Monday, September 04, 2006

Signing Off

This will be my last post on apokalupto for awhile. Most of the posts I've put up recently I orriginally wrote for Just Pastors, and now I want to throw my support completely behind that blog. And I've learned that I'm just too busy to write content for two blogs.

apokalupto will be back at some point in time, but I want to take some time to pray over what God wants me to do with it. My initial forray into the world of blogging was unfocused and ecclectic; when I come back to apokalupto I want it to have a unique voice and "purpose driven" subject matter. But what that means spicifically, God hasn't revealed to me yet.

The archives on apokalupto will stay open until I reactivate it. In the mean time I'll continue to blog with Marty and Josue over at Just Pastors--which, by the way, doesn't mean "for pastors only" but rather that we're "simply pastors". My writing over there generally focuses on the joys and challenges of life as a pastor.

I won't say good-bye, becuase I'm still in the blogosphere. But you can say a "good-bye for now" to apokalupto if you like. Thanks to all who commented, corrected, and cajoled; you made this blog a success.

For those of you who enjoyed my lists of Adventist blogs, The Spectrum Blog is doing a weekly roundup of the Adventist blogosphere.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Self-justification

One of the experiences of ministry for which I am most grateful is that of serving people who aren’t going make it–the Alzheimers and cancer patients. People who know they will die (or loose their mind) within a matter of months or years can tell you a lot about the meaning of life and sanity. But sometimes what they say is not so important as what they do.

I’ve noticed that the group of people who have the hardest time dealing with terminal conditions are those who try to justify their existence through their work. The reason they have such a hard time is that every capability by which they attempted this is being slowly stripped away. Self-justification is difficult at best when you can even wipe your own bottom.

The lesson I take from this is that the value of my life is not the sum of my abilities, activities, or accomplishments; because these will all be taken from me in the end. To push it a step further, it cannot be related to my knowledge, attributes, or character; because these will cease to exist when I cease to exist. To put it bluntly: These dying people force me to realize that there is no permanent thing about me which justifies my existence.

You’ve read the prescription. Now take the pill.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

How To Tell The History

The past weekend there was a 25th anniversary (of the building) homecoming at my larger church, and many former members and pastors attended. I was given the devotional at opening program on Friday night, after which there was to be an open mic for sharing and reminiscing. Facing the prospect of spending the better portion of two hours listening the people three times my age going on and on about things that happened when I was barely conscious of my own existence, I decided to preach a message on how to tell the history of a church.

The following three points were gleaned from a study of Deuteronomy 1-3 where Moses addresses Israel on the borders of the Promised Land:

  1. Own your mistakes (Deut. 1:26-28). We didn’t do everything perfectly, or we’d be in the Promised Land by now. So don’t pretend that everything was good in the good old days. Instead, own the mistakes so we can learn from them.
  2. Recite the victories God gave you (Deut. 2:7,33), and be sure to give Him the credit. These stories build faith, and faith is necessary if we are to cross the Jordan. Things will get worse before they get better, but if we know God is with us, we can face any battle.
  3. Declare God’s will for the future (Deut. 3:28-4:1). Now that we know what God did with you, tell us what He wants to do with us. Instead of escaping to the past, we must live for the future. What is the will of God toward our church?

These three lessons have the capacity to transform anniversaries from meaningless exercises in self-congratulation into spiritual landmarks that pass the torch to the next generation. At least, that’s how it felt in my church last weekend.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

How Much Land Does A Man Need

As we pack and unpack I ask, do we really need all this stuff. Today we went out and bought even more…stuff. Stuff we need? I thought so, but as I look around our half-packed, half unpacked possessions I wonder.

Reminds me of a short story by Leo Tolstoy. Take a few minutes to read it if you haven’t already. For the parable is mightier than advice.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Hate

Today, for the first time, I experienced actual hatred for another religion. Not disapproval of one of its followers nor disbelief in its teachings, but total hatred of its entire system of belief and deep suspicion of any adherent. It was scary.

A spokesman for moderate Muslims has resigned from the Muslim Canadian Congress, citing death threats and safety concerns.

Tarek Fatah said his wife and daughters encouraged him to step down as communications director for the organization following an alarming number of threats and harassing phone calls.

“I’m just exhausted, it’s too much,” he told CBC.

“I’m physically drained and fatigued and disappointed by how much leverage these extremists have,” he said.

Fatah said he has been assaulted both verbally and physically, including an incident in which he was attacked at an Islamic conference in Toronto by dozens of young Muslim men.

He also said that an associate informed him of a discussion she overheard in which young men were discussing how Fatah should be killed.

Fatah said he’s reported the threats he’s received since 2003 to Toronto police, who are investigating the allegations.

(CBC News)

When a man in a Western liberal democracy can’t speak his mind with regard to the teachings of a particular religion for fear of physical violence, that makes me angry. I’ve stuck up for Islam in a lot of discussions, but today I seriously considered the side of those who would limit immigration and aggressively deport undesirables.

