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Monthly Archives: October 2009

The Ten Lost Tribes

The Ten “Lost Tribes of Israel” were mentioned briefly in class yesterday. Claude Mariottini has today linked to an interesting article about the place these tribes eventually inherited in Jewish folklore, and also provides a number of links to his own thoughts on the subject. (And no, I still don’t think they’re the British!)

ICF: Victim of Romophobia


An InterVarsity Christian Fellowship chapter can look very different in the fall than it did the previous spring. But the chapter at George Washington University (GWU) in the nation’s capital is dealing with change of a more uncomfortable kind than absent graduates and incoming freshmen.

Shortly before students left for summer vacation, the D.C. chapter split when all ten student leaders resigned to form a new campus ministry called University Christian Fellowship. More than half of the chapter’s roughly 100 students joined them. At issue was student leaders’ worry that the national ministry confuses the gospel by cooperating with Roman Catholics, and has a mission statement that Catholics could sign without violating church teaching on the doctrine of justification—how sinners are declared righteous before God.

As an “un-anathematized” Protestant (at least provisionally; I agree with the Catholic-Lutheran Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in principle, but haven’t really dug into the details), it saddens me to see fellow believers so eager not to find points of commonality with their brothers and sisters in Christ. For example, consider the following consecutive paragraphs in the article:

“If you buy into [N. T.] Wright’s approach to covenantal theology, then you’ve already taken three steps toward the Catholic Church. Keep following the trail and you’ll be Catholic,” said [Taylor] Marshall, who blogs at PaulIsCatholic.com. “Salvation is sacramental, transformational, communal, and eschatological. Sound good? You’ve just assented to the Catholic Council of Trent.”

Wright himself finds strange the notion that he’s leading people to Rome. “I am sorry to think that there are people out there whose Protestantism has been so barren that they never found out about sacraments, transformation, community, or eschatology. Clearly this person needed a change. But to jump to Rome for that reason is very odd,” he said. The best Reformed, charismatic, Anglican, and even some emerging churches have these emphases, he said.

How do Protestants not know that their historic theology goes far deeper and wider than the immediate concerns of the Reformation of the sixteenth century? Never mind; stupid question.


That’s Going to Leave a Mark!

Tim Challies’s review of Karen Armstrongs The Case for God:

It is a rare occasion that I find it difficult to point out any redeeming features in a book-when I struggle to find a single positive to write in a review. Unfortunately Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God is one of those books-one that is so monstrously bad, so hopelessly awful, so wretchedly miserable, that it took concerted effort just to finish it. Heck, even the cover stinks-a pile of religiously-significant books hovering at a strange angle over a plain background. I tell you what: I will concede the font. The book is set in Granjon, a very nice, classical font that is very consistent with the earliest Garamond type faces. It is classy and classical but without being antique. But that is as good as the book gets.

How Not to Ingratiate Your Fans

Harry Potter Themed Dinner Banned for “Infringing Copyright”

I hope Warner Brothers has operatives out in full force this Saturday, as there are certain to be hundreds of little Harry Potters and Hermione Grangers wandering the streets of most major American cities and towns trick-or-treating! And unlike the lady who hosts non-profit themed dinners in her home, those underage copyright-infringers stand to make at least a modest profit in the form of the candy and other treats they bring home.

I also can’t help but notice that J. K. Rowling, the author who actually, you know, created all these beloved characters and their exotic foods (which appeared in her books before Warner Brothers made the movies) is conspicuously absent from this story.

Brain Research Lends Support to Paul, Rabbis, Freud, and…Spock?

Ken Schenck gives a blurb about How God Changes Your Brain, a new book about brain research that a group on his campus is discussing.

I’m just dropping in on the group today; I haven’t read the whole book. But one thing that stuck out to me in the chapter I read is the fact that the authors claim that the limbic system in the center of the brain is more primitive and older from an evolutionary standpoint. It is where primal emotions like anger, aggression, and fear are seated. By contrast, the frontal lobes and the anterior cingulate just below it are considered younger from an evolutionary standpoint and are the places where empathy, reason, logic, and compassion reside.

The chapter likens these two parts of the brain–the inner primal and the front outer rational–to two wolves that fight inside of us. Which one wins depends on which one you feed. This description is of course ripe with theological parallel–flesh versus Spirit, the yetzer hara or evil inclination of rabbinic Judaism, the id versus the superego of Freud.

