Making The Story A Non-Story

I was planning on writing a fairly straightforward article about the increase of religious discrimination against Christians as evidenced by a recent incident here in SoCal.

I saw the story on the news last night and ferreted out the newspaper version this morning. Apparently the Orange County Register first reported the incident, and their facts match up with the clip I saw last night which included a fairly detailed (for TV) interview.

Here’s the situation. Compass Bible Church wanted to advertise their Easter service which they hold at a large center in a nearby university. They made a video and turned it in to the appropriate persons. It was rejected.

According to Pastor Mike Fabarez the guidelines they’d been given prohibited nudity and drugs but said nothing about religion. Yet when the church’s video was returned, he was told that the media company wouldn’t promote religious figures.

Here’s how the reporter worded it:

Fabarez said the church did receive content guidelines for their ad, which prohibited things like nudity or drug use. The guidelines made no mention of religion, he added, but the church was told promoting a religious figure would not be allowed.

The MSNBC version of the article added this paragraph, which matched the video I saw on the news last night:

The church would have been allowed to simply show the time and location of the service. Fabarez added he was shown example Easter ads that featured eggs and bunnies, but the church wanted attendees to know the topic would focus on the holiday’s history.

Here’s where things start to get twisted. I wanted to see what other sources might say. I found the story first on the local CBS affiliate web site. Imagine my surprise when I read this paragraph:

NCM Media Networks, which handles pre-show advertising for many Orange County theaters, gave Fabarez content guidelines, which prohibits nudity, drug use and promotion of religious figures [emphasis mine].

So which was it? Did the guidelines spell out no religious figures and the pastor turned a blind eye? Was he purposefully stirring up controversy, as some suggested, to get more attention than he ever would have with a movie ad?

I found a number of Christian organizations carrying a report on the situation, but the Big Name outlets were buried on Google’s page five or six. Finally I found the Associated Press report via the Fresno Bee and here’s how the article was distilled:

NCM Media Networks, which handles pre-show advertising for many Orange County theaters, gave Fabarez content guidelines, which prohibits nudity, drug use and promotion of religious figures.

The Orange County Register says NCM Media released a statement explaining the ad was rejected because Compass Bible Church chose not to revise the ad to meet content guidelines.

Yes, this is consistent with the CBS print report but clearly, it is not what the pastor said in the TV interview and not what the OC Register reporter wrote.

Yet this is the story most of the nation will hear. And who will get exercised over a pastor refusing to follow clearly spelled out guidelines? Where’s the story in that? This rewriting of the facts is sure to make this story of discrimination against Christians a non-story. I wonder if, oh, say a women’s rights group were to be denied their ad, would the story be so succinctly summarized in such a non-controversial manner?

By the way, I went to the the NCM Media Networks website and could find no guidelines. Anyway, tell me what you think about the issue.

God In A Box

God does not contradict what He revealed about Himself

I’ve heard it before. Today’s traditional church has God tucked into a Bible-shaped box. Remember how Paul Young put it in The Shack?

Educated Westerners’s access to God was mediated and controlled by the intelligentsia. Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that guilt edges?

Or how about the discussion over at Mike Morrell’s site more than a year ago when these kinds of things were bandied about:

Thereby, organized (β€œprofessional”) religions propagate themselves and ensure their future through fear and elitist ideations, which sadly inevitably result in keeping the Unlimited in a box – and usually for sale. Today, more than ever, religion is big business ($)!

Rob Bell said as much in his promotional video and talk show appearances when discussing his new book Love Wins. God is big enough to handle questions, he said. What’s more, the traditional church has the idea that there’s this narrow way across a chasm that leads to “evacuation” and only the chosen few or the ones who worked, served, believed, said the right prayer, or whatever “their tribe” mandated, would get the ticket. By implication, such beliefs confined God too.

It dawned on me this morning that these claims are spurious for the very fact that God IS in a box — one of His own making.

At first glance, that grates against our picture of a limitless God. And yet, I don’t think we’d want it any other way. I know I don’t.

For example, God “limits” Himself because He is good. James says, “For God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone” (James 1:13b). He cannot be tempted by evil. Sounds quite limiting.

