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May 12, 2006

Immediately prior to the Together for the Gospel Conference, I had the opportunity to be part of a panel discussing issues pertaining to blogging. In the days following I mentioned on my blog that, due to the brevity of the occasion, I did not have the chance to address some of the “soapbox” issues pertaining to blogging in general and Christian blogging in particular. A couple of people have since asked me if I would consider writing about these issues and I thought I’d take the opportunity to address one of them today. This is an issue that actually extends far beyond blogging and the blogosphere and is one that has become increasingly important to me over the past few months. It has to do with anonymity.

Admiral Lord Nelson once remarked that “every sailor is a bachelor when beyond Gibraltar.” This was a statement about anonymity, something that was quite rare in even just a few generations ago. Nelson knew that once his sailors moved beyond the bounds of the British Empire, beyond society’s systems of morality and accountability, they underwent a transformation. Every man became a bachelor and sought only and always his own pleasure.

In the past, anonymity was both rare and difficult for people tended to live in close-knit communities where every face was familiar and every action was seen. Travel was rare and the majority of people lived a whole lifetime within a small geographic area. Os Guinness remarks that in the past “those who did right and those who did not do wrong often acted as they did because they knew they were seen by others. Their morality was accountability through visibility.” While anonymity is not a new phenomenon, the degree of anonymity we can and often do enjoy in our society is unparalleled. “For most people most of the time, their villages or towns were sufficiently cohesive and their relationships sufficiently close that behavior was held in check. In small towns neighborliness was often ‘nosiness’ just as in cities anonymity was often ‘liberation.’ But the point still stands—traditional morality was closely tied to accountability.”

Under-girding these statements is the fundamental belief that humans require accountability. Left to our own devices, we will soon devise or succumb to all manner of evil. As Christians, those who seek to live by a higher standard, we know that we need other believers to watch over us and to hold us accountable to the standards of Scripture. Passages such as Ecclesiastes 4:12 remind us that “a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” The Bible reminds us that “iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17) and that we are to “provoke one another to love and good works…exhorting one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25). Life is far too difficult and we are far too sinful to live it in solitude. We need community. We need accountability.

Our society values anonymity. There are many who feel that anonymity is a right and one that is to be closely guarded and protected. Those who use technology may have noticed the influx of tools designed to protect the anonymity of the Internet user. The latest versions of web browsers come with tools designed to erase all trace of what a person was doing while browsing the web. Other tools allow a person to be untraceable to others as he travels various web sites. While there may be legitimate applications to these tools they are, by and large, used by those who are up to no good. But anonymity extends far beyond technology. It extends to the workplace where many people travel extensively, spending weeks of every year in hotel rooms where what they do and what they watch is kept behind closed doors. We live in communities where we may not even know our next-door neighbors either by name or by face, for we arrive home from work, pull the car into the garage and close the door behind us. We live only yards away from people we may never meet. Churches grow larger and relationships grow weaker. We are anonymous, impersonal people in a largely anonymous, impersonal world. We live beyond Gibraltar. Guinness does not exaggerate when he writes “More of us today are more anonymous in more situations than any generation in human history.”

I have often seen the effect of this anonymity in my line of work and in my wife’s. Aileen sells products online. It is not unusual to have a person who is somehow dissatisfied with his transaction write her an email that is rude, abrasive and even filled with profanity. But invariably, if the person later phones her or if she decides to phone the disgruntled customer, the person is much more kind and even-tempered when the communication is less-anonymous. I would assume that if they were to meet face-to-face, these customers would likely be more civil still. Truly anonymity can have a strangely negative effect on people.

I don’t think that Christians are any more immune to the temptations of anonymity than are unbelievers. Guinness asks, “Why are there more temptations in a hotel room in a distant city than at home? Why do more people ‘flame’ on the Internet than would ever lose their cool in an office?” These questions are surely as applicable to those who seek to follow Christ as they are to those who do not. Christian-owned forums and blogs are all the proof we need that Christians require accountability as much as anyone. Perhaps more so.

Many bloggers and other Internet users value anonymity. A blog is understood by some to be a place of refuge and safety—a place where a person can post what is on his mind and on his heart while revealing little about who he truly is. It is a place to let loose with the anger and frustration. It is a place where a person can speak out to other people and about other people without ever having to look those people in the eye. If every sailor is a bachelor beyond Gibraltar, we could as easily say that every blogger is a pundit or a curmudgeon or an expert or a righteous man when in front of his keyboard.

Guinness says that, in former days, morality was accountability through visibility. Yet today many of us are able to remain invisible. Not too long ago I was an invisible blogger. In some ways I valued my anonymity, and yet I knew that it could be a danger. I wrote a lot and my site was read by many people, but all the while I was safely removed from the people I wrote for and wrote about. I began to see the effect of this in my writing. It became increasingly abrasive and showed a distinct lack of character. The past year or so has brought about something of a transformation in my life. By live-blogging conferences I have had to emerge from my home office and meet many of the people who read this site and whose sites I read. This has been, in every case, a tremendous blessing. At the same time I made changes to my life, even going so far as to begin attending a new church where I would come face-to-face each week with people who would encourage or exhort me as necessary. I deliberately sought people who could challenge me and keep an eye on whatever ministry opportunities arise from my writing.

I am not suggesting that I am a model to follow. But I think that God was gracious to me in revealing the necessity of avoiding complete anonymity. He helped me understand that accountability is closely tied to visibility. And so I have sought to make myself more visible that I may accept correction and reproof when it is necessary. At the same time I have renewed my commitment to the One who is always watching and who knows every word I write and every intent of my heart. And so this is my challenge to bloggers and to those who comment on blogs: make yourself accountable through visibility. Commit yourself to purity of heart and to only speaking or writing what is honoring to God. And then ensure that there are people who know you, who read your words, who will lovingly exhort and correct you when you do not keep this commitment. In this way we can honor God and maintain a focus on the gospel of Jesus Christ.

