CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

I have been a fan of the rock/jazz musician Sting since I first heard Roxanne shortly after its release back in the 1970s. I have always enjoyed his music, and have all of his albums from his very greatest efforts(Nothing Like the Sun and Ten Summoner's Tales) through his very worst (Mercury Rising). His latest release, Sacred Love, has left me wondering: is Sting seeking God?

The album's name alone should alert the reader that he is somehow seeking something of the divine since "sacred", by definition, is something related to deity or deserving of worship. In Christian thought, "sacred love" is what Jesus demonstrated when he died on the cross in forgiveness of sin. The album is dedicated to the memory of a couple of individuals, and this leads me to believe that the album is intended to be an introspective look at Sting's own life and mortality, and in many ways that is exactly what the album delivers. Sting admits that he has been thinking about Christianity in the song "Sacred Love" which he concludes with:

I've been thinking 'bout religion
I've been thinking 'bout the things that we believe
I've been thinking 'bout the Bible
I've been thinking 'bout Adam and Eve
I've been thinking 'bout the garden
I've been thinking 'bout the tree of knowledge, and the tree of life
I've been thinking 'bout forbidden fruit
I've been thinking 'bout a man and his wife
I been thinking 'bout, thinking 'bout
Sacred love

The album is littered with some very unmistakeable references to the Bible.

The first song, "Inside", gives a look inside Sting's heart by comparing what is happening inside with what is happening to the world outside. For example, he begins, "Inside the doors are sealed to love, Inside my heart is sleeping", while "Outside the stars are turning, Outside the world's still burning". In the course of this examination, he notes:

Inside my head's a box of stars I never dared to open
Inside the wounded hide their scars, inside this lonesome sparrow's fall
Inside the songs of our defeat, they sing of treaties broken
Inside this army's in retreat, we hide beneath the thunder's call

Now, I don't know exactly what Sting was thinking, but the references in this verse are keenly interesting to me. It seems to talk about the fact that we have within ourselves untapped potential that we don't dare to open. Why not? Because it is inside where we, the wounded, hide our scars. Now, this is certainly subject to several interpretations, but the next line makes me think that he is talking about the fall since he refers to the fall of a sparrow which echoes the words of Jesus in Matthew 12:29 and 31: "Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And {yet} not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. * * * So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows." Is Sting recognizing that he is one of the sparrows for whom Jesus expresses care in Matthew, and the scars are the scars that come from the fall? Are the treaties broken our covenants with God? Is "thunder's call" the voice of God?

The album continues with Send Your Love which is seems to be the side of Sting that responds to the questions raised on "Inside" with the words of the famous Beatle song, All You Need is Love. Several songs on the album are like Send Your Love in that they seem to not only to embrace this idea of "we can change the world with love alone" (which may be the "sacred love" to which the album title refers), but seems to reject religion altogether. But I will come back to this particular song later.

The next song, "Whenever I Say Your Name", has direct Christian allusions. For example, consider the first couple of lines:

Whenever I say your name, whenever I call to mind your face
Whatever bread's in my mouth, whatever the sweetest wine that I taste
Whenever your memory feeds my soul, whatever got broken becomes whole
Whenever I'm filled with doubts that we will be together

Wherever I lay me down, wherever I put my head to sleep
Whenever I hurt and cry, whenever I got to lie awake and weep
Whenever I kneel to pray, whenever I need to find a way
I'm calling out your name

Bread and wine? Lay me down (to sleep)? Whatever got broken becomes whole? Whenever I kneel to pray and need to find a way I'm calling out your name? Am I the only one recognizing these Christian themes? A couple of lines later, the song continues:

Whenever I say your name, Whenever I say your name, I'm already praying, I'm already praying
I'm already filled with a joy that I can't explain
Wherever I lay me down, wherever I rest my weary head to sleep
Whenever I hurt and cry, whenever I got to lie awake and weep
Whenever I'm on the floor
Whatever it was that I believed before
Whenever I say your name, whenever I say it loud, I'm already praying

Now, this brings back the give and take nature of this album. The previous song talks about there being no religion except things like "There's no religion but sex and music, . . . sound and dancing, . . . line and colour, . . . sacred trance," but then this song seems to change and adopt a very Christian outlook to the world. Is this the reason he says "whatever it was that I believed before, whenever I say your name . . . I'm already praying"? Is this reflecting a change in belief?

"Dead Man's Rope", the next song in the album, could almost be sung in church as an offering of music because it is that overtly religious. If a singer were to adopt the lyrics as is and merely add a few "Jesus"es it could pass for a devotional to God. Consider the following lyrics from the song:

If you're walking to escape, to escape from your affliction
You'd be walking in a great circle, a circle of addiction
Did you ever wonder what you'd been carrying since the world was black?
You see yourself in a looking glass with a tombstone on your back

Walk away in emptiness, walk away in sorrow,
Walk away from yesterday, walk away tomorrow,
Walk away in anger, walk away in pain
Walk away from life itself, walk into the rain

All this wandering has led me to this place
Inside the well of my memory, sweet rain of forgiveness
I'm just hanging here in space

Now I'm suspended between my darkest fears and dearest hope
Yes I've been walking, now I'm hanging from a dead man's rope
With Hell below me, and Heaven in the sky above
I've been walking, I've been walking away from Jesus' love

This seems like an admission that Sting admits that he has been wandering and now finds himself torn between heaven and hell. He needs to make a decision -- especially since he has been walking away in emptiness, sorrow, anger, pain and mostly "away from Jesus' love". Then, comes the kicker:

All this wandering has led me to this place
Inside the well of my memory, sweet rain of forgiveness
Now I'm walking in his grace
I'm walking in his footsteps
Walking in his footsteps,
Walking in his footsteps

Did I read that right? "Now I'm walking in his grace, I'm walking in his footsteps." Whose footsteps? Who has grace? The answers seem rather apparent to me. In an interview, Sting says of this song:

"That song to me is about death," he says plainly. "I had the image of a man suspended on a rope between heaven and hell, suspended in a 'well of memory.' Having fallen into the well of memory when I was working on my book, I know how it feels, and it's not all pleasant.

"The other image in the song," he continues, "is of a man walking, day after day, a lifetime of walking away from responsibilities, from his pain, hoping it will go away. But at some point you have to be in one place and deal with reality, and that's where 'Dead Man's Rope' is. Once you've accepted that, then comfort arrives. You can't walk away from everything. I've tried."

So, what is the reality that Sting is dealing with? Jesus' love? The reality that he is needing to walk in his grace and in his footsteps?

The songs that follow seem to be somewhat out of touch with the rest of the album, including a song about a woman who leaves a man, a song about a car thief and a song about war (obviously critical of President George W. Bush). The last of these, This War is the only one that caught my attention because of another allusion to Christian teaching:

You may ask, what does it profit a man
To gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?
Is that your body you see on the rocks below
As the tide begins to roll?

"The Book of My Life" continues the debate seeming to take back the strong confession of faith found in "Dead Man's Rope" since Sting seems to be looking at his life and saying that he doesn't understand why it is what it is or where he's going. He says:

Though the pages are numbered
I can't see where they lead
For the end is a mystery no-one can read
In the book of my life

There's a chapter on fathers a chapter on sons
There are pages of conflicts that nobody won
And the battles you lost and your bitter defeat,
There's a page where we fail to meet

There are tales of good fortune that couldn't be planned
There's a chapter on god that I don't understand
There's a promise of Heaven and Hell but I'm damned if I see

The most intriguing lines in the song come near the end where he makes a statement that there is only one thing he can see, but it is not clear in the slightest who it is that he is seeing.

Now the daylight's returning
And if one sentence is true
All these pages are burning
And all that's left is you

He could be talking about a woman, or he could be talking about God.

Sacred Love continues with the title song, "Sacred Love" which seems to suggest that the person he was referencing at the end of "Book of My Life" was a woman. The song starts off talking about a woman who seems to be his sacred love:

Take off those working clothes
Put on these high heeled shoes
Don't want no preacher on the TV baby
Don't want to hear the news

Shut out the world behind us
Put on your long black dress
No one's ever gonna find us here
Just leave your hair in a mess
I've been searching long enough
I begged the moon and the stars above
For sacred love

But the song is not nearly so cut and dried, and the song almost seems to treat this woman not as a real flesh and blood woman, but as a personification of something else. He continues:

The spirit moves on the water
She takes the shape of this heavenly daughter
She's rising up like a river in flood
The word got made into flesh and blood
The sky grew dark, and the earth she shook
Just like a prophecy in the Holy Book
Thou shalt not covet, thou shalt not steal
Thou shalt not doubt that this love is real
So I got down on my knees and I prayed to the skies
When I looked up could I trust my eyes?
All the saints and angels and the stars up above
They all bowed down to the flower of creation
Every man every woman
Every race every nation
It all comes down to this
Sacred love

So, is sacred love a woman or something more? The word got made into flesh and blood? The sky grew dark and the earth she shook like on the day Jesus was crucified? He got down on his knees and prayed, and when he looked up he saw this "flower of creation" whom the angels, saints and stars all worshipped? Hmmmm.

