Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Reformation Sunday and a Polka

          Today we honor the 495th anniversary of the debut of the 95 Theses, a courageous and necessary defense of the authority of Scripture, the priority of biblical faith and the beauty of God's grace. Martin Luther, a flawed but brave saint, posted these theses against a Truth-less world with powerful, corrupted and legalist churches.
          In grad school, I learned of a clever song about the life of Martin Luther and the theological significance of the Reformation . . . to the tune of Mary Poppins' "Supercalifragilisticexpalidocious." I actually sang it in church for an evening service (see above) a few years ago. Below is a video of a recording of the song, but my musical interpretation was much more polka-oriented.
          Remember: sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia!


Monday, October 29, 2012

Nicolas Cage in a Reboot "Left Behind"?

Nicolas Cage in "Knowing," another film
involving world cataclysm
          It appears to be true. And just when I thought I had seen all possible and surprising ventures in the currently-explored concept of "Christian film." Let's admit it. It's already been an interesting year with Courageous, Blue Like Jazz, October Baby, Hellbound? and 2016: Obama's America, a diverse group of films in which (at least a portion of) the Christian community has presented itself in movie theaters. But a new Left Behind with Nicolas Cage? I didn't see this coming. At all.
          I don't know what's more surprising about this venture. That it involves an eschatological drama which, I think, has long lost its box office appeal (except for some seminary students) even without supernature or the Christian God in the script (e.g. The Day After Tomorrow, 2012), or that it involves Nicolas Cage, who's a bit of a different person altogether than Kirk Cameron. In addition, we're in a very politically-charged time when the relationship between faith and politics is very unstable. Not sure what could be accomplished by an intense cinematic reminder of potential chaos from above.
          It's a curious venture. I think it's got a few strikes against it, and few publications (Christian or otherwise) seem to be taking the concept seriously. But then again, I've been surprised before.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Hyphen: Growing in Modern Christian Jargon?

          Christian jargon (sometimes known as “Christianese”) continues to change due to trends in the culture and the church. While some terms that smack of old revivalism, fundamentalism or kitsch are fading into non-use, one trend of Christian jargon is becoming more and more popular. This trend isn’t a word. It’s a punctuation mark: the hyphen.
          When you read visionary blogs or books that speak about an overarching philosophy of ministry for the future, you’ve no doubt seen a few hyphens (e.g. “Christ-centered” or “Gospel-driven”). So many visions are -based, -grounded, -driven, -centered, and -empowered while leaders are re-ing and pre-ing everything as well. If one could make hyphens for a living, people would dash to fill out an application.
          How did it start? Some say with the popularity of “faith-based” initiatives in Washington early in George W. Bush’s term. Others point to popular books (that are actually inconsistent with their use of the hyphen) such as Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life or C.J. Mahaney’s Cross Centered Life.
          So, is this phenomenon of the frequent use of hyphens in Christian jargon only a grammatical fad, loved by some and annoying to others? Or is the hyphen doing well in an attempt to replicate the complicated compound words and terms explained well by Koine Greek conjugations, participles, etc. in the epistles of the New Testament?
          Only usage in context and time will tell, folks. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Misunderstood Bible Verse: “I Can Do Everything Through Christ. . .”

