Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Monday, January 30, 2006

I have been unassimulated

While I sit here writing, I am wearing a foot long gash in my neck that runs from the top of my right ear, down to the base of my neck and along the parameter of my jaw stopping under my chin. It is like someone tried to guillotine me and only went half way through.

The gash is the remnants of my operation from this past Thursday to remove a tumor in my parotid gland, along with some suspicious looking lymph glands surrounding the tumor.

My wife, mother and I had to be down at the Cedars-Sinai hospital by 5:15 AM. We arrived 20 minutes early and were the only three folks sitting in the lounge. Within 10 minutes of our arrival, there were at least 30 other people packed into this waiting area. I thought it was amusing how the preparation for my surgery was like meeting a clandestine CIA agent. A guy calls my name and tells me to go up to the third floor, dial a number and then someone would come and get me. I do this, and a monotone female voice tells me to take a seat. We wait around for about 10 minutes in another waiting room lounge area. Except for a couple of other folks, the hospital appeared to be entirely vacant. The monotone female emerges from a non-descript door and she registers me into the hospital. I finish up with her and I am told to go back and wait to be called. When I return to the lounge, it is now getting filled up with people.

After another 30 minutes or so, a lady appears at a door, calls my name, along with about 5 or 6 other people. She takes us down a corridor into the pre-op room. Each of us were assigned our curtained cubicles and told to change into a gown with little booties and a paper hat. I asked the lady coordinating all of us if I needed to take off my underwear. She asks me what area of my body is being operated on. I reply my neck and she tells me I should be OK wearing them. Later on, however, when I got to my room, I was disconcerted to discover they were gone. Anyhow...

The pre-op folks weighed us, took all our stats, and began interviewing everyone as to what procedure they were going to have. For all the emphasis on patient privacy, I could hear everyone sharing his or her medical problem. The guy to my right was there to have his sinuses worked on, another fellow was there to do something with his lungs, and still another guy to my left had something going on with his knee. I really got to know my fellow patients.

I had one funny experience. My tumor is on the right side of my face. A report in my file said it was on the left side. So, when the first nurse asks me, "Are you here to get a tumor out of your left parotid gland?" I quickly told her no, the right gland. She then goes and changes the paperwork on the computer. While she is doing that, another nurse comes over and asks me about my left parotid gland. I told her no, my right. She immediately went to investigate the paper work. I had even another nurse ask me the same thing, to which I told her no. There was a flurry of activity with nurses buzzing about to find out what the truth was as to the nature of my operation. One nurse even questioned me, "Are you sure it is your right and not your left?" I had to make her feel it so she would be convinced.

When my surgeon arrived, Dr. Osborne (see photo on the left), he says, "Well, I would think the patient would know more about his own body than a piece of paper" and then he looked over all of my other reports, charts and scans and says, "These all confirm it is on the right, so it must be on the right." I was happy I did not have to become insistent to the point of being belligerent.

I was wheeled into the OR, slid from the gurney to the operation table and introduced to all my nurses. Jennifer is the only name I can remember. I mentioned how I was told that when you go under, the last thing you think of will be the first thing you think of when you wake up. That is a myth. I tried, but it does not work; at least with me. I was thinking of my wife when I went under, when I woke up I was thinking about being thirsty. I first thought of her when the nurse informed me the doctor had spoken to her and my mother. I have to say how much I love and appreciate my wife. It took a long while for my hospital room to be prepared and she and my mother were out in the waiting room hurting to see me. I praise God for her persistence, because one of the nurses let her come back to the post op area - an area forbidden to anyone but staff and patients - to see me. She fed me ice chips and swabbed my mouth with a sponge.

After a long time in the post-op room, I was finally carted off to my hospital room. As I became more aware, I noticed I had a neck brace, but I also had drainage tubes coming out of my head. One from behind my ear and another down near the base of my neck. The one behind my ear was 6 inches into my head, the one near the base of my neck was 8 inches up into my face. The idea of plastic tubes draining my personal juices out from my body into another plastic container does not sound natural. It is almost like a horror movie. Having plastic tubes with little suction bulbs dangling at the end of them is probably the more disturbing aspect of my whole ordeal. Even worse was when the doctor had to remove them. He removed the one behind my ear on Saturday. He cuts the plastic tube and then yanks it out. It hurt. A lot. But removing the second one from my neck, however, is a pain I never want to feel again. I shudder to think about it.

Now I am home. I stayed in three, long and arduous days. I don"t know how many people have ever been in the hospital for an extended stay, but I just marvel at how slow the passage of time is. It was truly the oddest phenomenon. I would go to sleep at 10 PM. I would wake up, believing I slept a good solid 4 hours or more, but it would be 10:45. I would go back to sleep, wake up again think I slept a good 2 hours or more and it would be 11:30. It was like this all night long. The first night was as if the morning would never come. And it was like this on Friday night as well. I wanted to catch up on my reading, but could not concentrate. Plus, trying to prop up my body to read was a chore. So, I went to TV surfing. Did you know that after a certain time, like midnight, channels begin to repeat the same shows? I think I saw the same airplane documentary on the Discovery channel 10 times during the weekend.

On top of the foot long gash, almost the entire right side of my face is numb. It is not paralyzed like we had feared could have happened, just numb. Dr. Osborne did an expert job pulling out the tumor from around all those nerves, so we are praising God for his skill. I guess you can say the nerves are still traumatized from the operation. I cannot express how weird it is to touch my ear and not feel it, or shave over that area of my face and not feel the razor.

As I close this up, I would just like to say how much my wife and I have been overwhelmed with the well wishes, thoughts of prayers and general all around concern from all sorts of people. It is a tremendous testimony of the Body of Christ caring for one another. It is especially cool to know I have readers I may never meet who were thinking of me during this time. You are deeply appreciated from a far.

I hope to post some more this week. I want to return to our critique of Chaz the atheist and his 20 Reasons to Abandon Christianity, as well as some other subjects. Until then, God bless you all.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Going Under the Knife

Tomorrow, I travel down into the Vanity Fair known as Beverly Hills to have my tumor cut from my neck. For those not in the know, I wrote about it here. I am suppose to arrive by 5:15 AM and the procedure is scheduled to take 4-5 hours. I vaguely remember having a hernia worked on in 4th grade. (I am sure you all can remember the heavy lifting you did as a 4th grader). I just recall how I was on the table, a guy had me count backwards from 100, I got to 96, and I was waking up in a room. I am curious to experience that again. I understand that the last thing you think about before going under is what you are thinking about when you wake up. I let you know if that is true or an urban legend.

So, I will be gone from blogging a while. I may try to post an update next Monday. In the mean time, check out the new Pyromaniac group blog - Pyromanic"s" with an "s." I called the group blog before Phil announced it officially. When he posted last Friday about something new coming, I immediately walked down the hall and asked the eldest pyromanic boy what it was. "I can't tell you," he says and I said, "I bet he is going to make a group blog, right?" His straight poker face when he responded, "I just can't say," affirmed my suspicions.

Then, LaShawn Barber has a nice obituary for Chris Penn, the brother of moonbat actor, Sean Penn. Christ Penn is most memorable as the redneck friend to Kevin Bacon's character in the 80's flick, Footloose. LaShawn stirred up all sorts of memories when she recounted going to see that movie a couple of times. I just remember it had a killer soundtrack and the message about the city kid who comes to a small farming town in Kansas (LaShawn says Texas, but if memory is serving me, I thought it was in Kansas) and challenges the Taliban-like Christian fundamentalists and their nutty rule against school dances motivated this perennial wall flower to work up the nerve to ask Lisa Thompson to slow dance.

John Lithgow played the Church of Christ minister, with a slutty "preacher's daughter," who experiences a new awakening to youth culture after Kevin Bacon cites to him a bunch of passages from the Psalms where Israel is called to dance before the Lord in worship. I think he even threw in 2 Samuel 6 when David "danced before the Lord." All of those Bible verses of course demonstrate that God sanctions secular school homecoming and prom dances. Wow, anti-Christian fundamentalist bigotry and mishandled Bible verses all in the same picture.

