I hate to complain (really)

Blogging is slow this week and prolly next week due to personal commitments.

If you see Challies, tell him that the next time he compares me to Kevin Federline I'm going to go completely Samuel L. Jackson on him -- and that's a dance move he won't forget.

Spend this Lord's day in the Lord's House with the Lord's people. And read this sermon and listen to this one because that's what this blog is all about. Oh shoot -- also read this post at Triablogue because it's meaty. Red Meaty.

spider and crawler post

If somebody from Random House has a spider or crawler trolling for bloggers to review their books, I'm looking for a reviewer's copy of 978-0-307-26577-7 by Sam Harris.

e-mail me and I'll give you a shipping address.

word choice [1.5 of 2]

'k -- as I'm mulling over part 2 of 2 in this series, I subscribed to Greg Koukl's podcast (go to Stand to Reason and subscribe), and his last podcast (9/25) is called "Red Letter Christians".

Top shelf. It diffuses the idiom of liberal passive-aggressive political speak, which is, btw, exactly what I am on about. If we don't defend the words we use in framing the concerns we have for this world, we are going to get manipulated into doing unbiblical things in the name of the "red letters of the Bible" or some other theologically-thuggish argument. It comes hard upon the Doug TenNapel (language alert -- not for the squeemish) link Phil gave in his TIWIARN sidebar at TeamPyro.

You'll have to register at STR, but you can opt out of getting junk mail. You can also subscribe via iTunes, but I know a lot of you are luddites and think iTunes is a kind of entertainment fascism. Whatever.

The Difference

ood morning.
Just got back from reinventing my exercise routine, and I read this, in which again proves that nothing is too stupid for him to say.

Of course, the quote I'm talking about might require more context than Reuters gives in the link, but when Gibson asks the question, "What's human sacrifice, if not sending guys off to Iraq for no reason?" I am prompted to say, "You want a list, or were you making a larger point?"

The war in Iraq undoubtedly has its detractors, but let's assume for a minute that our soldiers there are engaged without a mission -- an assumption which cannot be substantiated with any facts. How, exactly, did a new Iraqi government come into being? How did Saddam Hussein come to stand trial? How has the #1 guy from Al-Qaida in Iraq come to a mortal end? Why does Osama bin Laden live under a rock like a lizard?

The other thing I'd point out is that there's a pretty significant difference between taking a drugged victim to the top of a temple mount and cutting his throat or impaling him, and getting volunteers to signup for military service and sending them off to fight a war which topples a dictator who enables his sick sons to rape and murder as a hobby.

If Mr. Gibson is reading this (it could happen), let me offer him some : stick to fiction, and movies, and portraying crazy guys on film (apparently, you do that well because you have some life experiences to substantiate your work). That's your forte. Critical thinking, world events, politics, religion -- let someone else work that out.

And yes -- this does have something to do with the "choice of words" post from last week where we left off. I'll get back top it soon.

Word Choice [1 of 2]

The last post got a little attention, but listen: the reason I think it is important to make sure we choose our words clearly and carefully is because we are dealing with people who, very frankly, are demonstrably doing a far better job of choosing their words than we are -- both as a Western civilization and as bearers of the name of Jesus Christ.

Let me give you a particular example -- and I know: you don't read this blog for politics, but this is an issue where the Gospel, and orthodoxy, and politics all meet not just as passers-by on the road, but they are all wearing the same pair of pants at the same time.

Some of you may have read remarks to the UN in the last 2 days -- and while his remarks took a lot of chutzpah to make in public where someone was writing down his words and people were videotaping him saying these things, there's a context he was pretty adroit in avoiding: the existence of the UN as an institution 100% without question requires the participation and protection of the United States of America.

If Hugo Chavez wants to wag his moralistic and humanitarian finger at George Bush while standing in the center of the UN stage and call him "Satan" and complain about a theory of global hegemony, the first thing he needs to do is realize that if the UN were in even Britain or Germany -- or his crappy little country which he seems to require a lot of violent force to keep in order -- it (the UN) would have ceased to exist a long time ago.

See: what Chavez is really on about is not "hegemony". Let's talk about that for a second -- can you define that word? In the global sense, it means "the social, cultural, ideological, or economic influence exerted by a dominant group". That is: it means somebody leads and others follow. Now: at no time in history has there ever been a lack of hegemony -- the question is whether or not there was global hegemony or merely-geographic hegemony. For example, Imperial China exerted hegemony over the East until probably the end of the 19th century, then Japan made a play for hegemony, and then Socialist China battled back, and now there is another kind of hegemony extant in the East which North Korea is trying to overcome.

And that sounds very noble, doesn't it? That North Korea is "trying to overcome hegemony"? But in fact, what North Korea wants to do is use force to overpower or leverage countries which are globalizing their ecomonies and prospering. The kind of hegemony that Japan, and China, and Taiwan, and even S. Korea are participating in is economic hegemony based on open market principles. Are they all exemplary players? Prolly not. But are they developing and trying to fix their problems? I think the answer there is, ultimately, yes.

And that said, the hegemony they are falling in-line with is unquestionably American hegemony -- the politically-democratic, economically-captialistic hegemony of market-based proliferation of goods, services and ideas. So America is certainly a leader in that field -- even though we ourselves have some remedial classes to take on all accounts.

And in that, what kind of leadership is possible in hegemony? It is totalitarian influence? Oh hardly! See: Noam Chomsky -- the guy who wrote the book Chavez was waving around -- paints the picture that hegemonistic dominance is somehow evil or insidious, but in fact it is far less damaging and socially debilitating than the kind of dominance Chomsky himself would advocate for -- which is in fact a anarchic view of government which goes beyond libertarianism and demands the equal distribution of wealth (a system which, in spite of its superficial advocation of trade unions and self-governnance, must by necessity rely on a centralized method of wealth distribution -- which is to say, totalitarian socialism).

Chomsky says he's for self-rule, but what kind of self rule is it in which one cannot choose one's economic outcome -- that is, that all economic devices (sloth, greed, hard work, inventiveness) result in the same personal economic reward?

The problem for Chomsky (and thus for Chavez, who we have not forgotten) is that he thinks it is evil for success to dictate terms. He thinks that failures deserve the same socio-economic weight as successes. He couches it in very sympathetic terms (you know: the West is dominating India and Somolia out of cultural existence, and the West must therefore be evil stormtroopers for violating the cultures of other nations), but when we take his argument out of the examples he gives and put them into the real world, his view is that because the West is irradicating disease and poverty in other nations by forcing them to surrender failed cultural practices for the kind of practice which have bread economic success in the West, the West is a bad guy for doing the things Chomsky claims he wants to see happen in the world.

Because Chomsky is a linguist foundationally, he thinks that the problem really is the words we are using to describe the problems we have -- not that, for example, that people are dying from AIDS because culturally they do not value monogomous, long-term family units headed by one husband and one wife. Or, for example, that the US has a better average standard of living than Angola because somehow the US stole Angola's share of the net-ZERO world economic pie and not because the US has a labor force which, on-net, outproduces any country in the world and that level of production drives a net level of consuption.

So the hegemonist "strategy" of the West to "dominate" is really a strategy in which the US is wildly successful, and we make the open-handed offer to join us in this kind of culture, but we also make the stone-cold decision that under no circumstance will we allow someone else to destroy our success. That is, you can join us, you can ignore us, but if you want to oppose us, we are going to have a problem -- "we" in the sense of "you" as someone who has to live with the consequences of being angry about the general improvement in the standard of living for those who get on the bus. Do not stop people from getting on the bus.

That's what Chavez is all "god-as-my-witness" about: the US is the economic leader in the world, and we would really rather that the world follow us into a culture where there is more economic prosperity, not less. Mostly he's mad that when he issues threats we take him seriously and, using the standard of "we are going to have a problem", he can't stagger around the world like a barfly looking for another drunk to fight with.

And in that, there's Chavez's second problem: the UN exists because of American hegemony. If he really wants to end American hegemony, my suggestion is this: let him build his own UN building in his low-rent country, perpetually provide the security for it, become the major financial supporter for the organization, and then he can parlay for the kind of global relationships he thinks ought to be in place. If you want to come into my house and use my living room as a toilet, and then complain that I'm an inhospitable host for telling you where the toilet is hand asking you to wipe your own back-side, the problem is not my hospitality: it is you inability to demonstrate continence.

