Thursday, December 30, 2010

Why not read the Bible in 2011?

new_year How’s that for a New Year’s resolution? We all have good intentions about Bible reading but how much reading do we actually do? After reading a blog post by Bob Kauflin at Worship Matters, I’m thinking I may try the same approach he’s tried over the last half of 2010: “Why I’m Reading the Bible in Ten Different Places.” Kauflin says, “I don’t know how long I’ll be reading Scripture this way, but I know one thing. It’s been really good for my relationship with God. Here’s a few reasons why:

  • I’m reminded daily how little I know of God’s Word
  • I’m understanding better how Jesus is the story line of the Bible
  • Familiar verses speak to me in unexpected ways
  • I’m encountering God in his Word more often

“Reading the Bible in Ten Different Places” is a Bible-reading plan by Grant Horner. It looks really interesting (you can read Grant’s thoughts on it here). It involves reading one chapter from ten different places in the Bible each time you read. Once you reach the end of a section you start over. It’s very helpful in giving the reader a big picture understanding of the Bible. (For more on Bob Kauflin’s experience, please see his post “Why I’m Reading the Bible in Ten Different Places.”)


Nathan Bingham, another blogger, has posted several different Bible Reading Plans for 2011 with links to relevant resources, including Grant Horner’s Ten Different Places plan. I recommend you check out Bingham’s list if you’re looking for a plan to help you read God’s Word in 2011. I need to decide pretty quick here, but at this point I’m leaning toward trying out Horner’s Ten Different Places approach.

Please leave comments about your own experience of reading the Bible in 2010 or your New Year’s resolution for reading in 2011. Maybe we can even help encourage one another to read more, learn more and live it better. All the best to all of my blog readers in 2011!

Monday, December 6, 2010

As empty as a Monday morning church: the grieving heart

Have you been to a funeral lately? Did they sing upbeat praise and worship songs? Maybe even with a worship band? It’s happening more and more frequently instead of singing the old traditional sad hymns with the organ. I do understand that increasingly the trend in funeral services has been to “celebrate the life” of the deceased loved one. And this makes sense, but, personally I’m concerned about losing the older balanced approach, a balance of two very important experiences. At a “good” funeral, we should have space to grieve and space to express our hope as Christians, a balance of sadness and joy. In my opinion, we increasingly minimize the space to grieve. When I was able to deal with my mother’s death, some months after the funeral, in my late teenage years, I came to value Ecclesiastes 7:3, “Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart.” It is good for us to grieve.

C.S. Lewis writing This was on my mind last week because over at the Mere C.S. Lewis blog, I was posting quotes from A Grief Observed which C.S. Lewis wrote while grieving the death of his wife. It’s raw and difficult at times, but he shows us what happens to us when we grieve. At the Mere C.S. Lewis blog, I don’t present my thoughts as it’s all about Lewis, so I’m bringing that post over here! In the following passage, Lewis candidly talks about his experience of God during this time of mourning. For me, it connected very well with my own experience. What Lewis and I have expressed in preaching and in print, Alan Jackson has captured in music (and video). If it’s true that “a sad face is good for the heart,” I believe you will be richly blessed in the next few moments, especially if you allow your heart replay your own sadness. Lewis wrote:

Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be — or so it feels — welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. And that seeming was as strong as this. What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble? (C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed pg. 7-8)

You left my heart as empty as a Monday morning church
It used to be so full of faith and now it only hurts
And I can heart the devil whisper “Things are only getting worse”
You left my heart as empty as a Monday morning church (Alan Jackson song)

For me, both Lewis and the song capture the intensity of that experience of God’s silence in my grief. And yet, He is there. Why else am I praying? Why is Lewis writing? Why does the widower go on singing? Even though our words sound faithless, they are still, in effect, being offering to God. Though it hurts now, I can remember my heart being full of faith. Even when I am faithless, God proves himself to be faithful (1 Tim). Yes, the church is empty on Monday morning, but how long will it remain so? Will my heart always ache? C.S. Lewis continues from the previous quote, writing:

My heart as empty as a Monday morning church I tried to put some of these thoughts to [a friend] this afternoon. He reminded me that the same thing seems to have happened to Christ: ‘Why hast thou forsaken me?’ I know. Does that make it easier to understand?
    Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’ (C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed pg. 8)

“Blessed are those who mourn,” says Jesus. We are not left alone. God is present with us, though we may experience only his silence when our grief seems the loudest. Lewis’s friend is more on track than Lewis in the above paragraph. The turning point in my experience was when I realized that the pain of the grief was drawing me closer to the suffering of Jesus. Many years have passed and many more experiences of grief, mourning and suffering have come, and today I am much closer—I can almost honestly say with the Apostle Paul, “For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:5, NIV 2011). And only then do we experience the transformation of grief into something of great value.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
(2 Corinthians 1:3-4, NIV 2011)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Sunday law, church and shopping in Prince Edward Island

Do you remember when the law was changed that allowed Walmart, Superstore and my bike repair shop to start  opening up on Sundays? In Ontario in the early 1990s, I can remember being invited to church-sponsored rallies to demonstrate against Sunday openings of our grocery stores. Many churches were very concerned about shopping on Sundays and the secularization of our society. It was actually on April 24, 1985 that the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that “the Lord's Day Act violated Canadians' freedom of religion… This law—the Lord's Day Act—prevented non-Christians from performing otherwise legal activities on Sundays” (“Sunday Shopping,” Wikipedia).  The court found this to be inconsistent with the then-new Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Over several years this has played out in the provinces of Canada, each in some way moving toward removing restrictions from Sundays. This week, I was surprised to discover that it’s still playing out in Canada’s smallest (and in some ways, most traditional) province, Prince Edward Island. 

Regis and Kelly Live from Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island (July 12, 2010)Regis and Kelly made PEI famous this summer by hosting their show, live from the island for four days. On the first day in PEI, July 12, Live with Regis and Kelly scored its most-watched in Canada episode ever! Almost one million viewers watched Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa being marched onto stage by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police at Confederation Landing Park in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. Very cool! Now, when Regis and Kelly were there on Sunday, July 11 before taping, most stores and shops were open to tourists! Yes, stores open on Sunday! So what’s being debated in the PEI Legislature now? Here’s the deal. Prince Edward Island had previously partially removed restrictions on Sunday shopping, a kind of compromise position. Stores were permitted to open after 12 noon from the Sunday before Victoria Day (late May) until Christmas Eve, but for the other 5 months of the year they were to be closed.

novideo On Tuesday this week, Olive Crane, the Leader of the Conservative Opposition in the PEI Legislature, introduced a bill to remove the remaining restrictions, giving businesses the power to decide for themselves what to do on Sundays. As you watch this news video, perhaps you can join me in remembering when this issue mattered so much that we were involved in the debate…

“I can’t open the Bible and say, ‘Thou shalt not shop on Sunday.’”

