Monthly Archives: June 2014

Mustard and Chocolate

Can you find the mustard?

Can you find the mustard?

Communication problems in marriage can give us remarkable theological insight. Here is a great example.

I married a gourmet cook. My wife is the type of person who would rather cook something rather than go out to a restaurant where the chef’s skills are inferior to hers. As for me? I am good with a can of Chef Boyardee.

So imagine what it was like when my wife was out of town unexpectedly for a family crisis and she had promised to fix a dish for a previously scheduled dinner party. Guess who had to step in and cook?

Now that, my friends, is a recipe for disaster.

My wife left me instructions. The recipe called for dry mustard. Unfortunately, I could not find it in the pantry. Where could the mustard be?

Would a culinary defeat be averted?

Was all hope lost?

Read on and find out what happened… and what it might tell us about the challenge of doing biblical interpretation when Christians do not always agree with one another.
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Who Wrote the Bible? (Part 4)

Who Wrote The Bible

Who wrote the Bible?

Welcome back to our series on the authorship of the Bible. In this post we will explore evidence that points to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as the writers of the four canonical gospels.

Setting aside for now discussions about canonicity, inerrancy, and textual criticism, how much confidence can we have that the four gospels were written by their traditionally-accepted authors?

Because none of the gospel writers identified themselves by name as the author of the text, these foundational books of the Christian faith remain technically anonymous. It is no surprise therefore that skeptics seek to discredit the claims of Christianity by questioning the traditional authorship of the gospels. Likewise it is no surprise that well-meaning proponents of the faith get in over their heads when it comes to defending the traditional authorship. As you can see from spirited discussions like this one (be sure to read the comments), the facts can easily become blurred by the voices entangled in debate. Our position on Veracity is that we’re all about the truth and that readers can decide for themselves without being told what to think. Personally, I think scholars give themselves too much credit for what they ‘know’−on both sides of the debate. Worldviews influence interpretation. Got it. Continue reading

Domino Theology

Is your theology built on a difficult to maintain stack of dominos?

Is your theology built on a difficult to maintain stack of dominos?

As a kid, I liked to play with dominos. I would try to arrange them in neat patterns, and even try to stack them in certain ways to build a toy house or a bridge. But the problem with building any structure with dominos is that if you make one slight mess up with any one domino, the whole project would come crashing down.

Some years ago, I put an addition with an extra bedroom on the small house I was living in. But I learned that the most important part was the foundation. Footers supporting the new structure had to be strengthened prior to any further work being done, and I was glad for it! For within a few months after completing the project, a terrible storm came and ripped part of the siding off of the brand new addition. That was a bummer! But the siding was not fundamental to the foundation, so I was able to live in the addition while it was getting repaired. But if something had gone wrong with the foundation, I would have had to abandon the entire structure.

You would never build a real house with dominos.

Dallas Seminary New Testament scholar Daniel B. Wallace recently was reviewing a book and mentioned the problem of domino theology in evangelical Christianity. I think Wallace is sadly correct. It is a real problem in the church.

I have had numerous disturbing conversations with well meaning Christians as to how they view the Bible. Some subscribe to the notion that they believe Christianity is an all-or-nothing proposition regarding the Scriptural text. If they were to find but one error in the Bible, even if it is a small, minor or obscure one, then it threatens the whole substance of their faith. They could never trust any of the Bible or anything in Christianity at all if there was yet but just one small minor problem or discrepancy that they could not solve.

This is domino theology in action. All it takes is one slight move of doubt and the whole thing comes crashing down. Watching all of the dominos fall is great fun for a kid playing a game, but it is a disaster when it comes to trying to build your faith.
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Alone Yet Not Alone: Reflections on a Much Needed Film

We had to drive over an hour to find a theatre that was showing Alone Yet Not Alone on opening weekend of its second run. I am not really a film critic, but my wife, some friends and I really enjoyed it. As introduced recently on Veracity, Alone Yet Not Alone explores the true story of a pair of German immigrant children captured by Delaware Native Americans in rural western Pennsylvania during the French and Indian War in the mid-1750s. It has a profoundly Christian message, being produced by a non-Hollywood, evangelical homeschooling community. Partly filmed in my hometown of Williamsburg, Virginia, it was great to see a movie that combines a great story, a vital interest in history, and a call to embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But without a Hollywood backing, Alone Yet Not Alone might remain a side-lined story: too controversial for the wider culture and too disinterested by the evangelical Christian church.