May 08, 2006

It seems that life is filled, at almost every turn, with trials and difficulties. Some of these times of trail are light while others are terribly weighty. Strangely, some of these trials are caused by times of great joy while others are caused by great pain. The birth of a child can prove to be almost as great a trial, despite being brought about by such joy, as the loss of a job or another occasion of pain. It is during times like this that I am particularly grateful to be a part of the church. Never is God’s wisdom in bringing His people into this type of community more profoundly felt and seen than during these difficult times.

I am one of those people that loves to help (most of the time, anyways). While I am a shamefully selfish person in many ways, I do derive some type of joy from helping others, even if that help is expressed in something as simple as lending my back to help a family move, lending my van for hauling a crowd of people from place to place, or lending my time to help out at some occasion or another. Whether I always do this from a pure heart, deriving my joy from obedience to God in helping these people, is debatable much of the time. It is a strange and unique fact of the Christian faith that, as far as God is concerned, motives matter more than actions. God values a pure heart and one that seeks His honor above all. Far too often I know that I do things from the desire to be seen, known and thanked. It’s pathetic really. Shameful. Yet it is all too human.

But while I love to help, sometimes from pure motives and sometimes from impure, I am not the type who likes to be helped. I assume that this is simply an outworking of pride in my life. I am convinced that it is also a product of my upbringing. Despite not having any recent Dutch heritage, I was, in large part, raised among second generation Dutch-Canadians. I went to Dutch schools and churches and no doubt absorbed much of their culture and many of their values. The Dutch are, in many ways, a noble group and, when saved, make some of the strongest, most committed Christians I’ve known. There are few groups I have seen that do a better job of taking care of and ministering to their own. While these Dutch people value hard work, they also take very good care of those who are unable to work because of age, infirmity or circumstance. These Dutch churches put to shame many churches I have come across since where those who fall upon hard times are considered burdensome and are shunned rather than honored, left to their own rather than ministered to.

Yet while the Dutch people I knew took very good care of those who were unable to care for themselves, they placed great value on self-sufficiency. Charity was something to be extended only to those who had a genuine need for it. While it was not generally considered shameful to need or accept charity, it was considered most shameful to request it when it was not absolutely necessary. Embedded deep in the Dutch culture is the value of a person pulling himself up by his own bootstraps, being strong, and showing no weakness. Those who were considered weak, especially when young, were often trampled underfoot. Dutch schools were full of weak, frightened people who pretended to be strong. The churches were probably not much different.

It is a strange dichotomy, I suppose, but this desire to be self-sufficient was as much part of the culture as was the desire to help those who had genuine needs. Charity was valued as highly as self-sufficiency. This was the culture I absorbed as a child and teenager. It was the culture that, in some ways, I carry with me today. I am usually glad to extend charity, but am rarely as eager to express need or to accept help from others. I hate to feel weak.

It is only over the past few months that I have come to see the value of expressing weakness when I am weak. I have seen the value in asking people to come in to my life and to minister to me when I have needs. I can think of at least three reasons that this is a necessity for believers.

First, expressing weakness is an expression of humility. Conversely, it is only pride that keeps me from making my needs known and asking others to minister to me. When I am filled with pride, a strong and ever-present foe, I would rather suffer silently than humble myself and allow others to extend help to me. Far too often I have feigned strength when I am filled only with weakness. Far too often I have allowed pride to overwhelm humility and have suffered in my sinful silence.

Second, expressing weakness allows others to plead for me before God. There are times when my prayers are weak and filled with doubt. There are times when I don’t even know what to pray or how to pray for myself. In these times it is comforting to know that others are praying for me and holding me up before the throne of grace. What a blessing it is to be part of a body where needs are expressed and are brought before God!

Finally, when I refuse to express my weakness I refuse to give other people the opportunity to minister to me. It is a strange fact that, while I am always eager and willing to help those who reach out to me, I am far less eager to reach out to others. I cannot count the number of times that I have been blessed by having the opportunity to help others. While I attempt not to see extending help and charity as a selfish act, an act primarily for my own benefit, it is sometimes difficult not to! I have had my faith challenged and strengthened and have been greatly blessed in helping others. When I have heard expressions of gratitude by those I’ve been able to help I have often had to say, with honesty and humility I think, that it was surely a greater blessing to be able to help than it was to received assistance! Why is it, then, that I am so hesitant to allow others the opportunity to be blessed by helping me? It seems to me that I am as sinful in refusing to help those in need as I am in refusing to allow them to bless and minister to me when I have need.

I guess this little meditation was brought about, in part at least, by the birth of my daughter. This is a time when, for just a few days, life becomes near-chaos. Schedules are disrupted, sleep is sporadic and tempers can quickly fray. Yet during this time we have already been blessed and ministered to in many ways. We have had people offer us their time and resources and we have several meals, all of which look delicious, waiting in our freezer. My first inclination, when offered a meal or other help is always to refuse. But I quickly realize that to refuse would be only an expression of pride. And worse, far be it from me to refuse someone else the opportunity to be strengthened in his faith by ministering to myself or my family!

During the past few days (and during the past few weeks when my wife was ordered to stay off her feet) it has been a blessing to allow others to minister to us. It is good to be members of the body of Christ. What wisdom God has shown us in giving us this body, this family!

May 07, 2006

King for a Week is an honor I bestow on blogs that I feel are making a valuable contribution to my faith and the faith of other believers. Every week (or so) I select a blog, link to it from my site, and add that site’s most recent headlines to my left sidebar. While this is really not much, I do feel that it allows me to encourage and support other bloggers while making my readers aware of other good sites.

