Friday, March 30, 2007

I Wish I Wrote This

Please read My Secret Life of Discipleship. It truly expresses my heart.

Writer's Block

So I've been wanting to post something for the past several days, but I apparently have nothing in my brain that is interesting right now. So, for the 8 people per day that look at this blog per day, I present to you some random stuff! Why? Because everyone likes stuff, and random is exciting!

First, another classic from our friends at Barats & Beretta:


This just made me giggle.

Allow me to recommend a blog to you. One in Jesus has some great posts dealing with some of the internal squabbles and theological mistakes that we have made in the COC. There's even some free downloadable books that are worth every penny! Give it a read

Random question: Am I the only one in America that is NOT watching American Idol? I find it appalling that a karaoke competition has become a culturally defining phenomenon. What does that say about us? Oh well, I take peace knowing that someone is trying to sabotage the process on that show. Check out Votefortheworst.com. They've become very powerful, even claiming to have contributed to Taylor Hicks' win last time. I love mischievous culture-wreckers!

That's all for now. Maybe soon my brain will turn on again and I can enlighten all 8 of you on my latest profound musings.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Responding to an Atheist

Today, a new reader (Welcome, Uriel!) posted a comment on one of my older posts, The Blasphemy Challenge. Uriel took what will, on this blog, be an unpopular position advocating an atheistic/agnostic approach. While I disagree with this position, I welcome his comments, as they force us to think. Below, I will respond to his post paragraph by paragraph.

"If there is no God, then we have no basis on which to declare the Nazi's guilty of moral wrong!"

Um... NO. Right and wrong are in fact relative to culture, cultures change over time. Christianity has changed its views over time. Morality is a function of social contract. Society decides what behaviors it will punish or accept. If you grew up in a world were slavery was the norm, you wouldn't consider it wrong, or you would be less likely to question it.
Uriel has advocated cultural relativism, a position which maintains that an individual, by agreeing to live within a certain culture, is agreeing to live according to the norms of that culture (social contract). When this social contract is fulfilled, the individual has acted morally. In other words, culture determines morality or, as uriel said, morality is relative to culture. This approach may seem to be a well-reasoned response to a theistic approach. However, it fails when the following factors are considered.

First, which culture? Each culture has within it sub-cultures which have their own moral understandings. If one operates according to the morals of his sub-culture, he may be acting in opposition to popular culture.

Furthermore, in global matters, cultures are often diametrically opposed to one another. As I pointed out in my original post, cultural relativism was the defense that the Nazi's used in their war crimes trial at Nuremburg following WWII. In essence, they argued, "Whose law did we violate? America's? Britain's? We were not amenable to either of those laws, because we are not a part of those societies! Within German society, what we did was perfectly lawful. Since we are amenable to German law, we are innocent!" The verdict at Nuremburg was that this cultural relativism defense failed, not because it was poor logic, but because it failed to recognize a law that transcends the provincial and the transient!

In other words, the Nazis operated within the acceptable moral norms of their culture. In order to be consistent, Uriel and other cultural relativists have conclude that they therefore were guilty of no moral wrong. Otherwise, they would have to abandon their cultural relativism and admit that there is a "higher" source of morality. But that admission would equate to theism!

Uriel writes, "If you grew up in a world were slavery was the norm, you wouldn't consider it wrong, or you would be less likely to question it." The question isn't whether I or anyone else would CONSIDER it wrong. The question is whether slavery is, in fact, wrong. I say YES! It is wrong REGARDLESS of what the prevailing cultural view is. Why? Because there is a higher source of morality than culture! Cultural relativists would have to say that slavery is potentially morally acceptable.

The Nazis were evil bastards because western culture said so. It had NOTHING to do with invisible silent wizards in the sky. The Nazis thought your god was on THEIR side. Osama thinks god is on his side. George Bush thinks god is on his side. They can't both be right. You'll say that god is on your side of course, and require no proof other than your faith. How convenient.
Why was western culture the norm? And how do we determine what western culture said? Certainly the governments of western nations were opposed to the Nazis, but do governments necessarily serve as the voice of culture? Does that mean that governments determine morality. And if we're going to expand the discussion beyond German culture to include western culture, why not expand it all the way to include global culture? Good luck determining what the global culture was!