Sure, the film had its flaws, with some questionable make-up decisions and some possibly misleading depictions of colonial and Native American life. Undoubtedly, the most powerful critique involves the very nature of the story itself. In an era of filmmaking taken up by the themes of Dancing With Wolves, it is simply difficult to put out a movie that makes any “white man” look even slightly good. I went into the film anticipating the very worst, but I was pleasantly surprised to see how fairly the Native American situation was portrayed, contrary to those critics who expected the movie to be blatantly pro-European. Alone Yet Not Alone simply tells the story from a Christian European immigrant point of view. Much like the German Pietist family in the film, Europeans came to the American colonies for a variety of reasons, often in the pursuit of freedom, but the question of how to best relate to the native population was often unresolved. An uneasy peace between the different cultures would last for decades only to be broken because of mistrust and the defrauding of promises made to those like the Delaware tribe.

The wider contemporary culture often gets a distorted picture of early American history and the involvement of Christianity, but Christians themselves are largely ignorant of that history as well. With distorted or ignored images of our past, it does not bode well for the future. This is why we need more films like Alone Yet Not Alone in an era more concerned about the present and not the past.

Nevertheless, the critics have their point to make. Stories like Alone Yet Not Alone are completely overshadowed by the practically genocidal impulse that has nearly wiped out Native American cultures and people in the United States. The bulk of American history has effectively silenced the suffering of native peoples that has only recently come to light in the public consciousness. From broken treaty after broken treaty to the Cherokee “Trail of Tears” to the slow and continued disintegration of native cultures today, Native Americans have overwhelming born the brunt of the conflict. Sadly, with some rare exceptions here and there where missionaries like the Moravians and David Brainerd made sacrificial investments in reaching out to folks like the Delaware, most colonial Americans who claimed to be Christian failed to stop such horrendous ethnic cleansing. Yet I would contend that this state of affairs is not a result of some inherent flaw within the Christian message itself but rather the failure of professing “Christians” to be obedient to the Gospel they say they profess. We need a film from a Christian perspective that tells that story.

This tragic evaluation of Christianity and Native American history should not be a surprise. Our church this summer is doing a study on the Book of Judges. When you read Judges, you encounter just some terrible things: senseless violence, broken treaties, treachery, rape, kidnapping, idolatry… you name it. You think you were reading something out of the conflict between Native Americans and white Europeans in America! Much of the evil in the Book of Judges is sadly being perpetrated by those claiming to be the people of God! Christianity has a tarnished past with the Native American, but if we are to be faithful to the example of Scripture, we need to be willing to frankly address that past and confess the shortcomings of the church.

Furthermore, as this review suggests, it would be historically inaccurate to say that all of the European captives embroiled in the conflicts with the Native Americans wanted to return to the colonial way of life. Up to 40% of those captured by tribes like the Delaware ended up choosing to stay with their captors, finding that the more egalitarian Native American societies often treated people better than what you would find among the early immigrants to America. History is indeed very complicated.

Does Alone Yet Not Alone correct the contemporary misunderstanding regarding Native American history and Christianity? The answer to that is complicated by the backstory surrounding the film. One of the promoters of the film, who also acted as British Colonel Mercer in the movie, was Doug Philips, formerly the director of Vision Forum, an outspoken supporter of home schooling for Christian families. Vision Forum was the primary sponsor behind the “Jamestown Quadricentennial: A Celebration of America’s Providential History” that I attended in 2007. But in a reversal of momentum, Vision Forum is now officially dead as Philips has been implicated in a scandal along almost the same lines like that of fellow conservative home schooling advocate Bill Gothard. The charges of spiritual abuse surrounding Philips have cast a dark cloud among Christians over an otherwise promising and positive film. This is all incredibly sad to me.

