Optional page text here. The Beast's Lair: April 2007

Monday, April 30, 2007

Another Word Concerning Stephen Prothero

If you are a regular reader of The Beast's Lair then you probably read my article on the latest book from Stephen Prothero entitled, "Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know and Doesn't"

My friend Dr. Mike Ruffin has also published his own article on Prothero which was in turn posted on EthicsDaily.com. Ruffin addresses Prothero's views on the religious education, or the apparent lack thereof, and his plea for religion, presumably all major world religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, to be taught in both our public and private colleges in order to increase religious literacy that will in turn yield solid, contributing citizens who can respond rationally to the issues of the nation and the world. The hermeneutic built upon here is the reality that so many of our world issues center around religious themes. Because of that fact, the religious illiterate will struggle to not only understand the issues, but will be incapable to contribute to them in a healthy and productive manner.

Ruffin goes to on to reflect how he becomes "nervous" about a similar proposal to require the same informational teaching of religion in our middle and high schools.

"First, where will middle and high schools find teachers who are qualified to lead such courses but who will not cross the line into proselytizing? Second, and this concern is related to the first, will just as much if not more damage be done to American biblical literacy if courses on the Bible are badly taught as if they are not taught at all?"

I agree with Ruffin here, but perhaps for different reasons. First, allow me to add a couple of comments. 1) I suppose you find qualified teachers for Bible courses as you would for any other course, each of which needs qualified instructors. The problem here, to which I think Ruffin is addressing, is that persons who study and are qualified to teach the Bible will more often than not possess a desire to present the material in manner that transcends just "information." That is an interesting dilemma to the issue, one I will address below. 2) It seems we can ask the same question for Ruffin's second concern for any particular course of study in our middle and high schools. Is history, science, etc, going to do more damage for our future historians and scientists if taught by uneducated instructors? Why, if we are discussing just informational content here, does the bible hold a higher standard than any other discipline to be taught. Therefore, I do agree with Ruffin's approach here, but more for the reason which causes me to shudder at what is being taught in SS classes across the country, that is, people saying stupid things about God and the Bible.

The second interesting issue in Ruffin's article stems from this quote:

"Let's not forget that while the Bible contains much information, its main purpose is not fulfilled when that information is learned. Eugene Peterson has said that the Bible is meant to be read not as information but for the sake of formation; as we read with the intention of being formed into the persons that God means for us to be we are reading correctly.

Teaching the Bible in schools with an eye toward the sharing of information may help us to produce better citizens.

Reading the Bible in our homes and in our congregations with an eye toward the forming of Christian persons will help us to be the people that our God means for us to be."

This sounds right on to me. What I would like to address, especially in relation to the last two paragraphs, is our need to be aware that a clean, clear line of separation between the two will never exist. By "the two" I refer to the teaching of the bible as information to produce better citizens, and then secondly, the teaching of the bible as the very words of God that changes and transforms lives. Overlap is inevitable. For this reason, a sincerely qualified person who is passionate about the bible will find it difficult to just teach information. Also is the reality that students will experience tremendous overlap between the two. Perhaps that is for the better, nevertheless it will happen.

Finally, an admittedly creepy feeling comes over me when I think of the bible being used to "create better citizens" without any interest in the truth of the message it was written to convey. Obviously, the bible was not brought together by God to change people based on good, solid information. Our confidence, then, must be placed in God, for Him to draw people to Himself through the reading of the Word even when that reading is not meant to accomplish such a feat.

I agree with Ruffin and Prothero that religious literacy is a valued possession. Nevertheless, I do so with the caveat of understanding the true purpose and message of the bible to be one of repentance and growing in righteousness.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

What Do You Think About Sunday School?

Since my graduation from Belmont University in 1998, I have had the privilege of serving at 4 churches in 3 states in both senior pastor and associate pastor roles. All of the churches had some things in common just as they all had their own unique characteristics. One of the common threads that ran in every church I have served and that seems to run in most evangelical churches is the dilemma of Sunday School. I use the word dilemma not in the sense that Sunday School is a bad idea for the church, although I suppose such a conclusion is possible to draw, but rather that churches are dumbstruck as to how Sunday School can be a thriving, penitent, growing, meaningful bible study experience where church members are genuinely excited about attending.