The final song is a remix of "Send Your Love" where he sings that there's no religion but sex and music, etc., etc.

What's the conclusion? I don't know. It seems to me that, at minimum, Sting has been considering the claims of Christianity. He seems to have dabbled enough with the ideas and the themes that he was ready to consider giving his heart to the one who can give grace, Jesus. But then, if the songs are in an order that is intended to communicate a message, in the struggle for his heart he has turned away from God to a woman who he has veiled with the deity rightfully deserved only to God. Thus, his idea of sacred love is the love that we, as humans, can give to each other. It is not the love of God who he seems to have concluded is not sufficiently real to warrant his love.

I have not seen many comments by Sting himself about this album, so everything that I have said here is based solely upon the reading of the lyrics. His sole comment that I found was in an interview where he noted that the Sacred Love album followed on the heels of the tragedy of 9-11, and he says "Even then, while I was working on the songs, there was uncertainty, but this time around, as you can see from the lyrics, it resulted in some confusion." Another interview says that Sting sees "sacred love" in the typical New-Agey way.

"There's something happening in the human spirit, and we're all connected to it, whether you're American or British or from the Islamic world. We're connected to some energy in the world, and we need to sort out what it is."

For Sting, the name of that energy is embodied in the title of his new album: Sacred Love. "Every man, every woman/Every race, every nation/It all comes down to this/Sacred love," he sings on the exuberant title track. Other songs on the album demonstrate how the failure to love can lead to self-deception and betrayal, to irrational fear and cataclysmic violence. But what finally comes through is the truth that all soul singers know: Love can save the day.

I don't know how much faith to put into this interview, however, since the interview seems to completely miss the Christian overtones of Dead Man's Rope.

Regardless, I think it fair to say that even if Sting is struggling with faith in Jesus, he did not come to the conclusion that Jesus is the one and only true Son of God. I pray that God will continue to work on his heart.

Greg Johnson, founder of the St. Louis Center for Christian Study, has written a very pertinent series of chapters on the modern invention of "Quiet Time", and how the church has turned our devotion to God into an issue of guilt. Each day this week, I will quote a chapter and comment as necessary. Below is part four in the series of six entitled, "Freedom from Quiet Time Guilt Part IV: The Shocker: Grace for the Christian." Part I can be found here. Part II can be found here. Part III can be found here. Part IV can be found here.

The Surprise: The Quiet Time is Optional

Imagine for a moment you’re meeting a Christian friend. “How’s your relationship with God going?” they ask you. “Well, I’m struggling with my attitude about my job—but God is teaching me to be content and to not gossip when people rub me the wrong way.” A silent stare greets the words, your inquisitor’s eyes staring you up and down. After a moment of awkward silence, the question comes again, “But how is your relationship with God?” Hmm. What wrong with this picture?

Perhaps this has never happened to you. But I’ve found contemporary Christians are often more concerned about my ‘relationship with God’ than with my relationship with God. Whose idea was it to define the sum total of my relationship with God as my devotional consistency? Your quiet time is not your relationship with God. Your relationship with God—or, as I prefer to say, God’s relationship with you—is your whole life: your job, your family, your sleep, your play, your relationships, your driving, your everything. The real irony here is that we’ve become accustomed to pigeonholing our entire relationship with God into a brief devotional exercise that is not even commanded in the Bible.

Yes. That’s what I said. The daily quiet time—that half hour every morning of Scriptural study and prayer—is not actually commanded in the Bible. And as a theologian, I can remind us that to bind the conscience where Scripture leaves freedom is a very, very serious crime. It’s legalism rearing its ugly little head again. We’ve become legalistic about a legalistic command. This is serious.

But no misunderstand what I’m saying. My goal isn’t that we pray and read the Bible less, but that we do so more—and with a free and needy heart.

Does the Bible instruct Christians to call out to God in prayer? Absolutely. “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th 5:16-18). But this isn’t a command to set apart a special half-hour of prayer; it’s instruction to continually call upon God. Elsewhere the Apostle calls us to pray: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7). But notice that the focus here is not on the performance of a devotional duty, but on approaching God for grace—for our heats and minds to be guarded by him. Paul’s burden is that we would rely upon God in every circumstance and therefore have peace, rather than relying on ourselves and finding ourselves captive to the anxiety that accompanies self-reliance.

Does the Bible command us to read our Bibles every day? No. Not really.

What Scripture actually instructs is that we meditate on God’s word all the time. Consider the godly man in Psalm 1. “His delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Ps 1:2). This is not exactly the same thing as reading the Bible every day. Personal Bible reading is one—and only one—way we to meditate upon God’s word. At this point it’s helpful to consider the difference between a good idea and a biblical mandate. A biblical mandate is something that God explicitly or implicitly commands in Scripture. Loving your neighbor is a biblical mandate (Mt 5:43). Moving to Philadelphia to work in a homeless shelter, by contrast, is not a biblical mandate. Rather, it’s a good idea, a wonderful possible application of the biblical mandate to love your neighbor. But moving to Philly isn’t the only way you can love your neighbor. Similarly, meditating on God’s word is a biblical mandate. The daily quiet time, by contrast, is a good idea, a wonderful possible application of the mandate of biblical meditation.

It may surprise you to know that the concept of the quiet time as a command is a modern invention. It’s only in recent centuries that Christians have been able to actually own Bibles—the printing press and cheap paper have given us more options so far as biblical meditation is concerned. But remember that most Christians throughout history have not owned Bibles. They heard the Bible preached during corporate worship. They were taught the Bible in the churches. They memorized the Bible profusely—a first century rabbinic saying stated, “If your rabbi teaches and you have no paper, write it on your sleeve.” But for most Christians through history, biblical meditation took place when they discussed the Bible with family and friends, when they memorized it, when they listened very carefully to God’s word preached. The concept of sitting still before sunrise with a Bible open would have been very foreign to them.

We have so many options today, why do we get hung up on the quiet time? Listen to Christian teaching tapes. Invest your time in a small group Bible study. Have friends over for coffee and Bible discussion. Sing and listen to Scripture songs. Read good theology. Tape memory verses to the dashboard of your car. And pray throughout your day. I always reserve the drive to church on Sundays as a time of uninterrupted prayer for my pastors and elders, for those leading worship, and for the peace and purity of the church. Certain landmarks around town remind me to pray for certain churches, Christians I know, or causes God says are important. I suspect I spend more time praying in my car than on my knees. (Though I love praying on my knees as a concrete display of my dependence on God, I can’t do this in my car without causing an accident.)

If you have a regular quiet time, don’t stop. You’ve found a wonderful way to meditate on Scripture. You’ve set aside a specific time to call upon God in prayer. But if the quiet time doesn’t work for you, that’s okay. You should not feel guilty since you have not broken a commandment. The quiet time is an option, a good idea—not a biblical mandate. If the quiet time isn’t working for you, there are other options as well. All of them are good ones. The key is to rely on God to accomplish his plans, a reliance expressed in prayer and fed in Scripture. You have all kinds of opportunities to call upon God in prayer and to meditate upon his word. He loves you and delights in your expressions of weakness and dependence. He is glorified in your weakness.

Do you know someone (maybe even yourself) who would read this and have their souls renewed by learning the difference between good ideas and a biblical mandate? I have close friends who I often hear declare, "The Lord has told me to marry this girl." or even tellling others, "You ought to play in the worship band because God loves our worship to Him." In the first example, the bible does not speak authoratatively on whom to marry, but rather how to marry. The scripture leaves this area for the Christian liberty. No where are we told or is it implied that God specifically has one person designed for you to marry. How do I know this? Because elsewhere God does speak on singleness being a blessing. We are not cursed for not finding the secret man or woman God planned for them. In the second example, joining a worship band or church choir are both examples of activing on our liberty to glorify God in the church. We are not required, during catechism, to enlist as a means of achieving spiritual maturity.

