Saturday, December 30, 2017

"Repairing the Breach" What We Can Learn From the Methodists

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Monday, August 14, 2017

Redifining the "F" Word, not THAT "f-word." Rather, the f-word I refer to sometimes draws an even more negative reaction. That word is "Fundamentalism."

"Fundamentalist" is a specifically Christian term. Consequentially, much modern usage in the media (i.e. referring to ISIS as "Islamic Fundamentalists") is a severe misrepresentation of both faiths. In its purist form, Fundamentalism does not directly refer to any specific church, sect or political organization. Rather, it simply describes an inner-denominational movement tracing back to the early 20th century in which Christians responded to the challenges of modernity by codifying their most foundational beliefs.

Eventually, these were cataloged in a four-volume set known as The Fundamentals: A Testimony of the Truth. Published in 1917, The Fundamentals provide a fascinating, if not somewhat paradoxical, look at the fledgling movement. While some aspects (such as the rather strident anti-Catholic overtones) may be offensive to some, other parts are quite enlightening.

For example, in James Orr’s essay “Science and the Christian Faith,” he acknowledges that “there is no violence done to the (creation) narrative in substituting…vast cosmic periods — for "days" on our narrower, sun-measured scale.” These sentiments hardly fit the stereotypes of Fundamentalists in today’s world.

The first known use of the term “Fundamentalist” was by religious journalist Curtis Lee Laws, who referred to “those who still cling to the great fundamentals and who mean to do battle royal” in their defense. Unfortunately, since Fundamentalism did begin as a defensive movement, the resulting "Fightin’ Fundie" caricatures have often been very much deserved. On occasion, this has led to forays into anti-intellectualism (the Scopes "Monkey Trial" debacle) and in some cases, to outright bigotry (the shameful tactics of the "Reverend" Fred Phelps).

This characterization is unfortunate. While it is true that the Fundamentalist label is relatively new, the ideals it represents are as old as the Christian faith itself. As theologian J.I. Packer observes:

"Our critics suppose that that what they call 'Fundamentalism' is something as new as its name. But it is not. Nor was sixteenth-century Protestantism, nor seventeenth-century Puritanism, nor eighteenth-century Methodism. These names denote simply particular aspects and episodes of the continuing history of evangelical Christianity."

At the core of Fundamentalism is a staunch belief in the message of the Scriptures. Fundamentalists believe in a God who has not only spoken, but has done so in a way that is reliable, understandable and practical. Is this simple faith? Yes, but it has been the historic position of the Christian church from its very beginning. In the words of Dallas Theological Seminary professor P.D. Feinberg: "Biblical inerrancy has been the view of the church throughout its history…(I)n each period of the church's history clear affirmations of the doctrine can be found."

With this premise established, the other elements of the Fundamentalist world view are easier to understand. For example, to believe in the authority of the Bible is also to embrace the absolute truth it presents us with. This can be seen in what is perhaps the most visible picture of Fundamentalism, the arena of politics. But before we are too hasty in rejecting these concerns, we must note that in many issues, the Fundamentalists are actually proving to be ahead of their time.

For example, given the advances of prenatal medical technology, it has become increasingly difficult to deny that an unborn child is truly a person. Why then is it considered so “extreme” to say that the child deserves legal protection? When we look at the horrendous impact of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, is the Christian sexual ethic (abstinence until marriage) really that unreasonable? Is it wise to cast science and faith as enemies when some of the greatest scientists in history (including Galileo, Copernicus, Keplar and many others) were Bible believers?

These issues are not going away, and if our goal is to be a tolerant, understanding people, we must look past our stereotypes and see the real substance that is all too often overlooked. Failure to do so is a “fundamental” mistake.

(This is an updated version of a column originally published on May 27, 2009)

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Saturday, August 5, 2017

What We Can Learn From the Lutherans

James H Boyd interviews Lutheran apologist Andy Wrasman.

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What We Can Learn From the Baptists

James H Boyd interviews Dr. Rusty Buchanan, associate pastor at Central Baptist Church in Loudon, Tennessee. Pastor Rusty also serves as a chaplain for Loudon police department and the ambulance service. He holds a doctorate in Theology from Andersonville Theological Seminary.

