Technology and Privacy (TED talk video)

I think this is worth watching …

In Which I Am Completely Unhelpful about UMC General Conference

Allan Bevere has carried on a discussion about the 2016 UMC General Conference, in which he is partially responding to another Energion author, Joel Watts.

I have to agree with Allan that closing the floor is unlikely to help. I’m not sure anything will. I see individual United Methodist churches accomplishing things for the gospel. I don’t see the denomination doing so.

One of the favored activities of Christian bloggers is to advocate one form of church organization over another, but that’s not the real question. Methodist can talk about how churches without an episcopal structure have less accountability. Churches that choose their pastors locally can talk about the constraints of a heavy bureaucracy. But the real question is whether whatever structure we’ve created will have Jesus at the top. I’m completely unconvinced that any structure whatsoever will make that certain. Reorganizing won’t help.

I think listening to the Holy Spirit is what will really help, but even I don’t hear the same things from the Holy Spirit that all my friends do, so some holy conferencing needs to take place until we get to Acts 15:28, where the same thing “seems to the Holy Spirit and to us” before we have any solutions. And I don’t mean uniformity. I mean fellowship in a diversity that is still part of God’s kingdom.

But before that happens we’ll all have to be much more broken and humble, definitely myself included, than we are right now.

Divorce and (Re)marriage Discussion

Just in case I haven’t stirred things up enough lately, I’ve invited a discussion on divorce and marriage over on the Energion Discussion Network. Go participate and enjoy!

The Book I Can’t Give Away

If you don’t know I own a publishing company (Energion Publications) by now, I’d be pretty surprised. It’s not as though I don’t talk about it regularly.

One of the things I find interesting about blogging is to discover which blog posts actually catch people’s attention. There are times when I have put my heart and soul into a post, writing about something I consider extremely important, and there’s no response. At other times I write something quickly just because I feel I haven’t blogged enough, and I get comments, links, or e-mails that indicate it has really touched someone’s life. This unpredictability is great fun!

As a publisher, however, the idea is for me to figure out what people will actually read, because I will be investing money in producing the book, and I need someone to buy it in order to stay in business. Now I say I run my business as a ministry, i.e., the primary mission is more to educate and to build the Kingdom (to use the Christianese expression) than it is to make money. If I simply put my entire time into using my IT skills, I’d make more money. Yet at the same time, it is a business and so it does have to make money. As such, part of my job is to determine whether people will buy a book before it is released.

It’s interesting how often these goals collide. There are manuscripts I know people would buy, but I don’t consider them of any great value. No, I don’t place my judgment over the popular judgment. There will always be somebody to publish popular things. I’m not depriving you of them! But what about the things that say that becoming a Christian is not a matter of guaranteeing that you will be healthy, wealthy, and wise? What if they say that you may die of cancer rather than be healed? What about books that talk about martyrdom, persecution, and sacrifice? Who publishes those books?

Such books do get published, and I do not claim to be the only one to do so. But I do think it is part of my duty to make such books available to people. And I’m not just talking about books about the negatives of becoming a Christian. (And quite frankly, in the United States, being a Christian can be quite good for business. Where I live, a common question in business networking is: “Where do you go to church?” It’s a good idea to have a “safe” answer that makes people feel you’re a part of the community.) I’m talking about books that challenge our prejudices, that ask us to think about things we might rather avoid, and that ask us to take action rather than just deal in theory.

Let’s face it. A lot more of us talk about various reforms than are willing to take actions.

Do you believe in house churches? Are you ready to get out there and start one, or join a group that is doing so?

9781893729186Every member in ministry (a good UMC slogan)? Are you involved? If you’re a pastor or other church leader, are you willing to give up some of your power and control so more people can get involved? Are you willing to go look for people and challenge them to get involved rather than waiting for them to volunteer?

Are you mission oriented? If so, are you ready to back that up with, again to borrow a United Methodist phrase, are you ready to support that goal with your prayers, your presence, your gifts, and your service? (Now if you answered “yes” there, please check to see how much of your church’s budget is going to support outreach ministries.)

Which brings me to the book I can’t give away. The cover is pictured over to the left. Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?

It doesn’t sell very well. In fact, there’s a very specialized book by the same author, The Authorship of Hebrews. It quotes Greek words and phrases, and deals with a very technical issue of interest to a relatively small number of people. It’s not precisely a bestseller, but I sell more copies of it than I do of Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?

