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Author: Henry Neufeld

Quick Note on Open Dialogue, Tim Keller, and the Kuyper Prize

Quick Note on Open Dialogue, Tim Keller, and the Kuyper Prize

I’m traveling, and will only comment briefly. I would link to the Princeton Seminary president’s comments and to the basic information about the Kuyper Prize.

I’m not going to get into the details of this issue. It appears that Keller will speak, but will not be awarded the Kuyper prize. I’m definitely not in the Reformed camp, so who gets honored is very much not my affair.

I’m very interested in religious dialogue, and for there to be real dialogue, there must be substantial differences of opinion. As a moderate, that means I must dialogue with people at what appear to me to be the extremes. For a conservative that means listening and responding to views of liberals or progressives. For both progressives and conservatives, I think it means more openness to dialogue with those in the charismatic movement.

While I do support the right of any private organization to determine what ideas it will support, at the same time I mourn when dialogue with substantial movements within the Christian community is diminished. I’m pleased that Rev. Keller will still speak. I am less concerned about giving prizes, and it appears he is too! Having been through the experience of having a speaker uninvited, one who responded with grace, I appreciate the grace shown here.

I would say to my more progressive friends that Tim Keller represents a very substantial movement within American Christianity. The size of the movement means those who disagree must engage it. Engaging is not agreeing. Dialogue is not support. Rather, dialogue is the best way to challenge bad ideas.

It may feel good to declare someone else’s view “outside the bounds,” but I don’t believe it’s the best way to change minds. Thus I publish views on both the conservative and the liberal side of the spectrum, not to mention occasionally charismatic, that others think I should not. No, I don’t have to provide “those people” with a platform, but I think it’s valuable to have a common platform, and to use it to encourage growth.

Who Is Saved

Who Is Saved

I can believe someone else has a good relationship with God, is saved, or is going to heaven without also believing they are right in all their beliefs. I believe I’m in a good relationship with God and am doubtless wrong about many things.

Paul and the Law Tangle

Paul and the Law Tangle

I’m working through key elements of Galatians 3 & 4 tonight and drawing in some material from Romans and elsewhere. My main topic will be to look at Paul’s use of the word “law” in these passages. My main references other than the Bible text will be Galatians: A Participatory Study Guide pp. 43-47 and Meditations on the Letters of Paul, Chapter VIII, pp. 89-97

Here’s a sample:

No Jew would deny the wisdom of Torah, or disavow its validity. Neither did Paul. When arguing for the universality of God’s promise to Abraham, and that all those who like Abraham have faith in God are justified before God, Paul asks rhetorically, “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law” (Rom. 3:31). For that to be the case, Paul must have in mind more than one way of seeing the authority of the law, or the way it functions. (p. 92)

The chapter in Herold Weiss’s book (Meditations) is one of the most helpful presentations I’ve found on this subject.

Elgin Hushbeck on Apologetics

Elgin Hushbeck on Apologetics

One of the blessings in my life is the number of friends I have found (and I don’t always make friends easily) who are willing to have great discussions. By “great” I mean ones in which we challenge one another’s ideas with vigor but without anger or condemnation. If you seek only friends and associates who agree with you, you’re missing out on a great blessing.

Elgin Hushbeck is such a friend. I think I tend to emphasize the places where we don’t agree over those were we do simply because I find those discussions more useful and enjoyable. Elgin is a Christian apologist, which did not help me to warm up to him or his writing (this was before I was a publisher). Apologists often get a bad reputation for a number of reasons, including obsession that makes them narrow, a vigor in presentation that belies weakness of content, discourtesy, and some carelessness with factual accuracy in a good cause. And this is not to mention mistaking a catalog of facts for the good news of the gospel from time to time.

Elgin doesn’t do this. I want to call attention to his post yesterday on the Energion Discussion Network.  If we could get the “gently and respectfully” part taken care of, the rest would work much better.

I have found that the style is not a characteristic of one or another theological or political position. Whatever it is you’re advocating, gently and respectfully is going to accomplish more in terms of communicating your message, assuming that’s your goal. If you just want to stick it to the people who disagree with you, your strategy will obviously differ.

But with regard to the gospel, if your goal is to stick it to an opponent, don’t imagine that you are actually proclaiming the good news. The good news isn’t that you’re right and the other guy is wrong. Rather, it has something to do with God loving both of you, no matter how wrong you are. It depends on God and the Holy Spirit to fix that wrongness.

(Featured image credit: Openclipart.org.)

