Friday, January 31, 2014

The terms

Now, for any covenant to be made, both parties have to be trustworthy. They must be dependable, able to fulfill the agreements made between them. And they have to have the resources available to keep their promises.

The problem with humankind as a party in covenant with God is that we are neither trustworthy nor dependable. That is why God cut the covenant with His own Son. We are in no position to keep our end of any kind of agreement.— It Is Finished, page 112

<idle musing>
This is the thesis of the book of Hebrews; Christ is the mediator of the new covenant. He is our surety. And he is the one who is able to fulfill the terms. You and I are the beneficiaries of his sufficiency. Praise God!
</idle musing>

Whom are you going to invoke?

Although the people’s religion did often call upon God, Jesus, Mary, and the various saints, as well as upon some pagan gods and goddesses (and even more frequently invoked minor spirits such as fairies, elves, and demons), it did so only to invoke their aid, having little interest in matters such as the meaning of life or the basis for salvation. Instead, the emphasis was on pressing, tangible, and mundane matters such as health, fertility, weather, sex, and good crops. Consequently, the centerpiece of the people’s was, as it had always been, magic. The Triumph of Christianity, page 266

<idle musing>
The issue, as it always has been, is control. We want to be in control in order to protect ourselves. We are scared and don't trust God to take care of us. After all, he might not do what we want him to do! Genesis 3, anyone?
</idle musing>

Thursday, January 30, 2014


His people were powerless, without the strength or ability to deliver themselves [from Pharaoh]. Their salvation had to come by His grace and mercy alone—through covenant. This is the one truth we must fully grasp if we are to understand the purpose of the New Covenant. God swears by oath that He will take matters into His own hands and by His power alone deliver us from all dominion of sin.— It Is Finished, page 109

<idle musing>
Reminds me of a song by the Jesus Movement group Daniel Amos. Here's the chorus:

No bribin', no conivin', no strivin' will do
They'll never make no change in you
You can hold your breath, stand on your head
Still the changes won't come, till their Spirit led
Abidin', that's when the changes come
Abide in Jesus, He's the best at gettin' it done
You can see the whole song and listen to it at the link above.

The point is that we can't do it. We're powerless, and the sooner we realize it and abandon ourselves to hispower, the better off we are.
</idle musing>

Whose job?

All across Europe, the established churches failed to convert and arouse the “masses,” by failing to recognize that it was a job for preachers, not professors. But the clergy seemed unable to grasp the point that sophisticated sermons on the mysteries of the Trinity neither informed nor converted. The Triumph of Christianity, page 265

<idle musing>
I'm all for doctrine! But, if it doesn't have an effect on the way a person lives, then it isn't being taught in a practical way. The doctrine of the Trinity should be taught in such a way that one ends up in worship. Unfortunately, it is usually taught in such a way that you end up in confusion.

Of course, there is an underlying assumption in this quotation: it is the paid, trained clergy who are the core of the church and that the institutional form of the church is the "real" church. But, throughout church history, there have been many lay-led revivals—beginning with Acts 2.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Perspective matters

Very simply, the Holy Spirit changes the way we look at our sin. He knows that as long as we continue to take our lusts lightly, we will never be set free. So He shows us how deeply it grieves and provokes Him.— It Is Finished, page 92

<idle musing>
Wesley said we should pity the partially religious man: he has enough of religion so as not to enjoy sin, but not enough to truly enjoy God. The Holy Spirit wants to fix the last half of that statement by showing us the way out.
</idle musing>

Is this history?

In contrast, early Christianity was attractive to the laity because it offered a model of Christian virtue that improved their quality of life by urging attractive family norms, a tangible love of neighbors, and feasible levels of sacrifice, along with a clear message of salvation. The Triumph of Christianity, page 264

<idle musing>
Is this really history? Or is this drawing conclusions that fit preconceptions about what Christianity is supposed to look like? Sometimes historians walk a fine line—the facts can be interpreted several different ways. I fear that happened in this case...what do you think?
</idle musing>

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Which is it?

OK, which is it? Warmer or Colder?! Not that either one is all that different anyway; neither one is predicting anything better than 3°F!

The overcomer

And I must emphasize again that no one in his own strength is able to live an overcoming life, free from sin’s power and dominion, He may grieve over his sins, shedding a river of tears, but in his own willpower and ability he cannot defeat powerful, besetting sins.— It Is Finished, page 73

<idle musing>
Ain't it the truth! But there is deliverance—the indwelling presence of God in the form of the Holy Spirit! Praise God for that!
</idle musing>

Reaching the rest

The primary reasons that even vigorous efforts failed to reach the peasantry and urban lower classes was the failure by both Protestant and Catholic clerics to propose a Christian lifestyle that was appropriate and attractive to ordinary people, and their failure to present Christian doctrines in simple, direct language rather than as complex theology. The Triumph of Christianity, pages 263-264

<idle musing>
The problem we have now is that nobody even tries to preach/teach basic Christian doctrines! The logic seems to be that because it is difficult to make doctrine understandable, we just won't teach it! After all, what counts is making people feel good, right? NOT! No doctrine equals bad doctrine; unexamined theology equals bad pop theology—cultural christianity at its worst...
</idle musing>

Monday, January 27, 2014


Please do not misunderstand me—I believe doctrine is essential. We need to understand important theological concepts such as justification by faith and sanctification. But if our knowledge of these things does not produce life in us, it is all just dead-letter.— It Is Finished, page 54

