Friday, March 31, 2006

Prayer Study: Humans Fail to Manipulate God, Scrappleface reports.

Okay, normally I don't follow the career of Victoria Beckham, but this came up on another search, and I couldn't resist. Apparently the lovely Ms. Beckham has a new 'fashion bible' coming out. She also published her autobiography four years ago, although she's only 31 now. But with all this, um, literary activity going on she has never read a book:
“I haven’t read a book in my life. I haven’t got enough time. I prefer to listen to music, although I do love fashion magazines,” she told Spanish Chic magazine.
Even more amazing than that is I assume people will actually buy a book 'written' by her.

Abdul "Just Call Me Joel" Rahman has landed in Italy:
"Here it is, look, my death sentence". Abdul Rahman, the Afghan who converted to Christendom for which he was imprisoned and risked the death penalty and who since yesterday has been in Italy in political asylum, showed with trembling hands the court order written in Dari that charged him with apostasy, ordered his detention in a Kabul prison and ordered that he be subject to the death penalty - all according to Islamic law....

But be warned anyone who calls him Abdul. I've converted, he says, and my Christian name is Joel. He tells of having converted eight years ago after having read the bible, a bible that had been given to him as a present by a Belgian friend: in it he found only words of love for everyone. He then thanks Pope Benedict XVI, the Italian government and all Italians. In my country, he says, they kill you if you're not Muslim. Whoever changes religion suffers the death penalty. He then tells of having a brother in Germany and that his family have rejected him. He says that he is afraid for his children who are now in Kabul with their mother. I'm a father he says and for this reason I'm anxious about my children.

Okay, he fled the country, but left his wife and children? Are they still minors? Hmmm. That doesn't sound like a good idea.

UPDATE: Just heard from theosebes reader Mark that the attempt to get custody of the children is what 'outed' Rahman as a Christian in the first place. His wife has not converted. Thanks for the clarification, Mark. I had missed that.

Thursday, March 30, 2006


The Met has an extensive exhibit of Queen Hatshepsut, the review says it's a bit overwhelming, but it looks like a fun time:
CAN a queen be a king, too? Consider the case of Hatshepsut, an Egyptian ruler of the 15th century B.C. The eldest daughter of Thutmose I and his principal queen, she married her younger half-brother, Thutmose II. His untimely death left her regent for Thutmose III, his son by another wife. At some point, she decided to govern jointly with the boy and took on the title of king. Later, she assumed the supreme title of pharaoh and ruled Egypt in that powerfully masculine role until her death.

During her reign (about 1479-1458 B.C.), when Egypt was emerging as a world power, the country prospered, the arts flourished, and peace, more or less, prevailed. In these respects, her rule might be compared to that of Elizabeth I of England, though Elizabeth had to make do with the less impressive title of queen.

Depending on how you calculate, her reign was within a generation or two of the Exodus. Hebrews may have made some of the items on display at the Met.
Grand Jury Set For June

Attorney's for Mary Winkler did not seek bond, waiving her right to a preliminary hearing:
The judge ordered Mary Winkler, who has been charged with first-degree murder, to be held in custody until her next court appearance after her lawyers told the court she was not seeking a bond.

Speaking to the press outside the courthouse, her lawyers said there were a number of reasons why bond was not sought.

"Her condition is pretty fragile," defense attorney Leslie Ballin said. "We think it is in her best interest not have bond at this time."

Another member of the defense team, Steve Farese, said that while his client had been a part of every decision involved in the case, she was "having a difficulty staying on point."

They also said Mary Winkler wanted to try to protect her three young daughters from painful details that would emerge at such a hearing.

"We feel it does no one any good to hear bad things said about the mother of children. We don't feel that it does anyone any good to hear gruesome things about their late father," Farese said.

Which means they're not getting much out of her, and they don't want the details to come out yet, either. After her attorney's reference to the 'alleged' confession, I wouldn't be surprised if they try to suppress that. And 'fragile'? Yes, I'd say probably so.

According to news reports at Birmingham's NBC13, the three boneheads men charged with burning nine Alabama churches can face no more than seven years for the crime. It's not in the printed report linked, but in a broadcasted interview with the local Federal prosecutor the sentences for each arson would be "stacked", which she defined as running concurrently. In other words, regardless of how many churches they burned they could face no more than seven years. I'm open for correction if this is not the case, but that's what she said. Of course, that's not including the possibility of plea bargaining.

Oh, and according to the defense attorney "the fires were not crimes of hate." Certainly not. Clearly they were motivated by peace and love.

CNN's Nancy Grace revisited the cult issue tonight:
Tonight, we`ve got an all-star panel of clergy, lawyers, shrinks and profilers trying to make sense of it, as we take a closer look at the Church of Christ. It has been called a cult.
Yes, it's been called a cult by your guest on your show last night.