The pastor in the news report is correct. There is no Scriptural support for Christians to oppose shopping on Sundays. Back in the 1980s and 90s, it seems to me that we in the church were opposed to it because we viewed Sunday as “the Lord’s Day” and many understood that to mean that it was a day of rest, essentially the Old Testament Sabbath moved from the seventh day, Saturday, to the day of post-resurrection worship of Christ, the first day, Sunday. This is not what the Bible teaches about the Sabbath. I see no indication in the New Testament that the Sabbath practices of the OT were to be transferred from Saturday to Sunday. But at that time in the 1990s, we feared that the church was losing its place in society, that secularization was happening rapidly and Ontario was about to leave behind its Christian heritage. In retrospect, I think we were misguided because Sunday is not the Sabbath nor does the NT ever describe it as a day of rest.

Prince Edward Island banks over the Northumberland Strait

It is clear that Christians were gathered together on the day of the resurrection of Jesus—Sunday. And it’s also clear from the New Testament, that Christians continued to gather every Sunday after that day (John 20:19, 26). On the Day of Pentecost (seven Sundays later), while they were gathered together the Holy Spirit was given and the church was born (Acts 2:1-4). Did you know that Christians actually renamed the first day of the week? They started calling it “The Lord’s Own Day” (κυριακῇ ἡμέρᾳ / Kuriake h’amera) or simply “The Lord’s Own.” This new name for the first day occurs just one time in the New Testament, Revelation 1:10, but it is used frequently in early Christian writings. So, for example, around AD 100, Ignatius wrote an Epistle to the Magnesians, saying “We have seen how former adherents of the ancient customs have since attained to a new hope; so that they have given up keeping the Sabbath, and now order their lives by the Lord’s Own Day instead” (9:1). And to present day, Christians continue to gather together on Sundays to worship our Risen Lord. Now, historically, some churches adopted Sabbath-like regulations for this day, making it a day of rest, but this was not biblically-mandated. Indeed, Romans 14:5-6a claims that there is freedom to make these kinds of choices on a personal level, “Some consider one day more sacred than another; others consider every day alike.Vintage Royal Bank of Canada metal calendar Everyone should be fully convinced in their own mind. Those who regard one day as special do so to the Lord.” But when it comes down to arguments about Saturday vs. Sunday and such, Colossians 2:16-17 takes the matter further, saying, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.”

This “reality found in Christ” is not the OT Sabbath being moved from one day to another. No way! By biblical definition, the Sabbath is the seventh day—Saturday, a day of rest under the law of Moses. But as with the Passover, Pentecost and other special holy days of the old covenant, the Sabbath was a type or “a shadow of the things that were to come,” something which would find greater fulfillment in the new covenant. What was the OT Sabbath pointing toward? The writer of Hebrews explores this greater fulfillment, explaining that the Sabbath pointed toward the rest of God, and now, in Jesus, we are invited to that rest. “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for those who enter God’s rest also rest from their own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore make every effort to enter that rest…” (Hebrews 4:9-11a). We enter it not once per week, but as a new way of living in time. Our experience of Christ changes all of our days. All of our time in Christ is to be lived differently now. The very way that we experience time is now being transformed, so that we are people who live more for the moment than for the minute. Sunday worship helps to ground me and remind me who I worship and connect me with my brothers and sisters in Christ, but every day now is sacred time to be lived doing the will of Christ.
Regis and Kelly return home to New York with all their PEI tourist memorabiliaOne day a week is simpler, but Christ calls us to enter into his rest, 24/7. Jesus invites us to follow him into a whole new lifestyle. How will I live each and every day to his glory? How do I move from praying "Thy will be done" in the Lord's Prayer to actually doing it? Prince Edward Island Christians will now face this same challenge of not allowing the daily rat race of so invading every minute of our lives that we forget who we are and and whom we follow. Eugene Peterson shows a great understanding of Romans 12:2 in The Message, when he paraphrases, “Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” Many Islanders will still have Sunday off, a day set apart to be reminded of who we are in Christ and where he's leading us in life. But with or without that day off, faithfulness to Christ means learning to live all of our time in Christ, in his rest. So the passing of this bill cannot destroy our faith, unless we allow it to.

PEI has caught up with Nova Scotia, the other Canadian provinces and the 1985 ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada.  We may really like the idea of everything shutting down for one day of the week—I know I do, but there is no specifically Christian or theological basis for mandating this.  Even if there were, on what basis would we impose our Christian practice on all of society, our multicultural society? What will really make a difference in our society is not Christians imposing a weekly day off on society, but Christians living for Christ 24/7PEI flag, seeking him daily and daily attempting to do his will and live as Jesus himself would live. Prince Edward Island will not suddenly slide into decadence because businesses can now choose to be open on Sundays. Look what Regis and Kelly did for the island this summer—people are still talking about it!  Imagine what the Christians of PEI could do if together they started living out their faith not just on Sunday or Saturday, but every day of every week. Prince Edward Island could be renewed, a place where Christ could be found in Canada: Parva sub ingenti (“the small under the protection of the Great”).

Click here for interaction with Seventh-Day Adventist beliefs on the Sabbath, Sunday and the National Sunday Law NOTE: Originally this post also included interaction with Seventh-Day Adventist beliefs about the Sabbath, Sunday and the Sunday law. This interaction has been moved to a better place in the Comments section where it will actually allow for discussion and interaction. If you understand the Seventh-Day Adventism position or you are a Seventh-Day Adventist, I welcome your interaction.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Shakespeare or Scripture: Can you tell which is which?

King James and Shakespeare How close is the language of the King James Version of the Bible to the language of the works of Shakespeare?

Very close.

Shakespeare wrote his great works during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I and King James VI (of Scotland) and I (of UK). In fact, King James became a patron of the bard who renamed his acting crewing “The King’s Men.”