<idle musing>
Amen! Good preaching! Life without doctrine produces wacko spirituality, but doctrine without a living encounter with God produces death. Both extremes have happened to the church far too many times in its history. Think of the confessionalism that followed the Reformation—and gave rise to skepticism. On the other side, you have many of the camp meetings of the 1800s that gave rise to interesting cults...we need both doctrine and experience or we lose our way.
</idle musing>

Ignorance is...well, just ignorance

Not only was the medieval public lacking in Christian commitment; the same was true of the rank-and-file clergy. In fact given how ignorant the clergy were, it is no surprise that their parishioners knew so little. The Triumph of Christianity, page 260

<idle musing>
The Reformation and Counter-Reformation definitely changed that! Even the Roman Catholic Church should thank Martin and company for their contribution there...
</idle musing>


Take your pick. We're closer to the harbor than we are to the airport, but it's still cold! The wind is definitely blowing; I suspect the gusts are about 30-35 MPH—a good bit less than the 46 MPH that they show for earlier in the day. You can definitely feel the cold radiating off the windows—and we have lots of nice big windows on the south, east, and west sides of the house. Granted, they're double-paned, but it's still cold!

When we go for our 4 mile walk later today, we probably won't see a whole lot of people! We'll probably stop at the store to pick up a few things (we carry backpacks for that), but our walking won't raise any eyebrows; it's fairly common around here for people to walk—no matter the weather. And you don't hear people complaining about the weather. Well, that's not quite true; last year they complained we didn't get enough snow! : )

Friday, January 24, 2014

Works holiness?

Of course I believe in high standards for Christians, including decent dress codes, holy living and separation from the world. But God help us if we even hint to people that any such observance can ever make us acceptable in His eyes.

Many believers remain under constant bondage to some doctrine of works because they think it makes them holy. They simply do not want to believe that all their sacrifices through the years are for naught. And so, when they hear the message of the cross—that no human striving or works can save us, and that only the grace of Christ assures our salvation—they become offended. They cry out, as the first-century Jewish converts did, “You’re teaching permissiveness. You don’t believe holiness anymore.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. Only one person is holy—Jesus Christ—and all our holiness must come through faith in Him. It Is Finished, page 49

<idle musing>
Amen! Good preaching! </idle musing>

Medieval attendance

There are very few statistics on religious life in medieval times, but there are a surprising number of trustworthy reports from many times and places, and they are in amazing agreement that the great majority of ordinary people seldom if ever went to church. The Triumph of Christianity, page 256

<idle musing>
Interesting, isn't it. I suspect that the influence of the church was largely through the upper class, but have no way of proving that. It would make sense; all the big wigs in the church were from the upper class...
</idle musing>

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Give me that Power Bar!

This is an ongoing problem with many Christians. We look to the Holy Spirit as some kind of booster shot to empower or energize our human will. We expect Him to build up our supply of grit and determination, so we can stand up to temptation the next time it comes. We cry, “Make me strong, Lord! Give me an iron will, so I can withstand all sin.” But God knows this would only make our flesh stronger, enabling it to boast. It Is Finished, page 34

<idle musing>
When I teach about the presence of the Holy Spirit in a person's life, as an avid bicyclist, I use the example of a Power Bar™. Those of you old enough to remember Underdog might recall the secret compartment of his ring that conveniently held a power pill. But all of these illustrate the same point—the Holy Spirit isn't going to work that way; we can't do it—even with a power pill. Only the presence of God via the Holy Spirit can do it.

And I praise God for that; if it depended on my strength, grit, and determination, it wouldn't happen...
</idle musing>

Abolitionists for the 8th century!

At the end of the eighth century Charlemagne opposed slavery, while the pope and many other powerful and effective clerical voices echoed St. Bathilda. As the ninth century dawned, Bishop Agobard of Lyons thundered: “All men are brothers, all invoke one same Father, God: the slave and the master, the poor man and the rich man, the ignorant and the learned, the weak and the strong…[N]one has been raised above the other…there is no…slave or free, but in all things and always there is only Christ.” Soon, no one “doubted that slavery in itself was against divine law.” Indeed, during the eleventh century both St. Wulfstand and St. Anselm successfully campaigned to remove the last vestiges of slavery in Christendom. The Triumph of Christianity, pages 247-248

<idle musing>
Only 1000 years before the emancipation proclamation! Interesting that the same arguments were being used...I guess there reallyis nothing new under the sun!
</idle musing>

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The end of the matter

By nature, man does not want to be delivered from his sin. He simply will not respond to a gracious mercy call. So, God has to implement a plan or device that will allow a person to see the exceeding wickedness of his sin. This person has to become sin-sick, aware of how wicked and devastating his sin is, before he will yearn for deliverance. He has to come to his wits’ end, where he sees he is being ruined by sin—helpless, wretched, empty, ensnared and deceived by sin, and laden down with guilt. It Is Finished, pages 29-30

<idle musing>
I normally avoid pop Christian culture authors, but a friend of mine who was reading this book began quoting from it. The excerpts he shared piqued my interest, so I had to read it as well...I hope you enjoy the next few weeks of excerpts!