However, we are told in Scripture that God is actively pursuing and drawing us near Him for His glory. "God’s relationship with you—is your whole life: your job, your family, your sleep, your play, your relationships, your driving, your everything." This totality of God within our Christian life reflects the biblical example of having a Christian worldview. Instead of sectioning off our Sunday service and Wednesday night study group from the rest of the week, we ought to merely view those days as two special services, but not any more important than that of say a Thursday. Regardless of time or week, we are biblically mandated to honor God with our whole heart, mind, soul and strength.

How is God's relationship with you? Will you recognize your weakness and persuade Him in prayer for a renewal of mind and a strengthened dedication to Him? We are to avoid the legalistic bond that deteriorates God's relationship with us. Pray for the Holy Spirit to transform your prayer life and to give you a passion for pleasing Him and not the world.

So what exactly does prayer do? When we pray are we trying to battle God against His will? Or are we praying in line with His will? What role does the Christian prayer play in God's sovereign plan of redemption for mankind? Find out tomorrow in the final part VI of the on-going series this week entitled, "Freedom from Quiet Time Guilt: The rare beauty of Weakness Christianity."

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Cross-blogged at Apologia Christi

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In an earlier post, BK noted just how erroneous is Dan Brown's assertion that the early Christians did not believe Jesus was divine until the Council of Nicea. Just to drive the point home, I thought I would provide a sampling of some pre-Nicene writings that prove up that fact. I have already noted many statements affirming Jesus' divinity in the New Testament, here. I will proceed in this post to discuss early non-New Testament writings that do so too.

The first reference is actually from a pagan. Pliny the Younger was a Roman governor who wrote to the Emperor for advice on how to hande the "Christian problem." The letter was written around 111 AD, or more than 200 years before the Council of Nicea. In the letter, Pliny notes the following:

They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god,....

Thus, even the pagans new, hundreds of years before Constantine's reign and the Council of Nicea, that Christians worshipped Jesus as a divine being.

Next I list a number of quotations taken from early Christian writings. For more background on any particular writer, check out Peter Kirby's ever-helpful site, earlychristianwritings.com.

● Barnabas (70-130 AD):

“He is Lord of all the world, to whom God said at the foundation of the world, ‘Let us make man after our image, and after our likeness.’”

● Ignatius (110-15 AD):


“God himself was manifested in human form for the renewal of eternal life.”

“Continue in intimate union with Jesus Christ, our God.”

“I pray for your happiness forever in our God, Jesus Christ.”

● Aristedes of Athens (140 CE):

“The Christians trace the beginning of their religion to Jesus the Messiah. He is called the Son of the Most High God. It is said that God came down from heaven. He assumed flesh and clothed Himself with it from a Hebrew virgin. And the Son of God lived in a daughter of man.”

● The Martyrdom of Polycarp (155 CE):

“I do glorify you through the eternal and heavenly High Priest, Jesus Christ, your beloved Child: through whom the glory to you with Him and with the Holy Spirit, both now and through ages yet to come. Amen."

● Justin Martyr (140-55 AD):

"For we have learned that [Jesus] is the Son of the True God Himself, that He holds a second place, and the Spirit of Prophecy a third."

“The Father of the universe has a Son. And He, being the First-Begotten Word of God, is even God.”

“He deserves to be worshipped as God and as Christ.”

● Melito, Bishop of Sardes in Lydia (170/190 AD):

“God was put to death, the King of Israel slain.”

● Irenaeus (180 AD):

“But Jesus is Himself in His own right, beyond all men who ever lived, God, King, eternal, and the Incarnate World. He is the Holy Lord, the Wonderful, the Counselor, the Beautiful in appearance, and the Mighty God.”

“Christ Himself, therefore, together with the Father, is the God of the living….”

“He received from the Father the power of remission of sins. He was man, and He was God. This was so that since as man He suffered for us, so as God He might have compassion on us.”

“He is God, for the name Emmanuel indicates this.”

“Thus He indicates in clear terms that He is God, and that His advent was in Bethlehem…. God, then, was made man, and the Lord did Himself save us.”

● Tertullian (197 AD):

"That which proceeds from God is God and Son of God, and both are one."

“Nor do we differ from the Jews concerning God. We must make, therefore, a remark or two as to Christ’s divinity.”

“To all He is equal, to all King, to all Judge, to all God and Lord.”

“This opens the ears of Christ our God.”

● Clement of Alexandria (195 AD):

“He is God in the form of man.”

“The Son in the Father and the Father in the Son…. God the Word, who became man for our sakes.”

“Nothing, then, is hated by God, nor by yet by the Word. For both are one—that is, God. For He has said, ‘In the beginning the Word was in God, and the Word was God.”

● Hippolytus (222 CE):

"For Christ is God over all, who was arranged to wash away sin from mankind."

Although only a sampling, the above demonstrates just how widely affirmed was the divinity of Jesus. There simply is no dispute here. Indeed, the makers of the movie seemed to realize this because they change the script to have Professor Langdon's character challenge Professor Teabing on this point, noting that "some" Christians believed Jesus was divine before Nicea. Actually, the fact is that most Christians who wrote about Jesus expressed belief in his divinity. The only challengers to that belief seems to have been a small sect of Jewish Christians known as the Ebionites. The evidence, therefore, is that belief in Jesus' divinity was widely held by the majority of Christians very early on.

Alas, I have returned from my trip to Oklahoma where I was a counselor at a Christian Youth Camp. Details and pictures of the weekend will follow this on-going series that picking up today. Here is the fourth installment. Comments, critiques, and disagreement are welcomed.

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Greg Johnson, founder of the St. Louis Center for Christian Study, has written a very pertinent series of chapters on the modern invention of "Quiet Time", and how the church has turned our devotion to God into an issue of guilt. Each day this week, I will quote a chapter and comment as necessary. Below is part four in the series of six entitled, "Freedom from Quiet Time Guilt Part IV: The Shocker: Grace for the Christian." Part I can be found here. Part II can be found here. Part III can be found here.

The Shocker: Grace for the Christian

This grace is for you right now, now and tonight and tomorrow and next week and forever. The deadly assumption made too often among those who claim to heed the Scriptures is that grace is only for non-Christians. Grace is what God offers to people who don’t know Christ. Grace is what makes us Christians; but once we’re Christians, we live by our own resources. This is why advocates of Strength Christianity so often sound like evangelical Christians. They really do believe that God offers grace to unbelievers who will turn to God through Jesus Christ. And they’re right on that. What they wrongly assume, though, is that the Christian life begins by grace, but continues by human works.

I’ve seen this confusion many times. I found it ironic that the very same prayer program that so hurt the church I love included within it an absolutely wonderful children’s program. This at first puzzled me. The children who attended were pointed to Jesus, reassured of God’s love for them, and encouraged to rest in God’s mercy and total acceptance in Christ. In the adult activities, by contrast, people were told to try harder, to persevere, to do better, to be more consistent and to pray more, so that God could bless them. The children heard, “God did it,” while the adults were told, “Just do it.”

Why the difference? The difference was simple. These teachers were assuming that the children of the church were not yet Christians (…an assumption I would question). God offers non-Christians grace. The adults, however, were committed Christians. The Christian’s relationship with God rests not upon God’s grace, but upon his or her performance, particularly the performance of the ultimate devotional duty, the daily quiet time. This assumption—that grace isn’t for Christians—is spiritual venom, which is keeping millions of Christians in bondage to self-reliance, guilt, shame, and despair. Quiet Time Guilt is the great epidemic among Bible-believing Christians today.

If you think the purpose behind this little tract is to absolve you from the call to pray or the need for Scripture, think again. My purpose is to free you to desire prayer—to desire God. I want you to long for the pure message of the gospel, spelled out on page after page of the Bible, and to find the joyous freedom found in Christ. Prayer is a grace, not a work. It is a confession of our neediness to God, not a proof that our “relationship with God” is going well. If you think that God will not bless you today because you missed your quiet time, this has been for you. If subtle legalism has left you in bondage so that you no longer hunger for God’s word or freely call out to him in prayer, then hear this: God has already chosen you, pronounced you righteous, adopted you into his family, and promised to finish his work in you. Perhaps you have been lied to in the past. Now it is time for the truth to set you free. Free to be needy. Free to fail. Free to approach God without dread. Free to delight in him rather than in your performance.

But I have a few more theological reflections to share before you leave. Keep reading.