Well, I hope to see you all on the flip side.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Evangelical Suckers Redux

Further thoughts on Christians, Movies and Film Making

I read a lot of mixed reviews on many different evangelical blogs over the last four days reflecting upon the movie, The End of the Spear. Last week, I noted in my entry on this subject that I believe this movie is further proof Hollywood production houses are inept in portraying the genuine Christian faith, let alone events from Church History. The recent movie, Luther, fell into the ballpark, but even it mangled some of the facts relating Luther'’s life.

Granted, Every Tribe Entertainment who produced this film is primarily located in Oklahoma City and not Hollywood or Burbank (they have an office in Studio City), but there certainly exists a Hollywood worldview permeating the film. From the careless casting of an outspoken homosexual activist, to the elimination of the Christian gospel these missionaries lived and died for, the situation appears to be another attempt to make a quasi-religious film that appeals to middle America, red state evangelicals, while separating itself from the authenticity of Christianity so as not to be too confrontive and black and white.

As I was reading and listening to reviews of the movie, I had further random thoughts I would like to share.

First, I have to confess being annoyed by many Christian bloggers I respect, and whose blogs I read with regularity, who view the objections to this film voiced by other Christians like Jason Janz of Sharper Iron as being petty, narrow minded and silly. A young gal left her comments on one blog I read who concluded by stating, "This is the first I've heard of this controversy and I find it completely ridiculous."

Ridiculous? Is she not troubled by a very public homosexual activist using this role as a platform to bolster his activism? Just the fact an outspoken homosexual was even picked to play the role of a beloved missionary martyr is terrible enough, but his making this into some example of how the gay community and evangelicals can lay aside differences and work together just beats all.

What about the dumbing down of the gospel message? On the Friday the movie opened, I heard three reviews from what would be considered conservative talk radio heroes: Laura Ingraham, Michael Medved, and Hugh Hewitt's resident movie critic, Emmet of the Unblinking Eye. The one phrase each of them used to describe this film: It was not preachy. In other words, they liked the fact the gospel was not in your face. The movie just told a story, it was not attempting to proselytize or convert anyone, and Emmet even noted how he appreciated the way the movie did not make Christianity the only way to heaven.

But is not preaching the gospel to unreached people groups what Nate Saint and his buddies were all about? Being preachy is what these boys did. For this movie to expunge the gospel from this movie to the point it is not recognizable and lost people can feel comfortable attending without having Jesus thrown in their face, is in my mind tantamount to historical revisionism. These same conservative talkers were outraged with CBS re-writing Ronald Regan's presidency with a mini-series, so I know they are sensitive to fast and loose handling of historical fact. Christians, however, should be ashamed of themselves over the compromise the movie makes. Are these believers of the opinion that it could be ok to make a movie about Jesus, take out all His preaching about being the only way to God and play down His miracles, just to reach the lost and make worldly wise movie goer feel comfortable when watching it?

Much of this dumbing down of the gospel is summarized by the mission statement of Every Tribe Entertainment which states,

To create quality entertainment for a broad audience that inspires hope and truth.

Note the words "broad audience." That is code word for regular, unchurched movie goer who won't spend his money on a movie with overly Christian themes so we need to down play those themes so as to have mass appeal and earn our money back. Even more irritating is the words "inspires hope and truth." Truth, as I understand it, doesn't mean you intentionally alter the factuality of people's character and historical events just so you won't come across to the broad audience as being preachy. In my mind, the sentence is self contradictory and self refuting.

I am sorely disappointed Steve Saint has squandered an opportunity to really present the saving, redeeming message of Jesus Christ. Now, to be fair, I will admit I base my opinion upon an hour long interview I heard Mr. Saint give, along with one of the producers, on the Michael Medved Radio program the Thursday before the movie opened nation wide. I would like to be corrected as misjudging him based upon one interview, but I will say that I was saddened with what I heard. Basically, the two talked about the movie, even once briefly touching on the Allen controversy, as well as re-tell the true story about the missionaries being killed and their families living with the tribe to bring them to the Lord. Steve Saint even had Mincayani, the man who speared his father to death, sitting with him during the interview.

Here we have one of the most powerful testimonies of God's saving grace and redemption that demonstrates how Christianity is much more than just one of the meaningful religion in the world, but shows clearly how the living Christ really transforms murderous, violent individuals. Additionally, how grace can extend forgiveness to violent murders by the families of those murdered. Christianity is true, because of the true supernatural source for its power to save and transform. Here the Christian has a national platform to present to a captive and intrigued audience the fundamental ability of God to change sinners. Ashamedly, however, none of this was discussed. The close Mr. Saint came was an allusion to the recent Narnia movie and the so-called "deeper magic" Aslan the Lion references, but this is make believe. Why didn't he go to Colossians 1:13 "He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the son of his love," or 1Corinthianss 6:11 (with verses 9-10 as context) "And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." It is a travesty the Christian faith was ignored in this instance.

Some commenters have asked, "But don't you believe God can use this movie?" It is not really a matter of what God can and cannot do. God can do anything He wants. The better question would be, "Given the circumstance surrounding the principle actor in the film and dishonest portrayal of these missionaries, is this a film a God honoring Christian community can get behind and support?" At this point, I cannot.

Other folks have asked if whether or not we should boycott the film. Like I stated in my previous entry, I personally would not tell anyone not to go see it. When it comes out on DVD, more than likely I will watch it. Boycotts are for the most part worthless. Occasionally they may get the attention of the those being boycotted. My concern is that the Christian community be informed of these problems with the movie before going into it blindly. (Assuming the Christian community even cares). If a Christian takes an unbelieving friend to see it, then the friend discovers Allen's gay activism, this could cause confusion. Christians must be made aware of this so as to be prepared to answer questions if such a scenario arises.

Then lastly, I am not saying Christians should not be involved in film making. I personally would like to see more believers make quality films, with emphasis on quality. Painfully, a good majority of Christian films are just terrible to watch. You have the card board acting (unless of course you can find some has-been TV actor to join your cast), the annoying sound tracks, the horrendous theology weaving through the film. Moreover, I would also not say Christians have to make films explicitly evangelistic. In other words, the idea that if you are a Christian film maker, you are required to have an evangelistic presentation. I have a friend who makes Christian films and he argues along these lines. I disagree. Christians can make movies about a variety of non-evangelistic subjects. I just ask that they represent those subjects truthfully, according to historical fact. In the case of The End of The Spear, I don't believe the film makers presented the lives of these missionaries in a truthful manner by putting the gospel way into the background. If anything, it marginalizes their reputation and trivializes their death.

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Thursday, January 19, 2006

Evangelical Suckers

Thoughts on Christians, movies and film making.

I don't think I can add much more to the story rolling across the blogsphere about Chad Allen, the gay activist who was cast to play the part of martyred missionary, Nate Saint, in the new film End of the Spear. Jason Janz has the full report here for those who have not read it. The Sharper Iron guys are also doing a fine job tracking the coverage.

I heard about Allen's involvement with the film a long time ago, perhaps the spring of 2005. I was disturbed when I learned about the casting decision, but the way I understood it, the film company was ignorant of Allen's lifestyle choices when they hired him, until he went on Larry King Live and proceeded to get into a contentious interchange with John MacArthur about whether sodomy was unnatural or not. Apparently, I was mistaken; and the film producers knew at the outset of Allen's homosexual activism, even to the point that Allen himself was surprised he was being cast by an evangelical film company to play the role of an evangelical missionary.

I won't belabor the point about a homosexual activist pretending to be a Bible believing Christian. Others can articulate it way better than myself. I can say I am disgusted that Focus on the Family and other Pro-family groups who usually carry on about gays taking over the world and eating our children, are strangely silent. Why hasn't James Dobson gone to the airwaves to interrupt his normal programming schedule with a special Focus on the Family broadcast addressing this issue? Why haven't I received an hysterical letter condemning this movie from the American Family Association? Perhaps they are forth coming.