This is, of course, the same King James who authorized a new translation of the Scriptures into Elizabethan English. Wild speculative rumours suggest that William Shakespeare even helped in the translation. Did the bard encode his name into his translation of Psalm 46? (Count to the 46th word, “shake,” then count from the end of the psalm back to the 46th word, “spear,” then tell me what you make of that.) Personally, I doubt it. There is a lack of any solid historical evidence for Shakespeare being on the KJV translation team. But, still, since the King James Version of the Bible was composed during the same era as the great plays of Shakespeare, it can be hard discern whether a particular phrase is from Shakespeare or from the Scriptures. Don’t believe me? Try this quiz: The Bible or the Bard?The Bible or the Bard? 
Be sure to post your score in the Comments section! I scored 90% ;)  See what you can do. You might be surprised as just how tough it is!

And there’s the point I want to make… There’s a lot to be said for clarity. The King James Version is too old to be useful today. We need to hear God speak to us clearly through his Word and thus we need a good contemporary translation written in today’s English. We should not expect God to speak to us today in the 400 year-old language of Shakespeare which most of us had a tough enough time with in high school English! God has called able men and women to produce good contemporary translations of the Scriptures. I look forward to the updated NIV. In the meantime, take the quiz and post your score! :)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

From the King James Version of the Bible to Today’s NIV: There’s a lot to be said for clarity

Recently I asked my good friend Andy if he might be willing to share on this blog his experience of discovering the benefits of reading Today’s New International Version (TNIV) of the Bible. Hear him out. I love what Andy says about this experience.

Shakespeare-presented-to-Queen-Elizabeth-I Andy: Having always maintained the King James Version was the Bible for me, I had been using it for forty years and was very reluctant to accept any other version until I was introduced to the TNIV—no small chore I might add. In conversing with a chap via email, I found my friend, Ken, always quoted from the TNIV (Today’s New International Version). I in turn used the KJV but this friend kept challenging me to try the TNIV and at times got into some serious debate regarding scriptural passages. I decided I would use the TNIV to back up my position on several issues just to prove that I was as comfortable in either version. 

Ken: Plus, Andy may have gotten tired of me replying to his emails by asking if he always spoke in Elizabethan English or if he only sounded that way when he was typing emails which included quotes from the KJV. Was he debating me or Shakespeare? If me, then I wanted to let him know that while I could understand his old English, it seemed odd to me. I’d ask Andy if he really was old enough to speak this archaic form of English. For me this issue comes down to a simple principle. I believe there’s a lot to be said for clarity.

Ken: I think my friend Andy would agree—there’s a lot to be said for clarity. Sometimes reading the Bible may leave us puzzling like the man in the Clarica commercial, but I don’t think we should be puzzling over what the English words mean. Let’s puzzle over what God’s Word meant back then and what it means to us today. In trying to show me he could be just as comfortable in the TNIV as in the KJV, I think Andy may have discovered that even he was more comfortable in today’s English.  And in my mind, that only makes sense. Even Shakespearean scholars do not go about their daily lives speaking Elizabethan English.

Glasses-on-BibleAndy: Since then I have purchased two copies of the TNIV so my wife and I would be on the same page when we have our devotions. We are very near completing the OT and look forward to commencing with the NT. One major note is that it is much easier reading in 21st century English.
    I have encouraged another friend of mine to obtain a copy of the TNIV as well. I highly recommend the TNIV to complement any serious Bible student’s library and not to gather dust but make use of it for study. This now is my study Bible even though when I read passages in it, I keep my KJV handy for reference.

Ken: After 40 years of use, I understand this, but I also know that Andy presents his ideas from Scripture with greater clarity and precision today. I’m very happy for Andy and his wife. God’s Word was not ever meant to sound “old.” God speaks to us in our own language and idiom. When you think about this, it really is odd that we would expect God to speak to us only in Elizabethan era English. From every indication we have in the Bible, God spoke the language of the people of the day: the Hebrew of Genesis is different than the Hebrew of Habakkuk, certainly different than the Aramaic chapters of Daniel, and the Greek of John’s Gospel is markedly different than the Greek of the Epistle to the Hebrews. The King James Only movement seems to misunderstand the very nature of language: it is always changing. And good Bible translation is always about making God’s Word clear in today’s language.

Before you go out and buy a new TNIV Bible like my friend Andy, I should let you know there’s big news. The TNIV is out of print (discounted sales possible) and so is the NIV. Why? They are about to publish the NIV 2011, but they’d prefer we just call it an updated NIV (which I suspect is actually a revised and updated TNIV). Here’s part of what the Committee on Bible Translation had to say about this updated NIV:

Click here for an excellent video introducing the updated NIV by Doug Moo, Chair of the Committee on Bible Translation Since its first emergence as a complete text in 1978, the New International Version (NIV) has stood as the modern pioneer of a different approach — an approach that mirrors the balance of priorities held by the KJV translators four hundred years ago. The NIV tries to bring its readers as close as possible to the experience of the original audience: providing the best possible blend of transparency to the original documents and comprehension of the original meaning in every verse. The NIV is founded on the belief that if hearing God’s Word the way it was written and understanding it the way it was meant were the hallmarks of the original reading experience, then accuracy in translation demands that neither one of these two criteria be prioritized above the other.

Built upon this philosophy, the NIV has experienced much the same reaction in the church and beyond as its beloved predecessor whose values it seeks to emulate. Thirty years after its first publication there are more than four hundred million NIV Bibles in print.

But, unlike its predecessor, the NIV was designed from the very start with a built-in mechanism to defy the attritional effects of time. Since 1978, the NIV translation team has continued to meet, year after year, reviewing developments in biblical scholarship and changes in English usage — revising the translation to ensure that it continues to offer its readers an experience that mirrors that of the original audience, and periodically releasing those revisions in updated editions of the text… A lengthy revision process was completed in 2005, resulting in the separately published Today’s New International Version (TNIV). The new 2011 updated NIV builds on both the original NIV and the TNIV and represents the latest effort of the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) to articulate God’s unchanging Word in the way the original authors might have said it if they had been speaking in English to the global English-speaking audience today.

BibleGatewayThe new updated NIV won’t be available in print until 2011, but you can check it out now at Bible Gateway.  You’ll find that from this point on at this blog, I will be quoting from the NIV by default, except as always, I will quote from an alternative translation when I feel it captures the sense of the passage better. I take seriously the responsibility to always do my best to make clear what God’s Word is really saying to us. In light of what Andy has shared with us, I look forward to the positive impact the updated NIV will have on people today.

What are your thoughts on Bible translations? Has anyone else made the move from the King James Version to NIV or TNIV or NLT? If you want to know more about my evaluation of Bible translations for today, please see my post Fresh Strawberries.
Andy has indicated that he would be happy to respond to any comments as would I.

