Monthly Archives: October 2009

The Link 10.30.09: The Swell Season, the World’s Best Dunker, and Anti-Heroes

swell seasonA number of fun things for your Internet consumption today.

1. Have you heard of The Swell Season?  It’s the duo that produced the film “Once.” Excellent music.  You can stream most of the cd online.

2. You read this blog, so you know that I can’t resist a good dunk every now and then.  This guy is, to use the technical term, ridiculous.

3. Another great article from Salvo (seriously, check that site out) on the lack of heroes in today’s films.  Insightful.

4. Pray for Hunter Baker to find some time to write up this excellent presentation on the challenges before Christian colleges that aspire to significant cultural influence.  Keep checking evangel–it’s really well done so far.

5. Just heard about this: Gentlemen Broncos, from the guy behind Napoleon Dynamite.  Looks funny.

6. A parody worth viewing: “Cletus Take the Reel.” Two things got me: the slow-mo, and the fat guy singing falsetto.

7. The Weekly Standard on the “American addiction to overreaction.”

–Have a richly edifying weekend, all.


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Hunter Baker on Sex, Science, and the Left

Hunter Baker is a sharp dude out of Houston Baptist University who just published a piece on the Salvo magazine website entitled “Facts Evasion: When it Comes to Sex, the Left Hates Science.” I commend the piece to you–it’s apologetically quite useful.  Hunter just published The End of Secularism, I might add, which will make you much smarter than you are now if you read it.

In Hunter’s article, he takes aim at the common misconception that the political left works from a scientific standpoint on matters of social policy while conservatives work from a merely ideological perspective.  His article makes several excellent points, and I’m going to block quote a big section of it because it is highly worth your time as a thoughtful Christian person engaging cultural matters for the glory of Christ:

How well does it work to encourage promiscuous sex accompanied by birth control pills and condom use? Ask an obstetrician-gynecologist about the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases in young women. The rate is exceptionally high. We may well reap a demographic disaster of infertility down the road. Let’s pray that P. D. James, who wrote The Children of Men, is no prophet.

Abortions continue to be performed in huge numbers despite the past assurances of some on the left that modern birth control would eliminate the need for the grisly procedure. And of the children who are born, an alarmingly high number are born to single mothers. As a group, these children are substantially more likely to do poorly in school, abuse drugs, commit crimes, require governmental assistance, and serve time in jail—and to see the cycle repeated when they have children of their own.

Is it a scientific outlook that would maintain that this state of affairs is somehow conducive to human flourishing? Or would the evidence-driven observer be more likely to affirm that sex within marriage is far more advantageous to women than promiscuity? A more logical mind could also see very well that social support for traditional marriage would help with the recurring problem of convincing men to raise their offspring rather than simply siring them.

And let us dwell for a moment on the record of the secular left’s “rational” approach in the matter of procreation. In the case of the unborn child, for example, pro-choicers for a long time stubbornly clung to the notion that the child inside the womb was no more than a cluster of cells, undifferentiated tissue, and/or a tumor-like growth. They maintained this stance long after Lennart Nilsson’s landmark photos of fetuses were published in Life magazine in 1965, and even beyond the advent and regular use of ultrasound technology.

It has only been within the past decade, when major corporations began using images of unborn children in their advertising and parents began purchasing ultra-detailed images of their in utero babies, that supporters of broad abortion rights began to abandon the dehumanizing and, yes, anti-scientific language of the fetus as inert matter. Some years ago, the famed feminist Naomi Wolf broke ranks with her side just enough to plead for recognition of the humanity of the fetus, lest the battle be lost through a failure to acknowledge what is obvious to non-ideologues.

The whole piece is worth reading, and Baker’s chief argument is worth noting and using extensively.  We Christians are not behind the 8-ball when it comes to science.  We’re squarely in line with it.  To an extent that we too rarely cite, it is on our side.

Too often we operate culturally from a position of weakness instead of a position of strength.  Selections like this show us the importance of evaluating rhetoric and thinking clearly about science, faith, and the way in which the former, when handled well, serves the latter.

