Sunday, April 30, 2006

PREACHING THIS MORNING...from Colossians 1:1-12, beginning a new series on the epistle. Our Christian goal is 'to please Him in all respects'.

The Australian Anglican church is ready to spend $50K to debunk Da Vinci claims:
In an unusual move by a major church, the Anglican Church-funded cinema ad campaign will bombard moviegoers with advertisements questioning the book's central claims, including that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene had children.

Based on Dan Brown's bestseller, the movie, which stars Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou, is set to be one of the year's major blockbusters.

Anglican Media Sydney will run 20-second ads on 250 screens in 15 multiplexes in Sydney, Wollongong and Shellharbour.

The ads, which promote a new website created by the organisation - - will start on May 11, a week before the release of the film, and will run for four weeks.

The money has come from funds set aside by the Sydney Anglican Diocese's synod last year to be used in promoting the gospel in popular media.

Bishop Robert Forsyth, chairman of Anglican Media Sydney, said the church had seized the opportunity to capitalise on the interest the film is expected to create in the story of Jesus to talk to people who otherwise would not normally go near the church.

"We've been surprised and challenged in that The Da Vinci Code has created a lot of interest in Jesus," Bishop Forsyth said.

"We are not afraid of the film. We are not seeking to discourage people from seeing it. But we are well aware of the power of film, and the danger of what is actually a fictional story filling the information void about Jesus."

Things ought to be heating up in the next few weeks. And just wait till my sermon!

Saturday, April 29, 2006

THE SMITHY CODE is solved.

A team of Czech archaeologists are hoping to uncover a Pharaonic royal palace and a royal government seat:
Miroslav Verner, long-term head of the Czech archaeological expedition in Egypt, told the Czech Archaeology Abroad conference that the royal buildings were probably situated at the border between the Nile valley and large burial grounds.

Czech archaeologists have also uncovered a number of shaft graves in Abusir dating back to 530-525 B.C.

One of the large tombs they have studied belonged to admiral Wedjahor-Resne, labelled as "the traitor of Egypt" over his collaboration with the Persians, said Czech Egyptologist Ladislav Bares.

The decorations and a giant sarcophagus in the tomb of an Egyptian priest, which has never been robbed, are unique, along with the burial equipment, including 408 statues of servants, amulets and the Book of the Dead.

[Thanks to ArchaeoBlog for the link.]

Friday, April 28, 2006


A senior Vatican official has called for a boycott against the new movie adaptation of The Da Vinci Code:
A Vatican official reportedly called for a boycott of the upcoming "The Da Vinci Code" film Friday, saying it contained "slanderous" offenses against Christianity that would have provoked a worldwide revolt had they been directed against Islam or the Holocaust.

Monsignor Angelo Amato — Pope Benedict XVI's former No. 2 when Benedict was head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith — made the comments in a speech at the Pontifical Holy Cross University, which is run by the conservative Catholic movement Opus Dei, the ANSA news agency reported.

"I hope all of you boycott this film," the Italian agency quoted Amato as saying. He said the film, based on the best-selling novel by Dan Brown, was full of "offenses, slander, historical and theological errors concerning Jesus, the gospel and the church."

"Slander, offenses and errors that if they were directed toward the Quran or the Shoah would have justifiably provoked a worldwide revolt," he said, referring to Islam's holy book and the Hebrew word for Holocaust.

"Yet because they were directed toward the Catholic Church, they remain 'unpunished,"' he said.

Now, there is no doubt he is correct about the inviolability of the Koran and the Holocaust. If the movie touched on the latter it simply would not have been allowed to be made. If it touched on the former the author and director would have before it could have been made.

My policy is I want Dan Brown & Co. to get as little of my money as possible. I've read the book, but I got it at a thrift store. I would like to see the movie, but I'll at least wait to rent it. I'm on semi-boycott.

Eat your heart out Hermes, the hot new handbag is the Bible Bag:

New York designer Femme Sud, maker of the new leather Bible clutch, has found that coveting thy neighbor’s handbag isn’t always a bad thing — especially when said handbag sells for $495.

Each book-shaped Bible bag is nearly twice the size of a standard-issue Gideon Good Book and comes with vamp-red lipstick and a coin purse that says “Pennies from Heaven,” the New York Post reports.

But why sport a fashion statement of biblical proportions?

Apparently, it’s a sure-fire way to attract attention from the opposite sex.

"I went out in Houston with a friend and was carrying my Bible bag," said Robin Goetz, who co-designed the pious purses with Joanna Lipman. "We couldn't even have a conversation because every two minutes another guy would come over to ask about it."

Actual Bible not included.

Justice Peter Smith, the judge in the recent Da Vinci Code case in Britain, apparently left a code of his own:
Embedded in the first 13½ pages of the ruling is Justice Smith's very own secret code, one that when partly solved reveals its name: the Smithy Code....

The decision was a resounding slap in the face to the two plaintiffs, Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh. But it was also an opportunity for Justice Smith to indulge in a flight of judicial and cryptological fancy.

The first clue that a puzzle exists lies in the typeface of the ruling. Most of the document is printed in regular roman letters, the way one would expect. But some letters in the first 13½ pages appear in boldface italics, jarringly, in the midst of all the normal words. Thus, in the first paragraph of the decision, which refers to Mr. Leigh and Mr. Baigent, the "s" in the word "claimants" is italicized and boldfaced.

If you pluck all the italicized letters out of the text, you find that the first 10 spell "Smithy Code," an apparent play on "Da Vinci Code." But the next series of letters, some 30 or so, are a jumble, and this is the mystery that needs to be solved to break the code.

In a brief telephone interview on Wednesday, Justice Smith declined to provide a solution for a puzzled reporter. Nor would he explain how he had put the code in his ruling, or how long it took him to figure out how to do it.

"I can't discuss the judgment until after I retire," he said.

He's dropped a few clues, but as yet The Smithy Code remains unbroken.

