Archive | December, 2011

Book Review: The Harry Potter Bible Study

(Lisa Robinson)

I’m sure that the title alone has sparked some questions, raised eyebrows or maybe even some scathing criticism.  But before you judge a book by its cover, please read what I think is a fascinating way that Jared Moore has constructed a guide  in which Christians can learn about God and His world through an intentional interaction with pop culture and specifically it’s media products.   His goal is simple;

My goal is for readers to gain enough understanding of how to exercise a Christian view of the world in their daily lives…to teach Christians how to participate in media unto the Glory of God.  In order to enjoy God through media, Christians must submit to God’s revealed Word in light of Christ’s finished work and take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).  In other words, I hope to show Christians how to be on their knees in their cultures worshipping God through recognizing His fingerprints in the media produced by God’s fallen image bearers. (pg 9)

With this goal in mind, I think the title can be a bit misleading since it suggests that we understand scripture by watching Harry Potter movies.  Rather, the goal of Moore’s exercise is to engage Christians in a deeper understanding of how pop culture reflects general revelation and how cultural products speak to God’s invisible attributes and eternal power, which he has made evident (Romans 1:19-20).   It makes sense that image bearers would reflect themes of redemption and hope, even though truth within them is suppressed, as I wrote about here as well.   It is no different with the Harry Potter series or with any other cultural products that contain both elements of truth and lies.    When we sift media through the lens of special revelation and God’s redemptive plan for his creation, we can take even something as unlikely as Harry Potter movies to experience how much God has interacted in the world He created.

Moore aims to  participate in media as an act of worship.  He proposes utilizing this study to not engage Christians in critical evaluation of media, but also to use it as a tool for outreach that will ultimately shine light on the gospel.  And why not, given the popularity of the Harry Potter series?   It is here that I think he makes a very compelling case for parents to teach kids how to navigate through the world.  he states, “Parents may profess their children are sinners, but they seek to protect them from a sinful world as if the world is the problem.  The problem is not outside influences but is instead their inside influences.” (pp 6-7).  By utilizing media to teach kids 1) who they are as sinners; 2) their need for Christ and 3) how to navigate media, Moore illustrates that media can and should be used for this training in how to think Christianly, not just for kids but for all Christians. Continue Reading →

My Meeting with Thomas Oden

I blame it on my “Friday Nights” I have with my kids. A “Friday Night” only comes every so often. The kids (Katelynn 12, Kylee 11, Will 8, Zach 4) get to stay up as late as they want, eat as much candy as they want, and drink as much coffee as they want and dad will stay up with them and play video games all night long. They live for “Friday Nights.” This time, we had a “Friday Night” on a Tuesday night, since daddy was kinda on vacation. The kids are big talkers, but normally don’t last long. Maybe 2am and they are all crashed on the couch. However, the two boys made it all night this time. Zach crashed on the couch at 4:30am. Will made it until 5:30am! Grrrr. I had to fulfill my promise so I ended up getting to bed around 6am. I got up with only a few hours of sleep. I was delirious. I was not thinking straight. This is my excuse for what follows here.

Fast forward to 11am.

I pulled up to the house. I knew exactly where it was. I did not even need a map. It was about two miles away from where my parents used to live. The house was festooned with Christmas decor. It was a modest home near a pond. My parking job was sloppy, partly due to the fact that I was undecided as to whether I was staying, and partly because I had to park in a cul-de-sac. The same thought went through my mind that had gone through it for the last twelve hours: He is going to think you are a nut. You cannot just walk up to someone’s house that you don’t know and expect to talk to them. Are you a stalker? However, I countered this with a classic: Michael, you are probably the only one crazy enough to do something like this, so it will work.

I saw no distinctive marks that would make me believe this was his house. Nothing on the mail box (and I certainly was not going to check the mail – though I did think about it for a second). No door mat that said, “Welcome to the Odens’ Home.” I still was not even sure if this was his home. All I had was an internet search, done the night before, which led me here. The conclusions of Google are not something to be relied upon, so I was ready to apologize for knocking on the wrong door.

