Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Interpreting Prophecy Shouldn't Be This Pavlovian

Through some strange warping of the space/time continuum, I've received a copy of the March edition of Rev. Falwell's National Liberty Journal.

The front page article is a theological rumination on a theme I surfaced a month and a half ago here...that of the possibility of war with Iran. What's the National Liberty Journal's take on it? Do we get a grounding in the geo-politics of the region? The potential impacts of that war on stability in the Middle East and our energy needs? Well...that depends on how much you think the prophet Ezekiel speaks to those issues. Yup, it's time to cart out Ezekiel 38 and 39 again.

The intrepid Dr. Hindson leads us through a series of biblical gyrations, which claim that Ezekiel foresaw that Israel may be attacked...in the very near future...by an alliance lead by Iran. According to Dr. Hindson's interpretation of Ezekiel, who will join Iran? The list is impressive. There's Libya...which will apparently forget that it's primarily secular and Sunni. There's Sudan, which really hasn't shown much military capacity outside of slaughtering unarmed villagers in Darfur. Then Turkey, which will apparently just give up on Ataturk's egalitarian vision and seeking membership in the EU. Finally...and I love this one...Russia. Russia.

Why Russia? Because in Ezekiel 38:2, Gog is identified in Hebrew as the neshi rosh Meshech v'Tubal. The KJV, NIV, and NRSV all translate that as "chief prince of Meshech and Tubal." Why? Because neshi means "prince" in Hebrew and rosh means "head." The "head prince." Seems easy enough. But if you choose not to interpret rosh as head, and follow the minority scholarly opinion that it could be a place name...well, he's the Prince of Rosh! Which is filled with Roshians! Gaaah! The Roshians are coming...I mean, the Russians are coming! See how it works? See?!!

Beyond the rather...shall we say...creative...use of scripture and the tenuous grip on reality, what is most troubling is the eagerness of the article. There's just a bit too much hunger for this to be true, a bit too much anticipatory drooling over the possibility of a coming apocalyptic middle-Eastern war.

As we've been learning, that's not nearly as much fun as you might think.

Welcome to the Censorium

Wow. Tonight is a first. After only about six hours online, my video satire of The Blasphemy Challenge was flagged as hate speech by irate atheists, and removed from YouTube as "Inappropriate Content."

Perhaps I shouldn't have used the word "crap." I know the c-word is a pretty inflammatory term. Or maybe if I'd had the word "satire" flash up every third frame, because I do tend to be too subtle for my own good. Or perhaps it cut more deeply than I'd thought.

Monday, February 26, 2007

"The Blasphemy Challenge: Part 2"

I discovered the whole "Blasphemy Challenge" that's been crawling around YouTube only a few days ago, and was aghast at their latest pronouncement. See what you think.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Little Foxes in the Vineyard

I've blogged on this before...the mailings from FoxFaith that include posters and promotional DVDs, Christian study guides and swag to encourage my congregants to go see the crushingly mediocre pablum that's being pitched as "Christian Film."

But now they've upped the ante. I...and undoubtedly thousands of other pastors around the country..just got a letter offering my church a DirectTV satellite system so that I can preview their releases from the comfort of my own office. Better yet, they're offering me a piece of the action. If I get my congregants to buy movie tickets from their online service, my congregation will get a cut. Think of the things you can do with that money! Choose any charity! Give to the poor!

I went to the FoxFaithChurch website to get more information, and watched their earnest pitchman tell me about how this whole thing is a ministry for him...a ministry to the Christian marketplace, which, he tells us, has been discovered by studios who finally realize that Christians have money to spend. Well...yay for us.

It got me to wondering if there are branding possibilities here. If, say, I was to get the ruling elders of my church to change our congregation's name to, say, the First FoxFaithChurch of Bethesda, would they be willing to pony up even more goodies?

Friday, February 23, 2007

Look Away, Look Away, Look Away, Dixie Land

The more I observe it, the more..ah...impressed I am with Virginia politics. It's just...well...so very unique.

Take, for instance, a recent measure that unanimously passed the Virginia State Senate. The Senate voted to join 10 other states in forming a commission to help mark the national 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth. It's a pretty pro-forma thing...didn't need any significant state funds...and was just part of one of those historical commemorations that help us remember major voices in our national heritage.