Again, in every church I have served many efforts were made. Sunday School leadership training was provided, with a minimal to average turn out of leaders. Sunday School attendance days were promoted that typically boosted SS attendance for a week or two but failed to carry much of an ongoing change. Additional classes thought to be culturally or age relevant were added, again making a temporary change.

So, what's the deal?

Tell me what you think. Here are a few questions for consideration:

1. Is the morning time for SS a problem?
2. Is the typical "quarterly" material a problem? Should we instead incorporate a dated "theme" of study that has a beginning and an end instead of an ongoing quarterly type lesson plan.
3. Are leaders just downright boring and uneducated?
4. Does the church adequately promote and explain SS?
5. What about new church members? Are SS classes outreaching and discipling?
6. Should SS be the "entry point" into the church as it once was?
7. Should SS be the primary outreach and growth program for the church?

If anyone is serving or attending a church with what you think is a successful SS program, tell me why you think it is successful. If you are struggling, tell me what you think the problem is.

The Beast On Stage

Here I am doing my very best to play the show of my life at the GMA Showcase last weekend.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

In case you were wondering

I'm still alive.

Last two weeks of the semester. Two books behind. Enough said.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Judah First and GMA Week

Judah First will be performing a showcase tomorrow in Nashville, TN during the GMA Week (Gospel Music Association). This is big deal for us, so please be praying for a safe trip and calm nerves.

If you are in the Nashville area, JF will take the stage at 3rd and Lindsley on Saturday, April 21st at 3:00 pm.

Also, JF has been given a "home page" advertisement on shoutlife.com. Just click the website and look to the right to see our banner.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Abortion, Ultrasounds, and the Rush to Judgment

The South Carolina House of Representatives passed a bill on March 21st that would require women seeking an abortion to view an ultrasound image of the unborn baby before going through with the procedure. The bill passed with incredible ease and is now in the process of going to the Senate for the bill to be made into law. There is not another state which has such a law.

Oran Smith, executive director of the Palmetto Family Council, is quoted saying:

It all comes down to informed choice. As long as Roe is the law of the land, we have a choice, but if it's going to be choice it needs to be informed choice.

The issue at stake here is obviously an emotional one. I am not so sure how much more "informed" a woman will be after seeing an ultrasound image of the baby living inside her. I doubt too many pregnant ladies seeking an abortion will be surprised by the fact that there is a child inside of them. Perhaps when Smith says "informed" he is referring to a concrete realization that might occur when a woman sees her baby with her own eyes. A realization that the pending procedure is a very serious matter that may be worthy of further consideration.

I once heard from a movie some advise given to a defendant who was awaiting the verdict from the jury. His lawyer told him that if the jury looked at him when they came back into the courtroom, it was a good sign. But if they would not make eye contact, prepare for a guilty verdict. No one wants to see the person who they are condemning, even if it is the right thing to do.

On a side note, some women who have had abortions speak of the procedure as being rushed, with no real possibility for considering another path once inside the abortion clinic. I do believe some states require some kind of counseling. How much of a responsibility should the clinics themselves have for making certain the woman is confident in her decision?

I have not yet heard how pro-choice people have responded to the bill. Probably they will see the potential law as just a cheap way for pro-lifers to make the women feel guilt for their decision. Will this kind of law help lessen the number of abortions in SC? We will see.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Mystery Mine Review from Dollywood

I am safely home from my quick 2 day journey to Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg, TN. We all had a great time and it was cool to experience Dollywood and Gatlinburg with several youth who had never been to either.

I have been waiting for about a year for the new roller coaster "Mystery Mine" to open. I am thrilled to say that I was able to ride the new coaster on opening day at Dollywood with Andi. The coaster is both an indoor and outdoor coaster that serves as kind of a dark ride/coaster in one. The unique aspect of this coaster is that it has an 85 foot drop at at 95 degree angle. In other words, you are literally going straight down. I think this coaster is definitely worth the first ride experience. Perhaps after 5 or 6 rides on this thing it would begin to get a little tiresome, but the first experience was breathtaking. The last 45 seconds of the coaster are truly amazing. So, my expectations were definitely met and I look forward to getting a few more rides on it in the future.