Remembrance Day

Remembrance Day

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

How can we be faithful in a world like this?

Did you happen to hear the Old Testament reading from the Revised Common Lectionary on Sunday? It’s a really good reading for someone like me who spends everyday at work analyzing the daily news. Something has definitely gone wrong in this world! That’s why the Bible has a form of writing called lament, so that we may respond to injustice of the world in which we live. The lament read in a lot of churches this past Sunday was from Habakkuk 1:1-4 (Australian paraphrase by Nathan Nettleton,

My name is Habakkuk and I am a prophet. I went to God seeking an explanation for the way things are.

For crying out loud, LORD!
........How long will it be before you listen?

Law-and-Order-logoHow long do I have to scream blue murder
........before you come to the rescue?

Why do you make me witness so much evil?
........Why am I forced to see such things?

Everywhere I look: violence and carnage;
........fighting and madness on every side.

Law and order are out the window;
........justice is a joke.

The corrupt ride roughshod over decent people,
........and twisted laws protect them as they do.

Doesn’t it sound like Habakkuk just wrote this last weekend? Doesn’t this describe our world today? As faithful people, don’t we find ourselves facing the same dilemma as Habakkuk—unanswered prayers for the healing of our society? I cannot believe that an Ontario court overturned the prostitution laws. These women are being victimized; no one grows up wanting to be hooker selling herself on the street. Overturning these laws will push society toward viewing the hiring of another person for sex to be socially acceptable. With the laws in place, and the police carrying out john raids it was clear that the hiring of a prostitute was wrong and socially unacceptable. This is but one example. I see constantly the difference that money makes in legal defence. It’s not right that people serve more jail time for lack of expensive legal representation. When the government is caught lying to the public, why do their numbers still go up in the polls? …and so much more is just not right in this world.

There is a part two to this lectionary reading from Habakkuk; it’s God’s response to the prophet’s lament, from chapter 2:1-4 (v1 from laughingbird but vv2-4 were a too Australian so I’ve used the New Living Translation):

So what have you got to say, LORD?
........I’m not budging from this spot until you answer.
I’m going to stand right here, all eyes and ears,
........until you respond to my complaint.

Then the Lord said to me, 
   “Write my answer plainly on tablets,
      so that a runner can carry the correct message to others.
This vision is for a future time.
      It describes the end, and it will be fulfilled.
   If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently,
      for it will surely take place.
      It will not be delayed.
“Look at the proud!
      They trust in themselves, and their lives are crooked.
      But the righteous will live by their faithfulness to God.

That vision is the new heaven and the new earth. God is going to make everything right. We know this because he’s already sent his Son, our Lord and Saviour. In him we can be made right with God, reconciled and redeemed. We know that God is working toward good in our world. There is a definite time at which the vision will be completely fulfilled.

Again, I say Habakkuk is so fresh, this message could’ve been preached last Sunday! We too live in this time between the vision of the future and its fulfillment, the already, but not yet. So how do we get by? We may cry out in lament, just like the prophet. We may mourn the wrongness of things in this world. We might get pretty frustrated at times. But what’s the answer that Habakkuk is given?

Trust the vision that God has given, a new heaven and a new earth, all things brought together in Christ, no more tears, no more pain. That day is coming. People who believe in such a future do their best to approximate it and live it now. Already we experience so much of God’s grace and redemption in our lives.Church-small-group In community with other believers, we can experience Jesus himself in our midst. We know that better day is coming—we experience moments of it, glimmers when God is so real and peace floods our worried souls. Our goal, says Habakkuk, is to ‘live by our faithfulness to God.’ Yes, this is the verse made famous in the New Testament by Paul and in the Protestant Reformation by Martin Luther, “The just shall live by faith.” But, I dare to say that we can understand its meaning better in what we’ve just read from Habakkuk. Romans 1:17 as it is commonly preached misses the breadth of what is being described in Habakkuk 2:4. The just (the righteous) or the person in right standing (or good relationship) with God will live by their faithfulness to God. One of the preachers (and authors) who made the Old Testament come alive to me, Elizabeth Achtemeier, explained that “faithfulness here means trust, dependence, clinging to God; it means living and moving and having one’s being in him alone; it means relying on him for the breath one draws, for the direction one takes, for the decisions one makes, for the goals one sets, and for the outcome of one’s living.” In short, “faithfulness is life by God’s power rather than by one’s own.”

Habakkuk sees only two options for us, the way of self with its heartbreak and emptiness, or the way of faithfulness with its dependence on God. Life can be tough because things are so messed up all around us. Prayers of lament can help us give voice to the frustration we experience when we conclude that God is not showing up in this crisis or when we question how God could let this happen. Sometimes some of us in the church are too quick to dissuade people from raising these questions or expressing these frustrations. So Peter Craigie explored this tendency, comparing it with what he saw being expressed in the writing of Habakkuk. I think you’ll find his explanation to be very helpful:

Faithfulness requires a continuation in the relationship with God, even when experience outstrips faith and the purpose in continuing to believe is called into question.The sometimes contradictory "knowledge" which some believers share with us actually seems to get us nowhere. The life of faith does not require reason and knowledge to be abandoned, as Habakkuk’s persistent questioning makes clear.  But the life of faith may require continuing belief, even though reason and knowledge have long since been exhausted. We cannot always understand either God’s action or his seeming lack of action. Nevertheless, if the relationship is secure, we can continue in the path of faith even when the road of knowledge has become a cul-de-sac.

I believe it is this kind of faithfulness to God that Paul had in mind when he quotes Habakkuk 2:4 in Romans 1:17, “the righteous will live by faithfulness.” It fits very well with what he goes on to argue in Romans 1 about the corruption of society (hmm, kinda sounds like Habakkuk’s lament). Unfortunately Paul has been misunderstood here to the point that it sounds like he is saying something very different than the prophet Habakkuk. I can’t accept that. Paul is tapping into something here bigger than just “justification by faith” and how that is typically presented. Paul understood the Scriptures and he understood that we find ourselves like Habakkuk, trusting the vision but living in a world gone wrong. The vision is being fulfilled in Christ; we are the firstfruits; we live in the tension of the already but not yet. The world is still a mess all around us, but we also live in a kingdom of people being redeemed by the Lord. We can live abundant lives though the vision may not yet be fulfilled. The prophet and the apostle call us to trust the vision and live faithfully to God.