Because the reality is that Chavez wants to trade the extant hegemony for some other plainly less-defined set of hegemonistic values and relationships. And under his kind of hegemony, there would be no UN in which George Bush or anyone else could stand up and accuse him of moral dispondency without being proclaimed an agent of Satan and a threat to the whole world. So my suggestion to Chavez is that he put his money where his mouth is. I think we, as a country, would be glad to see the UN go away from our land. Let the world have its collective hand-wringing sessions elsewhere, and they can send us the video tape for our reference. And if Chavez is the kind of guy they would prefer to follow into that brave new world, Amen to that, too.

Just don't come back in 6 months demanding things from us. You want us out -- we'll leave. We're taking our guns, our money and our beer with us.

You're going to have one kind of hegemony or another. You choose -- just don;t pretend that just because you call something "hegemony" or "Satan" that is what it actually is.

More later.

murder and martyr

With yesterday's post about Benedict's speech -- which, apparently, was an insult to Allah, to the extent that violence, murder and mayhem was warranted to refute the Pope's claim that violence, murder and mayhem are illegitimate tools of religion -- there has to be some mention of , who was almost immediately a victim of Muslim outrage.

Let's be clear that this murder is a moral outrage, a political line in the sand, and an exemplary demonstration of what Islam is trying to achieve on the global stage. The death of Sister Leonella ought to be a wake-up call for the West -- and for anyone who values Western civilization in any way. That would include, for example, any country that makes a lot of money by selling oil to the West -- somehow our ideas are fetid and repulsive, but our money spends just fine.

The death -- excuse me: the murder -- of Sister Leonella is certainly a crime. It demonstrates that we are in a high-stakes game between two kinds of civilizations. It is the ultimate kind of injustice, when the merciful and the generous are murdered because of the alleged intellectual crimes of their leaders.

But let me ask a question if it will not turn the blog into a brawl: was her death "martyrdom"? That is: was she murdered for proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ and the Gospel, or was she a victim of another kind of crime which really didn't really have anything to do with the Gospel?

I think that's an interesting question. See: I'm not suggesting that because she's a Catholic that she could not have been advancing the Gospel -- that's a question which is itself interesting, but it ought not to be the topic we prop up on the grave of an innocent woman. What I'm suggesting is this: when we indisciminately call any death of a person with a religious title "martyrdom", we are cheapening the language of evangelism and of the faith by a significant degree.

I want you to think about this seriously. The primary reason the gunman who murdered Sister Leonella was the insult to Islam he perceived in the remarks by the Pope which had nothing to do with the Gospel. James White has done a fine job of outlining Benedict's use of 14th century sources to make a specific point, but what is that point? Jesus Christ is Lord and Christ? He who does not accept the Son does not accept the Father? No: the point is that no matter what your religion is, the use of violence to advance your point is both inhuman and evil.

Anybody could say that and be taken seriously. And the Pope has a fine pulpit from which to say such a thing because he is perceived by Muslims as speaking for a large part of the rest of the world. That is: if you really believe that there is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is His prophet, say it, don't spray it with bullets.

And in that, Sister Leonella was murdered for the plea for mere political and intellectual civility on the part of the Pope. He didn't say, "let's just settle for the God of Abraham and call it quits, yes?" He said that if mankind is to address the moral questions which we encounter in this day and age, we must begin from a moral platform which allows for dissent and for reasonable encounter.

So on the one hand, let's not confuse some act of indiscriminate violence with martyrdom. Sister Leonella died not because the Gospel was preached but because merely-political philosophy was preached -- and rejected! Calling her death "martyrdom" discounts the message of the Gospel to worldly political reasoning.

But on the other hand, Sister Leonella was murdered to threaten and oppress Western values of political discourse and intellectual freedom. That shouldn't just scare Catholics, or Christians in a sociological definition: it should scare anyone who wants the human right to have one's own opinion about any subject.

Today, frankly, I mourn for Sister Leonella -- and the whole world should be mourning for her. She didn't die for the cause of the Gospel: she died because some people still think that you can make an argument out of the barrel of a gun. That's not an argument: that's war. And war is not an idyllic state: war is hell.

Let's remember that today as we consider who and what her death represents. She was assassinated for the sake of ending a conversation and suppressing any dissent -- even if she was not personally making that dissent. She was an innocent victim, and her blood is an object lesson in Muslim political reasoning.

Let me close with this: if you are a Muslim, and you think it is unfair to judge all of Islam based on the actions of "a few", I challenge you today to stand up and reject the murder of Sister Leonella as a valid expression of your religion. Stand up today and reject the burning of Christian churches as acts of righteous indignation. Stand up right now -- Blogger's free, my friend -- and denounce the use of violence and threats to advance your culture's way of life. Show us in some way your religion's peacefulness and love of men as image-bearers of God. That is, in practice.

God have mercy on us all if this is the way of the world we are going to leave to our children.

The purpose of rest

This is not a very insightful theological post. I just wanted to point out the purpose of rest in the modern world is, apparently, to have enough energy to catch up on all the stuf you had to let slide while youw ere away on vacation.

A coupla-three things:

-- Thanks to the SideKicks for keeping the blog fresh while I was away. They did a fine job.

-- In the next 2-3 days, JIBB will be replaced by Gummby as lead sidekick, and you'll see Daniel in the sidekick links. There's no nefarious reason or theological drum being beaten. My long-time internet friend Matt Pearson (aka JIBBS) has simply stopped blogging and has also fallen off the face of the Earth. I'm sure he'll be back when his life allows him time to do so. We love JIBBS.

-- I have a lot more to say about TNIV, Emergent, Baptism, Orthodoxy, the Gospel, scoundrels, malcontents, phony ecumenicists, and lots of other stuff -- but not today. I only have enough energy and time today to do the things they pay me for, and the next two days I'll be at an off-site meeting with little or no internet access. I hate that.

Nice to see you, too.

for future reference

The text of the Pope's controversial speech.

Whatever one has to say about this, let's remember that nobody I'd call a friend has called for war over these remarks -- or any remarks from this Pontiff. However, what should we think fo the people who are calling for war?

More on Monday. Shouldn't you be at church?

Sacrifice vs. Obedience.

We are all familiar with 1 Samuel 15:22,...

And Samuel said, "Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,as in obeying the voice of the LORD?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.
How many sermons have we heard already on this text - not to mention how many times we have heard our Christian friends, other bloggers or speakers make reference to this verse on their way to some other point. That is, by now, if we have been a Christian for a while, we will be somewhat familiar with the verse and the thought behind it: Avoiding obedience by doing things that in and of themselves are "good" cannot pacify God and trying to do so is just plain dumb.

Notwithstanding - we often do just that, not only individually, but corporately. Take the congregation (for instance) that has an outreach event. We say - an outreach event? You mean a concentrated evangelical endeavor meant to present the gospel to the unchurched through some sort of public forum (be that a social event or a performance or what have you)? Yeah. I mean that kind of event. You say - never in a million years could such a thing ever be bad.

Follow me for a second here. Let us first lay aside Saul's very poor motives excuses for not keeping the command of God - we could spend a lot of time playing with that - but we all know it was wrong, and most of us know why. Instead let us concentrate on the fact that even if Saul did sacrifice those animals - it wouldn't have been very profitable considering - yes sacrifices at the time were considered a "good" thing - but doing a "good" thing --instead of-- doing what God asks - instead of doing what is right, is not worship, it is a lame attempt to buy off God. We can guess at Saul's mind set
God must be pacified, and since God likes sacrifices, even though I am unwilling to do what He asked me, I can make it up to him by doing something that I -am- willing to do, and He will appreciate my efforts because they are the sort of thing (sacrifices) that I understand God to like.
I reel back at the blind arrogance of that mind set. Not that I imagine myself above Saul so that I "righteously" condemn it - hardly, I am not reeling back in a sort of exalted and righteous disgust - rather I can see myself in this sort of blind arrogance, and that is what causes me to hate it so!

You see, that attitude pictures God as just another deity (small "d") to be pacified by good deeds - and the deeds themselves have no relation to anything else - it is as if there were a list of good deeds, and if God asks you to do something - you can ignore it as long as you make up for it by doing something else from his "good deeds" list. That mind set says, I will worship God in whatever way seems right in my own eyes. That mind set is carnal, and entirely foreign to obedient Christianity. If I am unwilling to share my faith in my own walk with the Lord...

Which brings us back to our outreach event.

Can you imagine a church where every believer was living for God? I am talking about people who put God's agenda first. Can you imagine a church like that? Do you think they would need an outreach event to swell the ranks?