This week’s King for a Week is Worship Matters, the blog of Bob Kauflin, who serves in Gaithersburg, Maryland as Director of Worship Development for Sovereign Grace. He is probably best known for his involvement in several Sovereign Grace Music projects, including Upward: The Bob Kauflin Hymns Project and Songs For The Cross Centered Life. Bob is a relative newcomer to the blogosphere, having begun “Worship Matters” in November of last year. But since then, he has often blessed and challenged me with his humble, Christ-centered reflections on faith and worship. While the blog is intended primarily for those who are involved in leading God’s people in corporate worship, I can attest that it will prove valuable for anyone who cares to make it a regular stop.

For the next few days you will be able to see the most recent headlines from Bob’s blog in the sidebar of my site. I hope you will make your way over to his site and look around.

I continue to accept nominations for King of the Week. If you have a site you would like to nominate, feel free to do so by clicking on the “suggest” button below the King of the Week box. Thanks to those of you who nominated this week’s honoree.

May 02, 2006

The recent edition of Time Magazine features “The People Who Shape Our World.” Time has created a list of 100 men and women whose power, talent or moral example, they feel, is transforming our world. It is important to note, before we take a peek at this list, that it is not really the world which these people shape. Rather, it is people within the world that are shaped and transformed by these people. A person can only shape the world by shaping the people in the world. So bear that in mind as we move along here.

Having reviewed this list, the cynic in me does not hold out much hope for the world. Here are some of the men and women who are apparently shaping the world we live in. The first category is of artists and entertainers—“influential stars [who have] won fans and spawned imitators around the globe.”

  • J.J. Abrams
  • George Clooney
  • Dixie Chicks
  • Ellen DeGeneres
  • Wayne Gould
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman
  • Arianna Huffington
  • Ang Lee
  • Renzo Piano
  • Rain
  • Rachael Ray
  • Jeff Skoll
  • Kiki Smith
  • Will Smith
  • Zadie Smith
  • Howard Stern
  • Meryl Streep
  • Reese Witherspoon
  • Rob Pardo
  • Daddy Yankee
  • Tyra Banks
  • Dane Cook
  • Matt Drudge
  • Stephen Colbert

I only rarely watch movies and television and almost never listen to the radio so am not entirely up-to-date on Hollywood’s latest shining stars, but I had a great deal of trouble thinking that most of these people could possibly shape our world. And even more so, I had trouble understanding why anyone would want to emulate and idolize many of these people and allow themselves to be shaped by them. For again, a person can only shape the world by shaping the people in the world. To be influential a person must have influence over others.

On this list we have such notables as the Dixie Chicks. Their influence is felt in disrespecting and scorning their President, setting a terrible example to their fans of people who loudly and proudly disregard authority. We have Ellen DeGeneres and Ang Lee who are notable primarily for being advocates and champions of the homosexual agenda. There is Reese Witherspoon who really has not done much of anything beyond acting in quite a few movies. Howard Sterm has popularized all manner of perversity and profanity while Tyra Banks complains and has a lot of plastic surgery. Rachael Ray teaches people to cook (I know this because I saw an episode of her show once while flying from Los Angeles to Atlanta).

The article goes on to list Scientists & Thinkers, Leaders & Revolutionaries, Heroes & Pioneers and Builders & Titans. Some of the names are familiar to just about anyone. Others are not. Noticably absent from this list was a firm Christian presence (and yes, I do realize that “Christians” Bono and Pope Benedict were represented).

As I thought about this list I was reminded of something Os Guinness wrote in The Call. He discusses fame and heroism and the call of Christ. He provides three reasons that heroism has fallen on hard times. The first of these is the modern habit of bebunking. Modern people are (often necessarily) cynical and “look straightaway not for the golden aura but for the feet of clay, not for the stirring example but for the cynical motive, not for the ideal embodied by for the energetic press agent.” The third reason is the death of God in Western society, or as Guinness terms it, “the drowning out of the call of God in modern life.” Having lost a perspective of the transcendence of human life, we can no longer properly talk about an ideal human character. In previous generations, to be a great human being was to be a “knight of the faith.” This is, of course, no longer the case. Because there is no Caller and no higher calling, there is no knights of faith and no one who can dub them.

It is the second reason, though, that most gripped me. Guinness points to the press and media and their role in creating the modern celebrity. He did this long before “American Idol” and the rise of the “reality” show. These forces widen the gap between “fame and greatness, heroism and accomplishment.” It used to be that heroism was linked to the honor of accomplishment so that only those were regarded as heroes who had actually made some grand accomplishment, whether in “character, virtue, wisdom, the arts, sports or warfare.” Sadly, this is no longer the case. Today we find that the media offers a shortcut to fame—“instantly fabricated famousness with no need for the sweat, cost and dedication of true greatness. The result is not the hero but the celebrity, the person famously described as ‘well-known for being well-known.’ A big name rather than a big person, the celebrity is someone for whom character is nothing, coverage is all.”

Guinness often points to Winston Churchill as a true hero. Churchill was a flawed man, but one who rose to true fame, greatness and heroism through character, virtue, wisdom and warfare. Churchill was able to say once that “I know why logs spit. I know what it is to be consumed.” Yet through the trials he developed great character and has been memorialized as a true hero. Guinness points to Moses who was a man ablaze with a passion for God. Moses was transformed from being a man of action to a man of words and slowly became a leader, a prophet, a hero who was given the tribute “Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.”

The heroes and influencers of our culture are rarely heroic. We prefer fleeting fame to grand accomplishment, coverage to character. Sadly, it seems that this lack of discernment is seen within the church as much as without. Many of the men and women who have risen to the ranks of influencers and leaders within the church lack the godliness and character that ought to set apart those to whom we give special honor. How else to we explain T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer, Creflo Dollar and so many other Christian “heroes?”