For more on Habakkuk, see:
Elizabeth Achtemeier, Nahum—Malachi Interpretation Bible Commentary (Atlanta: John Knox, 1986); quote in post from p46.

Peter Craigie, Twelve Prophets Vol. 2 The Daily Bible Study Series (Louisville: John Knox, 1985); quote in post from 93.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Jesus meets Lisa Simpson

In response to last weekend’s outrageous claim by the Vatican newspaper that Homer and Bart Simpson are Catholic, I wanted to post two replies.lisa-homer-pi(e) First, a few days ago, I tried to write a persuasive post showing that Homer Simpson is not Catholic nor Anglican, but he just might be an average American Christian. And, secondly, picking up on something the Vatican newspaper missed, I wanted to share the following transcript of a conversation with Lisa Simpson, who is, on the show, a genuine spiritual seeker. I happened upon this script during a Google search and it totally captivated me. The whole while reading it, I was like “Wow! This is amazing!” — how come I don’t remember seeing this episode of The Simpsons? Well, surprisingly, it’s not an actual episode, but that is an indication of the quality of work that Ellen has achieved in writing it. So with her permission, here it is.
Guest Blogger:
Ellen from

Conversations with Jesus: In this episode Jesus Meets Lisa Simpson at Springfield Elementary to talk over church politics, world faiths and what it’s like to meet Richard Gere.

Jesus Christ: Hi Lisa, good to meet you ‘in person’ as it were…
Lisa Simpson: And you, wow, I never thought I’d actually get to meet you.
Jesus: Why’s that Lisa?
Lisa: Well, I have the greatest respect for you but…

There is an awkward silence, finally Jesus decides to speak
Jesus: You ‘have the greatest respect for me but’…you didn’t think you’d ever meet me because in season 13 episode 6 (She of Little Faith) you stopped believing in me and became a Buddhist?
Lisa: I wouldn’t say I ‘became a Buddhist’, I mean, I still believe in you Jesus! It was more that I felt let down by the church — you could say I lost my faith in the church.
Jesus: You and so many others…
Lisa: But, I don’t think I have ever stopped believing in you.
Jesus: I know Lisa, that’s why I thought you’d appreciate the chat.Lisa-Simpson
Lisa: So, what shall we talk about?
Jesus: What ever is on your mind…

There’s another pause, then Lisa gets out a list of things that she has wanted to talk to Jesus about…

Lisa: (Reading) Is it possible to be a Christian and not go to church? How does prayer work? What happens if you can’t forgive (Bart does my head in and I struggle with this)? Why do bad things happen to good people? Where were you for the 3 days between your death and resurrection? Do miracles still happen? How do dinosaurs fit into the Biblical story of Creation? What’s theology all about? Do pets go to heaven when they die? How do I find faith?
Jesus: Goodness me Lisa you really do have a lot of questions don’t you…
Lisa: I am not done yet… (Lisa starts to read again but Jesus interrupts)
Jesus: …I wonder if we might start with some basic principles and see how we get on.
Lisa: I don’t want basic principles I want you to tell me the answers.
Jesus: Well Lisa that is not going to happen.
Lisa: Why not?
Jesus: Because I am not in the business of telling people how they should go about finding their faith and you are more than capable of working out most of the answers to these questions yourself.*  However, I am concerned that you should carry on developing your faith so I am going to give you some hints and hit you with some advice.

There’s a pause as Lisa thinks…teen_Lisa_Simpson_by_toongrowner
Lisa: Go for it.
Jesus: Well…you have been asking a lot of questions, which is a really important step toward faith, but you might like to consider some spiritual guidance.
Lisa: I am aren’t I? I am speaking to you…
Jesus: Yes, indeed. But, as I pointed out to Nicodemus “you must be born not only by water, but by the Spirit. Humans give life to their children. Yet only God’s Spirit can change you into a child of God. Don’t be surprised when I say that you must be born from above. Only God’s Spirit gives new life.” (John 3:3-8) (see re:jesus for further info)
Lisa: Jesus, what does that mean?
Jesus: Lisa, I know that this answer is going to provoke a whole load more questions but I am going to give it a go anyway…
Lisa: OK
Jesus: Faith isn’t a moment, it is a journey and you are definitely travelling in the right direction. If you want to have a companion to guide you then the Holy Spirit is there for you. She is the perfect guide for any spiritual journey. Those questions you asked (and all those you have ready to ask, plus loads more you haven’t even thought up yet) WILL get answered — but all in good time. Each step toward faith will help you find the answers and you will enjoy discovering them all the more because you have found them out as part of a relationship and not because someone else has told you what to think.
Lisa: But, what if I’m not ready?
Jesus: I am here whenever you are ready.
Lisa: Really?
Jesus: Really.

Richard-Gere-Lisa-SimpsonLisa gives Jesus a big hug and Jesus hugs her back. 
Jesus: Now, I have a question for you…
Lisa: Yes, what is it?
Jesus: What was it like to meet Richard Gere?
Lisa: He’s not as tall in real life as he is in the films.
Jesus: Oh!

With that revelation Jesus hugged Lisa again and urged her to keep in touch. They carried on chatting as Lisa showed Jesus round her school and introduced him to Principle Skinner. After recess Lisa waved goodbye to Jesus at the school gates. 

*Despite being only 8 years old Lisa is a member of MENSA with an IQ of 159!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Homer Simpson is not Catholic nor Anglican, but he just might be an average American Christian

simpsons-16x21-bart-in-catholic-school-00031 “Few people know it, and he does everything to hide it. But it's true: Homer J. Simpson is Catholic,” declares the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano in an article titled “Homer and Bart are Catholics.” The article praises the show for including Catholic content like prayer before meals and belief in the afterlife. The newspaper cited a study by a Jesuit priest of a 2005 episode of the show called "The Father, the Son and the Holy Guest Star" (Season 16, Episode 21). His study concludes that "The Simpsons" is "among the few TV programs for kids in which Christian faith, religion and questions about God are recurrent themes." (Source material for this and the next two paragraphs taken from the many newspapers running this story right now, including The Toronto Star, The Telegraph, The Daily Mail Online and Entertainment Weekly.)

simpsons-16x21-bart-in-catholic-school-00032 The episode starts with Bart being expelled from Springfield Elementary School and being enrolled in a Catholic school where he meets a sympathetic priest, voiced by the actor Liam Neeson, who draws him into Roman Catholicism with his kindness. Then, Homer—wooed in part by the twin powers of pancake suppers and absolution of his sins—decides to convert to Catholicism, to the horror of his wife Marge, the Rev Lovejoy and Ned Flanders.

