Friday, July 08, 2022

Loved by Strangers: A Testimony Done Right

In evangelicalism, we have a bit of a weird tradition. I've heard special speakers in church and read books that follow this pattern. Someone will share a testimony, the story of God's grace in their life, which goes into gory detail about their sinful and messed-up life prior to their encounter with Jesus, with greater and greater drama up to and through their conversion, and then pretty much finish up with, "And then I lived happily ever after."

This pattern has long seemed weird to me. It gives the strong impression that the most interesting and compelling part of anyone's life is the BC—Before Christ—part. It's hard not to get the idea that the listeners or readers are getting a vicarious thrill out of hearing the down-and-dirty parts of someone's life, and then get to feel okay about it as long as the message is that sin doesn't pay and Jesus can redeem everyone. It can also make someone like me, who never had a "past" in the way people talk about that, feel like they have a second-class testimony. 

Monday, August 12, 2019

Facebook Pie

     (Apologies to Don McLean)

A long, long time ago
I can still remember how
Facebook would make me smile
And I hoped I could find a way
That I could make somebody's day
And maybe they'd be happy for a while

But then the site would make me shiver
With every meme it would deliver
Sad news on my laptop
I always hoped it would stop

I don't know when I felt the need
To get a handle on my feed
Seems like it went all to seed
The day that Facebook died

So why, why Mr. Zuckerburg, why?
I'd like to fix it 'cause I miss it but I'm just a small fry
And monetization is what makes it all fly
Maybe this'll be the day Facebook dies
This'll be the day Facebook dies

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

The Purpose of Marriage

The following post is excerpted from the chapter, "The Purpose of Marriage," in my book, Marriage, Family, and the Image of God.

At some point, all the practical questions about marriage find their basis in the central question of what marriage is supposed to be all about. One might think that we should begin with that question, but in reality none of us do. Ask most couples when they’re about to get married, and they will tell you that they’re getting married because “We’re in love.” Doubtless at the time, that is true. Ask a couple on the verge of divorce why they got married in the first place, and sometimes they’ll say the same thing, and say that later on they fell out of love. If they’re being sincerely reflective, though, they’ll acknowledge ulterior motives. She wanted to get out of her parents’ house and couldn’t afford to be on her own. He wanted sex, and for religious or other reasons didn’t want simply to sleep around. She wanted the security of a committed relationship. He was afraid he was going to lose her if he didn’t lock in the relationship with a ring. She hadn’t had a lot of guys interested in her, and felt that this was the best she could do. He had been scared to death of marriage, until he ended up being more scared of ending up alone. She wanted children and didn’t want to raise them alone. There are a multitude of reasons. Feel free to swap the pronoun genders around: none of these reasons are specific to men or to women in particular.

So which is true? The romantic version at the time, or the jaded version from years later? Most likely, both are. People are complex beings, and we all have ulterior motives, whether we think we do or not. It doesn’t make the love we feel at the time any less real.

But the important issue is not what we think marriage is all about. Rather, it’s what does God think marriage is all about? Why did he create marriage? What is it for? How is it supposed to function in our lives?

Sunday, January 07, 2018

New Analysis of Building a Discipling Culture

Little did I know back in 2013, when I wrote a brief review of Building a Discipling Culture by Mike Breen, that it would spark such a response. I could describe it here, but if you don't already know what I'm talking about, just go to the link above and check out the comment section. I have been grateful that that post has served as a meeting place for so many people who have been adversely affected by their churches adopting 3DM principles.

I have written, both in a newsletter and in another post, that I haven't written anything else on the subject largely because I have little else to say. However, I have had profitable correspondences with others who do have a lot to say. One of these is Michael Irwin, who has written an excellent, detailed commentary on Building a Discipling Culture, describing the weaknesses and dangers, as he sees them, of Breen's approach. It is my honor and pleasure to make his commentary available to anyone who would like to read it. You may download it by clicking this link.

While the work is entirely Mr. Irwin's, he has kindly given me the opportunity to review earlier drafts of this work, and cited some comments I made in our correspondence. I concur wholeheartedly with his assessment. He correctly
  • refutes Breen's insistence on a new "discipling language"; 
  • points out the problematic nature of populating "huddles" with "persons of peace" who are unlikely to challenge the content of what they are receiving (and are required to commit, before they know what they are into, to participating over an extended period of time and starting their own huddles); and
  • challenges the exegesis by which Breen claims biblical basis for the principles BADC advocates, especially Breen's use of "Covenant" and "Kingdom" as the key concepts for interpreting scripture as a whole.
If you have concerns about 3DM, or even if you are a 3DM advocate and wonder what the problem is, I invite you to download this commentary.