Now imagine a different kind of church - and I know this will be a stretch for some - but imagine a church where people miss prayer meetings because they would rather stay home and watch "The Sopranos." Imagine a church where 90% of the congregation hasn't led even a single soul to the Lord in the past five years. Imagine a congregation where many of its members are willing to work overtime to finance a large, comfortable house, in a comfortable neighborhood, with two or more comfortable cars - but can't put more than pocket change in the offering plate on Sunday. Imagine this same group now planning and holding an outreach event - and you will start to pick up on where I find my thoughts lately.

I could care less for such an event. Yeah, the event itself is nice - you know balloons for kids, or a barbecue - or whatever. Yeah it brings out the "worker bees" in the church who do practically everything anyway - and yeah it is mostly attended by them and their families - and yeah, at the end of the day the over-worked pastor did managed to corner a few people and awkwardly share the gospel - but is this a healthy event? Is God really pleased that a sick and near dead church pretends to be alive?

Do you see my point?

Now, I am not trying to poo-poo (can I say that on Frank's blog?) corporate evangelical efforts. Truly - just as there was nothing wrong with a sacrifice done right in Saul's day - so too there is nothing wrong with a healthy church hosting an outreach events in our day. But what --is-- wrong is when we do that sort of thing --instead of-- sharing our faith individually, instead of living a truly repentant life. The great commission has become the greater omission - and rather than do what is commanded - some substitute a living witness with planned - even annual "evangelical" events - as though evangelism was something you "do" and not the very fragrance of Christ within you.

I point it out, not so that we can slap one another on the back knowingly and agree that this is bad, nor to speak to those who see themselves in such a state and demand that they pull themselves up by their own bootstraps - but rather to remind us that the church must manifest the glory of God on the earth in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. If we don't see this happening - let's stop "playing church" and get honest with God. If our heart burns within us at the thought - we ought not to set that aside for another day. Consider how we sing, "There is room at the cross" - we ought to sing, "There is room -on- the cross" for us.

Worship God this Lord's day!

not like the other

Hey: what's the difference between this fellow and Mark Driscoll?

I'll give you a hint: there is one, and it is important.

I'm going back to vacation. You talk about that, and I'll get back to you.

What About You, Dude?

    He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 18:9-14, ESV)

You know what the problem with Jesus' parables are? They are often lost on the very people they are intended for.

Reminds me a bit of speaking in tongues--they need an interpreter. And so, in keeping with that analogy, here is the interpretation, courtesy of our proprietor:

If God were only justice, and only Holy, He would have been perfectly right to drop me into hell right there. Instead, not only did He not make me pay for that sin on the spot, He convicted me to confess here to all of you and to make a point about His mercy so that He could be glorified by the mercy we receive in Christ.

Listen: if you're the kind of Christian who thinks that you're better in God's eyes because of your choices -- like the choice, below described, to be a temperate drinker or a tea-totaler -- you're fooling yourself. Your acts of human will are not to your credit: your acts of human will prove that you are in trouble and need a savior. It is not what you do -- or even what you think you are doing -- that makes you righteous. You don't have it in you.

God have mercy on me, a sinner.

What about you?

(All Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)


I heard about the Montreal shooting while I was leaving class around noon. Awful, awful news. I trust none of Frank's Canadian readers had friends or family at Dawson College during the attack. Take a moment to pray for the friends and family of the one woman confirmed dead, and for those victims who are still in critical condition. And I don't think I have to tell this readership to pray as well for a clear gospel witness to those who came far closer to eternity than they expected today.


I don't want to appear flippant about the horror of the shooting, but I must share my bemusement with our local news media. The anchor of KNX 1070 here in Los Angeles got on the mike to report the attack. At that point, SWAT was still clearing the building and details were both sketchy and contradictory. Before going to a remote reporter, the anchor solemnly announced that a gunman had entered the cafeteria of Dawson College.

He paused dramatically.

"With guns."

Well. Hm. Yes. Thanks for clearing that up, Mr. Anchorman. For a second there, I erroneously thought the gunman had entered the cafeteria with nunchucks. But now I see how misguided I really was. Yay for the MSM.


Okay, enough of that. If you haven't done it yet, quit surfing the Internet and petition the God of all comfort on behalf of the victims, their friends, and their families. Pray for the staff. Pray for the faculty. Pray for the administration. There are a lot of hurting people in Canada right now, so let's get on our knees and get busy.

Poking fun, because... well... it's funny

Two of the guest bloggers here this week? I'll let YOU decide...I have been so busy all day long, that I haven't even had a moment to blog at my own blog. Just when I did find the time to address a few things I felt worthwhile to address, my friend Sandi emailed me and there was no question that this post had to be put up, and put up right here. Due to the fact that I'm the only girl sidekick, I'll just assume I can get away with this! (If not, Frank will have to delete it when the smoke clears)


1.) A king size waterbed holds enough water to fill a 2000 sq. ft. house 4 inches deep.
2.) If you spray hair spray on dust bunnies and run over them with roller blades, they can ignite.
3.) A 3-year old Boy's voice is louder than 200 adults in a crowded restaurant.
4.) If you hook a dog leash over a ceiling fan, the motor is not strong enough to rotate a 42 pound Boy wearing Batman underwear and a Superman cape. It is strong enough, however, if tied to a paint can, to spread paint on all four walls of a 20x20 ft. room.
5.) You should not throw baseballs up when the ceiling fan is on. When using a ceiling fan as a bat, you have to throw the ball up a few times before you get a hit. A ceiling fan can hit a baseball a long way.
6.) The glass in windows (even double-pane) doesn't stop a baseball hit by a ceiling fan.
mmm, frog...7.) When you hear the toilet flush and the words "uh oh", it's already too late.
8.) Brake fluid mixed with Clorox makes smoke, and lots of it.
9.) A six-year old Boy can start a fire with a flint rock even though a 36-year old Man says they can only do it in the movies.
10.) Certain Lego's will pass through the digestive tract of a 4- year old Boy.
11.) Play dough and microwave should not be used in the same sentence.
12.) Super glue is forever.
13.) No matter how much Jell-O you put in a swimming pool you still can't walk on water.
14.) Pool filters do not like Jell-O.
15.) VCR's do not eject "PB & J" sandwiches even though TV commercials show they do.
16.) Garbage bags do not make good parachutes.
17.) Marbles in gas tanks make lots of noise when driving.
18.) You probably DO NOT want to know what that odor is.
19.) Always look in the oven before you turn it on; plastic toys do not like ovens.
I knew this kid grew up and became a blogger!!20.) The fire department in Austin , TX has a 5-minute response time.
21.) The spin cycle on the washing machine does not make earthworms dizzy.
22.) It will, however, make cats dizzy.
23.) Cats throw up twice their body weight when dizzy.
24.) 80% of Women will pass this on to almost all of their friends, with or without kids.
25.) 80% of Men who read this will try mixing the Clorox and brake fluid.


I will be honest with you - I am a little intimidated to post on Frank's blog, and in the aftermath of that intimidation, I find myself almost unable to think of anything relevant or interesting to add here. If Frank's blog lacks anything, it is those sort of fluffy posts that don't add anything to anyone, and just fill space. So I thought -HEY- I could re-post a funny article I posted on my own blog last year about this time, and that would fill up Frank's Fluff quota for a while.


(From Sept. 17, 2005)

I went fishing last weekend.

I caught some fish.

But I almost caught something else too. Something ... big. Very big.

We were out in your standard fishing boat - shallow bottom, aluminum, twelve or fourteen feet long, an older outboard motor on a wire so that you could throttle and steer from the forward seat. The boat was like an older more beat up version of the typical three seat fishing boat you might see on a fishing show (I know you don't really watch fishing shows - but maybe you saw such a boat as you were quickly flicking past the channel).

Well, we had been fishing for many hours - and catching many fish - mostly Jack Fish (Northern Pikes) and Bass, both small mouth (they have the red tinted eyes) and large mouth. We did catch a pickerel or two, but that was it - amongst the three of us who were fishing, we caught perhaps 40 or so fish. The Jacks were particularly thick - as they are getting fat for the winter - which is one of the reasons we were out fishing - we like to catch, big fish.

Things were going swell - we were doing a lot of trolling, and some of the jacks we were bringing in were big - eight or nine pounders - and upwards of 30 inches in length. But it wasn't until the later end of the day that something changed.

We had been pulling them in pretty regular - the water was choppy, on account of the wind - but that wasn't stopping the fish from biting, and it wasn't stopping us from fishing. On Shaol lake in Ontario (where we were fishing), there are many islands -and when the wind gets too bad you can swing behind an island and troll there for a while in the relatively calmer waters. In this capacity we were trolling along the length of one of the "skinnier" islands when we began to notice a slump. The fish just stopped biting.