What if western culture had determined that their actions were morally acceptable? Would that make it so, or would western culture have been wrong? I believe that the actions of the Nazis were wrong ABSOLUTELY, regardless of whether the culture approved or disapproved of their actions!

I agree that it had nothing to do with "invisible silent wizards in the sky." However, it does have to do with a power higher than the individual or the culture or the nation. If you say that the Nazis were ABSOLUTELY wrong, and that there is no scenario in which their actions would be morally acceptable, then you must ask where that absolute morality comes from. The existence of absolute morality demands the existence of a "higher power." That's theism!
i wish i had a book that would justify doing anything i want and feel righteous about it. As an atheist, i have no such luxury. My moral compass comes from reality, my own experiences, what i feel to be right or wrong, but i am accountable to the law, to the morals of those around me. You decide what is right or wrong based on your feelings too, but you have a book written in the bronze age to back you up. Have you ever actually read Leviticus? It's horrible.
This illustrates the difference in Uriel's worldview and mine. I would run from any book that would justify doing anything I want and guaranteeing that I would feel good about it. I recognize my fallibility. I have no delusions of grandeur. I don't feign perfection. I find great relief in the fact that I have someone higher than myself to appeal to that directs me.

Uriel's implication is that the Bible justifies doing anything I want. This is a curious claim because one of the objections that many atheists make is that the Bible somehow inhibits human freedom. Uriel seems to view the bible as giving too much freedom to people. Perhaps this is Uriel's way of repeating the common and accurate criticism that people have through history used (or, misused) the Bible to justify virtually any atrocity. This shows a great deal about man's sinfulness, but it proves nothing about whether absolute morality, and the implicit Source of that absolute morality, exists.

Do I assume too much when I conclude that Uriel is just looking for a thinly veiled insult as he pretends to be intellectually superior? After all, Uriel's moral compass comes from "reality," implying that we poor, ignorant, superstitious, aboriginal nitwits live in wonderland because of our theism.

Uriel, I believe your moral compass is based on a flawed view of reality. Your reality consists of your feelings, experiences, society's laws, and society's morals. I find it interesting that each of these change. Your feelings, experiences, society's laws, and society's morals could potentially all approve at one point in history of the holocaust and disapprove it in another. So, based on your "reality" the holocaust is not absolutely immoral!

You're wrong when you say that I determine right and wrong based on my feelings. In fact, I don't determine right and wrong at all. I determine my actions. Sometimes those actions are right. Sometimes those actions are wrong. The morality of my actions depends entirely on how they measure up to the higher standard. And the bronze age book to which you refer condemns my actions at least as often as it backs them up (probably more often)!

Yes, I've read Leviticus. I assume from your comments that you have read it, too. I wonder if you've tried to understand it, though. Since you didn't elaborate, I can't really respond.
You're also presuming the existence of this god. You and i have something in common. We are both agnostic, the difference is that you are in denial about it. You don't know that there is a god, or that there aren't several. It is a hope, a wish, an assumption on your part that there is.
I do not PRESUME God's existence. I have CONCLUDED His existence. One of the most convincing evidences upon which this conclusion is based is the moral argument that we have been discussing.

I find it interesting that you refer to yourself in one paragraph as an atheist and in another paragraph as an agnostic. Which are you? An atheist claims, "I KNOW there is no God." An agnostic claims, "It is unknowable whether there is or is not a god." I am neither. I know there is a God, and I have already given you one strong reason why.
When a terrorist kills an infidel, he does so with faith that if they were innocent, their soul will go to heaven anyway. i believe that if i killed someone, that's it. They cease to exist, forever. Which is a bigger crime: sending someone to eternity in heaven early or utterly destroying a consciousness forever?