I like this guy.
Marc Gellman Tries to Understand Angry Atheists:
So we disagree about God. I'm sometimes at odds with Yankee fans, people who like rap music and people who don't like animals, but I try to be civil. I don't know many religious folk who wake up thinking of new ways to aggravate atheists, but many people who do not believe in God seem to find the religion of their neighbors terribly offensive or oppressive, particularly if the folks next door are evangelical Christians. I just don't get it.

This must sound condescending and a large generalization, and I don't mean it that way, but I am tempted to believe that behind atheist anger there are oftentimes uncomfortable personal histories. Perhaps their atheism was the result of the tragic death of a loved one, or an angry degrading sermon, or an insensitive eulogy, or an unfeeling castigation of lifestyle choices or perhaps something even worse. I would ask for forgiveness from the angry atheists who write to me if I thought it would help. Religion must remain an audacious, daring and, yes, uncomfortable assault on our desires to do what we want when we want to do it. All religions must teach a way to discipline our animal urges, to overcome racism and materialism, selfishness and arrogance and the sinful oppression of the most vulnerable and the most innocent among us.

Just look at the angriest atheist of them all Madeline Murray O'Hair for confirmation.

Malcolm Billings has a nice summary of the history, significance and controversy surrounding Jerusalem's Temple Mount.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


With sales of the new paperback edition of The Da Vinci Code topping 1 million copies the reason for the popularity can in part be explained by the conspiratorial mindset:
As Dan Brown writes in “The Da Vinci Code,” “Everyone loves a conspiracy.”

So here they are — the supposed secrets nobody wants you to know, least of all the Christian church. Jesus never died on the cross. No, he retired to Egypt. Or was it France? He sired a royal bloodline with wife Mary Magdalene.

Can this all be true? No, say virtually all serious historians who deal with the first century....

To people like Lynn Garrett, religion editor of Publishers Weekly for the past decade, the explanation is simple: “Conspiracy theories have tremendous appeal for Americans.”

In particular, Brown’s novel feeds into “a willingness on peoples’ part to believe the worst about Christianity generally and the Roman Catholic Church in particular.” She sees it as the religious equivalent of the many theories about President Kennedy’s assassination. [emphasis added, nac]

Just so. As I stated recently, those who are willing to believe the worst--eg, what Dan Brown is peddling--aren't interested in seriously following the Bible anyway.

A new petition from religious leaders calls for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. This time, the Catholics are on board:
About 50 prominent religious leaders, including seven Roman Catholic cardinals and about a half-dozen archbishops, have signed a petition in support of a constitutional amendment blocking same-sex marriage.

Organizers of the petition said it was in part an effort to revive the groundswell of opposition to same-sex marriage that helped bring many conservative voters to the polls in some pivotal states in 2004. The signers include many influential evangelical Protestants, a few rabbis and an official of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

But both the organizers and gay rights groups said what was striking about the petition was the direct involvement by high-ranking Roman Catholic officials, including 16 bishops. Although the church has long opposed same-sex unions, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops had previously endorsed the idea of a constitutional amendment banning such unions, it was evangelical Protestants who generally led the charge when the amendment was debated in 2004.

"The personal involvement of bishops and cardinals is significantly greater this time than in 2004," said Patrick Korten, a spokesman for the Knights of Columbus, a lay Catholic group.

The Catholic bishops and many of the other religious leaders involved have pledged to distribute postcards for their congregants to send to their senators urging support for the amendment. The Knights of Columbus is distributing 10 million postcards to Catholic churches.

I'm generally against the constitutional amendment crazes that blow through from time to time (remember flag burning?), but a simple statement defining marriage would be an appropriate step while leaving the implementation to states. I confess that I still have problems with the desire to nationalize every issue.

For some reason I was not contacted about being an initial signee of the petition. Hmmm, I was out of town, maybe they just weren't able to reach me...
Upset Kentucky Funds New College

A homosexual rights group has sued over funding given to the University of the Cumberlands, which recently suspended a homosexual student for violating stated school policy at the private Baptist college:
Christina Gilgor asked the court to prevent the state from giving public money to the University of the Cumberlands for a new pharmacy school. Gilgor is executive director of the Kentucky Fairness Alliance, which promotes gay rights.

She said the funding is an "unconstitutional appropriation and use of public funds" for "a sectarian and denominational school that treats Kentucky citizens unequally."

Senate President David Williams, a Burkesville Republican who has been pushing funding for the pharmacy school in his district, said the legal relief Gilgor is seeking is "too broad and simply is seeking protective status for gays and lesbians."

Governor Ernie Fletcher, who signed the bill, is also seeking constitutional clarification.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


It's an issue that pops up with some regularity, and so here it is once again. Two Ohio churches are under fire for being too political. The charges are being brought by other clergy:
In a challenge to the ethics of conservative Ohio religious leaders and the fairness of the Internal Revenue Service, a group of 56 clergy members contends that two churches have gone too far in supporting a Republican candidate for governor.

Two complaints filed with the tax agency say that the large Columbus area churches, active in President Bush's narrow Ohio win in 2004, violated their tax-exempt status by pushing the candidacy of J. Kenneth Blackwell, who is the secretary of state and the favored candidate of Ohio's religious right.

The clergy members said the churches improperly held political activities and allowed Republican organizations to use their facilities.

The goal of the challenge is "for these churches to stop acting like electioneering organizations," said the Rev. Eric Williams, pastor of North Congregational United Church of Christ. "I don't want to harm or demonize these churches. I want these churches to act legally."

Of course, it's not quite as simple as it might seem. One wonders when this disinterested group of clergy will file complaints against predominantly black churches who support Democratic candidates, and have done so openly for years. Williams and his cronies themselves are being political; they're primarily upset that the two Ohio churches in question supported Republicans rather than candidates of their choice.

The churches in question counter that free speech ought to exist for them, too:
In Ohio, a perennial battleground that is again coveted territory in this year's midterm elections, the targets of the tax complaint -- World Harvest Church and Fairfield Christian Church -- attribute the filing to philosophical disagreements and partisan politics. One spokesman called it "a campaign of harassment" before the May 2 primary.