Recall if you will, that fishing is, essentially, throwing a string into a giant puddle of water, and hoping that something living unseen beneath the waves will be in the vicinity of that line as it goes in the water - and will in fact be so hungry that it is willing to eat anything attached to that string - even say, a sharp hook that has been dressed up with a metal spoon in the hopes that it resembles a smaller fish.

I am not a fish psychologist. No really, I am not. But I am capable of empathetic reasoning. That is, I can put myself in the fish's head. "My wife thinks that such a thing isn't all that big a jump", which I regard with cautious suspicion - is she saying I am talented, or fish brained? Hmmm. Talented. It's gotta be. Anyway, I can picture myself as a humble little fish, well, I mean not so little as humble - I would be a big enough fish to command some sort of respect in the food chain. I see myself swimming around beneath the lake - perhaps I am singing a song to myself - well, humming - I wouldn't really be a singer since fish haven't any language per sé - but it would be a cool hum - not tethered by the frailty of human endeavor, it would be like a pure instinct driven humming. Na -na - na - humph-ah, Dum de dah DUM dah! - I think fish can probably hum like that - some kind of high energy driving beat, screaming through the fish mind like a maddening jungle drum pounding out a frantic primal heart beat in time with that mysterious unseen submarine dance. You get the picture. Here I am some fish in tune with the world around me - I ignore the shadow of the boat and the noise of the engine - I am hungry, and I am a predator.
What's this? A shiny piece of metal attached to a sharp hook, about which a spoon of metal is revolving. Hmmm... I -am- hungry... I think I can digest that... I'll just give it a little nibble here to see if it tastes yummy or not...
That is how I see it at least - you know, the fish is down there, it knows that this thing isn't from around here - and it doesn't care, it just wants to eat it.

So we are trolling and it suddenly gets all quiet - like in the movies before something really, really, terrible happens. The water is still, and even though the motor rumbles on, there is a stillness that doesn't seem right. The sun has slipped behind some clouds, and into this sudden vacuum where life seems to have suddenly paused - it happens.

I snag a weed.

Weed snagging is the anti climax of trolling. You experience a pull on your line, and pregnant with hope you pull a bit to set the hook - but instead of feeling the fight, you feel like you have pulled up a bit of salad and now your hook is heavier, and you have to reel in and cast out again.

So I started to reel it in. But sometimes when you are reeling in a weed, the hook grips other weeds and you get these little phantom jerks - not unlike perhaps a very clever fish. So you pull a bit harder - but then the line is just as heavy and unresponsive as before and whatever hope you had of perhaps landing a clever fish washes away. ... Unless - perhaps it is a very, very clever fish - who knows that the best way to appear not to be a fish is to swim along all slow like - and pretend to be a weed. It could happen.

It did happen.

I was hauling in what I was sure was a Caesar salad, complete with the salad bowl, when the strangest thing happened. We wouldn't have noticed it, but Dave, who was driving, killed the motor. Now if it had been a bonifide snag, I would notice that when I stopped reeling the line should go slack - but that didn't happen.

Smart fishy.

It was at this point that I got back into fish psychology mode. This was no bass - they fight like the dickens the moment you get them on the hook. Nor was this a small Jack - they fight too - not quite as rigorously as a bass - that is, they don't change directions ten times in the space of five seconds, but instead fight to go one way or the other, and you just have to crank it to get them in. They fight, but it is not the same as a bass, or of an older Jack.

The older, bigger Jacks - they tend to be pulling in a log - they are heavy, and sometimes roll themselves in your line so you pull them in sideways -and they feel like you are pulling in something much bigger. They may fight at the boat - but they are not athletes - they give a charge or two, then tucker out.

So I am thinking this isn't a young Jack - but it feels pretty light.

Smart fishy.

It was then that I began to reel "in earnest" - at first I was reeling in a diagnostic fashion - perhaps I had had my brow was knit, my expression thoughtful and my head tilted towards the reel as though I were a doctor listening to a patient's faint heart through my stethoscope - my reeling went from "whirr... [listen and wait] to a frenzied WHIIIRRRRRR. Where before I was pensive and even distant - now I was biting my bottom lip and pumping at the reel like a wild man - yet it was still somewhat diagnostic - was this fish was gonna fight me? Was there really a fish there?


At this point I accepted defeat - I was clearly dragging in a log. Then something odd happened.

I should explain that I am not your finesse type of fisherman - that is I have a nine foot cat fishing rod that is practically unbendable - and I use fifty pound spider wire - I don't lose hooks, I will pull up a tree from the bottom and even straighten out a thick metal hook - but my line doesn't break. In pulling up a log however, I expect certain things given the laws of physics - that is, I expect that when I am pulling up inert, and water-logged debris - to experience in my line only as much resistance as my own reeling produces. If I slacken up - I expect immediate an "real time" reponse. Only that didn't happen. I slackened - and so did my "load" - but there was a pause between the two events that shouldn't oughta have been there. Hope rekindled in my heart - surely, this was no log - it was just one, street "lake smart" fish.

So I began to suspect that I was pulling up something - something big - and if I might digress into prose - something so ancient and beautiful in its obvious antidiluvian splendor - that it was clearly a crime against humanity to exhume it from its dark watery journey and into the harsh naked light of day.

I confess, the stress of that moment still plays on my reasoning - I am not sure that I actually saw the foam - or if my mind was simply supplying the details that my eyes had missed, but surely there was a barmy wake rising from the deep - the roiling of sizzling water as something unnatural meanders through it.

It was at this point that a pull came from the line. A pull I say, that had authority in it. Supreme authority. I put my fish psychology aside - there was something very big on my line, and in that one pull, I suddenly wondered who had caught who.

I shouldn't dwell on that one tug - but how can I not?? It was perfect. It was a 49.99 pound tug, the kind that says, "Humph - 50 lbs Spider wire... I have to be careful not to pull too hard..." I mean it was a long pull - one that said, "I have you, you don't have me." I may have lost control of my bladder at this point, I am not really sure, a chill passed through me, and I was wet - it could have been splashing water, my mind wasn't really paying attention.

If you could picture 30 feet of water heaving up suddenly, you might understand what it looked like when this thing came up out of the water. Not all of it mind you - just it's head. It's head was black as the depths of the sea, and this salty demon wasn't showing itself to us, it just came up to look at as. It hung there motionless for a long moment - it's impossibly massive head standing out from the water. Not in the manner of a dolphin - you know, wagging its flipper to keep its head out of the water, and thereby giving the dolphin a sort of happy bobbing up and down kind of look - no. It was as if most of this thing were still laying on the bottom, and it raised its head above the water while still touching the floor of the lake - it didn't bob or waver - but held the air for a second looking for all the world like a massive stone trunk motionless and ungiving.

It's big, wide, blacker than black, back was to us, glistening like an obsidian statue in the last rays of this days light - that is, it's large head was slightly turned, and it's one eye observed us - like a man looking over his shoulder back at something - was that smoke coming from it's nostril or mist from the lake?

What happened next happened so fast it is hard to really describe it. There was a sinking feeling in the lake, as though the water level in the lake suddenly dropped on six inches, and simultaneous to this the thing moved, though it seemed to disappear in a flash. My rod told the story that my eyes couldn't follow, bending full in half, and receiving three sharp jerks.

I pause at this point because there were three of us in the boat. Hmmm. Three jerks - what was this fish saying??

But then it happened. My rod came snapping up, no hook, no fish.

He bit through my leader -that is the metal part that you tie the hook to. you know, you could suspend your boat from it - he bit through it. There followed a moment of silence - not like it should have been - you know, the removing of your hat in respect for the mercy shown by a superior foe on the field of honor - no, this was the utter disbelief kind of silence, where you shattered psyche is trying to put enough of you back together to form a coherent thought.

I think I babbled for a bit - but the guys were wise. You don't make jokes about losing something like that. It would be like asking how your mother's dancing lessons were going if she had just lost both legs to cancer - it ain't right, and no one has to explain it to you.

Sometimes at night I wake up screaming...

But that doesn't really have anything to do with this story.

The bottom line? It was a great time fishing, and I really did almost catch the big one.

Christian Superstition

Don't shoot me because I'm reading a book co-authored by Ehrman, okay? I may be nothing but a lowly sidekick, but I am a sidekick, and you don't want the Turk to open a can of baptism all over you.