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Think! Loving God With Your Mind

"Wise men store up knowledge..." Proverbs 10:14a

"...I do not feel obligated to believe that same God who has endowed us with senses, reason and intellect has intended to forgo their use and by some other means to give us knowledge that we can attain by them." Galileo (1)

A key point in the history of western civilization was when philosopher Rene' Descartes issued his famous maxim "I think, I am." In this statement, Descartes basically founded the secular movement by stating that the sole basis for our existence is the ability to think and reason. As we shall see, the ability to think is vitally important, but it is a means to a greater end: to know and glorify the God who created us.

Unfortunately, Descartes' logic has been used to create a false tension between natural reason and supernatural faith, and this tension has eroded the very foundations our society was built upon. History is loaded with examples of how Christianity, as an intellectual influence, has shaped the very world we live in. The Bible has inspired some of the greatest art (such as Da Vinci's "The Last Supper") and music (such as Bach's "Passion of St. Matthew," and Handel's "Messiah") ever produced. Some of our greatest colleges and universities were originally based on strong Christian foundations and specialized in training ministers. Our school children were once educated by McGuffey readers which relied heavily on Biblical themes. Yet today, the term "Christian" is often synonymous with ignorance and anti-intellectualism. What happened? In the words of the great Christian philosopher Francis Shaeffer:

"To understand where we are in today's world-in our intellectual ideas and in our cultural and political lives-we must trace three lines in history, namely, the philosophic, the scientific and the religious. The philosophic seeks intellectual answers to the basic questions of life. The scientific has two parts: first, the makeup of the physical universe and the practical application of what it discovers in technology. The direction in which science will move is set by the philosophic world view of the scientists. People's religious views also determine the direction of their individual lives and of their society (2)."

Shaeffer's timely words remind us that the Christian world view encompasses all of life and requires the ability to think clearly and analytically. The fact is, the Bible was written by thinking people, for thinking people. Throughout its pages, the desire for knowledge is a constant theme (Proverbs 24:5; 1Kings 3:9; Hosea 4:6). In fact, one of the key ways we are to love God is with our mind (Matthew 22:37). This is reflected in the lives of many prominent biblical figures. For example, both Moses and Daniel were well schooled in the educational systems of their day (Daniel 1:4; Acts 7:22). Mighty King David, Israel’s greatest monarch, was a military genius (1 Samuel 18:7) as well as a master musician (1 Samuel 16:18). King Solomon, known for his tremendous wisdom, also possessed a massive knowledge of many different subjects, such as agriculture and wildlife (1 Kings 4: 30-34). The Apostle Paul, who wrote roughly two-thirds of the New Testament, was trained by the brilliant Hebrew scholar Gamaliel (Acts 22:3).

Furthermore, in 1 Timothy 4:13, Paul reminds his friend Timothy to "give attendance to reading" and later instructs Timothy to bring him some books that he had left behind (2 Timothy 4:13). This would indicate that reading was a high priority to the great apostle. In the words of Charles Spurgeon: "The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men's brains, proves that he has no brains of his own. Brethren, what is true of ministers is true of all people. You need to read ... Paul cries, 'Bring the books' -- join in the cry (3)."

 Given Christianity's strong emphasis on learning and education, it seems ironic that they are often seen as enemies. At the root of the controversy has been the issue of Charles Darwin's theories of evolution, as set forth in his book The Origin of Species. Obviously, the notion that humans evolved from lower life forms did challenge the notion of a Divine Creator (although contrary to popular belief, Darwin did not teach that humans evolved from apes, but rather that humans and apes evolved from a common ancestor). In order to place Mr. Darwin’s theories in context, it is important to examine not only the ideas themselves, but also the attitude in which they were presented. For those who wish to dismiss those of us who do believe in a creator God as being "intolerant" or "narrow minded," keep in mind that some of the key battle lines were drawn by Darwin himself: "He who is not content to look, like a savage, at the phenomena of nature as disconnected, cannot any longer believe that man is the work of a separate act of creation..." (4)

 In prior generations, science was generally considered a study of God’s handiwork in creation. Is this irrational? It is interesting to note that the Holy Scriptures describe many natural phenomena thousands of years before they were discovered by modern science. For example, the Bible tells us that...