Just as exciting for me was the opportunity to take 6 teenagers through the "World of Illusions" in Gatlinburg. (To read my previous post about The World of Illusions, click here.) Although they perhaps did not quite see the brilliance of this establishment in the same light as me, they still had a great time. Since the same people own "The Hauntings" in Gatlinburg, they gave us free admission into The Hauntings which was great! "You Haven't Lived Until We've Scared You To Death!"

Friday, April 13, 2007

Heading to Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg

Today I leave with 23 teenagers for the smokey mountains in east TN. We are determined to be at the front gate when Dollywood opens to be the very first to experience the new and anticipated "Mystery Mine" roller coaster. I will will be away from The Lair until Sunday. Be blessed!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Masters Champion Zach Johnson, The Super Bowl, and Worldwide Witness

I will admit, I was pulling for Tiger. I told Andi, who strangely found herself interested in the last round of Master's competition, that Tiger would more than likely win the tournament. That statement came after I saw this guy named Zach Johnson on top of the leaderboard with Tiger only 2 strokes back. I mean, come on. Zach Johnson has one tour win under his belt and not even Dick Enberg knew who this guy was. The pressure is just too much for someone like that to hold on to a lead at the Master's when the greatest golfer in the world is right behind you.

But he did. Zach Johnson is the Master's champion.

As soon as it was confirmed that Zach had won the tournament, he made his first "mini-interview" in front of millions of people on world-wide television. My still dumbfounded composure of knowing Zach Johnson was the Master's champion was quickly turned into pure joy when Zach said this in reply to the first question of the interview: "Being Easter, I certainly felt something special with me today and my faith is of the utmost importance. I'm so thankful for Jesus Christ."

I looked at Andi and we gave each other a big "high-five." In 2007 we have seen strong men of faith stand at the top of two of the largest sporting events of the entire year. Both Superbowl coaches this year, from the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts, were Christians who professed their faith the entire "Super Week." And now here is the Master's Champion talking openly and confidently about his faith in Christ.

It is true that we live in dark times. But our eyes, the same eyes that have perfected the art of seeing evil need also to notice the ways which God brings about good.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Stephen Prothero on Religious Literacy

I was just watching the Travis Smiley Show and Boston University professor and author Stephen Prothero was the guest. Prothero has recently published a book, "Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know and Doesn't" and was commenting on the lack of knowledge about the Bible and Christ even among believers living in a "Christian nation." Travis asked the question of why the nation is so ignorant and Prothero's response was right on. He said that churches are today spending lots of time preaching the self-edifying message of "Jesus is love" without challenging the church with a full biblical presentation of who Jesus is and what he said.

I don't know the theology of Prothero, but he has hit the nail on the head with that comment. The diluted message of "be nice and love people" lacks any substance when not properly placed in the context of the entire canon and teaching of Scripture. That is a message we can get from Oprah, who needs church? Prothero's book will go on my summer reading list.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

When God Speaks Darkness: Comparing the Darkness of Creation with The Crucifixion

We sing our song. We collectively call the cross of Christ wonderful. We call it glorious. An instrument used for torture, a jacked piece of wood whose purpose is to draw out the life blood of what would have typically been society's worst criminals, and this is the object to which we call wonderful.

The reasons have been written in many volumes by many people more eloquent than me. Forgiveness of sins? Yes, in part. To provide eternal life to all who believe? Yes, in part. However, with these essential and glorious truths of Easter weekend, we say these things with the knowledge of knowing Easter is coming. We know what will happen. God has raised Christ from the dead and through his resurrection we have the assurance of our faith and the forgiveness of sin. Paul leaves no room for question when he writes in 1 Corinthians 15:17 "if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins." Peter affirms this statement in 1 Peter 1:3 by saying "he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." My church participated in a beautiful service of darkness last night. I was honored to bring the message, a part of which I write in this article, and I challenged the congregation to find the wonderful and glorious nature of the Christ during the darkness, before Easter Sunday. We, of course, should not hermetically seal the crucifixion and place it over here and do the same to the resurrection and place it over there. We do right to understand them as working together. But it is still appropriate to call the cross of Christ "wonderful", even in a service of darkness.