How do I begin to consider this situation redemptively? The gospel doesn’t teach us to insulate ourselves from persecution; it tells us to love our enemies. But what does it mean to love those at odds with the most fundamental teachings of the gospel?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Mini-review: Ender's Game

If you're looking for a good sci-fi book to read over the remaining portion of the summer, I recommend Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. It's not a monumental epic nor a classic for the ages, but it does speak some deep truths about the nature of human relationships, leadership, and self-motivation. Plus, it's a cheep paperback you won't feel guilty about buying when you're supposed to be spending every last penny on home renovations.

Plot synopsis: A 6-year old, martial prodigy, Ender, is taken to a military academy in space where he plays games designed to mold him into the admiral who will save Earth from an iminaent space invasion by a superior alien force.

What I liked about Ender's Game:
  • Boosted my EQ
  • Good action
  • Inspires resourcefulness
  • Cool SF concepts
  • Explores individual responsibility
What I didn't like about Ender's Game:
  • Writing that seemed too 'adult' to be from a child's point of view
  • Side story that seemed specifically designed to get you to buy the next book in the series
  • Tended towards 'fantasy' aspects of sci-fi as opposed to 'hard sf'
Recommendation: A novel well worth reading--Even people who aren't sci-fi fans should enjoy it.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Pre-marital Counselling

I’m in the position of needing to do pre-marital counselling. A young couple in one of my churches has asked me to marry them, and I think it’s important for them to get at least a few hours of sober reflection about what they are undertaking. I know it was a good thing for my wife and I to experience.

The problem is that I’ve never done it (pre-marital counselling or a wedding) before. I have basic counselling skills and have experienced pre-marital counseling first hand, but at the same time I’m unsure of where to begin finding or preparing materials. So again I turn to the collective wisdom of the blogosphere.

Do you or have you done pre-marital counselling? How do you structure your sessions and what tools do you use? If you’ve been through it, what did you find valuable?

(I can’t wait to read the comments!)

Friday, July 28, 2006

Coming Home

We get what we give.

I come home late10:00-11:00, sometimes laterabout three nights a week. When I do, I’m usually drug out, low on energy, and tired of putting the happy face. The only thing I want is to be fed, watered, and put out to pasture (i.e. bed).

Here’s the catch. If I come through the door grumpy and demanding, it tends to elicit a similar response from my wife. But if I treat her with even the modicum of respect I gave the board members one hour earlier, I have a loving, comforting, caring spouse to lull me into a blissful state of repose.

Just something I’m learning along the way.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Altar Calls

Why do you make them? How do you make them? Should you make them?

I could tell the Holy Spirit was working on hearts as I preached yesterday. I finished the message with an appeal for the people to affirm their love for Jesus and be restored to discipleship. I invited them to pray a prayer along with me to that effect and then announced the closing song. Mission accomplished.

Except that after the sermon during my ‘debriefing’ time on the way home to had the impression that I should have made an altar call or at least asked those who wanted to commit to Jesus to raise their hands. I think I need to be more intentional about making ‘altar calls’. It seems to solidify your decision when you let other people know you’re making it, at least that how altar calls have worked for me.

The problem is I feel so goofy when I make them. I think I put too much pressure on myself instead of trusting in the Holy Spirit.

What do you think? Do you make altar calls; do you like them? What works for you?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Into The Deep End

I just voted, along with my church board, to sell our church building. The offer was great, and we want to build. And yet it feels like jumping into the deep end of the pool when you’re not sure how to swim.

I guess I’m too good at seeing all the potential pitfalls and dangers of our new situation. The church and I know that God is leading in this offer, so we have nothing left but to trust His guidance. And in my experience God seems to work best when we have nothing left.

On a personal note…it looks like my hiatus was longer than a couple of weeks. I just got back from camp meeting to a house with one finished room. But it’s fun to have a little “real” work to do each day.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Hiatus

I'm taking a blogging hiatus for the next couple of weeks. I need to get ready for campmeeting and finish renovations on my new house before July rolls around. And Sunday we got a call that my wife's uncle died, so I'm headed to Toronto for a few days.

But, in the immutable words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, I'll be back.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Chance (God) Encounters

After complaining about cancellations God gave me a reminder that ministry happens on His schedule, not mine.

It was about 10:45pm last night, and I was looking forward to listening to a sermon during my hour and a half drive home from a visit. As I accelerated to highway speed I saw a hitchhiker stick out his thumb. Maybe it was because I felt sorry for him being stuck in the middle of nowhere, maybe it was the Holy Spirit; but I stopped and picked him up.

The smell of alcohol was on him, and his mild intoxication made him quite chatty. After introductions and a few questions the story came out that he was leaving his wife (without letting her know), because she wouldn’t go with him to see his family in British Columbia. During the one and a half hour trip he told me his life story, but it kept coming back to how his wife was holding him down.