          And Abraham Lincoln and the NFL. That's a peculiarly cool subtitle, but it's too long to put up top.
          Anywho, I distinctly remember that, in 5th grade at my Christian grammar school, we learned about Abraham Lincoln’s quote where he expressed that his “constant anxiety and prayer” was not that God was on his side, but that he was on God’s side. The details of that quote and the faith of Abraham Lincoln are more complicated, but, even as a 5th grader, I understood the distinction. Desiring God to be on your side likely displays a desire for militant strength and victory, whereas desiring to be on God’s side likely shows a humble willingness to subject (and maybe even sacrifice) your cause to biblical standards. God isn’t a supernatural vending machine.
          I bring this up because a few popular Bible verses, even in Christian children’s literature, might need a little bit more context so that more kids understand the aforementioned distinction as did Lincoln (e.g. VeggieTales smartly explained the context of Matthew 19:26b). The most popular of these verses is Philippians 4:13 - “I can do everything through him [Christ] who gives me strength.”   
          This verse is often taken out of context to lead readers to believe that God may (or sometimes will always) empower His follower to miraculous victories over circumstances, as long as said follower has “enough faith” and “righteous motive.” That idea (only using the word “may”) is somewhat biblical, but it’s going a bit human-centered. One sign of the popularity of this misconception is a recent article in the Huffington Post that listed religious players in the NFL. Its catchy Tweet? Something along the lines of “Which NFL teams have God on their side?”
          The truth is that God strengthens us for what He desires us to accomplish for His will. The apostle Paul wrote that verse while in prison, awaiting trial on an appeal to Emperor Nero. He was writing to the churches in Philippi (churches whose work he was pleased with) and thanking them for sending him support of finances, food and prayers to God on his behalf. So, after thankfulness, when Paul reminds them that he can do “everything” through Christ’s strengthening, the “everything” refers to what God desires of him: his nomadic mission work. Which involved a lot of pain, strain, and sacrifice of all forms. It wasn’t a creative self-prescribed venture to which Paul was long emotionally-attached.
          Thus, let’s not run to Philippians 4:13 to ask for God’s power for a cause or venture that we haven’t necessarily thought or prayed through. Let’s seek to first know God’s will and desire for our earthly life and mission. We know what Paul’s “everything” was for which Christ strengthened him. What’s in the “everything” for which Christ will strengthen you?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Politics is Not a Cure-All

          Stumbled upon this article from Tullian Tchividjian this morning. Some good points that we're remember this election season. Political stake is just one way (and not the primary way) to positively change hearts and edify a society. We're to do more than vote our values.
          "Virtually every social scientist that I’ve ever talked to agrees that what happens in New York (finance), Hollywood (entertainment), Silicon Valley (technology), and Miami (fashion) has a far greater impact on how our culture thinks about reality than what happens in Washington, DC (politics). It’s important for us to understand that politics are reflective, not directive. That is, the political arena is the place where policies are made which reflect the values of our culture—the habits of heart and mind—that are being shaped by these other, more strategic arenas."

          You can read the rest here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Update in Clapping Ministry Leadership

          Indeed, one facet of worship leadership that is overlooked is how to functionally lead the congregation in clapping along. Jon Acuff had some good thoughts on that on Stuff Christians Like.
          I'm thankful that I have vocalists (and even some willing instrumentalists!) in my church to help me out, as I can relate to the worship leader's limitations with this issue.
          I can only be tongue-in-cheek for so long. Enjoy the article!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Friday, October 19, 2012

Friday Fun: Batman Uses iPhone 5

          I do not own an iPhone 5, but from I've heard, the "Apple Maps" app isn't getting rave reviews. Hence this clever video.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Contemporary Atheism is Optimistic?

          Stumbled over this in the Huffington Post a few days ago. There's some points in I had never thought of, pertaining to how I can be more Christ-like to the atheist and to the addict on the street.

          "Contemporary atheism is optimistic. Given its wall-to-wall phalanx of writers hell-bent on mocking everything that smells of religion, it may seem that this label is ill-applied. Yet under its bluster and iconoclasm atheism is full of good cheer and high spirits. Anyone who knows an actual atheist knows this."          

          You can read the rest here.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Columnist Reviews "Christian Art"

          Many of us Christians involve ourselves in philosophy-of-the-arts conversations, unknowingly. We do when we discuss questions like "What is a Christian film?" and "What is a Christian band?" These aren't new conversations. In fact, they're probably only old conversations, as my estimate is that most (both Christians and otherwise) have subscribed to Tolstoy's view of art when it comes to what makes art "Christian": effective communication of the artist's desired emotional message. Add to Tolstoy's view the frequent set function for indoctrination. This is why much "Christian" art, no matter how technically efficient, remains in subculture.
           This is why I found it interesting that a review of "Christian art" found its way from the Houston Chronicle all the way to the Huffington Post. It's conversations like these between Christians, artists and combinations thereof, discussing the depth of Scripture, literature and beauty, that worship and discipleship can happen in unexpected ways.

