Saturday, November 28, 2009

Just One More, Before I Fall Asleep

Dietrich is 3 and 1/6 years old and asks about as many questions every minute (which is normal, as I understand). Most are "why" questions or variations thereof but, sometimes, the combination of the oddity of the question and the oddity of the timing results in some pretty memorable queries, revealing the unique inner-workings of the young mind. Either that, or the kid is doing everything he can think of to keep from going to sleep. Here's our exchange when I stooped down to kiss D's forehead and started his lullaby CD for the second time tonight ...

Dietrich: Daddy, why you have a nose?

Me: Why do I have a nose? Everybody has a nose.

Dietrich: But not spiders?

Me: Uh, no, spiders don't have noses like people, they have a different kind of nose.

Dietrich: And not other bugs?

Me: Good night, Dietrich. Go to sleep.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Belarus Entry #3 - Speaking in Contemporary Language

3 of the 4 members of our team had the privilege of preaching in the Sunday morning and evening services of the Church, which is located on the property of and connected with the seminary where the EAAA conference was held. The brother who had the opportunity to preach in the morning service got quite the earful from the pastor once the service was over. Here's what happened ...

During his introduction, our designated Sunday morning representative emphasized the need to present Christianity, the Bible and the Gospel in contemporary language so that hearers can understand what you're talking about. If you use Christian terms like "Gospel" and "justification" with certain people, and you do not explain them, they will, very likely, not understand what you're talking about. As an example, our brother explained how a certain Pauline word in the passage he was preaching from had negative connotations in the original Greek while the particular Russian word translating the Greek had positive connotations. The contextual meaning is weakened, if not lost altogether, if someone does not explain this fact. This all sounds very simple, logical and obvious, right?

WRONG!!! For at least 15 minutes after the service, the pastor, to put it nicely, gave counsel to our brother, stating that "normal" Russian language is all that is needed, the Bible doesn't need "contemporary" explanation and that he has Bible studies with nonbelievers and they all understand him despite the fact that he doesn't use such newfangled speech when explaining the Bible to them. And just in case we weren't sure how much he disapproved of the idea, he decided to instruct me before the evening service that I should not give an introduction to my sermon if I was going to go on and on about the need for contemporary language and the insufficiencies of "normal" Russian language.

[Note: if you are as confused about such a hard and fast distinction between "contemporary" language and "normal" language, don't worry, so were we. There is no such distinction in modern, spoken Russian, just like there is no such distinction in modern, spoken English. And our guy was not making a hard and fast distinction. He was just stating the apologetically obvious: you should speak truth to your audience in a way that they'll understand. Sure, there are older English words that we don't use anymore and the Russian-speaking world has its equivalent of the King James Bible with its accompanying linguistic antiquities, but there is nothing that makes sense of the pastor's diametrical distinction between "contemporary" and "normal" Russian. It was hard to fathom what he was so upset about.]

Now, this story isn't all that interesting until you understand what happened during the conference in the days following the above incident. You see, the EAAA is made up of the top Evangelical institutions in the the former Soviet Union and they are all doing everything they can to educate, equip and assist the Slavic Church as it strives to reach the countless lost among them. They are all united in doing this in "contemporary" forms and methods, using "contemporary" language and ideas. How do we know this? Because almost all of them told us so, using the same word over and over, during the course of the conference. Normally, this wouldn't be funny; it would just be timely and relevant instruction. But every time a presenter told us about the necessity of doing anything in a "contemporary" way, the 4 of us just lost it. I'm sure it's about as funny to you as it was to those sitting around us. But, let me assure you, it was a hoot and it created an inside joke that should fuel our discussions for months to come.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Belarus Entry #2 - Tongue Twisters For All

One of the members of our Belarus team is a student in the Talbot School of Theology-Kyiv Extension M.A. program (website within months) that the rest of the members of our team are responsible for running. For a class coming up in December he has chosen to read the War Rule, a collection of Qumran texts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Before our trip, I overheard this brother trying to name his assignment to another professor at our seminary. He first tried in Russian but the professor was unfamiliar with the texts. So the student then named the assignment in English, but the professor could not understand him. He tried about 5 times to say "War Rule," but that's really hard to say for someone whose main language has no "w" sound and rolls its "r"s instead of dragging them out. It was a tongue twister, for sure.

But while we were in Belarus, the four of us had an extended discussion about why "War Rule" is so difficult to say and decided to see how we could make it even more difficult. Granted, our final result is pretty meaningless, but it's pretty hard for even an English-speaking tongue. So, try this out 10 times fast ...

"The role of the real world rural war rule"

But so as not to pick solely on my Slavic-tongued fellows, I have to mention the name of the conference we were attending in Belarus. The organization is acronymed, "EAAA," which, conveniently works in both English and Russian. In English, it stands for the Euro-Asian Accreditation Association. Easy, right? In Russian it reads, "Евро-азиатская Аккредитационная Ассоциация." That likely doesn't mean much to you, so here's the transliteration ...

"Yevro-aziatskaya Akkreditatsionaya Associatsiya"

It's certainly not impossible to say but, in the middle of a sentence, combined with all of the necessary declensions and often surrounded by words that are just as difficult to say, it doesn't always roll off the tongue. Even one of the conference speakers mentioned how difficult it was to say, and he was a Russian-speaker! So, while I certainly topped the charts in mispronounced Russian words during our 5-day trip, I could pronounce sensical and nonsensical English words and phrases with relative ease. In the end, such discussions helped to balance out our respective embarrassment, as well as bringing some much needed levity to a conference whose main focus was that perennial thriller, academic institution accreditation standards.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Belarus Entry #1 - Where To Find Hot Chocolate

Earlier this week, I had a great opportunity with some friends/coworkers (emphasis on the former over the latter) to go to a conference in Minsk, Belarus. There are many, many stories of how repressive Belarus is toward Evangelical Christianity but, fear and trepidation notwithstanding, we had a tiring yet wonderful time and didn't feel any of the infamous repression. I'm sure that was due, in large part, to the fact that one of my coworkers is Belarusian and he made sure that we behaved ourselves. The other factor in play was that the conference was held at an Evangelical seminary and we were there for at least 12 hours a day. That didn't leave much time for shenanigans.

One of the things that we did try to do, when not knee deep in accreditation issues (more on that later), was to find hot chocolate. I had a hankerin' for some on Monday night and so we went searching. We stopped at 2 cafes with no luck (although we did stumble upon the Drama Theater of the Belarusian Army and had great fun imagining said army performing Romeo and Juliet or Swan Lake). That was enough for me. I was ready to settle for some tea. But whereas my desire waned as the night wore on, the hankerin' spread to my compatriots and they didn't want to give up so easily. We looked at 1 or 2 more places before settling on tea (or the wretched coffee for everyone but me) and dessert.

We hit the town the next night, as well, still with no success at finding hot chocolate. With each inquiry and negative reply, my hopes decreased. So, by Wednesday afternoon, just hours before we were to leave, my expectations were at 0%. But as we were leaving the super-huge-mega-market where we were buying our dinner and snacks for the train ride home, it started to pour. A 15-minute walk back to the seminary without umbrellas would have had us soaked until we arrived back in Kyiv the next morning. So we stayed inside for a while and moseyed on up to the cafe/kiosk of the super-huge-mega market. With 0% expectation, what do you think we found? Of course, we did. And it was really good. So, when in Belarus, don't look every imaginable place for the sweet, sweet nectar of the gods. Instead, find your way to the Hippo and enjoy.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Closing the Baseball Book

The New York Yankees won the World Series. I feel like I should either be more happy or more sad about that than I actually am. I could be happy that the Angels ended up losing to the World Champs rather than to the runners-up. Or I could be sad that the Phillies didn't give the Yanks the trouncin' that I'm usually happy to see. But I don't care all that much. Maybe it's because I'm too exhausted from a very busy month at KTS and from spending all of my baseball energy trying to root the Angels into the World Series (feeling extra tired because that energy was expended on behalf of a team that expended their energy trying hard to stay OUT of the World Series). Nonetheless, I have a lot of reasons to be happy about the Angels' '09 season (ALCS performance excluded) and can wait expectantly for things to start up again in April. And, if any Yankees were to shine, I'd want it to be Mariano Rivera and Hideki Matsui. And they did. Brightly. Now I can get back to posts about theology and apologetics.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