I listened as he talked, speaking only to answer questions about my faith. As we neared our destination I asked if he’d take a peace of advice from a younger man. Then I told him he needed to call his wife and let her know where he was and where he was going before he went any farther.

When I dropped him off at a gas station he said he was going to call her. I don’t know if he did or not, but I believe God put me their to do a ministry of listening for that man. Sometimes the best ministry of my day is completely unplanned, and I can only wonder at God’s sense of timing.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Top Five: Things About People In My Churches

I think it’s important to do this from time to time. It makes you pay more attention to the roses and helps to put the thorns in perspective. I invite you to join in with a list of your own.

  1. They value hard work.
  2. They have a can do attitude.
  3. They’ll try something different.
  4. They invite me over for dinner.
  5. They look out for each other.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Go Oilers Go!

That what 5+ years in Alberta will do to you. Oh well, you gotta to love the underdog, especially when they knocked off the top team in the league. Not since the days of The Great One has Edmonton had a chance to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup.

Don't have a clue what I'm talking about? Then let me introduce you to the fastest game in the world as played on the best ice in the world. Warning: video contains atrocious Canadian hoser rock.



Learn more about the Edmonton Oilers trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Holy Spirit Special

Last Sabbath I preached a Friday night special; actually it was a Sabbath morning special. I usually use my Fridays to finish my sermons, but last week my whole week including Friday was crazy, and I didn’t get in until 11:00 that night. So I woke up at 5:30 on Sabbath to finish my sermon.

I had considered recycling; there are three fresh sermons in my ‘garden’ that I haven’t preached at that church yet. But the Holy Spirit told me to preach another message this Sabbath, so I obeyed. The only problem, I didn’t have the time to properly prepare the sermon.

So I’m sitting on the platform, waiting for the special music to end, and hoping that the singer will drag out her notes just a little longer. I know the message I had was solid, but I didn’t have time to prepare it properly, not even a run through. So I pray to God, “It’s not about me; it’s about you. So Holy Spirit please come and make something of this.”

After the sermon a lady came up to me and said it was the best sermon she ever heard me preach; even the critical crowd at my church said it was a good sermon. Later that after noon I went over to visit a fellow at the hospital, and he said that everyone visited him before said to tell me it was a good sermon. The funniest part was that I knew it wasn’t because of anything I did; my preperation was terrible.

Actually, that sermon was good because my preparation was terrible, and that forced me to undertake the most important part of preparation. Acknowledging that it’s not about me; it’s about God and what He’s going to do through me allows the Holy Spirit to come in and do something that we are unable to on our own. And that’s true not just for preaching or even pastoral work but for anything.

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Physical Activity

“Tomorrow morning will be the morning I go for a jog,” I though as I went to sleep. I woke up at 7:00, and the characteristically bright northern summer sun was not beaming through my window. Then I heard the steady beat of rain; “Tomorrow,” I thought as I rolled over.

What makes it so easy to put off physical activity? For me, it’s the fact that I can usually find something ‘more important’ to do insteadThat sermon’s not going to write itself. And computer nerds have an added set of excusesThat blog’s not going to redesign itself.

I’m a sedentary person by nature; there’s nothing I enjoy more than flopping down on the couch with a good book. But when I think back on the times in my life when I was really physically fit it was because I had a physical goal. In Montana I jogged to I could climb taller mountains; in Australia it was because I wanted to climb Uluru without passing out in the heat. (I never did make it to Uluru, but the training came in handy when I hiked up to that Wok bowl tower in Hong Kong.

So what I need is a fitness goal to motivate me, and I think camp meeting should do. Last year, playing sports with the kids got me in shape by the end of week, but this year I’m going to be physical animal when I arrive. If the prospect of being the soccer hero on a team of 12 year olds doesn’t motivate me, I don’t know what will.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Reading Cafe

On Friday I went to a “Reading Cafe” at the local Christian school where one of the Grade 2s in my congregation served me a course of pure Dr. Suess. When he called and asked me to come I had about five seconds of internal debate which could be summarized with the question, Is this an effective way to spend my time? For some reason I said yes; I think it was the Holy Spirit.

So I spent nearly two hours at the school. I had lunch with the young man, and then played some basketball with him and his friends. I also met another young pastor who ministers in a nearby church.

From a baptisms/souls-won-for-Christ point of view it was an unproductive noon hour, but from a relationship building point of view it was pure gold. It meant I had to stay up a little later finishing my sermon, but that boy now knows that his pastor cares about him (and will probably be more inclined to listen to his sermons in the future). The experience reminded me of how important it is to minister to the whole congregation and not let its future fall underneath our radar.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Teaching Kids The Sanctuary

This years camp meeting falls in the centennial year of my conference, so there's going to be lots of heritage stuff going on, so for the Juniors (they put me in charge again) we're planning to do an Adventist pioneers theme. We'll tell them stories about James White and Joseph Bates, play old-time games, and generally try to instill in them a sense of where they come from and where they're going as Adventist Christians. I think it's super important for them to hear the stories of intense Bible study, devotion to God's will, and miracles that form our denominational identity.