But one of the most interesting things in the chapter (7) was the sense that the emotions of anger and fear actually inhibit good thinking. Such negative emotions can apparently even damage the anterior cingulate. So Spock and the Stoics were half right. The negative emotions of anger and fear do apparently impair our ability to reason well. But they were wrong to try to do away with all emotion. Apparently compassion and empathy can coincide with good thinking.

CHR 101 Progress Reports

Apparently, I inadvertently send out some “blank” 8-week progress reports (due to a glitch either in the automated system or my own mental capacities). If you are a student in my CHR 101 class at Mercer and you believe you were erroneously flagged as a student experiencing academic difficulty, you are probably right! Please let me know if I need to talk with your advisor to help clear things up.

I apologize for the confusion, but am gratified to have just learned from a colleague that I am not the only instructor who has had this problem.

Clarence Jordan, Pray with Us

More people need to know the story of Clarence Jordan, a genuine Baptist saint:

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary had hosted many people before Clarence and would host many after him but Clarence Jordan was something different. In 1938, Clarence had just received his Ph.D. in New Testament and felt equipped to do whatever it was that God was calling him to. The challenge, of course, is that what had seemed so clear for so many years was suddenly cloudier. This further calling had descended upon Clarence as he studied the scripture and would not let him go. He was challenged by what he read and translated and would not allow himself to rationalize away its scandal and strength. Clarence was challenged and rebuked by the stories he enveloped himself in and found his increasing discomfort with the status quo a powerful witness to the possibility of redemption.

Can Women Be Ministers?

Ben Witherington has written a concise summary and refutation of the most prevalent arguments against women in ministry.

As I have learned over many years…. the problem in the church is not strong and gifted women.  We need all those we can get, and were it not for them, many churches would have closed long ago. I remember so vividly meeting the babooshkas—the grandmothers in the Moscow Baptist Church, who had stopped Stalin from closing the church by standing in the door and not letting his troops enter and close it down.  Thank God for strong, gifted women in the church.   No, the problem in the church is not strong women, but rather weak men who feel threatened by strong women, and have tried various means, even by dubious exegesis to prohibit them from exercising their gifts and graces in  the church.

Witherington is a biblical scholar, and his arguments are based on careful exegesis of biblical texts. Anyone who would appeal to church tradition to override reasonable interpretations of what the Bible teaches will presumably be impervious to his arguments. More’s the pity.

Why Was David Tending the Sheep?

Some interesting insights into shepherding from this excerpt from Margaret Feinberg’s latest book:

The introduction of Saul stands in sharp contrast to the first mention of David, the second king of Israel. The prophet Samuel is told by God that one of the sons of Jesse will be the next king. Noting that the Lord hasn’t chosen any of the first seven sons of Jesse, Samuel asks the father if he has any other sons. Jesse responds, “There remains yet the youngest, and behold, he is tending the sheep” (1 Samuel 16:11). When we meet David, he’s watching over his family’s livelihood.

The Hebrew word for youngest, qatan, implies insignificant and unimportant. One translator even uses the word “runt.” Though David is the runt of the litter, God selects him to rule over Israel.

“Does it surprise you that the youngest child was caring for the sheep?”

“Not at all,” Lynne said. “In ancient societies, and even today in remote areas, the weakest members of a family are often the ones assigned to care for the sheep. When we were in Peru staying with a family, a five-year-old boy, a few women, and an old man took care of the family’s sheep. The shepherds were those who lacked the strength or skill to do more physically demanding labor.”

In the Bible, the younger siblings are often responsible for shepherding, while the older children are given more important jobs. Though Cain is older, Abel keeps the animals. While some shepherds were strong like Abraham’s son, Issac, who makes the Philistines jealous with his abundant flocks (Genesis 26:14), many times the younger brothers or even daughters care for the sheep. Rachel, the younger sister of Leah, is recognized as a shepherdess. In fact, while watering sheep at a well, she meets Jacob and eventually falls in love (Genesis 29:2–11).

I couldn’t believe what Lynne was saying. Those considered the weakest members of society—the children, women, and the elderly—were sent out to protect the sheep. Within this context, the story of David made more sense to me. David isn’t just the youngest brother; he’s the least qualified choice in the eyes of everyone. He takes care of the sheep, because everyone else in the family has more important duties. Samuel’s selection of David must have shocked them all.

Saul’s Reign

Claude Mariottini draws attention to the fact that nobody really knows how long Saul reigned over Israel, although it is possible to make an educated guess. Since Claude’s educated guess is the same as mine, it is well worth the read. :-)


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