The Angels are up 2-0 against the Red Sox. Read that sentence again and let it sink in. I don't believe it half of the time myself. But whether I'm dreaming or wide awake, I wore my too-red-to-be-seen-in-the-Ukrainian-public Angel shirt today to celebrate. While walking down the street with the aforementioned shirt exposed, I saw Sergei, the Academic Dean of KTS, coming from the opposite direction. As he approached, I noticed that he was wearing his New York Yankees hat. As soon as he recognized me, he, without hesitation and with a look of trepidation, turned his hat backwards. Hmmm. Was it in jest, or are Yankee fans the world over shaking in their boots at the prospect of facing us in the ALCS?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

With a Spring in My Step

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (still the dumbest decision in baseball naming history), won the American League Western Division by shutting out the hated Texas Rangers by a pleasant margin of 11-0. That makes 6 playoff appearances in the last 8 years. Awesome! The only problem is that, if the Angels happen to finally defeat the Red Sox this year, my busiest 3 weeks of the semester are the 2nd, 3rd and 4th weeks of October. I'll be extra sleep deprived if the Angels make it to the league championship. But I can sleep in November, right?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Bills, Banks and Benevolence

We've been back in Ukraine for a little over a month and I'm not quite used to all of the routines yet. For instance, bills are due on the 20th of the month. The bills come in the mail between the 5th and the 10th and then you have until the 20th to figure out how much you owe (you fill out the water and electricity bill yourself) and then get to a pay place and do so. You can pay at most banks, at the post office, at some automated bill pay machines and, allegedly, online. Obviously, paying online or at an automated machine is very modernized. It's too modernized for us, in fact; we go to the bank.

Anyway, as you could guess, if you pay your bills at a counter of some kind and do so on the 15th, the lines will be fairly short. If you wait until the 19th or the 20th, the lines are much longer. If the 20th falls on a Sunday, when the post office and all banks are closed, then all the people who wait until the 20th to pay are in line with all of the people who wait until the 19th to pay and it's torturously long. Our routine is to pay on the 16th or 17th but, since I'm not yet back into the routine, I didn't put 2 and 2 together until this morning and had to rush to arrange all the paperwork and get to the bank, with a myriad of others.

Now, we usually go to one particular bank that charges a very small fee for bill processing (25 cents or something like that). This guarantees a shorter line. Additionally, this bank will process our internet bill, which some banks and the post office will not process. Unfortunately, this bank isn't open on Saturdays like it was a year ago. So, I was forced to go to a bank with a longer line and, as far as I remembered, did not take our internet bill. However, as I was standing in line I noticed that other people were holding their internet bills in their hands from our very same internet company. How cool! I'd still be able to pay all the bills at once and, since I waited in a long line, I wouldn't have to pay extra to do so.

Or so I thought. As soon as I got to the counter and handed over the bills, the teller handed me back the internet bill and said something too quickly for me to understand but that communicated that I would not be paying that bill at that place today. I'd have to come back when there was a shorter line or go the internet company and get a new form or something. (When you don't understand, just about everything is a possibility. I wasn't feeling too proud of my language abilities at that point.) Then she said the total for the other bills that I needed to pay. It was clearly higher than it should have been but, with 20-25 people behind me I wasn't about to say anything. I just guessed that, due to the economic crisis or something, all bill pay stations were charging fees now. I gave her a round sum and, being short on change, she had to go get some from her coworker. That gave me time to think about how much more the bills were than they should have been. I was coming up with about $4.50 or so (35-40 hrv.); WAY too much for a processing fee. But again, I didn't want to feel the piercing stares of 20-25 people on they out, so I just exited.

When I got to work (Josie had taken Dietrich to the store; I was not abandoning my family), I messaged a friend to see if my bank-fees-for-all-bills theory was true. It was not. I also called the internet company and asked if they might know why the bank refused to process my bill. They said that I had likely taken the wrong bill to the wrong bank. And that solved a mystery. We received 2 internet bills that looked identical. We could not discern a difference between them and so I tossed one—like a dummy—and took the other with me to the bank. And, in fact, I had tried to pay the УкрСиббанк bill at Ощадбанк. I asked where the nearest УкрСиббанк was located and, on my way home from work I tried to pay the internet bill there but, of course, it was closed on Saturdays. So I went home with an unpaid bill and a $4.50 less than than I should have come home with. Telling myself that I was making a contribution to a struggling economy provided no real solace.

Josie got home a few minutes after I did and she could tell I was down. She asked what was wrong and I told her that I'd tell her in a minute, after I had finished catching up on her brother's Los Angeles Angels blog. I was trying to lighten my spirits but I was too disappointed with myself. I started to tell the story with even more boring details than you've just read.

And then it happened. The bank called, right in the middle of my story, and told me that they had charged me twice for one of the bills. If I could come back to the bank in the next 10 minutes (before they closed) then they'd give me my money back. Unbelievable. Not only did they stop my quick slide into depression, they showed me that they care enough about the hundreds of people that pour into their bank every day to follow up. If I were them, I MYSELF might have considered the mistake as a contribution to the struggling economy. But they not only caught the error; they corrected the error. I'm a much happier person now. I've got $4.50 in my pocket and more hope for Ukraine's business future. Happy Saturday.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

If Your Last Name Starts With a P ...

... you might want to stay away from baseball altogether.

In the last few years, I've posted once (about Dustin Pedroia) or twice about bad character on the field. There was another incident last night involving Jorge Posada of the Yankees. And while I've not yet written about him, A.J. Pierzynski of the White Sox carries quite the negative reputation (in spite of the fact that he thinks that's cool).

Pierzynski, Pedroia, Posada. Not a good sign.

So I say to all of the young Johnny Pattersons and Nate Phillips out there, play dodgeball instead.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Too Good Not To Share

Theologians love definitions. We love them because developing them allows us to take large amounts of data and sum it all up in a sentence or three. When you're dealing with a field as diverse as theology (or, more broadly, religion) definitions can be very helpful.

Apologists (who should be considered a type of theologian), also love definitions. I would say that of all of the proper apologetics texts that I've read, every other contained a definition of the discipline. These are particularly helpful because an author's definition will reveal his understanding of the apologetic task. I've not even written an apologetics text and I have my own definition. Here it is ...

"Christian apologetics is the theological discipline aimed at establishing philosophical foundations for the Christian faith. In addition, and more popularly, it provides evidences for Christianity, answers questions about Christianity and confronts objections raised against Christianity. Apologetics is also involved in the evaluation of worldviews, primarily providing support for the Christian worldview. Finally, apologetics seeks to strengthen the faith of believers through all of the above tasks. In all that it does, apologetics has as its goal the glorification of God by showing the rationality, evidence, coherence and superiority of Christianity."

But that is not what I want to share. A few months ago I suggested that you check out Doug Groothuis' blog. Well, he just wrote a short post on apologetics that hits the nail on the head as far as the kind of character that any apologist—and we are all apologists—should exhibit. In the course of the post Dr. Groothuis gives a less specific, but much more poetic and persuasive definition of apologetics. This is what I want to share. It's really, really good. Read it and then get off your keister and do you some apologetics!

"Our job is to faithfully give the best arguments possible from the purest heart possible."

Thursday, September 10, 2009

You Know Your Clothes Are Inauthentic When...

During a particularly busy and stressful day, while walking home for lunch, I followed a guy across the street whose shirt said the following:

I ased to do a feshi on Vicris
Llow I only wear armani

My day was much better after that.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Fast Food Fantasies

Ten months in America turned Dietrich into a lover of fast food, just like his dad. I cherished the opportunities to take Dietrich to Der Wienerschnitzel or Hot Dog On a Stick for a delicious corn dog. And we couldn't go for very many days in a row without being asked if we were going to have french fries with a meal. (All of this, by the way, is tough to reconcile with Josie's growing infatuation with Michael Pollan and his campaign against the not-food food items that we regularly consume.) I'd call us junkies, but we live in Ukraine where there is one, and only one, American-style fast food option and we try to limit our visits. Maybe you could call us American fast food junkies in absentia.