Note that i say 'i believe', i say that because i can admit that i don't know.
I'm sorry. I don't understand the point of this paragraph. I agree that mankind is incredibly sinful, but I somehow don't think that's the point you were trying to make.
Since you already invoke Godwin's law, this is fair game: The Nazis and Al Qaeda believe(d) in moral absolutes. We don't need moral absolutes. Humanity is better served with compassion and reason, with adapting to changes in reality.
I've never heard of Godwin's law, but I did read the Wikipedia entry on it, and found it quite interesting. Ironically, I grow weary of Nazi comparisons, too. In my original post, I was simply making a historical reference to the fact that the Nuremburg Trials reached a verdict that denied the cultural relativism defense of the Nazi's and adopted a theistic view of morality.

The fact is that without moral absolutes of some sort, Nazis and slave owners and KKK members and pedophiles and any other practitioner of the vile and grotesque may, in an approving culture, act with complete moral impunity and, in fact, innocence.

In fact, the Nazis did NOT believe in moral absolutes, as their Nuremburg defense shows. Al Qaeda does. But the terrorist actions of Al Qaeda are done with the approval of their culture. According to your moral standard, that means that their terrorist actions are morally right! According to mine, they are morally wrong.

The issue is not whether bad people have acted in bad ways while also believing in absolute morality. Certainly they have! But the existence of moral absolutes is what declares their actions immoral! Relativism cannot do that!

Uriel, I welcome your comments and dialogue any time on this blog. It is only by having our thinking challenged that any of us can grow. So, please, come back and help us grow!

Sweet 16, Baby!


As an Aggie fan, I've never been able to be a fan of college hoops. But I must admit, I'm pretty psyched about my boys! Gig 'Em!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Can I Live? by Nick Cannon

Here's another song proving that rap can have tremendous redeeming value.

This song is called Can I Live? and is supposedly the true story of the circumstances of his birth. It is told from the perspective of an unborn child pleading with his mother to let him live. Pretty powerful!
The lyrics:

Talking Ma
I know the situation is personal
But it's something that has to be told
As I was making this beat
You was all I could think about
You heard my voice...

Verse 1:

Just think just think
What if you could just
Just blink your self away
Just just wait just pause for a second
Let me plead my case
It's the late 70's, huh
You seventeen, huh
And having me that will ruin everything, huh
It's a lot of angels waiting on they wings
You see me in your sleep so you can't kill your dreams
Three hundred dollars that's the price of living, what?
Mommy I don't like this clinic
Hopefully you'll make the right decision
And don't go through with the knife decision
But it's hard to make the right move
When you in high school
How you gotta work all day and take night school
Hopping off the bus when the rain is pouring
What you want:
Morning sickness or the sickness of mourning?

Chorus:

I'll always be a part of you
Trust your soul Know it's always true
If I could talk I'd say to you
Can I live? Can I live?

I'll always be a part of you
Trust your soul Know it's always true
If I could talk I'd say to you
Can I live? Can I live?

Verse 2:

I'm a child of the king
Ain't no need to go fear me
And I see them flowing tears so I know that you hear me
When I move in your womb that's me being scary
Cause who knows what my future holds
Yo the truth be told you ain't told a soul
Yo you ain't even showing I'm just 2 months old
Through your clothes try to hide me deny me
Went up 3 sizes
Your pride got you lying saying ain't nothing but a migraine
It ain't surprising you not trying to be in WIC food lines
Your friends will look at you funny but look at you mommy
That's a life inside take a look at your tummy
What is becoming ma I'm Oprah bound
You can tell he's a star from the ultrasound
Our spirits connected doors open now
Nothing but love and respect
Thanks for holding me down
She let me live

(Chorus)

It's uplifting fo’real y’all
I ain't passing no judgement
Ain't making no decisions
I am just telling ya'll my story
I love life
I love my mother for giving me life
We all need to appreciate life
A strong woman that had to make a sacrifice
Thanks for listening
Thanks for listening
Mama thanks for listening

Happy Birthday by Flipsyde

I'm not exactly a rap enthusiast, but this song proves that it is a genre that can certainly have tremendous redeeming value when they carry a positive message. It is a compelling song called Happy Birthday by Flipsyde. It is a message from a dad to the child that he paid to have aborted. It explores an often overlooked part of the abortion debate -- its emotional toll on the fathers. Enjoy!

Here are the lyrics, just in case you didn't catch them:
Happy Birthday. So make a wish.

