Monday, August 25, 2008

Blog Address Has Changed:

If you're looking for content from Owen Strachan (the writer of consumed) , please visit the following site:

Also, please bookmark the site or change your feed address, as I'm no longer blogging here.

See you at

Many thanks!

--Owen Strachan

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Week-est Link, August 22, 2008: Final Link

1. Ligonier Ministries, the ministry outfit of R. C. Sproul, is offering extra copies of its current issue which covers what is commonly called the "New Atheism". Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and others have popularized this brand of thought. See if you can get a hold of this magazine issue, and equip yourself (and your small group, or your church) to meet the worldview challenge of the day. (HT: Challies)

2. It came out recently that Barack Obama had make a mistake in recalling his voting record on abortion. In fact, he said that those who in fact had the record straight were liars. Rich Lowry details the sad truth about Obama's record on abortion, showing that he is not a moderate at all on this issue but an extremist who worked to defeat a bill that would have saved babies accidentally born during abortion procedures. An Illinois hospital was leaving these babies to die; thankfully, most of the Illinois legislature supported the bill that would have made such action illegal. As an abortion extremist, however, Barack Obama sought the defeat of that bill (even after a clause was inserted that made the bill neutral in terms of Roe v. Wade and the larger issue), and succeeded. Such action is utterly inexcusable, morally reprehensible, and leaves little doubt about Obama's past stance on abortion.

3. Bookmark this blog on biblical theology. It's led by Jim Hamilton, an exciting young theologian, and should prove very insightful. The trend toward biblical theology is very exciting and will be helpful for preachers who want to understand the full scope of scriptural theology when preaching a given passage. (HT: Justin Taylor)

4. Signing off for consumed. Thanks for reading. It's been a great run. I'll pick up on Monday at

--Have a great weekend, all!

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Moving Day: Last Call for Consumed

It's been a great three years here at consumed, but it's time for a change. Starting next week, I'll be posting at this address: If you read this blog and wish to keep reading it, you'll want to change your blog links, bookmarks, or feed subscription. Again, just so it's very clear, here's the address at which I will be blogging from now on:

Please update your links in whatever way you read this blog.

I suppose there's not really any major change to the actual content of the blog, but this all feels a bit like a move. I'm just changing platforms and blog addresses, but in a funny way, I'm feeling like I'm actually leaving comfortable physical space that I've called home. This blog and its address have in a way been home to me and my thoughts for the last three years, and I'm a little sad about leaving little consumed.

Here's hoping, though, for progress and growth on the new blog. It's less tied to a certain platform, and thus I've been told by knowledgeable bloggers that it will make the blog easier to find. I think that's true--there's not exactly a lot of competition on the web for "owen strachan", two words that are rather scarce and especially so in combination. On the other hand, when you type in "consumed" you find a whole ton of other sites, and mine is buried in there somewhere (a just fate, one could say).

But there's no shift in philosophy here., despite being a rather narcissistic title, will be devoted to God and thoughts about the world and the church He has made. It's that simple--no change.

I have thoroughly enjoyed blogging at this address and I am profoundly thankful for lots of faithful readers and commenters--KC, Al (not that Al), BC, JA, my mother, Brian from KY, Bradley, and many others. I hope that I won't lose any of you, but that we'll continue the thinking together and the conversation at the new address.

Tomorrow's the last post over here; again, please make the switch:

Yours in Christ, OS.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Thoughtful Pastorate: Resources to Strengthen Ministry and Christian Life, Pt. 3

I've tried to give the evangelical pastor (and interested layperson) some good resources by which to stay up on current trends in theology and culture. Day one covered explicitly Christian resources; day two provided a mix of blogs and magazines; today I offer up another scattered mix of outlets that you might check once in a while to see what's going on.