Then there are the limits imposed by His faithfulness. He says repeatedly in Deuteronomy that He will not fail or forsake His people.

In addition He limits Himself by His immutability. He remains the same today as He was before the creation of the world, as He will be when He comes to judge. No “learning” or evolving for God. He is who He is.

Or how about the limits of His love?

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
– Romans 8:38-39 [emphasis mine]

Sounds confining to me. Restrictive. Very “in a box.”

And what about the incarnation? Wasn’t that event God voluntarily putting Himself in a human-shaped box?

Although He existed in the form of God, [He] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.
– Philippians 2:6-7

How limiting was it for Him to go to a cross, for His body to be placed in a tomb, for Him to be dead for three days? We don’t even know what all that entailed, yet it’s clear He restrained His power and glory for a distinct purpose — His act of redemption that made it possible for me to be reconciled with Him.

So yes, I’ll gladly admit — I put God in a box, the one He has revealed about Himself. I won’t re-make Him into my own likeness or any other way of imagining Him (some of the Israelites had Him pictured like a golden calf). Anything other than what He’s told us is too small and quite frankly, dead wrong.

Published in: on March 30, 2011 at 7:19 pm  Comments (7)  
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Responding To Criticism

Writers in particular seem to be interested in criticism, but the truth is, no matter what our profession we all are apt to face criticism in one form or another.

When I was a new teacher, I was so fearful of parent/teacher conferences — until I learned that most of the parents were just as fearful. Of what? I, that these parents would criticize the job I was doing as a teacher; they, that I would criticize their job as parents.

Of course there were also professional evaluations when an administrator would come into the classroom, observe, then meet with me later and give his assessment (read, critique) of my lesson. And there were the standardized tests we gave too. Ostensibly these measured the students’ progress from one year to the next, but guess who was responsible for their growth or lack thereof? πŸ™„

Other jobs have similar ways of measuring job performance, so why do some writers (see comments) have such a hard time taking criticism?

The topic came up recently on Mike Duran’s blog, not once but twice. And the author meltdown on Books and Pals ignited additional posts about bad reviews and author responses.

I suspect that part of the issue is how public author criticism is. I mean, when my administrator gave me a job performance evaluation, it was confidential. I got a copy and one went into my file, but from there, no one needed to know if I got a “five star” rating or a “one star.” πŸ˜‰

Writers have no such confidentiality clause with reviewers. In fact, the point of the review is to publicize an opinion about a writer’s performance.

A reviewers opinion, of course, is not accurately equated with a supervisor’s assessment. In my situation, reviewers would be more closely aligned to my students’ opinions. Imagine if each of them posted on my classroom window what they thought of my lessons that day. Hmmm. πŸ™„

But a writer’s reviews serve a greater purpose than writer evaluation. They benefit readers because they inform. And they benefit writers because they promote in ways a writer can’t. Reviews on the Internet aren’t paid advertisement. They are one reader’s opinion (or in the case of a blog tour, one group of readers varying opinions).

Consequently, it seems a little baffling to me that a writer would respond in any way but with gratitude. Someone read their book. That in itself is something to be thankful for.

Lambasting the critiquer? I don’t see how that’s a good move under any circumstance.

Some writers answer that the right response is to ignore all reviews, even good ones. I don’t know what I think about commenting on Amazon, but on blogs and particularly in blog tours, I think an author that doesn’t comment is missing out on an opportunity to make a positive connection with a reader.

One author, definitely old school, said to comment on favorable reviews might illicit syrupy suck-up reviews in the future. Well, maybe that’s a risk worth taking. Because no comment could earn an author no review in the future.

I know it’s not always possible, but it seems to me, if a person has taken the time to read a book, write and post a blog review, the least the author can do is drop by with a simple thank you.

I actually learned that from Andy Sernovitz who wrote Word of Mouth Marketing. A couple years ago I won a free copy of his book and blogged about something I learned from it. True to the advice he gave in the book, he stopped by my site to say thank you for the mention. And that wasn’t even a full review.

In my opinion, authors would do well to take advantage of reviews by responding kindly and professionally. I’ve seen more than one blogger won over by such an approach.