This is where it gets tricky, because you can't really talk about Adventist heritage without talking about the Great Disappointment. And you can't really talk about the Great Disappointment without getting into the 2300-day prophecy. And if you introduce the 2300-day prophecy then you've got to tackle the rest of the sanctuary message.

So this is the challenge I've set for myself and the two other getting-less-wet-behind-the-ears pastors I'm working with: to teach a bunch of 10-12 year-olds the symbolism of the tabernacle, the time prophecies of Daniel, and the investigative judgment. The other guys think I'm slightly nuts; I think I'm slightly nuts. But I have this strong conviction that if you can't teach a doctrine to kids you probably shouldn't be teaching it at all.

So I guess I'm putting Fundamental Belief 24 to the test as much as myself, but I believe that it can be done. My plan is to focus on the atoning (covering) aspects of judgment using the vision in Zechariah 3 as the central text. Then I hope to show what this doctrine says about God's love for them and how they can love Him back.

What do you think; am I on the right track? How have you handled this topic with kids? What have you found to work?

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Rules

There are certain members in my church who are always pressing me to be more strict, or in their parlance to “uphold the standards.” Nothing makes them happier than a sermon that exposes sin or calls for a higher degree of commitment. Even the less fanatical (if I may use the word) members of my congregation see defining theological and ethical boundaries as a major part of my role. It was probably one of my biggest surprises in ministry that many church people actually like theological spankings, even when they’re on the receiving end.

Laurence Iannaccone is an economist who published an explanation of this phenomenon. I’ll leave the summary of the details to Slate magazine which published this article:

Why Strict Churches Are Strong

The question this essay raises is not whether we have rules and guidelines; they are an emergent property of human interaction. The question is whether our rules and guidelines promote will foster elitism or promote spiritual growth among even the least spiritual member. The Pharisees are a good example of the former, and Jesus is the best example of the later.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Article: Online Tools

I have a new article up on Just Pastors about online Bible study tools. If you're into Bible study, I suggest you check it out. They're free, and they're not just for pastors.

Online Tools

Monday, May 08, 2006

Youth Rally

Our region held a youth rally this weekend, and kids from an hour to two hours away came to Grande Prairie as well as a guest speaker and youth from Edmonton. Most of the youth groups in our churches have four to six youth, so they were really stoaked to get together with other Adventist kids. It was a ton of work, but a very satisfying result.


The thing the youth liked best about the rally was the music.


I also laid out a scavenger hunt for them. They had to find clues hidden in the park that would hint at the next ones location. Assembling the clues revealed an encrypted phrase: TLWRHOLEV


And to top it all off, I saw one of God's ugliest creatures (a moose) having supper outside my door.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

News: Interrogation Officer Charged

BBC | US charges ex-Abu Ghraib officer

It's about time. The US military has a habit of scapegoating enlisted personnel and junior officers when it comes to war crimes. I hope that charging a lieutenant colonel will do two things: (1) hold responsible officers who give orders or implicit support to torture and (2) change the torture-is-sometimes-OK culture that has somehow infected the US military during the "War on Terror".

Article: What Can We Learn From The DaVinci Code?

I'll be doing the majority of my blogging this week on Just Pastors. We're starting series of series, and my series will be the first series. What that means is I'll have a different article on The DaVinci Code coming out every day this week. You can access them all from the following link.

What Can We Learn From The DaVinci Code?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Stress Seminar

I attended a stress seminar with Cameron Johnston on Monday and Tuesday. It felt kind of strange since I had just returned from vacation, but I was on the organizing committee so I couldn't very well skip it. I suppose I did have a pretty stressful month before my vacation, and so I managed to learn a few things.
  • It's important to understand the physical warnings of excessive stress your body gives you.
  • Learning how to completely relax in under 10 minutes is a key skill.
  • Humor is vitally important for dealing with stress and losing your sense of it is a sign of burnout.
  • Regular exercise increases endorphins.
  • Assess your stress periodically.
I'd actually heard the seminar once before (hence the organizing committee), and was surprised that I got so much out of it the second time. I guess you never stop learning when it comes to wellness. I just wish I could be as committed to taking care of myself as I am to taking care of others.

If you want to learn more about stress, sign up for Cameron's free e-course, Enjoying the Stress of Your Life.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Dishes?

Research by psychologist John Gottman has shown that men who do dishes have more sex. Apparently, “Inequities in housework and childcare have profound consequences for the marital satisfaction of women.” Who’d have thought that scrubbing the toilet could be so romantic?