It went to the House, and got shot down in a committee. Why? The Republican-dominated committee members gave a bunch of different reasons, but the committee did vote after receiving input from a representative of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who said that those who praise Lincoln suffer from "historical myopia and amnesia." Virginians should resist efforts to praise a man who "..sent armies into Virginia to lay waste to our land." Most impressive! A helpful little reminder, just in case we'd allowed ourselves to believe that sort of lingering, pointless historical grudge was only an aspect of the Iraqi psyche.

The chair of the committee insists that this had nothing to do with the Confederacy...remembering Lincoln just wasn't a priority for Virginia. Of course, this is the same Representative who authored a bill calling on the Virginia Legislature to celebrate 100 years of UPS service.

And they say politicians don't focus on the real issues.

The Torquemada Paradox, Part 2

My own approach to the "salvation" conundrum is that I, in all honesty, am not in the heaven business. His house may have many mansions, but I'm not His divine realtor.

I'm not going to tell you that if you believe as I do, you're guaranteed a place in heaven. First, that's because I'm unwilling to assert my own right to stomp right up to the head of the salvation table. I'm deeply aware of my own struggles to live my faith in Christ. I'm also convinced from those moments when I've felt the presence of God in my life that there is nothing I could ever do on my own to merit salvation. The more deeply I feel Him, the more certain of that I am.

Second, to claim that as a certainty usurps God's own right to judge whether we can stand before Him in eternity. In that, much "faith" now does not have the character of faith at all. Faith is more akin to trust than to knowledge...which means that it is not a mechanistic certainty, an "if you do this then God will do that" equation. A great deal of contemporary Christianity is little more than a thinly masked empiricism, which has the presumption to give certainty in an area that rests entirely within the mystery of God's sovereign power. It's a peculiar and heady emotional legalism, in which our own feelings and desires for affirmation stand at the forefront. Any sense of the terrible and inscrutable magnificence of God's justice is carefully hidden away...it scares off new members.

I recognize that this sort of faith will never fill a big-venue church, for the same reason that a politician who tells hard truths is unlikely to be elected. Ah well. So it goes.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

That's a Circle J Brand, Son. You Have To Earn It.

I've always had a mildly subversive streak. If there's a way to point out the absurdities in something, or put an obviously silly spin on a serious thing, I...just...can't...help...myself. It's a compulsion. Reality, though, has a tendency to outdo even my best efforts.

Take, for instance, the perfectly solid Vacation Bible School Curriculum we're using this year at the church. It's the Western-themed "Avalanche Ranch: A Wild Ride Through God's Word" curriculum, full of lively characters, catchy tunes, and genially straightforward Bible messages. Though it's going to make for a great VBS, that little mischievous voice in my head kept spitting out sophomoric ways to mess with the name. Like, say, changing it to "Avalanche Ranch: Where We Brand Your Children for Jesus." A couple of weeks ago, I shared that useless little thought with my wife, who told me I'm a doofus.

So in my mail yesterday, I get a flyer for the program, which included text that read: "If you've ordered your starter kit, be on the lookout for your free branding iron."


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Beloved Spear Bible Puzzler #276

If you declare that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior, and are completely convinced in your heart that Jesus has saved you, are you automatically saved?

Answering this question in the affirmative is a core axiom of the modern evangelical movement. Embracing who Jesus is, having a personal conviction that He is your Savior, and making a public proclamation of your conviction that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior are what is required for your salvation. There's certainly no lack of scriptural support for this position. Two examples (although there are others):

Romans 10:8-9 But what does it say? "The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

1 Corinthians 12:3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says "Let Jesus be cursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit.

The challenge, though, is that strict adherence to this axiom means that we're sharing heaven with some rather interesting souls. Tomas de Torquemada, for instance, most certainly proclaimed Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, and without question believed in his heart that God raised Him from the dead. He passes the Romans 10:9 standard with flying colors, and also did a tremendous amount of outreach and evangelism. In fact, I think he was the first to use everyone's favorite praise-team shout-out, "I want y'all to be on fire for Jesus."

That we have a strong personal response to Christ is essential, but that something is heartfelt doesn't mean it's real. A few "balancing" scriptures:

Matthew 7:21-23 "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?' Then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.'

James 2:14-18 14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. 18 But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.

So...is salvation utterly reliant on our personal conviction?