Archive | September, 2007

A Press Release to Evangelicalism

September 27, 2007

Frisco, Texas: When I started The Theology Program in 2001, I had no idea what God was going to do. We now have over 50,000 registered online and on-campus students in 110 countries. We are in hundreds of churches and soon to begin in hundreds more.

When The Theology Program grew into Reclaiming the Mind Ministries in 2006, I had no idea that the response would be so great. Our website receives over 100,000 hits daily. We are now looking to expand our ministry in ways in which we never dreamed. It blows my mind how many have endorsed and committed themselves to this ministry.

When the Parchment and Pen blog began over six months ago, (most of all) I had no idea that I would be writing so often! ;) I really had no idea what an impact a simple blog could make.

In all the ministries of RMM, I have never sought to confirm prejudices, but to engage the issues as honestly as I could. This takes risk and trust.

The risk involved comes from a personal desire to see people more committed to a persuasion about the essentials of the Christian faith. While it is tempting to skew the evidence, make overstatements, and create straw-men, we have worked under the assumption that we must have a faith that is intellectually honest in all areas. In this, there is the real risk that people may not look like us in the end. They may find alternative positions more persuasive.

The trust must follow the risk. I think that God is a pretty big God. I trust that He is not alarmed with our questions or doubts. In fact, I think he is pleased with them. For in them we show an honest struggle for truth. If we follow the God of all eternity, then we have no need to stick our head in the sand on any issue. We can trust Him to guide us to the truth.

I am glad to say that, from everything I have seen, the risk has done nothing but disarm people and persuade them further in the truths of Christianity. They are disarmed because they cannot approach us with the suspicion so common in our postmodern world.

My greatest desire is for people to know that Christianity is true, not just a blind hope. So many people approach their faith with the hope that in the end the roll of the dice will have been favorable to them. Other faiths have only this choice available to them, but not Christianity. I desire for people’s faith to be real, defensible, and able to stand through the trials that so often turn people away from the faith or into a state of perpetual disillusionment. The seed must go deep. Theological discipleship must happen if the root is to be established.

This is not meant to be a ministry promotion or a plea for ministry funds (although funds are always needed!). It is simply meant to share encouragement with those of you out there who have, like myself, been lamenting the deteriorating condition of the mind within the Evangelical Church. Things really are changing. People are not as ready to turn away from truth as we often think. We just have to provide the avenue and the methodology that regains their trust.

I want to say thank you to all who are involved in and supporting this ministry in so many ways. It encourages me (and all the RMM staff), confirming that we are following God’s direction.

Folks, I think Aslan really is on the move.

Getting to know each other

Since we have so many people who not only frequent this blog, but also post, I thought it would be good for us to take an oppertunity to get familiar with each other. I know that these tests are not always acurate, but I did find this particular one helpful. It seems to ask the right questions. Anyway, here is my profile. Click on this link, take the test, get the code and then post yours in a response below so that we can see yours! It is really easy.

Notice, I am an “Orignator, Intellectual.” Oh yeah. I am telling my wife.

Click to view my Personality Profile page

The Reason Why the “Problem of Evil” is Such a Problem Today

Recently, I was watching the “local” news and was overwhelmed by the burdens of bad news that I had to take on within just a few moments. There was a shooting and someone died. There was a brutal stabbing of a realtor while she was showing a house. The details were gruesome; she was stabbed over seventy times. There was a kidnapping of a young girl with no significant leads. My heart sunk as I looked into the faces of the parents as they plead with the kidnappers to return their little girl. There was a car crash where a young teen died as he was racing one of his schoolmates. Then there were the updates on unresolved crimes and tragedies of the past few weeks that were reviewed.  I turned to Fox News and it does not get any better. The burdens continue to mount. A shooting that took place in Florida just off the highway with no leads. There was the continuing coverage of a tragic shooting where several young girls were shot by a disturbed father who then shot himself. (I have two girls who are in school. What do I do?). As well, news of Iraq war is not good. Many are still dying. Many parents would be getting the news that their sons had died. 