Sometimes pastors get so wrapped up in our tasks that we neglict time with our spouses, but we’ve got to realize time in the laundry room is as important as time on a date. So, if I’m not blogging as frequently as I should, I have an excuse. And now, I’m off to do the dishes.

Thanks to my wife for pointing out this information. Is that what they call a hint?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Emerjeans


I guess that's one way to wear your witness; sex sells. So where do we draw the line? What defines the difference between contextualization and compromise?

By the way, no one actually sells these garments. It's a joke. If you haven't already, you can laugh now.

via intersections from Oh Me of Little Faith

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Road Trip

I'm heading south again, going to visit my parents in Oregon. This time we're going to make a road trip of it. The straight through drive (as I prefer it) would take sixteen about hours, but we're going to be making stops on the way down for minor things like ministerial meetings, my brother-in-law's wedding, etc., etc.

When you live in northern Canada you learn a new concept distance. I drive the distance of some states just to get to a major city; the conference office is six hours away. So I've got to drive at least sixteen hours for it to feel like a road trip.

I'm going to meet up with Josue in Bellingham, Washington; it's the first time I'll be meeting a fellow blogger in person. So I'll try to post a few pictures when I have internet access. So until the end of April, happy trails.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Adventist Blogs (Update)

The blogosphere is always in flux--people come and people go--so ones blogroll must be flexible too. Some folks like Faith are always posting, while others like Kevin and Paul need take lengthy sabbaticals. And Chris Webb where are you? Your posts were so entertaining; bring back the SLT!

Now that I've got that out of my system, here's some new Adventist blogs I'm diggin'.
  1. Be a Bree - advice for desperate housewives
  2. Everybody's Got A Story - tell yours - Vancouver, BC, Canada
  3. deserts of vast eternity - professor at Mission College - Thailand
  4. Faith in Context - Creative Ministries VP Monte Sahlin - Columbia, MD, USA
  5. intersections - Pastor Ryan Bell - Hollywood, CA, USA
  6. Jericho Road - Pastor Jan Mckenzie - Newport, Wales, UK
  7. My Journey - thoughts from the road - Tennessee, USA
  8. TruthInvestigate - as it is in Jesus - Kingsland, GA, USA
  9. What's up with Kev? - web/graphic designer - South Carolina, USA
There are also some good collaborative and institutional blogs out there, but until I hear of a few more, you'll have to find them yourself. If you're into Adventist blogging, you should also check out Spectrum's Blogosphere Roundups. And keep an eye out for adventistblogs.net--coming soon.

If you haven't seen it, check out my lengthy list of Adventist Blogs.


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Sermon Summary 4.1.05: Babylonian Success Story

The greatest challenge for Christians in the Western world is the fact that the Christianity is no longer mainstream, and for the last fifty years churches have struggled to adapt to that cultural change. When I look to the Bible for guidance on how to deal with it, the closest parallel I can find is the story of Daniel and his three friends (Dan. 1). The book of Daniel contains a lot of visions about the end-time, but I believe that its stories are equally important as they give us models of how to live in the end-times.

Daniel and his three friends were brought to Babylon when King Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem. Daniel 1:1 tells us that he also brought the implements from God's temple in Jerusalem and put them in the house of his Babylonian gods. This verse establishes the two chief characteristics of Babylon: oppression of God's people and a mix-and-match style of religion. Modern Western culture anyone?

Nebuchadnezzar's goal was to strip the Israelite boys of their identity and rebuild them as Babylonian officials who would serve in his government. He likely had them castrate, a common practice at the time (the word "official" means "eunuch") but one the excluded a man from the Israelite assembly (Deut. 32:1); and had them study Babylonian mythology, astrology ("Chaldean" means "astrologer"), and culture. He also had them take names referring to Babylonian gods and eat food that was likely unclean and sacrificed to Babylonian idols. And you thought going to public school was bad?

"But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself..." (Dan 1:8); he and his three friends decided do draw the line at worship. They changed their names so they would not accurately reflect the names of Babylonian gods, and they refused to eat food that involved sacrifices to Babylonian gods, opting for a vegetarian diet instead. And because of their faithfulness "God gave them knowledge and intelligence in every branch of literature and wisdom; Daniel even understood all kinds of visions and dreams" (Dan. 1:17).

Even though Daniel and his friends would not compromise their worship, they did not withdraw from the mainstream; you didn't think that the "literature" and "wisdom" that God gave them was Psalms and Proverbs did you? Listen to this: "As for every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king consulted them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and conjurers who were in all his realm. (Dan. 1:20)" By the end of their education they knew more about astrology than the astrologers; they became better Babylonians than the Babylonians themselves.

It seems to me that the church is struggling with the balance of being in but not of the world (John 17:15). Some groups compromise their worship to the place where they're indistinguishable from the mix-and-match religion of the world. Others, in order to avoid compromise, have pulled right out of the world and are no longer effective at reaching.

