Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Monday, November 26, 2007

New Book on Adventists

From Carolina
New book sheds light on Adventist

By Adam MacInnis Staff writer
(Published November 22‚ 2007)

CLOVER -- For 27 years, Edith Fairman Cooper was a faithful Seventh Day Adventist.

She was religious liberty secretary, taught at Sabbath School and was once Sabbath School Superintendent.

But that was all before 2002, when she took a closer look at what her church believed. Now she's Baptist.

Cooper, a Clover resident who spent 35 years doing research for the U.S. Congress, said she was talking to a friend one day when he said, "You know what they say about Adventists."

She didn't, but determined to find out.

She found several online Web sites that said what Seventh Day Adventists said was wrong. She decided to see for herself whether there was any truth to what was said or if it was just disgruntled Adventists.

"I wanted to step back from that and look at it objectively, like I would a reporter writing for Congress and see what both sides of the issues are saying," she said.

She has reported her findings in a new book, "It's all about Jesus: Observations of a former Seventh Day Adventist."

Her findings aren't what she had hoped for, she said.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Points to ponder for the 21st Century

Mission Catalist Blog has an interesting article entitled: Which Denominations Will Thrive in the 21st Century?

The article lists 10 points, here are some of the ones I think are most important.

1. They proactively acknowledge and function with the understanding that real denominations serve congregations, and all they do points to enhancing the vitality of local congregations.

Most of us hate statements that begin with the psychobabble word “proactively” but the important point here is that a congregation needs to serve their congregations first. The vitality of the church is based upon the congregation’s attitudes and then the congregation can move outward to the community. The denomination is a conglomerate of local congregations therefore it is only as strong as the local congregations. The Denomination is a facilitator it does not serve the local congregation nor do the local congregations serve the Denomination.

2. They unite on a clear and compelling message that seeks to make a transformational difference in the world. That message is so powerful that it gives them great reason to work through issues that seek to divide them.

This becomes something that is often lacking in our churches. We don’t have a clear compelling message often in Adventist church this is because instead of the message of the Gospel revealed in the love and forgiveness and healing offered by God we focus upon the distinctives of the SDA church. As if our interpretation of Daniel and Revelation are more important then the clear and compelling love of God.

3. They develop clarity around their doctrinal values that focus on core doctrines and allow flexibility for congregations who do not agree with every non-core doctrine espoused.

Most churches do not develop clarity around their doctrinal values. Most including Adventists cling to traditional denominational beliefs, assuming that holding to the tradition is clarity. When you don’t have clarity because the doctrines are not well developed because the traditional view is only offered there is no flexibility on other so called non-core doctrines. Because traditions dictate that there are not non-core doctrines. In fact there are many non-core doctrines and in fact there are numerous interpretations on many doctrines however if the local congregation is not informed upon the different views they will act hostilely towards fellow Christian believers who hold to different beliefs.

8. They make peace with the parachurch world, and even become more parachurch in nature themselves. They partner with parachurch organizations to increase effective service to their congregations.

After skipping some which are pretty meaningless here we see something that is also frequently ignored. Local congregations should be involved with homeless rescue mission and food banks rather then try and reinvent those organizations. If there is a local congregation that has an active Adventist Community Service (formerly Dorcas) they should connect to other churches of other denominations in the area. This goes back to number 3 above however in that we have to discard the tradition that other Christian Churches are Babylon or apostate.

The congregation is an integration of so many factors and often we assume only one point of view. As I previously related in earlier articles here, what are heard in our sermons by our pastors is often only views based upon their views and their perspectives (The Problem with Preaching). For example in the earlier instance (Clean and Unclean Meat) where the Pastor answered questions from the audience in at least 2 of the 4 questions he did not offer anything about the predominant Christian perspective. He answered with traditional SDA answers; of course he was answering off the top of his head and was presenting what he believed. However to incorporate the ideas that are proposed to insure a vibrant church in the 21st century we have to actually change our techniques as well as our expectations. We don’t teach our people to think when we don’t give them information to think with. They will therefore lack flexibility and when issues divide them they will not seek ways to remain in unity on the big picture.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Clean and Unclean meat

Clean and Unclean meat

Our Church today was different as the Pastor called for questions from the audience which he attempted to answer. The last question was by a woman who had a ham in the freezer and wanted to know if she could eat it. As this is an Adventist church his final albeit somewhat confused answer was that she should dump it, vegetarianism is preferred. However it does not answer the real question which is does the Bible still maintain the division of Clean and unclean meat. If you search the internet you see it is still a contentious issue. It starts with a very small difference in the manuscripts which ends up creating two different translations of Mark 7:19

A site which accepts that the division continues states:

*Although there are many minor textual differences between source documents of the New Covenant, it is very rare that a variance significantly affects meaning. Mark 7:18-19 is one of these rare passages. The difference of a single letter (Omicron or Omega) determines gender for the word "purging, making clean" near the end of v.19 (katharizon). If the word's gender is neuter (written with the Omicron), it attaches to "stomach," and is speaking of the digestive process. (See the King James Version, for instance.) But for translators who believe the word's gender is masculine (written with the Omega), it must look all the way back to the "He" (Yeshua) at the beginning of verse 18 for its masculine subject. For the sake of clarity, these translators insert a phrase that never appears in the Greek: "Thus He declared."