Published in: on March 29, 2011 at 6:30 pm  Comments (6)  
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Deadly Lies

Hananiah was the son of a prophet. Maybe he’d always wanted to follow in his dad’s footsteps. Maybe he wanted his fifteen minutes of fame. Whatever his reason, he decided one day to stand up against Jeremiah.

This quirky prophet enacted at God’s command a series of object lessons to bring a dire message to His people — because they had forsaken God, He was sending Babylon against them and they would go into captivity.

God replaced the wooden yoke with one of iron

On this particular occasion, Jeremiah was walking around with a wooden yoke on his neck. Hananiah faced him down in the temple and said, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon.’ ” He went on to say that those who had already been taken captive and the valuables taken from the temple would be returned in two years.

I wish it was true, Jeremiah said, but it’s not. The prophets who came before me have prophesied that God will send judgment on His people. Besides, “The prophet who prophesies of peace, when the word of the prophet comes to pass, then that prophet will be known as one whom the LORD has truly sent.”

At that, Hananiah took the yoke off Jeremiah’s neck and broke it.

I wonder what kind of a crowd they had by this time. Did some people turn away, muttering about how these crazy prophets hadn’t learned how to get along? After all, there was enough conflict with the Babylonians camped outside the walls. Why did they have to bring hate inside the city?

Or maybe there was another set cheering Hananiah on. After all, they’d had years of Jeremiah’s gloom and doom. It was about time someone stood up and gave a message of hope.

But God told Jeremiah how to respond. First he declared that Hananiah might have broken the wooden yoke, but that would be replaced by one of iron, Furthermore

Jeremiah the prophet said to Hananiah the prophet, “Listen now, Hananiah, the LORD has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie.”
– Jeremiah 28:15 [emphasis mine]

As a result, Jeremiah continued, Hananiah would die because he counseled rebellion against the Lord. True to this word from God, the man died in July of that year.

Unfortunately, Hananiah wasn’t the only false prophet of the day. Lies in God’s name were prevalent and had a deadly effect. To the people who were already in exile, Jeremiah sent word saying

Thus says the LORD concerning Shemaiah the Nehelamite, “Because Shemaiah has prophesied to you, although I did not send him, and he has made you trust in a lie;” therefore thus says the LORD, “Behold, I am about to punish Shemaiah the Nehelamite and his descendants
– Jeremiah 29:31-32a [emphasis mine]

To another false prophet Jeremiah encountered:

“And you, Pashhur, and all who live in your house will go into captivity; and you will enter Babylon, and there you will die and there you will be buried, you and all your friends to whom you have falsely prophesied.”

And another time

“They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially,
Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ But there is no peace.
Were they ashamed because of the abomination they have done? They were not even ashamed at all;
They did not even know how to blush.
Therefore they shall fall among those who fall;
At the time that I punish them,
They shall be cast down,” says the LORD.
– Jeremiah 6:15

Today the issue isn’t whether or not a foreign power will invade and conquer, but whether or not God’s word means what it says — is God really going to punish people who do not name the name of Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior?

Universalists are crying peace, peace. “Good people,” or all people eventually, will have peace with God no matter what they believe about Jesus.

Because their claims contradict the Bible, we can know as surely as Jeremiah did that the message is false.

Then the LORD said to me, “The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds.
– Jeremiah 14:14

Sadly, the consequence for today’s lie is even more costly than the one the people faced in Jeremiah’s day.

Published in: on March 28, 2011 at 8:37 pm  Comments Off on Deadly Lies  
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The Clay Is Talking Back

I hear atheists say it, and now I hear people claiming the name of Christ reciting the second verse. Isaiah prophesied about this very thing:

You turn things around!
Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay,
That what is made would say to its maker, “He did not make me”;
Or what is formed say to him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?
– Isaiah 29:16

But now, O LORD, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter

Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens say loudly, He did not make me.

And now emergent thinkers like Rob Bell and Paul Young are saying in essence, He has no understanding.

Granted, this latter position isn’t as easy to identify as the former. Yet in questioning God’s plan of salvation, by suggesting that sending “billions and billions” of people to hell for eternity doesn’t measure up to their idea of what God should be like, is nothing less than saying God must not judge and punish as He sees fit. If he does so, he’s a “monster” as one Rob Bell supporter called it.

