Monday, April 30, 2007

Why I'm a Christian

Well, at least some building blocks.

"I'm pinned down. When I survey this gigantic intricate world, I cannot believe that is just came about. I do not mean that I have some good arguments for its being made and that I believe in the arguments. I mean that this conviction wells up irresistibly within me when I contemplate the world. The experiment of trying to abolish it does not work. When looking at the heavens, I cannot manage to believe that they do not declare the glory of God. When looking at the earth, I cannot bring off the attempt to believe that it does not display his handiwork.

And when I read the New Testament and look into the material surrounding it, I am convinced that the man Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead. In that, I see the sign that he was more than a prophet. He was the Son of God."

- Nicholas Wolterstorff in Lament for a Son

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Seventh Seal

So here goes my first ever movie review. The other day I was procrastinating around Grice Hall when my friend Bubba (his blog is linked in my "friends" section) invited me to watch a movie with him. He told me that he had rented a Swedish movie with English subtitles called, "The Seventh Seal." I'm not much of a movie connoisseur but I was intrigued so I agreed to watch it.

The basic plot is that a knight returns home to Sweden from the crusades. On the beach he finds "Death" waiting for him. He challenges Death to a game of chess to prolong his life. By the way, I really enjoyed listening to the Swedish language and trying to find paralells to German. The languages are very different but there was the occasional word that matched up. The word for chess happened to be one of them, Schach in German, Schack in Swedish. Back to the plot... The knight heads to a town with his squire and finds that Sweden is ravaged by the plague. He goes to a church and confesses that he is struggling with belief in God. During his confession he also says that he is playing chess with Death and he reveals his strategy. After he has confessed this, he gets a look at the face of the "priest" who turns out to be Death playing the part. Upon leaving the church he sees a young woman who is being held as a witch to be burned at the stake.

We are also introduced to a company of traveling actors. It is a young family, the parents are Mary and Joseph and they have a son named Michael. When we are first introduced to the actors, Joseph has a vision of a woman wearing a crown walking through a glade with a young child. Joseph takes this to be an apparition of the Virgin Mary.

The actors and the knight and his squire meet in a small Swedish town. At the actor's wagon outside of the town, the knight, his squire and the young family sit down for a meal and have a philosophical conversation. This is the happiest scene of the movie. One line that stuck with me from this scene is where the knight says, "belief is suffering." He continues to wrestle in this scene with his own doubt.

The group sets off for the knight's castle and along the way they are met with a group that is taking the witch to be burned at the stake. The knight asks the witch how he can meet Satan. He says he wants to meet Satan so, "he can ask him about God." The witch claims that the priests and soldiers can see Satan in her eyes but when the knight looks he can see nothing. As the witch is being burned, the knight's squire, an atheist, comments in the horror in the witch's eyes. He says that the witch is now realizing what he and the knight have come to realize - that there is no one there, no God, and that life truly is meaningless. The knight despairs at this point, saying something like, "No, it can't be!"After this encounter, still on the way to the castle while the knight is again playing chess with Death, Joseph sees Death with the knight and escapes with his family. The knight, his squire and the rest of the crew make it to the castle and find the knight's wife there. While the knight's wife is reading from The Revelation, Death shows up at the castle. In the last scene we see the young family in their wagon and Joseph sees the knight, the squire and the rest of those who were in the castle being led by Death over the Swedish hills.

The movie was quite enjoyable and I would say, artfully done. It hit on some of my favorite subjects, religious belief, doubt, and how we live our lives in light of our belief or doubt. The characters in the movie reminded me slightly of the characters in my favorite novel, The Brothers Karamazov. The Church was portrayed very negatively in the movie. It's actions and teachings seem absurd and it provides little or no comfort to the people who are terrified of the plague. The movie reveals the absurdity of life if there is no God but seems to suggest that the only other option is the equal absurdity of religion. The young family is the bright point of the film and I would suggest that as with Alyosha's character in the Brother's Karamazov, they seem to suggest another way - the way of trust in God, even in the midst of horrible circumstances.