By the way, thanks to Jeremy Wells at Baker Academic for supplying me with a copy.
</idle musing>

I didn't know that

Finally, claims that Muslims have been harboring bitter resentments about the Crusades for a millennium are nonsense: Muslim antagonism about the Crusades did not appear until about 1900 in reaction against the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the onset of actual European colonialism in the Middle East. The Triumph of Christianity, page 216

<idle musing>
Interesting, isn't it? Again, we read back our current situation into history...
</idle musing>

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

It's got to be relevant

Biblical criticism that does not labor for the good of the church and of the world is truly a dead letter. For this reason African biblical scholars are explicit that they are reading the Bible with their commitments and interests declared up front. They do not hide their hopes that their scholarship may have some kind of small impact on a suffering world. They do not write merely for the sake of scoring debating with their fellow scholars. Africa’s problems are many, and they are serious: HIV/AIDS, famine, desertification, political instability, war, ethnic tension, gender inequality. The Bible is not silent about these issues. Biblical scholars who claim to follow the God of life should not ignore the groanings of creation all around us as we study, teach, and write. Global Voices, page 112

<idle musing>
Amen! Good preaching!

Too often, scholars are writing for scholars. Without compromising the scholarship, scholars should write for the growth of the church. I had a theology professor who used to say that his goal was "every pastor a theologian and every theologian a soul-winner." A noble goal indeed.

That's the final excerpt from this book. As I said in the first post, this is a great book. I'm glad I read it; it definitely broadened my horizons. We need more books like this. Thanks again to Bobby for making it known to me—even though it took me a year to read it!
</idle musing>

It's not that simple

This is not to say that the Muslims usually were more brutal or less tolerant than were Christians or Jews, for it was a brutal and intolerant age. It is to say that efforts to portray Muslims as enlightened supporters of multiculturalism are at best ignorant.— The Triumph of Christianity, page 208

<idle musing>
Why do we always insist on importing our current social context into historical interpretation?! We can never learn from history when we do that. Of course we rarely learn from history anyway! But that's another matter all together...
</idle musing>

Friday, January 17, 2014

A sure-fire way to shrink the church

First, I suggest that we bring the biblical worldview of the spirit world to the forefront of our conversation in hermeneutics since trends in global Christianity suggest a link between this worldview and church growth. The emphasis on prayer, spiritual warfare, and healing in non-Western Christianity is rooted in this world concept. Western scholarship is losing credibility in this regard as our scholarship is increasingly perceived as “peer talk” with no substantial contribution to faith in the transcendent. Even our foreign students who return home are sometimes branded “evangelical without power” and portrayed as a threat to church growth due to the “misguided” notions of scholarship and “Bultmannian” readings of biblical texts. Global Voices, page 97

<idle musing>
That is a convicting paragraph! "...foreign students who return home are sometimes branded “evangelical without power” and portrayed as a threat to church growth due to the “misguided” notions of scholarship and “Bultmannian” readings of biblical texts." Something is wrong! We need to recover the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives! We need to cease being practical atheists and start expecting God to be present in our daily lives!.
</idle musing>

Religious tolerance

Granted that the early church fathers were certain that theirs was the Only True Faith, and therefore they could not, and did not, commit themselves to ideals of religious freedom. Nevertheless, the church did not exploit its official standing to quickly stamp out paganism, nor did the emperors accomplish this on behalf of the new faith.— The Triumph of Christianity, page 198

Thursday, January 16, 2014

It's a fact

Believers are to clothe themselves with the armor that only God provides. It is a complete outfit because the soldier must be fully protected. Paul does not call the believer to enter into spiritual warfare. He simply announces it as a fact. The fact that our real battle is not against flesh and blood is lost on many Christians, who put all their efforts in that direction. Global Voices, page 89

<idle musing>
Amen! Good preaching! Now, the question is, what does that mean in practical terms?
</idle musing>

Protect the tax revenue

In the end, of course, the pagan temples did close and Christianity become, for many centuries, the only licit faith, although most peasants and members of the urban lower classes seem never to have been fully Christianized. Even so, to the extent that Europe was Christianized, it didn’t happen suddenly not did it involve substantial bloodshed; the latter was mainly limited to conflicts among Christians which sometimes resulted in military action against various heretical movements.— The Triumph of Christianity, page 192

<idle musing>
Follow the money! Tax revenue must be protected at all costs! How ironic...but unsurprising.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Did it ever really die?

It is important to recognize that paganism was not merely a set of superficial practices and only half-believed myths—or, as Lactantius put it, “no more than worship by the fingertips.” In past work I have been as guilty as most early church historians of underestimating the depth of paganism. Indeed, late fourth and fifth century pagans often are portrayed as little more than “nostalgic antiquarians.” But, in fact, theirs was an active faith “premised upon the conviction that the world was filled with the divine, and that proper sacrifice brought the human into intimate communion with the divine.” Although the rapid and extensive Christianization of the empire showed that pagans were very susceptible to conversion by their friends and relatives, the failure of legal prohibitions to dent paganism demonstrated that coercion was no greater deterrent to commitment to the gods than it had been when used against commitment to the One True God.— The Triumph of Christianity, pages 190-191

<idle musing>
Again I ask, did it ever really die? I would suggest that most of what passes for Christian belief is just paganism with a light Christian veneer. As long as the emphasis remains on me, we show that we don't understand the good news that is the gospel...
</idle musing>

It just works

Pentecostal spirituality is very much at home in Africa because its interpretation of and responses to evil are continuous with traditional religious ideas in which evil is believed and understood to owe its presence to spiritual causes. It is a worldview in which there is no dichotomy between belief and experience: they always belong together. As a Pentecostal minister I can say that the ministries of exorcism, healing, and deliverance have been important tools of evangelization wherever Pentecostalism has emerge and thrived. In such contexts, believers see the existential meaning of Christ’s ministry in their lives. Global Voices, page 86

<idle musing>
You've probably heard the slogan of a famous computer company, "It just works!" Well, that's true Christianity. In the west, we've watered it down to just intellectual assent—brains on a stick, if you will. No wonder there aren't converts! It just doesn't work!