So, Nancy Grace pulls Rubel Shelly out of mothballs to discuss the Church of Christ phenomenon. You can scroll down at the link above and read what he said. He did a pretty good job, with the expected Rubel Shelly-esque qualifications. Nancy Grace pushed on the role of women issue again, and reading his comments and Rukalah's from last night, I suspect Rukalah is actually the more conservative of the two on the issue.

I suppose it could have been worse: they apparently asked Mike Cope first. Talk about being in a strait betwixt two: a cult on the one hand, associated with Shelly and Cope on the other. Hmmm--tough choice.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


The network founded by noted atheist Ted Turner has brought in a Baptist commentator, a Tom Rukala (perhaps 'Ruhkala'--he appears to be a missionary in Finland), to 'discuss' the church of Christ in the context of the Matthew Winkler homicide. His take?
It kind of is a borderline cult, unfortunately.

That's nice. Yet Rukula backs off churches of Christ when ol' Nancy Grace asks them about the attitude of churches of Christ toward women:
GRACE: To Pastor Tom Rukala, how are women positioned within the Church of Christ?

RUKALA: As far as I understand, they`re treated with dignity and honor. It`s the traditional Christian view that men lead the church and women are to play a secondary role, and I think that they`re treated with dignity, certainly, in the Church of Christ.

GRACE: A secondary role, but with dignity?


And why the sudden magnanimity? Because his view of the role of women likely is very similar to the view of many in churches of Christ, therefore that view is not "cult like".

But according to Rukala's own definition of what a Christian is, and contrasted with the chuckle everyone apparently got according to the transcript about the possibility of going to hell, I doubt Nancy Grace would qualify as a Christian. She doesn't seem to be an evangelical--would she consider Rukala and his friends "cult like"?

Apparently Rukala himself isn't all open arms when it comes to other Christian groups himself. According to the Baptist Mid-Missions website referencing the Ruhkalas' work in Finland:
The Ruhkalas have not found other traditional Bible-believing churches in Finland with which to fellowship. Nor have they found camps, radio ministries, youth works, or Bible institutes they can recommend wholeheartedly to the Finns. Also, most of the Christian literature that is currently being published in Finnish promotes Lutheranism or the Charismatic Movement and is therefore unusable.

That sounds troublingly narrow to me. Do they believe that Lutherans and charismatics are not going to heaven? If they think they are, then why are they bothering trying to convert them and finding their material 'unusable'? Hmmm. Is that narrow and cultlike? I just wondered, Mr. Rukala.

[Thanks to Jeff Barnes who has more to say.]

I returned home a couple of weeks ago to find an unexpected package waiting for me. Now usually when packages arrive addressed to me and I get that "what is this?" look from my wife I either have to think of something quick or slink away quietly. It's nice when I can say, "I have no idea what it is, honey--I've certainly not ordered anything."

Lo and behold it was a complimentary copy of American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia (available in hardcover or paperback)

Now, why would they send such a thing to me? Well, many moons ago, when I had a lot more hair, I actually wrote an entry for this project (see, "Clay, Henry"). The project languished, editors were changed, some were, I believe, abducted by aliens. The project seemed, as they say, snakebit. I started to doubt it would ever be released. In the meantime I married, had three kids, traveled to far corners of the world. The century changed. Still, no book. Then recently, the publisher--ISI--began plugging a genuine publication date. 'Yeah, sure,' I thought. But then, it actually appeared. Even more impressive, they apparently sent a complimentary copy to every contributor. Don't assume that always happens. As you might imagine, this book likely will not knock The Da Vinci Code off the New York Times bestseller list (or even Marley & Me--it's tough to compete with dog books).

At any rate, I'll make absolutely nothing if you buy one (well, I will if you buy through the link above), but it's a very well done book, and knowing many of those who contributed entries, written by good people (and a few soreheads). Buy yours today.

Far be it from me to plug myself, but if I don't who will?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

And this is controversial why?

Georgia has passed a bill to allow classes on the Bible in public schools:
Public school students will be able to take state-funded courses devoted to the Old and New Testaments under a bill that received final legislative approval Monday, making Georgia the first state in the nation to legally sanction Bible classes....

If Gov. Sonny Perdue accepts the bill, the State Board of Education must adopt curricula for two high school electives — "History and Literature of the Old Testament Era" and "History and Literature of the New Testament Era" — no later than February.

Local school systems then could decide if they want to offer the classes, which would be optional for students in ninth through 12th grades.

Patrick McAllister, a junior at McIntosh High School in Peachtree City, liked the idea of having a class about what is often referred to as the world's best-selling book.