The real proof of this comes from conversions with Dietrich that go something like this:

Dad: Dietrich, what would you like to have for dinner?

Dietrich: Ummm, I wanna corn dog and fren fwies.

Dad: Well, Dietrich, we're in Ukraine now and they don't have corn dogs here. But we're going to McDonalds and they have french fries. What would you like with your french fries, a hamburger or nuggets?

Dietrich: I wan nuggits.

Dad: Ok, but are you sure you don't want a hamburger?

Dietrich: No, I no like hambuhguhs. Win I was liddo, I like hambuhguhs. But den, I saw the diesoaun [dinosaur] step onna — pschhhh! — an I no like hambuhguhs any moah.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Some Socio-Political Wisdom

I was pretty depressed when I got my last issue of Christian History & Biography (the link is to what the magazine has become now that they've moved to a totally electronic format). I've been getting this magazine since I graduated from college and a few years after the start of my subscription I ordered all of the back issues too—it was that good. It came out quarterly, which is a good pace for me. And, since I have some minor psychological issues that require that I read a magazine from cover to cover, the fact that I actually wanted to read CH&B from cover to cover made it the best magazine out there, as far as I was concerned. Farewell, my good friend.

Now it's gone and, for the remainder of my subscription period, the controlling company of CH&B, which is Christianity Today, decided to send me that magazine instead. Now, I'm not against Christianity Today in any way; they're widely read, widely respected and they put out some really good articles. I'm just sayin' that it's not going to fill the void left by the absence of CH&B. The reality that I will not renew the subscription when it runs out is the natural consequence to my lack of passion for it. Sorry guys.

But that doesn't mean that I'm not gonna read the issues that I've received since CH&B bit the dust. I can't just let them go to waste, can I? One of the major problems, however, is that CT comes out monthly, which means that I'm about 8 issues behind. (That explains why I'm commenting on something that's as many months old.) The upside, however, is that I'm getting some good insights into modern issues and events rather than commentary on events that are hundreds, if not thousands of years old. An prime example is a recent article by John G. Stackhouse, Jr., Professor of Theology & Culture at Regent College (and check out his blog here). While written to prepare readers for the November '08 elections, Stackhouse stays general enough to provide long-lasting principles to help us think straight politically and socially. I don't agree with everything he says in the article, and that's fine. We live in too diverse a society with too many choices and issues facing us to find complete agreement with someone, even with fellow believers. But what he says here is something that I think should help us all as we face both present and future social and political realities as committed followers of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

"Jesus once described the world as a field full of both grain and weeds (Matt. 13:37-43). So what should we expect in this weedy world?

We should expect sin. We should expect some politicians to accept graft, and some executives to sell out their companies and shareholders and customers for personal gain. We should expect drunk driving and drug pushing and cartels and sexual assault and stock manipulation and terrorism and a hundred other evils.

Beyond outright sin, we should expect waste. It should not shock us that governments and armies and corporations and schools waste money. It should not shock us that institutions waste people's time and waste people's talents and waste the earth's resources. Indeed, beyond sin and waste, we should expect stupidity and absurdity, vanity and promiscuity. And we should also expect a certain amount of confusion in which it is not always clear what is weed and what is grain ...

All of these negative expectations, however, arise not out of despair, which enervates and immobilizes, but out of both clear-eyed empirical analysis and our own theology, which illuminate and motivate. For our theology, which contains a robust doctrine of sin, includes also robust doctrines of both providence and redemption. God set up institutions to bless us, despite their corruption, and he continues to work through them. God also rules history and aids those who press for greater shalom in those institutions. God is not discouraged by the evil evident in ourselves and our world. He is sad about it, angry at it, and grieved by it, but not discouraged. He works away at it, knowing that his labor is certain to produce fruit. And he has called us to do the same as human beings and as Christians."

"A Variety of Evangelical Politics,"
Christianity Today, November 2008, p. 55.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Mid-Season Reflections

The day after Opening Day, I expressed my thoughts about the Angels and their chances this season. I didn't say much because, first of all, the Angels had only 2 of their 5 starting pitchers on the roster (the rest being on the DL). Secondly, my reflections were based on only one game. Not much to go on there. Nonetheless, I was excited but on the fence about whether we could preform well under the particular constraints under which we started the season.

But now it's the All-Star Break and half of the season is over. Here's the negative perspective:

-We still don't have all five starting pitchers healthy.
-Nick Adenhart (a young replacement starter) was killed the night of his first start.
-I'm not sure about now, but for most of this first half, our bullpen has been the worst in baseball.
-Vladdy has spent more time on the DL than not on the DL.
-We've gone 2W-7L against the Rangers, our AL West competitors.

Actually, the last one hurts the most since our ability to perform against the Rangers may determine our playoff chances down the stretch. If you would have forced me to write this email one week ago, it would have been too depressing to read. We had just lost 2 of 3 to Texas and losing that series knocked us out of 1st place and propelled them into that spot. It was terrible and I didn't think that following that performance up with a series against the Yankees was going to help things much. Imagine how excited I was to hear that we were entering the Yankee series with Torii Hunter and Vlad Guerrero on the DL with Juan Rivera joining them the next day!

But now it's time for the positive perspective:

-We swept that series against the Yanks and, with the Rangers losing 2 to Seattle, we entered the Break in 1st place by a game and a half.
-Jered Weaver is pitching up a storm and is carrying our struggling pitching staff.
-The little guys (Izturis, Aybar and Mathis) are making up for the home runs that Vladdy and Bobby Abreu aren't hitting.
-Torii Hunter is going above and beyond what anyone could ever ask of him, providing needed leadership and inspiration on and off the field.
-The Angels have won 5 of the 6 games that I've been able to attend and they've all been pretty exciting.

So, as my beloved Halos enter the 2nd half, I'm hopeful. I'm not sure when or in what condition Vladdy, Hunter and Rivera will return and I always worry that trips to the DL might ultimately mean the end of a season—or career—for a player. But the Yankee series showed that, if the rest of our team has their game on, we can play adequately without them. Our bullpen still needs A LOT of help, but they've settled down somewhat and aren't an exhibition in dismal failure anymore. I'm going to see the Angels play the Athletics in Oakland tomorrow night. That will be my final game before going back to Ukraine. I'm not excited about seeing Ervin Santana pitch but, if the offense is on, I'm not too worried. And even if we lose, they'll still have a winning record on games that I've been able to attend—I can't ask for much more when I'm around for only parts of every 3rd or 4th season. So, as we say goodbye to the first half of the '09 season, I can say, from the depths of my heart and with high hopes for the remainder of the season, "Go Halos!"

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Thrill-seeking's in the Blood

When I was young, my dad used to do some crazy stuff. I have memories of standing on the beach, watching my dad swim away from shore with his face mask and flippers on. He'd swim so far out beyond the waves that I'd no longer be able to see him. I think that's the point at which I'd start crying, thinking that he'd never come back. I also remember outings that involved descending into old mines that I'm sure have been closed off by now as safety hazards.

Well, I wasn't too old when I started to manifest my own thrill-seeking nature by climbing dangerously high into trees, eating live bugs and jumping off of all kinds of things. As a kid, I never felt any need to psychoanalyze it, I just had lots and lots of fun. The thrill of jumping off the roof of our garage just never got old, EVER!

But now I have an almost-3-year-old. Everything that I do is lodged into my son's memory. If I say it, he might say it. If I do it, he might do it. I'm almost to the point where I believe that if I think it, he'll think it. Needless to say, as a parent, you have to be cautious about what you do. That, combined with the fact that my knees are 35 years old—25 years older than at peak roof-jumping time—and I don't find myself jumping off of too many things anymore. If Dietrich doesn't see his daddy jump off of stuff, maybe he won't feel the need to jump off of stuff.