Thus we end up with two contenders in most translations.

(NKJV) Mark 7:19 "because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, [thus] purifying all foods?"

(NASB) Mark 7:19 because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?" (Thus He declared all foods clean.)

There is to the modern mind a preference here; as the idea that human feces purifying one’s food is not too scientifically reasonable. It represents the waste that the body does not use if the food had toxins or contaminants they well may still be in the body to cause whatever trouble they may cause. We are however not going to get a certain answer to which Greek rendering is correct as clearly from the different translations there is scholarly disagreement.

Those who hold that there is still a division of clean and unclean meat will focus on the context which in Mark begins with the contention that Jesus’ Disciples did not ritually wash their hands before they ate. This again to the scientific Western mind is a pretty good ritual, beneficial even if not using soap and running water. Never the less they hold that the context is about this tradition of the Elders and not about God’s explicit commands given in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 (if those commands were for health purposes it is a shame that God did not tell them to wash their hands because it would have been far more healthful for all concerned). In order to maintain the clean and unclean meat people will us Malachi 3:6 which says God does not change. A true statement but also goes against the contextual use, in that God does not change but then again He does use different techniques to teach people depending on time and place. Jesus very frequently answers questions in ways that are not limited to the original context of the questioner. That is why in this case the disciples asked for clarification after Jesus had given his answer to the Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law. The disciples may not have been the brightest fellows but having been with Jesus they quickly realized that His answers were not all that simple. A classic example I often use to stress this point is when Jesus was threaten with death and accused of blasphemy, He responded by quoting Psalms “you are gods”. John 10:34-36 Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your Law, `I have said you are gods' ? [Psalms 82:6] If he called them `gods,' to whom the word of God came--and the Scripture cannot be broken-- what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, `I am God's Son'?( NIV) Jesus could rhetorically duel with the best of them. He asserted that Psalms was their law which would likely start and internal argument as would what was meant by gods and the phrase Scripture cannot be broken. So before they can declare Jesus guilty of blasphemy they have a lot of work to do. So it is no surprise that the disciples asked for clarification. Many of those who argue for the division of clean and unclean remaining will choose this point to declare that what goes into a man here is speaking of the dirt on unwashed hands. This is a possible answer but what if the meaning was broader, what if Jesus was laying a foundation for future concepts, which would end in the dismantling of the clean and unclean meat restrictions. If this is like the Omicron vs. Omega difference the respective ways of interpreting the following Biblical texts may also be different and also the understanding of New Testament Christians in regard to clean and unclean meat.

If we begin at this point with a broader understanding of the text in Mark 7, that is, that it is a reference to anything entering man’s mouth is not what makes him unclean but rather the things of his heart that make him unclean we see that clean and unclean meat could be meant just as well as dirt on the hands or a bug flying into your mouth etc. Being clean or unclean is a matter of how you think and act rather then rituals. It is from this perspective that the Expositor’s Bible Commentary writes:

This statement clearly has its eye on a situation such as developed in the Pauline mission churches in which questions of clean and unclean foods (cf. Acts 10:9-16; 11:5-10 and see Rom 14:13 ff.) and idol-meats became live issues (as we know from 1Cor 8:10) This chapter in Mark 7 is perhaps the most obvious declaration of Mark's purpose as a Christian living in the Graeco-Roman world who wishes to publicize the charter of Gentile freedom by recording in the plainest terms Jesus' detachment from Jewish ceremonial and to spell out in clear tones the application of this to his readers. (Martin, Mark, p. 220). If Peter stands behind Mark's Gospel, these words are particularly apropos in the light of Acts 10:15.

Peter had a vision recorded in Acts 10 which concludes with these words:

“Acts 10:14-15 Surely not, Lord!" Peter replied. "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean. “The voice spoke to him a second time, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." (NIV) The vision presents the idea that God can make something clean that was once unclean in which case it is not God changing but the change God has made upon people. So why were the Gentiles unclean for the Jews, naturally because they did not follow the Jewish laws and rituals which included the dietary restrictions that separated the Jew from the Gentile and would make the Jew unclean by the mere contact with a Gentile. Peter’s vision here in Acts 10 is not restricted to only dietary restrictions but they can’t remain if the concept is taken to include the gospel going to the Gentiles. You can’t have contact with the Gentiles yet avoid the Gentiles because they were unclean. While we may not know the exact time sequence we do see a similar drawing away by Peter from the Gentiles as recorded by Paul: Galatians 2:11-14 When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, "You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? (NIV)

The Conference recorded in Acts 15 demonstrates that clean and unclean meat were not restrictions placed upon the Gentiles. Again this is not a change of God it is a different way of dealing with a different people.

Acts 15:19-20 "It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. (NIV)

The council of apostles and Christian leaders at Jerusalem in approximately A.D. 49 indicates that the leaders were not instituting Jewish laws or traditions upon the Gentiles. It hit probably what they thought were the biggest concerns but even then as we continue in the New Testament we see that even food offered to idols is not really a problem unless the Christian believes it to be a problem.

1 Corinthians 8:7-9 But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. (NIV)

Paul continues upon Jesus’ foundation that it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles by declaring us free from the external rules of clean or unclean foods and not simply based upon food offered to idols. To Timothy Paul writes: 1 Timothy 4:1-6 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. (NIV)

Romans 14:14 As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food n is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean.