"We do have the opportunity to learn about it in church, but it is a work of literature," McAllister said. "We shouldn't exclude it [from school] just because it's religious."

The courses are supposed to be designed as an academic study of the Scripture's influence on law, history, government, literature, art, music and culture.

The Bible would be the "basic text" for the courses, but teachers could use other religious books, too.

Would there be any problems raised if the class were called "History and Literature of the Era of the Koran" or "Confucius: His Writings & Times"? Yeah, that's what I thought.

Biblical Art on the WWW. Maybe you were familiar with it, but I wasn't. It has been appropriately bookmarked.
May Go to Italy

Abdul Rahman, the Afghanistan Christian who faced capital charges for converting from Islam, has been released, and may find asylum in Italy:
An Afghan man who had faced the death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity has been released from prison after the case was dropped, the justice minister said Tuesday. Italy's foreign minister will ask his government to grant 41-year-old Abdul Rahman asylum.

Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini, who was among the first to speak out on the man's behalf, will ask for the permission at a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, the Italian ministry said in a statement Tuesday.

The announcement came after the United Nations said Rahman has appealed for asylum outside Afghanistan and that the world body was working to find a country willing to take him.

Just yesterday he was crazy, today he's probably going to Italy to live. Crazy? Crazy like a fox!

Monday, March 27, 2006

WATCH WHAT YOU SAY... your sleep. You may wake up to find yourself divorced. Mental divorce I've heard of, but never sleeping divorce.

Mary Winkler has pleaded 'not guilty' in the shooting death of her husband, minister Matthew Winkler although she has reportedly confessed. This brings up the issue of justification, it seems to me. (Where are all those attorney friends of mine when I need them--Dave? Bill?). Her attorney seems to be backing off his statement about a 'dangerous situation' leading to the shooting:
Attorney Farese said media speculation that the case hinged on a "dangerous situation" at the Winkler home was misguided.

"It was taken out of context," he said. "It was only a theory that something was going on in the home that in and of itself was dangerous."

Why exactly he's floating a 'theory' of the crime when he's the defense attorney I'm not exactly sure. He did add this:
The woman's attorney, Steve Farese, also was circumspect about her motive following their first jailhouse conversation.

"I think the accumulations of the pressures of life in and of itself certainly would have some factor in the case," Farese told WAFF-TV in Huntsville, Ala.

Still, 'accumulated pressures of life' don't lead to that.

You can forget open arms for Evangelicals in perhaps the nation's most liberal city. San Francisco has condemned an Evangelical teens rally
More than 25,000 evangelical Christian youth landed Friday in San Francisco for a two-day rally at AT&T Park against "the virtue terrorism" of popular culture, and they were greeted by an official city condemnation and a clutch of protesters who said their event amounted to a "fascist mega-pep rally."

"Battle Cry for a Generation" is led by a 44-year-old Concord native, Ron Luce, who wants "God's instruction book" to guide young people away from the corrupting influence of popular culture.

Luce, whose Teen Mania organization is based in Texas, kicked off a three-city "reverse rebellion" tour Friday night intended to counter a popular culture that he says glamorizes violence and sex....

That's bad news to Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who told counterprotesters at City Hall on Friday that while such fundamentalists may be small in number, "they're loud, they're obnoxious, they're disgusting, and they should get out of San Francisco."

Ah, it's high time cities crack down on those rowdy Evangelicals.

A new 'Bed & Breakfast' law in Britain has Christian B&B owners up in arms:
When the Government decided to outlaw people being discriminated against because of their religion or sexuality, it hoped the move would guarantee equal treatment for all of Britain's increasingly diverse population.
But nobody in Whitehall foresaw the backlash that would unfold when hundreds of committed Christians who run bed-and-breakfasts were deprived of their right to ban gays, unmarried couples and people of other faiths from staying under their roof.

Hundreds of B&B owners across the country have been writing to ministers complaining that the new rules will force them to 'betray God' and their consciences by allowing 'undesirables' to enjoy their hospitality.

'We've had a lot of correspondence from Christian B&B operators who don't want to be forced to accept Satanists, Muslims, gays and even unmarried couples as guests,' said a Home Office official. 'Protestants have been writing in saying they shouldn't have to admit Catholics because they have an issue with their religion, Catholics saying they didn't want Jews under their roof and objections from followers of other types of faith.'

The law grew from a real case where a B&B owner refused, um, service to two homosexual men who wished to stay in the same double bed:
The new protection for gays and lesbians is partly inspired by the case of Tom Forrest, the proprietor of the Cromasaig B&B in the Highlands, who, in 2004, refused to let two gay men share a bed in a double room. Forrest has condemned the new regulations as 'atrocious'.