1. Relevant Magazine email list (click the link and look to the lower right of the page for a sign-up box) has some good links and gives you a little snapshot of what young, hip, "cool" evangelicals are thinking. Some of it will make you scratch your head, but if your goal is staying in touch with what various groups of people are thinking, this email will help.
2. The 9Marks blog provides lots of good thinking on the church. It asks great questions, questions that most people leading the church won't ask, such as "How does the Bible teach us to structure our churches?" Also, check out Mike McKinley's writing--he can be hilarious (he's the cool 9Marks guy).
3. For that matter, let me recommend the 9Marks site. Have you checked it out? I talk about it pretty often on this blog, but if you've never bookmarked, you really should. The site has a ton of good content--interviews, book reviews, and articles, all of which center around the church and its life. The bimonthly newsletter is nothing less than exceptional and will acquaint with current conversations on the church.
4. The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood has a great blog called GenderBlog. Because gender issues are so important and contested right now, you should avail yourself of the content on this blog. Some pieces are brief, but you'll be able to stay up with current trends on this hugely important subject. Also, go to GirlTalk for helpful writing on Christian womanhood (and check out Carolyn McCulley's blog on womanhood from a single's perspective--excellent).
5. Once in a while, take a spin through some cutting-edge cultural reference points--sites like The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, People, Conde Nast, Sports Illustrated, the New York Times, and so on. You'll want to be careful on some of these sites about what content you view, but if you are, you'll gain a healthy perspective on what people in various pockets of culture are thinking, coveting, and struggling with.

One of the most helpful things you can do as a pastor and a thoughtful Christian person is to acquaint yourself with local media. For example, now that I'm in Chicago, I pick up the free RedEye magazine and read Sheridan Road magazine (also free) when it's sent to me. RedEye keeps me up to date on what hipsters and edgy twentysomethings are thinking, while Sheridan Road lets me know what the ultra-rich of the North Shore are into.

This is one of the most helpful ways you can think culturally as a Christian, and therefore minister more effectively in your setting (like Paul at Mars Hill in Acts 17). Identify the leading thought media of your area and browse it to learn what people are thinking and talking about. I learned to do this from my former boss, Dr. Al Mohler, and also from Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll, each of whom excels at reading, understanding, and speaking to the culture. I followed their example in DC, in Louisville, and I plan to do it wherever I go in order to connect with people better and minister to them.

I hope that this brief series has been helpful to you. There is an avalanche of resources I could recommend and there are many that readers will identify as personally helpful that I have not listed here. However, I'm confident that the fifteen to twenty resources listed here will greatly assist pastors across the nation (and perhaps the world) to stay up to date on both Christian and secular culture. You and I need to know the Word, preeminently, before anything else; but beyond this, it will really help us to know what people are thinking. The world is constantly changing, and we should not fall behind as we engage it.

Ministering as if we're in a vacuum may not prevent us from faithful ministry, but it won't do much to help us. Bookmark some of these links, get in touch with the world, and get passionate to reach all corners of your world for Christ.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Thoughtful Pastorate: Resources to Strengthen Ministry and Christian Life, Pt. 2

The resources I shared yesterday were mostly blogs. They're all free, and they will, if you check them regularly, keep you very much up to speed on the basic thought trends and events of evangelicalism. Even if you don't have time to scan them every day, taking an hour or two each week to scan the listed blogs will help a great deal to keep you aware of challenges to the faith and positive developments.

Here are some other miscellaneous resources that you could check if you have a little extra time beyond the five cornerstone outlets. These are sites to visit on, perhaps, a bi-weekly basis.

1. The Kairos Journal. As a pastor, you have to sign up for this and have someone recommend you for the site. It's geared for pastors who want to think in a Christian way about culture. It's a great preaching resource. The "Daily News" feature compiles important news stories from around the world.
2. The Al Mohler Radio Show link list is a compendium of top news stories and feature pieces from the leading print media. It's a fantastic resource that you should have to pay for, but don't. Subscribe to it by email and it will be delivered daily. Separate from Dr. Mohler's writing.
3. Time or Newsweek. Both of these popular print magazines have their biases, but they do a pretty good job of capturing the latest cultural trends. If you don't want to subscribe to the print versions, you could always scan their websites for the latest headlines. That would be helpful.
4. World Magazine is a solid counterpart to the secular print magazines. It provides Christian perspectives on current events and key trends. I enjoy and benefit from World and find its subscription price worth it.
5. National Review is also a current events-and-trends print magazine, but it's explicitly conservative, often helpful, and sometimes quite funny.