"Spiritual warfare," the Rev. Russell Johnson, Fairfield's pastor and chairman of the Ohio Restoration Project, said at a recent news conference. "There's still freedom of speech in this country and it should apply to Christians, as well. People need to get out of their pews, out from behind stained-glass windows, and shine a light for what is good and right."

Well, there is a great deal of truth to that, certainly. When we start letting the government decide what churches can say and what they cannot we are opening a very dangerous door. Canada has already stepped through it, limiting religious speech that is deemed discriminatory.

But when I read things like this I'm just uncomfortable:
Among the project's objectives is to recruit "Patriot Pastors" to become politically active in their counties and their congressional districts, according to the organization's Web site. Each should be ready to register voters "able to shine a light for Godly candidates in the 2006 election cycle."

Churches and preachers have to be very careful they don't simply become partisan political tools. Two problems exist with such a move. One is a loss of independence. You become beholden to an organized political body. There is also the very great problem of a loss of focus on the kingdom of God in favor of the kingdoms of men. Transitory political victories are alluring, but they cannot take away from the real work of expanding the borders of His kingdom, a victory that will last.

The notion that Christians should not participate in the political process is itself a dangerous form of discrimination, however. I once spoke to a fellow who told me that no preacher should be allowed to hold political office. This was during the days of Pat Robertson's run for the Presidency. That's something that sounds nice in some ways, and coforms to the public myth of 'separation of church and state'. But what about someone who attends church regularly and perhaps teaches Bible class? Maybe he even fills in for the preacher on occasion. Should he be banned? Such is a slippery slope the intent of which is to dismiss the seriously religious from the public square.

When we balance 'Patriot Pastors' against an intrusive government determining what churches are allowed to say, I will give the nod to the PPs. Once the government starts nosing and regulating they know no end.

Monday, April 24, 2006


Knight-Ridder is pushing a piece on the Da Vinci Code-Judas Gospel soon to be destruction of Christianity as we know it. At least they hope so:
Perhaps one day, Sunday school students will learn that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, seminaries will teach alternative gospels as the true Christian canon and Bible colleges will emphasize Christ’s human attributes over his divinity.

It hasn’t happened yet. But theologians and pastors worry that if Dan Brown’s bestselling theological thriller, "The Da Vinci Code," keeps flying off the shelves, it could potentially rewrite the popular understanding of Christian history....

Some Christians grappling with newfound Gnostic material may long for the days when Judas was seen as a betrayer, Mary Magdalene was seen a prostitute and Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were seen as the only Gospel writers.

Ah, if only to recover those halcyon days of ignorant simplicity.

Despite the best efforts of a 21st Century boilerplate suspense writer (or his counterparts in the press), Christianity somehow will plug along. Yes, defenses must be--and should be--made against popular misconceptions. But no one really interested in anything approaching truth is going to be led astray for long by a beach novel.

A Cairo, Georgia woman tried a new use for her Bible:
Grady County investigators say Marie Boatwright took a Bible to her husband Richard at the grady County Jail and jailers found methamphetamine hidden in the spine of the book.

Perhaps she got the idea while reading Revelation 10:9.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

PREACHING THIS MORNING...on 'Blessed Are the Meek', continuing my series on the Beatitudes. Appearances by Pinky & the Brain, Hitler and Rudolf Stier, and, of course, Jesus Christ. "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."

Friday, April 21, 2006


Your Scholastic Strength Is Deep Thinking

You aren't afraid to delve head first into a difficult subject, with mastery as your goal.
You are talented at adapting, motivating others, managing resources, and analyzing risk.

You should major in:

Foreign language

With two degrees in history and preaching for going on nine years, that seems about right, I guess.

[Thanks to The (All New) Pulpiteer Adventures]

Doug Mendenhall wonders if the Gospel of Judas will rock Christianity to the core:
With the National Geographic Society's unveiling of "The Gospel of Judas," a raggedy papyrus book puts a different spin on the traditional stories of Jesus. Many people - including the Geographic - are asking dramatic questions about whether this could destroy Christianity as we know it.

The answer, of course, is no.

(By the way, that's the same answer to the question people keep asking me about whether Dan Brown's "DaVinci Code" could rewrite Christian history. C'mon, people, it's just a novel.)

Just so. And he's got a nice survey of some telling quotes about the other 'new' gospels, too. And people ask why these didn't make into the canon?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


The ACLU continues its jack-booted reign of intimidation as it seeks to stop public prayers in the name of Jesus:
As Bunkey Morgan cleared his throat and prepared to deliver the invocation at Monday's County Commissioners meeting, he looked a bit uncertain.

Just two days earlier he had received notice from the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina that the prayers he delivers before each county meeting are possibly offensive and could be alienating those who attend.

At issue is not the prayer itself, but rather the use of the name "Jesus Christ" as part of the blessing.

A statement sent by the ACLU requests that the board discontinue its use of "sectarian invocations at Chatham County Commissioners meetings," and cites multiple cases in which municipal governments have changed the wording of their prayers in deference to religious diversity.

But Morgan and the commissioners (sounds like a late '50s singing group) aren't backing down:
Nonetheless, the first words of Morgan's prayer began, "In the Bible, Jesus taught us in prayer," before he delivered the words of The Lord's Prayer to the handful of people in attendance.

Earlier, during a discussion about the ACLU request, the commissioners indicated they were hesitant to change the tradition of invoking Christ's name.

"For the majority of us [the request by the ACLU] just makes us mad," Commissioner Patrick Barnes said, curling his hands into fists. "You can have prayer; you can mention God or Lord but not Jesus Christ. The idea of abandoning it irritates me."

Other commissioners chimed in with similar objections to changing the invocation. All five board members identified themselves as Christians and puzzled as to why a simple prayer could be found objectionable.