You see: a few days ago someone came to the Credo House in Edmond, Oklahoma (where I work), and said something astonishing: “Did you know Thomas Oden lives in Oklahoma City now?” Now, for those of you who know me, you know that this is something that I, if anyone, should  have known. “No he doesn’t!” I responded, with some degree of theological authority mixed with some degree of “what-if?” excitement. “Yeah, he does,” came the response. I thought about countering with, “Yeah, right. Then why hasn’t he been here?” – as if that would have sealed the deal regarding this person’s obvious lack of knowledge. You must understand: Thomas Oden is a heavyweight in my field. He is a theologian of theologians. His stature is such that one would think he was a dead theologian. A vapor? A myth? A dark knight? Someone who would not really exist but for all the theology books I have at Credo which have his name printed on them. Sure, he is the greatest living Arminian theologian. Sure, he is the creator of “paleo-orthodoxy.” Sure, he is the general editor of the Ancient Christian Commentary Series (ACC) that is yet to be completed. Sure, I am a Calvinist. Sure, I believe in “progressive orthodoxy.” Sure, I cancelled my subscription to the ACC. But I still admire and respect this man quite a bit. He is a living hero. Why wouldn’t he have come by the Credo House? Surely he has heard of it! After all, he is trying to get Protestants to find greater roots in the early church fathers. He is the living Protestant father of the Patristics. And the Credo House has the Cappadocian bar which enshrines the early Eastern Fathers. The Credo House is his type of place. Surely he does not live in Oklahoma City. “But wait,” I thought. “Maybe he has been here and I did not know it?”

That Tuesday night I decided to do some research. Sure enough, there were enough sources on the internet that said he retired from Drew University and moved back home to Oklahoma! Try as I might, I could not find an email or a phone number. I sent an email to the only address I found, which was returned the moment I sent it with the dreaded “undeliverable message” tag in the subject line. The only address I found connected to Thomas Oden and Oklahoma was a business address that led me to this house just down the street from my parents’ old house.

There I was. As giddy as the first day I went to “Discover Dallas” at Dallas Theological Seminary in ’95 (or was it ’94?) and saw Chuck Swindoll. Chuck came to the table I was sitting at with a friend and said, “These guys look kinda artsy.” My friend and I have fought since that day about who he was calling “artsy.” Due to its possible association with being feminine, I have continually insisted it was him and not me! Anyway, I rang the doorbell. A lady answered within about four seconds, which did not give me the time to consider the “well-I-tried” excuse.

“Can I help you?”

“Yeah, is this Thomas Oden’s house?” Continue Reading →

Credo House Fundraising Blog

Blog readers: I am fully in fundraising mode! Forgive me for using the blog to get the word out about our needs as a ministry, but it does take some begging to do what we do at the Credo House. Thankfully, I don’t have to do this as much as I used to! But the end of the year is very important to our financing. Below is my continued plea. If you are a regular blog reader and believe in what we are doing, would you consider becoming a regular contributor to our cause?

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Dear Credo House Ministries Friends and Partners,

Yes, our 2011 end-of-year fundraising campaign continues. We are close to $20,000 of the $100,000 we are praying for! Thank you all so much for your support. But we need more.

My goal in this email is to continue to persuade you to partner with us in a very big way. We have talked about what we have done over the last year. We have talked about the dreams of future Credo Houses in cities all over America (with Dallas as a real possibility for the next Credo plant). Now, I want to let a few people tell you in their own words what Credo House Ministries means to them.

First, let me introduce you to Jan (not her real name). Due to life’s difficulties, she began to seriously question her faith. She was frantically searching for somewhere to turn, for someone who would listen to her. She felt very alone. Then she found hope through our ministry:

“What a comfort your blog is to me. I have been reading and reading and reading the archives. The doubts, I’m sure, will not ever fully retreat, but now I have someone who has come alongside me and provided some much-needed support and comfort. Thank you for your ministry.”

Listen to the testimony of Harmen:

“Hi, a few months ago I started feeling the urge to grow in my faith. I found your online videos for the Theology program. I have been going through your videos while following your podcast for the last two months. I am writing to thank you for what you do. . . . I am open to the questions I used to be afraid to ask. I can now discuss difficult topics with other people and I am growing in Christ every day. I have found my faith to have substance, and my foundation for growth, the soil of my heart is good. I have had a strong desire to grow since I began this new chapter of my life, and I hope God will use this experience to open doors for me in His ministry. I hope that I one day things will work out for me to go to seminary, and even have the chance to meet you. Sir you have my respect, God Bless!”