Those things aside, what I always shake my head at is how evangelical Christians believe that in order to gain an audience and find an appeal with the heathen film goers, they have to produce a film that has Christianized themes running through it, but stops way short of presenting any kind of genuine gospel presentation. In my opinion, Christians and film making don't mix.

Apparently, it is assumed the heathen film goer will utterly turn away from an outward and blatant film with an openly gospel presentation. So, what evangelicals do instead is produce movies with "christianized themes" in them. The heathen film goer is then lured (some my say "tricked") into watching the movie and it is believed he or she will catch on to the christianized themes and then be interested in going to Church, where the heathen can then hear a "smashmouth" outright gospel presentation, be convicted of his or her sin and become a Christian. At least that is the idea. Churches, in turn, produce literature in conjunction with the film that ask pertinent questions pertaining to the christianized themes that is suppose to open a dialog with the heathen film goer to sneak the gospel in through the back door, as it were.

Christians can be such dopes sometimes. Evangelical suckers. Do they really believe movies with subliminal Christian themes will be a catalyst to move an unbeliever hostile to religion down an aisle to make a decision for Jesus?

I was told the movie "To End All Wars" was suppose to be a powerful film presenting the gospel. At least that is how it was sold on Hank's BAM show when he interviewed the writer for the screen play, Brian Godawa. Apart from one scene in which a main character is crucified by the Japanese soldiers, the movie was hardly a film portraying the gospel. It presented morality, but not necessarily Christian morality.

And what about Christians who try to hunt down Christian ideas in regular secular movies? Take for instance "The Matrix." The film has a few allusions to Christian ideas, but to suggest that it was a movie with overt Christian themes is ridiculous. It had allusions to several world religions. And to think about all the youth group leaders who took their junior high schoolers to the Saturday afternoon showing of the sequel to the Matrix, The Matrix: Reloaded, believing the movie would be this big conversation starter to present a four spiritual laws tract out in the theater lobby, only to be scandalized by the orgy scene 20 minutes into the film. I could laugh if it were not so serious.

Christians need to realize Hollywood does not care for them, nor their values. All evangelicals are to Hollywood is another means to make a buck, so they throw them a few sugar sticks with these allegedly wholesome religious films designed to just present enough of what Christians are familiar with, but hold back so as not to offend everyone else. And sadly, the Christian community laps it up.

Why is that? Let me suggest a couple of reasons:

First, a good portion of American evangelicals are theologically and biblically illiterate. They don't have a correct understanding of man's sin and how it impacts the totality of his thinking. A "christianized movie" that lacks any genuine gospel presentation will not convince the sinner of his sin and his need to repent and turn to Christ. Yet, these illiterate Christians truly believe that if a TV program or movie has a character reading a Bible verse or a character making a comment about his faith, that is a clear gospel presentation.

Secondly, Christians hold to the erroneous idea that in order to gain an audience with today's world, they have to give the appearance of being relevant with our culture. In relation to movies, this is manifested in at least two ways:

1) The Christians who make what really amounts to a secular movie with subtle christianized themes. Again, the movie "To End All Wars" is a good example. The film is basically a WW 2 prison film about British and American soldiers held captive in a Japanese camp who were forced to build a railroad through the Burmese jungle. It is full of brutality and cursing. But running through the film is a thread of forgiveness and personal sacrifice for others. In the mind of the film makers, they really believe this film presents Christian morality, even though there is no gospel presentation and if you were to watch the "making of" documentary on the DVD, none of the actors saw the movie in this way.

2) Those Christians who think they have to see every movie made so they can comment upon it from a "Christian worldview." This is a trend I see among many evangelicals who want to be culturally relevant. They believe that in order to be taken serious in the eyes of the secular world as a cultural critic, they have to subject themselves to every filthy and violent film vomited out by Hollywood while quoting Francis Schaffer at the same time. Personally, I don't see why I need to subject myself to the bloodsoaked, pornographic snuf film, Hostel, in order to frame it with my Christian worldview as a bloodsoaked pornographic snuf film. Do I really need to go watch the sodomy of Brokeback Mountain before I can talk with a worldly person as to the film's detriment upon our society?

Believe me, I like movies. I own several favorites on DVD. I don't tell Christians to not go to movies or rent films; I allow them to discern and make that decision for themselves. And, I occasionally like some evangelical films that do make an attempt to present the gospel, even if they are painfully embarrassing to watch. But please, let the American evangelical public stop pretending to think Hollywood is going to release a truly Christian film. It is not going to happen, even from independent film makers like the one who made End of the Spear.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Textual Argument: The Preservation of the Old Testament

Examining the Arguments of King James Onlyism [pt. 5]

Though it has been a month or more, I would like to return to my examination of King James onlyism. My previous posts can be located in the sidebar for those interested in reviewing the subject.

I have taken up a critique of King James onlyism, a belief I held tenaciously for nearly ten years. The focus of my posts is around the examination of what I consider to be six presuppositional arguments used to defend KJV onlyism by its advocates. I left off with introducing the third argument called the textual argument.

To summarize, KJV advocates believe God has promised perfect preservation of His Word despite the numerous variants contained in the thousands of copies of both the OT and NT documents. They contend that God providentially preserves every written letter of the biblical texts by superintending their transmission as He directs His faithful people to identify the original autographs among the copies. God's faithful people may or may not be aware of His providential hand guiding their selection of the correct words. All that matters is they honor God's Word by protecting it from any heretical corruption and the Holy Spirit will direct.

God's guiding preservation eventually winds its way down the corridors of Church History to the King James translators. By the time the King James Bible was translated, God's providential guidance provided those translators with original language texts that reflected with precise accuracy what the original writers of the biblical books wrote. In other words, the Hebrew text of Isaiah used by the KJV translators was like a photocopy of the original prophecy written by Isaiah himself. The same is believed about the Greek text of John's gospel, or Paul's letter to the Galatians.

Because the King James is the final English Bible translated from these providentially guided texts, and all subsequent modern translations were translated from original language texts derived from manuscripts that had been corrupted by heretics, only the King James translation can be properly called the Word of God.

Now I will affirm my belief in the preservation of God's Word. The problem with the KJV only perspective is that it is untenable. KJV advocates will argue they believe God's providential preservation of the KJV by faith, and certainly we believe God will take care of the transmission of His Word so that His people are never without the scriptures in their hands. However, our faith in God's preservation must be affirmed by the manuscript evidence. The KJV view of preservation - that God guides His faithful people to choose the right manuscripts so as to choose the right words to copy, so that the original autographs are kept from becoming lost; while at the same time God's people recognize the heretical corruption of certain other manuscripts so that they are laid aside and basically rejected - is a perspective NOT supported by the historical facts and is in essence a blind faith. God would not have us believe with a faith that is uninformed and not affirmed, especially by the testimony of our final authority: the very Word of God itself.

We need to have a faith in the transmission of the scriptures that is defensible and I believe the correct understanding of the scripture's transmission can be defended and will bring glory to God who preserves the scripture.

In order to shore up our defense of the scripture, as well as critique the KJV only perspective, I believe it is profitable to provide an overview of how our Bible was genuinely transmitted. With this post, I will take a look at the transmission of the Old Testament, and with the next, the transmission of the New Testament.

If you were to look over the publications of KJV advocates, there is not a whole lot written on the Old Testament. One would find a lot written about the New Testament, particularly comments on the Majority Text and the Received Text originally published by Erasmus, with a later edition serving as the base text for the King James. There will also be severe critiques of what are called the Alexandrian family of manuscripts that were used in updating modern version like the NASB and the NIV. However, criticisms from KJV onlyists against the OT texts used by the modern version are rare.