Despite these challenges, Alone Yet Not Alone remains an important film, filling a void in the telling of history from a Christian perspective that is badly needed today. Though not suitable for young children, you should still go and see it. But more work needs to be done to give a fully biblical faithful rendering of history. On one side are those who loudly wish to blame Christianity for practically all of the ills of contemporary society. On the other side are those from a supposedly Christian perspective who would seek to recover the positive aspects of our past but who have a difficult time honestly dealing with issues of repentance where the church needs to truly repent. Oh, that God would raise up such a generation who would accept that task and take a “third way” in the telling of God’s story throughout history.

Here is the trailer again….

Martin and the Origin of “the Chapel”

Martin of Tours cutting his cloak in half to give to a poor man. Herein lies the story of the term "the Chapel."

Martin of Tours cutting his cloak in half to give to a poor man. Herein lies the story of the term “the Chapel.”

In the 4th. century A.D., a young solider in the Roman army named Martin encountered a beggar one day in northern France. The beggar’s clothes were terribly worn. Martin was moved with compassion and cut his military cloak in half and gave it to the poor man.

Later that evening, Martin had an incredibly profound dream. According to one account, Martin experienced a vision, seeing Jesus Christ standing before him wearing his half cloak. Harkening back to Matthew 25:31-46, Martin is commended for giving Jesus part of the soldier’s cloak to wear. In response to this vision, Martin presented himself as a candidate for Christian baptism.

Martin had grown up in northern Italy, where Christianity had yet only a small influence in the wake of Emperor Constantine’s only recent acceptance of Christianity as a legal faith within his realm. Nevertheless, at age ten, he attended a local church against the wishes of his parents.

After being baptized as a Christian and serving for several years in military service, Martin laid down his sword and dedicated himself to missionary work and the monastic life. He made his way to the French city of Tours, where the people were so impressed with his devotion to Christ and his character that they tricked him into becoming the bishop of Tours. Martin had been urged to visit a sick person, only to arrive at the home greeted by a crowd demanding that he become their leader. The stunned Martin was not seeking this position, so he fled and hid himself in a barn full of geese. When the crowd found him, he was duly anointed as bishop as he smelled of geese manure.

Martin of Tours went on to become a great evangelist for the Christian faith, challenging the local pagan shrines with the confidence of an Elijah and opposing false teaching within the church, exemplified mostly in his time by the popularity of Arianism, a movement started years earlier by the heretic Arius who denied the full divinity of Jesus as the Son of God coequal with the Father, not too much unlike what modern day Jehovah’s Witnesses believe.

Nevertheless, Martin opposed the popular practice in his day of condemning heretics to death, preferring instead to use the art of persuasion to bring them to repentance. Magistrates dreaded seeing Martin, as they knew that the popular bishop would come and visit them, entreating them to release their religious prisoners. The magistrates felt so bad about possibility disappointing this godly man that they had to let their captives go.

After his death, Martin has been most remembered for the story of the cloak. The other half of the cloak he had kept became a medieval relic that was passed down from generation to generation, eventually in bits and pieces. This half cloak was considered to be a small cape, which was then kept in a small building called a cappella, in Latin. The priest who was in charge of the small cape relic was called a cappellanu. Later, as Saint Martin of Tours was declared to be the patron saint of the military, a cappellani was any priest who served in the military, which is the French root of the English word chaplain.

Parts of Martin’s cape were distributed in cappellas all throughout Europe. Over time, small churches like these were eventually called chapels, though the association with Martin’s cloak was eventually lost, particularly as Protestants began to reject the practice of venerating relics. Nevertheless, “the chapel” terminology has continued to be used, long after the remains of Martin’s cape decayed away.

The next time you go to “the chapel,” you might remember Martin and his famous cloak, part of which he gave to that poor beggar.

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