Here I think the term sanctification plays a huge role in understanding the grace God offers to the non-believer vs. the Christian. God offers his grace to both, however, the on-going showering of grace for the Christian is part of God's fulfillment to accomplish every good work He began. This is called being sanctified, or being made anew by God's Holy Spirit. On the otherhand, God offers his grace in different degrees. The non-believer experiences God's common grace in his/her daily life. God's sovereign grace is the effectious drawing of the Holy Spirit which accomplishes salvation.

The most powerful point Johnson made, I think, is this: "Prayer is a grace, not a work. It is a confession of our neediness to God, not a proof that our “relationship with God” is going well." We too often measure our relationship with God by our committment to prayer. Prayer should be viewed in as the most vulnerable means of communication with our Lord. There, at the bottom of the Cross, is where God meets us.

What "theological reflections" does Johnson wish to convey in order to understand prayer and the biblical view on quiet times? Find out tomorrow in part IV of the on-going series this week entitled, "Freedom from Quiet Time Guilt: The rare beauty of Weakness Christianity."

Here is a special sneak peak into tomorrow's passage:

"But I’ve found contemporary Christians are often more concerned about my ‘relationship with God’ than with my relationship with God. Whose idea was it to define the sum total of my relationship with God as my devotional consistency? Your quiet time is not your relationship with God. Your relationship with God—or, as I prefer to say, God’s relationship with you—is your whole life: your job, your family, your sleep, your play, your relationships, your driving, your everything. The real irony here is that we’ve become accustomed to pigeonholing our entire relationship with God into a brief devotional exercise that is not even commanded in the Bible."

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Cross-blogged at Apologia Christi

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Genesis 19:24-29

Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven, and He overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. But his wife, from behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
Now Abraham arose early in the morning and went to the place where he had stood before the LORD; and he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the valley, and he saw, and behold, the smoke of the land ascended like the smoke of a furnace. Thus it came about, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in which Lot lived.

The account of the destruction of the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18-19 is one of the better known from the book of Genesis. Yet, as is true of virtually everything with the Book of Genesis, whether Sodom and Gomorrah were actually destroyed has been the subject of a great deal of dispute. In fact, there is questions as to whether these cities ever existed.

Dr. Steven Collins doesn't have any doubt. He claims to have located the city of Sodom in the plain surrounding the Jordan River north of the Dead Sea. According to "Digging up dirt on the Bible", he believes that the ancient city of Sodom is the ruins of an ancient city at a place known today as Tell el-Hammam, east of the Jordan River and north of the Dead Sea. According to the article,

The professor said he began reacquainting himself with the story of the doomed cities by conducting a year-long intensive research of the Biblical text.

"I chewed it (text) down to the last molecule," Collins said.

What he predicted from his textual research was solidified when he traveled to Jordan and began excavating. The Near Eastern ceramics expert confirmed the presence of Early Bronze Age and Middle Bronze Age pottery by reading pottery sherds, or pieces.

"We read thousands and thousands of sherds," Collins said.

The excavation also uncovered mortars, pestles, grinders and fragments of alabaster vessels. But the most amazing discovery so far has been a large, unique piece of pottery that looks to have been "flash heated" on the outside. Collins described the piece as “looking like glass.” This discovery alone could support the portion of the story where God rained fire and brimstone to destroy Sodom.

"It is intriguing," Collins said, "but continued excavation is needed."

Now, this is a very intriguing bit of information. I have previously read Dr. Collins' booklet entitled "The Search for Sodom and Gomorrah" which ends with him concluding that Tell el-Hamman is probably Sodom and him stating that he desires to go do some archaeological work there. But needless to say, his theories aren't necessarily being accepted by all scholars who traditionally have looked for Sodom south of the Dead Sea, not north where Tell el-Hamman is located. Traditional scholarship has contended that Sodom, if it exists at all, is located under the shallow waters of the Southern tip of the Dead Sea or can be identified with Bab edh-Dhra which is located in that area.

In the Summer of 1999, the Associates for Biblical Research published an article on the locations of Sodom and Gomorrah in Bible and Spade in which ten reasons are given why Sodom and Gomorrah should be located south of the Dead Sea rather than north. These reasons have just been reprinted in the ABR newsletter, and are:

1. Zoar, one of the five Cites of the Plain which included Sodom and Gomorrah, is located at Tell es-Safi, south of the Dead Sea.
2. Between dawn (Gen 19:15) and noon (Gen 19:23), Lot traveled from Sodom to Zoar. The distance from Bab edh-Dhra, the southern candidate for Sodom, to Safi is ca. 16 mi. The distance to Safi from a location north of the Dead Sea is on the order of 50 mi. through difficult terrain, much too far and difficult to negotiate in a few hours.
3. Four Mesopotamian kings fought five kings of the Cities of the Plain in the Valley of Siddim, "which is the Salt Sea" (Gen 14:3), clearly the southern basin of the Dead Sea.
4. The Valley of Siddim is full of bitumen pits (Gen 14:10). The southern Dead Sea area is famous for its Bitumen deposits, whereas there are no bitumen deposits north of the Dead Sea.
5. Gophrit, a sulfurous oil, fell upon the Cities of the Plain (Gen 19:24). Both oil and sulfur deposits are known south of the Dead Sea, but not north.
6. The modern Arabic name Numeira, ca. 10 mi. south of Bab edh-Dhra, preserves the name Gomorrah.
7. Charnel (burial) houses at Bab edh-Dhra burned from the roof down (Gen 19:24).
8. Evidence of earthquake (Gen 19:25) has been found at both Bab edh-Dhra and Numeira.
9. Evidence for two destructions (Gen 14:11; 19:24) has been found at both Bab edh-Dhra and Numeira.
10. Evidence for irrigation (Gen 13:10) has been found at both Bab edh-Dhra and Numeira.

Now, I don't necessarily find all ten of these evidences to be particularly compelling in light of the case made by Dr. Collins for a location north of the Dead Sea. For example, working in reverse order, the fact that irrigation has been found at Bab edh-Dhra and Numeira (reason 10) seems to be a non-factor. Evidence of two destructions (reason 9) and the evidence that there were earthquakes taken together gives some evidence that Bab edh-Dhra and Numeira are potential candidates. Now the burning of the burial houses at Bab edh-Dhra is pretty good evidence that coincides with fire raining down from above, but I'm not sure that the name "Gomorrah" being preserved in Aramaic for Numeira is necessarily the best evidence because that name could have come into existence at any time.

Now, the fact that there is evidence of sulphur and oil deposits to the south but not to the north of the Dead Sea (reason 5) is not particularly convincing to me based on that description because it doesn't describe these deposits, where they are found or in what condition they are found. If more details were provided this may be a strong reason for doubting Dr. Collins' thesis, but as written it is simply to vague to provide any useful information for evaluating the thesis.

Reasons 3 and 4 both deal with the account in Genesis 14 of the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah engaging in battle with other armies in the Valley of Siddim. My only problem with these supports is that the Genesis 14 doesn't say that the Valley of Siddim is necessarily near Sodom or Gomorrah. It certainly doesn't require a logical leap to believe it may be close to the cities, but there is nothing in the text that requires anyone to conclude that the Valley of Siddim must be close. Thus, it seems to me that reasons 3 and 4 are reasons to believe that they have accurately located the Valley of Siddim, but are not reasons to believe that Bab edh-Dhra and Numeira are Sodom and Gomorrah, respectively.

Reasons 1 and 2 are the most intriguing to me because Dr. Collins addresses them directly in his work. He says (1) the identification of Tell es-Safi as Zoar is questionable, and (2) the Bible doesn't say that Zoar is one of the cities of the plain. Here is what Dr. Collins points out (with the word "Kikkar" being the Hebrew word used in the Bible to describe the "plain" on which Sodom and Gomorrah were located):

The Hebrew word zo'ar means "small." Thus, Zoar was probably a rather nondescript place, no doubt a caravan center on one of the routes to and from Egypt. Althouth Zoar (it was also known as Bela) is often listed as one of the five Cities of the Plain, the biblical record at no point tells us that there were five such cities. In fact, there are only four cities stated or implied: Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim. These are the only four cities destroyed along with that portion of the Kikkar with which they are associated. As I stated previously, after their destruction these four cities are never mentioned again in the Bible as living cities or even as geographical markers. But unlike Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, Zoar is found beyond the book of Genesis at least as as geographical marker(Deu 34:3; Isa 15:5; Jer 48:34). Clearly Zoar was on the route to Egypt from Sodom, and it was where Lot fled to escape the destruction of Sodom and the Kikkar. The location of Zoar remains unknown, and current identifications are highly speculative. The point is this: the location of Zoar cannot be used to determine the location of the Kikkar or the cities associated with it.