That said, this morning I took great interest in a portion from The Text of the New Testament (p. 49-50):
Finally, a curious but unimportant source of our knowledge of the Greek text of the New Testament consists of a number of talismans, or good-luck charms. These amulets range in date from the fourth to the twelfth or thirteenth centuries and are made of vellum, papyrus, potsherd, or wood. The superstitious use of talismans, so prevalent in the ancient world, was scarcely less popular among Christians than among pagans--if we may judge from repeated remonstrances against them issued by ecclesiastical authorities. Four of those catalogued contain the Lord's prayer, and five others include scattered verses from other parts of the Old and New Testaments.
You can go read something more relevant now, since this post won't apply to you. You and I are well above superstition, of course, being the modern enlightened Reformed-type Christians we are. We laugh at Romanists who see Mary in their dryer lint, and send missionaries to the benighted savage who worships lizards.

"Lord, we thank thee that we are not as other men are."

This ancient practice of Christian superstition is interesting. The use of amulets, magic charms, potions and the like are all part of our insatiable drive to control our own destinies. The Tower fell, but we've never stopped trying to rebuild it. When the Greco-Romans made the switch to Christianity, the traditions of manipulation died very hard--and Scripture became the new portal to power.

It would be very easy at this juncture to launch into a tirade against angel pins and horribly decontextualized Scripture art (my favorite being Genesis 31:49). Certainly, these are no more honoring to Christ than carrying around the Lord's Prayer to ward off bad luck. But I'm interested first in considering what superstition is. Or perhaps more to the point, what Christian superstition is.

Think about it this way. Scripture was never intended to keep vampires away, right? So if you drill a hole through your pocket New Testament and string it around your neck, you're using Scripture for a purpose which God never intended His Word to accomplish. That's a severe misunderstanding of Scripture's purpose (not to mention a sign you've had a little too much Buffy lately). In other words, that's Christian superstition: using Scripture to achieve a goal beyond its intended purpose and redounding to our own benefit.

I submit that the church is drunk and drowning from Christian superstition. One has only to crack the latest edition of CBD's catalog to be crushed by the avalanche of "God wants you to be happy" bookettes. Most of them include little verses ripped from their contexts, folded into paper swans, and set sail on the sea of superstition. Promises of aid to the righteous are transformed into ironclad guarantees of wealth. Warnings of purging through fiery trials, if acknowledged at all, become vague warnings of "everyone has problems, but God will help you out because He still wants you to be happy and wealthy and successful." If all you had by which to judge Christianity was the majority of today's best-sellers, you'd think Christ died to redeem us from discomfort.

It's round Scripture crammed into a square hole.

That's Christian superstition.

I've got to pause here and say that righteous indignation is a sweet, sweet feeling. I like feeling superior to the unwashed masses of Christendom, knowing that I use Scripture exactly as it was intended. For instance, I hide God's Word in my heart that I might not fall behind on my daily reading schedule. I search the Scriptures daily to see if these things can be used against my opponent, who needs a severe and very public pounding. I study to show myself approved to my peers, a hypocrite who feels no shame, rightly dividing the latest liberal nonsense. The Word of God truly is sharper than any two-edged sword, occasionally nicking my skin.

Look: God forbid I should ever have magic charms engraved with verses, or be a sloppy evangelical who can't tell a pretext from a context. But God also forbid I should be equally superstitious with my love for sound doctrine. Scripture is meant to make me look like Jesus, and part of that is getting the message right. I can't be like Jesus if I don't understand what He's saying. But if I twist the Bible to achieve intellectual superiority or systematic pride, I am no less superstitious than a guy fingering a charm or reciting The Prayer of Jabez.

God didn't give us Scripture to make us smug.

He gave it to make us holy.

Is it working?

How does this work?

Frank has some of the most sharp readers in the blogosphere. That's a given. Based on that, I'd like to understand how this works.

Specifically, how does the pastor effectively minister to a congregation he doesn't know?

As well, how does accountability in a local church work (for church members), in a church where the pastor doesn't know the people, and the people don't know him?

I look forward to your thoughts on this one.

Forgiveness--Doing the Math

    Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

    "Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, 'Pay what you owe.' So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you.' He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?' And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart." (Matt 18:21-35, ESV)

I'm a numbers guy, so this passage is right up my alley. And perhaps it's even fitting to be posting this in the twilight of my current career.

The challenge with passages like this is that since they refer to units of measure that we are unfamiliar with, they can sometimes lack the intended impact. It's like not being able to see it even though it's right there.

Traditionally, this challenge has been tackled in two different ways. Literal Bible versions have tended to use the traditional units of measure, the talent & denarii, and put a footnote of explanation. So, for example, the ESV's note about ten thousand talents reads "A talent was a monetary unit worth about twenty years' wages for a laborer," and for a hundred denarii it says "A denarius was a day's wage for a laborer."

This works ok, so long as your copy has the footnotes and the readers pay attention to them. Not only do they make versions without footnotes (blasphemy!), but you can't even guarantee people will read them when they do (Cretans!).

The second alternative is the one used by most dynamic translations & paraphrases--pick a comparable unit of measure in the functional language/culture, and then use the corresponding ratio. So, you have the first debtor owing millions of [silver coins, dollars, etc.], and the second debtor owing just a few (or perhaps a hundred).

Each of these is perfectly adequate, in their way, in expressing the message that this passage is trying to convey. And given my normal predeliction against paraphrase or even dynamic translation, I would be loathe to translate it any more loosely, even if they didn't.

But adequate isn't always enough when digging a little deeper. For instance, there is some evidence that this was more an idiom, as opposed to being literal. A study note in the MacArthur Study Bible indicates that "ten thousand talents" was commonly referred to as meaning a great or virtually infinite sum of money (kind of like the function that "million-billion," "gazillion," and "four hundred and two" serve in my household).

So, with this in mind, if I was teaching this passage (especially given my financial background), here's how I would frame it up:

The denarii was worth a day's wage. If we take a person making $5/hr, that equates to roughly $40 per day. If we further assume 250 working days per year, that gives our laborer an annual income of $10,000. Now we've got something we can work with. Understand, we've simplified the math here, in the interest of making the illustration accessible (and as a bonus, our base is a round number that you can easily factor into your own financial situation, should you so choose).

Since the second debtor owed the first about 100 days worth of wages, that comes out to about $4,000. Not an unsubstantial sum, to be sure.

But remember the talent? It was estimated to be approximately 20 years' wages. So, using the base that we just calculated, we see that each talent equates to about $200,000--meaning that our $5/hour employee has managed to run up a debt of $2,000,000,000.

Yes, you read that right--two billion dollars.

Are you starting to get the picture? The debt this guy owed was more than he could pay even if he lived multiple lifetimes, yet he refused to forgive a sum that, by comparison, is almost trifling. Knowing as we do the kind of grace he received regarding his own staggering sum, his lack of forgiveness is stunning.

The type of debt we owe God as a result of our sin is the staggering kind. And after having been forgiven a debt of that magnitude, to maintain a hard heart that would refuse to forgive others seems, well, unforgiveable.

from vacation, cent adds this: I have the bestest sidekicks in the whole world. But you should have said this, Gummby -- "the type of debt we owe God as a result of our sin is of the -unrepayable- kind; it is utterly out of our power to repay the debt we owe to God. Until we act like that's true, blogging about it or (allegedly) believing it only makes us more guilty."

(All Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)

too much work?

Read this, and then ask yourself: "What exactly is the definition of 'work' these people are using?" It's "too much work" to use an iPod with iTunes?

Listen: if Steve Jobs could figure out a way to beam music telepathically to you and charge you for the service, [1] he'd be doing it already, and [2] some people would find it a drag on their time to wait the telepathic streaming buffer to be ready to play. Too much work to use an iPod?

BTW, I have a theory about the reason the iPod lost iots cool: they sell them at WAL*MART. You buy eggs and toilet paper at WAL*MART -- things which are a commodity and sell based on lowest price. There's a reason you can't buy a Mac laptop at WMT, and it has everything to do with making sure its image and price do not erode.

Enjoy your Sunday. Back to the SIdekicks.

More on Publishing--A Cautionary Tale

Before he left, Frank posted this piece, which made some pointed arguments concerning the responsibilities of publishers. Among them was this: "Publishing books is a form of teaching. In exactly the same way that a University tacitly promulgates what its faculty teaches as truth, a Publisher is tacitly promulgating what it prints and distributes as truth."

I happen to agree with that statement, but I wonder if publishers do.