All the news was bad news. Not only this, but it was bad news about people I did not know and would likely never meet. At my local church (where I do know the people), there was more bad news. Not too long ago a twelve year old girl hung herself—twelve years old. Her parents are heavily involved in our church. We also had four other funerals within a two week period. Then, in my Sunday school class, there were more needs. A prayer request about a mother who had an aneurysm, a father who had cancer, and a baby who was in danger of being born prematurely. My own family has troubles of its own that we add to the list. My mother is not recovering from her stroke. My wife’s uncle is near death. Many in my family are very depressed from the heaviness of my mother’s situation and lingering pain of my sister’s death. Not to mention my friends who need salvation, relocation decisions, and various other issue.

With this much evil, what is one to do?

Paul tells us to “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). The “law of Christ” in this context seems to be to love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:39). How am I to bear all of these burdens? Are all these people my neighbors? There is that question again—”who is my neighbor?” To be a neighbor, do I bear all of these burdens? How? It is too overwhelming. Once I attempt to bear them all, they in turn become less significant and I become apathetic. I place my hands in my head and simply say “maranatha–come Lord Jesus.”

News can be overwhelming. Evil reports are discouraging, depressing, and disillusioning. I believe that in our world today we are blessed with valuable technological advancements in communication that would have seemed nothing short of supernatural until one hundred years ago. In the day of Christ, to think of those in Jerusalem being able to have on demand and immediate access to the happenings of people on the other side of the Roman Empire would have been unheard of. In order for one in Jerusalem to find out what was happening in Rome they would have to wait weeks or months to get the information. And even then, the information may not have ever reached your ears had you not been in the “need to know” audience. Certainly, people would have heard if Rome would have been sacked, if there was a severe famine in a certain part of the world, or if the Emperor had died or been replaced, but you would not have heard any non-significant information that did not pertain to you. You would not have heard about kidnapping of the daughter of the everyday Roman citizen, a stolen chariot, or a robbery-murder that took place on the Ephesian Way. This kind of information, if it did reach your ears, would have been irrelevant and, at most, part of a minor rumor mill that died out very quickly. At this time, a person would limit the “headline” news to that which happened in their own neighborhood. Worries and anxieties would be limited to the here and now. For the most part, worries and anxieties would have come from the possibility of future happenings to you, your family, or your immediate community. Your daily news would have come from your community within a certain vicinity. Within this limited community (your family, neighbors, synagogue/church, your work place), you would have had a balance of good and bad news. For the most part, this news would not have been too overwhelming or disillusioning. If there was someone who had a daughter who died of suicide, it was probably the first time you had been exposed to such an occurrence and it would seem very tragic. If you were a good neighbor who was desirous to bear the burdens of the other, you would have been with the parents that day with your arms around them. The biggest problem you would then have is to worry about the future. What is going to happen tomorrow? What if one of my children does the same thing? What if my child dies of this disease or that ailment? What if I lose my job as so-and-so did? What does the future hold?

It is in this context in the great “sermon on the mount” Christ brings perspective:

Matthew 6:31-34 31 “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ 32 “For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. 

“Each day has enough troubles”? This does not sound too encouraging. I would rather have heard Christ say, “Don’t worry about tomorrow. God is going to take care of you.” Or “Don’t worry about tomorrow; for today has enough joys to keep you occupied.” I don’t really like “Today has enough troubles of its own.” Even worse is the King James translation. “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” The Greek does not get any better. The word used to translate “trouble” is kakia. The Gingrich Greek lexicon defines this word as “badness, faultiness in the sense of depravity, wickedness, and vice.” Most particularly in this context it carries the idea of “trouble or misfortune.” Ouch. I don’t like the word misfortune or depravity. I especially don’t like it connected with the word “today.” In essence, Christ is saying that each day had enough burdens to bear. Within the culture of the day, with the limited news that they had, their troubles were sufficient. According to Christ, a person cannot and, indeed, is not expected to take on any more than they can bear. This includes future evils. “Do not worry about tomorrow.” The theological principle is this: people should not and cannot take upon their shoulders the evils of the future. More broadly, this would teach that people can only take so much burden. If this is the case, while the burdens of the future are major temptation and cause people great worry and stress, so also is the case with the burdens of those outside our community.