Dr Don Horrocks of the Evangelical Alliance, however, currently operates under a tragic misconception:
'Homosexuals have human rights, but so do religious people...'

Ah, and that's where he would be wrong.

Newsweek has information on Mary Winkler's behavior the day before she shot her husband to death:
Mary Winkler's behavior was odd last Tuesday when she debuted as a substitute teacher in Selmer, Tenn. Normally quiet and introverted, she talked incessantly on her cell phone, pacing about. "Several teachers complained about it," says assistant principal Pam Killingsworth. Winkler, 32, also got annoyed with her daughter Patricia—whose third-grade class she taught that afternoon—for acting up. Something was clearly the matter. The next day, Winkler's husband, Matthew, 31—minister of the local Fourth Street Church of Christ—didn't show up at the Wednesday-evening service. When church elder Drew Eason and his son Will went to the parsonage, they found Matthew facedown in a back room, blood-soaked from a fatal gunshot wound.

I saw her attorney on television this morning who guardedly spoke of her reacting to "a dangerous situation" and fleeing because she felt "no one would believe her."

Well, of course he must be--he converted to Christianity, didn't he? Mental health evaluation will be conducted on Abdul Rahman:
Court officials said the mental health of the defendant, Abdul Rahman, 41, would be evaluated. Although prosecutors vowed to continue the case, a finding of mental illness by public health authorities could thwart their effort....

The court said two of Mr. Rahman's relatives, a daughter and a cousin, had told the court that Mr. Rahman had mental problems, according to Abdul Wakil Omari, a spokesman for the Supreme Court.

"Also, during his preliminary court hearing, he had said that he was hearing strange voices and that he was not feeling well spiritually," Mr. Omari said.

But the prosecutor, Abdul Wasei, said he doubted the claim. "I did not see any kind of mental problem in this case," he said. He said that Mr. Rahman, when asked about his mental health, insisted that it was fine.

"I am O.K., you can prosecute me, I can answer your questions," Mr. Wasei said Mr. Rahman told him.

If a hospital examination bears that out, Mr. Wasei said, he expects to have the case back before the court in a week.

But if Mr. Rahman is found to be mentally ill, Mr. Wasei conceded in an interview, "that's another thing and of course things will change."

Mr. Wasei dismissed as inaccurate press reports that Mr. Rahman was about to be released. "When his mental examination is finished, maybe he will be released," he said. "But I don't see any possibility of his being released before that."

I can see the new hip t-shirt in Family Bookstores now: "I'm Crazy for Christ!" (Hey, if they can do this one, they can do that.)

Sunday, March 26, 2006

PREACHING THIS MORNING on 'If the Lord Wills' from James 4:11-17, the latest in my series on James. James continues his focus on active Christianity: not allowing oneself to be distracted by judging others or being consumed by worldly concerns without thought to God.

...would there be enough evidence to convict you? Well for the Afghan Muslim charged with converting to Christianity the answer apparently is: no. Charges have been dismissed for lack of evidence:
An Afghan court on Sunday dismissed a case against a man who converted from Islam to Christianity because of a lack of evidence and he will be released soon, officials said.

The announcement came as U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai faced mounting foreign pressure to free Abdul Rahman, a move that risked angering Muslim clerics who have called for him to be killed.

An official closely involved with the case told The Associated Press that it had been returned to the prosecutors for more investigation, but that in the meantime, Rahman would be released.

"The court dismissed today the case against Abdul Rahman for a lack of information and a lot of legal gaps in the case," the official said Sunday, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

I don't know if he should be relieved or worried.

The new Library Thing, which allows you to catalog your books online, could be interesting.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

LISTENING TO 'Streets of Bakersfield' with Dwight Yoakam and Buck Owens, who died today. I remember watching 'Hee Haw' with my parents back when it was actually a new show. RIP.

Although Mary Winkler has confessed to murdering her husband--and is charged with first degree murder, which requires premeditation--police are tight lipped as to why she shot her husband, minister Matthew Winkler. They have indicated they do not believe that the motive involved infidelity. For her to do what she did, though, it would seem to indicate a building conflict, not a momentary flash of passion. My suspicion is that her stated motive is such that the police want to confirm facts independently in order not to muddy the name of others without something solid. I'll refrain from speculating further for the same reason.

A few weeks ago I read Alan Moorehead's The White Nile,a fascinating and engrossing book on the history of the discovery of the Nile's headwaters. Yesterday I picked up the companion book, The Blue Nile.Here's hoping it's as good.

Friday, March 24, 2006


In order to avoid promoting religion, the St. Paul, Minnesota City Hall has removed the Easter Bunny:
A small Easter display was removed from the City Hall lobby on Wednesday out of concern that it would offend non-Christians.
The display - a cloth Easter bunny, pastel-colored eggs and a sign with the words "Happy Easter'' - was put up by a City Council secretary. They were not purchased with city money.