Real Christianity, on the other hand, works. Look for God to work in your life today. Renounce your practical atheism!
</idle musing>

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Me, a Judaizier? Never!

While we may balk at considering how we have historically resembled the Judaizers, at least in terms of seeking to replicate our practices and ethos among Christians in foreign cultures, we need to become even more discerning in terms of how our involvement in a particular country, for example, Sri Lanka, nurtures the growth of Sri Lankan Christianity and how it nurtures the Westernization of Sri Lankan Christianity (often in concert with the Westernization of Sri Lanka occurring through other venues). Jesus wants to take on Sri Lankan flesh, coming to life there as he did both in Judea and in Galatia in different ways, and Sri Lankan churches need to worship, function, and grow in Sri Lankan ways—in part, so as to have a positive effect and witness there. Global Voices, page 53

<idle musing>
Bobby at Hendrickson Publishers gave me this book over a year ago. He said I would enjoy it. I wasn't sure, but let me tell you, this is a great book. You don't even realize the degree to which you are culture blind until it hits you in the face.

This book did that to me. It hit me square in the face. I've been a charismatically inclined Christian since I became a Christian back in 1972. I didn't think the reigning anti-supernaturalism of our culture had affected me a deeply as it has. This book showed me that it went deeper than I thought.

You should read this book. You might disagree with a lot in it, but at least you need to consider what it is saying. After all, two-thirds of the world does believe in the supernatural in more than a cerebral way!

Watch for other goods snippets from this book in the next week or so...
</idle musing>

Pardon me, but your biases are showing

And although historians long reported bitter outcries by pagans against Constantine’s support of Christianity, the best recent scholars now agree that there is no evidence of such protests and propose that even those pagans most directly involved regarded the emperor’s favors to the church as a “bearable evil.”— The Triumph of Christianity, page 186

<idle musing>
Not a popular view, is it? But what if it is true? We'll have to rewrite a few Church History books, won't we? And a few late Roman Empire history books as well...
</idle musing>

Take control of your food

The most important step [to breaking big Pharma and big Food’s grip over our lives] is to change the way you eat. The diet is simple: eat whole, plant-based foods, with little or no added oil, salt, or refined carbohydrates like sugar or white flour…There is nothing more convincing than experiencing the change for oneself. That crucial shift in the way we think about our health will happen, one person at a time. Eventually, policy will begin to change. Industry, deprived of the income produced by ill health and our ignorance, will follow.— Whole (electronic edition), chapter 19

<idle musing>
This is especially important with the recent ruling in favor of Monsanto. And the reluctance of congress to take a stand on labeling GMO foods—despite the overwhelming support amongst consumers. Mind you, I'm not talking about passing a law to ban GMO foods, just a requirement to label them as such! We have a right to know what we are eating and then choose whether to consume it or not.

By the way, have you seen the video where the little girl tries to make a sweet potato grow? No? Very enlightening; you can see it here. Be prepared to cease buying non-organic potatoes, sweet potatoes...well, the list goes on. Even among organic, local wins out. Watch the video to see what I mean...
</idle musing>

Monday, January 13, 2014

The making of a book

It is safe to believe that the way God communicated to humans is more complex than we have been accustomed to think. In the past we too easily thought in modern terms about an author sitting down and writing a manuscript, which is then published as a book. (As authors we only wish it were that simple!) When thinking about how the Bible was written, many Christians modified the simplistic notion of authorship only slightly to included God’s Spirit revealing the specific words that an author wrote. But this model is foreign to the ancient world (and in reality, to the majority of book production in the modern Western word); it should not serve as the premise for formulation of biblical authority. The process was much richer and more sophisticated.—The Lost World of Scripture, page 293

<idle musing>
Having worked in publishing for 10 years, I can vouch for their statements about modern bookmaking! And having studied the ancient world, I can assure you it wasn't any simpler then...
</idle musing>

The fall of paganism?

Consequently, and despite the prevailing historical view, paganism wasn’t quickly obliterated. Instead, it seeped away very slowly. The Academy at Athens did not close until 529, and “even in most Christian Eddessa, organized communities of pagans were still sacrificing to Zeus-Hadad in the last quarter of the sixth century.” …In fact, there were still many active pagans and functioning temples to the gods in Greece and further east as late as the tenth century. Moreover, for a considerable time in many parts of the empire, including some major cities, the prevailing religious perspectives and practices consisted of a remarkable amalgam of paganism and Christianity. Finally, paganism never fully died out in Europe; it was assimilated by Christianity. For example, many pagan festivals continued to be celebrated and many of the gods lingered under very thin Christian overlays.— The Triumph of Christianity, page 185

<idle musing>
I would argue that paganism is still the prevailing religion amongst most people. And as the veneer of christianity wears thin, it is reasserting itself. The only hope is a revival—a true revival among christians first so that what is shared isn't a fix yourself, do better, try harder, self-actualization religion, but true heart holiness...
</idle musing>

Where it all goes

Factory-farmed animals on this planet consume more calories than all the humans, by a long shot. Through this lens, the issue of world hunger seems a lot less like a problem of production or distribution and more like a problem with our personal priorities.— Whole (electronic edition), chapter 12

<idle musing>
There was an article in the Atlantic a few years ago discussing the food shortages. The author found that even countries with a chronic food shortage had enough to export food! It was all a case of finances. The food growers could make more money by exporting it, so they did—even though their fellow citizens were starving. It's all a case of all goes back to Genesis 3.
</idle musing>