Wrong-O, buddy bean! Dietrich jumps off of everything. Everything that we'll let him jump from, that is. It proved to be solidly part of his daily routine about 6 months ago and there isn't much that we can do about it, except mildly monitor and, when it's not too out of control, enjoy it. Oh, and there's one more thing that we (read, "I") can do. I can join in the fun! As noted, my knees aren't what they used to be, but I can out-jump Dietrich, for now. So, here's me and him indulging at a park while visiting the younger Martins in Camas, WA, in April:

On that same trip, Dietrich did had a lot of fun with Nels and Willem. One of their thrill-seekingest moments was this tire swing at another of Camas' great little parks:

The fun continued once we were settled back in Morgan Hill, CA, at Josie's parents' place. A short-lived joy was cruising down the driveway—driveways are quite long on a 3-acre farm—on daddy's 1967 Honda CT-90, named Vanguard. Dietrich thinks that Vanguard's motor is a little too loud, so he didn't want to get anywhere near it while it was running. But he loved to sit on it while it wasn't. And, as it turns out, he loved coasting down the driveway on Vanguard with daddy holding him. Here's 2 great shots of that fun:

But notice that a lot of the verbs in the previous paragraph are in the past tense. Dietrich "loved," not "Dietrich loves." That's because there is a flip side to the thrill-seeking lifestyle. The danger is accompanied by the pain of accidents. And the accidents can be traumatic enough to keep us from retravelling some avenues of thrill-seeking. On what would prove to be our final ride, a car was coming up the driveway as we were coming down. I put on the brakes and the combo of only having one hand on the handlebars—the other hand being on Dietrich—and being on a particularly gravelly part of the driveway resulted in us tipping over. Dietrich got a nice scrape on his ankle but was fine otherwise, physically. Psychologically however, he's done with the motorcycle or, as he calls it, "da muh-kah-duh." In retrospect, he's much too young to go on actual motorcycle rides with the engine running so, maybe this incident was meant to keep him from wanting to move from the engine-off stage of riding to the engine-on stage. We wouldn't have stepped it up to that level and much frustration would have ensued. Still, the powerful memory of that accident lingers as a reminder that thrill-seeking has potentially painful consequences.

But the incident at the Splash Zone of Gilroy Gardens was the topper. We discovered Gilroy Gardens in early June and, since Dietrich loved it and it's only a 20-minute drive away, we upgraded our one-day admission to a membership and have been back about 10 times since. About 4 of the first 5 of those visits involved a trip to the Splash Zone. What a great way for a kid to spend part of his day! I remember when all I had available were the sprinklers in the front yard. Here's Dietrich busting through a geyser, an action that causes him to scream with delight:

But then it happened. On what would prove to be his final visit to the Splash Zone, Dietrich was running full speed at the same geyser pictured above while a kid not much older than him—but twice his size—came running full speed from the opposite direction. Right on top of the geyser, the 2 of them collided, sending Dietrich falling backwards right onto the back of his head. "Smack!" You could tell it was gonna be a doozy and it was. We had to keep a close eye on him for the rest of the day and it seemed like it took a few days before he was his fearless, thrill-seeking self again. But, due to the memory of shock, pain and disappointment, Dietrich has closed this avenue of excitement for himself. The only time he's ever seemed interested in returning to the Splash Zone was when I offhandedly commented that he needed a Splash Zone helmet. Unfortunately, there's no such thing and I'm afraid that all I did was add to the disappointment by mentioning the mere possibility.

So, Dietrich certainly is an adventurous little tike. It's fun to watch him have a blast discovering new ways to exhilarate himself and to occasionally join in the fun. But he's had some hard lessons in the last few weeks about the downside to thrill-seeking. It's hard to watch the tears fall when the living out of the Oldenburg nature leads to the accidents that accompany that nature.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Another Book and Another Blog

A few months back I made mention of J.P. Moreland's newest book, The God Question. I ended up making time for it much sooner than I expected to and just finished it last night. I confirm and multiply the force of everything I said here. This is the book to start with if you've not dabbled much in apologetics or Christian philosophy before now. I remember giving a friend J.P.'s Scaling the Secular City as a gift, like 15 years ago, or so, and he still hasn't read it. He says it's too much for him. If The God Question was out back then, I would've given it instead.

Interestingly, when I was about half way through the book, I came across Doug Groothuis' brand new blog (which is actually the blog for Denver Seminary's Christian Thought division—but only Groothuis has posted, so far). I was checking out Ph.D. programs (which they, unfortunately, don't have) when I found the blog and I didn't exit until I'd read everything there. Groothuis, like Moreland, is as sharp as a Ginsu, offering perceptive insights on some of today's most pressing issues. Add this to your bookmarks and read it when you can. Groothuis writes at a pace more like mine so, don't expect floods of material. But when he does post, expect nothing but the best. One of his posts, fortunately, is a review of Moreland's, The God Question. Thus, instead of writing a bunch myself, I can just link that review and be done. Thanks Professor Groothuis, I think I'll go take a nap.

But before my snooze, I'll leave you—as has become a veritable custom when I've read a book that qualifies—with the review entry for my annotated bibliography of Christian apologetics for The God Question.

"J.P. Moreland, The God Question: An Invitation to a Life of Meaning (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers: 2009).

It would not be outrageous to guess that if a first-rate Christian philosopher—one who has spent two-thirds of his life propounding the deepest aspects of Christianity in professional and academic settings—attempted to present the basics of those aspects to an audience unfamiliar with them, that confusion and misunderstanding would result. Not so with Moreland’s, The God Question. Moreland speaks primarily and directly to the skeptic of Christianity and, secondarily, those believers who have not been introduced to some of the basic issues in Christian philosophy and spirituality. What he’s said in thousands of pages of technical work in the past on arguments for the existence of God, the historical reliability of the New Testament and how to live a life of genuine spirituality and happiness, he says here in just 200 pages of conversational prose. And not only is he able to communicate these complex issues clearly, he does so winsomely, with passionate conviction and genuine concern for those who do not yet know God. This is a book to give to anyone who is interested in the rationality, coherence and meaning of a vibrant life as a disciple of Jesus but who isn’t yet able to plunge into the intellectual deep end of the Christian faith. Reading this book will move that person toward those deep waters, armed with many of the devices necessary for staying afloat as they get there."

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A Treasure Trove of New Testament Scholarship

A few weeks ago I came across quite an amazing site. It's a blog forum called PrimeTime Jesus. A bunch of Evangelical scholars, including Darrell Bock, Craig Blomberg and Dan Wallace, all contribute regularly about the latest media happenings that concern the New Testament. I've read several blog posts and can say that it's a great place to visit. It's a good way to keep on top of stuff that you'd never know about if someone didn't point it out. One of the most provocative and popular posts is Blomberg's criticism of a recent National Geographic piece. It's wonderful that these guys are making their work public and not keeping it confined to journals and books. Read and be enlightened, edified and encouraged.

In a related note, you should visit the Day of Discovery site. I can't vouch for any of the other programs that DOD puts out, but the Jesus: Man, Messiah or More? series is phenomenal. It has it's cheesy cinematic moments, as most Christian productions do, but the research presented is worth putting up with the cheese. A group of Evangelical scholars, known as the Jesus Group, which includes some who regularly post on PrimeTime Jesus, worked together for a decade, defending the historicity of the portrait of Jesus that's found in the Gospels against the many critical portraits that have arisen in recent decades. (And because I must, I'll note that the Jesus Group includes Mike Wilkins, Distinguished Professor of New Testament and Dean of the Faculty at Talbot School of Theology.) Each of the 8 shows are filmed in Israel, so it's much more exciting than just reading words on a page. Check it out if you get the chance.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Hmm, How Should I Put This?

On the recommendation of a friend, I just finished reading a little book called Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists, by Collin Hansen. Hansen is an editor at large for Christianity Today and, as far as the major objective of the book is concerned, he did a fabulous job. He not only tracked down and interviewed some key figures in the so-called New Calvinism, like Al Mohler, John Piper and Mark Driscoll. Hansen also brought out the more representative views of some "laypeople" in the movement, as well. I was really excited to hear about the birth of thriving Evangelical Churches and the growth of solidly Evangelical seminaries all around the US. To read about thousands of young adults worshipping God, being passionate about theology and having a passion for evangelism and missions brings joy to the heart.