One key reason has to do with the fact there really isn't a Majority Text or a Received Text in Hebrew, per se, to compare to a bogeyman Alexandrian counterpart. Moreover, as Ellis Brotzman points out in his book on the subject of OT textual criticism,

"it must be recognized that the textual situations are quite different for the two Testaments. The New Testament text is attested by a very large number of Greek manuscripts, some very old, and they all reflect a large number of variant readings. The Old Testament text, in contrast, is supported by far fewer, but generally better, Hebrew manuscripts."

Primarily, that has to do with the fact the OT was copied better than the NT documents. There was a scribal class in Israel appointed to maintain the books of the OT, and in turn they produced more precise OT manuscripts.

D.A. Waite is one of those KJV defenders who will make a small attempt to address the transmission of the OT in his publications. In his book, Defending the King James Bible, Waite argues that the Ben-Chayyim 2nd edition of the Masoretic Hebrew text published by Daniel Bomberg in 1524-1525 is God'’s Word in the original Hebrew. He goes on to state how the Ben-Chayyim edition of the Hebrew text was used for translating, not only by the KJV translation committees when translating the KJV, but also all other translations for nearly 400 years after its publication by Bomberg.

He then goes on to state how there was a switch by Rudolf Kittel in 1937 from using the Ben-Chayyim edition of the Masoretic text to the Ben Asher edition in the publication of his Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. This is because Kittel utilized the Leningrad Manuscript, one of the oldest and complete Hebrew manuscripts in existence, which is based upon the Ben Asher Masoretic text.

In the ensuing disjointed and simplistic overview of OT textual transmission, Waite then makes the fantastic claim that the Ben Chayyim edition represented what was the Received Text for the OT (in the same way the TR is supposedly the traditional text for the NT) and that the Ben Asher edition has been corrupted by heretics (in the same way the so-called Alexandrian manuscripts for the NT are alleged to have been corrupted by heretics). He further states Kittel's BHS edition suggests some 20,000 to 30,000 changes from the "traditional text" of the OT, even though he doesn't provide any examples.

Any person who doesn't know better (the vast majority of Waite's readers) would come away from his dishonest and inaccurate discussion believing the Ben Asher edition presents an entirely different account of the historical events revealed in the OT. It would be in the same way the Book of Mormon presents an alternative history of Christianity with the ministry of Jesus in North America.

Yet Waite's overview, as bad as it is, represents the more sophisticated study of OT textual criticism found in KJV only literature. King James advocates across the board give the impression that the Hebrew language was static and unchanging, unless of course heretics corrupted it. This is hardly the case, and if we grasp just a simple foundational understanding of how the Hebrew OT was passed down to us in today's world, the KJV viewpoint easily dissolves.

To begin, God appointed the scribes and Levites to maintain and preserve the OT Hebrew text (Romans 3:2). They preserved the OT to be read among the people, as well as for official documentation (Deuteronomy 17:18, for example). Even though the Jewish scribes were meticulous with preserving the OT documents, they were not perfect, even for copying such a divine and holy work.

As is expected with hand-copied documents, copyist errors crept into the text as it was transmitted. They were not intentional errors meant to harm the veracity of the text, but human errors common with maintaining handwritten material. These copyist mistakes in turn created variants, and like all variants in the biblical manuscripts, the scribes kept note of them in the margins, so nothing was "lost" or "changed."

There were also linguistic developments shaping the transmission of the Hebrew text. Just like any other human language, Hebrew changed in written style and vocalization over time, such as letter shapes and standardized spelling. The same thing has happened with our English language. For instance, if you were to journey down to Barnes and Noble to the classic literature section, our modern day editions of Beowulf would certainly read different in style than the 8th century editions preserved in the British Museum. Yet, we would all agree the modern version is the same story of Beowulf as written in the 8th century, correct? Does anyone seriously think the message contained in the original Beowulf has been so altered to the point of being unrecognized in our modern day editions? Even our modern day editions of the King James Bible read differently in style and form than the original 1611 edition. Historians see the same thing happening with Hebrew, also. The Jews, just like textual critics of our day, would "modernize" the language by updating the grammatical forms in their copies. Doing so doesn't corrupt the Bible, it preserves it.

Then, there was a major event that really shook up the transmission of the Hebrew Bible: The exile of the southern kingdom by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. If you can recall your Sunday school lessons, the bulk of the Jewish population was relocated to Babylon, what is now our modern day Iraq. However, some of the Jews remained in the land of Israel (2 Kings 25:12, Jeremiah 52:16) and later, some of those remaining in Israel relocated to Egypt (Jeremiah 43). In those three locations - Babylon, Palestine and Egypt - – families of Hebrew manuscripts arose. Why exactly would that happen? Quite simply, they could only copy those manuscripts available to them. Sam living in the land of Palestine could not call his uncle Moe in Babylon and ask him to verify a variant reading in his text. So, as a result of the dispersion, Hebrew texts copied in these three locations took on some textual characteristics of their own. Again, in spite of the development of these families, God's Word was not lost. It was still there in those families with all their unique characteristics.

Eventually, the Jews returned to the land and the professional scribes returned to work making copies of the OT once again, but now the presence of these families needed to be taken into consideration.

Then, another major cultural shaking event took place: the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. By the first century, Jewish religious leaders recognized the need to standardize the Hebrew text in order to maintain the cohesion of what was left of their culture. These leaders took all three families, along with other translations of the OT like the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the OT, and compiled a standard Hebrew text to be used for instruction and memorization.

There were also other internal cultural influence on Jewish life impacting the Hebrew language. Most significantly, the change in language from everyone speaking Greek to everyone speaking Latin. Moreover, because the Jews no longer had a centralized culture after the destruction of Jerusalem, more and more Jews were loosing their knowledge of the Hebrew language. One of the main reasons for this is because the Hebrew language is composed of consonants. There are no written vowels, and any vowel sounds would be supplied by the reader as he considered the context. With a lack of instruction in Hebrew, reading a language made entirely from consonants would be easily lost. It would be as if English were a language of made of consonants, and an English speaking person came across the letters BRN. If the reader is only somewhat familiar with the English language, those three letters could be read as BORN, or BARN or even BRAIN depending on the context.

This is where the Masoretes come on the scene around 500 A.D. The Masorah were families who developed vowel pointing systems to aid in the reading of the Hebrew text. There were three major schools of Masoretes: the Babylonian, the Palestinian, and the Tiberian, located on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Each school developed their own vocalization system with a set of vowel symbols and accent marks. Even though each one was slightly different in detail, usually differing between a simple system of vowel points as compared to a more complicated one, they were all the same in substance. In other words, none of the schools altered the reading found in the OT so as to produce heretical teaching.

Eventually, the Tiberian school became the standard vowel pointing system. From the Tiberian school came two separate families, each with slightly different vowel pointing systems: The Aaron ben Asher and the Moses ben Naphtali. Again, they had a slightly different accent system from one another, but both were the same in substance as to the OT text.

In 1524-25, Daniel Bomberg printed the second Rabbinic OT edited by Jacob ben Hayyim ben Adoniyahu (Waite's alleged "perfectly preserved" OT text). It served as a wonderful edition for translating the OT, but it was still not without problems. For example, it was based on numerous late and imperfect sources and it included hundreds of variant readings in the margins. Moreover, as much as Waite and other KJV onlyist wish to believe it is God's perfectly preserved word in the OT, the King James translators did not use this edition exclusively. Further, they were at many times inclined to replace the main text readings with the marginal readings. Are we to believe their divinely directed providential leading trumps ben-Hayyim's divinely directed leading?

Though Kittel used the Bomberg 2nd edition as his base text in his first two published editions, newer manuscript finds, especially the Leningrad manuscript, represented older editions of the Hebrew text than what had be previously available. As any wise textual critic would do, Kittel switched to what he knew was a better manuscript as his base text. In light of the historical facts, it is disingenuous, and I would even go so far as to say outright lying, for KJV only advocates like Waite to claim the BHS is based upon heretical OT manuscripts. Those so-called 20,000 to 30,000 changes are nothing but detail differences between vowel pointing systems. No fundamental doctrine or historical fact found in the OT is lost, mangled, or intentionally corrupted.