Consider this real-life example, brought to us courtesy of today's Wall Street Journal. Just in time for the 5 year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, a publishing house under the auspices of the PCUSA has published a book that claims that the U.S. government orchestrated the WTC bombings to help secure a global empire.

Here are some questions.

First: does the author, David Griffin, have a right to be heard? Well, the First Amendment says he does.

Second: does Presbyterian Publishing Corp. have an obligation to publish him? If you're Henry, perhaps you think that it does. But unlike the Blogosphere, in the publishing world, just because you've written something doesn't mean it is entitled to be printed.

Third: why would a publishing house knowingly publish something that, in the words of the moderator of their own general assembly, is "too over the top to be taken seriously"? Apparently, we're not alone in asking this question, as the front page has a link that answers that very question.

Here's where the red flags go up. Did you notice the word "conversation?"

As I said before, this is not the Blogosphere, and not everything that is written automatically gets a approval with the push of the "publish" button. So what qualifies this book to achieve dead-tree status?

Professor Griffin’s thorough research and intellectually rigorous arguments have persuaded us that this book should have a place in that conversation, regardless of the conclusions readers come to accept.

Maybe it's just me, but this sounds like academic-speak for "whether this is actually true or not is immaterial--you need to think about it."

Want more? Here is the statement of the rationale for publishing the book from the President & Publisher of PPC, Davis Perkins.

The claims David Ray Griffin makes in Christian Faith and the Truth behind 9/11 will not be universally accepted by his readers, but the arguments supporting those claims merit careful consideration by serious-minded Christians and Americans concerned with truth and the meaning of their faith. Professor Griffin employs established principles of intellectual argument in a book with 192 pages of carefully researched text and 49 pages of extensive scholarly notes. This book is not an off-the-wall polemic but rather a considered work that deserves to have a place in the public forum of discourse about Christian faith and U.S. policy.

The mission statement of the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation calls for us to publish “resources that advance religious scholarship, stimulate conversation about moral values, and inspire faithful living.” We believe that Griffin’s book fulfills all three of these aims and accordingly that publication of Christian Faith and the Truth behind 9/11 was a responsible act on our part. We sincerely hope publication of this book will challenge American Christians on both ends of the spectrum–and in the middle!–to see beyond their respective ideological impulses and provoke discussion on substantive issues about faithful citizenship in this country.

In other words, the ends justifies the means. The "end" of provoking a "discussion on substantive issues about faithful citizenship in this country," justifies the "means," which is publishing a book whether or not the claims will be convincing or are even true.

That, friends, is frightening, though perhaps not so suprising. Most organizations experience mission drift, and that drift inevitably seems to be a liberal one. When your starting point is the rejection of many or most of the core doctrines of Christianity (such as the PCUSA has), is it really that much of a stretch to get here from there?

In closing, let me take this opportunity to sound a cautionary note, particularly to those of you in the Emerging Church: this is exactly what happens when you value the conversation over the truth.

How then shall we blog?

We all know that Frank's readers come by here to read Frank's take on those things which interest us. Well, now that Frank's gone (we assume, unless this is some diabolical sidekick loyalty test!?), how about we just sit around and talk about Frank? Yeah, that's no good.

In lieu of that, I submit a bloggerview I had with Frank last New Year's Eve that was posted at Reflections (for those that haven't read it):

December 31, 2005
Reflections Bloggerview: Frank "centuri0n" Turk

our missing in action figure, centuri0n

I have no doubt that most of my readers here, are at the very least, aware of who Frank "centuri0n" Turk is, if not regular readers of his blog. When I started doing these bloggerviews, I thought it might be fun to pose key questions to certain bloggers, maybe even questions on issues they haven't addressed on their own blogs yet! With that in mind, welcome to the next installment of Reflections Bloggerview: "centuri0n"

Carla: Who is your personal hero & why is he/she so special to you?

Frank: There's a man in Syracuse, NY, by the name of Bruce Aubrey. He's the pastor who baptized me and made me realize that being a Christian is not just about admitting out loud that Jesus is right and you are wrong. He has a wife, a family, a growing church, and a love for God that you just can't beat.About 2 yrs after I was baptized, I got promoted at my job and had to move. My new position was about 4 hrs away from that church, and my wife and I were having a devil of a time finding a church that was alive and preaching the word. After a couple of months like that, I got a phone call from Bruce asking me how things were, and I told him, and he started making a trip out to have lunch with me once a month until we found a church that became our home church - a process that took about a year. Bruce never said, "listen: you have to find a church and stay grounded in the word, and until you do I'm going to check up on you and make sure you don't fall off the apple cart." He just did it. And he did it in such a way that it was obviously out of love for Jesus, His church, and me and my wife.That's what it's all about, and anyone would be blessed beyond measure to have a pastor like Bruce. I think he'd take issue with being listed as a "hero", but he's living the life. One of the things Paul says over and over in his letters is, "if you want to know how to live your life, use me as an example." Bruce can say that without any pride or shame, and I think that's the definition of being a hero.

Carla: How would you define "orthodoxy" as it pertains to the Christian faith?

Frank: Well, no softballs, Carla. That question is why I started blogging in the first place. Orthodoxy starts with the Gospel itself - that's why I have 1Cor15:1-4 listed and hyperlinked at the top of my sidebar. If you properly define the Gospel, you have God's idea about what's important. For example, in 1Cor 15:3, Paul says, "Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures" - well, who is "us" ("our" is the possessive of "us")? When you know who "us" is, it turns out that "us" are not just receivers of a gift and it's vacation time: "us" has received a gift which in turn places a responsibility on us to demonstrate we have that gift. So for example, "us" are "believers"; "us" are all baptized; "us" are in fellowship with other believers; "us" are repentant; "us" are in prayer; "us" are doing good works; etc.This definition of "us" is the whole practical matter of our faith, but it is not just some kind of pragmatic issue. It is a result of a right understanding of who God is, what He has done, what He is doing, and what He intends to do. I have also blogged (once) on an ancient and somewhat-anonymous Epistle to Diogentus, which was penned some time before 200 AD. If you take the time to read that letter, it is striking in the way that what the Christians believe is related directly to, without any Rube Goldberg explanation, how they live, what they do.
That's what Orthodoxy is: a total package of belief and action that distinguishes Christianity from everything else in order to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ.

Carla: Your position in a Christian retail business gives you a unique perspective to notice key trends (programs, books, marketing, etc.) that affect Christian thought. If you had to name one trend, or fad that seems to have taken off the most, which would that be?

Frank: Well, to clarify, my "position" in Christian retail is really just participation. I'm an upper-middle manager in a Christian publishing company (which prefers I not use them as an example of anything; because I like getting paid I will oblige), and I'm the owner of a successful Christian bookstore in a market area of about 40,000 people. I'm sure I don't set any trends.
For better or worse, I'm going to answer your question the long way around. I got into Christian retail in part because I felt gifted and called, but in part because Christian retail makes me sick. Most non-chain Christian retail looks like is it run by very nice, ministry-minded people who think that the ideal setting for Christian retail is a flea-market or pawn-shop type environment; most chain CBA retail looks like it is run by somewhat-cynical second-rate retail executives who think that orthodoxy is not their business. When I got into the business, I thought that if we couldn't be a city on a hill, we could at least be a voice crying out in the wilderness.
One of the great lessons I learned (or rather, re-learned, because I knew this when I worked for the WAL*MART in another life) is that while 50% of the problem in any retail car wreck is the retailer's fault, the other 50% is the customer's doing. The matter of whether your store looks like a flea market or a pawn shop (disorganized; rarely cleaned; third-rate fixtures; lousy inventory control; tons of old inventory; dark; etc.) is your fault, and it's going to define what kind of customers you get. But even if you have the sense to control all that and your shop looks like Barnes & Noble, you can only sell what people are going to buy - and you have to sell what people are buying because you can't take a collection at the end of the month to cover the rent and the lights.

Carla, I am sure you and I know a lot of people who are disappointed by what they find at their local Christian bookstore. But you know what? That's the stuff that sells. Let me be very clear what I mean by that:

• That's the stuff 90% of Christian shoppers are looking for
• That's the stuff pastors and preachers are recommending
• That's the stuff people are using for spiritual reference

So the major trend I see in Christian retail is a kind of perpetual dumbing-down of the Christian life. It's horribly ironic - we have at our disposal extraordinarily-powerful means of delivering any message we want, especially when we compare it with first-century means, and rather than people lining up for Mahaney and Sproul and MacArthur and Piper, they are killing themselves for Lucado, Osteen, Warren and Joyce Meyers. In the end, it may not be so ironic since it is in our weakness that God is strong - maybe Christian retail turns out to be a man-centered religion of works as opposed to faith.