Tyrone Terrill, the city's human rights director, asked that the decorations be removed. Terrill said no citizen had complained to him.

Council Member Dave Thune called it a shame.

"This has just gone too far,'' he said. "We can't celebrate spring with bunnies and fake grass?''

The council president, Kathy Lantry, said the removal wasn't about political correctness.

"As government, we have a different responsibility about advancing the cause of religion, which we are not going to do,'' she said.

It's not the first time a holiday symbol has been removed from City Hall. In 2001, red poinsettias were briefly banned from a holiday display because they were associated with Christmas.

I just hope no one wore green on St. Patrick's Day.
My wife and I made it back yesterday morning from a wonderful trip to Oregon to preach for the Market Street church in a special series of studies. On Wednesday we drove up to Detroit, Oregon, a lovely little town in the mountains. You can just about count the buildings on one hand. Here is a picture of me with my new friend Sasquatch (I'm the one on the left).

The shocking murder of Tennessee minister Matthew Winkler is now leading investigators to look at his wife as a suspect. Considering he was found shot to death in their bedroom and she simply picked up the kids at school and then drove to the Alabama coast certainly raises eyebrows. I'm afraid when all of this comes out it's going to be pretty ugly. As a father of three daughters myself all I can say is pray for those poor children.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

I received news earlier today that Bob Bunting passed away this past Saturday. Brother Bunting dedicated his life to preaching the word of God, and touched countless lives. He deliberately chose many smaller, more obscure works in order to help where he would be needed the most. He was someone who deserved far more recognition and appreciation than he received. If anyone should have been on the meeting and lecture circuit it was brother Bunting. A native of Michigan, over the years he preached in Camden, SC; New Jersey; Hueytown, Alabama; Murfreesboro, Tennessee; and finally, Bartlett, Tennessee. He was a true Southern gentleman.

It was in Bartlett that I first met him when I traveled there to court my future wife. He and his wife were kind enough to open their home to me one summer. The following December he officiated our wedding.

Brother Bunting was always a model of Christian conduct, Biblical scholarship and pulpit practicality. After retiring from full time preaching, he remained at Bartlett to serve as an elder, finally resigning due to age and failing health. He moved to Middle Tennessee with his wife Sara Bain to live out his remaining years.

As long as I knew him Bob was being told he was dying and near death. But he never would die. He kept preaching and kept working. His doctor once told him that there must be a good reason why he was still alive because he shouldn't be. From time to time word would reach us that Bob was near death. Weeks and month would pass and still he held on. In the end, I believe, death was welcome. As with Paul, to live is Christ, to die is gain.

Robert Bunting will be laid to rest on Wednesday. Regrettably I will be unable to attend the funeral as I will be in Oregon until Thursday. Please remember his wife, Sara Bain, and their children in your prayers.

The picture is from June 2004 when brother Bunting gave a weekend lectureship at the Westvue congregation in Murfreesboro. It was the last time I saw him, and it is the way I will remember him: preaching on preaching. From left is my brother-in-law Mitch Stevens, me, Bob Bunting and Rick Duggin.

Sunday, March 19, 2006


If you're in Salem, Oregon over the next few days, stop by.

Friday, March 17, 2006


On Wednesday I had the good pleasure of hearing Dr. David E. Harrell speak at UAB on "The Pentecostal Century." I had the good pleasure of traveling to India with Ed last summer and hope to again soon. The Birmingham News did a nice feature previewing the lecture. It also discusses his new history textbook, which gives religion its due:
Harrell notes there are some 800,000 churches in America that constitute one of the most influential social networks in the country. "A large portion of the charity dispensed in America is through churches," he said. "What shocks foreigners is how many churches there are in America."

That omnipresent religiosity has affected politics and the economy from the nation's founding. "The nation has a pervasive religious underpinning," he said. "You can't understand our policies without the feed-in from religious ideas."

Harrell, who retired from Auburn last year, and his colleagues have been working on the book for nearly 15 years.

"A lot of textbooks acknowledge that the Puritans were religious, and give a distorted summary of the Scopes trial, and that's about it," Harrell said.
Okay, I admit it. I don't have a copy yet, but I'll get one soon. You should, too.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


One of the latest hot religious trends is without question the house church movement. Partly a reaction to the megachurches of the '90s (and today) many people are rejecting the overly produced church shows in stadium sized auditoriums, sometimes in actual stadiums. They recognize a need for something more genuine, and a religious expression that is not simply left to professions that one goes to watch. There is a desire for participatory religion. That's not a bad thing at all. I have no issue with real churches--as opposed to the above mentioned religious 'events'--of any size. The Jerusalem church of the early chapters of Acts clearly numbered in the thousands.