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Russ Moore’s Eloquent Take on Joseph as Father

I recently read a March 2009 piece by Russ Moore in Touchstone entitled “Abba, Joseph” that is one of the more moving pieces on Joseph and the significance of his husbanding of Mary and his fatherhood of Jesus I have encountered. Turns out that the article is offline, but it’s based on an accessible sermon called “Joseph of Nazareth Is a Single-Issue Evangelical.”

Some of you have seen this before, but whether you have or not, you should read this (again).  Get the PDF of the sermon here.

Here’s a particularly affecting section from the text:

I once actually heard myself saying these words to my children, “Would you please leave me alone so I can finish this book on adoption!?” This message, though, is not just those who are parents, for Scripture speaks of a fatherhood within the church. If we are going to walk in the walk of faith imaged in this man, then we are going to need pastors who see themselves as fathers of a flock and do not simply leave when trouble comes. We are going to need older generations who are less concerned with protecting their own prerogatives and more concerned with pouring their lives into the children of the congregation. There must be evident in the people of God a demonstration of the same thing that Joseph is asked to do—to walk in the kind of faith that protects and provides, that nourishes and cherishes as does God.

Amen to this.  Read the whole thing, and as we gear up for Christmas, prepare yourself to better understand Joseph–and, more than him, the God whom he imaged in his protection of the weak and defenseless.

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BibleMesh Beta Testing Update: Emails Received, and Testers Can Still Apply

biblemeshThanks to the huge pack of you who signed up to test the new BibleMesh site.  Way too many folks replied for us to respond individually to you, but rest assured that we have received your emails and are now gearing up to engage you in the beta-testing process.

If you are interested in being a beta-tester but have not responded, we may be able to fit you in.  Email me at ostracha [at] (take out the spaces and put in the @ symbol there) to sign up.

As I said, a BibleMesh representative will be contacting you shortly, and you’ll be on your way to viewing all kinds of cutting-edge content and technology all designed to help you–and many others besides–dig into the awesome truth and story of God’s Word.

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The Link 10.24.09: Evangel, Warren Buffett’s Money, and Vanhoozer on Pastor-Theologians

1. First Things is now hosting a cool blog of evangelicals talking about public square issues in an accessible way.  It’s called evangel, and it features folks like Justin Taylor, Russ Moore, and more.

2. A NYT profile of Warren Buffett’s son Howard, who is presently finding ways to spend billions of dollars for philanthropic causes.

3. Kevin Vanhoozer recently dropped the following gem at the Renewing the Evangelical Mission conference at Gordon-Conwell (HT: JT):

Seminary faculties need the courage to be evangelically Protestant for the sake of forming theological interpreters of Scripture able to preach and minister the word. The preacher is a “man on a wire,” whose sermons must walk the tightrope between Scripture and the contemporary situation. I believe that we should preparing our best students for this gospel ministry. The pastor-theologian, I submit, should be evangelicalism’s default public intellectual, with preaching the preferred public mode of theological interpretation of Scripture. 

4. Speaking of the conference mentioned above, the Washington Post wrote it up.  Worth reading.

5. One journeyman NBA player’s travels.  Fun to read about.

–Have a great weekend, all.

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Charles Krauthammer on American Decline

The always provocative Charles Krauthammer recently published a piece entitled “Decline Is a Choice” in The Weekly Standard that chronicles how liberal political thought is causing the decline of America.

Here’s a snatch comparing Europe’s decline and America’s heretofore dominance:

The corollary to unchosen European collapse was unchosen American ascendancy. We–whom Lincoln once called God’s “almost chosen people”–did not save Europe twice in order to emerge from the ashes as the world’s co-hegemon. We went in to defend ourselves and save civilization. Our dominance after World War II was not sought. Nor was the even more remarkable dominance after the Soviet collapse. We are the rarest of geopolitical phenomena: the accidental hegemon and, given our history of isolationism and lack of instinctive imperial ambition, the reluctant hegemon–and now, after a near-decade of strenuous post-9/11 exertion, more reluctant than ever.