Romans 14:20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. (NIV)

To read an article which takes the opposite view starting at the Mark 7 verse see Are All Foods Clean?

There is a basic philosophical difference in the two methods of interpretations, that which I have set forth above and present in most of the Christian world and that represented by the article Are All Foods Clean? I think the philosophy which I reject is well summed up in the final paragraph of the Are All Foods Clean article when he says:

God does not change. The prohibition He placed on which animals man can use for food still exists. As the prophecy from Isaiah 66 shows, those who do not acknowledge these commands will be among those God pours His anger out upon at the time of the return of the Messiah. Don't be counted among this rebellious group destined for punishment.

As opposed to the philosophy which sees God as the kind of personality who reaches out to people where they are, dealing with them in their life situations, whose commands reflect the freedom from ritualism to reason. A philosophy which sees God as one who does not demand obedience or He will kill you, but asks us to choose to accept a better way, a reasoned way of living. Open to ones own perceptions and based upon their own convictions of what God wants for their lives. As John 8:36 says: So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. Today if one wants to choose to not use a food they should present a reason from a scientific or philosophical position rather then asserting that something is Biblically restricted when there are legitimate differences in the interpretations of the data.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Life Expectancy and the Attractive Church

In reference to my last post on a literary work of fiction here is excerpt from another literary work of fiction showing how some ideas interact with others.

In reference to her husbands loving yet unconventional family Laurie says:

You know, parents and children and love come in some strange combinations. I mean your parents can love you and you can know they love you and you can love them and still grow up so lonely that you feel hollow…

Love isn’t enough your parents have to know how to relate to you and to each other. They have to want to be with you more then with anyone else. They have to love being home more than anywhere in the world and they have to be more interested in you then in “snakes and tornadoes” I suggested…[speaking of her parents occupations]

God I love them, their nice Jimmy they really are and they mean well but they live inside themselves more then not and they keep their doors closed. You see them mostly through windows…

You grew up with everything I wanted so bad, everything that I dreamed of having your folks live for you and for each other for family…It’s bliss Jimmy and I am so damn grateful that you all let me in.

(Dean Koontz, Life Expectancy chapter 26)

What strikes me about the above excerpts is how attractive the family is. Others want to be part of that family and are thankful when they become a part of the family. How nice it would be if our church reflected that position. Sabbath school classes where people enjoy the communication, the opportunity to share ideas and listen to other ideas. That is the way I have felt about many of the Sabbath school classes I have attended. That is what I look for in the classes I choose to attend. I would hope for that experience in the other parts of our church experience as well.

Recently my daughter’s youth Sabbath School got involved with discussion of some challenging life situations. I was pleased to see that my daughter was excited about going to Sabbath school and she had prepared some notes to discuss her point of view. Then after our respective Sabbath school classes I found out that instead of the open communication and sharing ideas, ideas were stomped on by those who for some reason think that the miracles of mission stories are the answers to every Christians life. Simply put instead of being a welcoming family it became a fundamentalist dictatorship where the two adults present worked as a team to repress the thinking of the youth. No doubt with the best of intentions. They feel they are responsible to teach the youth what they think the SDA church believes. As with many fundamentalist views they have assumed that they know what the Adventist church believes and that the church is restricted to a certain way of belief.

The point here is not whether the adults in the youth class were right or wrong in their beliefs. The point is that they destroyed the opportunity to create a friendly challenging and stimulating family, which would make the youth glad they were there, and something that would interest others to be included.

Our traditions have in many ways limited us here. Many don’t even know how to discuss ideas without getting upset with someone who holds an opposing view. We have for so long thought that we had “the truth” that we assume anything different then our traditional “truth” is actually an enemy of both God and/or Adventism. We must change our philosophy to allow for discussion, to allow people to express themselves and create the impetus to research things further to either come up with an answer or at least communicate our position based upon reason and allow the others to express why they believe what they believe. Your philosophy and my philosophy may not agree but that does not need to separate Christian families whether physical family or spiritual family. We need to learn to relate to others in such a way that shows we are open and accepting just as our God is open and accepting. Jesus says come and lay your burden on Him we have no business adding more burden upon those coming to lay their upon Him. And of course if we do that we will never create the kind of family that someone would be so glad as to say, “I am so damn grateful that you all let me in.”

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Is the Golden Compass Anti-Christian

I recently received a forwarded E-mail about the upcoming movie “The Golden Compass” Here is the first part of the E-mail:

Subject: A movie NOT for Kids/teens or Family
I just got an e-mail warning about an upcoming movie for children in December. It is called The "Golden Compass" and it stars Nicole Kidman. I don't know if you have heard anything about it or not, but they are going to advertise it as a normal children's movie but in the end it is trying to teach children that there is no God. It is based off of a trilogy of children's books and the author is an atheist ( Phillip Pullman )
They evidently do some strange things in the movie and at the very end a girl and boy are supposed to be depicting Adam and Eve and then they kill God. They are trying to be very mild about it through the movie until the end so a lot of parents won't even know that it is coming so I wanted to pass the information on to you before you decide to take your children to see this movie. Also, it will be promoting his books so you may want to become familiar with the authors name and the books that he writes! If you want to read more info about it the website is:

Since I recently listened to the audio book versions of the trilogy (because I listen to lots of books at work) I found the current excitement over the movie interesting. It is set in an alternative world one of the billions of possible worlds that quantum theory proposes (Mulltiverse). Writers should rejoice that science produced the idea of parallel universes because it has been used in so many books and is a great technique to create a fictional world. In the Golden Compass the world is an alternative to our world in that Calvin became the pope and science is known as experimental theology.