In addition, once the comments on my brief commentary exceeded 300, the limits of my Blogger platform began to be apparent, and it is now difficult to access the more recent comments. Therefore, I invite everyone who would like to continue the conversation to migrate over here.

Once again, many thanks to Mr. Irwin for his dedicated work on this commentary.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Santa Claus and Schrödinger's Cat

One of the frequent arguments against the existence of Santa Claus is the question, "How could he possibly make it to every home throughout the whole world in one night?"

At last, quantum physics gives us the answer.

Many are familiar with the thought experiment known as "Schrödinger's cat," as well as Heisenberg's uncertainty principle and the so-called "observer effect." German theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg demonstrated in 1927 that both the speed and position of an elementary particle could not be determined at the same time. Related to this was the observer effect, in which observation of a phenomenon necessarily changes that phenomenon. Based on these developments, the so-called Copenhagen interpretation of quantum phenomena was based on probability: one could not predict the position of a particular quantum particle at a particular time; the best one could do would be to predict the probability of it being in a certain region. Prior to being measured, the particle could not be said to be in any definite position; measuring where the particle is causes a phenomenon known as "wave function collapse," causing the particle to occupy a specific position.

In response to this interpretation, Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger devised his famous cat experiment in 1935. He imagined a closed and opaque box containing a cat (alive when placed in the box), a vial of gaseous poison, and a triggering mechanism which breaks open the vial when a single radioactive atom decays. The decay of an individual atom cannot be predicted--only the half-life, during which half of the atoms in a given sample will have decayed, can be known. For that reason, one cannot know exactly when the mechanism is triggered, and therefore when the gas is released, and therefore whether the cat is alive or dead. According to the Copenhagen interpretation, the cat in the box is both alive and dead simultaneously until someone opens the box to find out.

Until now, no one has thought to apply this logic to the behavior of Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Parenthood: Prepare for Chaos

The following post is excerpted from the chapter, "Prepare for Chaos," in my book, Marriage, Family, and the Image of God.

We all know them. The people who make statements that begin with, “When I have kids….” Like, “When I have kids, they’re going to be well-behaved.” Or, “When I have kids, I’m not going to allow them to make a mess of the house.” Or, “When I have kids, they’re never going to [insert behavior that the person has just observed and is particularly irritated by at the moment].”

Best not to get bent out of shape about statements like that. Best just to nod and smile and wait for the day when they find out….

Three Young Boys and a Library

I have a personal library that contains several shelves of books, developed while going to school to study English literature and theology. Yes, this all happened before you could get a whole library onto a tablet.

I used to like organizing my books. Fiction arranged alphabetically by author’s name and then by book title. Nonfiction arranged by category. It’s not that I’m an organizational nut. Far from it. Ask my parents about my room when I was a kid. But I liked being able to find specific books pretty easily, and I liked how it looked. Publishers often give books from a single author a similar cover and spine, so putting them together makes it look like they fit. It’s not so random.

So along came Daniel, my firstborn, and although having a baby changes your life immediately—because suddenly you’re responsible for this new life who can’t do anything for himself yet, and he’s crying and waking you up in the middle of the night—your life is changed, but your baby is still contained: contained to a crib, a car seat, a stroller. You, as parents, are still more or less in control. For the moment.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Archie Bunker Effect; or, The Main Mistake Christians Make when Engaging with the World

I grew up watching All in the Family. (Yes, I'm that old.)

All in the Family was an American sitcom that aired in the 1970s. It revolved around the Bunker family: Archie, the loudmouthed, bigoted father; Edith, his dimwitted but goodhearted wife; Gloria, his married daughter; and Michael, Gloria's opinionated, liberal husband. Michael and Gloria lived with Archie and Edith because Michael was in college and unemployed. In the close quarters, Archie and Michael frequently squared off regarding controversial political and social topics.

That was the point of the show. All in the Family was the liberal Norman Lear's vehicle for propagating his views. While Michael was mocked as "Meathead" by Archie, he was actually the mouthpiece for Lear's progressive social and political views. The staging and the dialogue were brilliant. Archie would usually "win" his arguments, but only because he was so stubborn that he would come up with ridiculous rationalizations that no one but he could possibly find convincing. Michael would give up in frustration over Archie's obtuseness, only to fight again another day.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Well-Researched 3DM Warning

About a year and a half ago, I published a book review on Mike Breen's book, Building a Discipling Culture. This was in response to my own experience in a church that was adopting the 3DM discipleship strategy, and the flaws I saw in the exegesis and methodology I found in the book.