As I close this up, I would recommend two fabulous resources on this subject of OT textual criticism:

Ellis R. Brotzman has written a short, easy to read, lay level treatment entitled Old Testament Textual Criticism: A Practical Introduction. Anyone completely unfamiliar with textual criticism would find this book not only easy to navigate, but a compelling read as the author outlines OT textual criticism in a simple fashion.

Then, Roy E. Beacham's chapter in the book One Bible Only? entitled The Old Testament Text and the Version Debate, provides a concise outline of the OT text's transmission down to us today. Just as an aside, I would recommend the entire book as an excellent introductory treatment to King James Onlyism. I even liked it better than James White's book.


Friday, January 13, 2006

Twenty Ways to Answer a Fool [pt 1]

Is Christianity based on fear?

Last week I introduced my readers to Chaz Bufe, conspiratorial anarchist and Bush bashing bumpersticker maker. I found his little site through a link from an anti-Christian site called Undo Jesus. They linked to a screed Chaz wrote entitled 20 Reasons to Abandon Christianity. There is nothing really new with the 20 reasons Chaz offers as to why we need to abandon Christianity. He repeats cliched criticisms any well read Christian encounters on a regular basis. Moreover, Chaz's "reasons," if we even grant him that word to describe his points, are not too terribly thoughtful. Moreover, it is painfully clear with the glaring absence of interaction with any meaningful Christian, that Chaz is in a blindfolded pinata game swinging wildly at strawmen caricatures of Christians, not actual Christianity. Hence the reason why I titled my review of his 20 reasons as 20 ways to answer a fool. Chaz's reasons are foolish; embarrassingly so.

Some folks my take umbrage at my use of the word "foolish" to describe Chaz and his self-described position of atheistic anarchism, but I believe I am aptly defining my terms and I can defend my assertion.

First off, rather than playing little fantasy games of pretend neutrality where I insist I am an unbiased person as most atheists do, I admit my bias up front. I am a Bible believing Christian who uses the Bible as my ultimate starting point for evaluating my world and perceiving reality. I will even go further and state that in truth, Chaz does as well, even though he will vehemently deny it. But as much as Chaz, or any atheist for that matter, wish to carry on about being an unbiased free thinker, he doesn't have any justification for his objections against my Christian worldview unless he steals principles of judgment from my worldview in order to declare it worthless and in need of abandonment. In other words, a person cannot make appeals to "logic" and "reason" unless there is something setting the rules of logic and reason that exists outside the person. Chaz the anarchist atheist has no explanation for his ability to use logic and reason. He just blissfully makes unwarranted absolute declarations that Christianity is illogical and unreasonable all the while insisting there are no absolutes. This, in my mind, is a foolish point of view.

Yet more importantly, the Bible declares Chaz's Christian bashing as being foolish. God's Word distinguishes between the wise and the foolish. Wisdom, as defined in scripture, begins with the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7, 9:10). Basically, true wisdom is a God centered worldview of a person who recognizes his creator, submits to His authority and lives his life according to God's revealed principles as outlined in scripture. A fool, on the other hand, rejects all knowledge of God and attempts to live life autonomously, apart from his precepts. The key passage for this truism is Psalm 14:1, The fool has said in his heart, no God. Some translations add the words there is immediately before no God, but these words are not in the Hebrew text. The point is not that the fool has honestly, with a sincere heart, searched around looking for God, found no evidence satisfying his inquiry and then determined there is no God. The fool knows there is a God, but rejects God, desiring to have nothing to do with Him. What Paul describes as suppressing the truth (Romans 1:20ff.)

So with these things in mind, let us consider Chaz's first reason to abandon Christianity, Christianity is based on fear. He writes:

1. Christianity is based on fear. While today there are liberal clergy who preach a gospel of love, they ignore the bulk of Christian teachings, not to mention the bulk of Christian history. Throughout almost its entire time on Earth, the motor driving Christianity has been - —in addition to the fear of death - —fear of the devil and fear of hell. One can only imagine how potent these threats seemed prior to the rise of science and rational thinking, which have largely robbed these bogeys of their power to inspire terror. But even today, the existence of the devil and hell are cardinal doctrinal tenets of almost all Christian creeds, and many fundamentalist preachers still openly resort to terrorizing their followers with lurid, sadistic portraits of the suffering of nonbelievers after death. This is not an attempt to convince through logic and reason; it is not an attempt to appeal to the better nature of individuals; rather, it is an attempt to whip the flock into line through threats, through appeals to a base part of human nature - —fear and cowardice.

Chaz invents a definition of fear and applies it to Christianity. The kind of fear he has in mind is the superstitious view of fear. I guess it is the kind of fear supposedly found in Voodoo cultures of the third world or last years mediocre Keanu Reeves vehicle, Constantine. Perhaps there are individuals who claim to be Christians who entertain the fear of death, the devil and hell, but these are fears generally displayed by non-Christians and their religious practices, not Bible believing Christians.

Who are these fundamentalist preachers openly terrorizing their followers with lurid tales of the sufferings of nonbelievers after death? Can Chaz, or any atheist for that matter, provide some names? Besides, if the fear of death, the devil and hell are key doctrines necessary to keep the flock whipped into shape, I would think the fundamentalist preachers would be talking about Christians who have died going to hell or who are under the influence of the devil, not nonbelievers. What happens to nonbelievers outside the flock is irrelevant if you are using these fears to mind control your people.

Embarrassingly, Chaz suffers from what a lot of atheistic critics suffer from: biblical and historical illiteracy. He is woefully ignorant of what he criticizes. I would even say he is ignorant of atheism in general. I would exhort him to read the writings of some atheist philosophers, especially the ones who wrote near the end of their lives expressing the bleakness of human existence; and these were people living in the so-called age of reason and logic, the twin powers that supposedly rob Christianity of its ability to inspire fear. Atheists like H.G. Wells, Mark Twain, and even Bertrand Russell sounded like they were fearful of living and embracing reality if you ask me. And if reason and logic easily dispense the ideas of religious faith, then why are radical anti-theist advocacy groups like the NCSE attempting to shut down the ideas of Intelligent Design proponents and even biblical creationists by courts of law? I mean, if religious ideas are so easily refuted by logic and reason, then atheists should welcome them into public schools so they could trounce religious views of origin once and for all. Who really is the fearful cowards here?

Next up, Christianity preys on the innocent.

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Reviewing an ID-Evolution Debate

Wednesday evening I had the opportunity to attend a public debate between proponents of Intelligent Design and Darwinian evolution. Of all things, it was held in the cafeteria of Wiley Canyon Elementary School in Newhall. It was the first time I have ever been to a lecture of any sorts held in an elementary cafeteria. The smell of tator tots from that day's lunch still lingered in the air.

The speakers included: Defending ID, Dr. John Mark Reynolds (JMR - see his blog) and Dr. John Bloom, both from BIOLA University; and defending evolution, Dr. Steve Dudgeon and Dr. James Hogue, both from Cal State Northridge. Tim Whyte, from the Signal newspaper (Santa Clarita Valley's home newspaper) moderated and fielded questions to the participants.

I can say right up front that it wasn't a debate in the technical sense of the word "debate." Each side had a five minute opening statement and 5 minute closing statements. Tim Whyte did a good job moderating and directing questions, but over all, the event was more along the lines of a spirited discussion. A few good questions were put forth, and there was some lively, yet respectable, interchanges between the two sides, but I would like to have seen more pointed cross examination to force each side to defend their assertions.

In my opinion, the ID proponents hands down won this debate. I say that not because I am bias in their favor, but just as a matter of presentation of the material. JMR was the most notable speaker. I kind of knew who he was going into the debate because I have heard him on Hugh Hewitt's radio program and several of the blogs I read hold him in high esteem. He certainly had a winsome personality. He had a solid grasp of the material, not only his ID position, but also what was presented by the evolutionists. More importantly, he had the ability to make the material understandable to us the audience.