Please accept my apologies, I wonder what would have been.
Would you have been a little angel or an angel of sin?
Tom-boy running around, hanging with all the guys.
Or a little tough boy with beautiful brown eyes.
I paid for the murder before they determined the sex,
choosing our life over your life meant your death.
And you never got a chance to even open your eyes,
sometimes I wonder as a fetus if you fought for your life.
Would you have been a little genius? In love with math?
Would you have played in your school clothes and made me mad?
Would you have been a little rapper like your poppa The Piper?
Would you have made me quit smoking by finding one of my lighters?
I wonder about your skin tone and shape of your nose,
and the way you would've laughed and talked fast or slow.
I think about it every year, so I picked up a pen.
Happy birthday, I love you whoever you would've been.

Happy Birthday
What I thought was a dream
Make a wish
Was as real as it seemed

I made a mistake

I got a million excuses, as to why you died.
And other people got their own reasons for homicide.
Who's to say it would've worked and who's to say it wouldn't have
I was young and struggling, but old enough to be a dad.
The fear of being my father has never disappeared,
I ponder it frequently while I'm sippin' on my beer.
My vision of a family was artificial and fake
so when it came time to create, I made a mistake.
But now you got a little brother, maybe it's really you.
Maybe you really forgave us knowing we were confused.
Maybe, every time that he smiles it's you proudly knowing
that your father's doing the right thing now.
I'll never tell a woman what to do with her body,
but if she don't love children, then we can't party.
I think about it every year, so I picked up a pen.
Happy birthday, I love you whoever you would've been.

Happy Birthday
What I thought was a dream
Make a wish
Was as real as it seemed

I made a mistake

And from the Heavens to the womb to the Heavens again.
From the ending to the ending, never got to begin.
Maybe one day we can meet face to face,
in a place without time and space. Happy birthday.

What I thought was a dream
Make a wish
Was as real as it seemed

I made a mistake

Friday, March 9, 2007


*WARNING!! This is a very long blog (for me). But, since I've been so infrequent lately, I figured a long one might help me catch up. I'd appreciate any comments you may have!

Being raised in an ultra-conservative wing of the Churches of Christ, I quickly learned that one of the most cherished doctrines of my church was that "We are not a denomination." I was taught it and, for my first few years in ministry, I taught it as well. In fact the segment of the Churches of Christ with which I was associated taught that those who considered the Church of Christ to be a denomination were false teachers.

I even wrote an article in the local newspaper at one point condemning many denominations for their status as denominations, while encouraging people to come and be a part of the Churches of Christ since we, of course, could not be characterized in that way. A gentleman in the community who had a background in the Churches of Christ called and requested a Bible study dealing with the things I brought up in that article

When I sat down at this man's dining room table, he placed in front of me a dictionary opened up to the word "denomination." The entry read very similar to the following, which I quote from here:
de·nom·i·na·tion [di-nom-uh-ney-shuhn]
–noun
1.a religious group, usually including many local churches, often larger than a sect: the Lutheran denomination.
2.one of the grades or degrees in a series of designations of quantity, value, measure, weight, etc.: He paid $500 in bills of small denomination.
3.a name or designation, esp. one for a class of things.
4.a class or kind of persons or things distinguished by a specific name.
5.the act of naming or designating a person or thing.
"denomination." Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 09 Mar. 2007. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/denomination>.
The man I was studying with focused on a definition that resembled both #3 and #5 above. In his dictionary, it read something like: "a group that takes an exclusive name for itself." He accused my beloved Churches of Christ of fitting this definition.

But I was prepared! I confidently responded, "Well, we just call ourselves 'Church of Christ' as a matter of simplicity. We would be just as happy being called the 'household of God' or the 'body of Christ' or the 'bride of Christ' or any other name that can be found in the Bible."

His response utterly defeated my claim that the Church of Christ is not a denomination. He said, "Jeff, what would happen if you told your congregation next Sunday that you were going to go and worship with a new church in town called the 'Main St. Family of God' or the 'Main St. Body of Christ,' etc.?" I sat silently because I could see where he was going with that and I had no response. He said, "Your church would draw the conclusion that you were planning on worshiping with a group that was NOT really Christian. You would be 'fellowship with darkness.' And it would be based not on the teachings or practices of the group, but on the fact that the sign in front of their building said something OTHER THAN 'Church of Christ.'"