Friday, October 12, 2012

What Does "Community Church" Mean to You?

          There are plenty of true stories of wisdom and/or hilarity to be told about naming a church. I've heard a few of them in person from friends who have started churches. But I was thinking this morning about a common term used in church names: community.
          It's fairly popular. Some of the biggest churches in the nation use it. It's mostly used by non-denominational churches, but some denominations have used it as well, leaving the name of their denomination itself as a subtitle.
          But what does it mean to you? No, I'm not looking to re-name my church or start a church plant. I really want you to consider that question. It's actually multiple-choice. I once trained under a church planter leader that challenged me with this question.
          Does the word "community" in a church title mean "there's community within"? That, if you join this church, you'll be part of an intimate and loving community, despite diversity, etc.? Or, does it mean "this is a church for the community"? As to say that this specific church was built for the specific purpose of serving and showing Truth, love and charity to this specific, God-loved regional "community," not just the people that regularly come into its doors?
          Sadly, I (and a lot of Christians and otherwise, I'm afraid) have thought only the former. Church unity and community is great, but let's not forget our biblical mission.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Update: More Evidence That "Gospel of Jesus's Wife" a Forgery

          I wrote about this earlier, but I feel this update deserved a new post. Recently, Karen King, a professor at Harvard Divinity School, was investigating the authenticity of a donated ancient fragment (supposedly from the second century) that has a text of someone named Jesus saying, "My wife . . .", surrounded by many other biblical terms.
          The Huffington Post and CNN jumped all over the catchy headlines involving Jesus having a wife, wondering -curiously- more so about the implications on women's church leadership and a few other politically-charged but biblically-peripheral issues rather than, perhaps, the accuracy of the Bible itself. Not surprisingly, their coverage of "The Gospel of Jesus's Wife" dwindled as the fragment in question went off to Rome and other scholarly circles to have its authenticity examined, perhaps leaving many questions and doubts in the minds of their readers.
          However, a cousin seminarian of mine "re-tweeted" an article from a Duke professor, one of the many in the scholarly circles examining "The Gospel of Jesus's Wife," and his article has many valid points about its likely modern forgery.
          You can read about it here.  

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

LeCrae's Testimony on "I Am Second"

          This testimony has been on cyberspace for a year, but I thought I'd post it in light of LeCrae's rise in recognition. Check it out on the main site here. It's part testimonial monologue and part rap. All awesome. As I wrote before, I should really learn more about Christian rap/hip-hop.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Balanced and Mostly Well-Informative: a Review of Matt Chandler's "The Explicit Gospel"