“We do these somersaults to justify the monster god we believe in,” [Chad Holtz, former pastor of a rural United Methodist church in North Carolina] said. “But confronting my own sinfulness, that’s when things started to topple for me. Am I really going to be saved just because I believe something, when all these good people in the world aren’t?”
– from “Pastor loses job after questioning hell’s existence”

In other words, if that’s the way God is, then he’s wrong. The answer is to ignore the clear statements of Jesus identifying His children, His followers, His sheep, and instead pull other passages out of context and make them say things they were never intended to say.

In addition, the fundamental error in the thinking of those who indict God comes out loud and clear. Man is good. It’s God who is suspect.

The thinking seems to be, Since we know Man is good, and God is good, then hell can’t possibly exist, at least in the form that “traditional church” has taught.

The answer, then, is to re-image God. And hell. And even heaven. But our idea that Man is good? We’ll keep that intact.

The truth is, Man is not good.

Look what that does.

A just God warned Man away from the tree that would bring death and a curse. Man succumbed to temptation and ignored God. He has not been “good” at his core ever since.

As Man went his own way, God chose an individual to be His, from whom He would build a nation that would be an example to all the nations of what it meant to be God’s people.

When the chosen nation went its own way, God sent prophets to warn them not to forsake Him. When they ignored the warnings, He sent more prophets, and finally He sent His Son in the form of man.

Here was the dividing line. God’s Son didn’t come to judge — He will take that role later, when the just penalty for turning from God will be handed out to sinful Man, not good Man, condemned by his own choice to go his own way. But the dividing line has been established.

He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
– John 3:18

Man sinned, Man went his own way, Man rebelled, Man rejected. How then is he good?

He isn’t. Certainly, the clay has no right to talk back.

Published in: on March 25, 2011 at 6:44 pm  Comments (9)  
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CSFF Blog Tour Wrap – The Resurrection

Some blog tours are more lively than others. The one just completed for Mike Duran’s The Resurrection would fall into the top two or three most lively tours of all time, I think. Forty-three sites posted 73 articles about the book, and of course there were countless comments.

Besides reviews, some of the favorite topics were the supernatural suspense/horror genre, miracles, and the characters in this novel.

As usual, we had a fine collection of bloggers posting all three days (and one who even posted twice in one day). Each of these is eligible for the coveted CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award. And the candidates are

Take time this next week and a half (you have until April 6) and look over the posts you haven’t read yet. And then it is time to vote. πŸ˜€

Published in: on March 24, 2011 at 5:46 pm  Comments Off on CSFF Blog Tour Wrap – The Resurrection  
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CSFF Blog Tour – The Resurrection by Mike Duran, Day 3

Mike Duran's debut novel

I’ve been enjoying this month’s CSFF tour of Mike Duran’s The Resurrection immensely. We’ve had reviews, interviews, and guest posts, discussions of themes, of characters, and genre — all of it interesting and generating lots of comments. Now it’s my turn to put aside the multitude of ideas and tell you what I think about the book itself.

Bear in mind that supernatural thriller or contemporary gothic or whatever label you might prefer as the identifier for this book, is not my genre of choice. That has two affects, I believe. First, my ignorance of the genre tropes makes the story seem to me like one of a kind.

One reviewer referred to the novel having the “standard props you’d expect from a supernatural/religious thriller.” Well, I had no expectations, so I saw nothing “standard” about any of the characters or “props.”

Secondly, I started my reading experience with considerable wariness. Was the book going to be too scary? Would I find the supernatural elements too contradictory to my understanding of what the Bible says?

With that groundwork in place, let me move on.

The Review

The Story. Ian Clark, a troubled, doubting pastor, has a number of secrets, not the least of which is that his church office is haunted. His intention is to resign his position.

When during a funeral, one of his congregants, Ruby Case, apparently raises to life the boy due for burial, all hell breaks loose. Well, perhaps not all hell, but certainly a good deal more supernatural activity than the average churchgoer at Canyon Springs Community was used to.

The question of the day — on which side of the divide would Reverend Clark end up?

Strengths. If I hadn’t known this was a debut novel, I would never have guessed this was a debut novel. Nothing about The Resurrection screamed first-timer, let alone, amateur.