9. How does the Catholic Church figure into the story?
The Church in Lyra’s world exerts a major influence on the lives of all the characters. It has a college of cardinals, a college of bishops, priests, nuns, and a magisterium. It even boasts converts from Protestantism. In Lyra’s world, Protestant reformers remained within the Church, elected John Calvin as Pope, moved the Church’s headquarters to
Geneva, and then did away with the papacy altogether.

We are uncertain of the time period as it is a different universe and a different England and frozen north. The technology is somewhere between the Victorian to Post WWI period. When opening into different universes (In the second and third books) it appears they open into different times. The story center's around Lyra a 12-13 year old orphan raised at an Oxford college.

One of the things I thought Christians would be most upset by was that the people all had their own Daemon's which are a part of the person yet take the form of an animal which can talk to the person and be seen by everyone.

Every character in Lyra’s parallel world possesses something called a daemon (pronounced “demon”). The name daemon is borrowed from the ancient Greeks. The philosopher Socrates described his daemon as a quiet voice inside his head that helped him discern right from wrong. Socrates, therefore, equated his daemon with his conscience.
Pullman’s world, the daemon is a cross between a person’s conscience and a person’s soul. The daemon is external and attached to a human. It takes on an animal form that best reflects the personality and character of the human to whom the daemon belongs. Its form changes from moment to moment during childhood. However, the daemon chooses a fixed form sometime during its human’s adolescence. Thus the individual’s personality and character become fixed for life. The daemon dissipates upon death.

For young children the daemon can change animal or bird forms and at some point in adolescence the daemon takes on a permanent form. It is a great concept, sort of like talking to yourself only with the comfort of a cuddly animal. The daemon can also go a little distance from the person which makes it good for spying on things but they cannot go very far or there is terrible mental anguish involved in separation. Except the witches up north their daemon's can travel long distances separated.

In this world there is a mystery involved with dust from space and it's contact with consciousness. There are two forces the Magisterium which seems reminiscent of the power of the Roman Catholic church in the Middle Ages yet clearly is not the Catholic church yet has control over the science (experimental theology) and Lyra's Guardian who turns out to be her father (it turns out Lyra's mother is the beautiful agent of the Magisterium). We really don't know if he is the hero or the villain. In the later books he brings together forces from angels and witches to armored bears into a universal war between other angels and other witches etc. Heaven it seems has been taken over by Megatron a powerful angel who has captured the ancient of days and it has become The Authority. I thought Adventists if they could get to this point as I know many are afraid of reading fiction would see a reflection of the Great Controversy idea and Biblical references aside from the common good versus evil concept which predominates in most literature. It is the human agents of Megatron who have established the authoritarian Church in Lyra's world. Sort of similar to the idea of 2 Thessalonians

(2 Th 2:4 NIV) He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God.

(Rev 13:4 NIV) Men worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, "Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him?"

In other words we see a religious institution which does not care about truth but seeks to control. I read, or listened to if you want to be technical, the books before I heard that Pullman was an atheist so the idea that it promoted atheism does not really register with me. The dust is more of a pantheistic idea but it still must have a source and intelligence as it communicates though various devices. So even though there is the villainy of the Magisterium the book does not seem to be against all forms of religion. In fact the view of Pete Vere is a canon lawyer and a Catholic journalist Linked above the book as sympathetic to alternative religions such as this quote :

These witches and shamans are important supporting characters. Without their assistance, Lyra and her father, Lord Asriel, would not be able to organize the war against the Authority.

The overall effect is that there is more to life then the physical reality. Are the books anti-Christian? I don't think so nor are they anti-religious, though it incorporates many religious ideas from Greek gods to souls in hades. One thing appears to fuel the controversy which inspired the E-mail that is circulated, that is the misunderstanding that any one form of a religion represents all religions or any one form of Christianity represents all Christianity. Martin Luther decried the Roman Catholic Church vigorously that does not mean he was attacking Christianity. Sometimes in defense of something people have to attack the abuser. Just as it is wrong to assume that all Roman Catholic Priests are pedophiles it is wrong to assume that a fictional authoritarian church represents all churches.

Most people have learned that they don't really get a philosophy or a religion from a fantasy book. I think Scientology will be the last religion created by a fantasy author. The rest of us look for meaning where we can find it whether in fiction, fantasy or nonfiction. A good story is entertainment for the mind, it may explore new ideas or ways of looking at things but it certainly does not mean that one discards their religion over a story that is obviously a fantasy adventure. We do of course look for commonality between the story elements and what we see around us. That is the beauty of literature and its importance. But how we use that information is the critical part of the process.

You may have noticed in the E-mail letter this section which are used to trigger a contempt response by Christians to the book:

They evidently do some strange things in the movie and at the very end a girl and boy are supposed to be depicting Adam and Eve and then they kill God

It is very doubtful that this is part of the movie. It is also not part of the book trilogy.