The evolutionists do need to be commended for coming into "hostile" territory to present their viewpoint. When the moderator asked the audience before the debate who was on the ID side as opposed to the evolution side, I imagine 85% of the audience raised their hands. Anyhow, at the outset, the evolutionists admitted with their opening remarks that they both had recently - with in a matter of months - just started to interact with ID arguments since it became a major media story with the court cases in Kansas and Delaware. This admission was a severe detriment for their credibility as critics of ID right from the beginning. Additionally, both evolutionists had a dismissive attitude during the entire debate. One of them wondered aloud (I think Dr. Hogue), as to why we were all here even discussing this issue seeing that evolution is so undeniably true. In his mind, it was if we were all still trying to figure out if gravity worked.

In my estimation, they were totally unprepared for this debate. They not only had an admitted ignorance as to ID arguments, along with the dismissiveness displayed in their comments, but also, they certainly were not prepared to interact with JMR's direct questioning of their core presuppositions. When JMR would point out some philosophical inconsistencies with their arguments, there was a lot of hemming and hawing followed up with some back peddling to "clarify" what was said.

As the debate moved along, it seemed to me their preparation may have involved reading Time and Newsweek articles on the subject and downloading secondhand criticism from the websites of anti-creationist/ID opponents. It wouldn't surprise me if neither one of these fellows even took the time to look at the Discovery Institute's website.

By the way, can I share a personal comment on a person's appearance in public? When the speakers took the stage, the first thing I believe everyone noticed was how each side was dressed. The contrast was remarkable. The ID guys were sharply dressed, where as the evolutionists were dressed as if they were going to clean a garage.

Now believe me, I am the last person who likes to dress up - period - so I sympathize with having to wear a suit and tie. But come on, when you're in a public forum, have some dignity. To give you a picture of what I mean, Dr. Dudgeon showed up in jeans, a black tee shirt (with writing on it, which I will discuss shortly), a flannel and tennis shoes. Dr Hogue was dressed a tad better - what I call "shop teacher" attire - with his Dickie pants, pearl button shirt and tennis shoes. Contrast them with their opponents: Dr. Bloom, on the ID side, wore a nice, tan colored suit and JMR wore some nice slacks, a Polo style shirt with a sports coat. Who has the attention of respectability here? Now granted, this thing wasn't presented at the Kodak Theater down in Hollywood; it was an elementary cafeteria reeking of tator tots. But if you are going to make a public presentation, no matter what the subject and you wish to come across as a respectable defender of what it is you are presenting, at least put on some Dockers and tuck in your shirt.

The evolutionists had the first 5 minute opening statement, and Dr. Dudgeon blandly presented the basic evolutionary talking points about descent with modification and that evolution is the only reasonable way to explain what we observe and it works. He then argued ID should be rejected because of the court decisions against it, the dictionary definition of science, and ID only goes back to Thomas Aquinas. Dr. Bloom blandly presented the opening remarks for the ID position, but pointed out the inherent anti-theistic presuppositional bias on the part of naturalistic evolutionists. The debate really didn't get rolling until the moderator began asking questions and each side had a chance to respond.

The first question had to do with ID being equated with religion. The evolutionist said yes, ID is religion and should be rejected on that basis alone. The simple reason: religious faith can't be observed or measured in the laboratory and it dates back to Thomas Aquinas. JMR responded for the ID side by pointing out the fundamental confusion people have between science and religion by wrongly believing they are mutually exclusive. He pointed out how much of the foundational scientific principles utilized today by evolutionists were originally developed and articulated by religious people. He then when on to say how Plato, a non-Christian pagan articulated ID like ideas in his day, some 400 years before Christianity came on the scene.

Other questions resulted in some excellent interchanges between the two groups. For example:

  • The evolutionists kept insisting there was no positive evidence for ID. JMR pointed out that was not true and simply wrong for the evolutionists to say such a thing; we look for finger prints for design, he argued. He went on to explain how scientists before the 1800s, when pure materialistic naturalism began reigning supreme, believed in two aspects of causation to explain what we observe: personal agent, i.e. divine agent and impersonal forces. It wasn't until the 1800s, when atheism was used as a presupposition to explain the world that scientists began to eliminate the first aspect of causation from their consideration. Now they only deal with the second aspect, natural forces, in order to explain everything.
  • When asked about "what is the search for truth?," Dr. Bloom responded by saying it is a correct understanding of the world, which will also involve improving our faulty methods if need be. Dr. Dudgeon took a postmodernist approach with his answer by suggesting there are several different kinds of truth. I am thinking he was confusing academic pursuits and disciplines with the idea of truth as an absolute. His answer goes to show how philosophically muddled so-called scientists can be at times.
  • On the question of "what are the positive proofs of ID?" The ID proponents pointed out the issue of worldviews driving each position when interpreting data. If evolutionists are concerned with presenting just "science," JMR stated the need to get rid of the first chapter in basic, high school science text books, because the first chapter is a written philosophy of how we are to understand science. That first chapter, he went on to show, is philosophical and is written by a scientist not equated with philosophy (hence the logical fallacies often presented in it) and is just retreaded, 1950s materialism. JMR also went on to show how slippery the term "evolution" can be. Even in the evening's debate, the evolutionist proponents attached 2 to 3 different definitions to the word. ID proponents acknowledge the variation in a species and natural selection taking place. Yet this change is observable, but is hardly the grand, macro-level evolution that is in people's minds, and the evolutionists erroneously equate the two.
  • When asked about faith, JMR demonstrated the error people make about faith being blind belief when something can't be proven or a commitment to a favored religion, similar to being devoted to a favorite football team. True biblical faith is equated to knowledge in scripture, and that knowledge is based upon real, provable events. Religion doesn't let you believe goof ideas, like the world is resting on the back of turtles. Ultimately, continued JMR, the distinction between the two sides is a worldview question of how we interpret the data before us. Evolutionist begin with an anti-supernatural materialistic worldview to interpret the data, where as the ID folks begin with a worldview of a designer being involved to interpret the data. I believe this truism of worldviews became apparent when Dr. Dudgeon rose up to read his black tee shirt which contained a purpose statement from the National Center for Science Education, a rabid anti-creationist organization. JMR quickly pointed out the radical nature of the NCSE as being an anti-creationist advocacy group whose purpose is to expel any religious thinking in public science debate by the force of law. It is phony to think of the organization as legitimately supporting science in the generic sense of the word.

Though I believe the ID proponents did an excellent job presenting their case, interacting with their opponents and detailing the philosophical under pinnings of any scientific endeavor, there were two times I was disappointed with their answers, specifically JMR's. Much of this had to do with his evidentialist epistemology. For instance:

When asked about the positive evidence for ID, JMR discussed the historic understanding of causation by scientists as being a personal agent or impersonal forces and how modern day scientists wish to eliminate the personal agent aspect of causation from their investigation. That was good, but his conclusion was that ID is not attempting to answer the personal agent question. It could be space aliens or some deity, we are just recognizing design.

Coming from a person who is a Christian, I believe that answer is lame, if not dishonoring to the Lord. JMR stated he took the "God" route in answering the question of personal causation, but I believe he is guilty of doing what he objected to earlier in the debate when he explained how religion should not be exclusive of scientific investigation. Why is he making God exclusive of design when answering this question? God is the creator. This is His world. He has made it so men can investigate the world (including evolutionists hostile to God), so IDers should not be embarrassed to start with God and end with God. I felt there was some embarrassment on JMR's part to tie the designer to the creator of scripture.
Then second, when asked (what I believe to be a non-sense question) "If God made everything, then who made God?," JMR cited Aristotle's view of causation having to have a "prime mover," an ultimate cause that sets all others in motion. Why didn't he go to scripture to get the Bible's answer to this question? Isaiah chapters 40-50 are replete with testimony from God Himself declaring He alone is God and there is no other and there were no other God's before or after Him. Ironically, Dr. Hogue from the evolutionist table answered correctly. He basically stated that if God is who He is as presented in the Bible, then God is self contained, eternal and He has no creator. That is the right answer; the one JMR, the Christian, should have used.