But I think we can restore the balance if we start to remember one fact: God loves Babylon and so much so that he died for its sins (John 3:16). You see, the story of Daniel 1-4 is not so much the story of Daniel and his three friends as is the story of how God reached the heart a pagan monarch named Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel is simply a vessel through which God is able to communicate with him.

Do you love Babylon? Babylon is the city we love to hate; it's abused us in many ways. Yet we are called to learn to be better Babylonians than the Babylonians themselves, to serve it without serving its idols, so that those Babylonians can have a chance to become citizens of the New Jerusalem.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Precept Upon Precept?

For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little...
(Isaiah 28:10, KJV)
Isaiah 28:10 is often used by Adventist evangelists to establish the principle that one should always compare scripture with scripture to discover what the Bible says on a subject. Usually this is presented in conjunction with the principle that one must always look at the context of a passage in scripture to determine its meaning. After an evangelist in my church presents this, my greatest fear is that someone will actually look up to context of Isaiah 28:10 (verse numbers included for later reference).
7But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment. 8For all tables are full of vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clean. 9Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. 10For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little: 11For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people. 12To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear. 13But the word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.
(Isaiah 28:7-13, KJV)
The context of this passage is an oracle against drunken priests who are unable to teach even infants because they cannot even speak properly. Verse 13 makes it abundantly clear that "precept upon precept..." is something detrimental, not a principle of Biblical interpretation. Taken alone verse 12 might sound like a reasonable teaching, but in context we realize that it is the product of drunkenness.

This all becomes much more clear when the passage is read in the original language. In Hebrew, Isaiah 2:10 sounds like this: "Bi tsau latsau, tsau latsau, cau lacau, cau lacau, ze'er sham, ze'er sham". The sounds of Isaiah 28:10 mock the babble of a drunken priest, and in Hebrew they hardly even carry a translatable meaning.

I wish that instead of proof-texting from Isaiah 28:10, evangelists would just establish the principle of interpreting scripture with scripture from common sense--the same way they establish the principle the we must read scripture in context. They know the problems with their interpretating of Isaiah 28:10 as well as I do, but they bank on the fact very few people will actually look the passage up in their Bible and check its context. But in doing this they risk the credibility of their message with those who will do more than read the verse they put on their projection screen.

Friday, March 31, 2006

News: Time Capsule In Adventist Media Center

ANN | Germany: Media Center Foundation Stone Placed, Time Capsule Enclosed

Does anyone else see the irony here? A building dedicated to the proclamation of the closeness of Jesus' return and the coming end of the world has a time capsule in it's foundation with a letter
"addressed to those who might discover the Foundation Stone in the future." Makes ya wonder...or laugh.

New House

I just bought a house--well, an 800 sq/ft bungalow to be precise. It has a sagging roof and needs some repairs, but in the economic boom that is Grande Prairie...who cares? There was someone looking to buy the lot in order to tear the place down and put up a duplex, so unless Iraq miraculously stabilizes there shouldn't be trouble with the resale.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

News: Rescued Peacemaker Is Homosexual

Canada.com | Family kept Loney's homosexuality quiet for fear of actions of Iraqi captors
Fears that James Loney's Iraqi captors might harm the peace activist if they knew he was gay forced his partner to remain silent as his loved ones called for an end to the hostage ordeal, Christian Peacemaker Teams co-director Doug Pritchard said Monday. During his four months of captivity, Loney's sexuality was kept out of the media spotlight at the request of his family, said Pritchard.
I wonder if as many Christians would have prayed for Loney's release had they known he was a homosexual. I would like to think that out of respect for his courageous actions or even his basic humanity they would have anyway. But my hunch is that news of Loney's participation in the "sin-du-jour" has lessened him in the eyes of many believers.

I suppose if he'd slept with a woman and arranged for the death of her husband to cover his tracks, we could forgive him. But scripture unequivocally states that homosexuality is a sin. So I guess our safest bet is to pray that God's man in the White House will continue to set a moral course for our nation.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Video: Her Church


  • Is God as much our Heavenly Mother as our Heavenly Father?
  • Has male dominated theology made their God in its own image?
  • Is the church suffering for lack of a feminine side?
  • Can or should we call God “She”?
  • Are the Christian scriptures so devoid of feminine notions of the divine that we need to incorporate teachings and traditions from other religions into our faith and practice?
  • Do representations (statues, icons, etc.) of the feminine figure need to be more prominant in our worship?
  • How effective would a church like this be in a postmodern context?

If people are not asking you these questions already, they will be after The DaVinci Code hits the big screens in May. Personally, I believe that the church has yet to totally realize the fact that men and women are equally made in the image of God. Gender inclusive language in (post-)modern translations of scripture is a big step in the right direction.