But I couldn't quite get as excited about the fact that most people cited in the book seemed to be as excited about Reformed theology/Calvinism as they were about their faith and about Scripture ("I've been saved for a while but I wasn't on fire for the Lord until I became a Calvinist," and "I read Scripture but it didn't make sense until I read it Calvinistically," are paraphrases of common comments found throughout the book). Granted, when you are able to make sense of something as huge as Christianity, you will be excited within the boundaries of the system that helps you make sense of it. Reformed theology in general, and Calvinism in particular, are pretty extensive in scope and can answer a lot of questions. So I understand the excitement to a point. But the author spun the data in such a way as to give the impression that Reformed theology/Calvinism is the great, undiscovered key to the future of Evangelicalism. This is how the Church will weather the storms of relativism and postmoderism. This is how the Church will reach this culture as well as others. I'm sorry, but I just don't think the Kingdom of God is limited to one denomination or theological system.

To be fair to the author's main point and to the gist of most comments, the bottom line of the conversation was God and His grace. But that is why I still feel so unsettled when reflecting on the book. Why do I still feel like I'm supposed to have a greater passion for Jonathan Edwards than for Augustine, Anslem or Aquinas? He's great, but he's not the only dead theologian that should inspire us. Why do I still feel like I should consider the recent explosion of Reformed theology/Calvinism as a theological resurrection from the dead? Reformed theology/Calvinism was never dead; I've known groups as passionate as any in the book for as long as I've been a Christian. I guess I just think that Hansen made this aspect of his case a little too strongly.

I'm going to close with a quote from the book that conveys a postion that I think gives a better tone than most of what is found therein. And it comes from an amazing New Testament scholar who is highly respected and who is providing the world with outstanding Evangelical theology and exegesis. If I were to call myself a Calvinist, I'd resonate with these following comments from Tom Schreiner:

"If a church asked me, 'Are you a Calvinist?' I'd say, "Yes, but I don't use the word Calvinism. I teach what Scripture says, and I explain it in terms of biblical theology, what the Bible as a whole is teaching, the framework of Scripture. That's what I want to teach this congregation. I want this church not to be a Calvinistic church but a biblical church. Now I think there's a lot of overlap there biblically. But we're not indebted to John Calvin; we're indebted to the Scriptures at the end of the day." (p. 85)

Thanks, Tom. May your tribe increase!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Such Reminders Are Never Out of Date

I know the murder of abortion doctor, George Tiller in Wichita, Kansas is now several weeks past and is no longer headline news, but just in case you haven't come across Al Mohler's commentary on it, I wanted you to know about it. Sure, I probably wouldn't have pointed it out if Mohler hadn't turned it into an discussion of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (my son's and this blog's namesake), but his point is clear, well-argued and worth reminding everyone, lest anyone get the idea that murder is the right way to respond to murder.

Friday, May 22, 2009

"A" for Effort, "H"ilarious for Achievement

Driving home on Monday night, Dietrich (2 yrs., 8 mos.) and I listened to the Angels-Mariners game. About mid-game, with Chone Figgins at the plate, this is what most people heard ...

"Two balls and two strikes to Figgy."

In his continuing, wholehearted effort to figure out the ins and outs of baseball, this is how Dietrich processed and repeated the above call ...

"Two balls and a piggy!"

Clearly I have some more educating to do.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Making Relationships Work

Sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia gave an excellent Veritas Forum lecture on how to have a happy marriage. Wilcox is a Christian but all of the advice he offers comes from current sociological research and not from the Bible or Christian teaching. Not surprisingly, the research turns out to be very supportive of a general Christian worldview. Wilcox is not the most gifted speaker and he annoyingly begins every answer in the Q & A session with, "That's a good question" (20 times in 20 minutes is way too much). The quality of the audio is also horrible but, in spite of all of these drawbacks, the following points give some needed direction for those who are dating as well as to those already married.

The "Dos" and "Don'ts" of Dating

1. Don't cohabit, or have casual sex.
2. Don't put off marriage.
3. Don't rely on "chemistry."
4. Don't marry a stonewaller or a nagger.

1. Do look for commitment.
2. Do look for a virtuous man or woman.
3. Do rely on the advice of friends and family.
4. Do seek out someone of a common faith.

The "Dos and Don'ts of Marriage

1. Don't seek a 50/50 marriage.
2. Don't be unfair or selfish.
3. Don't be intimate with members of the opposite sex who aren't your spouse.

1. Do strive for emotional engagement.
2. Do appreciate complementarity.
3. Do have friends who share your faith commitments.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Saying Goodbye to Hitchens

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I picked up, Is Christianity Good for the World? A Debate, at the Hitchens-Craig debate last weekend. Hitchens' sparring partner in this little book is Douglas Wilson, a Christian pastor and prolific author. I can say that Wilson played the Hitchens game magnificently. He didn't let Hitchens get away with much and he didn't stick to a predetermined set of arguments the way Craig did in the debate (this is not a strong criticism of Craig, I just thought Craig could have come down a few notches to engage Hitchens on his terms). Wilson was forceful when he needed to be, humorous at all the appropriate times and he pushed Hitchens to answer questions that he couldn't. Since the two of them continue to appear together in various venues, it seems that Hitchens doesn't mind it when Christians take the gloves off. And not to make it sound like Wilson set his Christian love aside, he did clearly and winsomely invite Hitchens to consider Christianity as the best way to ground the truth and morality that he so clearly values. Here's one of my favorite (more pointed) moments in the book ...

"Christopher Hitchens argues carefully, but given atheism, I want him to justify his use of reason. If there is no God, what is truth? Christopher Hitchens displays great moral indignation, but, given atheism, I want him to justify that indignation. If there is no God, then who cares? And Christopher Hitchens writes as a very careful wordsmith, but given atheism, I want him to justify his vibrant and engaging prose. If there is no God, then yammer, yamber, yaw&^% ..." (p. 19)

But now I've interacted with Hitchens in three different ways (book, public debate and print debate) and I can safely say that I'm familiar with his thoughts and his style. He hates religion vehemently, he is extremely and offensively pejorative in print, kind but condescending in public and he has a wide—but limited—array talking points that he thinks no one can counter. He presents his talking points with an indiscernible order and doesn't seem to listen when those talking points are rebutted. He also rarely answers direct philosophical questions that are asked of him by the other side. He does offer evidence that the thoughtful Christian should consider but I don't think any of it is strong enough to raise any serious doubts about the Christian faith. So, I'm saying goodbye to Hitchens and will turn my attention to other philosophical and theological concerns. I'll close with the review entry for my annotated bibliography of Christian apologetics.

"Christopher Hitchens & Douglas Wilson, Is Christianity Good for the World? A Debate, Foreword by Jonah Goldberg (Moscow, ID: Canonpress, 2008).

As a key, if not the major player in the New Atheism movement, Christopher Hitchens and his influential ideas deserve to be engaged at many levels and in many formats. Fortunately, Hitchens is quite eager to participate in any and every format in order to promote the negative answer to the question posed in this book. Douglas Wilson argues the positive answer to the question, although neither of them stick to the point very consistently throughout the debate. Part of the problem is that Hitchens’ broader agenda is to vilify religion in general, the major point of his bestseller, god is not Great. Most of the claims he makes to Wilson are restatements of what he’s already said there. The other problem is that Wilson—a presuppositionalist—spends most of his time trying to show the absurdity of Hitchens’ positive statements about truth and morality, given atheism. But these problems show only that the book is poorly titled, not that the dialogue isn’t engaging and provocative (as anything involving Hitchens will be). Wilson carries the day, it seems, because Hitchens isn’t able to adequately answer Wilson’s questions, he merely dismisses them as unnecessary for establishing the basis of truth and morality. Wilson matches Hitchens’ sharp and sometimes biting literary style, not considering it inappropriate to be offensive to someone as offensive as Hitchens. This particular volley will not be the turning point in the broader match between theism and atheism, but it is worthy of consideration as a unique, accessible and witty exchange in the course of the game." (p. 12)

By the way, the conversation continues to rage in the comments of Doug Geivett's blog post about the Hitchens-Craig debate. There are over 100 comments now. Lots of atheists are showing up and Geivett is interacting them brilliantly and kindly.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Early Season Reflections

Josie, myself and a friend had the privilege of being present for Opening Day at Angel Stadium last night. It's been a while since we've been to a game—baseball is certainly not Ukraine's national past time—and wow, was it great. Not only was it fun to be back at the ballpark, the Angels also played some decent ball and came away with a win. Howie Kendrick had a hot bat, Joe Saunders pitched well for 6 plus innings and, for now, one day into the season, all is as it should be with my Halos. Hmmm, can we stop the season now, before we run out of healthy pitchers?