Over all, the debate was well done and I think the audience went away getting a feel, if not assurance, of how ID can handle its opponents. The evolutionists were certainly not the best to put up in this debate. Their lack of preparation coupled with their attitude and muddle minded philosophical inconsistencies severely crippled their presentation. Obviously the monolith of evolution has the minds of the unwashed masses, so to speak. Yet the more it is confronted to give a rational defense of its presuppositions in light of new discoveries which cut directly against evolutionary ideology, the more people are going to have their eyes opened to how this oversized emperor is totally naked - and ugly.

Also, I am still not convinced ID is all that it is cracked up to be. I readily confess a designer. He is the only designer known to men, The Holy and Sovereign God of scripture. Though I appreciate what ID is doing to get this debate in the public arena, ID still does not go far enough in my mind with presenting God as He is meant to be presented by Christians bearing testimony of Him. Moreover, IDers, while rejecting Darwinian biological evolution, still embrace evolutionary ideas. Such thing as the geology of the earth with the evolutionary explanation of the so-called geological column and the big bang cosmology as affirmed by evolutionary mind cosmologists. I couldn't get to JMR after the debate to ask him about these things, but I do wonder if IDers recognize these inherent blind spots in their convictions?


Does ID = Creationism?

A Review and Critique of Dr. Warren Allmon's Guide for Museum Docents

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Thursday, January 12, 2006

For those who are interested in what I look like...

My friend Gregg just posted a picture taken a few years ago at Grace Church during the final meeting of our now defunct singles fellowship group. (It became defunct after the majority of people there married each other). I am the cherubic dark haired fellow on the right. Sadly, I am not nearly as godly as Frank Turk, because my halo was drowned out by the flash of the camera.

Gregg uploaded the picture on to a celebrity matching website to see which celebrities we resemble. According to the website, I most resemble some NASCAR guy, Kate Winslett (of Titanic fame), Uma Thurman, and Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean). I don't know where the Uma Thurman match came from seeing that she is a skinny woman. I realize Kate Winslett is a woman, too, but at least she is some what more buxom and endomorphic like me. Gregg thinks it has something to do with my cheek bones, but I can hardly imagine that is the case seeing I have a round, Charlie Brown type head.

Any how, for those curious as to what I look like, go check out the picture at Gregg's site. Now that my image is on the web, I wonder if the King James Only people will draw a caricature of me cowering before a monstrous anamorphic Bible with "AV 1611" written across its front about to hammer me with its boxing gloved fist?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Horrible Preaching Stories

If you are a person who has been around preaching as long as I have, I am sure you can recall some fairly bad preaching. I have heard plenty; even from the pulpit of Grace Community Church (No. Not from John MacArthur if you are wondering).

I personally have never cared for those preachers who are equivalent to being a human tranquilizer. The preacher will drone on and on in a sleepy, monotone voice, never offering to the congregation any indication of when he will wrap things up. Even if the person may have something good to say, the listener is so lulled into a stupor, all important points are missed. I have also heard the shouter preachers who scream their sermons at the congregation, and of course the drama kings who are always entertaining to hear because they may do something unexpected and dramatic to make a point. For instance, I can recall one famous preacher, who after regaling us with irrelevant, but amusing, antidotes, told us with a crescendo that "if we don't believe the Bible we might as well do this" and proceeded to hurl his massive black leather Bible up the center aisle of the Church while everyone sat wide eyed and opened mouthed thinking he was crazy.

Those are personality issues of course, but the utterly worse kind of preaching is theologically unsound preaching. This is due primarily to muddled theology driving the preacher's thinking. The preacher may even be a dazzling speaker presenting the material, but the content is so theologically poor, his preaching is sadly inept.

This is the kind of bad preaching I have encountered the most over the years growing up and I believe a good bulk of it comes from pastors unwittingly saturated in Arminian philosophy. Perhaps we can haggle over the details of Arminian philosophy, but I believe it is the main factor driving horrible preaching stories. How do I know this? One: their sermons are consistently tailored for unbelievers even though all 198 people sitting in the congregation are members of the Church and consider themselves outstanding Christians. Two: the sermons use emotionally manipulative illustrations designed for one thing only: move a person down the aisle to the front no matter what and at all costs. These two perspectives work hand and hand, and they are designed to act upon the will of the unbeliever who must be convinced with reason (or in this case, emotion) to make a decision for Jesus one way or another.

I could say a lot about bad theological preaching in general, but I wish to introduce a recurring series entitled, Horrible Preaching Stories. We will be taking a look at some of the worse sermon illustrations I have heard over the years coming from the mouths of preachers. By the way, any readers out there who have heard some horrible preaching stories in sermons, please pass them along by either emailing me or leaving a comment. I would like to start a collection. Stories found in books can also count, so pass them along. My only condition for them is that they mangle some aspect of biblical theology, like God's saving grace, or God's sovereignty, the substitutionary atonement of Christ, total depravity, the Resurrection, Justification by Faith, etc.

The first Horrible Preaching Story I wish to consider is called The Draw Bridge.

I heard this story on many occasions growing up, generally at youth revivals, or some other Christian camp, where after the service, those kids really, really, really serious about living for Jesus were encouraged to write all their sins on a piece of paper and throw it in a bonfire. Once I can remember the preacher telling it claim the events were true. I have read alternate versions of the story on the Internet. Whatever the case, they all contain the same moralistic conclusion: A loving father sacrifices his son's life to save a freight train from disaster.

Once there was a man who was an attendant for a railroad drawbridge. His job entailed raising the bridge to allow the river boats to pass and making sure the bridge was in place for the trains. One day the man took his only son with him to work. He was a four year old boy who enjoyed watching his father raise the bridge to allow the boats pass and lowering it to let the trains rumble by.

As the day wore on, the man and his only son went to eat lunch out on the raised bridge. As they watched the boats pass underneath them, they both fell asleep. Sometime later, the man was awakened from his nap by the sound of a distant train whistle. "Oh no," he thought, "the bridge is still up, I need to get back to close it or all those people will be killed!" Making his way back to the control room, he started to lower the bridge when he heard a cry from outside. It was his only son, who had slipped through the catwalk when he started following his father back. He had fallen down onto the massive gears and he was unable to free his foot.

The man didn't know what he should do. He had to find a way to save his only son, but there would be no time to save him and then return to lower the bridge to let the train pass. As the train drew closer, the man remember how God sacrificed Jesus, His only son, to save humanity, so he made the fateful decision to sacrifice his son to save those hundreds of people on the train. The bridge closed, all the while the anguished father knowing it crushed to death his only son. As he wept for the death of his only son, the train rushed by safe and sound with all the passengers waving and laughing as they went by, completely oblivious to the great sacrifice that just occurred to save them.

Now the problems with this story, both practical and theological, are a multitude.

First, what sort of idiot father takes his only son, especially a four year old boy, out on the end of a raised drawbridge? Particularly when there is a great possibility for him to slip off a catwalk and be entangled in the gears of the bridge? This is highly irresponsible of the father. Moreover, what about his jumping up from his nap and running back to the control room without grabbing his kid? Are you telling me that he is so absent minded he would forget his boy laying there next to him?

Second, what sort of safety standards were the engineers of this drawbridge working under so that they could get away with building a bridge with exposed gears which in turn could potentially entangle a four year old who slips through a catwalk? Moreover, wouldn't this catwalk be considered poorly designed? If it is that easy for someone to slip through, I don't know if I want to be walking on it to begin with.