Genesis 1:1-2 begins the biblical story of a God who speaks and creates. He does so with all power and glory because of his good pleasure, that is, because of his will. Revelation 4:11 testifies to that fact. Interesting that when God created, he first brought about what the bible calls a "formless and void" earth that was engulfed in "darkness." God speaks, out of his good pleasure, and brings about a formless and void earth in total darkness.

Move ahead in time to Luke 22, Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. Once again, God is speaking. This time not to an empty nothing to bring about a dark void, but this time he speaks to his son. What He brings about, however, is similar. Darkness. It is inevitable for the question to not be asked on Good Friday: Who Killed Jesus? The Romans? The Jews? Us? The answer is, of course, yes to all those things. But ultimately, it was God who placed his willing son on the tree. Isaiah 53:5-6 is a text we love to quote, "he was bruised for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities. . ." For some reason, we never quite make it to verse 10. "Yet it was the pleasure (will) of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief. . ." Revelation 4:11 and Isaiah 53:10 speak of God in the same way, bringing about his will, his good pleasure. In the former, it is the creation. In the latter, the crucifixion.

How does this help to understand the wonder of the cross?

Because God continued to speak. He took the darkness, the chaos, the formless and void earth and continued to speak until he had his perfect creation, a creation to which God himself called "good." Even though God first brought about darkness, he continued to speak, continued to work to make it perfect. The same is true for the cross of Christ. After Jesus prays for God to remove the cup if he was willing, which God was not, Luke describes an angel coming to comfort Jesus. Perhaps the very presence of the angel was the confirmation that God was going to continue to speak in the life of Jesus. The crucifixion, that darkness that God was bringing out would not be the last word of God. Just as Jesus had spoken the very words that brought Lazarus from the grave, God would continue to speak the words that would bring light to what was once darkness and pain.

And here we are in our dark, painful, confusing lives. Friend, whatever God has brought about, whatever darkness is in your life today, he will continue to speak.

And that is what makes the cross wonderful. It is in God's hands. And if we follow the example of Jesus and submit to that hand, the will of God, with love and sacrifice, then we too can be assured of seeing God speaking light out of our darkness.

And with that I wait with anticipation to Easter Sunday.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Way of the Master Evangelism Model

Perhaps you have been watching television late at night and suddenly flipped across what appeared to be Kirk Cameron interviewing random people on the street about their lives. After getting over the initial shock of seeing Mike Seaver on TBN, the content of the evangelism approach is rather interesting, and should be noted, growing in popularity.

This model that I am about to describe is called "The Way of the Master" and it is simply a method headed by Kirk Cameron and evangelist Ray Comfort to quickly and easily share the Gospel. This "evangelism ministry" created in 2002 has been increasing in it's presence on the television, internet, and church training. Here is the basic rundown of this particular model.

The Way of the Master uses the ten commandments to enlighten a person of their sin and failure to live up to God's holy standard. This is done using the letters WDJD (similar to the popular WWJD, but instead of What Would Jesus Do, they changed the idea to What Did Jesus Do?) According to The Way of the Master, the best evangelism model is to use what Jesus used and they understand that to be a utilization of the ten commandments. Basically, this is the process:
1. Ask the person if they believe they are a good person. (Usually they will say "yes.")
2. Ask they person if they have ever told a lie. (Usually they will say "yes.")
3. Ask the person what that makes them. (After some help, they will say "a liar")
4. This is repeated with questions like "have you ever stolen anything" and "have you ever lusted after a person" which leads to "you are a thief" and "you are an adulterer."
5. Ask the person, "based on what you just said, if you were to die today, do you think you would go to heaven or hell?" (With some help, they will say hell)
6. Ask the person, "Does that concern you?"

Basically, that is it. The process involves bringing out the fact that every person, although typically a good person, has committed sin and has therefore fallen short of God's standard and is destined to hell. Here are my quick thoughts.