          What, exactly, is the Gospel? In electronics stores, it's a genre of music. In bookstores, it's sometimes an adjective to advertise truthfulness (e.g. 5 Gospel Truths of Wedding Cakes!). To many of our country's non-churchgoers, it's a message that's little-to-none on the theological and plenty on the political and applicational. Matt Chandler and Jared Wilson are concerned that, whether because of consumerist tendencies or the proverbial slippery slope, unchurched (and even churched) people are not understanding the basic Gospel and the tenets of Christian theology. And this is true even though we can soon (if not already) be culturally classified as a post-Christian society. Hence this book, The Explicit Gospel, which is primarily written for ministry leaders (it's not a modern evangelistic tract).
          On the cover, Explicit Gospel boasts fairly diverse recommendations, including D. A. Carson, Rick Warren and David Platt. In the introduction, Chandler does well to articulate the concern of Gospel illiteracy, almost to a disturbing level, and introduces us to what's known as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, a biblically-bankrupt belief system of self-sufficiency and self-importance that's unknowingly held by many churchgoers who have long been a part of ministries that have caved to our culture of consumerism. Chandler goes on to overview the structure of their explanation of the explicit gospel by creatively establishing two categories: "on the ground" (the Gospel's pertinence in human lives) and "in the air" (its pertinence everywhere else).
          In Part 1, "The Gospel on the Ground," Chandler does well to explain the sheer grandeur of God's sovereignty and essence, also exegetically and creatively (discussing the importance of owning cows, 23). He challenges Christians not to be afraid of truth, giving a nod to Arthur Holmes' timeless (in my opinion) quote: "All truth is God's truth." Moving on to "Man," he first argues that all of humanity is created to worship something, and curiously transitions to strongly note the "severity of God" (40), namely, God's wrath (might this section belong in the previous chapter?). Chandler rightfully argues that the wrath of God has been downplayed, perhaps a key component on the road to Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. He isn't for scaring people into faith with hellfire and brimstone, but he maintains that downplaying God's wrath doesn't give a complete picture of God.  It can help to fill the pews, though, so Chandler goes on to challenge Christian leaders not to expect ministerial success or measure it by the tangibles (e.g. attendance, budget, community impact), rather to be faithful to the Word you're preaching. (However, this doesn't take away our practical obligation to be communicative with the Gospel, and hope and pray for God's masterful involvement). 
          In the "Christ" chapter of Part 1, Chandler first goes to the work of the cross, curiously making a brief stop to the theological ramifications of Christ's on-the-cross quote of Psalm 22, and then (perhaps going a little denominational) stating that Christ's death was planned by God since "the beginning of time (57)." But then, Chandler gets to, arguably, the beef of the Gospel: the Doctrine of Atonement. And he argues that the work of Christ on the cross, though graphic and potentially offensive (giving a nod to the penal substitution view), should be central, not the Calvinist's TULIP or the Charismatic's Pentecost celebration. Adding on to his aforementioned challenge to ministry leaders, his "Response" chapter reminds us that the Gospel demands response from our born-sinful souls, and it, simply, will soften some and harden others. We should not add church practice, no matter how biblical, to Gospel truth.
          Part 2, "The Gospel in the Air," tackles an area that you don't often see: the Gospel's work outside of human transformation. Chandler starts explaining Scripture's storyline in commonly-used set of four stages:  Creation, Fall, Reconciliation, Consummation. In the "Creation" chapter, he admits his agnosticism with the inconsistency of science (92) in comparison with the constancy and the glorious Creator-hood of God.  He transitions into the "Fall" chapter with a true story of a mid-sermon debate with his congregation on Pelagianism.  Chandler then portrays the Fall as a loss of shalom, making references to Ecclesiastes and, creatively, to pop culture (e.g. Adam Sandler and Justin Bieber). In the "Reconciliation" chapter, he does well to explain the work of Christ on the cross as also "super-personal (136)," applying it to the Great Commission in what's perhaps the best portrayal of a biblically-balanced missional mindset that I've read (145-52). Chandler then starts off the "Consummation" chapter with his previous reluctance to eschatology, but he encourages us with the glorious aspects of the heavenly afterlife.
          Not contributing to what Ed Stetzer (rightfully, I'll add) calls an "application deficit" in the Church, Chandler has a section entitled "Implications and Applications." He introduces the proverbial slippery slope, and speaks against the privatization and non-application of doctrine and general complacency. To be fair, Chandler warns of the loss of doctrinal Truth and values and general evangelism should the Gospel spend too much time "in the air."
          However, I think Chandler should have picked a different example of how the Church shouldn't cave to culture other than women's ordination. What about the ordination of openly practicing homosexuals, the luxurious amenities in church facilities, worship services for dogs, or any downplay or omission of the very tenets of the explicit Gospel that he just explained?  I'm no advocate for egalitarianism, but in my opinion, these are more unanimous and urgent examples of churches caving to culture and potentially compromising biblical guidelines, but Chandler's choice of example could cause wrongful and denominational division among his readers as some would argue that he cheapened the knowledge of non-complementarian biblical historians.
          But, in "moralism and the Cross," Chandler really brings it home with a powerful testimony of his church upbringing and an experience he had trying to evangelize to a good friend.  He calls us all to remember the Gospel and giving a "grace-driven" effort, proclaiming and living the explicit Gospel.  The appendix acts as an extended book recommendation.
          Whenever I'm reading a book with an explicitly apodictic mission statement (such as this one), my denominational radar goes up.  Aside from a few nods to traditional Reformed theology, this book is very well balanced.  However, I finished with a few questions:
          Specific application.  I understand and wholeheartedly agree that biblical literacy, especially the explicit Gospel, should be at the heart of all the Church does, doing away with any type of Bible-less, consumer-based message of pop psychology.  However, how exactly is this executed when altar calls and most-to-all forms of revivalism are no longer showing to be as effective in evangelism?
          Secondly, is it possible to go from a Gospel-centered ministry to a Gospel-only ministry?  This question was on the back-burner of my mind when I reviewed John Piper's Bloodlineswhen he addressed the sinfulness of racism only using one story from the book of Luke and a Calvinist's interpretation of the Doctrine of Atonement, while the rest of the Gospels and the entire Bible have so much more to offer on the subject.  In the same way, in a book like this, I'd like to see more of the Bible's interconnectedness and holistic relevance to further portray why the Gospel is the apex.  Don't just jump from Genesis 3:16 to Matthew 1.
          Overall, Matt Chandler and Jared Wilson are rightful in their worry about increasingly Gospel-less and biblically illiterate churchgoers, much less "seekers."  This book reminds us (and sometimes challenges us) of the basics from God's Word.  Definitely a must-read for ministry leaders or anyone who's been remotely confused by Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Introducing the Brat Tent