Saturday, January 11, 2014


We had the grandkids over yesterday for one of the last times before they move. They love the split door between the office for the cabins and the rest of the house. Here's a picture of them with Debbie:

Thought for a Saturday in January

Our best doctrinal formulation should not be constructed to convince skeptics but to truly describe out actual beliefs.—The Lost World of Scripture, page 284

Friday, January 10, 2014

Embrace the mystery

Mystery can be a liberating theological reality. We’re not expected to systematically explain all truth about God. Actually, we probably try too hard to do so, since the closer we come to explanation, the further we move from veneration. Often the more logic, the less wonder.—The Lost World of Scripture, page 258

<idle musing>
I would say this is the best line in the book! Embrace the mystery and worship the creator.
</idle musing>

The seed of the church

Of all the proofs and all the testimonials, nothing approaches the credibility inherent in martyrdom. How could mere mortals remain defiant after being skinned and covered with salt? How could anyone keep the faith while being slowly roasted on a spit? Such performances seemed virtually supernatural in and of themselves. And that was the effect they often had on the observers. Christian viewers could “see” that the hand of God was on the martyrs. Many pagans also were amazed: the distinguished physician Galen wrote of Christians that “their contempt of death…is patent to us every day.” Accounts of martyrdom make frequent mention of pagans having gained respect for the faith from having observed, or even having taken part in, the torture of martyrs. The pagan onlookers knew full well that they would not endure such tribulations for their religion.— The Triumph of Christianity, page 151

<idle musing>
Origen said that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. While I think he is overstating it, their testimony (that's what martyr means in Greek) is definitely inspiring and compelling. I pray that I would have sufficient grace not just to endure but to be a conqueror if I were put in such a position.
</idle musing>

It's in the water

Population studies begun forty to fifty years ago show that when people migrate from one country to another, they acquire the cancer rate of the country to which they move, despite the fact their genes remain the same. This strongly indicates that at least 80 percent to 90 percent—and probably closer to 97 percent to 98 percent—of all cancers are related to diet and lifestyle, not to genes.— Whole (electronic edition), chapter 9

<idle musing>
Obviously then, as the old saying goes, "it's in the water!" : )

Actually, anymore it probably is in the water, what with agricultural runoff, fracking runoff, and the runoff from road salt. And don't forget the chemicals that leach from all that bottled water...
</idle musing>

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Further thoughts on reductionism

Reading Whole has made me reflect a bit more on the phenomenon of reductionism. It still holds sway in the academic community, the hard sciences, the medical world, and popular culture.

The one place it isn't the supreme paradigm is in industry. Oh, it used to be—think of the motion-study experts of the early 20th century. They were extremely reductionistic; every motion was studied in an effort to make every motion efficient. But all that started changing with Deming and his marble experiment. In a nutshell, he showed that reductionism wasn't the answer; the system was bigger than the sum of its parts.

Sure, the change didn't happen overnight, but the corner had been turned. The dominant industrial paradigms of today, Toyota Production System and the Theory of Constraints are systemic approaches. Another good example is Peter Senge's Fifth Discipline approach to problem solving. The result has been the dissolution of what is called "silos" in the industry. Silos are narrow concentrations on your specialty to the virtual exclusion of other aspects of an organization; they are named after the round silos found on farms. The assumption behind siloing is that nothing outside my specific area has any affect on what happens. Right! It is extremely reductionistic.

So why did atomization fall out of favor in industry but nowhere else? Simple; follow the money!

In industry, throughput means more income (this is hugely simplified, but bear with me!). When one part of an industry adopts a systemic approach, their throughput increases and their costs drop. They can afford to sell things for less than their competitors with no reduction in quality. Money talks! Pretty soon, their competitive advantage is adopted by others.

Now look at the medical and food industries. Keeping people sick and fat is good for business. Healthy, fit people don't eat as much junk food. They don't need prescriptions. They don't get sick as often. They don't guzzle carbonated, sugared beverages.

In short, they don't contribute to the bottom line of the food and medical conspiracy theories needed. In our money-oriented society, where results are measured by quarterly Wall Street results, there is no incentive to keep people healthy via a whole foods, plant-based diet.

I could go on, and probably will over the next few weeks...


If the universe overwhelms our cognitive abilities, the Designer and Creator of the universe does so all the more. Our brains are Tinkertoys in comparison to DNA, matchsticks in comparison to birthing galaxies. The divine genius and creativity reduce all scientific calculation, philosophical supposition and theological postulation to nursery rhymes. We can only let God be God.—The Lost World of Scripture, page 256

<idle musing>
Amen! I was reading The Journey of Modern Theology the other day. One of the things that Olson commented on was the rationalization of theology. Another book I just finished, Whole (by a Ph.D. in the hard sciences) stressed the complexities of DNA. All of this causes me to bow in humility before the creator and redeemer.

Let the mystery remain! We are only created beings; if we think we can understand all the mysteries, we are hubristic to the extreme. That doesn't mean we shouldn't seek them out! It just means that we need to acknowledge that God is bigger than all our explanations!
</idle musing>

The role of leaders

The Romans assumed that the bishops and clergy were the active elements of the church and should they be destroyed, the masses of ordinary Christians would simply drift away. This was no doubt true of the pagan temples and perhaps for the Oriental faiths. But it was a misreading of Christianity where behind each bishop, priest, and deacon there was a line of lay persons ready and able to replace them.— The Triumph of Christianity, page 150

<idle musing>
For all the faults of the institutional church, I think this is still true today. I know it is true in house churches...
</idle musing>

The genes made me do it

Genes are the starting point for health and disease events; they are the “nature” part of the equation. But it is nutrition and other lifestyle factors, the “nurture” part, that control whether and how these genes are expressed. The influence of nurture (i.e., nutrition) has far more influence on health and disease outcome than nature (i.e., genes).— Whole (electronic edition), chapter 8

<idle musing>
Yes, that means you are the one who holds the key. No excuses of "the devil made me do it"—oops I mean, "The genes made it happen."