We, as individuals, have a responsibility to take on the burdens of those around us. When we begin to take on the burdens, the evil report, of those whom we have never met and will never meet, we become so discouraged that we cannot even take on the burdens of those close to us any longer. We throw our arms in the air and cry “What is the use? What can I really do?” 

Now lets apply this to our current situation of our day. This is the postmodern plight that we find ourselves in today. I believe that it is the primary cause for today being called by many “the age of despair.” We have access to so much information it creates an overload of knowledge concerning the state of affairs that goes beyond our own community and responsibility. We feel as if it is part of our stewardship to pray for, cry for, and give an answer for the evil report of the entire world. We feel as if we are doing something good if we have a good day and are able to do this. But this is not often the case and it will eventually make us useless in bearing any burdens and dealing with the problem of evil at all.

At this point, we can easily become disillusioned by the problem of evil in an unnatural and imbalanced way.

Principles

  • I am not saying that everyone should quit watching the news, but be careful. If it causes you to worry, become disillusioned, and go into despair, maybe you should consider slowing down or stopping. Just be careful what and how much you take in, it can alter your worldview.
  • Your primary stewardship is with your immediate community which is made up of those who you actually know and have a relationship with. Always seek to bear their burdens.
  • This does not mean that we don’t care or do what we can for those on the other side of the world. Paul went from church to church seeking help and relief for others. I think we have a responsibility for those who live in impoverished nations and catastrophe stricken states. We need to do what we can to help relieve their suffering and pain. But, at the same time, we need to keep focus on the stewardship that God has given us in our immediate context. There is only so much you can do.
  • Keep in mind that today does not have more bad news or evil report than any other day in the history of the world, we just now have more access to this bad news. Don’t lose perspective.
  • For every evil report, there are countless reports of heroism, joy, success, comfort, and redemption that are taking place all over the world. The “breaking news stories” that the local and national news deems worthy of reporting are not balanced (and I don’t know how we can expect them to be–so don’t use this blog to go picket CNN!). They won’t tell of the countless children who did not get kidnapped and the billions of people who survived the car crashes. They most certainly are not going to tell of the redemption of countless people who have accepted the truth of the Gospel or who found the way out of depression through the loving gracious arms of others. There is neither a news station who has access to the heavenly realm where the report will be made that God is still on the throne and has a plan for everything that happens. They are not going to tell us of the angels rejoicing when a sinner repents. Don’t let the news dictate your understanding of the big picture–no one has access to it outside of Scripture.
  • How long is your prayer list? Many times we feel that we have to pray for every problem that we hear about. When this happens, the result will be a mix of insincerity and apathy like I described concerning my friend above. Because of this, we will stop praying so much for others and as a result be weighed down with undo guilt. I am not saying to stop praying for others as God leads, but to keep your prayer list responsible and realistic. 

Let us read the words of Christ once more:

Matthew 6:31-34 31 “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ 32 “For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

I could be wrong, but I believe that the reason why the “problem of evil” is more significant today than it has been in the past is because you and I have information overload concerning the evils of the world.

Do Roger Olson and I Worship the Same God?


You may be surprised to know that my series of blogs this week was inspired by Roger Olson, a man I respect very deeply. Although I don’t agree with him on many theological issues concerning salvation and theology proper, his scholarship, winsome writing style, and clarity about the importance of understanding theology irenically and historically have deeply impacted my thought and general approach to theological issues. Olson is a professor of theology at Truitt Theological Seminary. I use his textbook Mosaic of Christian Belief in The Theology Program. We had him as a guest on Converse with Scholars just a few months ago to discuss his book on Arminian theology. The primary reason why I appreciate Olson is because he often represents balance and calmness in theological issues. If you are in my profession, these traits are hard to find.