The book review lay dormant and, as I thought, forgotten for five months, when I began getting comments that turned out to be related to the struggles of North Heights Lutheran Church in Arden Hills, Minnesota. Comments began to pour in, and at the present time, there are 400 comments on that post, far more than on any other post on this blog--despite the fact that Blogger has problems dealing with more than 200 comments (go down to the bottom and click on where it says "Loading..." to access the more recent comments). In order to foster discussion, I've attempted to play the part of more-or-less impartial moderator (although I clearly have my own opinion). People on both sides have gotten angry at me, so I guess I've done my job reasonably well. :-)

It should be clear at this point that I have chosen not to capitalize on the success of that post by making this an "anti-3DM" blog. I have different interests, and my hope is that some people who find this blog by searching for things related to 3DM will be interested in some of the other things I am interested in.

But I have to break my silence. Bob Highlands from Sonrise Church has done extensive research into 3DM and has an excellent series of posts on his website documenting aspects 3DM. The series of three posts can be accessed from this page. In my opinion, the best of the three posts is the second one, in which Bob breaks down the main exegetical and doctrinal issues besetting 3DM. Bob writes from the doctrinal position of the Church of God, Anderson, Indiana, but most of his arguments can be appreciated from any evangelical position. Incidentally, Bob quotes me at one point, and I fully support and agree with his use of that quote.

Check out Bob's well-researched piece, and thanks to all the commenters who played a part in aiding Bob in that research.

Note (January 7, 2018): I've posted a link to an excellent in-depth commentary on Building a Discipling Culture at I also invite any discussion of 3DM to migrate over to the comments section of that post.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Christian Married Sexuality (part 2)

The following post is adapted from the chapter, "Sexuality," from my book, Marriage, Family, and the Image of God. 

Check out Part 1 of this series by clicking here.

Sex and the Christian Marriage

The previous post of course leads to the question: what is healthy sexuality in marriage? A favorite text that seems to address this topic is Hebrews 13:4, which reads in the King James Version, “Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.” This looks like an endorsement of marriage itself and of married sexuality (take that, Jerome!), and I recall having heard a number of sermons that focused on this endorsement as an affirmation of the goodness and rightness of married sex. Not only that, but it was pretty much interpreted to mean that anything goes within the marriage relationship. Married couple in bedNonetheless, contextual indicators lead most modern translations and commentators to take the passage as an imperative: “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (NIV). While this is doubtless the correct translation, it reopens the question of what keeps the marriage bed pure. Is an undefiled marriage bed one in which sexuality is restricted only to procreation? Is it one in which only the missionary position is used? Is there stuff that’s allowable and stuff that isn’t for a married couple?

Those looking for specific techniques and detailed strategies will have to go to other writers. However, the immediate context seems to spell out the intent of the author of Hebrews: what would defile the marriage bed is adultery and sexual immorality. That is to say, it wasn’t anything happening between the married partners, but rather when one of the partners committed infidelity of some sort. The kinds of things that defile the marriage bed are the same kinds of things that eventually lead to permissible divorce and remarriage, according to Jesus. When the author of Hebrews says that the “marriage bed [should be] kept pure,” he essentially means to keep other people out of it. (tweet this)

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Christian Married Sexuality (part 1)

The following post is adapted from the chapter, "Sexuality," from my book, Marriage, Family, and the Image of God.

On the evening when Cecile first came to church with me, a group of us went out afterward to a Big Boy restaurant. Pastor Bill, our College and Career pastor, came out to eat with us—probably to get to know Cecile better and witness to her—and sat down with Cecile, me, and my best friend Dave. He was asking her questions, and I was mostly nervously listening. I didn’t really know this woman all that well, although I knew enough to know she was liable to say anything. I felt that whatever she said would reflect on me, even though it wasn’t as though we were dating or anything.

After learning about her background, her divorce, and the loss of her children, Pastor Bill asked her, “So have you ever thought about becoming a Christian?”

“Well, I did for a while, but then I heard that you had to give up sex, so I thought, Forget that!”

picture of nervously biting lip
Dave snorted Coke out of his nose, and I started slinking under the table. Pastor Bill didn’t miss a beat, though. He simply replied, “Well, that is an obstacle for a lot of people. What you have to decide is, what’s more important?”

Cecile didn’t betray that Pastor Bill was getting to her, but she went home thinking about the conversation, and within a week, she had given her life to Jesus. That was to be the beginning of living celibate for two years before we got married.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Finding "The Right One"

The following post is excerpted from the chapter, "Finding the Right One" in my book, Marriage, Family, and the Image of God.

The question of whether we married “the right person” hinges on a very faulty and foolish view of marriage. According to this view, God has planned out one and only one perfect person for you, and you need to find that person or your life will be a living hell from that moment on. Everything hinges on that choice.

Is it any wonder that young people are so freaked out by the prospect of marriage?