          A little Monday morning light-hearted fun.
          Two weeks ago, I organized a little brat fry for my church's music/arts volunteers while we all watched the Packers play the Seahawks. I noticed that several of the hard roll buns in the bag weren't just two bun-halves lightly breaded together at the end, but three. So, I had an interesting idea . . .
          I laid out the 3-piece hard roll, and put two brats on the center bun, then I nestled another brat on top, laying on two slices of American cheese, and then some basic condiments, etc.
          I call it the brat tent. And it was delicious.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

My New Baby Boy and His Name

          So, I didn't get around to blogging yesterday, because what I've anticipated excitedly posted about twice has finally come to fruition.
          I now have a son.
         I'll let my wife be the dispenser of the birth-story details, but Mattias David Gilliland was born on Sept. 28, 2012 at 6:14pm, 8lbs and 2oz. I'm very happy to have a son along with my two daughters. Someone to play sports and videogames and watch action movies with. A cute little Vikings/Bulls/White-Sox/Hawkeyes/Blackhawks fan. Among other things.
          Disclaimer: Yes, I am a bit meticulous when it comes to naming my children, and all my children's names are carefully based on deeply biblical names and concepts. This speaks more to the idea that I'm an obsessively creative person (read: eccentric theological nerd) when it comes to naming my children, rather than the impression that I am "holier-than-thou" to anyone who approaches naming their children differently.
          "Mattias" (pronounced MUH-TIE-ISS) is a variation (and the Swedish spelling, acknowledging my Swedish heritage) of "Matthias," which shares etymological history with the more common name "Matthew." Matthias was the disciple appointed, through a very prayerful and thorough process, to replace Judas Iscariot in the first chapter of Acts. The name also shares original meaning with "Matthew": gift of God. We do feel our Mattias is a gift of God, as we had prayed for a healthy son to be close in age and in relationship to our daughters. And, like the biblical Matthias, he's a representation of God-given hope for the future. We're still working with nickname possibilities (e.g. Matt, Matty, Ty, Tias, etc.).
          "David" is a name that's been waiting to leap onto the birth certificate of my son since my college years. I was going through a bit of a rough patch  (mild depression, spiritual warfare) and I felt compelled to read through the story of David. All of it, from 1 Samuel 15 to the beginning of 1 Chronicles. David (also being an ancestor of Christ) was a flawed man who didn't pull punches during his prayers, but he was the passionate, devoted, skillful, versatile, diligent, musical and worshipful warrior poet after God's own heart who I strive to imitate (secondarily to Christ). However, "David" will be the middle name of my son because, as I said, there are far too many David's in the family, including my brother. It's also to pay respects to him and all the Davids in our families.
          So, yes, I'm a happy daddy once again.