This is why I was surprised to read his response to John Piper about Minnesota bridge collapse. I did not find the Olson that I have come to know and love. Their was hardly an irenic word on the page. It was as if he had never heard of Calvinism’s belief in the sovereignty of God. His comments were defensive and very emotionally charged. Granted, he is an Arminian who does not agree with the tendencies in Calvinism to see God as one who is in charge of all things, even the most atrocious events of evil. This is understandable. While I disagree with Olson on this issue, it is not this disagreement that encouraged me to write the “Do ____ _____ and I have the Same God?” series. It was Olson’s implication that the God of Calvinism (my God) and the God of Arminianism (his God) might be different. Continue Reading →

Historical Renewal Friday: Gilbert Tennent

 Provided by
 
D.A. LaGue


In 1741, a Colonial minister confronted the established clergy with this piercing question; ‘Do you a minister of Christ; know Christ in your own heart?’ He would go on to infuse new life into the pulpits of colonial America, challenging ministers to move from dead orthodoxy to living reality.

Gilbert Tennent was born on February 5th, 1703, in Northern Ireland. Gilbert’s father, William Tennent, came to the colonies in 1718 and gained recognition as a gifted Presbyterian pastor and teacher. Concerned about the growing number of Presbyterians and the lack of competent pastors, William Tennent established a small school for training ministers in a log cabin on the farm he owned in Bucks County. During the following decade, many Presbyterian ministers were educated in this ‘Log College,’ which became the forerunner of Princeton Seminary. Continue Reading →

Do Clark Pinnock and I Worship the Same God?


I am sure that most of you are not quite as familiar with Clark Pinnock as you are with Joel Osteen. Seeing as how the conversation concerning the possible distinction between Osteen’s God and my God was quite popular and produced some good reflection, I thought that I would take it to the next level and ask the same question about Clark Pinnock. Do Clark Pinnock and I worship the same God?

Clark Pinnock is an advocate of what has popularly become known as “Open Theism” (sometimes “Neotheism” or “free-will theism”). Open theism is a theological system which surfaced within evangelicalism in the mid-nineties. Essentially, it reinterprets the nature of God. Where in Classical Theism God is eternal and unchanging, in Open Theism God is bound by time and can change. Being timebound limits His knowledge according to Open Theists. Yes, God remains omniscient (all-knowing), but only in the sense that He knows only that which can be known. The future cannot be known, therefore God does not know the future. Hense the future is “open” to God. It is not settled. Continue Reading →

Do Joel Osteen and I Worship the Same God?


What a presumptuous question, right? The presumption is in the fact that I would even pose such a question. The question itself presumes that I might answer in the negative. What is wrong with you Michael? Why take off your irenic t-shirt with the quote from Rodney King on the back? Why do you now shod the polemic boots of battle? What would possess you to ask such a question?

Calm down. It is just a question. But your are right. The presumption behind the question does evidence my uncertainty as to its answer. I was listening to Osteen last night. He was very pleasant and had a lot of nice things to say. For the most part, except for his interjections of the word “God” here and there, his speech was a typical motivational speech. He did not use the Bible, but he attempted to give the impression that he was. He held it in his hand the entire time. Continue Reading →

What if we found the original New Testament but did not know it? (Part 2)


These four criteria reveal that absolutely no original New Testament manuscripts have been discovered. So, let’s do a little speculating. What if some manuscripts were found that did fit all of these criteria? Should we regard them as authentic, as the long-lost originals of the books of the New Testament? Not necessarily. If such a manuscript were discovered ”a single book, written on a scroll, paleographically dated to the first century, with a change in handwriting toward the end of the book" it could possibly be a very early copy of a New Testament book. The strongest argument for authenticity would be the change in handwriting, yet even here some scribe could emulate the apostle’s style out of respect or to show how carefully the original was copied. I would probably want to see two or perhaps even three or four other evidences of authenticity.