Instead, the writing was tight, the scenes drawn clearly, the characters believable, and the story moving inexorably forward. About a third of the way through, I was hooked.

In addition to an enticing story, well told, I found lots to think about in The Resurrection with no easy answers or neatly delivered fix-its at the end.

Don’t get me wrong. When a story wraps, I want a satisfying conclusion. I don’t want to spend three hundred pages, only to be left guessing at the outcome. And yet, I think the story needs to end with more life in the characters, so it’s possible to wonder what might be happening now. That gives the reader room to imagine.

Overall, I’d say Mike’s first novel harkens back to Frank Peretti’s breakout hits, This Present Darkness and Piercing The Darkness. Certainly the stories are different, so I’m not saying he slipped into the dreaded “derivative” trap. Rather, they have a common feature — both Mr. Peretti’s works and Mike’s ignite an awareness of the supernatural, even as they tell entertaining stories.

Weaknesses. I mentioned that I became hooked into the story a third of the way along. The first third, however, I was merely nibbling at the worm dangling in front of me. In part, I attribute that to the fact that, as I mentioned earlier, I don’t care for this particular type of worm.

However, there was more. I didn’t care for the characters either. I know that will shock some of those who have read and reviewed the book, because most reports rave about the characters. They were, without a doubt, well-drawn. The problem was, I didn’t like them.

* * * Minor Spoiler Alert * * *

I didn’t care for Clark because he was spineless and hypocritical. He was going along to get along and wouldn’t say what he really believed. He seemed the opposite of proactive.

I didn’t care for Ruby because she didn’t immediately deflect to God the recognition she was receiving for the miraculous resurrection. Instead, she let people treat her as if she was the one who had done something, yet in her mind she continually said she’d only touched the boy.

Still, when people wanted her to pray for them, she did, even believing that her prayers might duplicate the miracle. At one point she asked why this gift was given to her only to be taken away. I wanted to shout, You were only the conduit. You never had the power in the first place!

Finally, I didn’t care for any of the elders. I thought they were too stupid or too weak to be realistic. I pretty much wanted to hit each one up side the head and say, Find out if the boy was embalmed and then you’ll know if he was really dead or not. And start thinking about the church instead of yourselves.

Despite those early negative reactions, I surprisingly came to care for the characters in the end. I suspect the change came about when I learned a little more about Clark’s background, when I saw Ruby make self-sacrificial choices, when events were no longer happening to them, but they began taking the fight to the forces against the town.

* * * End Spoiler Alert * * *

Recommendation. I don’t know how regular readers of horror or supernatural suspense will react to this one. One reviewer called The Resurrection “gothic” which brought to my mind Wuthering Heights by Emily BrontΓ« or Jane Erye by Charlotte BrontΓ«. That seemed to fit.

I suspect any fans of Frank Peretti, myself included, will embrace The Resurrection wholeheartedly. I highly recommend they give it a try.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Published in: on March 23, 2011 at 5:26 pm  Comments (11)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – The Resurrection by Mike Duran, Day 2

True to his propensity to bring up controversial issues on his blog, Mike Duran introduced a number of topics in his debut novel, The Resurrection, that Christians don’t discuss enough. One was the place of the supernatural in our world today.

A second issue is a little harder to simplify and perhaps also harder to talk about. I’ll call it “weak churches.”

Because most of my adult life I’ve been involved in a strong church, this look at the weak church of Canyon Springs Community in The Resurrection was informative. In many ways it helps me understand a lot of the criticism of the Church today from those who look at traditional church as a problem not an asset to Christianity.

Here are some of the particulars I though Mike uncovered via The Resurrection.

1. Weak churches have weak pastors. This isn’t to point a finger at pastors in general, but in this particular story, the pastor was hired without any apparent concern for the requirements of pastors set out by Scripture. In addition, he had no one who was holding him accountable for where he was spiritually, no one who required him to be a man of integrity. He had no family support, no apparent prayer support from the leadership. Hence, he struggled with his own faith, and the people he opened up to most were pagan or agnostic.

2. Weak churches have a divided or weak leadership team surrounding them. In the fictitious church Mike created, none of the leaders called the others back to Scripture. They had their own issues and agenda that superseded God’s work — not something that makes for a healthy church.