P.S. Check out my friend Bubba's blog for a more humerous take on this film.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

End of Semester Insanity

The end of my last semester at Asbury Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky draws near and my attention is focused on three large term papers I must finish by May 13th. I've taken some of the best classes I've ever had in any university setting this semester and all three papers should prove interesting. My classes this semester were "The Philosophy of C.S. Lewis" and "The Problem of Evil" with Dr. Walls and "The Theology of John Calvin" with Dr. O'Malley. Doctors Walls and O'Malley are two of my favorite professors here and the content of the courses has been quite good. I thought the subjects of my term papers might interest some of you so I describe them here below along with the appropriate illustrations:It's been cool taking a Calvin course at an Arminian seminary. I haven't yet taken our systematic theology (Basic Christian Doctrine) so the only systematic I will have taken on campus will have been John Calvin's. For class we've read the majority of The Institutes and a good biography by Wendell. My paper will focus on Calvin's idea of the third use of the law, how that theology affected his pastoral ministry and then compare that to Luther's concept of the law and how that affected his ministry. I'm not a fan of all of Calvin's theology but I do like his third use of the law. Basically, Calvin said that the law was useful to instruct Christians to lead a holy life. This is contrary to Luther's view where after a person is saved the law no longer has any claim on a person's life. “If I look to myself,” said Luther, “then all is flesh, all is sin. If I look to Christ, I am completely holy and pure, and I know nothing at all about the Law.”
I chose the cover of David Bentley Hart's book The Doors of the Sea as the illustration for my Problem of Evil class because I thought it was such a poetic and profound account of the problem of evil and theodicy. I highly recommend this book! This class has been the best I've taken at Asbury. The readings have been intensely interesting and the class discussions enlightening. I became interested in one theme from The Doors of the Sea - that of the problem of natural evil. Hart suggests that natural evil could be the result of demonic activity. I'm going to go at this problem, trying to defend the thesis that natural evil is actually the result of a corruption of creation resulting from the fall. I'm going to check out some commentaries on Romans 8:20-21, "For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God," and go from there. I've started on my Lewis term paper and hope to finish it tomorrow. I'm exploring some ideas surrounding one of the characters from Lewis' The Great Divorce. The character is the liberal Episcopal bishop. The bishop has taken a bus ride from hell into heaven and has a discussion with a former friend and classmate who is in heaven. The chapter is a wonderful indictment of liberal theology and I would say also much of postmodern thought. Let's just say I bring a lot of passion to this subject - I grew up in a liberal church and I'm still recovering. I think a lot of Christians, epecially those who have always been around evangelicals or fundies, are very ignorant of the serious dangers of liberal theology. I love what one of my professor's Lawson Stone had to say about liberalism, "I personally believe it to be the most effective heresy Satan ever fomented on the church."

Well, now I've spent another hour procrastinating. God's Peace.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Emergent, no; Global South, yes.

Archbishop Peter Akinola

This semester I have been blessed to have a roommate who is in many ways sympathetic with the "emerging church" movement. You can read his blog as it is linked from my page in my "friend's blogs" section under Dan Bellinger.

Dan has helped me to moderate my views a bit of the emerging movement. My opinion is not as negative as it once was as I see that many of the critiques that the emerging movement offers are well-founded and helpful. Among these helpful critiques I would include the admonition to be open to what other strains of Christianity might have to teach us, a more chastened view of how far we can get with rationality or with apologetics and a questioning of many of the ways protestantism has done things in the modern era such as evangelism or worship.