No one wants to pay for news anymore, but if you have a little extra in your church budget, pay for a few of the above magazines. You can of course visit the websites of these outlets, but I personally think it's worth supporting a magazine that you find helpful if you can. It ensures that you'll keep getting what you want: the news. Most magazines don't cost much, either. With that said, it may not be worth getting many magazines due to cost and time concerns.

More resources tomorrow, the final day of this series. Hope it's helpful--please share any useful ones I'm missing in the comments.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

The Thoughtful Pastorate: Resources to Strengthen Ministry and Christian Life, Pt. 1

Once in a while, someone asks me what I would recommend for pastors who want to stay up on cultural happenings and thought trends. I in no way claim to have some kind of mystic insight into what pastors should read for cultural knowledge, but I do have a few quick thoughts that could possibly be of help to the pastor (and the layperson) who wants to stay up on a Christian perspective of what's happening in American life and thought. I have structured this list with the busy pastor in mind, the kind who only has a few minutes to keep current but who nonetheless is (admirably) committed to doing so.

Without further ado, here are a few resources I would personally commend (in no particular order):

1. Collin Hansen's online bi-weekly Christianity Today column. "Theology in the News" is a very perceptive, contemporarily engaged column.
2. Justin Taylor's blog, Between Two Worlds. This is the bulletin board for reformed evangelicalism (and maybe just evangelicalism).
3. Tim Challies's blog, which offers lots of helpful book reviews and links. The reviews are often very current, which is nice for those who want to know what's big in the Christian publishing world.
4. Al Mohler's blog, which is the premier analytical evangelical thought resource. With book reviews, radio shows, links to important sources, and much more. One-stop shop for thoughtful Christianity, and the best place to begin worldview thinking on the Web.
5. The Reformation 21 blog. It's got a Presbyterian slant and boasts some of the most pungent evangelical writers out there, including Carl Trueman of Westminster Seminary.

This is just a start. I'll have more in the next few days, with the hope that I can help pastors and laypeople to think well about life, faith, and the world in the brief amounts of time that come to us all.

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Week-est Link, August 16, 2008: The Death of Death

1. Have you read J. I. Packer's classic introduction to John Owen's The Death of Death in the Death of Christ? If not, you should. It's illuminating and expanding. (HT: Monergism)

2. The Southern Seminary fall chapel calendar is up. Note the Darrell Bock Gheens Lectures in early November. (HT: Blake White)

3. Interesting Mark Driscoll video on the Bible's use of harsh language. This is a tough issue, particularly on matters of personal application.

4. McCain and Obama are at Saddleback Church, the church that Rick Warren pastors, for a discussion of issues of faith and humanitarian concern. The New York Times has noticed.

--Have a refreshing weekend, all.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Incredible Resource: the Jonathan Edwards Center

Have you ever visited this blog? It's the Jonathan Edwards Center blog, located in the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University. The Center is a tremendous resource for scholars, pastors, and all who are interested in some way in Jonathan Edwards.

Currently, the Center is beta-testing its new site, which features all of the works of Edwards online. It sounds a little grandiose, but it's actually true. If you are interested in looking into these resources, check out the following announcement. Even if you're not interested in being a beta-tester, I would encourage you to look over the Center's online offerings, both for personal benefit and the benefit of your ministry.

The announcement:

"The Works of Jonathan Edwards Online 2.0 (WJE Online 2.0) is available for Registered User’s Beta phase. We invite you to participate in a month-long testing of our new release: a fully searchable digital interface through which anyone can explore Edwards' written thoughts:

Volume 1: Freedom of the Will
Volume 2: Religious Affections
Volume 3: Original Sin
Volume 4: The Great Awakening
Volume 5: Apocalyptic Writings
Volume 6: Scientific and Philosophical Writings
Volume 7: The Life of David Brainerd
Volume 8: Ethical Writings
Volume 9: A History of the Work of Redemption
Volume 10: Sermons and Discourses, 1720-1723
Volume 11: Typological Writings
Volume 12: Ecclesiastical Writings
Volume 13: The "Miscellanies", Entry Nos. a-z, aa-zz, 1-500
Volume 14: Sermons and Discourses, 1723-1729
Volume 15: Notes on Scripture
Volume 16: Letters and Personal Writings
Volume 17: Sermons and Discourses, 1730-1733
Volume 18: The "Miscellanies," 501-832
Volume 19: Sermons and Discourses, 1734-1738
Volume 20: The "Miscellanies," 833-1152
Volume 21: Writings on the Trinity, Grace, and Faith
Volume 22: Sermons and Discourses, 1739-1742
Volume 23: The "Miscellanies," 1153–1360
Volume 24: The Blank Bible
Volume 25: Sermons and Discourses, 1743-1758