Here is another from a guy in Dallas:

“I went through the entire Theology Program videos in about 1 month. I was addicted to it! It has changed my whole outlook on theology. It has made theology fun and exciting for me. I now read all your blogs and listen to Theology Unplugged. I hope some day I can come to OK and check out the Credo House. You are an inspiration to me. The way you struggle and wrestle with the issues has influenced me greatly and I’m going through TTP a second time with several friends now here in Amman and it is really blessing us. Thank you so much for creating TTP and RTMM.”

Finally, let me introduce you to an almost atheist:

“I want you to know how much your web ministry has meant to me. It literally saved me from a lifetime of agnostic indifference, and even atheism. Your Theology course opened my eyes to the reality of what Christianity is, and dispelled the myth that “tabloid theology” force-fed me my whole life. In turn, my enthusiasm influenced my brother, and he is also now an active member of our [apologetics organization]. We even have purchased Bible Bootcamp for our group. It’s obvious to me that your ministry is a major part of God’s plan to initiate a new renaissance in Christian thinking, especially in light of the more sophisticated challenges that lay ahead of us in this new age.”

It has been ten years since I started the first theology course at 9am on a Saturday morning with twelve singles. Here we are, ten years later ,with the exact same goal and mission. Those of you who know me well know that this is what I live for. To see people believing more accurately and more deeply today than they did yesterday is not just a catchy mission statement; it is my continual prayer. I don’t think you will find many visions as big as ours. May the Lord be glorified and Christ be magnified.

We’re excited that nearly $20,000 of our $100,000 year-end goal has already been given. Thank you! Would you help us to continue to be a unique equipping ministry? Would you help us plant Credo Houses? Would you make an end-of-year donation today? Please click here to make a donation.

C Michael Patton
President and Founder, Credo House Ministries

A Short Defense of Christianity (to myself)

I see myself as an evangelical (lower case) Christian (uppercase) apologist. I think every Christian is an apologist to some degree. No, not a “professional apologist” like Rob Bowman, William Lane Craig, or Mike Licona, but we all have formulated some degree of warrant or justification for our faith. Just like everyone is a theologian, every one is also an apologist. But this does not mean that we are good apologists!

Normally apologetics is a theological discipline which seeks to defend the faith to those who are outside our belief system. However, my fascination with apologetics is very personal. It starts with me and often ends with me. What do I mean? I suppose I mean that I engage in apologetics very selfishly. I seek to defend the faith to myself. I am continually wrestling with issues of faith and doubt that are spinning webs in my mind. Therefore, whenever I write about a topic that is docked in apologetics bay, it is normally a subject that I am either currently wrestling with or have wrestled with in the past. I often envy those who just believe. Sometimes I wish that I could flip a switch and turn the critical part of my brain off. It would allow me to get more sleep, that is for sure!

Don’t get me wrong. Most of the big issues (what Paul Copan just called the “main things”) are pretty well settled in my thinking. I have the battle scars to prove it. However, there are a lot of things that I am not settled on…secondary issues, mainly. For those things I have yet to wrestle with in a significant way, I usually put a place holder sign on the door entitled “I will get to you later” or “what he believes.” I have a few people in my life whom I respect and trust so deeply that their view of an issue is enough for me. In such cases I am content with “referred belief.” Why? Because I will never be able to become an expert in everything. As a matter of fact, there will be very few things that I will ever be able to speak about with much personal authority. And there is just enough postmodern blood in me to realize that the human aspiration for exhaustive and authoritative knowledge on any one thing is simply self-deception. None of us are really “experts” on much. None of us are that smart. We never will be. I don’t care how many PhDs someone has, how many articles they have writen, or what school they teach at, the human capacity to truly understand what we are talking about is not anything to write home about. We are finite. However, this does not mean we throw in the intellectual towel. There are things about which we can have a great degree of assurance.