But I still think that there are some serious problems with the emerging church. I think this is quite clearly seen in the lack of clarity by such emerging leaders as Brian McLaren on certain controversial subjects. I think that McLaren's strain of the emerging church, one of the more popular strains, is simply modern liberal christianity disguised as something else. I would go so far as to say that certain strains of the emerging movement are just a Trojan Horse of modern liberalism positioned smack in the middle of evangelicalism. Another problem in the emerging church is the strong, over-arching commitment to "dialogue." The problem is that this "dialogue" often seems to include questioning doctrines and moral stances which have been accepted by the huge majority of the Church for the huge majority of its existence. I'm thinking specifically of such doctrines as the Virgin Birth and such moral stances as traditional sexual morality.

I was on the Emergent website today and saw that they want to be at the forefront of what they think God is doing in the world today. That sounds great but from some of the things I've read from emerging leaders I have a hard time believing that that is the "new thing" God is doing. I was momentarily disappointed but then I realized that there is another candidate for the "new thing" God is doing. That "other candidate" is Global South Christianity - biblically conservative, charismatic, self-sacrificial and highly evangelistic. I thought - maybe this is what God is really doing in the world. That's not to say that God's will is not being done in certain circles of the emerging church but I will gladly take Global South Christianity over much of what I see in the "emerging" church.

Disclaimer: I would love to be proved wrong about many of my negative feelings toward the emerging church and I am very thankful for the faith and the contributions of many who would define themselves as emerging church people here at the seminary.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Scholars Backtrack

Here is a story from The Jerusalem Post on Jesus' supposed tomb at Talpiot. I wonder why the mainstream press here isn't covering it. Could it be that they are anti-Christian? nah....