Liam Neeson as a priest, hearing confession with HomerIf you’re thinking that the crew who produces The Simpsons might respond swiftly to a Vatican newspaper declaring Homer and Bart to be Catholic, you’d be right! “My first reaction is shock and awe,” said Executive Producer Al Jean. “We've pretty clearly shown that Homer is not Catholic.” Jean explains, 'I really don't think he could go without eating meat on Fridays—for even an hour.” The executive producer pointed out that the Simpson family attends the First Church of Springfield ‘which is decidedly Presbylutheran.’ Regarding the episode in question, Jean pointed out that Homer and Bart only considered converting.

With the media running wild on this story, I guess no one bothered to actually read the whole article in L'Osservatore Romano which admits that Homer and Bart flirt with the idea of converting to Catholicism, and Homer makes an outrageous confession to Liam Neeson, but ultimately Homer decides against converting to Catholicism, uttering “a cathartic D'oh!”

Archbishop-Rowan-Williams-and-Homer-SimpsonPerhaps the Catholic newspaper was attempting to gain for the Roman Catholic Church some of the attention their rival, the Anglican Church, received three years ago when it endorsed The Simpsons. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, spoke of his admiration for The Simpsons and even compared himself to Homer Simpson—the resemblance is striking! In 2004, Williams was reported to have been approached to appear on the show. The Archbishop said that the show was “generally on the side of the angels and on the side of sense. It punctures lots of pompous fictions about how the world works.” The Church of England sent out a book called Mixing it up with The Simpsons to youth advisers in every diocese in the country. It urged youth workers to set up screens in their churches to show episodes of the world's most popular cartoon that deal with key Christian themes such as punishment,Homer-Simpson-donut love and the Second Coming.  (The book also suggested activities to challenge teenagers, like putting out an open box of donuts with a sign saying “Do not touch” to test whether they can resist temptation!) This is all quite interesting, but it’s also clear that Homer is no more an Anglican than he was a Catholic. (For more on this Anglican story, see The Daily Mail Online.)

Given that The Simpsons spans 22 seasons of episodes, it was a little unfair for the Jesuit study and Vatican newspaper to make observations based on only one episode! Looking at the show as a whole, what can we say about Homer Simpson’s take on Christianity? To answer that question, I’ll be draw extensively from an article by the sociologist (and dynamic evangelical speaker) Tony Campolo (his words will appear in italics).

homer-simpson-looking-up Campolo says that Homer is a great example what sociologists call folk religion. He is the kind of religious person who goes to church regularly, but is in reality more into a religio-magic belief system than into anything that resembles biblical Christianity. For Homer, God is like a parachute he hopes he never has to use, but he wants God to be there, just in case. When Homer is in deep trouble he turns to God and begs for miracles, but when miracles do happen, they do not make him into a man of faith or deep moral convictions. Once a crisis is passed, Homer’s thinking about God is over. God, for him, is somebody you bargain with in times of trouble, making all kinds of promises to change (which are never lived out), if God will just deliver on a needed miracle.

Many Christians find The Simpsons to be offensive and rude, insulting to their beliefs as Christians. I think they’ve misunderstood the nature of this show—it is a compelling satire of the culture in which we live—everything and anything can be a target of the scrutiny of humour. If we can properly understand the show as satire, the question becomes, What are we to make of Homer’s “faith”?

Here, Tony Campolo cautions us, do not go too hard on Homer Simpson because more people in our churches are where he is than any of us in the mainline denominations want to acknowledge.simpsons-in-church If you ask probing questions, you quickly will learn that most church members are into some form of religio-magic Christianity. For instance, I remember my Sunday School teacher telling me when I was a boy that, if I wanted my prayers to be answered, I had to make sure that I ended them with the right words—“In Jesus’ name, Amen.” Without that “magic” formula I was told I would be unlikely to get the desired results. My teacher led me to believe in a petty God who could look down on people who were begging for help and say, “I really would love to meet your needs, but you didn’t give your prayers the proper ending.”

  • God, for Homer, is a great big Santa Claus in the sky who gives people what they want if they just remember to state things with the right incantation.
  • Prayer, for Homer is not a time of intimate communion with God. Instead, it is something you do when you can’t get what you want on your own…
  • Church, for Homer, has nothing to do with the worship. Its value lies in the fact that it teaches moral lessons to his children. Homer wants his children in church every Sunday, not so much to express gratitude to God for the blessings of life, but to receive lectures about what is right and wrong. He believes, as do most people who are into the folk religion of our society, that those who learn from these moral lectures and do what is right will go to heaven, and that those others who on Judgment Day discover that the bad they have done outweighs the good, will go to hell (a fear that most people have).

President George Bush Sr., in 1992, made the surprising campaign pledge: “We’re going to keep trying to strengthen the American family, to make them more like the Waltons and less like the Simpsons.” Bush was not re-elected. Instead, Americans chose Bill Clinton, a man much closer in spirit to Homer Simpson than John Walton! We may laugh at Homer and we may think he’s getting dumber all the time, but I think most of us can identify with Homer Simpson, perhaps Tony Campolo more so than others. Tony-Campolo After all, Tony has two kids, named Lisa and Bart (I’m not kidding!) and he’s married to Margaret (no blue hair, so far as I know), not to mention that Tony did at one time have a striking resemblance to Homer! As an evangelical Christian, I find that The Simpsons provides me with a mirror that reflects my own religious life. When I make judgments about the inadequacies of their religiosity, I am sorry to say that they are often judgments of the ways in which I live out my own faith. Contrary to what some critics say, the Simpsons are basically a decent American family with good values. They go to church on Sunday. Homer and company triumphantly conquer the serious temptations of life, like adultery, and they even conquer some of the lesser sins, such as taking advantage of an illegal cable television hookup… This cartoon sitcom is supposed to be about an outrageous dysfunctional family in Middle America, but all too often I realize that it’s about me—and about my religious convictions and lifestyle. In one way or another, I find in the beliefs and behaviors of the Simpson characters, those same beliefs and behaviors that at one time or another have been evident in my own life. Both the hypocrisies and the virtues of the Simpson family and the other characters on the show are too often my own.

The-Gospel-According-to-The-Simpsons For more on Tony Campolo’s understanding of The Simpsons, see the Foreword he wrote for the book The Gospel According to The Simpsons by Mark Pinksy—which is also very good.