My personal apologetics normally takes a few steps that asks some very basic questions. While I believe that these steps can and should benefit everyone, I know that each of us comes to our faith in very nuanced ways. Your reasons for your faith may not parallel my reasons. But that is okay. Here are the big issues that I start with when my faith is stumbling:

1. Does God exist?
2. Has he communicated to us?
3. What has he said?

The personal avenue that I take (from an intellectual standpoint) when it comes to my Christianity breaks this down and looks at four things:

1. The existence of God
2. The reliability of the New Testament
3. The resurrection of Christ
4. The deity of Christ

1. The Existence of God

A transcendent and personal being is necessary to explain existence as we see it. Something does not come from nothing (ex nihilo nihil fit, or “out of nothing, nothing comes”). Since something exists, a transcendent force is necessary to explain this something. At this point I call God a “force” since we have yet to establish personality. This force must be above and beyond time, space, and matter. If he were not, we would be left with the regression of trying to explain what created the force that created us, ad infinitum. You know, the “If God made everything, what made God?” argument. However, if something exists, there must be an ultimate explanation. Call this force the “unmoved mover,” the “undesigned designer,” or the “uncaused cause.” Whatever one names it, it has to be a se (Latin “of itself”) and transcendent to all the laws of nature so as to avoid the cause and effect relationship. Being outside of time, this force does not need an explanation, but is itself the explanation for all things. For me to deny such a force is completely irrational. A universe such as ours without a creator is as illogical as a four-sided triangle. It just cannot be. Continue Reading →

Creation and Evolution: Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

(Paul Copan)

The former Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca once said: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”  This simple advice has wide-ranging application—whether we’re settling personal disagreements, planning our schedules, or trying to build bridges with non-Christians.

One area of bridge-building has to do with the creation-evolution “debate.”  In my book “That’s Just Your Interpretation” (Baker, 2001), I deal with a variety of philosophical and apologetical questions such as the Trinity, the Incarnation, Eastern monism and reincarnation, foreknowledge and free will, predestination, and the like. One question I address has to do with the Genesis-science issue.  I note that the fundamental question is not how old the earth is (although I do believe it is billions of years old); nor is the issue how long God took to create the universe (if we insist that God’s creating in six 24-hour days as more miraculous than a process of billions of years, this still wouldn’t be as miraculous as God’s creating in six nanoseconds…or just one!).  I also mention in the book that the fundamental issue to discuss with scientifically-minded non-Christians—the main thing—is not “creation vs. evolution”; rather, it is the question of “God vs. no God.”  There are, after all, evangelical theistic evolutionists such as theologian Henri Blocher and the late Christian statesman John Stott, and the theologian J.I. Packer seems quite open to theistic evolution (consider his endorsement of theistic evolutionist Denis Alexander’s book Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?).

Now I have my questions about evolution, but then again, a number of naturalists do too!  For example, the biochemist Franklin Harold writes: “We should reject, as a matter of principle, the substitution of intelligent design for the dialogue of chance and necessity….but we must concede that there are presently no detailed Darwinian accounts of the evolution of any biochemical system, only a variety of wishful speculations.”[1] Hmmm…interesting.  At any rate, if evolution turns out to be true, then the Christian should embrace it as one dedicated to following the truth wherever it leads. This might mean reworking his interpretation of Genesis on the subject—much like Christians have had to rework their interpretation of biblical passages referring to the sun rising and setting, the earth not moving, or the earth resting on foundations.[2]

As I speak to secular audiences on university campuses and elsewhere, I don’t raise the creation vs. evolution issue.  Rather, for the sake of argument, I grant evolution and begin the discussion there. I don’t want people turned off to the gospel because I’ve lost sight of the main thing—the centrality of Jesus; unfortunately, a lot of well-meaning Christians do just that and end up running down this or that rabbit trail and never getting back to the main thing. Evolution is a secondary concern; we Christians should remember this when engaging with unbelievers rather than getting side-tracked.  Keep the main thing the main thing.

I typically highlight the following two points when speaking with naturalists.