Register on Tuesday August 19, 2008 or later to participate in the Beta testing! The participant with the highest number of suggestions, bug reporting and or user-navigation comments WILL RECEIVE A PRIZE in the form of a book."

Happy searching, all.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Ways to Witness in Suburbia

Here are selected quotations from a thoughtful and helpful post from Illinois pastor Joe Thorn, who has a burden to evangelize and wisdom by which to discharge this burden (and to help the rest of us do so as well). (HT: Steve McCoy)

"I do not have the gift of evangelism, though I do share the gospel. Once a person decides the evangescript is not the best way to approach evangelism in their community the question then becomes, “How can I take a natural conversation about common things and connect it to the gospel without it coming off like an abrupt topic change?”
Any time we take the initiative to share the gospel with someone there is always a leap that has to be made to the gospel. Sometimes the leap is short and easy. Suppose you’re discussing the difference between Catholics and Protestants — getting to the gospel is easy. Sometimes the leap is long - very long, like when you try to move from your favorite Starbucks drink (Grande Americano) to the cross of Christ. The longer the jump, the more unnatural the transition, and the more awkward the conversation. So the key is having natural conversations that transition more smoothly to the gospel (smaller leaps).

To state it simply, the better you understand the gospel the easier the transitions become. If you are trying to share the gospel you will still sometimes make huge leaps that do not work. Sometimes the conversation will only connect to the Christian faith in part, without getting directly to the gospel. Sometimes it will all come together the way you imagine. The more you know the gospel (its essence and effects) and the more you practice this discipline the easier making comfortable transitions to the gospel will become. I have been asked a few times what this would look like practically, so here are 8 examples of topics that make for shorter leaps to the gospel or Christian faith.

1. Corruption, evil and sin. Conversations about corruption and evil are pretty common in my experience. Murderer’s go unpunished, children are exploited, racism continues on in more polite forms, mayors are busted smoking crack, etc. These conversations can naturally connect to the biblical issues of justice, judgment, forgiveness and redemption.

Transitions examples: “Even when the unrighteous escape justice in the courts, God says he will not let sin go unpunished…”
“My personal desire for vengeance is often quited by God’s assurance of justice…”
“In the end, I find that though I am guilty of different sins, I am just as guilty as…”

2. Community. This is a great conversation to have in the suburbs. Everyone wants it, but many are at a loss how to build it. Zoning laws have essentially destroyed the development of real, workable, walkable, communities. Conversations about community naturally lend themselves to the reality that we are made for community, that God himself dwells in eternal community (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), and that a central component of God’s saving work is the establishment of a community, a family, made up of every tribe, tongue and nation.

Transition example: “Part of why I am so passionate about the development of authentic community is because of how the Bible portrays the need for it. We are created by God to live in real community…”

Great post to read and reflect on. It's hard to share the gospel, which Joe acknowledges, but it hugely helps to have an approach to use in initially engaging people.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Resources for Women Who Want to Live a Faithful Life

From the Titus2Talk blog (HT: Vitamin Z):

"My husband has being doing a bit of home-work recently, listening to a few talks that focus on family life. He's listed a few good resources for guys, but here's a list of some of my home-work assignments, some completed, others I'm keen to give due attention.