Great men and women will have great heroes. This was brought home to me last week when I had the privilege of touring through the offices and library of Dr. Albert Mohler. On the walls of the library and his offices were portraits of truly great men—Charles Spurgeon, John Knox, William Tyndale and other heroes of church history. There was even a portrait of Winston Churchill and several biographies of the man. Clearly Dr. Mohler is deliberately surrounding himself by the examples of men who are truly great—men whose example he can learn from and emulate.

Like Dr. Mohler, I aspire to be a great man. I don’t much care if you or anyone else remembers my name months or years from now, as long as God knows me as a man who knew and loved and honored Him. I wish to be great in His eyes. If I am to strive after godliness and to become a man who is great in God’s eyes, I must pay close attention to who influences me, to who shapes my world. I must know for certain that I will imitate those I allow to influence me. And thus I must be sure that those who influence me are not merely those who are well-known for being well-known, but those who are men and women of character, virtue and wisdom.

April 25, 2006

I promised yesterday that today I would have a big announcement. Well here it is.

I am announcing the launch of a new web site. Well, a new/old web site. You may remember a site called Discerning Reader. Once a very popular and well-regarded site, it ran into all sorts of trouble, the details of which I do not care to expound upon. Suffice it to say that the site shut down and the domain name was offered for sale. I purchased the name and have created a new site. There is no connection between the old owners and myself.

As you may know, one of my passions is reading. I absolutely love to read and to help others find books that are worth reading. With tens of thousands of Christians books hitting the shelves every year, it is becoming increasingly difficult to sort the good from the bad and the better from the best. This is where Discerning Reader comes in. It is a site that features reviews written by discerning readers. There are currently several hundred reviews available with many others to be added in the near future. There are author biographies as well as a whole list of new (or upcoming features). Among the features are:

  • New York Times Bestsellers - We are reviewing many of the books that appear on the New York Times list of bestsellers. We hope to be able to expand this section to include all the books featured in the top position in nonfiction.
  • Expert Lists - We have asked some of the most discerning and widely-respected authors and teachers to send us lists of books they recommend for various purposes.
  • Where To Start Lists - Interested in beginning to read about a new topic? Let our experts guide you to books that will bless you as you read about spiritual disciplines, church history, systematic theology, family issues and more.
  • Church Bulletin Mini-Reviews - Discerning Reader now offers short, discerning reviews suitable for placement in church bulletins.
  • Bookworm Reviews - Discerning Reader has looked high and low to find other discerning book reviewers. Our “Bookworm” program features off-site reviews written by a wide variety of discerning reviewers. Check any of the titles in our database for these bookworm reviews.

Not all of these features are fully available yet, but they will be added in the near future. You may recognize the “bookworm review” program as the heart of what was once Diet of Bookworms.

I am quite excited about this site and am confident that it will prove to be of great benefit to the church. I invite you to visit the site, to take a look around, and to provide me with your feedback. Please spread the news as you see fit. Tell others about this resource!

Visit Discerning Reader

April 21, 2006

Christians are anticipating The Da Vinci Code movie with a mix of expectation and dread. The expectation is based on knowing that Jesus’ name will be, at least for a short time, on many tongues. This may create opportunities to discuss Him with friends, family neighbors and co-workers. The dread is based on the knowledge that Dan Brown, in his book, and thus in the film, took great liberties with history, presenting as factual a mix of fact, fiction and fantasy. He does not help the reader or watcher to know what is true and what is not, what is factual and what is only the product of his imagination. Brown is far from honest when he declares in the opening pages of his novel that “all descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.” It has been shown by men far more knowledgeable and capable than I am that this is, plain and simply, nonsense.

It was only two years ago that another film exploded into the box office, causing people to consider Jesus as perhaps they had not considered Him before. Christians heralded the arrival of this movie, defending the film and its creator from charges of being outrageously violent and being anti-semitic. They lauded the film—praised it—as being a beautiful, accurate, stunning portrayal of the last hours of Jesus’ life. Yet in many ways this film, The Passion of the Christ, took as many liberties with the truth as does The Da Vinci Code. Just as Dan Brown has an agenda that he seeks to further in the work of fiction he declares to be fact, so Mel Gibson, who wrote, produced and championed The Passion of the Christ wished to further an agenda in mixing truth with error, fact with fiction.

This time, though, Christians are not embracing the film. Nor should they. Yet there is no small amount of hypocrisy in overlooking the unbiblical agenda of one man, celebrating his film, while criticizing another and lamenting his film.

I posted an early review of The Passion of the Christ and followed this review with several articles dealing with topics ranging from the inaccuracies of the film to my reflections on how God might use it nevertheless. I received no small amount of grief for criticizing the film and questioning the discernment of those who gave it a blanket endorsement. My review was read by tens of thousands of people and I received countless comments and emails questioning my motives, exhorting me to repent for posting it and occasionally even encouraging me to persevere. I argued in the subsequent series of articles that The Passion of the Christ presented a distinctly Roman Catholic version of the events surrounding Jesus’ life. I showed that Mel Gibson, while faithful to the text of Scripture in some areas, was willing to part from historical fact when his Roman Catholic faith required that he do so. Gibson could have created a film that was simply accurate to the Scriptures. Had he done so, it would have been consistent with what Protestants believe about Jesus’ life and death. Alas, he did not. Rather, Gibson created a film that portrayed Jesus in a manner that is consistent with Roman Catholicism and thus is, in many important ways, inconsistent with Scripture.