1. If humans evolved from a single-celled organism over hundreds of millions of years, this is a remarkable argument from design!  Indeed, a lot of naturalists themselves utilize design language when referring to biological organisms—“machines,” “computer-like,” “appears designed” (a point I’ll address in a future blog posting). As believers, we shouldn’t be surprised to see God’s sustaining and providential hand operating through natural processes—though unfortunately even some believing scientists are reluctant to acknowledge this.  Alvin Plantinga’s recent book on God and science, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism (Oxford), points out that the conflict is between naturalism and science, not God and science, even if this involves guided (not unguided) evolution.  Continue Reading →

The Dark Side of Theology

I have come to have a love-hate relationship with theology. I love it because it can deepen one’s faith, helping people to rejoice more because they understand and know God better (Jer. 9:24). There is nothing more exciting than the look on peoples’ faces when they are being theologically transformed. It is the “wow, this is really true” look. I live for that both in myself and in others.

However, there is a dark side to theology. I see it everyday. I pray that this does not infect my students, but inevitably, there are always one or two who take their theological knowledge and create a recipe of sin and shame. These are people I call “theologically dangerous.”

The theologically dangerous have no grace. They get some right answers and then become the judge, jury and executioner of people. What should have been the path toward humility turns into the path of arrogance. Their self-justification for their graceless belligerence is this: “I am not arrogant, I am discerning.” Correct theology becomes a virtue that swallows up virtues of tenderness, grace, respect, and kindness, offering only a black hole of hopelessness unless people conform. Those who come in contact with them are judged only by their statement of faith. Their fellowship circle is small and friends few. The distinction between essentials and non-essentials does not find a place in their diary. They hunt and hunt for bad theology until they find it. They correct others with pride. When they are not invited to the parties, they interpret this as a mark of persecution for a theology well-played. Continue Reading →

Why is God So Silent in My Life?

Mr. Patton,

I have been a believer for quite sometime – since I was eight. It’s a miracle, however, that I believe at all. I grew up in a Oneness Pentecostal home that was very legalistic and rigid. Since then I have changed a great deal in regard to my beliefs. I very much believe in the Trinity, justification by faith, etc. So you could say I’m pretty much orthodox now. But with all that said, I have been having a bit of trouble with my faith. I’m kinda having a hard time believing in God or praying to him because I just don’t see the point in it anymore because I feel like he doesn’t answer. In fact I feel as if it pointless because he isn’t here – right here, spatially – to speak with me. I dunno I just feel like with all that I have happening in my life a face to face relationship – a person to person to person conversation – is what I need from him. And I can’t have that. I mean it is as if God is a distant uncle to whom I send letters (prayers), and he sends a postcard. Is it enough to just say that God has spoken through his word so he doesn’t need to speak now? I don’t feel like it. Why couldn’t Jesus have just stayed here, albeit in a ubiquitous form? That way I could talk to him. I know he is the Father’s representative to man and for man so why not stay here where he can be physically accessible?

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My friend,

Thanks so much for writing and for your honesty. Your thoughts, it might comfort you to know, are not uncommon. The problem you speak of is called the “hiddenness of God” in theological circles. Why is God so hidden? It is hard to know exactly why, but the fact of his hiddenness is something the Bible speaks to very clearly. In Acts 1 the angels say, “Why do you stare into heaven. . . He will come back just as you have seen him go.” In other words, you will not “see” him again until he comes back. Christ told his disciples in the upper room before his death that it is “better for you if I go because I will send the Comforter.” I often think “it is NOT better for you to go because I cannot see or hear the Holy Spirit.”

I believe that naked belief (i.e., without empirical experience) is what God calls on us to have right now. We do have to “limp” through this life without having seen God or Jesus, yet believe in him. I don’t have any perfectly sound theological reason why God is not more empirically evident in our lives (though I will give some thoughts below). My more charismatic friends would disagree, as you probably know. However, I have called and called to God to show himself to me. In my darkest times (and against my better theological judgement), I have groped for a sign of his presence, love, even his very existence! Angels, Jesus, a sound, or some type of miracle would be sufficient. I remember two years ago when I was going through my depression. I stayed up all night crying, sitting in my car in the garage yelling at God, asking him to just do something – anything! The silence at that time was deafening. It was painful. It hurt my feelings at a very deep level that the all-powerful God would not perform the simplest of tasks. I thought, “God, if you are so great and love me so much why are you so silent? Why now? Why when I am this depressed? Just do something!” Continue Reading →