I know that many Christians are not too happy with the word “missions.” As I said in the description for another book I’m soon to release, also on the subject of missions:

Many Christians have grown up with a very limited concept of “missions” and “missionaries.” In this view a missionary is a person who goes and preaches to lots of people, often in primitive lands, and explains the theology of the gospel. The natives are convinced and become Christians. Thus the gospel commission is fulfilled.

Actual missions have not been carried out in this way very much….

This sort of mechanical view has damaged the concepts of both evangelism and missions and made them bad words with many people. But a church without a mission is very dead. A church with a mission that is all internal is likely dying. I haven’t been going out and speaking at many churches lately. I spend most of my time in front of this computer. But I used to tell pastors I could gauge the health of their churches by asking a few members what the mission of the church was. In a healthy church, people will be able to answer quickly and clearly.

“But evangelism,” someone says, “that refers to holding boring meetings in a tent trying to convince people to give their hearts to Jesus.” No, not so. Evangelism is spreading the good news.

Let me give an example. My parents were missionaries, and they carried out evangelism. Neither of them ever conducted a tent meeting. My dad was an MD, and my mother (who is still active at 96 years old) was a nurse. They operated clinics. They cared for people. They prayed with people personally. When you visited their church, you would be invited home to lunch. I hear people taught to make visitors welcome by speaking to them and getting to know them. Good! Let’s do it. (Though I have a problem in that I’m a member of a 3500 member church and I often can’t tell who’s a visitor and who’s not. That may be another problem!) But for my parents making someone welcome meant making sure they had time to get truly acquainted, making sure that person was fed, and if they had needs, that those needs were met. I wonder how many people in our churches would be willing to take that on today?

I suspect that many people simply don’t want church to change the fundamental way in which they live quite that much. That’s getting way too much into other people’s business. We don’t want to do that.

The thing is, that sounds to me much more like the way the gospel was spread in New Testament times. I’m fully aware that times have changed. The church needs to adapt.

So let’s ask this: Is the way we’ve adapted working?

And so we return to the book I can’t give away. I’ve tried to give Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions? away in various places, from academic gatherings down to personal meetings with people. It’s not quite true to say that I can’t give it away at all, though at one academic gathering it was the only book from my book table of which I had the same number on my return as when I’d left. I’ve never run out of them. I’ve tried. I’ve offered free copies for people to use in study groups or to give away in church.

Maybe it’s because the author is Southern Baptist, and I approached people of other denominations. Maybe it’s because he’s conservative, and I talk to people all across the spectrum. But this book doesn’t tell you what your theology has to be. It tells you what to do with it. It tells you the level of commitment that God calls for. I know plenty of people moderate or progressive theology who would not disagree with those points. Besides, how do people know when they haven’t read the book yet?

My real challenge here is not to buy this particular book, though I’d be delighted if you did. What I hope you’ll do, however, is look at what you believe and then check out your actions. Do you believe you should be out doing social action, yet you’re sitting in the pew instead? Then get up and go! I’m not trying to define your mission. That’s up to you, hopefully as you discern God’s leading. Whatever it is, do it!

I didn’t intend to when I started this post, but I just noted that I have 16 copies of this little book on my office shelf. This book talks about mission, it talks about martyrdom, and then it asks you to commit yourself to it. Let me know in the comments. Tell me how many you need and up to what I have on my office shelf I’ll send them to you free of charge. No shipping or handling either. Just ask. If you need ten copies for a church group, tell me that. First come, first serve, until they’re gone.

Don’t worry about whether your mission, as you understand it, is the same as Dave Black’s. You aren’t called to Dave Black’s mission. You aren’t called to mine. You’re called to yours.

If you need more than 16, or you want some after I’ve given those away, I’ll work out a price that will cut this as close to my cost as I can manage. I can’t afford to lose money, but I can live with making pennies on the book. Just email me ( and ask.

Link: Herman Bavinck on Scripture and Errors

Found on PostBarthian. I like!

From My Editing Work: I Grieve Like Everyone Else

9781631990793The first thing I acknowledge is that I grieve just like everyone else; I do not grieve as a minister. I have the very same emotions, the very same needs as all persons who experience loss. (p. 20)

This is from the forthcoming book Surviving a Son’s Suicide by Ron Higdon. It’s interesting that I’m editing a book regarding grief on today of all days. But so it goes.

This line is so incredibly important, both for ministers and for lay people (who should all be ministers!) to remember. Pastors expect certain things of themselves that are not realistic. Congregations expect unrealistic things of pastors. To a lesser extent, I saw this in our own experience both while James was fighting cancer and while we were dealing with grief. I’m not an ordained minister. I am a publisher, and by inclination a teacher. Yet people wondered why those who taught could not always face life according to their own teaching.