But there are some issues of concern, I think. A couple of weeks ago TIME Magazine took a look at house churches and, well, I'm just now getting around to posting about it.

TIME certainly shows well the type of church the house church movement is about:
On a Sunday at their modest, gray ranch house in the Denver suburb of Englewood, Tim and Jeanine Pynes gather with four other Christians for an evening of fellowship, food and faith. Jeanine's spicy rigatoni precedes a yogurt-and-wafer confection by Ann Moore, none of the food violating the group's solemn commitment to Weight Watchers. The participants, who have pooled resources for baby sitting, discuss a planned missionary trip and sing along with a CD by the Christian crossover group Sixpence None the Richer. One of the lyrics, presumably written in Jesus' voice, runs, "I'm here, I'm closer than your breath/ I've conquered even death." That leads to earnest discussion of a friend's suicide, which flows into an exercise in which each participant brings something to the table--a personal issue, a faith question--and the group offers talk and prayer. Its members read from the New Testament's Epistle to the Hebrews, observe a mindful silence and share a hymn.

The meeting could be a sidebar gathering of almost any church in the country but for a ceramic vessel of red wine on the dinner table--offered in communion. Because the dinner, it turns out, is no mere Bible study, 12-step meeting or other pendant to Sunday service at a Denver megachurch. It is the service. There is no pastor, choir or sermon--just six believers and Jesus among them, closer than their breath. Or so thinks Jeanine, who two years ago abandoned a large congregation for the burgeoning movement known in evangelical circles as "house churching," "home churching" or "simple church." The week she left, she says, "I cried every day." But the home service flourished, grew to 40 people and then divided into five smaller groups. One participant at the Pyneses' house, a retired pastor named John White, also attends a conventional church, where he gives classes on how to found, or plant, the house variety. "Church," he says, "is not just about a meeting." Jeanine is a passionate convert: "I'd never go back to a traditional church. I love what we're doing."

Now that type of Christian closeness is attractive. And, I would argue, shows the kind of close personal relationships that Christians ought to have. But in reaction to the megachurch drift away from intimacy and personal relationships, and focus on public worship, the house church movement essentially has swung the opposite direction. They have done away with public worship and replaced it with the intimate relationship.

Now, there is a certain attraction for restorationists to house churches. It strikes us as more genuinely expressive of New Testament Christianity. Didn't those in the New Testament frequently meet in homes? Certainly they did. this is the premise of F. LaGard Smith's wildly popular book, Radical Restoration, which lays out a blueprint for doing house church the LaGard Smith way. And many groups have left more traditional and established congregations, some with purer motives than others, in order to break the bonds of Traditionalism in order again to restore the church to the way God intended.

Although I poke a little fun there, those of us interested in the restoration of New Testament worship must always remember that it is always an ongoing work. Each generation can calcify expediency to tradition. My recent overseas work reminds me of that danger. We must be careful that the 20th Century American way (the model I am familiar with) is not confused with the First Century New Testament way, regardless of how well the two may harmonize.

The point is that it is well that we have those who ask questions and challenge, even those we may consider gadflies, as they require that we are ever justifying ourselves by Scripture and not simply preference.

That said, some of those drawn to the house church movement strike me as sophisticates who are rising above the bounds of traditionalism qua traditionalism. They border on gnostics who have discerned a New Way known to them but not appreciated by the masses. Thus there is a removal from Biblical responsibility, which is in part reflected in the local church leadership:
More recent arrangements can seem more ad hoc. Tim and Susie Grade moved to Denver a year ago. They had attended cell groups subsidiary to Sunday services but were delighted to learn that their new neighbors Tim and Michelle Fox longed for a house church like the ones they had seen overseas. Now they and seven other twenty- and thirtysomethings mix a fairly formal weekly communion with a laid-back laying on of hands, semiconfessional "sharing" and a guitar sing-along. Says Tim: "We have some people who come from regular churches, and were a little disenfranchised. And people who joined because of friendships, and people who are kind of hurting, kind of searching. My age group and younger are seeking spiritual things that they have not found elsewhere."

Critics fret that small, pastorless groups can become doctrinally or even socially unmoored. Thom Rainer, a Southern Baptist who has written extensively on church growth, says, "I have no problem with where a church meets, [but] I do think that there are some house churches that, in their desire to move in different directions, have perhaps moved from biblical accountability." In extreme circumstances home churches dominated by magnetic but unorthodox leaders can shade over the line into cults.

So I wonder what Biblical accountability house churches are holding themselves to. Are they striving for elders as Paul commanded should be appointed in every church. The New Testament example also points to churches with permanence, that would last beyond one family's job transfer. House churches tend to be anonymous and fleeting by their very nature. I have no issue at all with churches meeting in homes, but the new 'house churches' often seem to be a different kind of animal.