And here’s the major statement:

Which leads to my second proposition: Facing the choice of whether to maintain our dominance or to gradually, deliberately, willingly, and indeed relievedly give it up, we are currently on a course towards the latter. The current liberal ascendancy in the United States–controlling the executive and both houses of Congress, dominating the media and elite culture–has set us on a course for decline. And this is true for both foreign and domestic policies. Indeed, they work synergistically to ensure that outcome.

Read the whole thing. Certain aspects of American politics need pruning and chastening, but it is a fool’s errand to wish for and work toward the decline of America.  It’s popular to do so today, particularly among younger folks (including some evangelicals who swim wherever the cognosceti go), but I wonder whether many of us know what our half-baked ideas will produce in terms of the global balance of power and our own sociopolitical health–and what this could mean for the gospel.

We certainly don’t need America to survive in her past form (we don’t need any country, for that matter), but neither should we fail to recognize that we are a strategic country, both politically and evangelistically.

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A Brief Take on Jonathan Leeman’s Explosive “Beware Your Seminary Professors”

Jonathan Leeman of 9Marks just wrote a humdinger of a blog about what he sees as a lack of shepherding among seminary professors.  Leeman suggests in his post that many contemporary theologians conceive of their task in a kind of free enterprise way, rendering them relatively unaccountable and thereby potentially dangerous to the church.

On the contrary, the church elder, in Leeman’s view, is bound to guard the saints and defend them from error.  Here’s a synopsis of this point from Leeman:

Numerous matters like these, all heaped together, reminded me what a different thing the academic enterprise is from the eldering enterprise. One is about intellectual stimulation between supposedly good, rational people; the other is about spiritual warfare between desperate, clinging-to-grace people. It’s as if you enter the Christian academic realm and all the rules for pastoral care and wisdom suddenly change—in fact, it’s as if all the rules suddenly go out the window. “We’re all equals here. We’re all discerning and wise and godly. Take no heed!”

I praise God for the faithful academics who trained me in seminary. Yet the best ones were good because they were churchmen first and academics second. Any academic who takes offence at my remarks, I dare say, just might take offense because he or she finds more identity in being an academic than in being a churchman.

Leeman goes on to offer the following word of advice to Christian academics:

If you are an academic, may I propose, do not conceive of your students, colleagues, journal editors, and publishers any differently than you conceive of the members of your church. All of them are sheep who are threatened with temptation and deception on a minute-by-minute basis. Remember that you, too, are a sheep, and that you need the accountability and restraints of your church and its elders in your academic work, even if you are smarter than all of them.

Read the whole thing.

There is a great deal here to think about and chew on.  Let me just note that I would agree with Leeman’s broad point.  Christian educators are responsible to God.  They are driven by the teaching of the Bible, and as Christians, they are not fundamentally called to innovate as a duty, but to pass on the faith.  This involves creative and fresh thinking as it naturally arises, yes, but fundamentally Christian academics are called with all leaders of the church to be faithful to Scripture and its teaching.

On a practical level, I would suggest that it is essential that academics be accountable to a university or seminary statement of faith, to a broader denominational statement of faith or confession (if their institution is part of a bigger movement), and to their local church.  Currently, in some settings, none of these guidelines are followed.  Teachers say what they like and we all hope for the best.

It is optimal to have local church elders aware of what teachers stand for in the classroom.  They need not and should not critique every sentence, every word of instruction, but they should be aware, I think, of what academics are standing for in their teaching and writing and they should hold them to the church’s confession of faith.  In addition, the school itself should have a confession that guides and bounds the teaching of professors.  Beyond this, denominational officials should possess awareness of what instructors are saying and should also hold professors accountable.

This kind of threefold accountability, practiced with care, would greatly help our present situation.  From my limited vantage point, many contexts today offer precious little accountability for Christian teachers.