Of course we never taught that we, or anyone else, would deal with such things perfectly. Positions of leadership or other activities that put one in the public eye do add a dimension to dealing with difficulties or with grief. But the person still grieves as a person. That path is individual.

Ten Years Ago

John and James

John and James – My favorite picture that I keep on my desk.

September 22 is a difficult day for me and my family. Ten years ago, on September 22, our son/brother James went home. I cannot describe it as anything else. While it left us with a deep sense of loss, there was a certain triumph, and a definite peace about the way James left.

I’ve been pleased to watch the notes on Facebook this year. As always, they remind me of his absence and make me miss them more, but they are also so real. There’s a tendency to make a saint (apart from being “one of the saints”) out of the person who has died. James was wonderful. I really liked him as well as loved him. But his sense of humor and his mischief are such a strong part of what I miss. When people describe him as an extraordinarily spiritual sort of young man who lived in conformity with what the world and the church demanded, I have to laugh. At first I got a little annoyed. But then the humor came to me.

I think James was very spiritual. He was a delightful young man. He could, however, stress me out.  Not really that often, but he was an individual. He did things his way, and others went along with it. His most spiritual moments were when he was at the drums. In fact, he could make “drums” just about anywhere!

I’m sitting in my office at the computer where I have worked for years. I’m a creature of habit. I can look over at where he would stand when he came into my office. He insisted on knocking. I told him that I never did anything in this office that he couldn’t interrupt. He told me it just seemed right to knock. So he did. He’d come in and just stand there with his trademark little grin. In a few moments I’d give up and ask him how much he needed. That was how he told me he needed (or wanted) money.

He also had his own logic. He explained to me once that it would be better for me to give him some money he needed rather than do it in exchange for some work or other. He said he would just fail to get the work done and then I would be mad, and it would be worse all around. I asked him how often I got mad. His reply? “It could happen.” As others have pointed out to me repeatedly, James usually got what he wanted from me.

I don’t usually write anything here or on Facebook on September 22. My hard month each year is June. That’s when I found out the cancer was back. Jody was in Hungary leading a mission team. I was here with James. He had a point of pain in his back. I said (and tried to convince myself) that it might be a pulled muscle. He was, after all, in band camp. He gave me what I can only describe as a pitying look. We discussed it and decided not to wait the week or so it would take for his mother to get back from Hungary.

I ended up having to call the doctor. The paperwork went astray. One doctor had expected the other had called, but nobody had. I got to tell James the news. Then I got to figure out how to tell Jody via e-mail. Phone was not an option. All of that happened in June and that’s when I tend to remember things most.

This September, however, I was working on writing some things about our company, Energion Publications, and the two overlapped. I didn’t even realize it until early in the morning. I woke up and found Jody awake as well. I had been thinking both that our company was ten years old and that we’d released our first new book (we bought out some others when we started) a year later. That would be 2005. But suddenly I remembered that our first release was also in 2004.

189372915xThat book was Daily Devotions of Ordinary People – Extraordinary God, which was a collection of Jody’s devotionals. The amazing thing is that we released that book in November. I don’t know how Jody did it. Yes, the material had been written, but she had to go over it many times as we put together that book. Her book remained our largest book for some years, though we now have a couple that match it or are slightly longer. I will get around to writing something about the last ten years as a publisher, but for now I just want to note the overlap, and the odd things time can do to our memories.

The thing I’d want to say to everyone is that there is life after loss. I can tell you today, 10 years later, that you don’t forget, that there doesn’t come a time when there is no pain. But you do learn to live and go on, and you can still accomplish what you need to accomplish. Not only that, we’re each different. One of the blessings Jody and I have experienced is not being down at the same time. The fact that I tend to remember dates less precisely, such as being a year off on when she completed her first book, also means that my moments of memory are more scattered. You can’t tell when I’m going to be thinking of James. I know Jody will be thinking of him especially as his birthday and the anniversary of his death are approaching. It’s not a time for me to be up, as in pasting on fake smiles and acting like everything is wonderful. But it does allow me to think of her and be there for her.

I’d add one more thing. Many others are remembering this September as it’s the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Ivan. We couldn’t evacuate with James, because he would not have been able to make the trip. But good friends (Tom and Sharolyn Hunt) took us in, as our double-wide under the trees was not a good place to ride out a storm. James wanted to be here, at his home, when the time came. I remember driving back up here with Tom the day after the storm. I saw so many buildings damaged or destroyed, and a couple of fine, old double-wides that looked like giants had stepped on them. When we got here, not only was our home and this office standing, the power was on. It turned out that the power was only partially on. One half of the system was out, so we had good power through about half the house, and were unable to use 220 volt appliances. But James could be where he wanted to be.