Carla: What has been your greatest joy in life, so far?

Frank: [snark for the fans]I have no joy. I am a dour Calvinist who wants to suck the joy out of all the lives I come in contact with.[/snark](editorial: I'm sorry Frank, that job is already taken by ME, you'll have to apply elsewhere!)

Leaving atheism in 1991 was a joy; finding my wife was a joy; growing with her in Christ is a joy; raising my kids is a joy. Not to be a smarmy greeting card, but today is a joy. Being able to be grateful even in hard times is a joy.

Carla: What would be the number one thing you'd like people to think of, when your name, or your blog, is mentioned?

Frank: For the non-believers who wander through my blog, I want them to be completely rattled by it. I want them to see true Christianity, which, as they say, is not actually a very tame Christianity. Christianity is not a bacchanalian frenzy, but it is not a passive, stoic, theoretical thing. For the believers, I want them to think about things they aren't thinking about, and to start doing things they didn't think they could do. So "the number one thing I'd like people to think of" in reference to me is "radical Christian message".

Carla: What’s the one thing that might surprise people about you?

Frank: This is not a joke. I was a cheerleader in an all-boy's Catholic High School.

Carla: If you could only have 5 links on your blog, which links would they be, and why?

Frank: That's a somewhat-unfair question because I have so many links and someone (Challies) is bound to get his nose out of joint.

In no particular order:
http://www.aomin.org/ -- because James White is smart enough to be able to make you feel stupid, and loves Jesus enough not to.
http://www.dougwils.com/ - because someone has to keep an eye on Doug Wilson ...
triablogue.blogspot.com - because Steve Hays is the man, and in 2006 he is going to have both Jonathan Felt and Gene Bridges as sidekicks. Did you know he is about to publish a 500-page e-book refuting atheist arguments against the resurrection? I'm trying to write a review/recommendation for it that does it justice.
PyroManiac - Phil's a great blogger because he has a conversational style and, unlike me, he can stay on-topic. Some day he is either going to just blog and stop worrying about how many posts he makes a week, or he's going to quit because it's too distracting. I hope it's not the latter.
A blog aggregator for Calvinst Gadfly, Brad Williams, Daniel @ http://doulogos.blogspot.com/, Eric Vestrup (to whom I owe a phone call - I'm such a lousy friend), Kerry @ http://theologicallycorrect.com/webmaster/blogs/, and of course my sidekicks JIBBS and Gummby.

And I would sneak links to Kim and Carla in when no one was looking. :)(awww, how very kind of Frank to mention myself and Kim!)

In closing, I’d like to thank Frank “cent” for agreeing to do this interview, and sharing his views. I really enjoyed reading Frank’s answers to these random questions. I hope you’ve enjoyed it too. (I will refrain from making any comment about the cheerleading thing – I’ll leave that with the readers).

Be sure to read the initial comments here, as well.

Is He Gone Yet...?

From the archives...

The burden of conscience

Some fellow named Henry tracked back to my open letter about TNIV here at the blog, and I go a kick out his response. Not “got a kick” like “I enjoyed it a lot” but a “got a kick” like “I can shoe you his shoe print”. I’m sure he wasn’t trying to be mean, but I think he wound up being something worse than mean. And I’m not going to get a chance to do his whole post on this subject before I’m off for the week, so this little bit is going to have to be enough.

Let’s take a look:
A friend tipped me off by e-mail to a post, and I think it is appropriate to respond. The poster, Centurion, expresses his concern about Christian booksellers and publishers, and their choices in terms of what to offer their customers, especially considering that many of them regard their business as a ministry as well.
Let’s keep something in mind here: CBA and ECPA both represent themselves as ministries – so to hedge one’s bets and say “many of them regard their business as a ministry as well” is somewhat distracted from the actual facts.

There is also another problem: who, exactly, wants to but books about faith and life from someone who’s in it “as a business” instead of “as a ministry”? I don’t know anyone like that – even people who shop Amazon for price on their religious books. When you ask them, “do you think that Amazon demonstrates any discernment about the kinds of books they sell,” those people will tell you flat out: “I don’t shop Amazon for anything but price. But I only buy things from them that come from Christian publishers.” What does that say about what people think Christian publishers are doing?

In their mind, there is a level of discernment going on someplace. And that is the problem, isn’t it? Let’s read more from Henry:

I’m a Christian publisher, a very small one, offering 15 titles at this point, some of them my own, and I certainly do have a conscience about what I publish. My conscience, however, seems to tell me something substantially different than Centurion’s.

I need to address a couple of minor points, but then I’m going to simply tell you what my conscience as a Christian publisher requires of me.
Centurion says:
That’s my second point: the two most-vivid proclamations of the Gospel in the NT are unquestionably Acts 2 and 2Cor 15 — and both of those proclamations place the authority of God’s word as the centerpiece of how and why Christ died. That is to say: whatever it is Christ did (died for our sins, was buried and was raised on the third day) was “in accordance with Scripture”: it happened because Scripture said it would happen. In that, Scripture is our most precious possession in the Christian life. . . .
This is an example of the most bizarre set of statements I have seen about the gospel and the place of the Bible in Christian life. (I refer to a set of statements because I have seen quite a number of similar statements over the years as well as recently.) I’m sorry for the strong term, but I simply can’t think of anything less forceful that nonetheless expresses what I see here. Let me illustrate. I’m going to travel to Atlanta, Georgia in a few weeks. As I follow the highway from here to there, I will proceed “according to the road signs.” But those signs will not become the center of my trip, the purpose of my trip, nor will they be my “most precious possession.” They point the way. Jesus is the object of our faith; the Bible is one of the things that points the way to Jesus.
Think about this: someone who calls himself a “Christian publisher” has branded the statement “Scripture is our most precious possession in the Christian life” bizarre! I’m sure he thinks Spurgeon, Piper, Owen, Hodge, Warfield, Luther, Calvin, Bunyan and the Westminster divines are all equally “bizarre”.

In Henry’s view, you can come up with the Gospel without Scripture. The odd thing, really, is that Paul and Peter disagree with him. However, it is very insightful to find someone like Henry who is willing to put all his cards on the table in the first round. Scripture isn’t necessary in his view: it’s only useful, and other things can be sufficient to do the work that Scripture does.
But further, Centurion appears to believe that this somehow means that Christian book stores should avoid the TNIV and possible new and different bindings of the Bible because they don’t fit in with that agenda. He’s not very clear as to what he thinks dealers should and should not carry, other than putting the TNIV front and center in his general complaint.
Interestingly, that’s not what I said at all. The context that I am writing as a Christian retailer who sells many different kinds of bindings in Bibles, and frankly a wide variety of translations, is somehow lost on Henry even though the preface of my open letter says it is in response to the “going back and forth between some fellow Christian Retailers on an e-mail list I belong to.”

My complaint about the TNIV, as you can read for yourself, is that it whitewashes the controversial nature of its methodology. Now, if the Bible is just a "signpost", my complaint is, of course, nit-picking. What the Bible says isn’t actually of first importance but of far secondary importance – if it is not the actual words of God written down, not meant to be sufficient to equip the man of God for every good work.

The problem is that this is exactly what the Apostles taught about Scripture. Isn’t that odd that Paul and Peter actually hang the integrity of God on His word and whether or not he keeps it? (cf. Acts 2, Romans 3)
So let me be somewhat clearer here. What does my conscience require of me as a Christian publisher. First, I do include some of my own writings on my list of publications. This is because the original purpose of my company was to publish materials necessary for classes and seminars offered by Pacesetters Bible School, Inc. As I continued to work, that list expanded, and I very quickly heard this question: Are you going to publish things that you disagree with? People who knew my own doctrinal positions, and knew that I was publishing some of my own material, thought that I would publish only books that supported my own view. But my conscience would not allow me to do that. [Emph added]
Let’s think about that for a minute: his conscience would not allow him to publish only books which had doctrine he agreed with.

That’s somewhat staggering. What scope is he talking about here? For example, would be publish a book which denies the resurrection? How about a book which denies the consequences of sin – a book which says that sin is not a death sentence for man in and of itself? The extraordinary thing about his complaint, of course, is that he pleads conscience in this matter!