Finally, I might say that in my opinion, many of us evangelicals place far too much emphasis on creativity, flexibility, and charity.  We need to incorporate these things in our scholarship as the Bible allows, but we need to remember that the Bible is given for things like “correcting” and “rebuking,” according to 2 Timothy 3:16.  Professors are not necessarily pastors, but they are in a Christian context leaders, and thus they are responsible to help the church fulfill its broader mission in whatever role they play.

The New Testament has a very strong emphasis on correcting which, to be frank, is not in vogue in modern thought.  But this is an essential work of Christian leaders, be they pastors, professors, or organizational heads: “guarding the deposit” (1 Timothy 6:20).  We can be fresh thinkers, yes, but we fundamentally need to guard the people of God from error, which the Bible presents as everywhere in this fallen world.  We need not be fearful, but we must be careful.

This is a much bigger conversation, and I love the academy and its ability to stimulate fresh thought and insight, but I do think that the pendulum has swung too far, and we need a greater emphasis in our day on accountability, for one, and on the essential tasks of staying faithful to the teaching of God’s holy Word.

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Tim Keller: Godly Character Creates Good Leadership and Rich Sermons

timkellernycFollowing a link from Trevin Wax, I found a very recent blog from Tim Keller that included this helpful comment from the NYC pastor on sermon preparation. By the way, does anyone else out there wish Keller would write much more than he does?  His stuff is always so rich but short.

Here’s the quotation, which highlights the close connection of leadership and sermonizing (I’ve put the key comment in bold):

I pastor a church with a large staff and so I give 15+ hours a week to preparing the sermon. I would not advise younger ministers to spend so much time, however. When I was a pastor without a staff I put in 6-8 hours on a sermon. If you put in too much time in your study on your sermon you put in too little time being out with people as a shepherd and a leader. Ironically, this will make you a poorer preacher.

It is only through doing people-work that you become the preacher you need to be–someone who knows sin, how the heart works, what people’s struggles are, and so on. Pastoral care and leadership (along with private prayer) are to a great degree sermon preparation. More accurately, it is preparing the preacher, not just the sermon. Through pastoral care and leadership you grow from being a Bible commentator into a flesh and blood preacher.

There is much to chew on even in this little slice of commentary.  Those of us who would like to preach for the upbuilding of the church and the salvation of the lost will do well to remember the tie between godly character (which creates, ideally, strong leadership) and rich preaching.  Preaching is a mystical thing.  It’s an art, not a science.  It involves the full personality and character of the preacher.

There’s much we can learn to improve our preaching, but ultimately, strong preachers are godly men.

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Shooting Sacred Evangelical Cows: Credential-Envy

After a little break, I thought that I would fire up the SSEC series once more.  We’ve tackled “incarnational ministry,” “engaging culture,” boutique coffee-drinking, and maybe something else.  I can’t remember. Anyway, here’s another subject that strikes me as a sacred evangelical cow: our degrees.  Before you read on, however, I will require you to sign a mental disclosure statement that indicates that you understand that this post is written in a tongue-in-cheek style and is meant in good edifying fun.

Way back in time, in the early twentieth century, evangelicals (if we can call them that) did not believe strongly in degrees, as Joel Carpenter’s Revive Us Again shows in abundance.  Many Christians, including some in the fundamentalist tradition, did not believe it necessary to earn them.  In the mid-twentieth century, with the rise of neo-evangelicalism and pedigreed leaders like Harold J. Ockenga, many evangelicals switched tracks.  Instead of distancing themselves from worldly credentials, they embraced them in order to shore up their cultural footing and gain social credibility.

In our days, it’s common for evangelicals to earn all kinds of degrees.  If we once possessed too few credentials, making it easy for people to avoid taking us seriously, perhaps the pendulum has swung back too far the other way, such that we take ourselves too seriously.  How many times have you seen an evangelical identify himself as “Dr. John Smith, PhD,” a title that immediately paints the possessor in a slightly insecure light?  This is all too common among evangelicals.  To paraphrase the immortal Bruce Dickinson (Google it with “gold-plated diapers”–no, I’m not making this up), we conservative Christians have a “fever for degrees.”