But I also believe that we must not give up Biblical monotheism and its attending prohibitions against idol worship and goddess worship. The God of the Bible is “one” and does not have a “wife” because He encompesses the masculine and the feminine. (I use the masculine pronoun because English has no better pronoun for indicating a personality that is both feminine and masculine, but that’s opening a whole other can of worms…) I also worry when figures of human forms are revernaced in worship; that’s another way of making God in our image, a.k.a. idolatry.

You can read more about Her Church at herchurch.org.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

In Memoriam: Desmond Doss

ANN | Adventist Doss, First Conscientious Objector to Win Medal of Honor, Dies at Age 87
Citation: Private First Class, U.S. Army, Medical Detachment, 307th Infantry, 77th Infantry Division. He was a company aid man when the lst Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment 400 feet high. As our troops gained the summit, a heavy concentration of artillery, mortar and machinegun fire crashed into them, inflicting approximately 75 casualties and driving the others back. Pfc. Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying them 1 by 1 to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the face of a cliff to friendly hands.
(via medalofhonor.com)
To me, Desmond Doss is the embodiment of "conscientious cooperation"--the Adventist church's response to the moral dilemma of opposing Nazi Germany while obeying the divine command, "Thou shalt not kill". Doss joined the U.S. Army as a medic while at the same time refusing to touch a weapon and endured ridicule from his comrades as well as constant harassment from his superiors. But he held to his convictions, and they gave him the strength to do an amazing feats humanitarian service on the battlefield.

With the "just wars" behind us, Desmond's passing symbolizes the end of an era, and I want to remember not only him but all the other Adventists who served God and country as "conscientious cooperators". My great-grandfather, Dirk Hamstra, received the Croix de Guerre from the Franch in WWI for rescuing, against orders, a downed airman in no-man's-land (the U.S. Army was not giving medals to medics at the time). We should also remember the "white coats"--young Adventists the U.S. Army used as human guinea pigs in exchange for exemption from combat duty.

The good news is that a few weeks before his death Desmond finally signed the rights to his story over to a group of producers who intend to make a live-action, feature film of it. His story has already been told in a comic book and a documentary film. The documentary is a bit slow, but the story is absolutely compelling. I recommend that you acquaint yourself with this remarkable man.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Song: Lacrimosa

This year is the 250th anniversary of Wolfgang A. Mozart's birth, and classical music organizations all over the world have been marking the event with concerts, countdowns, and collaborations. Although I love classical music, I've never been a big fan of Mozart; Bach, Vivaldi, and Beethoven are more my style. But my perspective changed in college when our choir sang Requiem with a community orchestra in Vancouver.

Mozart composed his Requiem just before his death (it was completed by his assistant), the irony of course being that a Requiem is a funeral mass. I generally find Mozart's music to be playful and frivolous, but Requiem feels like an impassioned plea for the mercy of God--likely a result of the theology of his day. For me, the pathos of this piece is most evident in it's central movement, the "Lacrimosa".
Lacrimosa dies illa,
qua resurget ex favilla

judicandus homo reus -
Huic ergo parce, Deus.

Pie Jesu Domine,
dona eis requiem.

Amen.


That tearful day,
when from the ashes shall rise again

sinful man to be judged.
Therefore pardon him, o God.

Merciful Lord Jesus,
give them rest.

Amen.
(via Antoine Valentim's site)
How do you view the final judgment; will it be a day of tears or a day of pardon? The Bible says there will be only two groups on that day--those who love God and those who are afraid of Him. In Mozart's music I feel fear...but also hope that God is merciful.
We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in him. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we are like Christ here in this world. Such love has no fear because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of judgment, and this shows that his love has not been perfected in us.
(1 John 4:16-18, NLT)
You can find a poor quality MP3 of the "Lacrimosa" at this Geocities page.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Ellen White Summit

Ellen White Summit

MP3s of presentations at the Ellen White Summit held at the Gladstone Conference Center in Oregon on November 11 and 12, 2005 are available for download at this website. Presentations by George Knight, Jon Paulien, Craig Newborn, and Jud Lake on topics such as the use and interpretation of her work, the current disengagement of many Adventists from Ellen White, and the nature of inspiration. If you've read George Knight's books, you'll have a good idea of what he's going to say, but it's fun to actually hear him say it. The rest of the presenters give some good perspectives, especially John Paulien's presentation on Ellen White and the youth.

Monday, March 20, 2006

News: UN of Religions Proposed

BBC | Rabbi calls for 'UN of religions'
Rabbi Metzger [Chief Rabbi of Israel] was addressing the International Congress of Imams and Rabbis for Peace in Seville, Spain....The imams and rabbis at this conference, which opened on Sunday, say the world is in crisis and it is time they acted to restore justice, respect and peace.
It's easy to see how this proposal could be lauded and criticized. The idealist how you can be against a forum where religions can get together to hammer out their differences without resorting to violence and work towards peace and justice. The cynic however, will point out that we already have a real UN that's supposed to do that and look how well that's going.