Isn’t our conscience exactly what we are supposed to use to separate the false from the true? Even in Henry’s view where conscience is formed by nature and history and the bunnies and the puppies, conscience is what keeps us from doing what’s wrong. And apparently, it is far more wrong to refuse to publish a book because it is doctrinal pap than it is to publish something which will confuse or mislead the reader.

Let’s be clear about something here: I don’t think that it’s wrong to have a publisher who is willing to publish Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist and Lutheran titles – I’d actually admire someone who could do that well. My concern -- and it ought to be the concern of pastors, elders, and teachers in the church -- is that Henry is plainly advocating for the liberty to print anything without regard to its doctrinal substance.

For example, it was irresponsible to publish Jim Rutz’s Mega Shift. Its ecclesiology was reckless and waters down the effectivity and ministry of the local church; Barna’s last book Revolution was equally irresponsible. I have reviewed both of these books here at the blog if you are interested in more detail on those complaints. It is also irresponsible to publish books by people who have been proven to be fraudulent prophets; to publish teaching books by people who demonstrate a lack of concern for the Trinity; to publish books which apply deconstructionist literary theory to the Bible; to publish books which claim that Christ died to make you rich, happy and healthy.

And in the end, my complaint about TNIV centers on this kind of error, not the problem of paedobaptism vs. credobaptism or some other such important-but-not-deal-breaking denominational doctrinal application.

My conscience as a publisher suggests the following:
Let me also say that if your conscience is only suggesting things to you, it’s not worth listening to.
* Respect the ability and responsibility of the individual believer to make choices as to what they read and study
That’s an interesting assertion. Does Henry really believe that a 16-yr-old who has just made a confession of Christ has the same ability to discern truth from error as a 30-yr-old believer who has spent his time since his confession of faith being discipled by men of good conscience who have been faithful to the Gospel?

If the reader has a responsibility to be exercise discernment, why does the publisher not actually have that same responsibility? For example, when a writer says something like, “your Bible is only a guide; Christ is the real object of faith and you should seek Him whether your Bible helps you or not,” don’t you think that the publisher has some obligation to consider that even Catholics affirm that the Bible is more than just a signpost and is critical to the formation of faith in Christ?

Publishing books is a form of teaching. In exactly the same way that a University tacitly promulgates what its faculty teaches as truth, a Publisher is tacitly promulgating what it prints and distributes as truth. There is a duty attached in the Bible to being a teacher, and that duty includes a higher standard for representing the truth. (James 3)

That's all I have time for. Listen: be with the Lord's people in the Lord's house on the Lord's day. And try to find more use for your Bible next week while the sidekicks are running the asylum than as a bookend. And be kind to them -- they're not used to the spotlight, such as it is.

attack of the sidekicks

BOOYAH! Next week I'm on vacation, and I have fired up the bat-signal or whatever it is we use here to call in the SIDEKICKS to blog next week.

Oh yeah: my only fear is that they'll blog better than I do and you'll all realize what a fraud I am after they get through telling you exactly what they think of this so-called world we live in.

One more post this week, and then I'm off to cause terrible woe for Innkeepers and commoditizers of religion. I'm sure it'll be relaxing.

open letter

I was shovelling out my e-mail this morning and was reading some of the chatter that was going back and forth between some fellow Christian Retailers on an e-mail list I belong to. The topic was TNIV, and there were some people saying that it's not a great translation and they aren't carrying it; others were somewhat angry that a retailer was making a content decision (take your astonishment to the meta), and yet a third group appeared -- saying that an argument like this was dishonoring to Christ.

yeah. So I sent the following e-mail to that list, and I thought you people might enjoy it as the first post of substnace this week:

Oh brother. When I read emails like this topic has inspired, I think that we retailers are doing more harm than good for the sake of the Gospel -- but not in the way implied by some. I have a couple of thoughts on this subject, and believe me when I say that I have no one in particular in mind as I spin these notes out to the list. You can throw rotten produce at me when I present on Strategy at CPE. :-)

The first thing to say about "arguing" is this: we are supposed to contend for the faith, amen? The Gospel is not some truth-less blanket that just gets thrown over things, and whatever happens to be under it this morning as we cast it out wide is not "the Gospel for today". The Gospel is the power of salvation for everyone who believes. But believes what?

That's my second point: the two most-vivid proclamations of the Gospel in the NT are unquestionably Acts 2 and 2Cor 15 -- and both of those proclamations place the authority of God's word as the centerpiece of how and why Christ died. That is to say: whatever it is Christ did (died for our sins, was buried and was raised on the third day) was "in accordance with Scripture": it happened because Scripture said it would happen. In that, Scripture is our most precious possession in the Christian life. While we have an interior witness of the spirit, the Gospel doesn't go out by means of interior witness: it goes out by the Gospel being proclaimed. What gets proclaimed -- if we follow Paul's example and his own words -- is the testimony of Scripture.

Third, that means the truth of Scripture doesn't change -- it's not a mutable template which we can upgrade. We receive a Gospel we are expected to then declare. The question is: how does this apply to translation efforts? For example, what's the purpose of the a translation -- is it to provide the Gospel in the context of "every tribe, tounge and nation", or is it a somewhat-worldly pursuit to remarket a product?

This third point is the critical issue for those of us who are Christian retailers who profess to be in a ministry. Without naming any vendors, let me say that we must discern whether or not a publisher is trying to remarket an existing product at the expense of fidelity to the mission of spreading the whole Gospel to the whole world.

For example, let's assume (not conclude) that all translations in print today are generated by the motive to evangelize (an assumption, I suggest, that is faulty): are new binding types a violation of the kind of spirit we want to see cultivated in the body of Christ? That's a hard question -- because what it really asks us is if we are trying to make disciples of men or consumers of product -- who are hungry for the next big thing.

That is a hard question -- because personally I sell a lot of "new" bindings. You know: duotone, tru-tone, gripper, 16 different kinds of "leather", etc. People like new bindings -- especially in the context that 60% of Bibles are given as gifts. But are we marketing a binding, or are we being the beautiful feet of the Gospel?

When we look at the question in this way, we have a larger problem: how "new", exactly, is the TNIV? Did the NIV need an update? Why? Who is the target of the TNIV? Do those people have a theological persuasion?

There is not one person on this list which sells the New World Translation (the Jehovah's Witness bible) because it's not "just another translation": it is a faulty translation with a theological agenda. By no means is the TNIV as-bad as the NWT, amen? It's not a cultic corruption. But it is something we need to be aware of: a translation which takes ecclesiastically-volatile subjects like the gender-specific language and in many ways glosses over the problems.

So when we think about this problem, let's specifically think about what we are doing for and to the body of Christ. Is it more controversial to take a stand against marketing the Gospel, or is it more controversial to simply ignore legitimate controversy and simply let things pass through our stores which do more to confuse people than to help them grow in faith.

God bless you all as you think on these things, seek guidance from your pastors and elders, and resolve to do God's work for God's sake and God's glory and not for the approval of men.

The ESV NT -cheap-

ISBN# 1581348355

As promised, I called Crossway books this morning about the 50-cent ESV NTs, and here's the skinny:

I can get them for you at 50-cents each when you buy in lots of 100 (that's the case count), and you'll have to pay the shipping. I don't have exact shipping charges as I do not have a box in my possession today, but I'll have one by the end of the week.

If you are a local and you want ESV NTs, we'll have them in stock priced like this:

1-each: $0.99
10 or more: $0.75 each
25 or more: $0.50 each

My wife will start taking mail orders (full case QTYs only) at the bookstore on Thursday when we have the store set up to make it happen. If you are serious about needing these, you'll have to leave a deposit of half on your credit card (we'll charge the other half when they ship). Continental U.S. shipments only. The bookstore can be reached at (888) 835-5648.

Thank you.

Light reading

Well -- it was a nice weekend in the backyard. I haven't got much to say this morning because I'm trying to get work caught up so I can go on vacation next week.

As I gather my thoughts, let me recommend two books for you:

They have very little nice to say about the state of Evangelidom and how we got here, but they are very informative. I'm sure I'll have a more substantive review or comment on each of them in the future.

I'm on the case of the 50-cent ESV NT today also, so stay tuned for that.

Proud Papa

I suppose I shouldn't care, but the "homeboy" series of t-shirts has absolutely taken off, particularly in infant creepers. Apparently John Calvin is still da bomb.

Spend the Lord's day in the Lord's house with the Lord's people, and don't pretend that you are OK with Jesus if all you do is buy t-shirts from me and look down your nose at the Emergent guy down the street who is watching a Nooma video while you're reading my blog. Go to church, you sinner.