Symphony and Chamber Chorus performing Bach's St. John Passion. What a nice way to spend a Saturday evening - to me, performances of Bach's longer choral works have the effect of being a worship service. The combination of Biblical texts, old hymns, and marvelous singing & playing can hardly be beat. It helped that I was in the first row, in the center, close enough to tell whether the soloists had trimmed their fingernails that morning. Being that close, the concert feels more immediate and personal to me, even if I can't see everyone further back on the stage.

So, this is Easter week and the St. John Passion is, of course, about the betrayal, trial, and death of Jesus. Here's one verse from a chorus in the work that I particularly like (the whole piece was performed in German, by the way; the English translation I give here is mostly the work of Robert Shaw, with a couple alterations by yours truly):

»Durch dein Gefängnis, Gottes Sohn,
ist uns die Freiheit kommen.
Dein Kerker ist der Gnadenthron,
die Freistatt aller Frommen.
Denn gingst du nicht die Knechtschaft ein,
müßt‘ unsre Knechtschaft ewig sein.«

It’s from your bondage, Lord, alone,
That now our freedom flowers.
Your dungeon is our mercy-throne
And liberty is ours!
Had you not chosen a slave to be,
We’d all be slaves eternally

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Antinomianism and My Expensive Concert

I like to break rules – or at least push against them from time to time. I don’t like dumb rules to get in the way of my accomplishing things, so I’ll either argue with the maker/enforcer of the rules, or I’ll just decide the rules don’t apply to me and ignore them. My persistent, get-it-done nature has served me well, overall.

For example, I was at the airport last week, coming back from a business trip. As I attempted to exit the terminal and get to the West Economy parking lot, I was blocked by several policemen who had closed off all passage to the West side of the building. Apparently, a construction crane had gotten stuck with a full load, and there was some concern the cables would snap. So no was allowed to walk over to the parking lot or to any of the shuttle buses that went to rental car lots, other parking lots, etc. As you can imagine, people were getting irate, everything was disorganized, and there was no indication how long all this was going to last. The airport authorities redirected the shuttle buses to the South side of the building, but there’s no shuttle bus to West Economy – it’s way too close for that. And meanwhile, cars were still allowed to drive in all the lanes – it was just pedestrians that couldn’t go anywhere. So, in my impatience, I decided after about 20 minutes of this silliness to walk in the street and go to West Economy. One of the shuttle bus drivers warned me that I’d probably get arrested, but I told him I’d take my chances. I made it to the lot in about 3 minutes, didn’t get run over, and no one stopped me. And as it turned out, that was probably a good move, because they ended up blocking the area for 4 hours (if you can believe it).

So that was a success, and I was pleased with myself for taking action and making something happen. But sometimes, this approach gets me into trouble.

For example, last night I went to hear the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Chorus perform Bach’s St. John Passion. (More about the concert in a subsequent post.) Since I drove, I needed to park somewhere. I don’t like paying for parking, so I parked in my usual spot on Peachtree Circle, despite some new (to me) signs that said parking wasn’t allowed on that street after 8:00 p.m. on weekends. “That’s a silly thing, and besides, the police never enforce this stuff.” So imagine my surprise as I walked back to my car after the concert, only to see it leaving without me on the back of a tow truck, honking and flashing its farewell! I was in good company, though: about 20 of my fellow concertgoers were in the same carless situation. Thanks to MARTA, I got home, and thanks to one of my roommates, I went to get my car this morning. $130 later (for towing and a parking ticket), my car and I are reunited. It seems no worse for its experience, but my checkbook is complaining a bit.

Somehow, this all connects with the Easter story. We may break some of man’s rules and get away with it. We may push for a change in policies and sometimes succeed. But God isn’t open to negotiation, and nothing escapes His notice. Nor does He grade on a curve. It’s all Pass/Fail, and we all fail: “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2.10). So we get nailed. Or Jesus gets nailed.

That’s the Easter story.

(By the way, have I ever told you how fast my car will go?)