"I bet 99 percent of people would be in favor of our prayer," Commissioner Carl Outz said. "We can't keep bendin' over to all these rules put out by individuals that are less than 1 percent of the population."

A hearty 'Amen' to that. As long as the ACLU thinks it can bully people into silence it will do so. The first step in exercising religious freedom (wasn't religious freedom at one time considered a 'civil liberty'?) is actually to exercise it. The one thing the ACLU fears the most is simply to be ignored.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


US forces in Iraq are offering an apology for the wholesale destruction of one of the world's most important archaeological sites, ancient Babylon:
In an act of at least partial contrition, an officer in charge of the US military occupation of Babylon in 2003 and 2004 has offered to make a formal apology for the destruction his troops wrought on the ancient site.

Colonel John Coleman, former chief of staff for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in Iraq, said yesterday that if the head of the Iraqi antiquities board wanted an apology, "if it makes him feel good, we can certainly give him one".

For more than a millennium, Babylon was one of the great cities of antiquity. It reached its greatest glory in the early 6th century BC, as the capital of Nebuchadnezzar II, builder of the celebrated Hanging Gardens.

Babylon declined and fell into ruin after it was conquered by the Persians under Cyrus the Great in around 538BC. But no devastation seems to have matched that inflicted by US troops and their Polish allies after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Saddam himself had not helped. He had much of the ancient site rebuilt and developed as a tourist site as part of efforts to portray himself as Nebuchadnezzar's modern successor and turn Mesopotamia once more into a regional superpower. He built a contemporary ziggurat-shaped palace nearby and carved out an underground car park among archeological deposits.

But after entering Babylon in April 2003, coalition forces turned the site into a base camp, flattening and compressing tracts of ruins as they built a helicopter pad and fuel stations. The soldiers filled sandbags with archeological fragments and dug trenches through unexcavated areas, while tanks crushed slabs of original 2,600-year-old paving.

You like to see such heartfelt apologies. Yet that's not all:
But Babylon is not the only point of archaeological controversy in a country with an estimated 10,000 sites. In a separate complaint, the Iraqi Ministry for Tourism and Antiquities has demanded that US troops pull out of the city of Kish, which dates back 5,000 years, accusing American forces of damaging the precious archaeological site.

It accused the soldiers of preventing anyone from entering the city to assess damage. There has been no comment from the US military.

Well, at least we know Osama isn't in the ruins of Babylon.

[Link via Drudge]

Monday, April 17, 2006


The central fundamental fact of Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus. If He did not raise none of the rest of it matters. The Sermon on the Mount is useless, even the cross has no point. If Jesus is not raised, Paul tells us, we are of all men most to be pitied. This central fact, the Washington Post finds, is gaining traction in an age of skepticism:
The Easter story is the centerpiece of Christians' faith. For most, the miracle of Jesus overcoming death three days after the Crucifixion -- whether in body or spirit -- is not open to debate. Others do not view the Resurrection in a literal way but as a powerful, transformative metaphor about his message living on.

In the past two decades, there has been a heightened scrutiny of Scripture, with basic Christian tenets such as the Resurrection challenged by biblical scholars and others in their search for historical facts about Jesus. But in recent years, there has been a rise in the popularity and stature of books that embrace [Donita] Dickerson's traditional view of Easter, experts say....

"There seems to be in the past decade a move to embrace the traditional faith of the church, not really in a retrograde way, but in a 'let's take another look at what modernity may have too readily dismissed' sort of way," said Cynthia Lindner, director of ministry studies at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Good news, very literally.
PREACHING THIS 'I AM' series from the Gospel of John. I'm preaching this week in Kentucky without the benefit of Powerpoint. It's good to keep in practice on that.

Being away from my office and being restricted to dial-up likely will mean restricted posting this week.

Friday, April 14, 2006


My graduate professor commented to us as to why Abraham Lincoln was called 'Honest' Abe: 'For the same reason you call a tall man 'Shorty.' That's not the national myth, of course, a myth perpetuated this Easter season in Richard Wightman Fox's column 'The President Who Died for Us':
by April 1865 the majority of Northerners and Southern blacks took him as no ordinary person. He had been offering his body and soul all through the war and his final sacrifice, providentially appointed for Good Friday, showed that God had surely marked him for sacred service.

At a mass assembly in Manhattan five hours after Lincoln's death, James A. Garfield — the Ohio congressman who would become the second assassinated president 16 years later — voiced the common hesitancy, then went on to claim the analogy: "It may be almost impious to say it, but it does seem that Lincoln's death parallels that of the Son of God."

Jesus had saved humanity, or at least some portion of it, from eternal damnation. Lincoln had saved the nation from the civic equivalent of damnation: the dissolution that had always bedeviled republics. "Jesus Christ died for the world," said the Rev. C. B. Crane in Hartford. "Abraham Lincoln died for his country."

Garfield should have known better, of course. And Fox is aware of the political calculation involved in the instant hagiography of Lincoln, as well as the rather dubious religious convictions of the President. But even Fox falls victim to the myth:
Seven score and one years have passed since Good Friday 1865, and Lincoln has always remained his own man. In his final years, he had set his own course by balancing a pressing sense of the rule of Providence with a persistent belief in the power of reason. Still, he can — and should — stand as historic demonstration that a republican hero's sacrifice for the people comes very close to Christ's ideals of self-denial and self-giving.

I think I prefer to have my Savior a little more sinless.

[For a clearer understanding of Lincoln read M.E. Bradford's fine writings on the subject. And thanks again to theosebes reader SB for the link.]

Thursday, April 13, 2006


At 5:51:22 PM EDT the 50,000th visitor stopped by this humble little weblog. Yes, it's taken us awhile to get here, but as I tell people, theosebes is a boutique blog (that means you're in the know). Actually, the theosebes readership has taken a big jump here lately, which I'm quite pleased with.

So thank you person in Loudon, Tennessee who is still using Windows 98. Come back again. And that goes for the rest of you, too.