It was disturbing to see how many prominent Christian leaders voiced their support for this film and what terms they used to do so. They described the movie as being “factually accurate,” “very accurate [in the details],” “realistic,” “biblical,” “an accurate account,” “a true representation of Jesus” and “close to the Scriptures.” In certain aspects of the film this was true. Yet in many cases it could not have been further from the truth.

Before I proceed, allow me to grant that there is a difference in scope and seriousness between the inaccuracies found in Gibson’s film and those found in The Da Vinci Code. Dan Brown goes so far as to suggest that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, fathered a child with her, and intended for her to be his successor as head of the church. When we compare what Gibson presented in The Passion of the Christ to these claims, Gibson’s errors may seem trifling. Yet the errors the The Da Vinci Code do not come with the endorsement, recommendation and praise of a multitude of prominent Christian teachers and leaders! Neither will pastors encourage Christians to attend this movie as an act of devotion.

Allow me to present just two of the more serious errors, or series of errors, that clearly show that Mel Gibson was attempting to portray Jesus in a way that was consistent not with Scripture, but with his own agenda of furthering his Catholic understanding of the Christian faith.

The first concerns Mary, whose role in Christianity is an obvious and well-documented point of disagreement between Protestants and Catholics. Mary was presented in a light far different than what we find in Scripture. Gibson, consistent with Catholic theology, showed her taking a role as a suffering servant, suffering along with Jesus. This is necessary for her to assume her role as “co-Mediatrix.” She is presented as being Jesus’ support and strength during His trials; many times Jesus falls and is unable to get up, but after looking at His mother He finds the strength to carry on; the disciples all call Mary “mother”; Mary is shown submitting her will to God’s, saying “so be it” as if her consent was necessary for God’s plan to proceed (in the same way that Jesus’ consent was necessary). This is clearly not the Mary of the Bible, but the Mary of the Roman Catholic Church who reigns beside Jesus as Queen of Heaven.

The second error concerns the source for much of Gibson’s material. As I proved conclusively in an article entitled The Gospel According to Emmerich, Gibson drew heavily from Sister Anne Emmerich’s devotional book entitled The Dolorous Passion of Christ. Emmerich is known to some as being a mystic, stigmatist, visionary, and prophet who supposedly received visions from God in which He provided to her details about Jesus’ last days that are not contained in the Bible. This extra-Biblical account of Jesus’ suffering provided many of the intricate but important details in the movie. Among these are some fairly innocuous details such as Simon and Jesus linking arms as they held the cross and Pilate’s wife providing a cloth to Mary which she used to wipe Jesus’ blood from the floor. But it also provided inspiration for some of the more pivotal details. Gibson put Emmerich’s words in the mouth of Peter in an expression of unworthiness before Mary. “0, Mother,” Peter said, “speak not to me-thy Son is suffering more than words can express: speak not to me!” Most troubling, though, is that The Dolorous Passion of Christ provided many of the words Jesus spoke. A great number of Jesus’ words from the movie are drawn not from the Bible but from Emmerich. The movie makes no attempt to show what was drawn directly from the Bible and what was drawn from extra-Biblical writing.

Christians were willing and eager to tolerate the abuse of Scripture when it suited their purposes. Churches around the globe (though mostly around the North American continent) mobilized to take advantage of the opportunity to reach people through The Passion of the Christ. Marketing companies proclaimed it the greatest evangelistic opportunity since Pentecost. Thousands of churches encouraged their members to attend. Millions did. Many churches bought thousands of tickets and gave them to members of the local communities. Mel Gibson made hundreds of millions of dollars, largely through the efforts of Protestants (money he has since used, in part, to build a largely private Roman Catholic church where he can celebrate his Pre-Tridentine brand of Catholicism). Evangelicals were only too pleased to part with their money to support this film. It was disturbing, tragic even, to see Protestants commit themselves so fully to a film that was, in so many ways, inaccurate and unbiblical.

The Da Vinci Code, when examined objectively, may well be less harmful than The Passion of the Christ. Most Christians know that it contains error and takes great liberties with historical fact. The lines have been firmly drawn. But in The Passion of the Christ Christians were told they were watching fact when much of what they were watching was mere fiction, fiction that would seek to draw them not to the Christ of the Bible, but to the Christ of Rome and to His mother. They were told that Mel Gibson was a brother in Christ, when in fact his Pre-Tridentine Catholicism rejects the faith of Protestants. Just like Dan Brown, Mel Gibson brought his movie before the public as part of a wider agenda. And like Brown, this agenda was distinctly anti-biblical. Is it consistent then, or is it hypocritical that evangelicals were willing to embrace The Passion of the Christ but are so dead-set against The Da Vinci Code?

April 20, 2006

On the thirteenth of April, one week ago, John MacArthur was invited to be a guest on Larry King Live. I have lost track of the number of times that MacArthur has been asked to participate in King’s show, but it seems that when King needs a person to defend traditional, biblical Protestantism, he calls MacArthur. It is always a good choice.

When MacArthur appears on Larry King Live he usually appears as part of an interesting cast of characters. More often than not he is seated between Deepak Chopra on one side and Michael Manning on the other. Chopra is a New Age guru and founder of The Chopra Center for Well Being in California while Michael Manning is a Roman Catholic priest, pastor at St. Anthony’s Parish in San Bernardino, and host of The “Word in the World.” Last week, though, MacArthur found himself in different company. While he was still seated beside Michael Manning, every other one of the seven guests on the show, was Roman Catholic. The topic of discussion was a new, exploitive “reality” show entitled God or the Girl?. The show follows four young men as they wrestle with the decision of whether or not to train for the priesthood, knowing that this will require a life of celibacy.