  • The earth is round (Isaiah 40:22), 
  • The sea contains mountains and canyons (2 Samuel 22:16), 
  • The elements of human life are found in the blood (Leviticus 17:11), 
  • It also describes he water cycle (Psalm 135:7), and 
  • ...the deterioration of matter, or the Second Law of Thermodynamics (Psalm 102:26; Hebrews 1:10-12). 

Could it be that the Bible is more up-to-date than we have ever begun to imagine? Of course, to acknowledge this would also mean to acknowledge the truth of an all-knowing, all-powerful God who holds us accountable to an absolute moral standard. Darwin's ideas gave intellectual justification to those who wanted to reject this notion. In fact, Sir Julian Huxley, a famous evolutionist and a descendant of Darwin's close ally, Thomas Huxley, openly admitted that that "...the reason we lept at The Origin of Species was because the idea of God interfered with our sexual mores (5)."

Much of the tension between science and faith stems not from the Bible itself, but from traditions that have been added to it over the years. Galileo understood this: "...the holy Bible and the phenomena of nature proceed alike from the divine Word, the former as the dictate of the Holy Ghost and the latter as the observant executrix of God’s commands (6)." When addressing the science vs. religion issues, it is important to keep two important questions in mind:

1. What is the precise teaching of Scripture, as opposed to simply being common religious dogma? and

 2. What is proven scientific fact, as opposed to being mere theory.

Admittedly, both sides of the debate have often neglected these two precepts. By doing so, much unnecessary tension has been created between the scientific and theological communities. Unfortunately, many scientists attack belief in God as being "irrational" or "superstitious." However, to do this demeans some of the greatest scientific minds in history. In addition to Galileo, luminaries such as Newton, Keplar, Pascal, Mendel, Pasteur and countless others were all believers in a Creator. Would even the most militant athiest call these great scientists "irrational?"

When the term "Creationism" is used, it is usually identified with those who believe that the Earth was created between 6000 and 10,000 years ago (7), but this is hardly a fair representation. Creationism is a larger and more diverse school of thought than many have been led to believe. In fact, there are a number of opinions among orthodox Christians as to how and when creation took place. For example, one of these theories is called "Progressive Creationism," which points out that the Hebrew word for "day" (as in "on the first day God created...") can also refer to longer time periods, thus allowing for the Earth to be billions of years old (8). Another is called the "Gap Theory" which teaches that there was a time gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, which could also be a span of billions of years (9). The key question is, when God said "Let there be..." what processes did this set into motion?

 That being said, I do interpret the Book of Genesis literally (as Jesus did, see Matthew 19:4), and I do believe that it gives a perfectly accurate overview of how the universe came into existence. However, this does not mean that it records every minute detail of how creation occurred (to do so would obviously fill countless libraries). In my opinion, this leaves open a wide range of possibilities. Although an explanation of my own views of these issues is beyond the scope of this work, I will simply say that the truth of the Book of Genesis does not stand or fall based on the age of the Earth. To paraphrase William Jennings Bryan, "Be concerned with the Rock of Ages, not the age of rocks."

 The same could be said about the theory of evolution itself. At its core, the word "evolution" simply means "to change over a period of time." No reasonable person would dispute that this occurs. It is important to note that there is a large difference between microevolution. and macroevolution. The former simply refers to evolution within species. Obviously, we see new breeds of dogs and cats, as well as new strains of vegetables and flowers. Bacteria and viruses mutate and become more resistant to medicine. This is of no consequence to religious faith at all, and I do not know of any Creationist who would argue otherwise. The latter refers to evolution from one species into another, which is a bit trickier. Contrary to popular belief, this idea is not universally accepted within the scientific world (10). The numerous missing links in the evolutionary ladder cannot be overlooked. In the ladder itself, several "rungs" are of questionable origin and some (such as Piltdown Man ) have been shown to be blatant hoaxes.