If it can be shown that Tell es-Safi is definitely Zoar, and that it was necessarily one of the cities of the plain, it seems to me that this would do great damage to Dr. Collins' claims because it is certainly true that Zoar had to be close enough for Lot to flee to in a single night. Thus, if Tell es-Safi is Zoar and Tell es-Safi is located south of the Dead Sea, it certainly makes it difficult to maintain that Sodom and the Kikkar were north of the Dead Sea.

I will be interested to see how this develops since ABR plans on republishing full text of the article from Bible and Spade on its website The in a new feature called Scholars' Corner, coming soon. I will try to update this dispute as more details become available.



From a grateful citizen of a nation you made great.

Made some changes to my Virtual Office, which now includes audio files of my radio appearances and a link to my online library.

For the online library I use LibraryThing, which is available for anyone at librarything.com. You type in a title or author and it pulls up all possible selections from the Library of Congress and Amazon.com databases. You then simply select the matching book and it, and all of its information, is added to your library. It also has nifty statistics and shows you who has the same books as you (if they choose to make their library public). The library is also downloadable as an Excel spreadsheet.

I also have revised my article on Acts, A Discussion of the Genre, Historicity, Date, and Authorship of the Acts of the Apostles. The revisions include grammatical improvements, updates to the section on genre, the use of footnotes instead of endnotes, and the addition of a table of contents. The revision is available in Word and I hope to have a PDF version available soon. I am also doing research for a major revision involving citations of Acts in the early Church fathers.

There have been some additions to The Da Vinci Code page. Also, I did three presentations of a response to The Da Vinci Code and hope to have my notes converted into an article and available on that page soon.

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Thomas S. Kuhn


Atheist trade constantly upon their lack of belief. It's the absense of a belief sothey have no burden of proof, they are merely sketpically asking questions, they have nothing to prove. But Derrida shows us that absence is a form of presence. In tendeing their lack of beliefs as an unassailble world view pradigm they forge a posative beilef system out of doubt.
Atheists are always saying we can't prove God, there's no reason to believe in God, ect. There is a particular atheist on a message board that I frequent, who is fond of saying that he was so disappointed when he realized there was no basis for belief in God. But when one trys to make arguments for God, of course like most atheists, he resists them no matter how logical they seem. Well that's fair enough and to be expected. But he does on other thing that used ot drive me up the wall, but now I understand it. He moves the bar further and further until there is no meaning left in even considering the question of God. Let me give an example:

He demanded scientific proof of miracles. I gave him the Lourdes evidence which was once published on this blog. Best doctors in Eroupe, strict rules, nothing but the best medical evidence, rules control for remission. but that not only was this not good enough but he says "you only show curing cancer and things. That's what I would expect form some sort of placebo or mental powers. But why can't you show restored limbs?"

I say well here's a case in a saint making miracle. The saint making miracles have the same rules and the same sort of committee that the Lourdes miracles have. They are just as well documented and studied scientifically. In this case a man grew back a lung. He had a form of black lung, his lungs were collapsing and used up. Over night the tissue all regenerated and became like new again. That does not happen. But the guy only says "it's not a leg or an arm." So I find this book where a minister in Africa reports that whole people dead for years were restored not only to life but flesh and blood after being skeletons. He says "you believe that?" Actually no I think the book is bs and its' probably not very well documented. To be honest I haven't read it. But i prefaced the material by saying this and saying "I don't believe this but since you claim one never hears of it, here, now you have at least heard it said." But see, even when he get's what he wants, he doesn't believe it. I dont' blame him in this case, but he didn't believe the lung and that's backe dup by the best miracle documentation machine in the world.

The point is this kind of theist just keeps raising the bar until its so high he knows it will never be met. He actually said only empirical evidence would count for proof of God. So now he doesn't have to contend with the ontological argument or any form of deductive argument. What of empirical proof? As it turns out it's like this.He proposes a test that would prove God and that test is this. Pray that God will bring back from the dead everyone who died before 1980. When we see all people walking around we will know. They can also be given their memories of heaven and of hell so we will know about it. But one wonders why not just end the world? Then we all know for sure. In fact why create one at all, then there would no need to know. We can discuss all kinds of reasons why God is not going to raise the bar to that level. My argument on soteriolgocal drama explains it pretty well.

The point is he knows this bar will never be met. It's a totally unreasonable standard of proof, and is of course justified by the bogus er zots dictim "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof." But the fact is while this amazing height goes begging real evidence that would supply a rationally warranted belif is totally ignored merely because it's not amazing enough.

What I realized was that what he's doing with the rational evidence, that he totally ignores, is nothing more than Kuhn says science does with anomalies. He's absorbing them into the paradigm. Thomas S. Kuhn (1822-1996)was a historian of science. The popularity of his theory has subsided over the last ten years, but at one point,in the early 90's, he was considered the major thinker in philosophy of science.. He also gave us the phrase "paradigm shift."

Kuhn said that science works like learning models of child psychologist Pierge. OR rather, science works like political revolution. We make a model of how we think things work, we absorb contradictions into it until we can no longer do so then we change it. When the paradigm shifts we are in a totally new conceptual universe. Thus the idiotic wacky ideas that were snubed in the old paradigm, the contradictions, the half backed speculations, become the new facts. When the paradigm is assailed the faithful do damage control. when the paradigm shifts it's just a revolution, a new regimen takes charge.

The atheists are treating evidence for God in the same manner. Kuhn says that every paradigm has anomalies. The anomalies are absorbed into the paradigm until it can no longer absorb them, then the paradigm shifts and we get a whole new conceptual universe. The atheist I speak of above was presented with my 300 studies which show that religious experience is transfomative, life long, and makes for better and mental and physical health and self authentication. This this is just water off a duck's back to this guy. It means aboslutely nothing. He merely absorbs it into the paradigm by saying "its all psycholgoical" and that's that. But the real proof would be if God would re arrange the starst to spell out "I am really here." Like that's really goning to happen. No, of course he knows it wont. Thus he has absorbed the anomalies into the paradigm and set up a situation in which no amount of anomalie will ever turn the paradigm.

This last move is just the atheist version of a non falsifiable beleif system. That is exaclty right, this is merely the atheist version of the fundie who says "I can't prove God, but you can't disprove him." So nothing will ever count against the belief Since atheism is the absence of belief, although it works out as Derrida teaches us, absense is presence. So the absense of a belief becomes a posative belief. The paradigm of anturalism is formed and becomes the materialist project that must be defended. This atheist inslulates himself in such a way that he will never have to deal with paradigm shift becasue all the anomilies in the world wont make the stars sepll out anything. Yet, a beilef stystem that cannot be falisified or veified cannot mean much either. The system is obviously just contrived.

What's with the crockadile tears about "I was so shattered when I found I had no basis to bleieve any longer?" Maybe thats' what he's seeking, a system that cannot be assailed. But it has yet to dawn upon him that such a system is not proven either. In short, he's building a faith. This is the athiesm of faith, not of reason. This is actaully the diametical oppossite of what atheim is suppossed to be about.

(orignally published on Metacorkc's Blog as Atheist Absnese of Belief is presence of Beleif)

From Dateline NBC Friday: Secrets of the Da Vinci Code:

Friday, May 26, 8 p.m.: Secrets to the Code
It's the fiction that launched the phenomenon that will not stop: The DaVinci Code. It's now a blockbuster movie, and started with a mega-selling novel loaded with intrigue and ancient mysteries. But what's the truth? With some leading scholars and theologians, Dateline deconstructs the Davinci Code and its controversial theories about Jesus and Mary Magdelene.

Everyone pull up a chair and grab some popcorn -- looks like tonight's episode of Dateline NBC is gonna' be a real hoot! After all, it's always fun to watch the reporters who don't really know much about Christian history blandly accept the views of people like Dan Brown as deserving of equal respect as scholars who have actually studied the New Testament and take it seriously.

But maybe . . . just maybe, the reporters will critically examine some of the absurd claims behind the book and movie and simply say that their review shows that The Da Vinci Code is filled with almost nothing but false or unsupportable claims.

Naw, I don't expect that either.