The full story behind the Gospel of Judas has caused some to raise questions:
The art dealer was detained several years ago in an unrelated Italian antiquities smuggling investigation. And after she failed to profit from the sale of the gospel in the private market, she struck a deal with a foundation run by her lawyer that would let her make about as much as she would have made on that sale, or more.

Later, the National Geographic Society paid the foundation to restore the manuscript and bought the rights to the text and the story about the discovery. As part of her arrangement with the foundation, the dealer, Frieda Tchacos Nussberger, stands to gain $1 million to $2 million from those National Geographic projects, her lawyer said. There may even be more.

Details of how the manuscript was found are clouded. According to National Geographic, it was found by farmers in an Egyptian cave in the 1970's, sold to a dealer and passed through various hands in Europe and the United States. Legal issues in its transit are equally vague.

No one questions the authenticity of the Judas gospel, which depicts Judas Iscariot not as a betrayer of Jesus but as his favored disciple.

But the emerging details are raising concerns among some archaeologists and other scholars at a time of growing scrutiny of the dealers who sell antiquities and of the museums and collectors who buy them. The information also calls into question the completeness of National Geographic's depiction of some individuals like Ms. Tchacos Nussberger and its disclosure of all the financial relationships involved....

"We are dealing with a looted object," said Jane C. Waldbaum, president of the Archaeological Institute of America, a professional society. "The artifact was poorly handled for years because the people holding it were more concerned with making money than protecting it."

Money was involved? I'm shocked--shocked, I say!

Although I do support the right of the University of the Cumberlands (aka Cumberland College) to expel a student practicing homosexuality, it appears they've been having some trouble with heavy handidness lately. This censure doesn't paint a pretty picture.

[Thanks to theosebes reader SB for the link.]

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


Back in the day it was just Cumberland College (hey, I competed in math competitions there in high school), but now it's the University of the Cumberlands. They were and are a private Southern Baptist college in Kentucky. As such, they have expelled a student for practicing homosexuality:
Jason Johnson, a sophomore majoring in theater arts, was expelled from the university Thursday because he declared online that he is gay. In a statement released last week, the university's president, Jim Taylor said students are held to a "higher standard" and that "students know the rules before they come to this institution."

But a copy of the student handbook provided by the university confirmed the policy was not spelled out in 2003-04, when Johnson chose to attend. The school did not provide a copy of the policy for the 2004-05 school year. The 2005-06 student handbook says: "Any student who engages in or promotes sexual behavior not consistent with Christian principles (including sex outside marriage and homosexuality) may be suspended or asked to withdraw."

School officials said that although the 2003-04 policy did not explicitly mention homosexuality, it did say that students must "conduct themselves, on and off the campus, in a manner which is consistent with the objectives of the College and with its standards of conduct."

Reading the article I will concede that the university acted somewhat heavy handidly in expelling him from classes with only a few weeks to go in the term. It seems as though a compromise of removing him from the dorm and forcing a transfer after the end of the semester would have been a bit less harsh.

That said, 1) can you say private and Baptist? This policy could not come as a surprise. And, 2) can you say stupid for posting this stuff on myspace?

It's interesting that all the 'privacy' advocates have little respect for the decisions made by a private institution. No one forced him to go to a private, conservative Southern Baptist college in what is essentially rural Kentucky. Yes, the college handled it poorly, but they're the ones who get to set the rules here.

There is a move underway on the left wing of (particularly institutional) churches of Christ to bring about 'unity' with Independent Christian Churches. Now, unity is a good thing, I think we will agree. And, of course, churches of Christ and Independent Christian Churches have common historical roots. This is the centennial of the recognition of the two religious groups being separate, a date that is itself somewhat relative as it was simply the year the US religious census first declared there were two separate groups. It was then simply a recognition of the existing fact of different practices. The wedge issue between the two has been the use of instrumental music in public worship, churches of Christ maintaining the practice of a capella singing only. Now while this has been the most visible issue of separate practice, the real root of these divisions, as historian Dr. David E. Harrell has often noted, is more findamental. Those who practice so differently do so because they approach the Bible differently. The wedge issue simply is a way that manifests itself, but you find also different attitudes and approaches from the two different groups.

Those who currently are pushing for unity between the groups are doing so with the attitude that this unity would be a good in and of itself, a good that trumps any other good. But Drew Kizer makes an excellent point about the Price of Unity:
Whenever reconciliation takes place between two parties, one or both of the parties have to make concessions, which, in effect, are statements that condemn one's own history and practices. This is why [Jeff] Walling is "ashamed" and [Mike] Cope is "sorry." Their capitulation communicates penitence to the other side.

Don't hold your breath waiting on the Christian Churches to make any concessions. They're not changing. They're comfortable right where they are.

He's exactly right, of course. The assumption on the part of those pushing for this unity is that 'conservative' principles have caused it, thus we should repent of these needless restrictions and bring out the guitars. There is no request that the Christian Churches drop the innovation of the instrument out of respect for the conscience of those who do not use it. There is no expectation that the Christian Churches come to 'us' in tears regretting their importation of the practice.

The cost of this kind of unity is principle. Men of no principle can be unitied on everything because nothing matters. I recognize that is an extreme, but the message in this instance is 'this principle does not matter to us' so everyone should drop it and be unified. This, of course, is not about the instrument qua instrument, but rather about a shift in attitudes as discussed above. In fact, I think some in Independent Christian Churches might find that the Wallings, Atchleys and Copes have moved further to the left in their approach than they themselves are willing to go.

The calls to give up practices that lead to division sounds wonderful, but they ignore clear Biblical principle. If someone feels conscience bound by Scripture not to use instruments of music in public worship then it would be a sin for that individual to do so, whether the practice itself is wrong or not. Paul makes this clear in his discussion of conscience issues in Romans 14:23:
But he who doubts is condemned if he eats [meat, nac], because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.(NASB)

There is also a misunderstanding of the very issue of unity. On what level will these churches become unified? Churches of Christ truly are independent, not just calling themselves Independent then having a convention anyway. There is no organization or controlling body above the local congregation. That is where unity resides. I join in joint practice with fellow Christians with whom I can worship in good conscience. Are there differences of understanding and personal practice in local congregations? Certainly there are. This is expected, as we read in Romans 14 and also Ephesians 4. The work of the local congregation to move people from possessing the unity of the Spirit (4:3) only to attaining the unity of the faith (4:13).