He had me! He could not have been more correct. The conclusion from was that my fellowship had DENOMINATED itself by choosing to take a name EXCLUSIVELY for itself. When we draw conclusions about someone else's degree of faithfulness based on whether or not they wear the same name as us, we are, by definition, a denomination!

This realization forced me to do some reexamination of the name "Church of Christ." My earlier thought processes defended its use based on the following arguments, to which I will respond.

Argument #1: Names are important to God. In fact, names were so important to Him that He often CHANGED the names of people (i.e. Abram & Sarai to Abraham & Sarah; Saul to Paul). etc.) Furthermore, Colossians 3:17 says that everything we do should be done "in the name of the Lord."
Response: Indeed, God changed names. However, it wasn't because the NAME ITSELF had any special value, but because the CHANGE that the name SIGNIFIED was important! The name change signified a spiritual change! Certainly, God has given us a new identity (1 Peter 2:9-10), which He signified with a new name -- Christian (Is. 62:2; Acts 11:26). CHRISTIAN is the only name given to followers of Christ, and it isn't even bound on us in the sense that we can go by NO OTHER name! I can call myself a "follower of Christ" just as biblically as I can call myself a "Christian." The Col. 3:17 argument is just a terrible misunderstanding of the meaning of the phrase "in the name of" as used in the Scriptures.

Argument #2: Romans 16:16 uses the name "Church of Christ." Therefore, we should use it, too.
Response: I have no objection to a group referring to itself as the "Church of Christ." However, by claiming this name EXCLUSIVELY, and by using the NAME as a way to CONDEMN/JUDGE others, we have taken a perfectly good description of Christ's people and turned it into an instrument of division, which is contrary to Christ's desires (John 17). Furthermore, if we choose this SINGLE reference as our proof-text for our exclusive name, we must decide how to explain why we didn't choose the MULTIPLE references to the church as "the body of Christ" or any other reference that appears more than ONCE. Finally, I believe this argument is based on a legalistic reading of scripture which insists that it is not just the theology of Scripture is binding upon us, but also the EXACT WORDING of Scripture. (Then you have problems with which version and whether English is even the "exact wording" after all!)

Argument #3: The name "Church of Christ" gives glory to Whom it belongs -- Christ! While other "scriptural names" of the church do the same thing, most of the names that denominational groups claim do not. They give glory to a distinctive doctrine of that denomination (i.e. Baptist, Methodist) or the group's founder (i.e. Lutheran, Wesleyan). When people see the name "Church OF CHRIST" they know up front Whom we serve. For a well-written defense of this argument, see the tangat blog.
Response: I actually find a lot of merit in this argument. I certainly believe that the way we refer to ourselves should reflect our devotion to our Master. If we have to choose a name (and I don't believe we do) I would much rather it explicitly give glory to God. Unfortunately, in many communities in this nation, people no longer see the "Christ" in our name because they are focused on their perceptions of and experiences with the "Church of Christ." So, while well-intentioned, the whole of our name often communicates something altogether different than the sum of its parts. Many people see "Church of Christ" on our signs and, rather than thinking, "There is a people devoted to Christ," they often think "There's that group that thinks they're the only one's going to heaven, condemn everyone that doesn't agree with them, and think instruments send you to Hell." Can their be anything more opposed to the message that SHOULD be communicated by the words "Church of Christ?"

AN ALTERNATIVE APPROACH
Why must we have a sign with a name on it? I believe it is a direct reflection on the capitalism surrounding us. We must have, popularize, and sell our "brand," and what's a brand without a name? I can't imagine Paul traveling to Corinth for the first time and looking around for a "brand name." I certainly can't imagine him making judgments about other Christians based on their use or non-use of any particular description of followers of Christ!

If we have to have signs, why not something like "Christians meet here" or "All are welcome" or "Praise God with Us!" Or better yet, lets start drawing conclusions about others based on what they TEACH and PRACTICE rather than what their SIGN says!