For the first few minutes of the broadcast, King spoke with the four men who will be featured in God or the Girl?. He then asked questions of Anthony Podovano, a Roman Catholic theologian and author and Father John Bartunek, who is a Legionnaire of Christ (whatever that is) and rejected evangelicalism in favor of crossing the Tiber and becoming a Catholic priest.

He then turned to MacArthur. And this is what I love and admire about John MacArthur. MacArthur did not beat around the bush. He did not spend a few sentences seeking common ground and affirming his love and respect for Catholic tradition before addressing what he feels is error. No, he just waded in.

I think from a biblical standpoint we need to readdress this issue on a couple of fronts. Number one, according to the New Testament, you can’t be a pastor unless you are the husband of one wife and have proven that you’re able to manage your household well.

The apostle Paul also said that one of the false doctrines, he called doctrines of demons, 1 Timothy 4, is forbidding to marry. There is no biblical basis for this whatsoever. You can’t use Jesus as an example. He’s God in human flesh.

There is no biblical foundation. In fact, Paul said it’s better to marry than to burn. So, you put a priest in an impossible situation, then stick him in a confessional all day to listen to people reciting all their sexual sins and I think that’s just way over the top if you expect somebody to live a pure life with that kind of temptation thrown at them.

He then provided the historical basis for the Roman Catholic requirement of priestly celibacy. “I don’t think it’s a biblical idea at all and it came, as Father Manning noted, because priestly families were building fortunes and in 1079 when that became law at the Lateran (ph) Council, it was because Rome started seeing that money was being kept in these massive families. If you don’t have any children, you can’t pass on anything.”

A few minutes later he spoke of the tremendous blessing of marriage and family.

I took God and the girl. And my life — my ministry is aided by my wife and her faith and my children and my grandchildren, who undergird what I preach by the life they live.

They are the greatest support in my ministry. They give confidence to my — I’m not an island. They see me in a real world and they see my family surrounding me and they know what my life is like because it manifests itself in them.

A caller asked about homosexuality and King took the opportunity to press MacArthur, clearly hoping he would say something outrageous. MacArthur spoke of the sin of homosexuality and, when asked how Jesus would react to homosexuals, said: “I think he would endeavor to communicate the truth and the gospel. He would confront the sin and he would offer the salvation through repentance and faith in himself and his death and resurrection.” He quickly became involved in a back-and-forth with Manning who felt MacArthur had gone too far. As always, MacArthur slipped the gospel into his few minutes of camera time.

If you would like to read the transcript, you can do so here. I suppose the point in posting this is just to draw attention to MacArthur’s faithfulness. He stuck to the Scriptures and surely made an impact on Larry King’s audience. He did not back down and was not apologetic in defending the truth. And that, I think, is why King continues to invite him back.

April 20, 2006

The first job I ever had was delivering the Markham Economist & Sun, a small newspaper headquartered in a suburb of Toronto. I received no training, nor did I need any. On the day I began the job I was given a canvas bag, a large stack of newspapers and a list of houses that subscribed to the paper. I put the papers in the sack, consulted the list and left one newspaper in the mailbox of each house. It was that easy. As I got older and experienced greater financial needs, I sought a job that would earn me more money and found myself working at a gas station. I received only minimal training. I arrived on the first day clothed in my still-clean uniform and was told the following by the manager: “Go and serve that car. When you’re done I’ll tell you everything you did wrong.” So I went to the car, asked how much gas the person wanted to buy, turned on the pump, added the correct amount of fuel, took his money and bid him a good day. That was the end of my training.

As my life went on I had other jobs. I worked at Starbucks, a job which required three days of training. After graduating from college I entered the computer field which required a year of intensive training. And the learning and training continues to this day.

What I see as I look back on my two or three decades of work experience is that different vocations require different levels of expertise and thus different levels of training. Surely we would hope and expect that a man who intends to be a brain surgeon receive longer and more intensive training than one who wishes to be a cabinetmaker. Is one job inately superior to another? Not necessarily. But as the degree of difficulty and specialization varies, so too does the training required. And more accurately, the greater the collection of skills required for a particular job, the longer and more intense the training must be. A brain surgeon requires a vast collection of skills, ranging from the knowledge of human anatomy down to the ability to operate machinery and the ability to respond quickly, decisively and correctly in situations of extreme stress and delicacy. The skillset required is far more varied and exhaustive than that required to be a paperboy, a gas station attendant, a barista or a web designer.

There is no job that requires a greater collection of skills than the ministry. The Bible does not list the skills and qualifications necessary for many vocations. Yet the Scriptures dedicate a great deal of attention to providing God’s requirements for those who will labor in the gospel ministry.

The ministry is a special vocation. It involves a particular combination of talents, gifts and abilities. It is available only to men of upstanding character and ability. We affirm the importance and uniqueness of this vocation when we speak of the call to ministry. The church teaches and believes that those who are set apart by God for the ministry of the gospel are given a special calling by God so that they know and believe that they must answer this call and minister the Word. Those who labor in this ministry do so under direct orders from God. It has often been said that preachers are born, not made. That is to say that desire and training alone cannot produce a preacher, for the office is dependent upon particular gifts that are given by God only to some. Charles Spurgeon insisted that his college for pastors “receives no man in order to make him a preacher.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones was as emphatic, stating that “no college, or any other institution, can ever product a preacher.” God makes preachers; men train them.

Despite the difficulty of the vocation of pastoral ministry, we live in a time when pastoral training is regarded by many as being optional. There are some who eschew all manner of formal training, proclaiming that seminary training is a waste of time and effort—time and effort that could be dedicated to preaching the gospel. Not too long ago I wrote a brief article I entitled The Benefits of Ignorance in which I provided a silly parable about this type of person. I wrote about only one example, but I can think of many, and I am sure that each of my readers can as well. I don’t think we could successfully find a time in the history of the church when adequate preparation for gospel ministry has been valued less.