Spoiler Alert: There is a reference to Adam and Eve as a prophecy that spurs one of the Authorities spy’s to attempt to kill the Lyra and Will (Will is not in the first book) but he fails and in the end Lyra and Will are separated forever as they must go back to their respective universes. During the great war they actual aid in the release of the ancient of days which perhaps is a reference to God. Interestingly enough there is a good deal of self sacrifice involved throughout the books. In fact the destruction of Megatron is done by willingly giving Lord Asriel’s life in the site of Lyra, his daughter. It is where we finally see that he is not a villain. Even though at the end of the Golden Compass he opens a door into another universe by the killing of Lyra’s friend Roger. Which if that is how the movie ends will make a lot of unhappy movie goers.

From the Guardian,,2190765,00.html

Northern Lights, the book which first introduced readers to Pullman’s 12-year-old heroine, Lyra, is as dear to its many fans as JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and JK Rowling’s Harry Potter saga, so tampering with the philosophical content is not likely to be welcomed when the film is released before Christmas.

Pullman himself has said he believes ‘the outline of the story is faithful to what I wrote, given my knowledge of what they have done’, the National Secular Society - of which the author is an honorary associate - has now spoken out against the changes.

‘It was clear right from the start that the makers of this film intended to take out the anti-religious elements of
Pullman’s book,’ said Terry Sanderson, president of the society. ‘In doing that they are taking the heart out of it, losing the point of it, castrating it. It seems that religion has now completely conquered America’s cultural life and it is much the poorer for it. What a shame that we have to endure such censorship here too.’

Kidman has said the critical stance of the film ‘has been watered down a little ... I was raised Catholic, the Catholic Church is part of my essence,’ she told film journalists in
Australia in the summer. ‘I wouldn’t be able to do this film if I thought it were at all anti-Catholic.’
At a preview of footage staged at the Cannes Film Festival in the spring, director Chris Weitz, best known for directing About A Boy, said the film would be a fair retelling of Pullman’s tale.

‘In the books the Magisterium is a version of the Catholic church gone wildly astray from its roots. If that’s what you want in the film, you’ll be disappointed,’ he admitted, but added: ‘We have expanded the range of meanings of what the Magisterium represents. Philip Pullman is against any kind of organised dogma whether it is church hierarchy or, say, a Soviet hierarchy.’

Monday, November 05, 2007

Washing Osama's Feet

I just saw this post on Random Reflections by Greg Boyd Washing Osama's Feet
He begins by saying:
Brad Cole is a friend of mine who runs a ministry called Heavenly Sanctuary. This ministry puts on Conferences around the country on the Character of God -- and they get it right. This year they hired an artist named Lars Justinen from the Justinen Creative Group to paint the above picture to use on posters advertising their conference. Under this picture they had captions like "Follow the Leader," "God IS Great," and most accurately, "Jesus - Still Too Radical?"

Heavenly Sanctuary had contracts with several malls in the Seattle area to hang these posters advertising their conference, but no sooner had the posters gone up than angry calls began flooding the malls. Many people -- but, it seems, mostly Christians -- were offended at the image of Jesus washing Osama Bin Laden’s feet. There was such an outcry that each of the malls decided to go back on their contract and take the posters down. The Christian College that Heavenly Sanctuary was renting space from to host the Conference also canceled their contract. Brad had to scramble to find a secular venue (which, ironically, had no problems with the poster).

What does this say about how many American Christians envision Jesus? Obviously, the protesters believe that Jesus would not wash Osama Bin Laden’s feet. But Jesus died "not only for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world" (I Jn 2:2) -- and this obviously includes Osama. So if Jesus died for Osama, how are we to imagine him being unwilling to wash his feet?
As Don on pointed out there are a number of questions that come to mind. It is not simply that protesters believe that Jesus would not wash Osama's feet. In fact my first reaction two years ago when I saw it was that Islamic radicals would love the picture because it showed Jesus in a submissive role to Osama. It is a matter of perspective. Which is interesting in that the people are dressed in today's clothes which include modern footwear which would make foot washing meaningless, as is the entire cultural foot-washing tradition amongst most of those people present. One question I would ask is would these people even allow Jesus to wash their feet or would some of them instead wash the others feet and Jesus' feet and which ones would use the whole thing for a photo op. Here were some of the questions that Don asked:

This picture provides the base for some interesting discussions:

1. What message does the drawing convey?
2. Do you agree with that message?
3. Was the original foot-washing focused on the whole world?
4. Can we consider the people in the picture the disciples of Jesus?
5. Would you wash Judas' feet? Who was worse, Judas or Osama?
6. What is right with this picture?
7. What is wrong with this picture?

8. Which of these captions would you use for this picture?
  • "Follow the Leader"
  • "God IS Great"
  • "Jesus - Still Too Radical?"
  • None of the above.
"no sooner had the posters gone up than angry calls began flooding the malls."

9. What might these angry callers have said? Suggest a few possible sentences.
10. If you were the spokesperson for a shopping mall, how would you answer these callers?
11. Would you agree to take down the posters? Explain your reasons.

So if Jesus died for Osama, how are we to imagine him being unwilling to wash his feet?

12. Would Jesus wash Osama's feet? Explain your answer.
13. Would you wash Osama's feet?
14. Would all of these people partake of the Passover with Jesus?
15. Where would these people be when Jesus agonized in the Garden?
16. What would be their attitude when Jesus arose a few days later?