The most objectional claim of The Da Vinci Code is not that Jesus had a child with Mary Magdalene. Certainly, there is no historical evidence that Jesus and Mary had a child, and consequently I reject the claim on that basis. Still, if Mary and Jesus had a baby, I don't know if that would necessarily have any major impact on my faith or the faith of thousands of other Christians. After all, the central claim of Christianity is not that Jesus Christ was celibate, but that Jesus Christ, God-incarnate, died on the cross and rose again from the dead to save everyone who believes in Him from their sins. But, of course, that is exactly the claim that The Da Vinci Code attacks.

Slate Magazine has a nice article responding to this claim entitled "Ungodly Errors: Scholarly gripes about The Da Vinci Code's Jesus" by Larry Hurtado, Professor of New Testament Language, Literature & Theology at the University of Edinburgh. Dr. Hurtado notes:

The belief that Jesus is somehow divine was not invented by the Roman Emperor Constantine in the fourth century, as Brown and movie director Ron Howard have Teabing say. Instead, this belief is attested in first-century Christian texts, such as the Gospel of John, and dates back even earlier to the letters of the apostle Paul, whose New Testament writings between A.D. 50 and 60 are the earliest Christian texts we have. Faith in the divine glory of the resurrected Jesus appears to have emerged amazingly soon after his execution, most likely among circles of his Jewish followers. Scholars commonly regard particular passages in Paul's letters as preserving early hymns about Jesus, in which he is praised as the one through whom the world was created, and as sharing in God's nature and glory.

In fact, in pretty much the entire body of early Christian writings from the first three centuries, Jesus' divinity is taken for granted. Christians differed not over that basic assumption but rather over how to understand his divine nature. At the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325, the crucial question was how to reconcile Jesus' divinity with Christian monotheism.

Curiously, The Da Vinci Code presents the so-called Gnostics, who regarded other Christians as lesser beings than they and were in turn treated as heretics, as the heroic defenders of a thoroughly human Jesus. But actually the historic Gnostics and the gospels often linked with their circles did not emphasize Jesus' human nature at all—quite the opposite. Typically, Gnostic Christians portrayed Christ as a heavenly being who came down to earth to awaken them from their spiritual slumber by disclosing their own divine inner nature. Regarding the physical world as a source of delusion and place of confinement, Gnostics were deeply negative about bodily existence, including their own. So, they tended to treat Jesus' body as simply the temporary vehicle for his revelatory mission, believing that he discarded it before returning to his heavenly status in the realm of pure light. It was actually the Orthodox Christians who made much of Jesus' full human nature and the reality of his death as the essential redemptive act.

The article continues to point out the error made by Dan Brown in assuming that the New Testament canon was derived at the Council of Nicea. Dr. Hurtado writes:

To clear up another piece of history on which The Da Vinci Code is completely unreliable, the New Testament was not created at the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325. The question wasn't even on the council's agenda. The formation of the New Testament had begun much earlier and continued on later than Nicaea. The familiar four Gospels, which scholars commonly regard as the earliest such texts, were treated as a completed set at least by A.D. 150 in many or likely most Christian circles. Still earlier, Paul's letters were collected and circulated as scripture. In the early third century, the Christian scholar Origen listed the writings regarded by most Christians of his time as scripture, other writings that had largely been rejected, and others still under consideration. Among the texts regarded as scriptural, he included most of those that became part of the New Testament.

It's also important to emphasize that this question of which writings to treat as scripture, which to treat merely as edifying reading, and which to regard as heretical, was not decided at a single point by a church council, a pope, or a Roman emperor. Once again, in service of its conspiracy theory, The Da Vinci Code gets it wrong. The canonizing of scripture involved circles of believers spread across the many lands of the Roman Empire and beyond. The result wasn't a fiat foisted upon the Christian world. Essentially, the writings that commended themselves earliest and to the largest number of Christians came more quickly and securely to be part of the emergent New Testament.

The idea that the Council of Nicea either made Jesus divine or somehow selected the canon of the New Testament out of thin air at the behest of Emporer Constantine is simply wrong.

Greg Johnson, founder of the St. Louis Center for Christian Study, has written a very pertinent series of chapters on the modern invention of "Quiet Time", and how the church has turned our devotion to God into an issue of guilt. Each day this week, I will quote a chapter and comment as necessary. Below is part three in the series of six entitled, "Freedom from Quiet Time Guilt Part III: The Remedy - Weakness Christianity." Part I can be found here. Part II can be found here.

The Remedy: Weakness Christianity

There are two religions calling themselves evangelical Christianity today: Strength Christianity and Weakness Christianity. Strength Christianity is that religion which places both feet squarely on the Bible and proclaims, “I am strong. I sought the Lord. I’m a believer. I’ve turned away from sin. I read my Bible and pray every single day. I’m for God!” Weakness Christianity, by contrast, places both knees squarely on the Bible and says, “I am weak, but the Lord has sought me. I believe, but help now my unbelief. I fail and am broken by my continued sinfulness. Have mercy on me, Lord, and grant me favor, for apart from you I can do nothing.”

Those who pursue Strength Christianity will never find joy in God, for they will never find God. Our Father refuses to be approached in that manner. They will find only increasing religious pride and secret hardness of heart. On the outside, they will project a picture of righteousness. They’ll have it all together. They’ll be spiritual. But only on the outside.

For those who stumble across the rare jewel of Weakness Christianity, however, there is provision beyond what we can possibly imagine. Our suffering, our failures, our weaknesses and disappointments all gain an incredible spiritual significance. God never says he’ll be glorified in our religious accomplishments. But he does promise that his power will be made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor 12:9).

Neediness is the heart of biblical religion. When we honestly lay our brokenness before God, we’re surprised to see a radically different message in the Bible. While we had perhaps expected a to-do list from Holy Writ, a program to make us righteous, or a divinely sanctioned self-help book, we instead see a shocking message that centers on our God and his grace to his broken people—not about us and our performance and expected rewards. And when we approach God in brokenness—Weakness Christianity—we find a radically difference vision for prayer. Prayer is not something we do—a performance designed to get something from God. Instead, it’s merely a free and honest confession of our neediness to God and our spoken reliance upon him for each and every blessing. When you stumble upon Weakness Christianity, you realize that true religion is all about God’s grace, not about our devotional consistency.

Weakness Christianity, it sounds like something Martin Luther would have embraced. The details of Johnson's split in Christendom mimics, at least in my mind, that of the Reformation. Luther, convinced of man's inability to please a Holy Father by his own merits or by being guilted into offering one's money to the Church to secure one's salvation, taught that it was only by this humble attitude and recognition of depravity that we could then be in need of a Savior. Why would anyone want to be saved if they truly thought they were "basically good?"

The Apostle Paul noticed this in 2 Corinthians 11: 29-30:

"29 Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern? 30 If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness." [emphasis mine]

Here, after enduring tremendous hardship in prison and traveling hundreds of miles, Paul knows that if anyone in the church has claims to boast it would be him. However, Paul's wisdom brings him to his knees, where we are at the foot of the cross. There is where we find rest and joy. Only at the foot of the cross are we sanctified. "Sola bootrapa" applies here, but on God's terms. God alone is the one who pulls us up from our own condemnation.

This is where our prayers become truly effective. We may pray fervently in semi-Pelagean phrases whereby we only need a little of God's help to get us moving, but it is that prayer which leads to full Pelagean thought.

There's been all this talk about grace. Are you wondering who grace applies to and how does it and works co-exist at the same time? Find out tomorrow in part IIII of the on-going series this week entitled, "Freedom from Quiet Time Guilt: The rare beauty of Weakness Christianity."

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Cross-blogged at Apologia Christi

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The National Council of Churches ("NCC") has released a statement on the heels of the release of The Da Vinci Code movie that has raised concerns. It isn't what the statement says that causes concern since it says all of the right things, but simply the focus of the statement that seems wrong-headed.

First, let's recall what the church at large has seen as the main objections to The Da Vinci Code: it portrays Jesus Christ as a man who was not God, but who was deified by the Council of Nicea in 350 A.D. As noted in Stand to Reason's fine essay "The Da Vinci Code Cracks", available through STR's newsletter, Solid Ground, The Da Vinci Code claims through historian Sir Teabring that:

. . . these records [i.e., the true accounts of the life of Jesus that existed prior to the Council of Nicea] were tampered with by Constantine at the Council of Nicea. To advance his own political agenda, the Roman emperor rewrote history, destroying the true records that cast Jesus as a mere mortal and replacing them with documents that advanced the man of Nazareth as the divine Son of God.

