Category Archives: Witnesses

Notable Deaths: R. Scruton, C. Tolkien… and J. Van Impe

We are just a bit past midway through the first month of 2020, and there are already some notable deaths for Christians to consider.

First, there was philosopher Sir Roger Scruton. As an outspoken conservative, British thinker, many Christians have looked to Scruton as a defender of “beauty,” a concept that has taken quite a beating, in our post-modern, post-Christian world. Scruton’s personal convictions about faith were quite complex, describing his involvement in the Anglican church as “my tribal religion, the religion of the English who don’t believe a word of it.

Secondly, there was Christopher Tolkien, the son of one of the Inklings, J.R.R. Tolkien. The elder Tolkien had written much of his works on Middle Earth, with his son, Christopher, in mind. Christopher Tolkien managed his father’s literary estate, after his father’s death, publishing previously unpublished J.R.R. Tolkien’s works, including The Silmarillion

Lastly, from a different angle in the Christian world, there was the colorful Jack Van Impe, a television evangelist, who regularly appeared for years, with his wife, Rexella, on late night television, with his analysis of current events as they related to biblical prophecy. Van Impe, who was able to memorize thousands of Bible passages, lost his spot on a popular television network in recent years, after calling other prominent evangelical leaders as promoters of what he called “Chrislam.”

Here is Roger Scruton in dialogue with Jordan Peterson.

Here is Christopher Tolkien reading the last part of The Lord of the Rings.

Here is Rexella, the wife of Jack Van Impe, talking about the coming of the Rapture (and a link to one of Jack Van Impe’s final television appearances).

Sarah Osborn’s World #1

As part of a focus on American Church History, over the next few months, I will blog my way through a book that I found both thoughtful and enthralling. I read it as I sat with my mother, a little over four years ago, when she dying of cancer.

The history of Christianity has been dominated by male voices. Some of the most profound literary contributions of women have simply remained forgotten. So when someone rediscovers a woman’s voice of faith from the past, it can be a real treasure to find.

Harvard Divinity School religious historian, Catherine Brekus, has given us a remarkable gift by recovering for us the lost story of Sarah Osborn (1714-1796), a poor woman from New England who met Jesus during the great revivals of the mid-18th century. It was during this “First Great Awakening” where the English speaking world was greatly impacted by the dynamic preaching of George Whitefield and John Wesley, which helped to define contemporary evangelicalism. I hope you enjoy her story as much as I did as I post up various blog summaries of Brekus’ wonderful book. Better yet, read the book yourself!

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Mister Roger’s Neighborhood

When I was a college student, on those days jam packed with classes, labs, and the stresses of deadlines, I would take a few minutes, towards the latter part of the afternoon, and veg out watching Mister Rogers Neighborhood. It was a few minutes of respite, and Reverend Fred Rogers was always there to bring me down to earth, before I had to run off to the library to read another 100 pages of assignments.

The new movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks, has received a variety of reviews in Christian circles. Rebecca Davis’ review for the American Family Association tells us that “Mister Rogers Movie Gets Mixed Reviews,” noting on the positive side, a candid interview with Fred Rogers’ surviving wife, Joanne, while on the other side, observing that the film has some difficult material, including some mild language, and pointing out that “Everything about the film points to man’s goodness – the goodness of Mister Rogers and the innate goodness in all people – as the foundation for a transformed life. Believers know that type of transformation is contrary to Scripture, yet the faith-based promotion of the film may cause viewers to mistake goodness for the gospel.

While Davis’ remarks are theologically correct, it bears emphasizing that what made Fred Rogers, Fred Rogers, truly was a profound intimacy with God. In a post-Christian age, where orthodox Christian faith gets sidelined in the culture, we must not underestimate the potential for such a film to carry on Fred Rogers’ work, to “make goodness attractive,” as his wife, Joanne, says.

Ryan Pemberton, in his review for Christianity Today magazine, writes of “The Quiet Liturgy of Fred Rogers,” and observes that “Fred Rogers was a pioneer in recognizing television as a powerful vehicle of formation.” Pemberton reminds us that Rogers did everything he did with radical intentionality, allowing the message of the Gospel to penetrate the viewer’s heart, as opposed to merely appealing to the mind.

The challenge for those of us in the Internet age of the 24-hour news cycle and social media is see if God might raise up a Christian in this generation to realize the potential of these newer forms of media, to spark a spiritual transformation of people in our day. That is something to think and pray about.


Dois Rosser, Founder of ICM, Moves Onto Glory

Dois I. Rosser Jr., the 98-year-old founder of International Cooperating Ministries, died yesterday (November 12, 2019).

It was a unique partnership. Dois Rosser was a businessman, a Hampton Roads car dealer, when he met Dick Woodwood, pastor emeritus of my church. Dick was teaching at a men’s Bible breakfast, making the Bible accessible to many people in our local community, and Dois Rosser listened intently as Dick teached the Bible, week after week. Dois encouraged Dick to assemble his teachings into something called the Mini Bible College, and the teachings of the Mini Bible College were shared across the globe, via Trans World Radio.

Dois Rosser soon learned that many of Dick’s worldwide listeners did not have a church building to meet in. So, in 1986 Dois founded International Cooperating Ministries, whose purpose was and still is to help churches, grounded in the teachings of the Mini Bible College, to build church meeting places, within walking distances of their homes. By 2019, over 8,000 churches have been built, or are under construction, in nearly 90 countries, while the Mini Bible College has been translated into 56 different languages.