The Christian College that Heavenly Sanctuary was renting space from to host the Conference also canceled their contract. Brad had to scramble to find a secular venue (which, ironically, had no problems with the poster).

17. Explain the 'irony' mentioned here.
18. Why do you think those supporting these posters do not understand many Christians' opposition to this poster?
19. Are the poster supporters being reasonable?
20. What does it mean to be intolerant? Who is being intolerant in this story?
21. Would the Heavenly Sanctuary people wash the feet of the Christian College who cancelled their contract?
22. Are the Heavenly Sanctuary people being 'smugly moralistic'?

Update: This is actually the Portland Oregon area not the Seattle area. The Following is from KGW News:

Posters showing Jesus washing bin Laden's feet pulled from malls

04:45 PM PDT on Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Large posters depicting Jesus Christ washing the feet of world leaders and terrorist Osama bin Laden have generated numerous complaints at the Oregon malls where the banners briefly hung.

The posters promote the Good News Tour – a religious conference – and organizers say they were trying to make a statement about God, not politics.

The complaints, however, prompted advertising executives who initially approved the posters to remove them.

The paid advertisements were hung in Lloyd Center, Clackamas Town Center, Cedar Hills Crossing, Mall 205, the Columbia Gorge Outlet stores and in Salem’s Lancaster Mall.

“Clearly we’re disappointed… we knew the pictures evoked a lot of response…A lot of people think we’re trying to make a political statement, which is not it at all,” said conference organizer Mark Merizan.

Brad Cole, founder of, told KGW that the picture was meant to parallel the story of Jesus washing the feet of Judas.

“No one is Judas in the picture, but the meaning is that Jesus would stoop to wash the feet of his enemies. The meaning is that in that painting of powerful world leaders -- and one powerful terrorist -- the one with all the power is ultimately Jesus.”

The purpose of the conference is to discuss the character of God, according to Cole.

“People opposed to this picture feel that God isn't that kind. We believe that he is,” Cole said.

In the Bible's Gospel of John, Jesus washes his disciples' feet prior to Judas's betrayal and urges the disciples to wash one another's feet going forward.

Christian scholars interpreted Christ's act as an example of humility and willingness to serve even his enemies.

The Good News conference takes place November 2 and 3 at the Oregon Convention Center.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Is Penal Best part 2 Wrath and Fear

Continuing with Stan’s comments:

Graham Maxwell teaches that there is no literal lake of fire that will punish the wicked. He simply denies the doctrine of the wrath of God, and this is a gospel that Satan would love. If Satan can get people believeing that there is no just punishment for their evil deeds, then folks will see no need of a Savior and salvation. Frankly, before I was converted, I wished that there was no such thing as a lake of fire as taught in Revelation 21:8, and if I could be convinced of that, then I could just go about my merry way really living it up. I certainly wouldn't have bothered with any time worrying about religion or even caring about the things of God.

While I don’t want to simply discuss Graham Maxwell’s views I will say that I have no problem with Maxwell’s idea that the wrath of God is revealed when God let’s people go their own way. As Maxwell’s website says:

Romans 1:18, 24, 26, 28. "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth... Therefore God gave them up... For this reason God gave them up... And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up.." (RSV)

As the article God Always Takes The Blame says:

This is just one more sample of how it sounds like God is destroying people when His patience runs out and He lets His wrath go and kills them all. But that is not what it means at all. Psalm 78:49 teaches us that God's wrath is when He lets go and allows evil angels to destroy. "He cast upon them the fierceness of His anger, wrath, and indignation, and trouble, by sending evil angels among them." Another version says: "He showed them his hot anger. He sent His strong anger against them, His destroying angels." Now, when we put with that Rom. 1:18-26 regarding the "Wrath of God" and what Paul says that it is, we find that God is not striking down the wicked or lashing out against the sinners but He is simply taking His hands off and letting the sinner do his own thing and go the way he wants to go even though it leads to suffering and death. For example, when a person chooses to drink and/or smoke, God will not send an angel down to knock the cigarette or marijuana joint out of his mouth or the beer can out of his hand. No, the Lord at that point allows the inevitable consequence of this man or woman to take place. You do not break the laws of nature. They break you…

When you read the Old Testament you see this type of thing happen a lot. It is recorded that God destroys when in actuality it is the consequence of the nation’s behavior which causes foreign nations to attack Israel. A classic example is this verse in Amos:

(Amos 4:9 NIV) "Many times I struck your gardens and vineyards, I struck them with blight and mildew. Locusts devoured your fig and olive trees, yet you have not returned to me," declares the LORD. (Amos 4:10 ) "I sent plagues among you as I did to Egypt. I killed your young men with the sword, along with your captured horses. I filled your nostrils with the stench of your camps, yet you have not returned to me," declares the LORD.

We know from history that God did not come down and kill people and horses with the sword. The writer however sees everything as the result of God. As most of the Old Testament knows nothing of Satan as an agent of evil it was natural for them to think of these things as acts of God. God was in charge after all anything that happened was therefore and act of God. From fungus in the vineyard to national defeat these were all punishments of God. With advances in knowledge particularly from the New Testament the battle between good and evil is expanded and the realization that life has consequences apart from those of God’s actions becomes apparent. As the Disciples once asked Jesus who sinned, this blind man from birth or his parents. The answer was neither but even physical problems of nature can be used of God for his glory (John 9:2-3).