Now it seems to me that if the orthodox Christian viewpoint is to worship Jesus as the divine, true and only Son of God, then a story that claims that the early church did not see Him that way, but only clothed him in godhood to meet the purposes of a Roman emporer, ought to be soundly criticized. Apparently, the NCC agrees that the movie misrepresents the life of Jesus since it says:

In the midst of the media frenzy, let us not forget that The Da Vinci Code is a work of fiction that does not accurately depict the life and ministry of Jesus or the traditions of the Church. We pray that those who see this movie will want to know more about Jesus Christ.

I agree with that statement 100% -- the movie does inaccurately depict Jesus' life and ministry as well as the traditions of the church. So, what's my problem? Well, I have two problems: it doesn't go far enough, and the statement, in its entirety, treats this part of the issue in passing.

First, did you note that it doesn't say that Jesus was the divine, true and only Son of God? Not only doesn't it say it in those words, it doesn't say it at all. It says that the movie does not accurately depict His life, but that language could be interpreted to refer to any number of things mentioned in the movie -- Jesus' sexual relations to Mary Magdalene, as an example. The NCC could be merely saying that Jesus didn't really have a baby with Mary Magdalene when it says that the movie doesn't accurately depict Jesus' life.

You may ask, what about the claim that it doesn't accurately depict his ministry? After all, the ministry of Jesus on earth was to die to save humanity from its sins, correct? Yes, it could mean that, but given the second issue that I discuss below, it certainly doesn't necessarily include that issue. In other words, the statement that the movie inaccurately depicts his ministry is vague and is not a strong statement against the harmful lies of the movie at their most basic level. It's like saying about a dead man, "he isn't healthy." Yes, its true that a person who is dead isn't very healthy, but such a statement actually conceals the true state of the problem -- he's dead! In this case the problem is that the movie says Jesus wasn't divine but was made divine by the council of Nicea 300 years later. That's a lie that needs to be directly countered, and saying that the movie "inaccurately depicts his ministry" misses the mark.

Second, the main focus of the statement from the NCC is not an objection to the claims that Jesus wasn't divine, but rather to the film's failure to portray Jesus as a person very involved in social ministry. Here's a fuller portion of the text from the statement omitting only the introductory comments.

Real-life scenarios are present daily that contradict the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Too often it is those issues that have far-reaching affects on people’s lives, and their faith, but they go without any word of protest or rebuttal—issues like war, poverty, racial and economic injustice, the devastation experienced after hurricanes and tsunamis and the negative impact of global climate change, to name a few. Yet in his life and ministry, Jesus cared about and met the needs of the people: He fed the hungry. He healed the sick and preached good news to the poor (Luke 4:18-19). He cared for creation and called us to stand up for peace and justice in the world.

In the midst of the media frenzy, let us not forget that The Da Vinci Code is a work of fiction that does not accurately depict the life and ministry of Jesus or the traditions of the Church. We pray that those who see this movie will want to know more about Jesus Christ. And, we call on our Christian brothers and sisters to uncover distortions of biblical truths not only in entertainment but in policies and actions perpetuated in our society every day. Neither The Da Vinci Code, nor any other work of fiction, will alter the beliefs, mission or work of individual churches or the National Council of Churches. We will not be diverted from the gospel imperative to care for creation, do justice and work for peace regardless of what the distractions of current culture may offer.

Here's is the problem with this statement: it misses the mark of the problem with the movie. It is my understanding that the movie doesn't say anything at all about Jesus' social ministry. I have not seen a review yet which discusses any failure of the movie to accurately depict the social ministry of Jesus. I doubt if it is mentioned at all since it certainly appears to be irrelevant to the question of Jesus' person and whether he would have had a child with Mary Magdalene. Yet, the NCC chooses to focus on the question of social justice, peace and poverty when discussing this movie. Why?

I am going to make a suggestion, and in doing so, I caution everyone to read the disclaimer that the CADRE posts on the blog: each author is responsible for his or her own work and does not speak for the CADRE. This is one of those issues since what I am about to say would certainly not be agreeable to everyone in the CADRE. My suggestion (and mine alone) is this: The NCC has had little good to say about conservative concerns, and with the exception of its statement of faith, its website reads like the website of any humanist organization that believes that all paths lead to God and the most important thing is that we contend for any number of the usual liberal causes. Thus, when I see a statement released that is so vague in the basis for its criticism of The Da Vinci Code which is dominated instead by a subtle statement that social justice is more important than the understanding of the identity of Jesus as God, I think that the NCC has lost the real connection to the Gospel. It is so concerned with not offending the other faiths with which it is seeking to dialogue, it can no longer say anything meaningful about the historic person of Jesus.

Thus, while I applaud the NCC for going as far as it did, I am very disappointed with its failure to go further and issue a strong statement defending the historic identity of the person of Jesus Christ as God. Its criticism of The Da Vinci Code reads more like a polemic against the failure of the evangelicals to adopt their viewpoint on social issues than a criticism of the lies about the deity of Jesus found in the movie. Too bad.

The audio for my most recent appearance on Just A Woman Radio is now available. The topic was a recent Ninth Circuit decision which may have chilling effects on the free speech rights of Christians and others on high school campuses.

Greg Johnson, founder of the St. Louis Center for Christian Study, has written a very pertinent series of chapters on the modern invention of "Quiet Time", and how the church has turned our devotion to God into an issue of guilt. Each day this week, I will quote a chapter and comment as necessary. Below is part two in the series of six entitled, "Freedom from Quiet Time Guilt: The Culprit - Legalism." Part I can be found here.

The Culprit: Legalism

The root of Quiet Time Guilt is legalism. Often when we think of legalism, we think of the petty man-made rules that have so often strangled the churches—rules against dancing or drinking or makeup or ‘secular’ music. But these legalistic rules are merely an outward sign of a deeper legalism of the heart. When prayer and Bible study are thought of primarily as duties (‘disciplines’) rather than as grace, both prayer and the study of Scripture become unfruitful in our lives. We put ourselves on a performance treadmill and cease relying on God’s grace to sustain us. We trust in ourselves and our consistency, becoming proud if devotionally successful—or despairing because of our inconsistency. Either way, our spiritual self-reliance short-circuits the inexpressible joy of life in Christ. The quiet time becomes a human work whereby we think we gain—or lose—God’s daily favor. When we’ve started our day with Scripture, we presume that God’s blessing will rest upon us because of it. When
we fail in our quest for devotional consistency, we feel we’ve short-circuited God’s grace in our lives. Quiet-Time Guilt.

If this describes you or anyone you know, the situation is far worse than you think. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for this very attitude about Bible study. “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me” (Jn 5:39). Yes, that’s what Jesus said. Bible study can be a sin. The Pharisees assumed the Bible a book of rules or principles for living, but failed the grasp it as a story about God’s love for his people. The quiet time can drive you far from God if you fail to understand that the Scriptures are a story about grace. The Scriptures are a story about Jesus Christ, the man of grace. His works—not our works—are the center of the biblical story. And this Jesus gives grace daily to those who fail him. How you approach the Bible—as needy sinner or as self-reliant Pharisee—says a lot about the state of your soul.

Just like Bible study, prayer too can be sinful. Remember what Jesus said about the Pharisee and the tax collector. The one saw prayer as a work, the other as an expression of need. The one who merely expressed his neediness to God—the expression of our neediness being the heart of true prayer—that one went home right with God.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk 18:9-14).

Often we assume that if we really had it together and could approach God without sin, without failing, with only pure spiritual successes to offer, then God would somehow delight in our prayer more. The opposite is true. If you approach God in that manner, you approach him as his enemy. We are all fallen. If we presume to approach him as something more than needy, dependent sons and daughters, God rightly takes offence. There’s nothing more dangerous than the pride of devotional consistency.

Who knew that studying the Scriptures or even praying could lead us into rightful judgement against God? Since reading this passage I have been on my knees multiple times, before and after prayer and bible study, asking that God alone would cleanse my pride and selfish desires to please Him on my own behalf. This deep rooted legalism especially hits home because I was raised in the World Wide Church of God denomination, the one time cult of Christianity. Since then it has, by the grace of God, turned to orthodoxy. Church members were viciously guilted into a works-based salvation plan stemming from hardlined legalism. "If you're not giving 10 percent to the church, you are a disgrace to our church." "Did you read at least 2 chapters on Sunday morning before church?" "Did you ask for forgiveness because you missed church last weekend?" These were all typical questions being put forth to deminish the "lesser Christians" into an unending guilt trip.