This extends beyond just one degree or title.  I see people’s business cards identify them as “John Mottleby, MDiv” somewhat regularly.  Now, I’m all for academic training.  I believe in it.  I think it’s useful, and I think that in many cases (especially colleges and seminaries) there is a great deal to be said for jumping through the hoops necessary to win accreditation.  I differ with some when I say that I think, in my limited judgment and experience, that it is good for pastors (for example) to get a recognized degree (and maybe two if they sense the Lord leading them to do so).

But I am also aware that the whole thing can easily be overblown and taken way too seriously.  We can take far too much pride in our degrees and we can think that they automatically bestow credibility or “expert” status upon us.  Many of the smartest people I know, and a good chunk of the fine preachers and teachers  I have benefited from, have had few degrees and credentials.  They were simply deep thinkers and smart doers who were, among other things, freed from the insecurity that drives some of us to great degree-earning–and degree-displaying–heights.

I recall a conversation with a Christian friend studying in a secular context some years back that is instructive on this point.  He noted that at his elite institution, few professors listed their degrees.  They had little to prove and knew that academic distinction was a matter of course for their profession.  They thus took their diplomas less seriously than many evangelicals do.  Where scholars and leaders of other realms pay their past achievements little mind (in some instances), some of us evangelicals double-list them on our CV, insist on being referred to as “Dr. John” in any and all situations, and detail an alphabet soup of degrees–D. D., D. Litt., Psy. D., Ph. D., Y. M. C. A., and W. C. A. Y. S. D. (Who Cares About Your Stupid Degree).

So what’s the deal?  Should we Christians stop earning degrees?  No.  At least I don’t think so.  Should we stop mentioning our degrees?  No.  I just think that we might need a little bit of balance.  Scholars, for example, very often need degrees, and sometimes lots of them.  That’s well and good.  Pastors also will in many cases benefit from earning degrees that feature stimulating content.  So that’s well and good, too.

But we may find it helpful to find a little more security in the gospel and who God has made us than in our credentials, whatever they may be.  Whether a PhD or a folk credential, we are often tempted in this life to find our security and our enfranchisement in certain experiences or attainments.  These things may well play into who we are and what we do, but they should not take precedence over our status as children of the living God.

This is not to say that if John Smith identifies himself as “Dr. John Smith, PhD” that he’s lost all sight of his Christian citizenship.  But he may be struggling with this temptation, as we all do in many different ways.  Let’s collectively take a deep breath about our degrees, giving thanks to God for how He has allowed the American evangelical movement to intellectually bolster itself while simultaneously praying for ourselves and our leaders that we would not find our confidence or legitimation in any earthly thing, but only in the gospel of Jesus Christ.


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The Link 10.17.09: John Wooden, I Am Second, and eastmountainsouth

wooden1. John Wooden is still dropping quotables.  How many of us will be doing that at age 99? (Image: LakersTopBuzz)

2. Came across this evangelistic website somewhere, and found it interesting: I Am Second.  Check it out.  Here’s the blog.  And here’s a story about it.  A creative way to witness, seems like.

3. The Kevin Durant conundrum: such good stats, yet a bad plus/minus rating (which means, basically, that his team loses more points than they gain when he’s on the court).  What was that in the back?  Did you say…defense?

4. Mark Driscoll is now writing for the Washington Post’s “On Faith” deal.  Cool.

5. Southern Seminary theologian-in-training Dave Schrock searches out what it means for every church member to be a “biblical theologian,” working off of Thabiti Anyabwile’s material.  Great stuff.

6. Quoting Jason Kovacs, Z lists some piercing statistics related to orphans.

7. Have you ever heard of eastmountainsouth?  To put this simply, they make beautiful music.  If windswept prairies and forgotten towns could play instruments and record them in Dreamworks labs, this is what they would sound like.  Don’t get hung up on the recording date–buy this album.

–Have a blessed weekend, all.


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