 In light of these facts, I would like to quote from a statement signed by over eight hundred British scientists, and is recorded at the Bodelian Library in Oxford, England:

"We, the undersigned, Students of the Natural Sciences, desire to express our sincere regret that researchers into scientific truth are perverted by some in our own times into occasion for casting doubt upon the truth and authenticity of the Holy Scriptures. We conceive that it is impossible for the Word of God written in the book of nature, and God’s Word written in Holy Scripture, to contradict one another...physical science is not complete, but is only a condition of progress (4)."

We will conclude our study as we began it, by revisiting Descartes. I recently heard a joke in which Descartes walked into a bar. The bartender asked him if he would like a drink. Descartes replied "I think not," and disappeared! This humorous illustration shows us how far our human wisdom will ultimately take us. In the words of noted Theologian J.I. Packer:

 "Man's mind becomes free only when its thoughts are brought into captivity to Christ and His Word; till then, it is at the mercy of sinful prejudice and dishonest mental habits within, and of popular opinion, organized propaganda and unquestioned commonplaces without. Tossed about by every wing of intellectual fashion and carried to and fro by the cross-currents of reaction, man without God is not free for truth; he is for ever mastered by the things he takes for granted, the victim of a hopeless and everlasting relativism."

 This, my friends, is where it all starts. The whole of God's glorious creation was intended to reveal His nature to us: "...the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can't see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being" (Romans 1:20, The Message Bible)(13). If you do not yet have a relationship with God, open your heart to Him right now. You'll be glad you did! (14)


 1.Galilei, Galileo. "Letter to Christina of Tuscany: Science and Scripture." Quoted in Sherman, Dennis. Western Civilization: Sources, Images and Interpretations, Volume II: Since 1660. Sixth Edition. 2004, 2000, 1995. McGraw-Hill, New York, New York. p. 18.

 2. Shaeffer, Francis A. How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture. 1976, Fleming H. Revell Company. P.20

 3. C.H. Spurgeon (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. 9, 1863, sermon #542, p. 668) Quoted in"Thinkman's Thoughtful Words on Books" 4. Darwin, Charles. The Descent of Man. New York: D. Appleton and Co. 1883. pp 606-607,619. Quoted in Sherman, Dennis. Western Civilization: Sources, Images and Interpretations, Volume II: Since 1660. Sixth Edition. 2004, 2000, 1995. McGraw-Hill, New York, New York. p 130.

 5. Morris, Henry M. The Troubled Waters of Evolution. 1974, Creation-Life Publishers, San Diego, California. p. 58. Quoted in Why I Believe by D. James Kennedy.1980, Word, Inc.Dallas, London, Vancouver, Melbourne. p. 52.

 6. Galileo, p.18.

 7.For more on the Young Earth Theory, see

 8. Progressive Creationism is explained at length at

9. For a detailed explanation of the Gap Theory, see the writings of Finis Dake, C.I. Schofield and A.W. Pink

 10. For an extensive list of scientist who accept the Biblical creation account, see

 11. Quoted in Dake, Finis Jennings. God’s Plan For Man. 1949, copyright renewed 1977. Dake Bible Sales, Lawrenceville, Georgia. p. 20. 12. Packer, J.I. "'Fundamentalism' and the Word of God." First edition: 1958. Eerdman's Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. p 143.

 13. Peterson, Eugene H. The Message New Testament. 1993. Navpress. Colorado Springs, Colorado. p. 359.

14. If you need more information on a relationship with Jesus, see .

© 2005 JHB

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Saturday, July 1, 2017

Confessions of a Political Independent

On occasions where my writing veers into the political arena, it is easy for some to assume that I am a Republican. The truth , however, is that I have not actively identified with any political party in well over twenty years. That decision was very deliberate and I have never, ever regretted it.

At varous times in my life , I have been both a "bleeding heart liberal" and a loyal "Christian right" foot soldier. But as odd as it may sound, my core beliefs really weren't that different in either phase. Even in my most liberal phase, I still knew that abortion was wrong. At my most conservative, I was still uneasy about the callous attitude many right wing politicians took towards the poor. So after a long period of inner turmoil, I finally decided that  I would look at individual issues on their own merits and do what I believed was right regardless.

While it is true that my views remain right of center on most issues,  I want to see an end to war, poverty and racism just as much as my more progressive friends do. While we may disagree on some of the means to these noble ends, we can be civil and charitable in our discussion of them.