Loving My Husband by Carolyn Mahaney
Loving My Children by Carolyn Mahaney
Celebrating Marital Love by Carolyn Mahaney
Wisdom for Women from Titus 2 by Susan Hunt
A Fresh Look at Titus 2 by Carolyn Mahaney
Sarah Edwards: Jonathan's Home & Haven by Noel Piper
Marriage: Forgiving & Forbearing by John Piper
Honouring the Biblical Call of Motherhood by John Piper
To Be A Mother is a Call to Suffer by John Piper
The Centrality of the Home by Voddie Baucham
Shepherding Your Child's Heart 0-5 by Tedd Tripp
A Wife's Responsibility to Help Her Husband by Barbara Hughes"

Christian women seeking faithful advice on living as a godly woman in a fallen world would do well to invest in a few of these resources. Voddie Baucham has much wisdom on the role the home is to play in the Christian life and also on the way the roles of husband and wife break down within this essential unit. Carolyn Mahaney is a great resource too, particularly because she has raised four children in a very busy home and has done so with considerable blessing from the Lord. John Piper, of course, needs no commendation, and should be listened to whenever possible.

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Friday, August 08, 2008

The Week-est Link, August 8, 2008

1. Check out this really interesting-looking discussion on the pastor-theologian.

2. An oldie but a goodie: ten questions on preaching for Tim Keller. Must-read. Keller on preaching = does not get much better.

3. The Henry Center gets some love. Thanks, Unashamed Workman (and great blog, by the way). Check out those Scripture and Ministry lectures: there are some dynamite talks.

4. A rap about Martin Luther? Believe it!

5. More love for the Henry Center. We're grateful for such kind exposure.

6. A nice read on "renewing the culinary culture". Thanks, Salvo blog (bookmark this one!).

--Have a great weekend, all.

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Salvo Magazine Fires Off Against Academic Bias

Have you heard of Salvo Magazine? I'm guessing you haven't. It's a good, provocative read. It's a missile in the culture wars from the theistic side (culprits include Robbie George, Dinesh D'Souza, Russell Moore, and others associated with Touchstone magazine and other conservative outposts). Sometimes it's a bit punchy, but it includes a lot of non-PC, thought-provoking content written in blog-style, though with a solid amount of research and citation. Bookmark it and check it every few months.

The latest issue has a fun piece called "Mind Control: Now Occurring at a University Near You" that is worth highlighting. The author of the essay, Herb London, lets off steam about the biased American academy in a way that's illuminating and amusing. Here are some juicy sections:

The current drive to indoctrinate, not educate: "For middle-class parents who spend a king’s ransom to send their children off to college, there is the expectation that their offspring will receive an education in science, math, the humanities, and the social sciences. This rite of passage is not merely an expensive dalliance; it is regarded as a union card for success. After all, the education pundits are always saying that a college degree pays for itself in increased earnings. What these parents don’t know, however, is that universities have become reeducation centers on the model of the old communist institutions that manipulated opinion for “higher” purposes.

Professor Richard Rorty, the much acclaimed philosopher who shuffled off this mortal coil last June, argued that professors in the university ought “to arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own.” Rorty noted further that students would be fortunate to find themselves under the control “of people like me, and to have escaped the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents.” Indeed, parents who send their children to college should recognize that professors “are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable.”"

The essence of postmodern education: "At one point in the history of the university, “educate” was a reflexive verb. You educated yourself through exposure to great books, scientific analysis, and logical exegesis. In the Rorty age, students do not have this privilege. Now they are obliged to be browbeaten into submission, mere clay in the hands of ambitious professors who are bent upon shaping students’ beliefs."

Northwestern teaches a one-sided view of the Cold War (shocking): "In order to fulfill a requirement for a major in history at Northwestern University, my daughter took a course called “The Cold War at Home.” As one might imagine, left-wing views predominated. The students read Ellen Shrecker rather than Ronald Radosh; Joseph McCarthy was transmogrified into Adolf Hitler; and victimology stood as the overarching theme of the course.

Despite the recent scholarship on the period, such as Alan Weinstein’s well-researched book on Alger Hiss or Stanton Evans’s biography of Senator McCarthy, views that did not fit the prevailing orthodoxy weren’t entertained. Pounded into students instead was the notion that America engaged in “totalitarian practices” not unlike the Soviet enemy we decried.