For a presentation of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis which I illustrated with pictures of Homer Simpson, please visit my Mere C.S. Lewis blog.

Be sure to return on Friday when a guest blogger will be presenting a Conversation between Jesus and Lisa Simpson.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Preaching according to the Waltons

I wanted to call this post The Gospel According to The Waltons, but I realized as powerful as this snippet is from that TV show, there’s so much more that could said about the way the good news is presented according to the Walton family. So maybe we’ll consider this to be a first installment of a book I may never get around to writing. What could I find so compelling about such an old TV show as to blog about it today? If you listen, you’ll hear John Walton dealing with one of the most persistent complaints we hear to this day: preachers / priests / church leaders are hypocrites who don’t practice what they preach.

“How’s my sermon?” asks the young preacher.

Jim Bob answers, “Scary.”

Moments later, John Walton gives the preacher a little advice, “Well far be it for me to tell you what to say, Reverend, but about the way you say it.  You see most folks around here aren’t used to being shouted at. And, um, a lot of us won’t understand some of the fancy language you’re using. I was just going to suggest that you say what you’re going to say, but a little simpler and easier, that’s all.” The preacher’s response is arrogant and condescending. Indeed, in both his reaction to Jim Bob’s “scary” assessment and to John Walton, the young preacher shows that he just doesn’t get it—he’s not connecting to real people.

bible-study The message must live in the preacher before it can be proclaimed. If our hope is that people will hear God speak to them through the preacher, then the preacher must have a Word-centered spirituality. Others may develop a spirituality which revolves around acts of compassion or service or worship or discernment, but preachers must have a Word-centred spirituality if they are to preach the Word with power. The Apostle Paul recounts how the Thessalonians “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven” (1 Thess 1:9-10, TNIV).  This happened, Paul explains, because “when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe” (1 Thess 2:13, TNIV). Through the preaching of the apostle, they heard God speak to them. The instructor of preaching instructors, Haddon Robinson, gives this working definition of preaching. Note how the Word must first be applied to the preacher:

Expository preaching is the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, then through the preacher, applies to the hearers. (Biblical Preaching 2nd ed., 21)

being steeped in the Word like tea Yes, the Word must be experienced before it is proclaimed. If not, it will probably just be words without power. C.S. Lewis compares our use of the Bible as if it were an encyclopedia giving us references to preach versus being steeped in the Word like tea, allowing it to gradually flavour us until we know it so well that we are able to speak its message. Shouting cannot make up for the lack of passion which comes from transformation.

This episode of Walton’s Mountain is not titled, “The Preacher,” it is in fact titled “The Sinner.” It’s definitely worth watching the rest, but in short, the preacher visits the Baldwin sisters which ultimately leads to a public display of drunkenness. His credibility is shot before he even preaches his first sermon. He later confesses to John and John Boy, “I recognize how hollow and righteous all my words were.” But it doesn’t end there. John helps him to discover that you preach from what God is doing in you. You preach authentically sharing from the Word as you’ve experienced it. That’s how preaching becomes solid, rather than hollow and self-righteous. Thanks to John, the young preacher does preach a powerful sermon at the end of the episode, but it sounds nothing like the practised message which Jim Bob said was “scary.”

acrylic lectern When I think of all the sermons I’ve heard in my life, there’s only been a few that changed me—just a few messages in which I heard God speaking to me in power, the Spirit enlightening me and Christ coming alongside me. Many times I’ve heard the preacher affirm the truth of God’s Word and I have responded to the Spirit’s prompting, but I long for those sermons in which the passion of the preacher is ignited and the powerful Word burns through the preacher like wildfire and I am transformed. What’s your experience been like in listening to preaching? Why not leave a comment and maybe tell us about the most powerful message you ever heard. How did you encounter God in that preaching and what happened to you as a result?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Jack Chick tracts: Are they an appropriate way for schoolchildren to share their Christian faith?

If you’ve read the previous post, you’ll know how this Grade 3 boy who has been eagerly sharing his Christian faith at his school in Halifax, Nova Scotia has been told to stop handing out Jack Chick tracts. The boy’s father, Sean Bonitto, is an evangelist who heads up International Deliverance Ministries and he commented on that previous post. He was concerned that I’m misrepresenting the message of the Jack Chick tracts. So I’ve proposed a short debate so that everyone can see and evaluate the arguments for and against the use of these Jack Chick tracts at schools. After viewing this updated report from Atlantic CTV News (Monday, Oct 4), Sean will give his Yes answer and then I will give my No answer to the question “Is passing out Jack T. Chick tracts an appropriate way for children to share their faith?”

So what do you think? (Leave a comment.)

Are Jack Chick tracts an appropriate way for schoolchildren to share their Christian faith?

Sean Bonitto, Evangelist 
(International Deliverance Ministries)

evangelist_sean_bonitto_the_reality_of_hell_part_2The Bible teaches us to, "...Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:15-16). The Lord Jesus Christ has commanded the true born again Christian to preach the gospel to every man woman and child, so that they can be saved from the damnation of an eternal hell (Matthew 25:41), by repenting of their sin, and believing and trusting the Lord Jesus Christ by faith alone for their salvation (John 3:16). 

As a result we must obey the clear teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ, by demonstrating the love of God for lost souls on their way to hell, through preaching the truth of the gospel to them, so that they can repent and be saved only through the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).hellfire The Bible says, love, "Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth" (1Corinthians 13:6). We do not in any way shape or form preach hatred to any one, but we do preach the truth in love against false teachings, ideologies, and philosophies that are used by Satan to damn precious souls to hell (1 Peter 5:8). The Bible commands us to, "... have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them " (Ephesians 5:11). The word “reprove” means to expose the darkness, sin and lies of Satan in order for mankind to see the light of the gospel, repent of their sin and be saved through faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 13:3; John 14:6).

As a result of the aformentioned commands from Holy Scripture and many other verses that I have mentioned (Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8; 1 Timothy 4:1-8), we must evangelize and preach against the false teachings of Islam, Roman Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Atheism, Homosexuality, Adultery, Fornication, Apostate lukewarm churches, etc, and all mankind that have not repented of their sin and warn them "to flee from the wrath to come" (Matthew 3:8) in hell, and how God has "commendeth his love"(Romans 5:8) to us by sending the Lord Jesus Christ to die on the cross to save all mankind from their sins, if we repent and trust Him by faith alone for our salvation (Luke 13:3; John 14:6). 