Even since I wrote that article, just a couple of months ago, I have come to a better understanding of why people minimize adequate training for the ministry. Before this time I think I have put the cart before the horse, so to speak, believing that the multitudes of pastors who have not been adequately trained for ministry have blinded the church to the distinct quality of the vocation. But I have since come to understand that minimizing the necessity of training for the ministry—thorough, deep, lengthy, intensive training—is a symptom of minimizing or overlooking the set-apartness of the calling of pastor. When we believe in and affirm the distinctive calling to the ministry of the gospel we will also believe in and affirm the importance of thorough preparation. And in our day, far too many evangelicals have lost sight of the set-apartness of this vocation.

A man who wishes to be a pastor and who understands the distinctiveness of this vocation will understand the necessity of adequate preparation. A man who wishes to spend a lifetime laboring within the local church and providing leadership within the body of Christ will understand that to do this most effectively he must be prepared.

There are, of course, many exceptions to this rule. It is not difficult to find examples of those who have had long and fruitful ministries without first attending seminary. Yet many of those men, men such as Charles Spurgeon, realized that they were the exception rather than the rule. Many of these men devoted themselves to preparing other men for the ministry through training programs and seminaries. I do not know of any notable Christian leaders who were both untrained and who advocated lack of serious preparation in others. Rather, they uniformly acknowledged and affirmed the importance of preparation. When we examine the history of such men we find that the exception proves the rule.

The logic is inescapable. If we believe in the special and distinct ministry of the Word, we must also be willing to deal with the fact that such a high calling requires a period of training and preparation. It is only when we lose sight of the distinctiveness of the calling that we will allow ourselves to minimize the importance of adequate preparation.

April 18, 2006

Stuart Derbyshire, a senior psychologist at Britain’s University of Birmingham says that pain is subjective. “Pain is something that comes from our experiences and develops due to stimulation and human interaction. It involves concepts such as location, feelings of unpleasantness and having the sensation of pain. Pain becomes possible because of a psychological development that begins at birth when the baby is separated from the protected atmosphere of the womb and is stimulated into wakeful activity.” Though the neural circuitry necessary to feel pain has been fully developed by the twenty-sixth week of gestation, he says, fetuses cannot feel pain because pain is a product of the mind as much as the body. The mind, he argues, develops only outside of the womb. A fetus has an undeveloped mind and hence feels no pain.

This is an interesting definition of pain. As I began to research and cross-reference this definition, I was surprised to find that others affirm the subjectivity of pain. The International Association for the Study of Pain, an organization that one would assume to carry some weight in this area, defines pain as follows: “An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage.” They provide a short series of notes which add supplementary information. “The inability to communicate verbally does not negate the possibility that an individual is experiencing pain and is in need of appropriate pain-relieving treatment.” In discussing the subjectvity of pain, they say the following: “Pain is always subjective. Each individual learns the application of the word through experiences related to injury in early life. Biologists recognize that those stimuli which cause pain are liable to damage tissue. Accordingly, pain is that experience we associate with actual or potential tissue damage. It is unquestionably a sensation in a part or parts of the body, but it is also always unpleasant and therefore also an emotional experience. Experiences which resemble pain but are not unpleasant, e.g., pricking, should not be called pain.”

Doctors for Pain defines pain primarily in physical terms. “Sensation of discomfort, distress, or agony, resulting from the stimulation of specialized nerve endings. It serves as a protective mechanism (induces the sufferer to remove or withdraw).” Most definitions I encountered in my research were similar to this one.

There is a problem with pain. How do we measure pain? If someone were to jab a needle in my arm and ask me how much it hurts, I might be able to express myself to some degree. I may be able to describe certain symptoms and tell the person where I feel the pain. But in all likelihood, I will say something like “5 out of 10.” This is exactly what the midwife has done in the past when talking to my wife during labor. This is an effective means of establishing how much something hurts, but it depends on prior experience. After all, when Aileen establishes that her labor pains register as a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10, that is premised on a prior knowledge of pain and on the ability to logically order previous experiences and discern which have been worse than others.

The problem with discussing pain in children is that they do not posess either the same quantity of experience of pain, nor the ability to express how this pain compares with other pain. Derbyshire is correct in his assessment that a child’s mind is not as fully developed as that of an adult. But this does not indicate that the child does not feel pain, nor that he does not feel terrible, agonizing pain. It seems clear that, even among well-intentioned doctors and researchers, those who are not motivated by either extreme in the abortion agenda, there is a great deal of disagreement on exactly when a fetus begins to experience pain. Yet the majority of doctors affirm that they do feel pain. We see this in the fact that when doctors perform fetal surgery, they provide anesthesia to both mother and child.

One ongoing problem with pain is that it is extremely difficult to study it. After all, how are we to gather data on this subject? Should we cause pain to children and attempt to measure it? Surely not. That would be immoral and tantamount to torture. Medical science lacks a “pain-o-meter” which can precisely diagnose the cause and intensity of pain. So all expression of pain is, at least to some degree, subjective in nature.

The psychology of pain is important, but only if it acknowledges that there is a subjective aspect to pain. It is true that there are some people who feel pain less acutely than others. It is true that there are some people who perceive pain to be pleasurable. Yet it is universally true, except for those with physical or neurological disorders, that people respond consistently to painful stimuli. We do not need to commission a study to know that children, when pricked with a pin for a blood test in the hours after birth, react by pulling the foot away from the instrument of pain. Most react by crying, letting their protest be widely known. Baby boys receive anesthesia when they are circumcised only days after being born. Do they not feel pain? To insist that all pain in all people is conditional and based upon psychology and human interaction is, quite frankly, ridiculous. To go even further than this and suggest that the psychological development required in order to feel pain does not begun until birth is nothing less than outrageous. Dr. Derbyshire seems to indicate that a person who cannot adequately express pain cannot feel pain. Lacking from this diagnosis is any type of convincing proof!