What this leads to is a very selfish view of what finding a spouse is like. Singles evaluate one another based on how well they think that other person is going to meet their needs, wants, desires, and ambitions. Everyone is trying to find the “right person” for themselves, and no one is trying to become the right person for someone else.(Tweet this!) When we expect someone else to meet all of our needs, hopes, and dreams, we set that person up for failure. No human being can fulfill us in that way. Meanwhile, while we’re constructing the pedestal for someone else to fall off of, we’re also short-circuiting the process by which God might be trying to tell us that our perceived needs, ambitions, dreams, and goals could be wrong. Why should we bother changing these expectations—or even evaluating them to see if they need to change—if the real problem is that we just haven’t found the Right Person to meet them yet?

We’re creating an idol out of that person—whether it’s someone we think we’ve already met, or whether they’re still just a figment of our imagination whom we’re sure is out there, somewhere. We’re putting them in the place of God. When a real person occupies that space, they can’t possibly live up to our pre-made image of them.

Friday, May 01, 2015

All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Evangelicalism

For all you post-Evangelicals out there, Matthew Milliner writes an engaging piece on First Things entitled "All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Evangelicalism." Milliner makes the case that the roots of "shallow" Evangelicalism run deep. Check it out.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Feed My Sheep

There is really some excuse for the man who said, "I wish they'd remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep; not Try experiments on my rats, or even, Teach my performing dogs new tricks."
--CS Lewis, Letters to Malcolm

Jesus' charge to Peter, recalling him to ministry when Peter seems to have been bent on returning to his life of fishing, was to feed his sheep. It was a crucial moment - Peter seems to have been on the verge of throwing in the towel on the idea of ministry, having failed so badly in denying Jesus. Jesus repeatedly asks Peter if he loves him; Peter keeps insisting that he does. And Jesus' response to him is "Feed my lambs," "Tend my sheep," "Feed my sheep."

It's not enough to say that you love me, Peter. I'm not finished with you. I have a job for you to do. I need you to take care of my sheep.

Jesus' words hearken back to John 10, where he proclaims that he is the good shepherd. He talks about his sheep knowing his voice, and about laying down his life for his sheep. What he doesn't talk about in either John 10 or John 21 is breeding sheep. He doesn't talk about using sheep to get more sheep. He doesn't talk about expanding the flock. He does talk about bringing in the "other sheep that are not of this fold" - presumably, in historical context, those Gentiles who would trust in him. But his focus, especially when talking to Peter, is on care for the sheep.

There was nothing romantic, in Jesus' day, about caring for sheep. Nothing glamorous. It was a dirty, unskilled job that left one ceremonially unclean all the time. It was a humble occupation.

Caring for God's people - which is what Jesus was charging Peter with doing - is still a humble occupation. It's messy and difficult and frustrating, and it's unsurprising that so many pastors strain against it. We're told that the most effective form of church leadership is not to be a shepherd, but rather a rancher. This accords well with the American idea that bigger is always better, that the only alternative to growth is stagnation, and with the romantic idea of the cowboy on the lone prairie. It just doesn't accord all that well with Scripture, especially with Jesus' charge to Peter.

What I most object to about the rancher model is not that things like hospital ministry and counseling can be done by people other than the pastor, or that people's gifts should be encouraged so that the body ministers to the body. These things I strongly agree with. What I object to is the focus of ministry leadership being continually outward. 

If you want to get needs met by the church world today, the best place you can possibly be is outside it. Be a prospect, not one of the faithful. The faithful are there to bring more people in, not to have their own needs met. That's the way it is, out on the ranch.

Somehow, that doesn't match what Jesus said about the world recognizing us as being his disciples because we love one another. Or what Acts says about the early believers providing for one another's needs, not as an outreach effort to those on the outside, but out of mutual love. And it doesn't match Jesus' simple command to Peter:

Feed my sheep.

If you like this post, you may be interested in my book, What's Wrong with Outreach?

What's Wrong with Outreach?

Saturday, March 14, 2015

New distribution for Marriage, Family, and the Image of God

I'm happy to report that my book, Marriage, Family, and the Image of God, is now available for the Apple universe on iTunes, as well as in ePub format at Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and other online retailers.

It's also still available for Kindle on Amazon, and as a paperback at CreateSpace, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other retailers.

If you're interested in the big picture of what marriage and family are all about, and if you're interested in seeing how that connects with us being created in God's image, please check it out! And if you like it, please post an honest review on the site where you purchased it. That would really do a lot to help me spread the word. Thanks!

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Fivefold ministry paper on the Studies page

I've collected a series of four posts on the so-called "fivefold" ministries of Ephesians 4:11 into one paper on the Studies page. The original posts are still some of the most frequently accessed on this blog. I hope they're a blessing to people collected together. Check it out.