Etgar Lefkovits, THE JERUSALEM POST Apr. 11, 2007

Several prominent scholars who were interviewed in a bitterly contested documentary that suggests that Jesus and his family members were buried in a nondescript ancient Jerusalem burial cave have now revised their conclusions, including the statistician who claimed that the odds were 600:1 in favor of the tomb being the family burial cave of Jesus of Nazareth, a new study on the fallout from the popular documentary shows.
The dramatic clarifications, compiled by epigrapher Stephen Pfann of the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem in a paper titled "Cracks in the Foundation: How the Lost Tomb of Jesus story is losing its scholarly support," come two months after the screening of The Lost Tomb of Christ that attracted widespread public interest, despite the concomitant scholarly ridicule.
The film, made by Oscar-winning director James Cameron and Emmy-winning Canadian filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici, prompted major criticism from both a leading Israeli archeologist involved in the original dig at the site as well as Christian leaders, who were angered over the documentary's contradictions of main tenets of Christianity.
But now, even some of the scholars who were interviewed for and appeared in the film are questioning some of its basic claims.
The most startling change of opinion featured in the 16-page paper is that of University of Toronto statistician Professor Andrey Feuerverger, who stated those 600 to one odds in the film. Feuerverger now says that these referred to the probability of a cluster of such names appearing together.
Pfann's paper reported that a statement on the Discovery Channel's Web site, which previously read "a statistical study commissioned by the broadcasters...concludes that the probability factor is 600 to 1 in favor of this being the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and his family," in keeping with Feuerverger's statement, has been altered and now reads, "a statistical study commissioned by the broadcasters... concludes that the probability factor is in the order of 600 to 1 that an equally 'surprising' cluster of names would arise purely by chance under given assumptions."
Another sentence on the same Web site stating that Feuerverger had concluded it was highly probable that the tomb, located in the southeastern residential Jerusalem neighborhood of Talpiot, was the Jesus family tomb - the central point of the film - has also been changed. It now reads: "It is unlikely that an equally surprising cluster of names would have arisen by chance under purely random sampling."
Israeli archeologists have said that the similarity of the names found inscribed on the ossuaries in the cave to the members of Jesus's family was coincidental, since many of those names were commonplace in the first century CE.
The film argues that 10 ancient ossuaries - burial boxes used to store bones - that were discovered in Talpiot in 1980 contained the bones of Jesus and his family. The filmmakers attempt to explain some of the inscriptions on the ossuaries by suggesting that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, and that the couple had a son, Judah.
One of the ossuaries bears an inscription reading "Yeshua son of Yehosef" or "Jesus son of Joseph;" a second reads "Mary;" a third is a Greek inscription apparently read by one scholar as "Mary Magdalene;" while a fourth bears the inscription, "Judah, son of Jesus." The inscriptions are in Hebrew or Aramaic, except for the one in Greek.
But Shimon Gibson, who was part of the team that excavated the tomb two and half decades ago and who appeared in the film, is quoted in Pfann's report as saying he doubted the site was the tomb of Jesus and his family.
"Personally, I'm skeptical that this is the tomb of Jesus and I made this point very clear to the filmmakers," Gibson is quoted as saying.
"We need much more evidence before we can say that the Talpiot tomb might be the family tomb of Jesus," he added.
In the film, renowned epigrapher Prof. Frank Moore Cross, professor emeritus of Hebrew and oriental languages at Harvard University, is seen reading one of the ossuaries and stating that he has "no real doubt" that it reads "Jesus son of Joseph." But according to Pfann, Cross said in an e-mail that he was skeptical about the film's claims, not because of a misreading of the ossuary, but because of the ubiquity of Biblical names in that period in Jerusalem.
"It has been reckoned that 25 percent of feminine names in this period were Maria/Miriam, etc. - that is, variants of 'Mary.' So the cited statistics are unpersuasive. You know the saying: lies, damned lies, and statistics," Cross is quoted as saying.
The paper also notes that DNA scientist Dr. Carney Matheson, who supervised DNA testing carried out for the film from the supposed Jesus and Mary Magdalene ossuaries, and who said in the documentary that "these two individuals, if they were unrelated, would most likely be husband and wife," later said that "the only conclusions we made were that these two sets were not maternally related. To me, it sounds like absolutely nothing."
Furthermore, Pfann also says that a specialist in ancient apocryphal text, Professor Francois Bovon, who is quoted in the film as saying the enigmatic ossuary inscription "Mariamne" is the same woman known as Mary Magdalene - one of the filmmakers' critical arguments - issued a disclaimer stating that he did not believe that "Mariamne" stood for Mary of Magdalene at all.
Pfann has already argued that the controversial inscription does not read "Mariamne" at all.
The burial site, which has been contested from the start by scholars and church officials alike, is some distance from the Church of the Holy Sepulchrr in the Old City, where many Christians believe Jesus's body lay for three days after he was crucified.
According to the New Testament, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion, and an ossuary containing Jesus's bones - the explanations of the movie director notwithstanding - would contradict the core Christian belief that he was resurrected and then ascended to heaven.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Lightning, Martin Luther and St. Anne

Last night, after I got off of work in downtown Lexington, I drove through one of the most powerful thunderstorms I've ever seen. The thunderstorms here are one thing I have really appreciated about Kentucky. In western Washington we very rarely get strong thunderstorms. As the storm progressed I was text messaging with my friend, Anna (you see her blog in my "Friend's Blogs" section), about trying to take some pictures of the storm. I mentioned that I always think of Martin Luther and St. Anne during thunderstorms. This is of course because it was during a thunderstorm that Luther promised St. Anne that he would enter a monastery. To his father's dismay he entered an Augustinian monastery which would send him on the road to his reformation thought. As the son of a miner, he prayed to St. Anne because she is their patron saint. I admit that part of the reason that I always make the association between thunder, the reformer and the saint is because of the movie "Luther." The thunderstorm scene in that movie is a very good one. It is a good movie and I would recommend it to anyone interested in church history.
"Help Saint Anne - I want to be a monk." This is a marker stone in Stotternheim, Germany. It marks the place where Luther made his promise to Saint Anne. According to the source it also says, “Here, on 2 July 1505, Martin Luther was struck by lightning,” and, “Wendepunkt der Reformation,” - "turning point of the Reformation. "