Class session after class session was devoted to the drumbeat of criticism. I asked my daughter if she had read anything about Gus Hall and the American Communist Party, if she had ever heard of I. F. Stone, or if any class time was devoted to the Venona tapes. She looked at me perplexed. There was only one theme in that course: The US government was wrong. There wasn’t any justification for harassing communists, and Edward R. Murrow and Victor Navasky were the real heroes of the period."

To sacrifice grades, or not sacrifice them--this is the current question: "When I suggested that she write her final paper on the role of anti-communist liberals such as Sidney Hook, Irving Kristol, Stephen Spender, and Midge Decter, among others, my daughter said, “My instructor doesn’t admire these people, and I don’t want to jeopardize a good grade by writing about them.” So much for open discussion.

Such bias is not atypical, unfortunately. Courses in the soft disciplines have largely become propagandistic exercises, as instructors have increasingly arrogated to themselves the role of moral arbiter. Invariably, the United States is wrong; our historical role in the Cold War was malevolent; and our civil liberties are still being put at risk by demagogic politicians."


Herb London's brief essay hits home. I remember being very careful in college about the paper topics I chose in certain classes. In fact, I'm guessing that most conservative (or even just open-minded, genuinely inquisitive) students have had the same experience. More than that, we've all talked about it, and we've all read articles like the one cited in this blog. What a shock, then, that so little seems to be changing in American education. You'd think that the academic "emperor", so to speak, would begin to clothe himself upon discovering his lack of garmentry.

I know people who are afraid to accurately report their past academic activity on their resumes due to the biased American academy. Their fears are likely well-grounded. Parents today need to take such realities into account when helping their children select a college. I'm a big champion of a challenging, stretching education, but one has to ask whether the costs of top-tier education are worth it. Instead of Harvard, Williams, and Stanford, I'd almost rather my children go to Hillsdale, Notre Dame, or Boston College. These places are not immune from unfair bias, of course, but their religious orientation does at least provide a standard of education, a basis for learning, that transcends the academic curiosities of the moment.

Christian schools need to make sure that they do not perform their own brand of indoctrination. It is good and right to have a foundational worldview, but we need to encourage honest inquiry in our schools. Ironically, I think that schools that are anchored in a certain doctrinal grid are in the best place to offer this kind of education. Schools that seek a "middle ground" orientation seem to end up swinging to the left. The drive to conserve seems less of a force at such institutions than is the drive to be progressive, open, and unbiased. Perhaps, then, we're all biased, and it's simply better to admit our biases and then work from them to a position of helpful academic investigation.

One thing's for sure, though--that thesis won't fly with any of the thinkers that Mr. London quotes!

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Announcement of an Exciting and Important Theological Debate

I'm excited to pass on word of an October 2008 debate between four excellent theologians on the Trinity. Below is the announcement of the debate, originally posted on the blog of the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding (bookmark this link if you haven't already!). I added the bit at the end about the Henry Center, which is the academic center that I manage at TEDS. Hope to see you at the free debate in October--should be very stimulating and worthwhile as four theologians tackle the matter of how the persons of the Godhead relate to one another.

Here's the formal announcement (feel free to spread word of this as you can):

"The Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School is excited to announce that on October 9th, 2008 at 6:30pm, it will host a Trinity Debate at the TEDS Chapel in Deerfield, IL featuring Drs. Bruce Ware (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) and Wayne Grudem (Phoenix Seminary) versus Drs. Tom McCall (TEDS) and Keith Yandell (University of Wisconsin-Madison) on the question:

“Do relations of authority and submission exist eternally among the Persons of the Godhead?”

This debate follows current argumentation in the academic sphere between the two sides. Though a theological exchange between expert scholars, this event will prove beneficial for Christians of all backgrounds. The doctrine of the Trinity is at the heart of the Christian faith and takes into account questions of scriptural interpretation, theological synthesis, and philosophical reasoning. Determining the identities and roles of the persons of the Godhead is thus of great importance not only to the academician, but to the pastor, the layperson, the student and all who would seek to probe and comprehend the beautiful complexity of orthodox Christianity.

The Center anticipates that the debate will be lively, informative, charitable, enjoyable, and, we trust, helpful to a wide variety of Christians and even non-Christians who wish to better understand one of the central realities of the faith. This event is not intended to be intramural, but rather to stimulate discussion that clarifies the Word of God in the life of Christ’s church. All should consider themselves invited and welcome to this free evening of debate and dialogue over theological issues that matter.