Third, was there a moron driving this train? Are you telling me he wouldn't take notice of a raised drawbridge in the distance? I mean, it's not like a raised drawbridge just sneaks up on you. Surely he would had been made aware of that section of the track where a drawbridge could possibly be raised, so that he could be alert to slow down if he needed to. Are you telling me this guy was so engrossed in his newspaper or book that he wasn't paying attention? This is gross incompetence. Additionally, the train company should be held criminal negligence for not having some warning system in place to alert a train engineer of a raised draw bridge a mile or so up the track. I smell a big pay off in a lawsuit with this one.

But these are sniggling little practical details. What about the mangled theological implications gleaned from this woeful tale? There are two serious ones:

Generally, the main point raised in the conclusion of the story is the great sacrifice of the father for the people on the train being likened to the great sacrifice God offered in Jesus Christ for all humanity. Yet if we allow that comparison, it makes Christ's death into a cosmic accident, something God the Father was not expecting and couldn't avoid. The Bible is clear God had planned Christ's death before the foundation of the world. It was not an unavoidable accident. Peter affirms this truth in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost when he said, Him [Jesus], being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death (Acts 2:23). The father in the story did not go to work that morning with the intention of crushing to death his only son in the gears of the bridge so as to save a passenger train from doom.

Then second, note the blatant universalism presented in the story. The train supposedly represents the whole of humanity; everyone in the entire world without exception. One point I have heard preachers make when relating this story is how all the folks on the train were smiling, waving and laughing as it drove over the bridge, all the while completely unaware of the death of a four year old boy to save their lives. This is how the world acts, the preacher will say, they don't realize God the Father sacrificed Jesus to save them and they go about their blissful lives completely unaware of what God did. This not only makes Christ death purposeless, but also implies everyone in the world is saved, they just don't know it. Am I to guess they all learn about it later, after they die and are in heaven? I imagine this would be similar to the people who were on the train once they reached their various destinations and read about what the father did in the newspaper. The Bible is also quite clear that Christ's death was not designed to be a universal atonement which saves all humanity, whose members are saved, but live their lives without Christ now, only to realize what Jesus did for them once they reach heaven. Such a notion is rank heresy.

If anything, this drawbridge story goes beyond the theological foibles of Arminianism to being one embracing the heretical teachings of open theism and universalism.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Twenty Ways To Answer A Fool

Right before Christmas I alerted my readers to a newly found anti-Christian website called Undo Jesus. The site's curator believes the teachings and authority claims of Jesus Christ are detrimental and it is time the world abandon Christianity because Christianity has brought upon humanity all of these horrific woes like Veggie Tales, TBN and Texe Marrs. Though there seems to be some hints of undoing other world religions and theism in general, Christianity is the main target.

I am not sure how long the site has been operating, but I hope the curator is not under the impression that his material is unique and he has discovered a new way to hate Christians. Arrogance is one of the more amusing things about the Undo Jesus folks, and I guess this is true of all atheists personally. They toil under a fraudulent notion of being superior intellectuals to everyone else because they wear their pathological rage against religion on their sleeves. A big example of this arrogance is how they take upon themselves the title of "free thinkers" and regularly utilize the words "logic" and "reason" despite the fact their atheism can't provide coherent, rational framework to answer life's big questions like, "where did we come from?" and "where are we going?" and explain reality in a meaningful fashion. God fearing people like me, on the other hand, are considered superstitious, illogical and the shacklers of good free thinking thoughts.

Just as a side note before moving on, when one ponders the definition, the term free thinker is dishonest. Come on, do these folks genuinely believe because they are haters of religion they are more "free" in their thinking? If you hear anyone describe himself as being a free thinker don't let him fool you into believing he is a serious minded intellectual who is to be praised for his thoughtful analysis of reality because he rejects God and never goes to Church. Free thinking is just a code word for a philosophy whose adherence refuse to be beholden to any societal authorities, delight in moral idiocy, and desire total freedom to engage in any sexual vice with impunity. A free thinker is just an apt description of a pompous little geeky pervert. I am sorry, but there really isn't any "thinking" to be found in this particular lifestyle.

Moving along...

The undo Jesus site links us to another anti-Christian/anarchist site where we are directed to an article supposedly adapted from a booklet called Twenty Reasons to Abandon Christianity written by a fellow named Chaz Bufe.

Now, if any one were to surf Mr. Bufe's website for just a short amount of time, you will note that he has some interesting hobbies. Not only does he enjoy playing blues guitar at weekend music festivals around Tucson, AZ, but he started a quaint little publishing business devoted to spreading anarchist propaganda and subversive counter-culture philosophy, and conspiratorial, anti-Bush bumper stickers. Already I see an inconsistency with the stated purpose of the Undo Jesus people who insist their site is a "love site" not the least bit devoted to spreading hatred toward those who believe Jesus is God. Chaz the anarchist is devoted to such an end. In fact, the very nature of anarchy as a philosophy is one of violent over throw of all social systems believed to be controlling, and in Chaz's mind, Christianity falls under that category.

The primary target in Mr. Bufe's anti-Christian screed is for the most part Roman Catholicism; and I will admit Roman Catholicism is easy to pick on seeing its dismal track record over the centuries of being the main example of apostate Christianity. However, like most critics who perhaps have only read selectively from second hand sources critical of the historic Christian faith, Chaz lumps all Christians together with the RCC as being one and the same, or at least cut from the same cloth. Moreover, it is clear, at least to me, that he hasn't read any responses to his various points, hence the reason I say his knowledge of Christianity is selective at best and gleaned from other anti-Christian resources whose authors, too, are limited in their knowledge. Does he genuinely believe previous haters of Christianity have never raised these objections before? And does he further believe no Christian has ever taken the time to offer response? And if he has, why are those responses not satisfactory for him? Or at least it would help him if he would acknowledge those individuals who have answered him.

So why bother? Why would I even need to beat on an obscure, shaggy headed, Steve Ray Vaughan wanna be with a chip on his shoulder against God? I mean, we're not dealing with true genius here.

In spite of the fact, Chaz is not giving us any thing original as far as argumentation. He does represent the typical anti-Christian we encounter on occasion and the lame arguments they raise against us. It could be the scowling uncle who likes to pick religious debates after the Thanksgiving meal while everyone is lounging around the living room watching football, or the community college teacher who makes it a habit to say something negative against Christians, even if the guy is teaching computer science. So one aspect to my purpose in responding is providing some apologetic ammunition to challenge the thinking of folks like Chaz. Of course, there is also the fun in exposing the obvious stupidity in the thinking of a conceited windbag. In a manner of speaking, shutting the mouths of fools.

I would ask readers to keep a couple of things in mind. First, I will state up front that I will not be providing extensive, point by point expositions and critiques of these 20 points. I will do my best to touch on each one with comments, but many of these criticisms have been thoroughly trounced by more articulate folks than myself. If anything, I can make some comments and link some articles. Also, I will add posts on this subject periodically. In other words, I can't guarantee a new post every week on this subject. With an impending operation and work, and along with wanting to finish up my articles on KJV onlyism, there are many responsibilities occupying my time. But that gives us all something to look forward to. And please, leave comments.

Just to provide a run down of Chaz's "reasons" to abandon Christianity, he claims Christianity is...
  1. Based on Fear
  2. Preys on the innocent
  3. Based on dishonesty
  4. Extremely egocentric
  5. Breeds arrogance, a chosen people mentality
  6. Breed authoritarianism
  7. Is cruel
  8. Anti-intellectual, anti-scientific
  9. Has a morbid unhealthy preoccupation with sex
  10. Produces sexual misery
  11. Has an exceedingly narrow, legalistic view of morality
  12. Encourages acceptance of real evils while focusing on imaginary evils
  13. depreciates the natural world
  14. Models hierarchical, authoritarian organization
  15. Sanctions slavery
  16. Misogynistic
  17. Homophobic
  18. The Bible is not a reliable guide to Christ's teachings
  19. The Bible is riddled with contradictions
  20. Christianity borrowed its central myths and ceremonies from other ancient religions
That's a wealth of material for blogging this year of 2006.

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