Are Sermons of Value?

Are Sermons of Value?

I have very frequently spoken disparagingly of sermons. I prefer more interactive activities in smaller groups as a way of learning and passing on information. It’s commonly said that a pastor is lucky if, on a Sunday, any congregants remember the topic of the previous week’s sermon, much less what was said about it.

On the other hand I remember stunning Dr. James Londis, who was pastor of the Sligo Seventh-day Adventist Church when I was an 18-year-old college student and a member. His first sermon there had to do with applying the Laodicean message to his new congregants. Accurately, I might add. I mentioned this memory to him about 40 years after he had preached that sermon. For some reason he was surprised!

Nonetheless, I publish one book on how to preach (Overcoming Sermon Block), and a number of sermon collections (So Much Older Then … [Bob LaRochelle], The Character of Our Discontent [Allan R. Bevere], A Positive Word for Christian Lamenting, The Forgotten Beatitude, and Holidays, Holy Days, and Special Days. Most of these books are by Dr. William Powell Tuck, who has a few others as well. One of my criteria for publishing a sermon collection is that it is useful for reading as an essay collection as well.

Bill Tuck, when I interviewed him on the topic, said very simply that a major reason that sermons are looked down on is that so many of them are so bad. They are often poorly prepared, poorly presented, lack evidence of thought and reflection, lack depth, and so forth. I’m going to put the video of my interview with him at the end of this post.

A problem behind the problems is the lack of time spent in preparation. There is, of course, preparation of the sermon. But there is also preparation of the person. Bill Tuck says this in Overcoming Sermon Block:

One of the most important disciplines a minister has to maintain is his spiritual or devotional life. If we are too busy for our own personal devotion, we are simply too busy. We have to keep our priorities right. Our personal spiritual nurture is absolutely essential. To fail here is not a  minor shortcoming but neglect in a critical point of our own relationship to God. How can we guide others to worship and serve Christ if we neglect our own spiritual development? Our spiritual development affects our preaching as well. As we “labor” at our spiritual nurture, the amazing thing is that we are not only fed spiritually, but often sermon ideas arise out of our own devotional study and reflection. That is not our main purpose but it happens nevertheless. (p. 18)

That contains some excellent advice for everyone. I am only rarely called to preach, but I find that when I am called to share, my devotional life is most critical. Sunday School teachers take note.

Here’s the interview:

No Paul Study Tonight

No Paul Study Tonight

Due to scheduling conflicts, or more precisely a wall-to-wall day, I will not be doing my video Bible study tonight. I’ll resume next week. In the meantime, you might enjoy my interview with Thomas Hudgins. You can read a text interview here (not a transcript, but a text version of the interview), or watch:

deceived

deceived

The shallow reader and the headline reader are both deceived alike.

Is Fake News an Epidemic?

Is Fake News an Epidemic?

I’ve watched with some annoyance as trust in the mainstream media (whatever that is) has diminished, to be replaced by trust in even less reliable news sources. Many media outlets earned popular contempt by their carelessness with the facts. My observation is that the news media have been more biased toward “shallow” than in any other direction.

From there, it seems, we went from somewhat biased to totally biased, and finally to fake news. It is, I am told, an epidemic. Something must be done! Let’s fix this situation! Just search Google for “fake news” and “epidemic” and you’ll find references. You’ll also find plenty of people blaming social media and others defending it. I’ve even written about it before.

Fake news is really nothing new. It’s called gossip, and it’s just about as accurate. What social media does is provide more efficient distribution. God makes his sun to shine on the just and the unjust and social media smiles on stories both true and false. The context changes, but people remain the same.

What bothers me right now is that people are calling this an epidemic. “Epidemic” is one of those words that are used by people who would like to influence public opinion so as to make us all do something about it. And when you get to the point where someone just has to do something about it, the solution is generally worse than the problem.

In various countries we have calls for government action. But as soon as you have government action on fake news, you have government deciding which news is true and which is false. Whether we like to believe it or not, we in the United States are susceptible to this temptation.

The one and only answer to fake news is for individuals to use good judgment and spread stories that are verifiable, which will include actually reading stories before you share them. And while companies like Facebook and Twitter are not the government, they might well do better not to get into the truth filtering business, or at least be very careful.

Seeking truth is up to each one of us. As long as there are people who will post, share, and tweet things that are unverified, and other people who will read them and believe them, we’ll have fake news. You can channel it a bit, but you won’t get rid of it.


(Featured image credit: Openclipart.org.)