This is a perpetual process, only possible on the local level. It strives for an ideal, but it can only be done as long as the joint practice conforms to the individual consciences of the members. I might disagree with someone in the congregation on the issue of the use of instrumental music in worship, but as we are coming to a common understanding of that issue we cannot both practice our views together because it necessitates joint participation.

All of this seems inefficient and messy, but people tend to be that way. The way of being 'efficient' imports solutions that I believe themselves are unscriptural: denominational superstructures, conventions and creeds. I believe that God thinks the perpetual process of building unity through knowledge, faith and principle is good for us spiritually.

Might God accept in final judgment disciples of different practices? I believe he will as Paul makes clear in Romans 14. To argue the necessity of perfect practice is to 1) assume you have it, and 2) ultimately call for works salvation. But what are the limits of what God will accept in His final judgment? That, I do not know. That is for Him to determine ('Who are you to judge the servant of another?'). I do know that He has His limits, and that He will not accept simply anything.

What I am called to do is take seriously what God says in His word, and to practice what I believe God's word teaches. I am also compelled to teach others what I believe God's word commands. For me to abandon matters of Biblical principal and conscience for the sake of an artificial unity certainly is not what God wants.

Monday, April 10, 2006


David Kopel imagines so:
Suppose that sometime around the year 3,800 A.D., someone wrote a newspaper that began: "According to a recently-discovered document, which appears to have been written sometime before 1926, Benedict Arnold did not attempt to betray George Washington and the American cause, as is commonly believed. Rather, Benedict Arnold was acting at the request of George Washington, because Washington wanted Arnold to help him create a dictatorship of the proletariat and the abolition of private property."

A reader who knew her ancient history would recognize that the newly-discovered "Arnold document" was almost certainly not a historically accurate account of the relationship between George Washington and Benedict Arnold. The reader would know that the terms "dictatorship of the proletariat" and "abolition of private property" come from a political philosophy, Marxism, which was created long after Washington and Arnold were dead. The reader would also know that the most reliable records from the 18th century provided no support for the theory that Washington or Arnold favored a dictatorship of the proletariat or the abolition of private property.

This Friday's coverage of the so-called "Gospel of Judas" in much of the U.S. media was appallingly stupid. The Judas gospel is interesting in its own right, but the notion that it disproves, or casts into doubt, the traditional orthodox understanding of the betrayal of Jesus is preposterous.

Meanwhile, Scrappleface 'reports' that
Christian book stores expect a flood of customers for the new gospel, and are already selling handcuff bracelets with the inscription WWJD: “What Would Judas Do?”

Be sure to ask for it at the counter.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

SERMON THIS MORNING: 'The Gospel & Judas: What's the Gospel Truth About Judas Iscariot?' The next installment on my Beatitudes series will have to wait as I thought this was a bit more immediately timely.

One of the ironic things about the current trend of promoting Gnosticism is how inherently anti-egalitarian it is. The Gnostics claimed to have 'insider' information, and the point of the 'Gospel of Judas' is that Jesus had the inside scoop about the Kingdom for Judas, which would elevate him above the other apostles. This flies in the face of the universality of the true Gospel message.

By its very nature the gospel is revealed truth; it is no longer hidden and inaccessible. It also contradicts everything that Jesus said to his apostles in response to their constant bickering about who was the greatest. Gnosticism, despite its claim to shun the material, is simply another call to arrogant carnality, the desire to be superior by having special knowledge. The true Gospel calls us to be brothers, fellow heirs with Christ and reflections of His nature through humility and service.

Saturday, April 08, 2006


Easter, for some reason, means the showing of the DeMille classic The Ten Commandments. This year there is a new mini-series adaptation called, well, The Ten Commandments. Jill Vejnoska gives us a 'Ten Commandments' guide to sort it all out:
VI Thou Shalt Not Kill All the Cornball Dialogue: We're all for reverence, but what's a self-respecting, sand-and-sandals spectacle without the likes of DeMille's Princess Nefretiri (Anne Baxter) batting her eyes at Moses and breathing heavily, "When you are Pharaoh, you can free your people, worship whatever gods you please. So long as I can worship you ... ." The miniseries has few laughs, intentional or otherwise. It's mostly heavy on the drama as Moses struggles to unify his people, although the occasional bout of self-help-speak makes him sound like the Dr. Phil of the desert. ("Because a man is born in slavery, that doesn't mean that he is a slave. He has to think of himself as a slave before he is one!")

The whole thing is pretty funny.

A British judge has cleared Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown of stealing ideas for his bestseller:
In issuing his opinion, Justice Peter Smith said Mr. Brown had indeed relied on the earlier work, "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail," in writing a section of "The Da Vinci Code." But he said two of the authors of "Holy Blood," Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, had failed in their effort to prove that Mr. Brown had stolen their "central theme" because they could not accurately state what that theme was.

In fact, Justice Smith said, in a ruling that was at times sharply critical of the plaintiffs — as well as of Mr. Brown and his wife, Blythe, who does much of his research — the earlier book "does not have a central theme as contended by the claimants: it was an artificial creation for the purposes of the litigation working back from 'The Da Vinci Code.' "

Mr. Baigent and Mr. Leigh sued Random House U.K. (which is also their publisher), claiming that "The Da Vinci Code" had stolen the "architecture" of their book — the steps they took to reach their conclusions — and thus was guilty of copyright infringement. (The book's third author, Henry Lincoln, did not take part in the suit.) "It would be quite wrong if fictional writers were to have their writings pored over in the way 'The Da Vinci Code' has been pored over in this case by authors of pretend historical books to make an allegation of infringement of copyright," Justice Smith wrote in his decision.

