Monthly Archives: October 2014

Happy Halloween…Er… Reformation Day!!

Martin Luther nails his Ninety-Five Theses to the Wittenberg church door. Most people associate October 31st with Halloween, but students of church history know this as "Reformation Day"

Martin Luther nails his Ninety-Five Theses to the Wittenberg church door on All Hallows Eve, 1517. Most people associate October 31st with Halloween, but students of church history know this as “Reformation Day”

Like any kid growing up in an American secularized society, I liked the whole Halloween thing. I have a serious weakness for chocolate, so I always looked forward to going door to door to see how many chocolate treats I could get. Sure, there were horror stories about  people sneaking razor blades into mini-candy bars, but I was willing to take the risk. As I got a little older, I would try to terrify the neighborhood kids by playing Pink Floyd’s Echoes album through my bedroom speakers out the window as costumed figures approached our house.

Okay. I stopped that pretty quick when my mother learned about it and reprimanded me for making a few of the little kids cry.

When I began to take my spiritual journey with Jesus Christ seriously in high school, I began to hear other types of horror stories about Halloween from my new church friends. There were tales about its connection to Satanism at worst, or perhaps just only a milder, yet just as bad, connection to Wiccan, Druid and other forms of pagan religions… and those “dreadful” Harry Potter books.

I began to see a shift in evangelical churches away from celebrating “All Hallows Eve” towards things like having “Harvest Parties” or “Fall Festivals.” Well, I can surely appreciate the effort to shift the focus, but I am not so sure how successful it has been.

Instead, I think if we really want to shift the focus away from the negative aspects of Halloween, then we should instead take a page or two from church history. On October 31st, 1517, Martin Luther approached the door of the Wittenberg church with a list of his Ninety-Five Theses regarding abuses in the Roman church. What he nailed to the door of that church that day has forever changed the face of Western Christianity… and the whole world!

Martin Luther had kicked started the Protestant Reformation, a movement that resulted in perhaps the greatest revival of spiritual vitality and love for the Scriptures that the world has ever seen.  But Martin Luther’s Reformation belongs not just to Protestants. It belongs to the whole Christian church. Even those Roman Catholics who murmured about Luther must admit that change was necessary to correct some serious problems. It was through the efforts of people like Martin Luther that the Bible came to the common people in their native tongue, a privilege that most Christians today simply take for granted. It was also through the turmoil of the Reformation that made the Western world into what it is today, providing the intellectual and cultural incubator for the growth of modern science and capitalism. So even if someone is not a Christian, Luther’s Reformation has made an incredible impact upon world history.

So, instead of getting all flustered about those trick or treaters coming to our doors to unwittingly fan the flames of pagan traditions, let us as believers consider a completely different approach, encouraging people to remember this day in world history, where one man with a hammer in hand and a powerful set of ideas birthed in Scripture changed the world.

Let us celebrate Reformation Day!

 Additional Resources:

Do you have no idea what Luther’s Ninety-Theses were all about? Check out the following interview with Carl Trueman, professor of church history at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

And one final “treat” courtesy of something I found on Andrew Wilson’s Twitter log from “Across the Pond.” Enjoy!:

HT: Timothy George on First Things, and Andrew Wilson at Think.


Bumgarner Blues

"Madison Bumgarner on September 3, 2013" by SD Dirk on Flickr - Originally posted to Flickr as "SF Giants Madison Bumgarner". Wikipedia

“Madison Bumgarner on September 3, 2013” by SD Dirk on Flickr. Wikipedia

Okay, I really wanted the Kansas City Royals to win the World Series this year. It would have been a wonderful Cinderella story, but it was not to be. The Series belonged to a young pitcher for the San Francisco Giants, Madison Bumgarner.

Wow. What a performance. Bumgarner shut out the Royals in game 5 and then in game 7 closed out the final innings without allowing a single score from the Royals. Baseball does not get any better than that.

I did not know this before, but it turns out that Madison Bumgarner is also an evangelical Christian, according to an interview he gave about four years ago. As long as his stellar performance this past week does not go to his head, this extraordinary athlete will serve as an inspiring example to a generation of young baseball pitchers out there growing up in families all across the country.

So, why did I title this blog post the “Bumgarner Blues?” Well, I am continually struck at how so many cultural celebrities from a Christian background who make the scene are athletes. Rarely do you find public intellectuals or respected spokespersons representing an evangelical point of view in the wider culture. Over the next week, you will surely see the lanky, dark curly haired figure of Madison Bumgarner graced over the pages of magazines and Internet websites. Well, great for him, great for the San Francisco Giants, and great for Christian believers for whom baseball is an important part of life.