About the Henry Center: Led by Director Doug Sweeney, professor of Church History and the History of Christian Thought at TEDS, the Center seeks in the spirit of its namesake, theologian Carl F. H. Henry, to bridge the gap between the evangelical academy and the Christian church through conferences, lectures, and events. The Center focuses on the concerns not only of the Western church but of the international Christian movement. It is committed to the exchange of biblical wisdom, the authority of Scripture, and the advancement of kingdom work among diverse groups and peoples for the greater glory of God."

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Prestige and its Unimportance in the Christian Life

I've been reading the autobiography of theologian Carl F. H. Henry recently. It's entitled Confessions of a Theologian and it is engrossing reading, particularly for those who enjoy study of twentieth-century Christianity. If you want an in-depth, personal look at this slice of history, you could do little better than to tackle this text.

In the course of the tale's telling, the matter of cultural and intellectual prestige comes up a number of times. The "new evangelicals", as they were called, wrestled throughout their existence as a movement with the matter of cultural prestige. Were they, in fact, to seek it? If so, how could get they it? If they got it, what would they do with it? These and other questions related to the matter of academic and cultural respectability constantly confronted and were raised by the neo-evangelical leaders--Graham, Henry, Ockenga, and others.

It struck me in reading this important and insightful book that we Christians care far more for strategy than we do for prestige. What do I mean by this? Only that a major factor for us in our decision-making must be, is this option strategic? What kind of kingdom-building strategic value does it have? This, and not, "Will this be prestigious? Will it gain cultural acclaim?" is the kind of question we must constantly be asking ourselves.

The point I am making here is basic, and for many of us, is not a matter of major struggle. But it seems to me that we can easily lose focus here. This is especially true if we find ourselves in social situations in which prestige is highly valued. Those of us in such places must constantly refer back to the apostle Paul's words: "Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" (1 Cor. 1:20) The world's wisdom, and the acclaim that comes from aligning with the world's wisdom, is not our end. Of course, we need not fear cultural respectability, and it is no bad thing to use the culture's systems (of intellectual development, for example) for kingdom purposes. In addition, I don't think that we should intellectually bury our heads in the sand and studiously avoid engagement with cultural and intellectual thought. One need not be consumed by prestige to occupy prestigious positions in society or to use the world's standards for the purposes of kingdom advancement.

But with that said, we've got to be careful, don't we? If we allow our main criteria for our churches and organizations to be grounded in the desire for cultural prestige, we place such institutions in direct conflict with a biblical worldview. Far better to ask the question of strategic value than the question of prestige. "How can I use my mind to advance the kingdom in the realm of science?" "How can I use these literary abilities for the glory of God?" "What is the most strategic college in which I may educate young minds?" "As a future pastor, how can I train myself for strategic service to the church in my education?" "Who can I study under for the purpose of strategic positioning in terms of the academy?" These are all valid and helpful questions to ask of one's life choices. They reflect not an interest in self and self-promotion, but in Christ and kingdom-promotion. I would argue that they should be asked by any and all Christians, regardless of vocation, no matter the calling.

The drive for prestige will cripple us. Indeed, you can search your whole life for fulfillment in this area, it seems, and never truly find it. We don't have to shy away from culture and cultural systems to avoid this pitfall. We can educate ourselves, make good, strategic educational choices, make connections in life and business and ministry, and generally be wise as serpents in all that we do. But we should always do so out of the desire not to be prestigious, but to be strategic.

In this way, I think, we emulate in our callings our Savior, who cared nothing for fame and power, and who gave everything He had to strategically advance His kingdom for the glory of the Father.

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Monday, August 04, 2008

How Box Office Superheroes Reveal American Spiritual Beliefs

All those box office superheroes wouldn't seem to have a strong connection to American spirituality, would they? Aren't those silly movies simply the big-screen realization of the adolescent fantasies of adult men?