Ah, the line "authors of pretend historical books" makes the whole suit worth it.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Judas Gospel: No, Judas didn't write it

The National Media is all in a frenzywith the release of the ancient document dubbed 'the Gospel of Judas'. Let's establish this right off the bat, as Ben Witherington states:
"The manuscript tells us nothing about the historical Jesus or the historical Judas," said Ben Witherington III, professor of New Testament interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky. "It tells us a lot about a group that were labeled heretics in their own day."

Scholars on all sides agree that the text was probably produced by a scribe in a Gnostic community of Cainites — early Christians who regarded the traditional villains of the Bible, including Cain and Judas, as heroes.

"There is no evidence that any of these documents ever represented mainstream Christianity," Professor Witherington said. "The Cainites were always on the fringes of their own movement."

He said that unlike the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which were written in Christianity's first century, Gnostic works were produced in the second century and afterward. To say that the Gospel of Judas reveals anything factual about Judas, Dr. Witherington said, "is like saying a document written 150 years after George Washington died tells us the inside truth about George Washington."

He is exactly right, of course. We have here nothing of value to help us understand Jesus, but rather an important document in understanding a splinter group from decades later.

The document comes from a Gnostic sect, which were groups that claimed to have 'insider' knowledge about God and Christ. In their view the real, hardcore information just wasn't for everybody:
Some of the scholars on National Geographic's advisory committee said the text should prompt a reassessment of Judas. In it, Jesus speaks privately to Judas, telling him he will share with Judas alone "the mysteries of the kingdom." Jesus asks Judas to turn him over to the Roman authorities so that his body can be sacrificed.[emphasis mine, nac]

The real laugher is that these 'scholars' try to give this view some validity:
Craig Evans, a professor of the New Testament at Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, and a scholar on the National Geographic panel, conjectured that some of the dialogue between Jesus and Judas may have been spoken in private, and so did not make its way into the New Testament Gospels, which are more likely to treat Jesus' public statements.

"It is possible that the Gospel of Judas preserves an old memory that Jesus had actually instructed Judas in private, and the other disciples did not know about it," Dr. Evans said.

Somehow it preserves an old memory, although the memory was private and no one knew it...well, except for an heretical faction decades later with no direct ties to Jesus at all.

We'll call this the 'Da Vinci effect'. The terrible desire on the part of moderns to find the real story about Jesus. This discovery is interesting, and even important, within the context of Gnostic studies. For the Christian and his faith in the historical veracity of the gospel accounts the 'Gospel of Judas' doesn't even rate a blip on the radar.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


The Talladega, Alabama church that burned down Tuesday has been ruled arson. There seems to be no connection to the February church fires, although one of those ten remains unsolved.
The last day for theosebes?

A long sought 'missing link' between sea and land life has been discovered according to scientists:
Scientists have discovered fossils of a 375-million-year-old fish, a large scaly creature not seen before, that they say is a long-sought missing link in the evolution of some fishes from water to a life walking on four limbs on land.

In two reports today in the journal Nature, a team of scientists led by Neil H. Shubin of the University of Chicago say they have uncovered several well-preserved skeletons of the fossil fish in sediments of former streambeds in the Canadian Arctic, 600 miles from the North Pole.

The skeletons have the fins, scales and other attributes of a giant fish, four to nine feet long. But on closer examination, the scientists found telling anatomical traits of a transitional creature, a fish that is still a fish but has changes that anticipate the emergence of land animals — and is thus a predecessor of amphibians, reptiles and dinosaurs, mammals and eventually humans.

In the fishes' forward fins, the scientists found evidence of limbs in the making. There are the beginnings of digits, proto-wrists, elbows and shoulders. The fish also had a flat skull resembling a crocodile's, a neck, ribs and other parts that were similar to four-legged land animals known as tetrapods.

Other scientists said that in addition to confirming elements of a major transition in evolution, the fossils were a powerful rebuttal to religious creationists, who have long argued that the absence of such transitional creatures are a serious weakness in Darwin's theory.

Perhaps I'll stick around just in case.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


Simon Jenkins ponders the sad history of 20th-century church design. He's a little too worried about weddings, but he's certainly on the mark.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


Scientists have discovered how Jesus walked on water:
Rare conditions could have conspired to create hard-to-see ice on the Sea of Galilee that a person could have walked on back when Jesus is said to have walked on water, a scientist said today.

The study, which examines a combination of favorable water and environmental conditions, proposes that Jesus could have walked on an isolated patch of floating ice on what is now known as Lake Kinneret in northern Israel.

Looking at temperature records of the Mediterranean Sea surface and using analytical ice and statistical models, scientists considered a small section of the cold freshwater surface of the lake. The area studied, about 10,000 square feet, was near salty springs that empty into it.

The results suggest temperatures dropped to 25 degrees Fahrenheit (-4 degrees Celsius) during one of the two cold periods 2,500 –1,500 years ago for up to two days, the same decades during which Jesus lived.

With such conditions, a floating patch of ice could develop above the plumes resulting from the salty springs along the lake's western shore in Tabgha. Tabgha is the town where many archeological findings related to Jesus have been found.

Amazing considering the violent waves and wind that day.

Now if they can just figure out how He raised from the dead we've got this thing licked.

Want to live longer? A new study finds you need to add church attendance to your regimen:
There are many things you can do to increase your life expectancy: exercise, eat well, take your medication ... and go to church.

A new study finds people who attend religious services weekly live longer. Specifically, the research looked at how many years are added to life expectancy based on:

Regular physical exercise: 3.0 to 5.1 years

Proven therapeutic regimens: 2.1 to 3.7 years

Regular religious attendance: 1.8 to 3.1 years...

In a telephone interview, Hall speculated that the social aspect of religion could play a role in the results.

"There is something about being knit into the type of community that religious communities embody that has a way of mediating a positive health effect," he told LiveScience.

Perhaps, he said, being involved in a religion "can then decrease your level of stress in life or increase your ability to cope with stress."