First, the manuscript would almost surely have to be written on papyrus rather than on parchment. Although parchment manuscripts existed prior to the New Testament, they didn’t become the standard until the third or fourth century AD. All second-century New Testament manuscripts are on papyrus, for example, as are most third- and fourth-century manuscripts.

Second, I might expect to see scribal mistakes in the manuscript, but also see corrections. This would especially be more likely in the longer letters. We know of no New Testament manuscripts of any real length that have no mistakes in them. If the original of Romans were discovered, for example, I would expect to see some letter crossed out in Rom 5.1 and another put in its place. I am hoping that the crossed out letter would be an omega and the one written in its place an omicron, but that story’s for another day. I might expect to see a correction in 1 Thess 2.7 and 1 Cor 14.34-35, too. Again, the details of these points are for another time. But one thing I should mention here: if the original documents were inerrant, this does not mean that they weren’t messy! Paul could have easily corrected his secretary’s work here and there before the letter was dispatched. In the places mentioned above, I expect that it exactly what happened.

Third, what I might expect is the lack of nomina sacra. That is, special contractions of various "sacred" names that are found universally in the New Testament manuscripts. Names such as God, Jesus, Christ, Father, mother, David, son, man, Spirit, etc. are usually contracted with a horizontal bar over the top in NT manuscripts. The earliest manuscripts that have these words contract them. Several theories have been presented as to why the early Christians used nomina sacra, but no theory has won a consensus among scholars. However, one thing seems certain: from a very early period, Christian scribes throughout the Roman empire used them. Since this is the case, it presupposes that the early manuscripts produced by these scribes had a common ancestoror, at least, a common understanding among the scribes. We don’t have a word about the nomina sacra in the ancient Christian literature that would tell us when or why they were used. But since the manuscripts from geographically widespread regions and from early dates have them, some sort of agreement among scribes must have been reached, probably as early as the beginning of the second century. This raises a question: Who invented the nomina sacra and when did he do so? One distinct possibility seems to be that one of the original authors of the New Testament began using them, and the scribes picked up on this and spread the habit across the board. For this reason, we would not necessarily say that an original manuscript would be without the nomina sacra; on the other hand, if a manuscript lacked them this would not necessarily argue for it being an original , although it would argue for it being very, very early.

Fourth, what I might expect to see is cursive script. Cursive handwriting is a running hand, with the letters connected, rather than a block hand. In other words, cursive is different from printing by hand. In the ancient Greek world, the difference is also maintained. However, for New Testament manuscripts, the earliest cursive or minuscule manuscript known to exist is from the ninth century. All of the manuscripts from the first eight centuries are in uncials or majuscules or capital letters. So, why would I almost expect to see the original as a cursive manuscript? Because the cursive script was not invented in the ninth century, but had existed long before the original New Testament was written. Let me explain.

The kind of script used then is somewhat analogous to today. When you fill out that nasty little form for the government every April, you are asked to "PLEASE PRINT." The reason is that the IRS wants your handwriting to be crystal clear. You comply because, well, they’re the IRS. But if you write a note to your spouse, do you print? Probably not. Your spouse can understand your handwriting. Or when a doctor fills out a prescription, can anyone read the handwriting? Yet that same physician will print legibly for the IRS. What I’m saying is that in different contexts, the very same person may use different styles of handwriting, cursive or printing. Often it has to do with a matter of "rank." The doctor is acting authoritatively in his capacity as a physician when he writes the prescription. If you are writing to an employee, you might be less careful than if you were writing to an employer. Of course, nowadays the sloppiness factor is more related to spelling in an email than to handwriting of any sort! But the principle is the same. And it works for ancient papyri, too. Many letters from a citizen to the government used uncial script. But those written by superiors or relatives frequently used cursive. I do not know how frequent either hand is, but I have at least seen this sort of pattern on numerous occasions.

That brings us back to the New Testament. What sort of books would have been originally written in capital letters and what sort would have been written in cursive? I’ll let you exercise your own imagination on that front. A second question is, Why are all the New Testament manuscripts from the first eight centuries written in uncial script rather than cursive?