Once again, a whole foods, plant-based diet is the safest option for a long, healthy life. And living by the power of the Holy Spirit within you is the best option to make it fulfilling—notice I didn't say "safe" or "easy!"
</idle musing>

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Wrong focus

Ancients did not have the same interest in events that we do, and so they did not record them in ways that could readily feed our interests. If we are truly going to understand their literature and culture, we have to stop pursuing the transformation of their illocutions, realities and values into ours. This is misguided. Historiography is our label, our enterprise, our value, our way of framing reality, our way of understanding events. We cannot base our assessment of truth, authority or inerrancy on our cultural conventions of historiography, though we continue to be interested in all three of those concerns.—The Lost World of Scripture, page 201

<idle musing>
You can learn a lot about a person by noting the personal pronouns they use...our occurs how many times in those sentences? Other-centered is how we are to be as Christians...maybe we should start with how we see scripture. Let's ask different questions, ones that center on God and others. What do you think?
</idle musing>

Hang on

Romans believed that one was forever obligated to honor the religion of one’s ancestors; hence Jews were usually given an exemption from actions in violation of their ancestral faith. But the Romans were contemptuous of all who had abandoned their ancestral faith as of course, all Christians had done, making their refusal to comply with the edict [to sacrifice to the emperor] doubly offensive.— The Triumph of Christianity, page 143

It's in the cards—sorta

Do we simply accept the [genetic] cards dealt to us, or do we consider the possibility that we can control our own destiny? If our health trajectory is mostly predetermined by our genes, then there’s no point in trying to be healthy. If our choices trump the cards we were dealt at birth, then there’s a reason for us to do what we can to achieve and maintain health.— Whole (electronic edition), chapter 8

<idle musing>
Hmmm…sounds a lot like the arguments in theological circles over divine determinism versus free-will, doesn’t it?
</idle musing>

Thought for the day

The reason why wicked men and devils hate God, is because they see Him in a relation to themselves. Their hearts rise up in rebellion, because they see Him opposed to their selfishness. - Charles Finney

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

We're first

When we neglect the goals of the ancient literature and instead use the literature to accomplish our own goals, we engage in a cultural imposition that subordinates what the ancients considered as the reality and values of their literature (i.e., their illocutions [intended communications]) to what we moderns consider to be a higher pursuit. We will never achieve a sound understanding of the literature, let a lone a legitimate understanding of biblical authority, if we are always judging its suitability for reaching our modern objectives. We need to start approaching the literature as their literature rather than simply transforming it into our literature from which we then draw theological inferences.—The Lost World of Scripture, page 201

What we really want

What we really want from science is an end to randomness. We want to know why diseases strike some people and not others. We want to know how to protect ourselves against the scourges that have our names on them. We want, in short, to banish unpredictability.— Whole (electronic edition), chapter 8

<idle musing>
No, what we want is for science to allow us to be gods…not much has changed since Genesis 3, has it?
</idle musing>

Misreading Rome

Too often, historians have ignored the sincerity of pagans, misreading their casual forms of worship for indifference. But Rome was far more religious than other societies in the ancient world, and large numbers of Romans, especially those making up the political elite, sincerely believed that the gods had made Rome the great empire that it had become. That being the case, Christianity was an obvious affront to the gods, given that the church denied the existence of the gods and charged that to worship them was blasphemy. It was entirely logical to assume that for Rome to tolerate Christianity was to risk bringing down the displeasure of the gods upon its affairs.— The Triumph of Christianity, pages 140-141

<idle musing>
The Romans had a "I give that you will give to me" (do ut des in Latin) attitude towards the gods. They firmly believed in oracles and omens—you could say they were "superstitious" to the extreme; the world was full of gods. The early Christians were called atheists because they only believed in one god. That upset the balance of power dramatically in the mind of the Romans; they didn't know how to handle it, so they worked to eliminate it...if it itches, scratch it!
</idle musing>

Monday, January 06, 2014

Whether you like it or not

That was yesterday morning. Here's this morning:

Round hole

If orality is a round hole, inerrancy could seem to be a square peg. Common definitions of inerrancy do not fit scenarios understood in light of orality (though some responsible constructive theological accounts come close.) Yet orality was the way God chose, which must mean it was the right way. Evidently we need to adjust our understanding of inerrancy to the evidence we find in Scripture.—The Lost World of Scripture, page 196

<idle musing>
Or discard it...which will never happen, unfortunately.
</idle musing>

An apple is an apple is a pill...