3. Weak churches lose focus. Rather than staying on point — meeting to equip the saints to go out into their work places and homes to make disciples and meeting to worship and praise God — church seemed to deteriorate to a rather meaningless, mindless social event.

4. Weak churches squabble. Again, in this fictitious church, choosing sides and having groups within the church at odds with one another seemed like a familiar situation. The events that stirred controversy and confusion at the beginning of the story apparently were like so many events in the past that had stirred controversy and dissension.

5. Weak churches have weak doctrine. Apparently the people of Canyon Springs Community had no idea what the Bible taught about the miraculous. The issue of truth didn’t seem to be at the heart of the matter.

6. Weak churches have congregants with weak faith. Apparently in all of Canyon Springs Community, only three people turned to God asking for something greater to take place in their church, in their community. Of course, God promises to hear and answer even if we are only two or three. But if we dwindle to that few, we’re experiencing years of weakness.

7. Weak churches erode before they implode. The problems in Canyon Springs Community did not start overnight. They were festering issues passed from one generation to another.

8. Weak churches aren’t vigilant against evil — that which comes from within or from without. In the fictitious assembly in Mike’s story, the people were ignorant of paganism all around them. They were unaware of the duplicity of their leaders and the hurts of their fellow worshippers.

I suspect there are more factors that create weak churches, but those are the ones that came to mind as I looked at Canyon Springs Community.

So, have you ever been in a weak church? Do you think it’s best to stay and pray as Ruby and her friends did or to leave — not as Jack did, but to leave to find a strong church or even to start one?

Be sure to see what others on the tour are talking about. Jason Joyner has a not-to-be-missed interview with The Resurrection author Mike Duran. Bruce Hennigan has a graphic illustration from real life of the spiritual situation depicted in the story. And the tour is welcoming first time poster Cynthia Dyer, who has an excellent debut tour article.

As usual, you can also see the list of participants and links to specific articles that have been posted on my day one post.

Published in: on March 22, 2011 at 1:15 pm  Comments (2)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – The Resurrection by Mike Duran, Day 1

The Resurrection (Strang), the debut novel by friend and blogger extraordinaire Mike Duran, is this month’s CSFF Blog Tour feature. As you might guess by the title, this one falls in the supernatural category.

Which brings up some interesting questions, much as Frank Peretti‘s This Present Darkness did years ago. The premise of that book might be, Spiritual warfare is real and far more influential in the daily affairs of men than most people realize.

The Resurrection doesn’t camp on the warfare side of the supernatural but more on its actual existence and the varying reactions of believers and skeptics to an indisputable miracle.

Bringing me back to those interesting questions. Do miracles happen today? Are demons real? Do they work through people? inhabit people? And what about the “ecstatic gifts of the Spirit” — speaking in tongues, prophesying, and such?

I come from a branch of evangelical Christianity that says those kinds of gifts “ceased” after the first church. The thinking is that once the Bible was completed, there was no need for God to speak via visions and prophetic utterances. I’m not clear why this included tongues and the interpretation, which seems more an expression of praise, though there is also instruction about it’s use indicating that edification of the church is part of its function.

The thing is, the Bible which these evangelicals hold to be authoritative, gives these instructions for proper inclusion of “ecstatic gifts” in the worship service. I asked a friend once what Scripture supports the secession idea. She named I Corinthians 13:8-10 that speaks of tongues ceasing and prophecy being incomplete. The capper is “but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away” (v. 10). The thinking is that “the perfect” refers to the Bible.

I find that to be a stretch. How could you call the Bible “perfect” if it contains chapters of instruction about the use of gifts that have ceased? Further, Paul goes on to say that now we see through a glass darkly, “but then face to face, now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known” (v. 12b).

I don’t think the Bible, though inspired, inerrant, authoritative, and complete, lets me know God or the things of God as I am known by God. There’s still the “glass darkly” part of now.

And finally, I’ve been taught not to interpret Scripture based on an unclear passage. It is unclear, to me at least, that the “perfect” mentioned in verse ten actually means the Bible. On the other hand, it is abundantly clear in I Corinthians that Paul is giving instructions for the use of “ecstatic” spiritual gifts in the church.