The strength of this model is in the attempt to bring a person to their understanding of sin. After all, why would anyone need a savior if they were doing just fine on their own? Although I am not sure my personality would fit in too well with calling someone a liar and thief 4 minutes after I have met them, the basic idea of shedding some light on their condition is good. Today's culture does not rest on the understanding of clear right and wrong, so I appreciate that effort from this model.

But for me, that is where the strengths end. The foundational flaw is using the hermeneutic of the ten commandments to "prove" their sin before God. There is a two-fold problem with this starting point. First, to imply that our breaking of one of the commandments is what puts us at odds with God is Scripturally weak. The issue is an understanding of the transmission of sin. One view, often called a semi-pelagian or Arminian view, believes that a person is by nature corrupted because of Adam, but not guilty. Whatever has been "messed up" with the human nature because of Adam's failure in the garden does not make us culpable, but does make us unable to keep God's commands because of our corrupt/depraved nature. We only become guilty at the moment of our first sin, which will inevitably happen because of our corrupt nature. The other view, developed mostly after the reformers, understands Adam to serve as a federal/representative head of the human race. Therefore, as soon as human beings exist, we are struck with condemnation (guilt) and depravity (pollution/corruption). There is an immediate imputation of Adam’s guilt to those whom he represented as the head of the covenant. You can see the difference. So, if you favor the first model, which I do not, then The Way of the Master method can still settle well with you. When we tell that first lie or whatever, then we are guilty before God, which was going to happen because of our depraved nature. But, if you hold to the second view, which I do, then this becomes a little problematic. The fact is that we are not found guilty before God just because of those lies we have told. Yes, we are responsible for them and they show our continued guilt, but we are found guilty before God at birth, by our very nature. This is why Paul writes in Ephesians 2:3 that we "are by nature children of wrath." I don't completely discredit this method because of this issue, but I just don't want a person to whom I am sharing the Gospel to think that they actually had a shot at remaining innocent before God, which is not what the Arminian model says, but that thought could easily set in with the unbeliever who hears this model. Also, it seems to imply that since I chose to sin and made myself guilty before God, I now choose to become innocent once again. We do not choose God, God chooses us. We still have a role to play, yes, but God chooses us.

Secondly, the model relies heavily on the old covenant law with the ten commandments and spends very little time on the new covenant teaching of the cross of Christ, the resurrection, and grace. In fact, it could be argued this is not a gospel presentation model at all, but a lesson in understanding that we are sinners.

But enough critiquing. I am excited that Kirk Cameron is willing to take on the criticism of Hollywood and anyone else to proclaim Christ and reach the lost. I do think we need to be careful with what we teach and preach, but he is at least out there and I am certain that people are coming to profess Christ through their evangelistic efforts. This is not the model I would personally choose, but whether you love this model or something else, just speak the name Jesus.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Judah First Road Review, March 2nd 2007

This is a review I posted on the Judah First boards from a performance several weeks ago.

I drove into Nashville to pick up Spencer and Barry and head toward Bealeton, VA. To pick up who, you ask?

As a reminder, Spencer is a young bass player who performed with JF during our “Epic Battle” in Springfield, TN. The band just loves this guy and he was heading out on the road with us for the first time. Barry French is a Nashville based musician who was gearing up for his first ever performance with JF behind the drum kit. As most of you know, Chris “The Dr.” Rosenstone is not as available to perform with JF as he once was. If you are a Dr. fan out there, don’t fear, Chris will still be playing with JF when he can! Anyway, Barry had been working diligently on the JF tunes for several weeks and seemed confident that he was ready for the heavy metal thunder. A JF show is not the easiest gig to play, both in terms of musicianship and energy. JA and I had talked that this would be the first time we would be playing with two new musicians at once other than Keyth and Chris. We were not exactly nervous, but anxious to see what would happen.

As I pulled into Spencer’s driveway to pick him up, his parents were nice enough to offer their perfect 5x8 trailer for the weekend. I hooked up the trailer and noticed that the lighting harness needed an adapter which I did not have. It just wouldn’t be a JF weekend without some kind of trailer drama, but to my pleasant surprise his parents were more than willing to help out. Spencer’s dad basically told me not to worry that he would take care of it, and before I knew it, he was in his truck heading out to find the right adapter, leaving me to hang out in their beautiful home chatting with Spencer and his mom. This was meaningful to me, check out Acts 2:44-47 to see why this was such a great Christian witness. Spence’s dad comes back in no time, hooks up the adapter perfectly and just like that, we are off to The Shed to meet Barry.