As it turns out, an apple does a lot more inside our bodies than all the known apple nutrients ingested in pill form. The whole apple is far more than the sum of its parts. Thanks to the reductionist worldview, however, we don’t really believe the food itself is important. Only the nutrients contained in the food matter.— Whole (electronic edition), chapter 5

<idle musing>
Americans love their pills, though. Eat garbage all day and night and then pop a pill to make everything right again...except it only works on the Jetsons.
</idle musing>


But recent, objective evidence leaves no doubt that early Christian women did enjoy far greater equality with men than did their pagan and Jewish counterparts. A study of Christian burials in the catacombs under Rome, based on 3,733 cases, found that Christian women were nearly as likely as Christian men to be commemorated with lengthy inscriptions. This “near equality in the commemoration of males and females is something that is peculiar to Christians, and sets them apart from the non-Christian populations of the city.” This was true not only of adults, but also of children, as Christians lamented the loss of a daughter as much as that of a son, which was especially unusual compared with the other religious groups in Rome.— The Triumph of Christianity, pages 124-125

<idle musing>
Now if only we could get some of the extreme complementarians in the US to read church history...
</idle musing>

Friday, January 03, 2014

Would you care to define that for me, please

To say there are errors in the Bible is to read Scripture anachronistically. Conversely, those who say there are not errors need to make clear that they are representing an ancient view of reliable representations of truth. Modern print culture simply must not be the standard by which the customs and practices of ancient composition and transmission are judged.—The Lost World of Scripture, page 196

<idle musing>
But I'll bet that if you asked the average person in the pew, they would tell you that they hold to an oral dictation version of inspiration. At least that has been my experience when I ask average people to define inerrancy and inspiration for me. I should put up a survey and measure the results...
</idle musing>

But what else does it do?

When you hear about at wonder pill that lowers blood pressure, always get curious about the additional (“side”) effects of the pill. In reality, there are no side effects, just effects. What is this health intervention doing beyond its stated goal?— Whole (electronic edition), chapter 2

<idle musing>
Indeed. We need to remember that the body is a system, not a bunch of discrete parts that don't interact. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction—and we don't know enough to know what those reactions are...why don't we go with a proven, systemic treatment that cures the causes? Instead we go for a band-aid that simply addresses a symptom—and has a massive number of "side" effects.

Pop a pill. It's easier. No need to exercise any kind of self-control. After all, it's all genetic anyway. I'm predestined to it...What a bunch of lies!

A whole foods, plant-based diet will keep you healthy. And if you aren't healthy, it will allow your body to become healthy because you won't be flooding it with garbage...
</idle musing>

Mercy is a defect

In contrast, in the pagan world, and especially among the philosophers, mercy was regarded as a character defect and pity as a pathological emotion: because mercy involves providing unearned help or relief, it is contrary to justice.— The Triumph of Christianity, page 112

<idle musing>
Doesn't sound much different than some of the rhetoric we're hearing today, does it? How the mighty have fallen...
</idle musing>

Thursday, January 02, 2014


We talk about the health-care system in American, but that’s a misnomer; what we really have is a disease-care system…The United States spends more money per capita on “health” care than any country on earth, yet when the quality of our health care is compared with other industrialized nations, we rank near the bottom.— Whole (electronic edition), chapter 1


I just finished reading a book entitled Whole which examines, among other things, the atomization of our thinking. He calls it reductionism and is mainly concerned with how it affects scientific research. Personally, I see it as being larger than that; it affects the way we look at life in general.

For an example let's take theology. We like to break things down into manageable chunks, so we study "the doctrine of God," or the ordo salutis (order of salvation), or justification, or sanctification, or...well, you get the idea.

The same thing happens in exegesis; we examine a verse, then break it down into phrases, then do word studies. Now, each of those is fine in and of itself, but we need to synthesize these back into a coherent whole. But we don't usually do that. We leave them as independent snippets; soundbites, if you will. And we expect to live by those.

That, my friends is a problem. We need to recover a holistic (I hate that word!) view of life. We need to our life as in interrelation of spirit, soul, mind, and body (I'm not even sure those are legitimate parts, but that's another issue...). We can't live life as a secular/sacred divide, we need to see all of life as sacred and full of God's goodness. In short, we need to live "in Christ."

When I was in operations/warehouse management, we looked at things from a systemic view. That is, we didn't look at the operation as a set of discrete operations, we looked at it as a system. You could tweak individual parts of the system and still end up with a mess. What we were interested in was throughput to the customer. It didn't matter if the pickers (the people filling orders) were operating at an unbelievable rate. If the order didn't get out the door, we didn't make any money.

Further, it didn't matter if the pickers were super fast if they were pulling the wrong items for the order! It had to be the correct product. It gets complicated real fast...and that's just a simple thing like order fulfillment.

Once we saw the system as a whole, we could then zero in on a specific part of the system and tweak it. But, we always had to keep our eyes on the results those tweaks had on the whole.

That's one (of many) reason I'm against GMO foods and seeds. And why I am against using pesticides and herbicides. And the liberal use of antibiotics. We just don't know what the systemic results are. And we don't even bother (usually) to study those results. Funding is nonexistent—it might damage profits.

As much as it grates on us, we need to acknowledge that we are finite beings with finite understanding of a huge world. Sure, we know more than we did 50-100 years ago. But the old saw "Give a man a book and he is an expert. Give a man a library and he becomes a student" is true here. We have a book (scientific discoveries); we've read about 1/4 (at most!) of it and we think we're experts. I'm reminded of a Charles Schultz cartoon in Young Pillars. A teenaged Charlie Brown says to his neighbor, "I used to consider myself an expert on the book of Revelation. Then I met someone who had actually read it."

That's us. We think we understand how things work, so we play God. But we are like nursery school kids playing with an Erector Set and thinking we're rebuilding the World Trade Center. Nursery school kids can't even build something simple with an Erector set, let alone something as complicated as a high-rise...

Just an
</idle musing>

We got it backwards...