Interestingly, it seems that “ecstatic gifts” has become somewhat of a dividing line among evangelicals, in part because we tend toward all or nothing positions. I’ll freely admit, I believe God has not brought an end to these gifts of the Holy Spirit. I believe He can heal. I believe He can give discernment, prophecy, tongues, or visions.

At the same time, I believe a lot of false teaching and fakery can stem from those who claim to have spiritual gifts when in fact they do not. I also believe Satan can imitate these gifts (think of Pharaoh’s magicians turning staffs into snakes and water into blood or the witch of Endor actually calling up Samuel’s spirit from the dead).

Where does that leave me? Believing and skeptical. What about you? What would your reaction be if you went to a funeral and the person in the coffin sat up?

See what CSFF tour participants have to say about this topic and the book itself. A check mark in front of a name links you to a specific article that has been posted.

Published in: on March 21, 2011 at 11:18 am  Comments (23)  
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Improving God

When false teachers surface, they usually do so from within. In some regards, that’s why the priests and Levites opposed Jesus. In thinking themselves to be the purveyors of God’s truth, they saw Jesus as spreading dangerous ideas even as He sat in their temple and synagogues reading and teaching from Scripture.

The unique thing about Christianity is that our truth claims stem from one authoritative source — the Bible. Hence, a cult like Mormonism can spring up from within the ranks, but their falsehood is easy to spot because they have altered the source of truth.

In many ways, the false teachers gaining followers today are doing nothing more than false teachers of the past. They are substituting or adding some other source to the one sure source we have.

The surprising thing is what this new source is — man’s own sense of right and wrong.

How ironic.

God created Man as a moral being, and now Man turns around and wants to improve God.

Men have ignored God in the past, and chosen to worship false gods, they tinkered with His commandments and added a helping of their own. But I wonder if it isn’t a sign of the hubris of our times that the false teaching of today actually thinks God should be a little nicer, a lot gentler, and a considerable amount more loving than how He reveals Himself to be in the Bible.

Some false teachers justify their nicer God by discounting the parts of the Bible that teach about His justice. Others take a more insidious approach. They claim the Bible as their source, then declare that its truth has been distorted — that in the vast Christian tradition, in the conversation that has been going on for thousands of years, some early thinkers embraced a kinder, gentler God than the one the literalists have dogmatically clung to.

Now suddenly, the issue is, What do you believe? not What did God say?

My question for them is this: if God is the loving God people like Rob Bell, author of Love Wins, says, why did He let people for thousands of years misunderstand His love? If the early church thinkers such as Origen who believed in universal salvation were right, why didn’t the loving God they believe in, correct those who declared such thinking to be heretical?

Couldn’t He have alleviated centuries of worry and fear about hell and damnation simply by informing the early church fathers through the Holy Spirit that the literal reading of Jesus’s words about a narrow gate and no one coming to the Father but through Him, were wrong?

As I see it, in their efforts to portray a kinder, more loving God by questioning the clear and plain reading of Scripture, they are actually undermining the authority of the Bible and putting God in a bad light by implying that He did nothing all these years to correct such a grievous error about His character.

The thing is, I’ve understood from Scripture that God is perfect. To suggest that He is other than what we understand Him to be from the Bible is to say that He is not perfect. He has some flaw or weakness that prevented Him from correcting His followers all these years.

When they were holding councils to codify their beliefs and writing creeds and confessions to teach lay people, somehow God couldn’t manage to communicate that they were in error in their understanding, that the things they were writing about hell and His judging the living and dead weren’t true. Only a weak God or an uncaring God or one who hadn’t really revealed Himself in the first place would have let such wrong thinking go on and on for hundreds of years.

Of course the alternative is that God is perfect, answered prayer and guided the leaders as they came together and delineated the tenets of the faith based on the Bible; that they fairly represented His character and truthfully identified Him as the Judge “most just and terrible in his judgments” (from The Westminster Confession of Faith).

Is God only “just and terrible”? Well, no, certainly not. He is, in fact, infinitely loving. That’s why the idea that anyone could improve on His love by contradicting His justice and undermining an understanding of His power is … foolish.

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