Another possibility: "Being in a religious community helps you make meaning out of your life," Hall suggested.

And it not only gives meaning to your life, but it's also cheaper:
Hall also looked at the cost of these three approaches, examining typical gym membership fees, therapy costs from health insurance companies and census data on average household contributions to religious institutions.

The estimated cost of each year of additional life apparently gained by each method:

Regular physical exercise: $4,000

Proven therapeutic regimens: $10,000

Regular religious attendance: $7,000

An unexpected result of the study: now we know a contributing factor to low Sunday contribution numbers.

Monday, April 03, 2006


In honor of UCLA's championship game appearance tonight one ought to read Dan Wetzel's column, "Everyone loves a winner":
"If the UCLA teams of the late 1960s and early 1970s were subjected to the kind of scrutiny (other schools) have been, UCLA would probably have to forfeit about eight national championships and be on probation for the next 100 years."

Read the whole thing.

For the past several years I have written articles all along that Focus Magazine has been kind enough to publish. Through the grapevine I heard that Focus would cease publication. As you might imagine religious publications aren't exactly money making machines (for some reason my 'Bible Women We Love' issue idea hasn't gained any traction...), and I understand some of the editors actually have other things to do (read: a life). I have found Focus to be thoughtful and firmly Biblical without the kneejerk reactions one sometimes can find in religious publishing.

I was heartened today when a new issue of Focus arrived at my door. On the back it states: Revived, Revamped, Refocused. That's good to see, and I'm sure they could use your support. To subscribe to six bi-monthly issues (1 year) send $20 to Focus Magazine, 7854 LaBarrington Blvd, Powell, TN 37849.

A test of basic Bible chronology was too much for British Christians:
Less than a quarter of Christians in the United Kingdom possess enough knowledge of the Bible to be able to place key events in the order they appear, according to the results of a new survey by the Bible Society released last week.

The Christian evangelical organization carried out a survey of regular churchgoers, which revealed that 76 percent of people were unable to put a series of ten popular Bible stories in the order that they appear in the Bible.

Events used in the survey included Noah’s Ark, Solomon’s building of the Temple, and Jesus feeding the five thousand, among other similar incidents.

The survey was carried out by asking the questions in a quick-fire quiz style, and was designed to assess the common assumption that Christians possess an in-depth knowledge of the Bible.

If it makes them feel any better Americans wouldn't score higher.

The Matthew & Mary Winkler case has brought with it a focus on preacher's wives:
[E]xperts say preachers' wives often struggle with depression and isolation, expected to be exemplars of Christian virtue while bearing unique pressures on their private and public lives.

Gayle Haggard, author of "A Life Embraced: A Hopeful Guide for the Pastor's Wife," said ministers' wives can feel isolated because of a misconception about leadership, since they and their husbands are leaders of their congregations.

They can feel trapped, she said, by unrealistic expectations "to live a certain way, to dress a certain way, for their children to behave a certain way."

And ministers' wives often find themselves handling more jobs than they expected to take on, said Becky Hunter, current president of the Global Pastors Wives Network.

"You're not really hired, and yet there is some expectation in most church settings that the pastor's wife comes along in a package deal," Hunter said.

Too often, ministers and their wives are reluctant to seek emotional help from members of their congregations because they're looked up to as leaders, said Lois Evans, a former president of the Global Pastors Wives Network. They can become isolated, lonely and depressed.

Well, I've been married to a preacher's wife for several years now, and I can say that there is a lot of truth in that. I don't think that Preacher's Wife Syndrome is an excuse for murder, but I can understand that a preacher's wife could feel trapped with nowhere to turn.
7 Endangered Wonders

Luxor Egypt tops the listof the 7 Most Endangered Wonders of the World:
Luxor, Egypt
Dating back to the 14th century B.C., the Luxor temple complex on the west bank of the Nile River—which includes the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, more than 40 temples and the tombs of thousands of nobles—is threatened not only by the ravages of tourism and theft, but by the Nile itself. The construction of the Aswan Dam 40 years ago has caused salt to build up in the newly fertile soil around the temples, eroding their ancient foundations and filling many tombs with water. The World Monuments Fund is currently devising a management plan for the site, and hopes to give the complex its biggest renovation since Alexander the Great.

Also on the list is Babylon (not a surprise) and Machu Picchu.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

cough cough

Well, that's the tagline for the upcoming movie version of the The Da Vinci Code (no, really, it is). Some Christians are seeing the movie's release as a teachable moment:
Instead of planning boycotts or staging protests, many Christians are looking to use the film as a tool for evangelism—and there's an increasing number of books, DVDs and study guides on the market to help them do it. Campus Crusade for Christ, an interdenominational network of campus ministries, created a 20-page magazine disputing the movie's claims and professing Christian beliefs. The organization is printing more than a million copies, which will be given free to unbelievers and can be bought at cost by Christians. Outreach, a provider of church evangelism tools, is selling dozens of items, from bulk direct-mail postcards—"Got Questions?" one reads, showing a picture of the Mona Lisa with a milk mustache—to bookings with New Testament scholars.

Well, I don't disagree with that, although using the movie as an opportunity to teach and actually 'embracing' it are two entirely different things. I will--and have--used the Code as a foil to express certain truths, but I will do my best to avoid giving Dan Brown, Tom Hanks and Ron Howard any of my money.

This new attitude, according to Newsweek, seems to indicate that Christians have grown and matured in their reaction:
This is an unusual response from a community that has, in the past, reacted defensively to movies that were demeaning to the faith. Mike Licona, director of Apologetics at the North American Mission Board, was at the forefront of boycott efforts against "The Last Temptation of Christ" in 1988. "I think it was a mistake," he says. "It created the impression that we weren't interested in truth or critical discussion." This time around, he's encouraging Christians to take unbelievers to the movie.

Why would I want to take someone to see The Da Vinci Code, much less The Last Temptation of Christ? I guess I've got more growing to do.