[O]ral and communal culture is more than background to supplement our understanding of ancient texts; it is foreground. Orality is fundamentally a different worldview. If we fail to appreciate ancient communicative processes and do not make room for the uniqueness of oral culture, then we put our understanding of ancient texts in jeopardy.—The Lost World of Scripture, pages 185-186

<idle musing>
As usual, we get it backwards. The foreground is really the background and what we see as the background, usually ignored, is the real foreground. The result? Bad exegesis and faulty theology.
</idle musing>

Have your pie and eat it too

What is almost always missed is that Christianity often puts the pie [in the sky] on the table! It makes life better here and now. Not merely in psychological ways, as faith in an attractive afterlife can do, but in terms of concrete worldly benefits. Consider that a study based on ancient tombstones has established that early Christians outlived their pagan neighbors! What that demonstrates is that Christians enjoyed superior quality of life. They did so because of their commitment to what was an unusual virtue in ancient times: “the quality of mercy,” as Portia put it in The Merchant of Venice, played a major role in the growth of early Christianity.— The Triumph of Christianity, page 105

<idle musing>
Not through "name it and claim it! Stomp on it and frame it!" theology, but through mercy. That is so against the natural way of doing things that it has to be God!.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Thought for the day

Read whatever chapter of Scripture you will, and be ever so delighted with it—yet it will leave you as poor, as empty and unchanged as it found you unless it has turned you wholly and solely to the Spirit of God, and brought you into full union with and dependence upon him.—William Law

The Gutenberg Galaxy

Unavoidably, Western Christians view the issue of inspiration from the cognitive environment of print culture. We are dyed-in-the-wool inhabitants of the Gutenberg Galaxy. We like the idea of a bed of letters that can produce the exact same page of text every time a piece of paper is pressed upon it. We like to think that scribes could make copies with almost the same exactitude as mechanical printing. An inadvertent slip here or there might be acceptable, but any more than that we think correctors should have fixed (or God should have prevented).

Steeped in print culture, much of what we think about biblical revelation is dependent on being able to refer to the written words on the pages of Scripture…we need to be able to look up exactly what the text says.—The Lost World of Scripture, page 179

<idle musing>
And what is the role of the Holy Spirit in all of this? Seems like we've reduced him/her/it to playing second (or third) fiddle to the written text. Not that oral culture can't be just as guilty of that, but the written text is fixed and can be referred to at any moment, which causes a penchant towards deifying the text at the expense of the Holy Spirit.
</idle musing>

idle musings on 58 years

Today I turned 58. I actually enjoy growing older; I've enjoyed each year and look forward to as many more as God allows me. And I appreciate the well-wishes that I receive.

That being said, I don't celebrate birthdays. I always am a bit hesitant to say that—people always assume I don't want to get older. But, as I said, I enjoy getting older, so that's not the reason.

When I was younger, I always looked forward to celebrating my birthday. Being born on the first day of the new year has a few perks for a youngster: parades and a full day of football, no school, another batch of presents within a week of Christmas.

But once I became a Christian, things changed. The focus changed from being on me to being on Christ.

I began to ponder where Jesus talks about esteeming others more than oneself and "death to self" and what it meant in my own life. I noticed the narcissistic tendencies of celebrating birthdays—it certainly doesn't promote death to self, does it! I also noticed that there are only two birthday celebrations mentioned in scripture; in both of them, somebody loses their head! (Not a sound hermeneutical principle, by the way.)

More importantly, I noticed the general tendency in our society to elevate the individual to a god-like centrality. You miss someone's birthday and they have the right to be mad at you. After all, they deserve the recognition, right?

I began to question my involvement in that and how, as a Christian, I could model a different ethos, one of esteeming others more than oneself without putting them on a pedestal of worship. Of taking the focus off of them and me and putting it on Christ.

For me, that took the form of not celebrating birthdays. I'm not saying it is a sin for others to do so. I'm not even implying my view is "better" or "more spiritual." At this point, it seems appropriate to quote Paul:

Some consider one day more sacred than another; others consider every day alike. Everyone should be fully convinced in their own mind. Those who regard one day as special do so to the Lord. Those who eat meat do so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and those who abstain do so to the Lord and give thanks to God. For we do not live to ourselves alone and we do not die to ourselves alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Romans 14:5-8 (TNIV)
I've come to the conclusion that for me to "live to the Lord" excludes birthday celebrations. I'm comfortable with that and fully convinced in my own mind. Whether you agree or disagree should be immaterial to our walk together with Christ.

But I have found that many people get offended or defensive. I have to ask why that is so. I'm not suggesting they adopt my view—and I make that clear to them. I do think they should seek the Lord and his heart on the whole thing, but why so defensive?

Could it be that maybe it is a case of a cultural paradigm that God is trying to shake up? Could it be that the self is feeling challenged in an uncomfortable way? Could it be that it really is a form of self-worship?

I leave it to you to answer those questions for yourself...but perhaps it is enlightening to watch a kid's anticipation of their birthday. What's the focus? They're too honest to put a facade on it yet. How can we expect them to understand death to self when we set them up for self-worship year after year?

Just an
</idle musing>

What really causes conversions?

Surprisingly, when sociologist took the trouble to actually go out and watch conversions take place, they discovered that doctrines are of very secondary importance in the initial decision to convert…conversion is primarily about bringing one’s religious behavior into alignment with that of one’s friends and relatives, not about encountering attractive doctrines.— The Triumph of Christianity, page 68

<idle musing>
I heard (many years ago now) of a survey of Chinese Christians. They were asked how they became Christians—I expected to hear about apologetics or personal testimonies chock-full of Scripture. Nope. Doctrine came after conversion. What caused them to become Christians was watching their co-workers lives. They wanted what they saw.

For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. 2 Cor 2:15-16a (TNIV)
</idle musing>