The danger of anti-traditionalism is the never ending search for novelty, the desire simply to be different. It can become a conceit that the initiates are not only on the cutting edge, but are on a superior spiritual plane. Very often it will lead to that loss of Biblical mooring the article mentions, the introduction of heresies and the ultimate loss of faith of its participants.

Will that happen in every situation? No, it won't. But I'm generally of the belief that most areas really do not need more churches; they need churches with more focus. Those frustrated with an existing congregation's direction in many cases would do well to put in the patient hard work to help bring a more Godly focus to that group. I recognize that is not always possible. But it seems to me that a retreat to the kitchen table isn't really the answer.

Monday, March 13, 2006


Don't say we didn't warn you. Now that homosexuals have had some success undefining marriage in their direction the polygamists are next in line:
Hammon, who's involved in a polygamous relationship, is a founding member of the Centennial Park Action Committee, a group that lobbies for decriminalization of the practice. She's among a new wave of polygamy activists emerging in the wake of the gay-marriage movement—just as a federal lawsuit challenging anti-polygamy laws makes its way through the courts and a new show about polygamy debuts on HBO. "Polygamy rights is the next civil-rights battle," says Mark Henkel, who, as founder of the Christian evangelical polygamy organization, is at the forefront of the movement. His argument: if Heather can have two mommies, she should also be able to have two mommies and a daddy. Henkel and Hammon have been joined by other activist groups like Principle Voices, a Utah-based group run by wives from polygamous marriages. Activists point to Canada, where, in January, a report commissioned by the Justice Department recommended decriminalizing polygamy.

There's a sound legal argument for making the controversial practice legal, says Brian Barnard, the lawyer for a Utah couple, identified in court documents only as G. Lee Cooke and D. Cooke, who filed suit after being denied a marriage license for an additional wife. Though the case was struck down by a federal court last year, it's now being considered by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, and Barnard plans to use the same argument—that Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 sodomy case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that individuals have "the full right to engage in private conduct without government intervention," should also apply to polygamous relationships.

Oh, if only to have an HBO tv show about your issue!

Quite frankly, they're right, of course. If our society cannot say that sodomy is wrong or that homosexual 'marriage' is a contradiction in terms, it certainly cannot tell polygamists they are wrong. Why, nothing is wrong, other than possibly suggesting that something might be wrong. If you can change the component parts of a marriage--substituting one man and one woman for one man and one man--why can't you change the number as well? Thus marriage is completely undefined, and means nothing.

So, after polygamy, what then?

In the wake of the South Dakota law banning abortion, many Republicans are getting nervous. It's a classic case of preferring the issue of abortion to actually governing. It's much easier to pontificate than legislate.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Friday, March 10, 2006


Well, the next best thing anyway. I'm off to hear (and have lunch with) Peter Kreeft at Faulkner University. I do not mean to provoke jealousy.

Thursday, March 09, 2006


It's not what we expected, I think. Rather than a couple of redneck Bubbas, three boy next door college students with an interest in theater were arrested for setting fire to nine rural Alabama churches. It all started as a prank and a joke, they said.

Their late night jollies have ruined their lives and are putting their families through grief they never imagined. And if you want leniency in Alabama, setting fire to nine Baptist churches is not the way to do it.

Perhaps some of you watched the Oscars on Sunday. I found some '24' reruns to watch on WGN instead. But yesterday I came across a fun little book, Samuel Johnson's Insults (Jack Lynch, ed.). Here, Johnson on actors:
Among Johnson's favorite targets for good-humored insults were actors, whom he dismissed as talentless buffoons:"I look on them as no better than creatures set upon tables and joint-stools to make faces and produce laughter, like dancing dogs."

"But, Sir," someone objected, "you will allow that some players are better than others?"

"Yes, Sir," he said, "as some dogs dance better than others."
I would have loved to see Dr. Johnson covering the red carpet.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


NBC13 in Birmingham is reporting two arrests in the Alabama church fire cases. Apparently a third suspect is at large.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Two British authors are none too pleased with Da Vinci crackpot (hey, they're crackpots themselves), and have sued the bestselling author:
If you've read "The Da Vinci Code," you know author Dan Brown loved planting anagrams as clues in his best-selling thriller. But when he named a scholarly British character Sir Leigh Teabing, little did he know an anagram could bite back. "Leigh Teabing" is a play on the names of Richard Leigh and Michael Baigent, the two authors now suing Brown's British publisher, Random House U.K., for copyright infringement. Leigh and Baigent, along with Henry Lincoln (who did not join the lawsuit), are the authors of "Holy Blood, Holy Grail," a book of historical nonfiction first published in Britain in 1982. They claim Brown stole not only 15 core ideas from their book but took its "architecture"—how they connected the dots in their windy, speculative history of the Knights Templar, the Holy Grail and the Priory of Sion, a secret society that clung to the heretical idea that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and began a bloodline of European royalty.