Monday, April 6, 2009

From Another (Read: Better) Angle

A while ago, after his visit to Kyiv, I recommended Doug Geivett's blog. Here's another recommendation for the same thing. Only this time, I'm recommending particularly his response to the Craig-Hitchens debate from Saturday night. I've given my thoughts in the comments to this post, but Dr. Geivett's thoughts are those of a trained philosopher. Obviously they carry a weight of authority that my thoughts don't. Not only that, he made some observations that I missed. If I were a trained philosopher, maybe I wouldn't have. It's just so tough down here in the minors! In any case, read and enjoy a real philosopher's take on the philosophy of this great debate.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Another Reason Not To Be an A's Fan

Although this news report makes it all sound outrageously funny, it sure would stink to have people driving around your neighborhood with whistle tips on their mufflers. I'm glad that this seems to be contained to Oakland and hasn't made its way to L.A.

The Bubb Rubb News Report

Because it's so comical, people have turned Bubb Rubb into an icon of sorts and have created some remixes that take out the news and leave us with Bubb Rubb in nothing but his woo-wooing glory.

A Bubb Rubb Remix

And if that wasn't enough, somebody made us a Bubb Rubb-Dukes of Hazzard clip that will leave your sides aching. I know that technology has too large of a role in our society but, with stuff like this coming out, it's hard not to overindulge.

The Bubb Rubb-Dukes of Hazzard Episode

Friday, April 3, 2009

Date and Debate Night or What Kind of a Guy is Christopher Hitchens?

Tomorrow night Josie, myself and another couple are going to dinner and then to a debate between William Lane Craig and Christopher Hitchens at Biola University. Josie has been referring to it as "Date and Debate" for weeks, which brings a little levity to what could be a rough night. I say that because I just finished Hitchens' God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and I'm having a hard time believing that Hitchens is going to be able to behave civilly in a room with 2000 Evangelical Christians. I'll list just three general thoughts that lead me to belive that, if I were to meet Hitchens at a party, I'd reconsider whether or not I wanted to be there.

1. How not to win friends and influence people (The personal problems)
I can't say that I was ever bored while reading the book and I have no criticisms of Hitchens as a wordsmith. But, if I was trying to convert people away from religion and to an atheistic-humanistic secularism, I sure wouldn't call those I was trying to win over "stupid/moronic/backwards/repressive/oppressive/evil" on every page of my book. There are plenty of Christians who have to learn this lesson also but, as Hitchens is one of today's leading atheists, he should be able to reach out a little more and keep the ad hominems to a minimum. I've heard and read many William Lane Craig debates and can say that this will not be a problem for him. Evangelicalism doesn't have too many more winsome than Craig.

2. Is everything on the table? (The factual problems)
Gary Habermas of Liberty University addresses these issues much more thoroughly and effectively in a recent article for the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, so I don't need to do it here. Nevertheless, Hitchens makes some claims that, on their face, are so outrageously false (or misrepresentative) that I couldn't help but wonder about the truthfulness of the claims of which I didn't have any firsthand knowledge.

a. Hitchens says, "The contradictions and illiteracies of the New Testament have filled up many books by eminent scholars, and have never been explained by any Christian authority except in the feeblest terms of 'metaphor' and 'a Christ of faith.'" (p. 115) This claim can only come from someone who didn't actually ask any of Christianity's own "eminent scholars" for such explanations. My personal library alone—small as it is—has enough in it to provide reasonable answers to any of the claims that Hitchens raises in God is Not Great. I hope the general public is more investigative than he when asking serious questions about Christianity.

b. In a debate about the Resurrection of Jesus, the then-atheist Anthony Flew (who has recently renounced atheism for deism) made essentially the same following point as Hitchens. The latter phrased it this way, "exceptional claims demand exceptional evidence." (p. 143) I'm still thinking this through epistemologically, but I think I want to say that, depending on the claim, we don't necessarily need more evidence than is available, we just need the best possible explanation of the facts at hand. Hitchens says that the evidence for the Resurrection doesn't have nearly the evidence needed to justify belief in it. For a 2000-year-old event, the are quite a few known facts surrounding Jesus' supposed death, burial and the subsequent empty tomb. The issue is, given the facts at hand, whether or not the Resurrection is the best possible explanation. Hitchens is not off the hook by saying that there isn't enough evidence; he needs to offer an explanation of the facts that are there. Until he's done that, his dismissal of the case for the Resurrection is unwarranted. (My library also has plenty of material that offer reasonable explanations for the Resurrection of Jesus. Hitchens apparently didn't look at any of them either.)

c. After de-religionizing Martin Luther King, Jr., Hitchens makes the following claim about why it took so long to overcome slavery and racism in the United States, "The chance that someone's religious belief would cause him or her to take a stand against slavery and racism was statistically quite small. But the chance that someone's religious belief would cause him or her to uphold slavery and racism was statistically extremely high." (p. 180) It was, by Hitchens' telling, only once America became secular enough that it was able to eradicate slavery and marginalize racism. But given the Christian heritage of the U.S. and the robust possibility, logical consistency and modern reality of opposition to slavery and racism from a Christian worldview, Hitchens' claim falls flat. Supposed biblical justifications for slavery and racism have proved to be based on misunderstandings of the Bible rather than accurate reflections of Its teachings. Mistaking failures by those of a religious system for faults in the religion itself rarely leads to the proper conclusions.

3. Are we talking about apples or oranges? (The methodological problems)
Hitchens' main point is that all religion is bad. But, as he proceeds to make his case throughout 19 distinct chapters, he seems to jump to whatever point on the religious map he needs to in order to come up with a particular conclusion. One chapter will focus on Judaism and Hinduism while another will highlight Mormonism and Buddhism with the next honing in on Christianity and Islam. And he will talk of atrocities from a 3000-year-old incident in the same breath as a something from today's headlines. It's as though all religions are the same in the end and that any apparent differences in worldview are secondary to the fact that they all harm and hinder. It's a kind of reverse religious pluralism where, instead of all religions leading to God, all religions lead to evil. But if you are going to take religions seriously, you have to factor in the distinctives of each and how those distinctives disallow a melting pot approach to God (either positively or negatively). I'm not going to encourage Hitchens to write another book but, I think this one would have been more effective if he would have treated each religion individually and attempted to disprove each one. By loosely lumping them all together and not specifying his assaults he leaves gaping holes in his argument and his premise far from proven.

I'm on the side of religion so, of course, I'm not going to praise Hitchens for his work. He's made me think about some things but, more than that, he's upheld my confidence in the coherence, veracity and beauty of Christianity. I'm sure this wasn't his goal but I'll thank him anyway. I think the debate will be interesting tomorrow and I'm really looking forward to it. But I hope to see a more personable side to Hitchens than I have in God is Not Great. Not because I want his atheism to be more palatable—we score more points when he acts so unbecomingly—but because I want to see some proof that there is some humanity behind his "humanism."

Thursday, March 19, 2009

One of the Worst Analogies Ever

For Christmas, my father-in-law got me half an iPod. After ponying up for the other half, I discovered the wonderful world of podcasts. Veritas Forum's and William Lane Craig's Reasonable Faith podcasts are at the top of my list but, thanks to a friend's recommendation, I've discovered the oddly captivating personality of Maxie Burch. Burch is the Associate Pastor for Faith Development at North Phoenix Baptist Church. Holding a PhD in history, he does a lot of teaching at NPBC on Church history and historical theology. He's got about 30 lectures or so on iTunes and I'm slowly working my way through them. He's passionate and brings new perspectives to some old theological questions. And while I reject some of his presuppositions, his take on certain details and some of his conclusions, I welcome his attempts to bring theology to the local Church and to get all believers thinking deeply about their faith and about the God of their faith.