Well, maybe they are. But as a Vanity Fair blog (not linked due to content) recently suggested, perhaps there's more of a spiritual edge to this cultural trend than one might think. Here's what a couple of hugely influential figures, writer Frank Miller and director Guillermo Del Toro, had to say about this trend:

“Every great civilization has its superheroes,” says Miller. “America is just a much, much younger civilization… You couldn’t find a better version, in America, of the Pantheon of ancient Greece [than superheroes],” which could be why they’re such an enduring draw.

Del Toro seconds the point: “There is still a longing for mythos, for a spiritual Pantheon. And in an era where we have enshrined materialism to such a degree and we have killed off every conceit that seems to be weak and based on religion—New Age, all those types of things—the only sort of acceptable mythology, I think, is superhero mythology.”

That may sound like comic-book-nerd hyperbole, but the comparison with Greek mythology is actually relevant, to a point. For one thing, to the ancients, preposterous tales of heroic feats were not to be taken literally. “It’s not that they were ‘believed,’” says Harvard Classics Professor Gregory Nagy. “That is a Christian concept. Rather, myths about heroes were accepted as valid narratives about moral truths that helped explain life.”

There's something here, I think. There's a certain slice of American society that wants little part of traditional religion. The idea of God as a sovereign being is less attractive than a picture of divinity that emphasizes humanness. Aside from the massive explosions, cool graphics, and technological gadgetry, one reason that so many people may be flocking to superhero films is that they tap into a current of American spirituality. People want heroes who are unlike them--heroes who can vanquish their enemies--and yet they also want heroes who are like them, who have real flaws and weaknesses and battles. The Greek gods fit this mold millenia ago, and the American comic book superheroes fit it today.

What does this mean for the Christian church? It's fairly obvious, I suppose. While teaching unbelievers about our sovereign God, we need to keep in mind that people are looking for a person who is both like them and not like them. In other words, Jesus Christ fits well with this current of spirituality. This is not to say that Christ had flaws or sins--He did not. However, He did take on human flesh, embrace the difficulties of an authentic human existence, and face terrible temptation, suffering, and pain, just as we all do, even as He was powerful to an extent that confounds the imagination (another point to raise with the lost). The doctrine of Christ's humanity is not a theological afterthought, a footnote to the more majestic stuff. It is a strange, mysterious and quite moving aspect of the faith we claim. As the little poster says on the door of TEDS professor John Woodbridge's door, "History is filled with men who would be gods...but only one God who would be man."

In your conversations with unbelievers, particularly those who might be drawn to superheroes (and that's a pretty sizeable populace, given current box office numbers), make sure that you share about both the divine and human aspects of our Lord. Though we may not fully comprehend the wonder of it all, Jesus became like us in order to save us (see Hebrews 2, 4). He is a majestic Lord, and He will return to this world in flaming majesty to judge it in a level of spectacle no movie can present. Yet He was also a human being, one who wept and hurt and bled. He knows the sorrows of this earth, having become intimately acquainted with them in His incarnation.

The people around us do not need an Iron-man, or a Batman, or any other superhero--they need a Christ, a Messiah, and the good news is that He has come, and died, and He waits to receive the broken, the weak, the lost, and to give them His life, His strength, His love.

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Friday, August 01, 2008

The Week-est Link, August 1, 2008

1. Have you heard about the Henry Center's CCI essay series for college students? If not, you should check it out, and pass on a few essays to some thoughtful students that you know.

2. As one who loves studying urban churches, and who loves to see urban churches with a vision for the city, I found Desiring God's plans for their new facilities interesting.

3. Readers of this blog know that I'm trying to think through how it is that all of Scripture testifies to Christ. I found this Reformation 21 article on how Proverbs speaks to Christ helpful.

4. Speaking of innovative urban churches, I've enjoyed checking out the website of Park Community Church. They've got vision, and they're making things happen in downtown Chicago.

5. You should check out this music video from Christian musician Brooke Fraser's video "Shadowfeet". She's got a cool style. Couldn't hurt to pick up her cd.

6. Do you want really cute headgear for your little girl? Yes? Check out Brilliant Bows. My friend Stephanie Rogers (wife of fellow TEDS church history student Mark Rogers) has a great home business going. I encourage you to support it.

--Have a great weekend, everyone.

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