I was very thankful for that, and I’m thankful for the time we had with him. But I still miss him almost like it was yesterday.

Can Liberal and Conservative Christians Meet Anywhere?

One of my goals as a publisher is to see people from various streams of Christianity talk to one another and learn from one another. I used the labels “liberal,” “charismatic,” and “evangelical” in the home video I made early in the history of my publishing company, Energion Publications. I’m embedding it here for those who haven’t seen it.

That video should answer the most common question I’m asked: Why do you publish books you don’t agree with? It’s not a question that comes up with the big boys, companies like HarperCollins, Zondervan, and so forth. (Oops! Come to think of it, Zondervan is now part of HarperCollins!) With those big companies, one expects that the editorial policy will be cover a bit of ground.

But Energion Publications is owned by one person, and that person (yours truly) is also the chief editor. So what is my goal? Why wouldn’t I look for and try to publish the TRUTH?!

I suppose I could get into epistemology and tell you that while I believe in truth, I do not believe that we, as humans (finite), ever get to know that. Rather, we make our best, and I think often quite workable, attempt at the truth. But my real reason is that I believe we need dialogue. We need sharpening by others. We need that to go on continually, not just in some starting point.

Early in my time online I was in conversation with someone on the Compuserve Religion Forum. I’m pretty sure at the time I was still accessing this by dial-up, but my memory isn’t clear on the timing. Another Christian asked me if, when engaging in dialogue with non-Christians, I were to discover I was wrong, would I change my mind. Let’s ignore the fact that “discovering I was wrong” implies that I already changed my mind. My answer was, of course, “yes.”

“Then you aren’t a real Christian,” he told me. If I was a real Christian, he explained, I would be unable to contemplate the possibility of being wrong. Now I’m a quite convinced Christian. My experience of God suggests to me that while the details may vary, my ultimate faith in God is not in question. It’s not unstable. I’ve seen it challenged. I’ve lived through times that made me question, and that faith is still there. I’m not that strong of an individual. If my faith has held up this long, it becomes evidence to me that there’s something behind it.

But dialogue means listening, and if I listen, I must consider. If I hear something that is better than what I know already, I must accept that. To do anything else would be dishonest with myself and even with the God who is the Object of my faith. Or, well, beyond object, ultimate concern, and so forth.

So I’m an advocate of dialogue because I think it’s both a critical part of how we discover truth and also of how we keep on trying to discover truth. Sharing and listening are important.

So when I decide whether to publish a book, and later when I edit that book, my question is never whether I agree or disagree with the author, but rather it is how well the author has expressed his or her position and how well supported it is. I may disagree profoundly. But is this something that should be considered and discussed? I do place boundaries on what I publish, but that is because a small publisher has to have some definition of what is and is not within its publishing scope. I have rejected manuscripts that I have then, in turn, urged others to read when another publisher released them.

9781631990915Most of these books advocate one position or another. But my company has just released a new book that is advocating dialogue, precisely the kind of dialogue I established this company to promote. That book is titled: The River of Life: Where Liberal and Conservative Christianity Meet. I’m not trying to say that I like this book better than any other book I publish. To be fair to my authors I must be as strong an advocate for each of them as I can. But I’m highlighting this one on my blog because it speaks to the core of my goals.

Do I agree with every word in this book? I’d like to think nobody would ask me that. My normal answer is that I can’t even say that with confidence about the books I have written myself. In fact, Lee Harmon’s liberal Christianity is more liberal and less charismatic than mine. You can see my book Not Ashamed of the Gospel: Confessions of a Liberal Charismatic to catch the differences.

Here is a sample from the introduction:

I am also a liberal Christian, living in a conservative world. Most of my family and friends are conservative Christians. Conservatives consider apostolic tradition of utmost importance, meaning they seek to emulate the first-century church as best they know how. This is a noble goal, but it can lead to stringent intolerance for diluted beliefs. It’s the right way or the highway. Liberal Christians, on the other hand, find the creedal requirements which develop from such strictness stifling and contrary to observation and experience. We see God in many people and places, not just in Christian circles. This can lead liberals to a violent condemnation of narrow doctrine. Intolerance is intolerable.