When you think about it, if the wages of sin is death is there really any need for God to pour out wrath upon anyone? Do we insist upon people being tortured before they die? Does that equal justice in anyone’s mind? I can hear some saying oh but that is not the death that we all face, it is the “second death”. Well it does not say second death and that idea only is seen in the book of Revelation and not likely to be the type of death referred to elsewhere in the Bible. But we will discuss more about that later. Remember Jesus is the firstfruits of those raised from the dead, it is not talking about the second death.

Would it really make Satan happy “If Satan can get people believeing that there is no just punishment for their evil deeds, then folks will see no need of a Savior and salvation.” In other words unless God is going to punish you for your evil deeds your death is not enough and no one would want salvation (healing) or feel a need for God to offer them reconciliation and life. That is a doubtful proposition but then many doubtful propositions are produced when people pretend they know what Satan wants or does not want. As a liar and murder from the beginning as Jesus said of Satan, it would seem that anything that was a lie would fit into the purview of something Satan uses and thus may like. But that could just as easily be the idea that God wants to pour out His wrath upon His creation then the idea that God does not want inflict additional punishment over and above the natural consequences of death.

In the context of the Penal/Substitutionary atonement is a just punishment ever produced by punishing the innocent or substituting the punishment of one person for the violations of others let alone billions of people. Not likely aside from this atonement theory would this type of justice even be considered just.

Stan’s testimony that he would have no interest in God had he not been afraid of God’s lake of fire is a troubling way to come to God. Fear is generally not a good technique to achieve a loving relationship. It may happen in a Stockholm syndrome situation but it was not generally the method that Jesus advocated. Yes you can find elements there but overall they were not the major focus of His ministry. Healing and teaching were His major efforts only using those harsher ideas upon those who did not seem to accept the more loving aspects. One thing about the Bible is you can certainly find some aspects that reach your particular need. However your need is not the need of everyone else or necessarily the need of the majority. That however seems to be a point the Penal theorists don’t understand.

The Problem of Preaching

I recently ran across the following article entitled: The Problem With Preaching

The article from 2006 goes over a lot of the things that I have expressed here (see side bar links). I can't agree with all his assessments because of the philosophical disagreement I have with the idea that we have to do everything the same way that New Testament Christians did things. Culture and times change and people have to change also. But the article is interesting, here is my pruned version of the article, there are comments from others for those who go to the website.

2. Preaching is an Ineffective Form of Communication
'Preaching' is a form of monologue, which is proven to be an ineffective form of communication. Passive listening is a very ineffective way of learning. Scientific studies of education show that passive listening leads only to a small percentage of retention. Few people can remember a sermon the next day, week or month (often the preacher can't remember it either). Although modern communication methods are improving, through the use of things like visual aids, the monologue remains one of the least effective forms of communication.

3. Preaching Limits Learning, Discussion & Debate
Preaching usually allows no opportunity for questions or discussion. It is rare for a church to allow interaction during a sermon, or questions & discussion time afterwards. Sermons are designed to be listened to, not interacted with.

6. Preaching Disempowers People
People who have been in church for many years, and have often heard 50-100 sermons each year, still think they need to be 'fed' by a sermon each week. They remain dependent for their spiritual nurture on getting a 'spiritual fix' each week through corporate worship and a sermon from a professional preacher. This seems to be the milk of Heb 5:12-14, rather than the meat that adults should be feeding themselves.

7. Preachers are a Problem
In each local church, most preaching is usually performed by one main trained professional minister.

Hence, sermons are usually built around the 'person of God', Some of the unfortunate implications of centering preaching around one trained professional religious person are -->
* It implies that one person hears from God & mediates to everyone else.
* It creates a dependence on being 'fed' by the necessary combination of professional ordained ministersxii plus theological training plus eloquent preaching.
* Week after week, the Christian message is filtered through one person, the preacher. It is filtered through one set of experiences, one personality, one mind, and one limited life experience.

* It devalues the experiences, insight and revelation of other members of the church, as they are relegated to only being listeners and often never being preachers. It implies that their knowledge of God & life wisdom are of no value to the wider church. Although we might give lip-service to the 'priesthood of all believers', we definitely don't practice it.
* By centering our gatherings on one person and their sermon, we are, in practice, reversing the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:14 and suggesting that the body is not many members, but one (often the same person, usually a man, who preaches most weeks). Moreover, by centering our church meetings on one persons ability to speak, we subtly begin to form a personality-cult around their talents. In many churches, this person becomes the final authority on spiritual and theological matters, effectively producing our own brand of 'Protestant Popes'.