Dois Rosser’s wife, Shirley, died approximately one month before her husband. Learn more about Dois I. Rosser, Jr. here. Learn more about the ministry of International Cooperating Ministries here. The Mini Bible College lessons are available now on YouTube, with Dick sporting those 1970’s sideburns still into the 1980s. Classic stuff!

Intelligently Designed: Phillip E. Johnson

I had the privilege of joining the University of Berkeley legal scholar, Phillip E. Johnson, for dinner with some friends, several years ago, before he gave a lecture at our church on Intelligent Design. Johnson, who wrote the 1991 landmark book, Darwin on Trial, died in early November, 2019. Professor Johnson, a gracious and kind gentleman, nevertheless puzzled me. Why would Johnson, as a lawyer, spend so much of his intellectual energy, challenging Charles Darwin’s theory of biological evolution? Why would a lawyer bother with biological science?

Johnson had a been a successful legal scholar, rising to the top level of his career, when in his 30’s, his life began to fall apart. His marriage failed, and he felt like he was going nowhere in his academic career. He then became a Christian, he remarried, and he gradually decided to invest his life in something more, something that really mattered.

When he read Richard Dawkins’ The Blind Watchmaker, he was baffled by the logical argumentation employed by Dawkins’ all-encompassing evolutionary worldview. Johnson then made it his mission to understand and expose Dawkins’ logical flaws. In many ways, Phillip E. Johnson was the “godfather” of the contemporary Intelligent Design movement, reinvigorating the late 18th century (early 19th century) Christian apologetics of the British clergyman, William Paley, who first articulated the watchmaker analogy, promoting intelligent design.

By observing the behavior of the Ichneumonidae group of parasitoid wasps, that devour their hosts alive from the inside out, Charles Darwin had rejected William Paley’s argument: “I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars.” Darwin was most well-known for his Origin of Species, but he also extended his arguments in works like his The Descent of Man, suggesting that evolution was an “unguided” and “undirected” process.

Johnson believed that the “unguided” and “undirected” elements of Darwin’s theory had horrific implications that extended beyond the domain of biology. The “purpose-less-ness” advocated by modern defenders of Darwin, like Richard Dawkins, tore at the very fabric of Judeo-Christian culture. Johnson marshaled his legal training against Darwin, combatting against the pro-Darwinian trends within academia.

Johnson’s counter-arguments to Darwin gained sympathy among a growing cadre of intellectuals, including Christians like Michael Behe and Stephen Myers, and many non-Christians as well, including Jonathan Wells, a member of the Unification Church (the Moonies). This eventually encouraged the growth of the Discovery Institute, a think-tank dedicated towards refuting Darwinian evolution. In this sense, Phillip E. Johnson’s “Intelligent Design” movement is not specifically a Christian, biblically-based movement. Technically speaking, the “designer” in “Intelligent Design” need not be the God of the Bible. It could even be some super-intelligent life-form, from the reaches of outer space. Rather, “Intelligent Design” is but one apologetic strategy, that has been used by at least some Christians to defend a Christian, biblical worldview. Yet in many ways, Johnson’s broadly argued case for “Intelligent Design” has been a rallying point, a unifying effort to break the impasse that divides Young Earth Creationists and Old Earth Creationists.

Nevertheless, Johnson’s critique against Charles Darwin has been very controversial, even within the church. For one thing, even atheistic scientists concede that there are a number of elements of Darwin’s theory of evolution that are no longer accepted within the larger scientific community. For example, Darwin knew nothing about genetics. We have Austrian monk Gregor Mendel to thank for giving us the contemporary scientific consensus as to how genes actually work… NOT Darwin.

But among Christians, the controversy over Johnson’s work centers around the definition of that slippery word, “evolution.” By “evolution,” does one actually mean “micro-evolution,” whereby small changes within species happens? Or does one mean “macro-evolution,” with large scale biological changes among plants and animals? What is meant by “directed” or “undirected” evolution?

Most Christians are willing to concede the principle of “micro-evolution.” Yet even the most ardent Young-Earth Creationist will argue that “macro-evolution,” at the level of biological families (though NOT beyond that!), indeed did happen, in a highly accelerated manner, after the global flood of Noah, as a means of explaining the extraordinary biological diversity we see today. Proponents of “Intelligent Design” have fashioned themselves as opponents of “theistic evolution,” despite the claim that Michael Behe, one of “Intelligent Design’s” greatest advocates, is actually a “theistic evolutionist” himself! Christians are all over the map when it comes to defining what they mean by “evolution.”

Phillip Johnson’s efforts to see the Intelligent Design movement expand more into popular education stalled in 2005, when a judge in a Pennsylvania federal court, against the Dover School District, ruled that the teaching of “Intelligent Design” violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  But “Intelligent Design” still lives on, as a vital intellectual force, as evidenced by the popularity of such films as Ben Stein’s “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.”

Phillip Johnson’s arguments for “Intelligent Design” will surely survive his death. How well they will convince those living in the next generation yet remains to be seen. The larger consensus among academic scientists still rejects “Intelligent Design” as pseudo-science. Some theologians, who possess scientific training, such as Oxford’s Alister McGrath, are concerned that “Intelligent Design” leaves Christian apologetics vulnerable to a type of “God of the Gaps” theology, that does not adequately serve as the best way to defend the Christian faith. Nevertheless, best-selling books by Intelligent Design advocates, such as Stephen C. Myers, continue to be enthusiastically read. All the while, many Young Earth Creationists regard “Intelligent Design” as a halfway attempt to uphold Christianity, that does not go far enough in defending the Bible. I still have lingering questions myself, following my dinner with Phillip E. Johnson, some years ago. Nevertheless, the legacy of Phillip E. Johnson will continue to give many a lot to think about, for years to come.

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