But when was the last time you saw someone like a C.S. Lewis, a Malcolm Muggeridge, or a Billy Graham hailed across the Internet media landscape? Who stands up to present the Gospel in such a persuasive way that others will thoughtfully listen to the message, even though they might respectfully decline to accept that message? Why is it that great evangelical scholars like Daniel Wallace, Darrell Bock and Ben Witherington, or even prolific pastors like John Piper or Tim Keller, fail to register much of a bleep on the cultural landscape… even on Christian media? Aside from some moral scandal or political debate, about the only time you get a glimpse of an evangelical spokesperson is when someone tips over some line theologically, like a Rob Bell (to the left) or a John Hagee (to the right).

Okay. I can think of one public intellectual or spokesperson over the past ten years who stands out as an exception: National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins. Can anybody think of others?

Sure, you can probably find a number of reasons where blame can get assigned, such as perhaps a media bias of some sort. Okay, I get that. But I wonder if the trouble is not something within the church, too. Do we really value public thought for the sake of Christ, seeking earnestly to give a reason for the hope that we have in Jesus? It will take more than phenomenal baseball players like Madison Bumgarner to draw the world’s attention to the Savior.

Where are the public intellectuals and spokespersons for the faith today?

I wonder.


Agreeing to Disagree

John Wesley (1703-1791) and George Whitefield (1714-1770) were the most well-known Christian leaders in the English-speaking world of the 18th century. Yet they struggled with each other regarding some significant points of Christian doctrine.

John Wesley (1703-1791) and George Whitefield (1714-1770) were the most well-known Christian leaders in the English-speaking world of the 18th century. They struggled with each other regarding some significant points of Christian doctrine, and through their dialogue they introduced the notion of “agreeing to disagree” into Christian discourse.

Sometimes “agreeing to disagree” with fellow believers can be difficult. I know. I have been there. But first, let me give you some historical background…

In 18th century England and America, two of the most celebrated figures were George Whitefield and John Wesley. Whitefield and Wesley would travel up and down the American Eastern seaboard and across the British Isles preaching in the open air. The first “Great Awakening” can largely be attributed to how God used these two men to lead many thousands into a relationship with Jesus Christ, perhaps one of the greatest spiritual revivals in the history of the church.

But Whitefield and Wesley had some rough spots in their relationship with one another. In one important matter, they differed in terms of some significant Christian doctrine. George Whitefield, a Calvinist theologically, believed that when Jesus Christ died on the cross, He died only for the elect who would come to know Christ. If you were not among the predestined elect, Whitefield concluded that the Bible taught that Jesus had not died for you. John Wesley, an Arminian theologically, vehemently rejected this teaching. For Wesley, Jesus Christ died for all of humanity, whether someone received Christ or not. Though these men clearly differed on the extent of Christ’s atoning work on the cross and how that related to predestination, they were united in many more things in terms of doctrine than over that which they were divided.

The prolonged controversy between Whitefield and Wesley was at times very tense. Though I do not recall the reference, my understanding is that John Wesley was the more quarrelsome of the two men. But it is to John Wesley’s credit that eventually when he was asked to deliver a memorial sermon when George Whitefield died, he was extremely charitable to his evangelistic counterpart. In that sermon, Wesley uttered a most memorable phrase:

“There are many doctrines of a less essential nature … In these we may think and let think; we may ‘agree to disagree.’ But, meantime, let us hold fast the essentials…”

Since that remarkable sermon, Christians over the years have recalled Wesley’s words that he at times exchanged with his colleague Whitefield about “agreeing to disagree.” Though these men still had their points of conflict, in the end, they were able to consider each other not as enemies but rather as friends, as brothers in Christ, despite their disputes over some points of doctrine.

It is a lesson that the evangelical church today still needs to hear.
Continue reading


Discipleship Candy

The Promise and the Blessing

The Promise and the Blessing: a Historical Survey of the Old and New Testaments, by Michael A. Harbin

One of the really cool benefits of writing a blog like Veracity is all the backdoor sharing. People are constantly bringing things to our attention or sharing some thought, question or resource from their devotional lives.