Once we loaded everything up perfectly at The Shed, including SKULL FOGGER, we set out to Kingsport, TN. It just felt great to be back on the road in Judah One. The trip was pretty simple. Spencer was curled up in a ball most of the way and Barry and I talked about his former experiences in music. We all three had an interesting conversation about WCW Monday Nitro. Anyway, we arrive at EFWC and meet up with JA and Keyth, who was meeting us to run through the tunes as he would be playing the next weekend with the band. It was great to see them both and after some good hugs and loading in, we ran through the tunes while Barry was setting up his drum kit in 5 minutes flat. After taking Keyth home and picking up a quick bite of Taco Bell, JA and I headed back to the church and went to sleep in the greatest church basement ever. I’m talking zero light in this place man, it is awesome. JA and I kind of started one of our laughing episodes right before bed time, basically because we said, “I’m so happy” and “TWANG!” We woke up pretty early actually the next morning and ran through most of the songs as an entire band. This was the first time Barry had played with the entire group so it was important to get through as many as possible before getting on the road. He was doing great and so we loaded up and got out of there.

The drive to our Virginia shows is always one of my favorites. Probably because we pass two, count ‘em, two Aunt Sarah’s Pancake Houses, home of the greatest chicken livers on the planet. No time for Aunt Sarah’s though, we were running a bit late. As we pull onto our last main highway before reaching Bealeton, James Aaron decides that he needs a steamer. IT’S A STEAMER! So, we pull into the all time greatest gas station, complete with your deli, bakery, wine steward, and coffee house. This place was nuts. After studying the menu intently, JA ordered what he later described as the “greatest steamer I have ever drank.”

Finally, 45 minutes later, after noticing that Pizza Bella was out of business, we pull into the church parking lot where Aroma Rhythm is held. As we get out of the van, kids are running up to us giving us high fives and telling us how pumped they are that JF is performing. It was a warm welcome to be sure! Kathy met us and, as usual, was very kind and gracious. We loaded in and got set up. After a quick sound check, we headed into the “dressing room” to prepare and pray for the show.

Since this was Barry’s first outing with the band behind the drum set, we did not have our normal intro music. So, JA came up with a cool idea to begin the show (which you can actually see on the Aroma Rhythm video, search for Judah First Aroma at You Tube or just visit our MySpace Page). Once we started playing, it was madness as usual. These cool cats were headbanging with us the entire night. Even the adults, although they stayed their distance in the back, seem to be having a blast. But what set the night apart from all others was the “crazy” man EVAN. This is one of the most hardcore JF fans on the planet my friends. I am not kidding when I say that he did not see a second of the show because he was headbanging so hard the entire time. It was a site to behold. At the end of our set, Evan steps on stage and says he wants to present the band with something. JA and I nearly started crying when Evan produced a 5 foot wide poster of the band that he had created with his own hands! (see picture below). It was the coolest thing a fan has ever done for us, and I still have the poster to remember how awesome this night was.

As far as the performance itself, it was great. Barry did a terrific job behind the kit. A fan told him that he did “the Dr. justice.” Spencer was a madman as usual, and it is just an honor to perform with a frontman like JA.

The night was young, however, as we realized that we were going to be staying with Sean again! This guy is the nicest guy in the world, and really encouraged JF by saying some great things about the band and the ministry. We all crashed at his and his lovely wife’s house, eating a ton of potato skins and chips. He told us some classic “Parris Island” stories that had us remembering the good ‘ol days of playing down there (when Greg nearly ended it.) What are those flagpoles for?

All I can say is thanks to everyone who made this trip possible. It was another JF night to remember.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Worthy to Read

Take a look at my friend Mike Ruffin's article for April Fool's over at On the Jericho Road. Tell him The Beast sent you.

Oh, and don't get confused by his labeling the devotion as a "Sabbath Blog" even though it is Sunday. He is simply using the word synonymously with "The Lord's Day" or day of "rest."