And round and round we go. As a liberal Christian, I have both stooped to verbal aggression and felt the sting of attack. Both sides care so dang much that we can’t help squabbling, but this hardly puts a good face on Christianity. If the two sides could merely take one step backward, digging back to the Jesus we both adore, perhaps there could be a unity of purpose. Even though there can never be agreement about religious belief, the Kingdom could nevertheless advance. That is my hope in writing this book. (pp. 1-2)

I know, of course, that not everyone will agree with Lee on what the key points are. Not even all liberals are likely to agree on that. But that’s a good opening point for discussion. In that discussion we can all hope that we’ll hear our Master’s voice and learn to love a little bit more and show a grace that’s just a bit wider and deeper.

Doctrinal Standards – The New Works

I’ve had some interesting conversations about God’s grace recently, and especially about its limits.

Most people these days seem to firmly resist the idea that we need works in order to earn God’s favor, but many seem to think that we need to have correct beliefs. If we don’t believe the right things about the way grace is sufficient for all our sin, then, well, it won’t really be sufficient. Because, while grace can apparently handle murder, lying, cheating, stealing, and adultery, it is not up to dealing with a failure to discover the correct doctrine about grace. Amazing, isn’t it, that God could be so easily stopped? We seem to have replaced justification by works with justification by correct belief.

I think it’s hard for us to believe that grace is actually sufficient. We want to insert ourselves in there somewhere. Having been told that we can’t work our way in, we still find a distinction, this time about whether we have come to a correct doctrinal understanding.

Now two points:

1) I’m not saying that beliefs are not important. In fact, while I have no difficulty thinking that God can accept a person who is completely wrong in their understanding of grace and how it works, I do think that many people suffer a great deal by not understanding just how gracious God is. Misunderstanding can hurt. It doesn’t make God hate you, but it’s uncomfortable nonetheless. I know many people who live their lives worried that an angry God is going to send them into eternal torment because they forgot to confess one deed or failed to understand some command. That’s sad. Personally, I think grace is sufficient not just for my sin, but also for my stupidity.

2) I’m not a universalist. I think there is real evil in the world and that people sometimes take a turn that way. I know there are those who think there is good in the worst of us, but I think there are those who are just evil. The problem is, with our ability to mask evil with a pretense of goodness, and our ability to obscure goodness through just plain bad judgment, I suspect we aren’t up to figuring out who actually is truly evil.

I could be wrong about any of that. I think it’s important to recognize my potential to be wrong. I think it’s also important for me to try to be as right as I can. But no amount of my wrongness can actually limit God.

Irregular Verbs and Hermeneutics

In a few minutes I’m leaving to teach Sunday School and we’re talking about the inspiration and authority of scriptures and/or of people who claim to speak for God.

But first, I thought I’d write a quick note on the recent discussion of violence in the Old Testament hosted by Allan Bevere. (To follow this discussion from the start, follow the links here.) This may sound terribly disrespectful, but first let me note that I largely agree with what Dr. L. Daniel Hawk said in his three part series. I like the canonical approach. I agree that we need to struggle with all the difficult passages. I would find some time to quibble about the criticism of the biblical theology school and it’s demise. I find that announcements of the death of schools of thought are often a mite exaggerated and tend to dismiss more than they should. So while I teach using a canonical approach to scripture, I think I should be subject a question analogous to the one I asked when reading material from earlier biblical criticism and the biblical theology school: Why? Why is it that you somehow think that when you get back to the earliest stream you are somehow dealing with something better? For me, there are two questions that arise from the same idea: 1) Why is the canonical form of scripture normative (and for what purpose)? and 2) What is the canonical form? (Canonical form is a bit easier to determine in the New Testament, I think.) I, for example, make use of the OT Apocrypha (a personal choice, since my denomination doesn’t recognize it as authoritative [why?]) and also consider the LXX versions of OT books to have similar authority to Hebrew texts in Christian contexts.

Having thus raised more questions than I answer (a normal situation for me), let me get to my title.

I’m a fan of the BBC shows Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister. In those Bernard Wooley, private secretary to the minister and then Prime Minister Hacker, produces on occasion what he calls “irregular verbs.” I couldn’t find a good clip on YouTube, but I’m going to provide one for this discussion:

I discern the message, you pick and choose, he discards Scripture wholesale.

Please don’t hear this as an accusation of either Adam Hamilton or L. Daniel Hawk. While I tend to agree much more with Dr. Hawk, my intention is not to throw accusations around. This irregular verb points at me as well. I think, perhaps, that we need to spend more time discerning and discussing the ways in which we pick and choose.

Hopefully I’ll find the time over the next week or so to discuss a few chapters. In the meantime might I direct you at some earlier efforts: The God-Talk Club and the She Bears (a short story/dialog) and Real Guy Interpretation – A Homily.