Reading-a-Jack-Chick-tractThe Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms section 2, and 15 give everyone the right to freedom of religion and expression and we are only demonstrating our Canadian rights by handing out gospel tracts and witnessing our Christian faith at a public school. The Chick tracts that are used are not so called "hate literature" at all, because they do not express hatred to anyone, but speak honestly against any teaching that violates and contradicts the Bible that has the potential of damning souls to hell, if one believes that false teaching, and dies in their sin without true repentance and faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21). Also for one to claim that they are "scaring" people to salvation or using "scare tactics" means that they either question the serious doctrine of eternal hell fire as recorded in the Bible (Mark 9:43-50), or they do not believe in a literal hell, and have aligned themselves with the false prophets of today who are proclaiming a false gospel (2 Timothy 4:1-4; Jude 3-4). 

Ken you have said, "Jack Chick hates Catholics, Jews and Muslims." This statement is absolutely not true and defamatory. Can you produce a Chick tract where he says this? He only speaks against the false doctrine or theology that these individuals adhere to that contradicts the teachings of the Bible, and that the Holy Scriptures teach that these false doctrines will send them to hell if they die rejecting the truth of the gospel (John 3:16; John 8:24; John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9).  How about this one, Sean? Jack says Jesus HATES this false religious system, ie. Roman Catholicism, "The Mother of Abominations" and "all those with her" -- sounds like HATE to me (tract: Are Roman Catholics Christians?) My Friend you also have made the comment that "Some of these Chick tracts have even been banned from distribution in Canada because they violate Canada's hate crime legislation" before doing proper research that this statement is not only misleading, but completely false due to the fact that Chick tracts have never been banned in Canada at any point in time. There was an RCMP investigation on some Chick comic books concerning Roman Catholicism in the 1980s where they concluded that it was not hate literature, and none of the tracts have every been banned. I hope you will clarify this fact with your readers To clarify, I clicked on Sean's link and it actually says, "Two of the books were banned from entry into Canada on instructions by a Director of Canada Customs and Excise on the grounds of 'immorality and indecency.' We challenged that... in Court and the order was rescinded."(see They can also call the Canadian distributor for Chick tracts in Canada (1-866-567-2700).

Ken Symes, Samaritan XP blogger

children-boarding-school-bus Jesus loves children. In the gospels, Jesus welcomes children, blesses them and rebukes adults who fail to see their importance (Matt 18:1-6; 19:13-15; Mark 9:33-36), but no where are we told that he scares the little children by telling them all about hell (n/a). And for that matter, does Jesus ever attempt to scare someone with the threat of hell so that they will chose to believe in him instead?

Seriously, does Jesus preach “turn or burn” as Jack Chick does? Do you remember the rich young ruler? Jesus said he would have to give away his money in order to receive eternal life and that’s not something the ruler could do so he walked away. How the story would’ve been different if only Jesus had thought to threaten the man with eternal hellfire, then maybe he would’ve changed his mind! That’s what Jack Chick would’ve done! Instead Mark 10:21 tells us that “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” Jesus tells three stories in Luke 15 to explain why he was welcoming sinners (instead of judging them like the Pharisees) and the answer is that they were lost and Jesus loved them. Jesus goes out at great risk to rescue, he searches diligently and he waits patiently, but no where does the chapter say that Jesus goes about telling people they’re going to hell unless they repent and believe. How about the despised tax collectors or the divorced Samaritan woman? Does Jesus warn them about hell in order to get them to repent and believe? Nope (Matthew 9:9-13; Luke 19:1-9; John 4:1-42). Jesus (as portrayed by Jim Caviezel) - pencil drawing by K Hinson

You see, Sean, as evangelists, as those called by God to share the good news, I believe we have a responsibility to learn from Jesus himself and to go about sharing the good news as Jesus shared it. Jack’s “turn or burn” approach to evangelism is not really based on the example of Jesus. And if I were to choose between following Jack or following Jesus, I will definitely choose Jesus. Of course, if we follow Jesus’ example, we might get the same reputation he had of being “a friend of ‘sinners’” (Matt 11:19) — I can’t imagine Jack Chick having that kind of reputation! Personally, I’m tired of too many of us in the church having a reputation of being self-righteous hypocrites. It’s time we tried to follow Jesus’ example.

Before you accuse me of rejecting the doctrine of hell, let me assure you that I believe in hell. Jesus teaches about it extensively, but my point is that unlike Jack Chick, Jesus never directly says to someone “Believe in me or you’ll go to hell.” His threats of hell seem to be reserved mostly for the self-righteous and to that end when you referred to Mark 9:43-50, you missed the first verse of that passage (42) which is the most relevant to our discussion: “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.” We need to be extra careful about the way we approach children with the good news. Jesus is pretty serious about this point and about the consequences of mistreating children.

In the Chick tract "Happy Halloween," Timmy is hit by a car while trick or treating. Don't you think this has the potential to give a child nightmares? I see no reason why we should be literally scaring the hell out of little children by showing them frightful depictions of hell, demons and Satan. I have no problem at all with children talking to children about their faith, but I would have a problem with someone giving my child one of these Jack Chick tracts. Page 1 of the Oops! tract shows a man dying from a speed overdose. I would not let my kids watch a TV show that started with a scene like that. It’s not that we’re sheltered; in fact, I’m involved in ministry to crack and drug addicts, but I see no reason why my children need to be exposed to such things at their age. More to the point, I think many children would be scared of Chick’s drawings of hell (pages 17-20 of Oops!). Read the comments to the previous post on this blog—you’ll see other parents agree with me. Don’t you care what they think?

Park-West-School I just don’t see how the issue at Park West School is about religious freedom. A parent complained about the violent nature of these tracts. Thus, the issue is whether it is appropriate to use Jack Chick tracts to scare the hell out of children so that they will accept Jesus. I wouldn’t want this to happen to my children and I am a Christian. As I demonstrated above, there is no indication in the gospels that Jesus ever scared children (or anyone else for that matter) with hellfire in order to get them to believe. Plus what other parents think matters to me. I, therefore, conclude that it is inappropriate to attempt to frighten children with the threat of going to hell and oppose the distribution of Jack Chick tracts to children.

In fairness to Sean, when i invited him to this debate, I told him he could have the last word. I have published his "rebuttal" or "last response" in the Comments section because we've already run quite long on this post and so much of his last submission seemed to demand a response from me so I thought I could handle this easier in the comments. I trust that he will accept this as the editorial discretion of the blogger.


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