But today he went too far. I was listening to his introductory lecture (because I haven't been doing so in order) when he gave the wise admonition that we should read theology broadly while, at the same time, being discerning about what we appropriate into our own belief systems. I wholeheartedly endorse such an approach to theology but I absolutely reject his analogy:

"Here's my rule of thumb for theology. You do theology like you eat fish. You eat the meat and spit out the bones. Part of the reason for a course like this is, in your own heart and mind, trying to identify for you what the bones are. But it's not a good rule of thumb to never eat for fear that there are bones. There's a lot of good stuff out there to eat, it's just a matter of figuring out how to manage the bones."

Absolutely disgusting! If I did theology like I eat fish, I'd be out of a job. I agree that it's not a good rule of thumb to never eat fish for fear that there are bones. But it is a good rule of thumb to never eat fish since fish are gross. I get his point, of course, but wow, he certainly achieved the opposite objective with me than I'm sure he was intending. Thanks for the advice, Maxie, but, next time, pick a more tasty analogy.

Monday, March 16, 2009

I’ll Have an Order of History, Hold the Theology

It took me 5 of 7 books, but I finally figured out what makes me uncomfortable about Thomas Cahill. When he sticks to history, which his works primarily address, he is superb. I read him ravenously because of this. But when he delves into theology, his thinking is really convoluted. That’s why I liked his book about Jesus and the New Testament much less than his book about the ancient Greeks. Because the Greeks didn’t believe in the Judeo-Christian God, Cahill didn’t talk much about Christian theology and I could take in the history with curiosity and enjoyment. And his discussions about the theology of the Jews were so broad that he didn’t give himself the opportunity to make any mistakes of particularity. He dealt solely with how the Jews stood out in their ancient near-eastern context and with how they radically changed the world as we know it. And when he wrote about the Irish and how they saved civilization, he rarely brought up theology and focused on how Celtic Christianity upheld culture while the rest of Europe was being deculturalized by the barbarians. Cahill is a superb historian for the uninitiated, like me, but he’s a horrible theologian for the person who knows even just a little bit of theology. That makes him dangerous for the non-theologian since he can so easily lead someone into wrongheaded theological thought.

The book I just finished, The Mystery of the Middle Ages: And the Beginning of the Modern World, fits the above description exactly. It’s a book about the influence that the Middle Ages have had on western culture, and you can’t do that without discussing theology a great deal. Again, his history is great, especially when he is talking about all of the things that our culture has that it wouldn’t if there had been no middle ages. He helps to correct the popular belief that the Church was only evil during these times and that the western world would have reached enlightenment sooner if those angry, conservative, fundamentalistic, repressive and anti-intellectual Christians hadn’t been in charge of things. What Francis of Assisi did for social justice, what Hildegard of Bingen did for women’s spiritual equality, what Dante did for public moral discourse, and what Thomas Aquinas and Roger Bacon did for science are all trumpeted boldly in this work. For these things Cahill is to be praised and the book should be (and has been) widely read.

But Cahill makes theological blunders that devalue the work significantly. I’m not a historical theologian but I play one on TV (actually, depending on how the chips fall, I may try to get a PhD in historical theology which would give me a bit more authority here). That being the case, I know enough to say that if you put Peter Abelard on a scale with Anselm of Canterbury, Anselm is going to carry more historical weight. I’m not saying that Abelard is insignificant, I’m just saying that if you’re going to give him 50 pages of press, you’d better at least mention Anselm. Anselm’s work on the atoning death of Christ revolutionized the discussion and planted the seeds for the revolution of the Reformation. And his ontological argument for the existence of God has been discussed for close to a millennium. Abelard’s work was discussed greatly for several centuries but he is now remembered more for his tragic romance with Héloïse than for his theological contributions. Cahill’s perspective leads to the exact opposite conclusion.

Another theologically atrocious claim by Cahill, also made in his discussions of Abelard, concerns the current debate about the doctrine of the atonement. I’ll let him speak for himself here:

“And though the idea that Christ died to repay his Father for human sin is still a favorite theory of many (especially evangelical) Christians, it is a doctrine no one can make logical sense of, for, like the Calvinist theory of Election, it necessitates a sort of voraciously pagan Father God steeped in cruelty and, in the case of Jesus’s horrific death, his son’s blood.” (p. 199)

This little chunk of text is filled with enough theological confusion to write an essay on, let alone a simple paragraph, but I’ll stay short. First, to compare the Calvinist theory of election to the penal substitutionary view of the atonement is laughable. The latter is embraced by evangelicals of all shapes and sizes, while the former is limited to a particular theological system. Secondly, thousands of pages have been written in just the past few decades on such a view of the atonement and they have quite ably “made logical sense” of it. Here’s just one example. Finally, to say that such a view “necessitates a sort of voraciously pagan Father God …” can only come from someone who hasn’t thought about the doctrine all that much. To make the claims Cahill does without at all mentioning the holiness of God and what sin’s violation of it might require for man’s reconciliation is theologically shallow, unfortunate and irresponsible.

So, while I recommend Cahill’s newest book highly, just like his others, I do so with the strongest of theological cautions. His history is intriguing, as always. He’s got great new stuff on some well-known historical figures and he introduces the reader to some lesser-known folks that we should be aware of. But don’t buy his theology. It’s not only misrepresentative in certain historical respects, it’s misleading as far as the Christian worldview is concerned. Feast on the historical meat but go somewhere else for your theological dessert.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Do Politics and Theology Mix?

One of my favorite political commentators, Hugh Hewitt, and one of my favorite philosopher-theologians, J.P. Moreland, answer the above question with an absolute affirmative here.

The occassion for the interview is J.P.'s new book, The God Question: An Invitation to a Life of Meaning. I have 5 or 6 J.P. books that I want to read already so, I was prepared to skip this one, since I already have other books that touch on the issue. But, in reading J.P.'s rationale for the book and a brief description, I've changed my mind and want to read it tomorrow. I won't, but I will add it to my list. This is more than just a philosophical exercise or an anthology of apologetic arguements for the existence of God. It's much more than that and it's a book that I can recommend even without having read it.

Back to the interview, I hope that all of us take more seriously our obligation to participate in the political process and heed J.P.'s instruction to think much more deeply about and integrate more effectively our theology and politics.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What Does My Son Want To Be When He Grows Up?

For the past few weeks, Dietrich has been singing a really sweet little prayer song that goes like this:

We thank You, Lord
We thank You, Lord
We thank You, Lord, this day.

At first, it didn't sound all that clear or on key, coming from a two and a half year old. As he began to sing it more and more, however, we got more and more curious about how the song actually goes. We just assumed that he learned it in the Church nursery where he spends about 6 hours a week, so we began to ask the various teachers and leaders about it.

No one has ever heard of this song!

So now we are beginning to wonder if our tiny little guy has composed his first worship tune. Pretty amazing, if true. Might he grow up to be a worship leader?

Please comment if you've seen or heard a song that looks at all like this one. Because we still have no confirmation on the words, and because he's only singing it slightly clearer than when he started, something in the ballpark might have been his inspiration. Not that we don't think Dietrich is capable of creating worship music—from the mouth of infants and whatnot—it's just highly unlikely with me as his daddy. My musical inabilites would significantly hinder the positives he got from his mommy.

Monday, February 16, 2009

More Good Stuff from Cahill

I've been reading Thomas Cahill's Hinges of History series over the last few years and have commented here and here on the second and third books (the post on the third book contains some thoughts on the first book). I'm about to finish the fifth book and, before I write about it, I thought I'd better say a few words about the fourth, which I finished earlier last year.

For those of you who think that I post too infrequently, we're all in the same boat. I am only able to post about 1 in 5 ideas that come to mind and I'm always mad at myself when I finally find the time to post and all the "stored-up" ideas are just get too far out of reach to resurrect. This one's an exception.

The fourth book is, Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter, and is about as good as any of the others. I hesitate to say this because, in contrast the other books, the history of the Greeks is filled with a whole lot of depravity and Cahill really accentuates that aspect. So, if you choose to read this one, beware. However, in spite of the depravity, we have a lot more in common with the Greeks than we think we do and it is very enlightening to make some of those realizations. Art, philosophy, history, poetry and politics all took a huge turn toward the recognizable in the centuries before Christ came and much of it at the hand of the Greeks. We can be thankful to them for the skeleton of our form of government and, of course, the kind of robust philosophical life that we value today (or should value) became much more normative in the Greek culture.