But Brown acknowledges using the book, even referencing it within The Da Vinci Code itself:
This is an unusual copyright case: the issue is not garden-variety plagiarism but to what extent a fiction writer can use material from a protected nonfiction source.

I understand the original authors' frustration, but I don't think they really have a leg to stand on here. Brown was open about building on their ideas, which is a common practice with 'scholarly' (I use the word accomodatively) works. If I wrote a novel set in World War II I might very well choose to use the findings or theories of a particular scholar. As long as I openly acknowledge that use, I think that would fall under fair use. Of course, British law is somewhat different than American on free speech issues.

The real question is how much can be asked of a judge:
Last week the judge adjourned to read both books.

Poor guy.

Monday, March 06, 2006


J. Mark Bertrand confesses. He's a hair-splitter:
McGregor Wright says that, “For every inconsistent teacher there are several of their students who are quite willing to drive the truck of heresy through the holes the master has left in the semiorthodox fence.”[ii] That’s the legacy of inconsistency: one generation’s innocent mistake becomes the next generation’s cherished assumption. The teacher who admits that God is sometimes illogical will have students who insist that God is frequently illogical. And the following generation will question whether God is ever logical.

It is far more difficult to spot the last generation’s error and weed it out than to drag truth down to the level of error we inherited.

Some mistakes seem trivial but lead to significant thought shifts. Paul teaches salvation by grace through faith apart from works. Then someone comes along and says salvation is by grace, but our works are a pre-condition for God’s grace. He might never imagine a gospel of works, but his students will soon rationalize the system and arrive at precisely that. What begins as a seemingly trivial mistake ends in an egregious error.

And that’s why we need hair-splitters. That’s why we need people who will suffer the shrugs and sighs to insist that Christians speak with precision when they deal with doctrinal truth. We need people who care about the jots and tittles, who aren’t afraid to delve into the minutiae of the faith, who are willing to keep a thousand seemingly-pointless distinctions in the proper logical sequence.

Yes, sometimes we can "major in the minors", but it is human arrogance to assume that God is not concerned with His details.
THE SOUTH DAKOTA GOVERNOR signs bill banning abortions.

This may get interesting.
Williams Fears Split Over Homosexuality

The Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury has again expressed fears over an Anglican split over the issue of homosexuality:
Dr Williams also warned that the worldwide Anglican Church faced a fundamental "rupture" on the issue of homosexuality.

He said he feared any split could take decades to heal.

Traditionalists have given the Church in the US until June to reverse its approach on ordaining gay clergy - or face expulsion from the Communion.

Some liberals back a looser, federal structure for the Anglican Communion.

Dr Williams said he feared any split would run too deep to make this possible.

"If there is a rupture, it's going to be a more visible rupture, it is not going to settle down quietly to being a federation," he said.

"And I suppose my anxiety about it is that if the communion is broken we may be left with even less than a federation."

...Our correspondent said the archbishop seemed to be aiming his remarks at the American Church.

The church has been given until its governing convention meets in June to reverse its liberal approach to the ordination of gay clergy and the blessing of same-sex relationships.

You know you're getting too liberal when the English try to rein you in. Look for not only an Atlantic split, but also a further American split.

Both of the mainline Episcopal members left can celebrate their 'victory' for inclusion.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Friday, March 03, 2006


Kabbalish Madonna, aka 'Esther', is looking to buy a house in Israel to await the Messiah:
US pop diva Madonna wants to buy a house in the Israeli town of Rosh Pina, where the ancient Jewish Kabbalah tradition expects the Messiah to appear at the end of the world.

Yediot Aharonot said the owner of a 100-year-old, ramshackle five-bedroom villa overlooking the Sea of the Galilee had been recently contacted several times by representatives of the superstar with a view to selling his property.

According to the same source, Madonna wants to renovate the building into a centre of study of mystical Jewish texts pored over by Kabbalah followers.

You would think someone named 'Madonna' would know He's already been here.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


My old friend Shane Scott has dug himself out of the Chicago snow, moved South and started a new blog.

Shane has for many years used the New American Standard version (95 update) as I still do (he probably picked it up from me...). He's now switched to the new English Standard Version, and in his first major post defends his move.

I got a copy of the ESV a few months ago, and quite like it, although I've not used it enough to make the leap to using it as my main translation. I'll have to give it more consideration.

And a hearty welcome to new blogger Shane. Keep an eye for Faith & Thought in my blogroll.