But, as Johnson rightly puts it, "The opposite is true." We often think we should cleanse ourselves before pleading a Holy God. The Scriptures teach that we are "but filthy rags" in His sight. Our heart, mind, soul, and flesh are all fallen. We make God's grace and mercy cheap when we espouse ourselves as achieving righteousness on our own. The Holy Spirit is the means of our on-going sanctification, not ourselves.

What is the next step after coming to grip with the legalistic culprit in the quiet time guilt? There is an idea of two views of Christianity that are being taught. Which two are they? What roles do they play in your life? Find out tomorrow in part III of the on-going series this week entitled, "Freedom from Quiet Time Guilt: The rare beauty of Weakness Christianity."

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Cross-blogged at Apologia Christi

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Greg Johnson, founder of the St. Louis Center for Christian Study, has written a very pertinent series of chapters on the modern invention of "Quiet Time", and how the church has turned our devotion to God into an issue of guilt. Each day this week, I will quote a chapter and comment as necessary. Below begins the first part in the series of six entitled, "Freedom from Quiet Time Guilt: The rare beauty of Weakness Christianity."

The Diagnosis: Quiet Time Guilt
I recently watched as a congregation I love was spiritually raped. A Christian ministry came into the church for a three-day program whose purpose was to encourage believers to pray more. During one of the breakout sessions, a man expressed his frustration with unanswered prayer. He had faithfully prayed with and for his daughter for years, and still she was not walking with God. He was broken, depressed, perhaps more than a little ashamed. How does God in his grace speak to this man? A bruised reed was crying out for help.

"You need to try harder. You need to pray more." That was the message he was given. I was enraged. Having known this church for many years, I was horrified. What I was hearing was what one seminary professor calls sola bootstrapa. Self-reliance—We pull ourselves up by our own spiritual bootstraps. The teachers who said such things surely meant well. The problem was not a lack of sincerity on their part. The diagnosis is far more severe. The problem was heresy. Any heresy wounds the soul.

When I look upon the evangelical world today, I see millions of sincere believers who are loaded down with false guilt by teachers who fail to grasp the basics of biblical prayer. To sharpen the point slightly, Christ's sheep have been lied to. They have been told that prayer is a work that we must perform in order to get God to bless us. As heresies go, this one is often subtle. Prayer has become a work rather than a grace. The result has been a loss of joy in prayer.

And prayer is not the only grace we've turned into a work. Personal Bible study has become a source of bondage as well. A whole generation of Christians has been told that God will bless them if they read their Bibles every day, as if the act of reading the Scriptures were some kind of magic talisman by which we gain power over God and secure his favor. This is not the religion of the Bible. This pervasive belief that God gives us grace as a reward for our devotional consistency is antithetical to the religion of Jesus Christ. Prayer and Bible study—what evangelicals for the past century have called the "quiet time"—have become dreaded precisely because they have been radically misunderstood.

It's ironic, but the Quiet Time has become the number one cause of defeat among Bible-believing Christians today. At one time or another, nearly every sincere believer feels a deep sense of failure and the accompanying feelings of guilt and shame because he or she has failed to set aside a separate time for Bible study and prayer. This condition is called Quiet Time Guilt. And it's a condition with many repercussions. The shame of Quiet Time Guilt manifests itself in even deeper inability to fruitfully and joyfully study Scripture. Prayer becomes a dread; Bible study a burden. The Christian suffering from Quiet Time Guilt then despairs of seeing God work in his or her life, until finally he or she simply gives up. He may continue outward and public Christian commitments like church attendance, but secretly he feels a hypocrite. What is the root of Quiet Time Guilt?
If you've attended church almost anywhere today, you will recognize this sort of "spiritual rape" goes on far more than one could expect. What I experienced with the church was similar; the elders had grasped hold of "daily devotionals" as the determining factor in how committed one was with God. This legalistic ethic normally filtered down to the youth within the church. Here is where I began noticing the unbiblical teaching being cashed out in the lives of my peers. As Youth in a deteriorating, pluralistic and relativistic culture what offers hype instead of hope, we were consistently barroged with failure and dissappointment. In other words, our hope in a God of promise was sinking fast. What advice were we given to combat this plague? "Sola bootstrapa." Remember the biblical passage, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."? It was as if Christ was replaced with "myself."

The need for God's grace was put on the backburner, and the idea that one could save himself from his own problems was embraced. The consquences were both an intellectual problem and attacked at the core of the soul. What caused this revolutionary wave of guilt to sweep the Church? Find out tomorrow in part two of the on-going series this week entitled, "Freedom from Quiet Time Guilt: The rare beauty of Weakness Christianity."

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Cross-Blogged at Apologia Christi

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It was about two years ago that scientists uncovered yet another new member of the human family tree -- homo floresiensis, aka the "hobbit." According to the report in National Geographic entitled "Hobbit-Like Human Ancestor Found in Asia" by Hillary Mayell, October 27, 2004:

Scientists have found skeletons of a hobbit-like species of human that grew no larger than a three-year-old modern child (See pictures). The tiny humans, who had skulls about the size of grapefruits, lived with pygmy elephants and Komodo dragons on a remote island in Indonesia 18,000 years ago.

Australian and Indonesian researchers discovered bones of the miniature humans in a cave on Flores, an island east of Bali and midway between Asia and Australia.

Scientists have determined that the first skeleton they found belongs to a species of human completely new to science. Named Homo floresiensis, after the island on which it was found, the tiny human has also been dubbed by dig workers as the "hobbit," after the tiny creatures from the Lord of the Rings books.

Note the certainty of the article -- there appears to be no question in the mind of the author that this was a new species of human that was previously unknown. No qualifications are noted. (At one point, toward the end of the article, the conclusions about this hobbit are noted to be a theory, but that is said almost in passing.) The article even came complete with an illustration showing a hobbit bringing home some type of mammalian creature for food.

But, here is the question and it is a slight variation of the question I asked about the giant ape known as gigantopithecus blackii here: How many fossils of this "hobbit" have been found? The answer: apparently nine. Now, nine is significantly more than the number of skeletons found for gigantopithecus blackii which makes the identification of a new species much more compelling.

However, is it necessarily true that this discovery represents a new species of human as the National Geographic article seemed to represent? Or is it equally possible that these skeletons are not actually a new species but members of an already identified species with a disability? In an article dated May 18, 2006, from World Science entitled "Race of tiny people didn't exist, scientists say", at least some in the scientific community think that the announcement of a new species may be somewhat premature:

When researchers found 18,000-year-old bones of a small, humanlike creature on an Indonesian island in 2003, they concluded that the bones represented a new species in the human family tree.

This view was widely accepted among scientists and trumpeted by the press. Because of its size, the creature was nicknamed the "Hobbit."

But a growing number of scientists have raised questions about the claim.

In a new paper, a some researchers say the bones are probably just from an ordinary person who suffered microcephaly, or small-headedness. Microcephaly is often associated with short stature also.

"There has been too much media hype and too little critical scientific evaluation," said primatologist Robert D. Martin, provost of the Field Museum of Chicago and the paper's lead author.

He blasted some of the research that went into the case as "unacceptable" in quality.

It seems to me that if the scientists had found only one skeleton upon which to construct this theory about a new species known as homo floresiensis I would find the objection by these scientists more convincing. But if there really were nine such skeletons found, it makes the objection more difficult to believe. Certainly, given the lack of medical care and possible problems with diet, it is possible that this particular group of human-like creatures may have had a large number of members who suffered from microcephaly, but that seems somewhat unlikely to me. To find nine skeletons and have them all suffer from microcephaly would suggest that the entire group of people either (1) were hobbits or (2) housed all of their members with microcephaly in a single place like humans used to do with people suffering from leprosy. The former seems more reasonable.

But let me make this clear from my own viewpoint: the fact that there are other human-like species in existence is not contrary to the Biblical text which does not address what other human-like species may have existed before homo sapiens entered the scene. The only mention we have in the Bible of human-like creatures is humans themselves. It is a logical error to conclude that simply because the Bible doesn't mention something that the Bible doesn't believe it existed. I don't believe, for example, that dodos or stegosauruses are mentioned in the Bible, but that doesn't mean that the Bible denies that they existed. Likewise, simply because the Bible doesn't mention any pre-human hominids, does not mean that it denies that they existed. The real question is, of course, how they got here and that is another issue altogether.

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