For all of the passion and animosity they provoke, "conservative" and "liberal" are actually very ambiguous terms. If you call yourself a conservative, exactly what is it you want to conserve? Historically, it has represented the desire to preserve positive things such as tradition, morality and patriotism. Unfortunately, it has also been used to defend racism, anti-intellectualism and blind allegiance to the status quo.

Similarly, the word "liberalism" bears the undertone of compassion and generosity, which obviously, are wonderful things. Yet even these noble motives can go horribly astray if they are not kept in proper perspective.

Both sides have their signature issues. For Democrats, these would include education, health care and the environment. Likewise, Republicans champion causes such as taxes, fighting crime and national security. Yet these concerns themselves are not partisan. Republicans want good schools and Democrats want to be kept safe from crime and terrorism. Sadly, we often take our eyes off the ultimate goals and let ourselves be torn apart by "gotcha" politics.

As a former professor of mine once pointed out, it is possible to be opponents without being enemies. Examples would include Republican President Eisenhower and Democratic House Speaker Sam Rayburn. Another would be President Reagan and Speaker Tip O’Neill.

it is also noteworthy that, even among Jesus' original disciples, there was a fascinating diversity. There was Simon the Zealot, who belonged to a group that advocated the violent overthrow of the Roman government. Yet there was also Matthew who, as a tax collector, was an employee of that same government. I would imagine that they had some pretty lively discussions!

I certainly recognize that the differences are there, and that they are often quite significant. Civility should never be used as a front for lack of passion or conviction. There are times when a non-compromising attitude is both commendable and necessary. But compromise is not always a bad thing. In fact, it would be impossible to accomplish anything worthwhile without it.

For example, if our only available options are helping some poor people or helping none, reducing some greenhouse gasses or reducing none, preventing some abortions or preventing none, aren’t the choices pretty obvious?

Friends, blind political tribalism is tearing our country apart. Be involved. Be passionate. But please also be human. God is not a Republican or a Democrat and trying to remake Him in order to fit our labels is nothing more than idolatry.

Humor in the Bible

"Are Christians allowed to laugh, have fun and enjoy life?"
When discussing my faith with others, this issue comes up frequently from Christians and non-Christians alike. When I was first introduced to the Gospel as a teenager, I asked it myself, and with good reason. To be sure, the call to follow Jesus is a very serious and sober one, commanding us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him, even if it means laying down our very lives (Matthew 10:39; John 12:25). But the next question deals with how we apply this commitment to our lives on a day-to-day basis. Does Jesus' call to self-denial and holiness mean that we cannot enjoy even the legitimate pleasures of life? I don't think so.
Laughter is one of the most primal responses human beings are capable of experiencing. Philosophers and psychologists have long sought to understand its complexities on emotional and physical levels. Journalist Norman Cousins credited the healing power of laughter to his recovery from a fatal illness. Jane Wollman points out that "(Laughter) excercises the diaphram and stomach muscles, in addition to massaging the internal organs. Moreover, by stirring up the endocrine system, it triggers the release of hormones that boost metabolism...Sigmund Freud thought laughter originated from the smile of an infant falling asleep at the breast-the emotional expression of pleasurable satiety (2)."