"Where did our practice of preaching a monologue Gospel sermon to assembled believers on a weekly basis come from? Much of it came from the Protestant Reformers who saw the "church" as consisting of all those within a given territory - saved and unsaved. Because so many unbelievers were present within the Reformation churches (and even compelled to attend), it was necessary to continually preach the Gospel to them."xiv
However, in current western society, the majority of people in churches are 'believers' - hence preaching in these churches has virtually no evangelistic value.
There have also been other major cultural shifts which affect preaching - Stuart Murray Williams identifies three:
The first is a cultural shift away from passive instruction to participatory learning, from paternalism to partnership, from monologue to dialogue, from instruction to interaction. Those who teach, especially those who teach adults, no longer assume they are the experts who know everything and that their task is to convey information to others who simply receive this information. The new paradigm is of partnership, where teachers and learners work together...
The second is a societal shift away from an integrated world to a world where networks overlap, a shift away from simplicity to complexity...
There are very few generalists; most of us are specialists in one area or another. The education system is geared towards this, despite occasional attempts to broaden the curriculum. For preachers, this raises the issue of how to address such a complex world: the biblical text may not change but if we are concerned with application as well as interpretation, how are we to make the connections? Many preachers seem unable to relate the Bible and theology to the world of work or to issues in public life - these are areas of profound weakness in most churches. Perhaps we need the help of those in the congregation who have expertise and experience in areas where we do not.
The third is a media shift away from linear to non-linear methods of conveying information, from logical argument to pic 'n' mix learning. Whether we like it or not, the television age has deeply affected the way in which communication takes place and how people learn. A careful argument that takes thirty minutes to develop does not make for good viewing in the age of sound bites. Watching someone lecturing for thirty minutes, however many camera angles are used, is not an effective use of the visual media. Communication now frequently involves the use of images as well as words, short contributions from diverse points of view, and open-ended presentation that allows freedom to choose your own conclusion. For preachers, this implies not only the use of visual communication as well as verbal communication but hard challenges about the style and purpose of preaching.

What is the Alternative?
I believe that a better & more scriptural alternative is personal and corporate Bible study, listening to God, discussion, and working together in mutually-accountable community to help each other apply biblical truths in our lives, community and world.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Is Penal Best part 1

I am going to take this opportunity to discuss some of the comments that Stan of the Blog For The Gospel made in my previous blog post. I thought I would address his major points. His points are fairly representative of those who have accepted whole heartedly the Penal/Substitutionary theory of the Atonement. As I once asked my Pastor at a previous church I attended what did he know of the other Atonement Theories. His answer was that he thought they may have read about them in the seminary. Most Christians are in that same category they don’t know the Church History of the Atonement or the Atonement theories themselves. This leads them to think that the only theory in Christianity is that of the last couple hundred years and known as the Penal/Substitutionary theory. So I will be going over the ideas involved in these different theories with major emphasis upon the Penal theory and the Moral influence theory.

From the first part of Stan’s comments:

I did find it very interesting that new age and liberal views of God and the atonement are very similar.

I spent a lot of time listening to Provonsha, whose theology is similar to Maxwell's while I was in medical school, and I have spent too much time reading Maxwell's disciples on

Graham Maxwell teaches that there is no literal lake of fire that will punish the wicked. He simply denies the doctrine of the wrath of God, and this is a gospel that Satan would love. If Satan can get people believeing that there is no just punishment for their evil deeds, then folks will see no need of a Savior and salvation. Frankly, before I was converted, I wished that there was no such thing as a lake of fire as taught in Revelation 21:8, and if I could be convinced of that, then I could just go about my merry way really living it up. I certainly wouldn't have bothered with any time worrying about religion or even caring about the things of God.

Are Progressive SDA’s (since we are not really dealing with Liberal Christianity per se) views of God regarding the atonement similar to the New Age views of God. No in fact they are very different. However the New Age is famously known as a eclectic mix of ideas from many other religions it is very likely that there will be similarities between some things just as Adventism has similarities with Roman Catholics, Jews or Latter Day Saints. In most ways the New Age movement has no need of atonement theory because their belief is that everyone is part of God if they will only recognize the Christ consciousness inside them. The person who wrote the article trying to say that Graham Maxwell’s atonement view is the same as that supposedly channeled in the book “A course on Miracles” does not really do an adequate job or research. He merely finds a few similar sounding ideas and then proclaims Maxwell’s views as doctrines of demons. Research is not done by assuming one’s presuppositions and then arranging documentation together while the subjects are largely unrelated.

I do share Stan’s view that the contents of is made up of many ill advised statements. They along with Graham Maxwell have a tendancy to rely upon certain Ellen White ideas while completely ignoring contrary Ellen White ideas. For instance Ellen White is very clearly Penal/Substitutionary in most of her comments. Yet these statements are largely ignored or they will say that she was reflecting the thoughts of her day. Yet that is not the case when they look at other Ellen White statements such as the idea that Jesus felt on the cross like sinners will feel at the second death. Then they simply assume prophetic status for her statements. If one were to look at their rather inconsistent views it makes it hard to hold their views in high regard. So I understand Stan’s views but that does not mean that by default the Penal view is the winner.

Like Graham Maxwell I do not believe in a literal lake of fire. In fact the book of Revelation is very doubtfully meant to offer us literal explanations. It is a book of symbolism and allegory. What fire in the Bible often represents is complete destruction as in the ancient world fire destroyed material more fully then anything else known. The symbol is destruction of the wicked it is hardly necessary to restrict God to one particular method simply because the book of Revelation uses a particular term.

Tomorrow I will go over the rest of the last paragraph of Stan where he says: He simply denies the doctrine of the wrath of God, and this is a gospel that Satan would love. Because it is an intriguing idea that Satan would love the idea of God’s wrath not against man rather then God’s wrath against man.