As you may know, the United States government is considering passing legislation that would require abortion doctors (a seemingly contradictory pairing of words) to disclose to women that their child may feel pain when being aborted. Women may then choose to anesthetize the fetus before it is aborted. Naturally, this is inconceivable to abortionists who have invested great effort in ensuring that women do not conceive of the fetus as human or as having the ability to feel anything. A blob of tissue cannot feel pain. But a child can.

Dr. Derbyshire, despite the timing of this study, suggests that the conclusion that fetuses feel no pain should have no impact on the abortion debate. After all, whether or not a fetus feels pain really has no bearing on the morality of abortion. The issue of abortion depends far more on the definition of personhood and the perceived rights of a woman to do what she wishes with her own body. In a sense he is right. Yet the fact that an unborn child feels intense pain as his body is torn apart is entirely relevant to the discussion. Our medical establishment, and in many ways our society, is premised upon the right of people to escape pain. We hate pain. We hide from it, flee from it, all with good reason. To know that a child suffers greatly as he is aborted is surely relevant to a discussion of the morality of abortion. There is something shocking, nauseating, heartbreaking about considering that a fetus feels the sensation of pain as his body is pulled apart within the womb that is meant to be his haven.

How many women are likely to request anesthesia for a child they are going to abort? I would suggest that very few would do this. After all, most women who believe that a fetus is a human being will not abort the child. This is the goal for many pro-life counsellors. Once they have convinced a woman of the fact that her fetus is a human life, the battle to save that life has nearly been won. The necessity of anesthesia is an admission that the fetus is human. Thus women who are sure of the humanness of their child will have no need for anesthesia (or an abortion) while those who regard it as merely a blob of tissue will have no need for anesthesia, for a blob of tissue feels no pain.

In the case of Dr, Derbyshire’s study, labelling pain as a psychological phenomenon is a handy cover for avoiding the undeniable truth that children feel pain, even if we do not know exactly how or to what extent. Pain is surely both physical and psychological, but there is no reason to entirely psychologize pain and insist that pain cannot be felt until the mind has fully developed. It is an absurd conclusion and one that serves only to further a deadly, immoral agenda.

April 17, 2006

As you may know, immediately prior to the Together for the Gospel Conference, there will be a meeting by and for bloggers. Timmy Brister, who has served as the organizer for this event, has called it “T4G: Band of Bloggers.” While the topic has not yet been finalized, it will be revolve around blogging, the gospel, and the intersection of the two.

The formal part of the meeting, which will be followed by a time of fellowship, will be a one hour Q&A discussion panel which will go from 3:00-4:00 p.m. I have been asked to participate in this panel, along with Dr. Al Mohler, Dr. Russell Moore and Justin Taylor. Here is a list of the participants which I have unapologetically stolen borrowed from Timmy’s site:

Tim Challies

Tim Challies is a web designer by trade. Although he is not in vocational ministry, his blog has proved to minister and impact a large section of the evangelical world. Tim graduated with a degree in history from McMaster University, and soon thereafter, Tim moved from being an aspiring historian to a web designer and started Websonix. Tim is also known for his numerous book reviews which can be found at Ex Libris, World Magazine’s book review blog of which Tim is the editor. Tim also owns and operates the Diet of {Book} Worms, an online collection of discerning reviews of Christian books. In the past, Tim has live-blogged several conferences including the 2005 Desiring God National Conference and the recent 2006 Shepherds’ Conference. He will be live-blogging the Together for the Gospel Conference this year as well. Commonly known as “The World’s Most Famous Christian Blogger,” Tim is a great success story of how he used blogging and his gifts for the glory of God.

Justin Taylor

Justin Taylor is the ESV Bible Project Manager for Crossway Books in Wheaton, IL. and has edited four collections of essays:. Beyond the Bounds, Reclaiming the Center, Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, and A God-Entranced Vision of All Things. Forthcoming are two more collections edited by Justin (Suffering and the Supremacy of God and Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen). Justin previously served as Director of Theology and Executive Editor at Desiring God. Furthermore, Justin also operates johnowen.org, a website dedicated to the life and works of John Owen. His blog, Between Two Worlds, is a mix of theology, philosophy, politics, and culture, and is one of the most widely read blogs in the blogosphere.

Dr. Albert Mohler

Albert Mohler serves as the ninth president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world. In addition to his presidential duties, Dr. Mohler hosts a daily radio program for the Salem Radio Network, writes a popular daily commentary on moral, cultural and theological issues, and keeps up a daily blog. Dr. Mohler is considered both in and outside the evangelical world as “the reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement in the United States.” He has contributed to several books including Hell Under Fire, Whatever Happened to the Truth?, Here We Stand, Feed My Sheep, and The Coming Evangelical Crisis.

Dr. Russell Moore

Russell D. Moore, Dean of Theology and Senior Vice President for Academic Administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, serves as executive director of The Henry Institute. Moore has edited and authored two books: Why I Am a Baptist and The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective. Moore is the senior editor of Touchstone magazine and executive editor of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. Dr. Moore’s blogs at both The Henry Institute and Mere Comments (the blog of Touchstone magazine).

I am looking forward to participating in this event and hope that it will prove to be a blessing for all involved, whether by participating or by simply listening in. My strategy, if asked a question, will be this: “Hmm. You know, that’s a very good question. I know the answer to that, but I think I’d like to hear what Dr. Mohler has to say. Dr. Mohler?”

So if you are Louisville for the conference, why not come on by the Seminary on Wednesday afternoon and hang out with the blogging crowd!