But the coolest observation that Cahill makes has to do with the mix of the Greco-Roman culture with the Judeo-Christian culture. His words give substance to the Christian claim that the idea of God, revealed to Israel and revealed in Jesus Christ, is revolutionary. This world should not be and is not the same with the advent of our one true religion. Cahill doesn't necessarily believe in Christian exclusivity, but his words sure do support Her uniqueness. And Her uniqueness points to Her authenticity.

"For the most part, in the union of Greco-Roman with Judeo-Christian, the Greco-Roman turn of mind combined with Judeo-Christian values. While the outward form of the Western world remained Greco-Roman, its content became gradually Judeo-Christian. The worldview that underlay the New Testament was so different from that of the Greeks and the Romans as to be almost its opposite. It was a worldview that stressed not excellence of public achievement but the adventure of a personal journey with God, a lifetime journey in which a human being was invited to unite himself to God by imitating God's justice and mercy. It was far more individualized than anything the Greeks had ever come up with and stressed the experience of a call, a personal vocation, a unique destiny for each human being. The one God of the Jews had created the world and everyone in it, and God would bring the world to its end. There was no eternal cosmos, circling round and round. Time is real, not cyclical; it does not repeat itself but proceeds forward inexorably, which makes each moment—and the decisions I make each moment—precious. I am not merely an instance of Man, I am this particular, unrepeatable man, who never existed before and will never exist again. I create a real future in the present by what I do now. Whereas fate was central to Greeks and Romans, hope is central to Jews and Christians." (258-259)

May you be filled with that hope today.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Last Year's Top Ten

I don't have a concrete plan for what books I am going to read for the year. There are 10 plus books that I would like to be reading at any given moment, but I can't handle more than 3 at a time and 2 is preferred. I foolishly think annually, "This is the year that I'm gonna read 50 books!" I'm much to slow of reader for that and I only end up reading about 30 a year. My actual reading options are often narrowed when the seminary schedule is set and I begin to prepare for courses that I'll be teaching. That means that I read other books than those on my general wish list. Clearly, I need to adjust my desired book consumption. My reading life will be less frustrating that way.

Aside from the complaining however, I read some really good stuff last year and I thought I'd share a little about each. They are in a completely random order — I don't dare try to say that any modern author will have the justified longevity of Anslem, yet I enjoyed some of these books more than his. And I don't fully agree with all of the authors on everything either — it's often a perspective other than your own that will cause you to think the most. But I'd recommend each of these books to just about anyone because they will make you think more deeply about your faith, your beliefs, your God and His Word.

John R.W. Stott, Baptism and Fullness: The Work of the Holy Spirit Today
I've known about this book and had it on my shelf for years. I somehow escaped my Christian university and seminary education without it being assigned to me when most of my fellow students had to read it. I always looked at it and said, "Can it really be that good, it's not much more than 100 pages?" The answer is yes. Stott nails the heart of the evangelical view of Spirit baptism and presents it in a winsome and Scripturally faithful manner. Even though I was preparing to teach pneumatology, I was going to skip it this time 'round but, being sent on a major errand, I grabbed it and read the first third on public transportation. I was done a few days later, embarrassed that I'd neglected it for so long, rejoicing in all of the clarity Stott brought to the issue and praising God for the His presence with us in the Holy Spirit.

John H. Walton, Genesis, NIV Application Commentary
This is not your standard commentary on Genesis. See my comments here.

Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament
Schreiner is an excellent scholar and is able to dig as deeply into the exegetical and theological issues as necessary to draw out the meaning of Paul's words to the Church in Rome and their meaning for us today. He handles the issues associated with the Law (and hence, the New Perspective on Paul), the flesh/Spirit controversy and the issues of how weaker and stronger Christians ought to relate to each other in a superb manner. You'll come away with a deeper appreciation for the fundamental truths of the Christian faith, having read this commentary.

Craig J. Hazen, Five Sacred Crossings: A Novel Approach To a Reasonable Faith
No, I didn't only read this because Hazen is a friend and directs the M.A. program from which I received a degree, but those were major factors. I did read this because I think we need many more authors doing apologetics though fiction. Hazen succeeds in providing a compelling and unique story that teaches the importance of sharpening the intellect and living out your faith. I'm proud of him and hope that he inspires more apologists and theologians to follow in his steps.

Kenneth Berding, What Are Spiritual Gifts? Rethinking the Conventional View
Unless you are prepared to abandon your current view of spiritual gifts in light of Berding's thorough reexamination of the Biblical evidence, do not read this book. His research is complete and his presentation winsome as he draws the reader to a more faithful understanding of Scripture's teaching on spiritual gifts. The main point is that the Holy Spirit is in total control of empowering His people to serve; we are not automatically given a "talent/ability" and then left with the responsibility of discovering and using that "talent/ability." Rather, every "ministry assignment" is Spirit-directed and we humbly do that which the Spirit leads us to do, regardless of whether we tested well for it on our spiritual gift test.

Graham A. Cole, Engaging with the Holy Spirit: Real Questions, Practical Answers
It was hard to choose this book over Cole's larger work on the Spirit, He Who Gives Life: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, which was outstanding. I'm recommending this 150-pager in hopes that you might be more inclined to read it (He Who Gives Life is 350 pages). Also, it is more focused. Cole tackles 6 major questions about the Holy Spirit, most of them stemming from the various actions that we read about in the New Testament that can be committed against Him; what does it mean to grieve, quench, resist, blaspheme against the Spirit? You'll come away with clear answers to these questions and some strong exhortation not to commit them. In addition to the practicality of the book, Cole lays out and follows a consistent and solid theological method that systematizes the work very well.

Anselm of Canterbury, Why the God-man?
I read this book early on in my seminary training and remember being pretty impressed by it. Since I was assigning it to my students last spring, I thought I'd better refresh my memory as to its contents. I'd forgotten just how good it is. I want to read it again just thinking about it. If you let yourself forgive Anselm for indulging in certain 11th century Catholic minutia, you'll be overwhelmed by His ability to plum the depths of the necessity of the Incarnation. Were there no sin, I'd owe God my total obedience as His creature. Enter sin. Now I owe God my total obedience as His creature and an infinite debt for having transgressed His infinite holiness. Only Someone Who was fully God and fully man could do anything about that. And since Jesus Christ was such a God-man, He is able to satisfy not just my total obedience and infinite debt, but the obedience and debt of any who come to Him. Beautiful.

D.A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil
Carson clearly states that this book is not an attempt to answer the philosophical problems of evil nor is it a book to help someone who is going through tremendous suffering. Its goal is to help Christians formulate a coherent Biblical framework for processing evil and suffering so that, when suffering comes, we are as prepared as possible and hopefully won't come to unbiblical conclusions based on our experience. The gist is that we need a high, very high, view of God's sovereignty and total trust in Him so that we don't question His goodness or control when things, for us, get out of control. As one who's studied the philosophical problems and has recently experienced some intense sufferings, I'll reject Carson's caveats and say that his perspective is integral to a fully orbed approach to the problem of evil and is, at the same time, extremely useful for the person in the midst of suffering.

Preston Jones, ed., Is Belief in God Good, Bad or Irrelevant? A Professor and a Punk Rocker Discuss Science, Religion, Naturalism and Christianity
I think anyone and everyone should read this book. See more thoughts here.

C. John Collins, Science and Faith: Friends or Foes?
I'm now much more concerned with refuting naturalism than I am about figuring out which creation view is the right one. And although Collins is very clearly an old earth creationist and this book is a solid defense of that perspective, he shares my concern (better to say that I share his). His book is more fundamentally an attempt to show that science and faith are friends, and friends that ultimatley oppose a naturalistic worldview. The whole first section of the book is a discussion of how to approach the science and religion question philosophically — something skipped over or assumed in many books on the subject — and it's the book's most valuable component. A major plus for this book is that it has been translated into Russian. When I taught Science and Religion last spring, I was only allowed to assign 100 pages of reading. Bummer. If I could have assigned 400, I would have given this book to the students without hesitation. As it was, I could only give them the first part. They all found it extremely helpful, or at least that's what they told me.