This week I feel like a kid in a candy store. One of Marion’s coworkers loaned me her copy of The Promise and the Blessing: A Historical Survey of the Old and New Testaments, by Dr. Michael A. Harbin. I haven’t been able to put it down.

Dr. Harbin’s text is used in Old and New Testament ‘survey’ courses in colleges and seminaries. What makes it special is that it ties all the biblical text to the timeline of Judeo-Christian history while maintaining a brisk flow from Genesis to Revelation. The pieces are thoroughly connected. It’s packed full of illustrations and references and has no qualms about taking the reader off on interesting tangents with sidebars. Theological topics are introduced and adequately summarized, with fair treatment given to opposing doctrinal views.

One of my litmus tests for any resource is how much fresh and useful information it contains. I can’t seem to turn anywhere in this text that I don’t get new information or have the parts of the Bible presented in a fresh light.

Normally I advocate electronic versions of books, particularly when they can be accessed in the cloud with tools like Kindle Cloud Reader. Kindle puts all of my books in a library that I can access with any device, including my iPad, iPhone, and computer. The upshot of reading this way is that you can highlight and bookmark the text, and search it electronically. It makes books very portable and eliminates the need to flip through pages manually trying to find some passage you barely remember.

However…The Promise and the Blessing is such a beautifully composited book I recommend buying the hardcopy version, which you can do for minimal expense by clicking here. If you’d like to preview the book before you buy it, here is a link to the Browse Inside page.

Enjoy!

 

HT: Liz Marshall

 


How We Got the Bible (Part 2)

Christians believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God. In this post—the second in our series entitled “How We Got the Bible“—we will explore what biblical inspiration really entails (and what it does not entail). The Bible itself claims to be the inspired, special revelation of the one true God.

The Bible is completely unique. Not sure? OK, let’s make a list of all books that took over 1,500 years to complete. With parts dating back more than 3,500 years, in which the most recent contributions are 1,900 years old. Written by 40 or so authors who corroborate each other’s writings. Containing accurate historical accounts of ancient events that have shown up repeatedly in archaeology (don’t skip over the preceding hyperlink). Claiming to reveal the plan of a loving God for his creation. With massive amounts of self-deprecating text to condemn the authors. Predicting trouble and ostracism for those who live by its teaching. Containing specific prophecies, many of which have proven true over long periods of time. Dwarfing other ancient writings in terms of the number and quality of  surviving manuscripts.

How long is our list now?

Reliability of the New Testament

The Bible has no peers when it comes to the number and quality of surviving ancient manuscripts. (Infographic credit: Mark Berry, http://visualunit.me/)

When researching for this series I was primarily interested in focusing on how the biblical canon was developed—specifically how did we end up with the 66 books that comprise the Bible, what about the Apocrypha, why not other books, and so on. Biblical canon is an extremely interesting topic, but it rightfully fits in the context of a larger question:  How did we get the Bible? (We’ll get to the topic of biblical canon in forthcoming posts in this series—and by the way, there are lots of interesting, new publications on canonicity.)

Drs. Norman Geisler and William Nix wrote a comprehensive text entitled From God To Us Revised and Expanded: How We Got Our Bible that begins with the topic of inspiration. This post will follow that text, which should be required reading for every Christian and student of the Bible.

Whether you are died-in-the-wool biblicist or a Christian neophyte, it’s difficult to fully appreciate the implications of our understanding (or denial) of the inspiration of the Bible. Not just in terms of heaven or hell as an end result, but whether we can trust the Scripture. I just returned from the National Conference on Christian Apologetics, which included some strong rhetoric about the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of the Bible (and a fantastic session on the biblical canon). Clarke attended most of the same sessions, so I won’t turn this series into a discussion about inerrancy. He will no doubt address many of the nuances and implications of the “battle for the Bible” in future posts. But consider these two questions:

  • Is it even reasonable that an all-powerful and perfect God would inspire the writers of the Bible to produce a text containing errors?
  • If God did not inspire the writing of the Bible, isn’t it just the product of human writers, and if that is the case why should we submit to its authority, teaching, and claims?

There are lots of corollary questions, and your answers would reveal a great deal about your understanding of the Christian faith. But for now let’s take a cue from Geisler and Nix and start with the topic of biblical inspiration.

My notes from reading their text are presented below. For a more robust and authoritative treatment of the topic I highly recommend reading From God To Us Revised and Expanded: How We Got Our Bible. Words in quotes are directly from Geisler and Nix (except where Scripture is being quoted). Continue reading


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