Of course, for those who love the Bible, these healthy effects of laughter should come as no surprise. Thousands of years earlier, Proverbs 17:22 told us how "...a merry heart does good like a medicine." We read in Psalm 24:1 that "The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof (King James Translation)." 1 Timothy 6:17 further tells us that God gives it all to us for our enjoyment. and that "the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10)." It even states that God Himself sits in Heaven and laughs at human foolishness (Psalm 2:4). The Bible uses words such as “laugh,” “laughter,“ or other variations of those words over 200 times. The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery tells us that “The Bible is predominantly a serious rather than a funny book. Yet it would distort the Bible to suppress the humor that is present (3).” As with all of life, the key is balance. As Ecclesiastes tells us, there is both a time to weep and a time to laugh (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Mark Pinski, former religion writer for the Orlando Sentinel, rightly observes that:
(T)he ability to laugh at one’s faith is a sign of growth and theological maturity... humor is a way of explaining religion — to its adherents and to others. Increasingly, believing members of orthodox faith traditions are able to joke about their foibles and shortcomings before an audience of their community (4).
With these facts established, we will now look at a few specific examples of humor in the Bible. First let’s look at the Book of Exodus, chapter 32. Moses has been on Mount Sinai communing with God and receiving the Ten Commandments. While he was gone, he leaves his brother Aaron in charge. Unfortunately, though, we know what happens. The people’s commitment to God and to Moses turns out to be very fickle, and they have Aaron melt down their gold and make a golden calf idol for them to worship. Obviously, when Moses returns, he is not happy! He burns the idol, grinds it to powder, mixes it with water, and makes the people drink it.
Is this funny? No, except for one place. When Moses confronts Aaron in verse 21, look at Aaron’s response in verses 22-24: "Don’t get so upset, my lord, … You yourself know how evil these people are. They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.’ So I told them, ‘Whoever has gold jewelry, take it off.’ When they brought it to me, I simply threw it into the fire—and out came this calf!” We may laugh at that, but in reality, haven’t we all given God those kind of excuses at some point?
Next let’s look at 1 Kings chapter 18. This is the familiar story of Elijah and his showdown with the prophets of Baal. As most of you will recall, they had both built their altars and were engaged in a contest to determine who was serving the true God. The challenge was that both would call down fire from Heaven to consume their respective sacrifices and the one who answered was the one to be worshipped. The prophets of Baal went first, but they had a problem: Their god, Baal was only a statue. He could not hear them, let alone answer them. So when they called on him to send down the fire, obviously, they got nothing.
Now the funny part: We see Elijah respond with a little sanctified “trash talking” in verse 27. The King James words it "And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked." In that day, "on a journey" was a Hebrew euphamism for going to the bathroom! This is reflected in many modern translations. In other words, “Where is you god, sitting on the toilet?” So ladies, cut your husbands some slack: "Potty humor" is biblical!
Next, let’s look at that venerable guide for practical wisdom, the Book of Proverbs. Millions of believers, myself included, look to it regularly for important life lessons. But what we often miss is that they are often cloaked in very funny terms. Here are some examples:

  • Proverbs 11:22 A beautiful woman who lacks discretion is like a gold ring in a pig’s snout.
  • Proverbs 19:24 Lazy people take food in their hand but don’t even lift it to their mouth.
  • Proverbs 21:9 It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman in a wide house.
  • Proverbs 22:13 The lazy person claims, “There’s a lion out there! If I go outside, I might be killed!”
Next we will look at the life of Jesus. Did He have a sense of humor? Now it is true that Isaiah 53:3 describes Him as a “man of sorrows,” but does that describe the whole of His human experience? I don't believe it does. Always keep in mind that Jesus was both fully God and fully human, and a part of being fully human is experiencing the full range of human emotion, both the joys and the sorrows. Jesus was not the dour, gloomy person that popular religious tradition has often painted Him as being. He "rejoiced (Luke 10:21)," which is the Greek word agalliaĆ“ which means "to exult, rejoice exceedingly, be exceeding glad." He was not a far-off ascetic who simply sat on a mountain at spouted platitudes. He met people where they were. He attended weddings and other social functions (John 2:1-11), even to the extent that He was (falsely) accused of being a glutton and a drunkard (Matthew 11:19). People from all walks of life actively sought out His company. Did you ever wonder why this was? While the spiritual aspects of His presence are obvious, could it have also been that He was (gasp) a fun guy to be around?
Unfortunately, though, this side of Jesus is a much-neglected course of study in the theological world. However, a notable exception is the popular book called “The Humor of Christ” by a Quaker author named Elton Trueblood. Mr. Trueblood tells us of his inspiration for writing the book:
We were reading to our eldest son from the seventh chapter of Matthew' Gospel, feeling very serious, when suddenly the little boy began to laugh. He laughed because he saw how preposterous it would be for a man to be so deeply concerned about a speck in another person's eye, that he was unconscious of the fact that his own eye had a beam in it...His laughter was a rebuke to his parents for their failure to respond to humor in an unexpected place. (5)
Here Mr. Trueblood brings up a vitally important point: Many of Jesus' parables and illustrations had humorous overtones in the vernacular of that day. A common form of communication for Jews in that day was called hyperbole, or exaggeration to emphasize a point. A modern example would be “I haven’t seen you in a million years!” Here, Jesus uses it in a very funny way. Being a carpenter, He used the tools of His trade to make a stinging point about religious hypocrisy. “Why are you worried about a speck in your brother’s eye when you have a two-by-four in your own eye?”
Another example: Matthew 15, starting with verse 21. A gentile woman comes to Jesus asking Him to heal her demon possessed daughter. But Jesus reply is shocking: “I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel…It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.” I have to admit that Jesus' response here always bothered me a little. At first glance, it seems that Jesus is being very cruel and insulting to this woman. That is, until you consider the humor element. Look at her response in verse 27: “That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table.” Basically, she had just “one-upped” the Lord, and He commends her great faith and sets her daughter free.
Elton Trueblood also reminds us that “Often a smile comes because Jesus reveals to us some of the absurdity of our own lives, where we need help to recognize it (6).” I can certainly say "amen" to that, can't you?
Now I would like to address a topic that will no doubt prove to be a bit controversial: Exactly what kind of humor is appropriate for Christians? More specifically, I want to spend a little time talking about profanity, crude language and "off-color" humor.
Our movies are rated primarily in three areas: Sexual content, violence and language. While we certainly do need to use discernment in how we address and evaluate these topics, many well-meaning believers say that we need to avoid any and all references to them. Of course, if we take this to its logical conclusion, then the first book we will have to throw away is the Bible itself!
Lets face it: The Bible is, in places, a very violent book! Yes, it is God's Word, and as such, it does not ignore the darker aspects of life. The Bible describes a man getting a tent peg hammered through his skull (Judges 5:23-27). It tells us how King David paid his wife's dowry with 100 Philistine Foreskins (2 Samuel 3:14). It even describes, in very graphic detail, an overweight king named Eglon who was assassinated with a sword, soiling himself in the process (Judges 3:21-22)! And as for sexuality, have you read the Song of Solomon lately?
Of course, the context is always the key. By including these stories, the Bible is not encouraging gratuitous violence. It is simply acknowledging that it does exist in the fallen world we live in. Furthermore, the Song of Solomon is not condoning perverse or promiscuous sexual conduct. Rather, it is a liberating celebration of sexuality between a man and his wife. I personally am glad that many Christian leaders are more willing to discuss these topics in an honest and frank manner (7). Locking away any topic as being "taboo" will ultimately do more harm than good. This is why much of what is offered as "wholesome" entertainment is often a shallow, unrealistic characature of life. I enjoy "Leave it to Beaver" reruns as much as anyone, but that is definitely not the world I live in! But the question still remains: When, if ever, is it appropriate for Christians to use "off-color" language?
A certain well-known minister once shocked his audience by stating that "...millions of people are starving to death, and most of you don't give a ----!" He went on to rebuke them by saying that "The sad thing is, most of you are more upset at my using that word than you are about people starving!" Was this the best way to make his point? That is open to debate, but it does call challenge us in how we are going to define "bad words." Often, the word "profanity" is used to describe any and all forms of off-color language, but that goes beyond its actual meaning. The word "profanity" means "outside the Temple" and refers specifically to blasphemous or sacriligious terms. Of course, this should not be part of any Christians vocabulary (Exodus 20:7). Nor should immoral sexual talk (Ephesians 5:4) or racist or otherwise degrading language (Matthew 5:22). These principles are summed up in the following Biblical guidelines:

  • "No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear.”- Ephesians 5:4
  • "But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips."-Colossians 3:8, NIV
  • "Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone."-Colossians 4:6, NIV
Yet outside of these common-sense perimeters, the Bible simply does not give us an explicit list of "forbidden" words that we are never allowed to utter under any circumstances. More often than not, the definition of "bad words" is culturally determined rather than biblically mandated, and is therefore subject to change over time. For example, the word "gay" is now almost universally recognized as referring to homosexuality. Yet originally, it meant to be happy or light hearted. Similarly, to "have an affair" once meant to throw a dinner party or other social gathering. Now it means to commit adultery. "Grass" used to be something people mowed, now it is something people smoke! This is noteworthy because the Bible itself even uses rather crude language on occasion. Although it is sometimes obscured by our flowery King James English, there is an inherant "earthiness" to the Scriptures that is often overlooked.

  • Isaiah 64:6 states that man's righteousness is as "filthy rags." Literally translated, this is referring to a bloody menstruel cloth.
  • Matthew 15:17- Jesus illustrates a point by referring to a bowel movement.
  • Matthew 23:33- Jesus calls the religious leaders a "generation of vipers," or "sons of snakes." Referring to someone as the offspring of an animal remains a common and forceful means of denunciation. The modern equivilent would be "son of a (not-nice word for a female dog)."
  • Galatians 5:11-12- Paul wishes that the false teachers in the church would castrate themselves.
  • Phillipians 3:8- Paul compares his pre-Christian life to fesces.
So am I trying to justify bad language? Not at all. I am simply saying that we should define our terminology by the Bible itself, not simply letting cultural norms dictate to us what does and does not constitute improper language. God is not as prudish as we may have been led to believe!
God gave us life to be enjoyed. Jesus said "I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows)" (John 10:10, Amplified Bible). This is why Christians should be having more fun than anyone on earth! It only makes sense that people who are going to Heaven would be happier than people who are going to Hell! Not only that, this joy gives us a very powerful tool with which we can communicate both our faith and our humanity. In the words of Joel Hunter, Pastor of Northland Church in Orlando, Florida:
"The more seriously we take God, the less seriously we need to take ourselves. Self-deprecating humor not only reduces the intimidation factor, it personifies the possibility of success of people with flaws. Pastors who can joke about their own shortcomings are paradoxically making the ideals of religion seem more possible by putting them in a common human experience (8)."
It is sometimes said that "The medium is the message." While that may be true to some degree, we must also make sure that the medium does not obscure or compromise the message. As we have seen, there is certainly a place for humor in communicating spiritual truth, we must never let that distract from the seriousness of our message. The minister's chief role is to be a messenger of God, not simply an entertainer. The Bible says that walking with God is a life of pleasure (Psalm 16:11), delight (Psalm 37:4), sweetness (Psalm 119:103), joy (John 15:11) and freedom (John 8:32). Yet this relationship is built on very somber realities. In short, God is holy, man is sinful, but God loves us in spite of that. In His death on the cross, Jesus paid our sin debt so that we could receive God's forgiveness and experience this joy both here and forever! If you have never entered into this relationship, why not open you heart to Him now?

© 2011 JHB

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture referances are from the New Living Translation.
    1-Quoted in Allen, Steve. How To Be Funny: Discovering the Comic You. 1987. Prometheus Books, Buffalo, NY. p 7.
    2-Dictionary of Biblical Imagery: An Encyclopedia Exploration of the Images, Symbols, Motifs, Metaphors, Figures of Speech, Literary Patterns and Universal Master Images of the Bible By Leland Ryken, Jim Wilhoit, James C. Wilhoit, Tremper Longman, Colin Duriez, Douglas Penney, Daniel G. Reid Published by InterVarsity Press, 1998 p. 407
    3-Pinski, Mark I. "On Religion" column." Putting the 'Fun' in Fundamentalism.USA Today. December 08, 2008.
    4-Trueblood, Elton. The Humor of Christ. 1964. Harper & Row Publishers. New York, Evanston and London. P 9
    5-Ibid. p 50
    5-Altough he is a controversial figure,. I gratefully acknowledge various teachings from Pastor Mark Driscoll as a source and inspiration for portions of this message.
    8-Quoted in Pinski,"Putting the 'fun' in fundamentalism" cited above.
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Monday, May 22, 2017

Observations on "Fake News"

1. News is not necessarily "fake" because it's not what you want to hear.
2. News is not necessarily "fake" because it might make a politician you like look bad.
3. News is not necessarily "fake" because it challenges or asks hard questions of a politician you like.
4  Don't complain about "bias" if your response is equally biased in the other direction.
5. Be skeptical of anyone whose "facts" always support a particular politician or party line.
6. Have you ever considered that you may be adding to the problem by not properly researching or fact checking your own statements?

Keep It Real, 


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