I'm not against inter-religious dialogue as opposed to violence or to working together with other religions where we have common goals. And I don't think that fear of failure is a good reason not to try. But I do worry about the power such an institution might acquire to coerce members and non-members to practice religion in ways it deems appropriate.

One of the components of the end-time scenario presented in Revelation is the world-wide enforcement of religious observance (Rev. 13). The imagery (no pun intended) of that vision is drawn from the Daniel 3, where the king of Babylon forces the leaders of the then-known-world to worship an idol (6 was the Babylonian holy number). If the proposed "United Nations of religious groups" is formed with the intent of influencing the political powers of the world, then it will be setting itself up to fulfill this prophecy.

However, if this body were to be set up with the intent of promoting dialogue, freedom, and peace among religions, it may aid the spread of the good news about Jesus. Incidentally, this is also a sign of the end (Matt. 24:14). Perhaps it will help to fulfill both prophecies.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Questions: Success

I have a moderately-high need for achievement, and this was relatively easy to fulfill in college (study hard, get an A) But I'm finding that pastoral ministry is a profession with few benchmarks to measure ones success, and I've observed that focusing on those benchmarks is usually self-defeating (e.g. chasing baptisms at the expense of discipleship). On this topic I have more questions than answers.
  • How do you know if your life is successful?
  • How do you get objective feedback?
  • How do you know which goals to set for yourself?
  • How do you measure success?
  • Where does God fit into the picture?
Are you in a similar situation? Do these questions even bother you? What answers have you found?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Meditation on Diet

Diet: A prescribed selection of foods
After they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, "Brethren, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. "With this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written, `AFTER THESE THINGS I will return, AND I WILL REBUILD THE TABERNACLE OF DAVID WHICH HAS FALLEN, AND I WILL REBUILD ITS RUINS, AND I WILL RESTORE IT, SO THAT THE REST OF MANKIND MAY SEEK THE LORD, AND ALL THE GENTILES WHO ARE CALLED BY MY NAME,' SAYS THE LORD, WHO MAKES THESE THINGS KNOWN FROM LONG AGO.' Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. "For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath."
(Acts 15:13-21, NASB)
Accept those whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person's faith allows them to eat everything, but another person, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted that person. Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To their own master they stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

Some consider one day more sacred than another; others consider every day alike. Everyone should be fully convinced in their own mind. Those who regard one day as special do so to the Lord. Those who eat meat do so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and those who abstain do so to the Lord and give thanks to God. For we do not live to ourselves alone and we do not die to ourselves alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat your brother or sister with contempt? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat. It is written:

"'As surely as I live,' says the Lord,
'every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will confess to God.'"

So then, we will all give an account of ourselves to God.

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother or sister for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.

So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed are those who do not condemn themselves by what they approve. But those who have doubts are condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.
(Romans 14, TNIV)
You say, "I am allowed to do anything" – but not everything is helpful. You say, "I am allowed to do anything" – but not everything is beneficial. Don't think only of your own good. Think of other Christians and what is best for them. Here's what you should do. You may eat any meat that is sold in the marketplace. Don't ask whether or not it was offered to idols, and then your conscience won't be bothered. For "the earth is the Lord's, and everything in it." If someone who isn't a Christian asks you home for dinner, go ahead; accept the invitation if you want to. Eat whatever is offered to you and don't ask any questions about it. Your conscience should not be bothered by this. But suppose someone warns you that this meat has been offered to an idol. Don't eat it, out of consideration for the conscience of the one who told you. It might not be a matter of conscience for you, but it is for the other person. Now, why should my freedom be limited by what someone else thinks? If I can thank God for the food and enjoy it, why should I be condemned for eating it? Whatever you eat or drink or whatever you do, you must do all for the glory of God. Don't give offense to Jews or Gentiles or the church of God. That is the plan I follow, too. I try to please everyone in everything I do. I don't just do what I like or what is best for me, but what is best for them so they may be saved.
(1 Corinthians 10:23-33, NLT)
Lord, may we realize that You've called us to be healthy so that we may better serve each other; not just to build up ourselves.

UPDATE (3-17-06): Paul Whiting just posted on the early-Christian dispute over idol worship that precipitated these comments from the Apostle Paul (Paul and the Law 6).

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

News: Robertson At It Again

BBC | Top US evangelist targets Islam
[insert fundamentalist religion here] is not a religion of peace...the goal of [insert fundamentalist religion here], ladies and gentlemen whether you like it or not, is world domination...
And your goals are, Mr. Robertson?

We know which religion Pat Robertson thinks belongs in that statement. I wonder which religion Muslims would identify as intent on world domination. Sure hope it's not any that I could be identified with.

Does media attention egg him on? Should I ignore it the next time Robertson says something crazy? This is the third time now.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Article: The Word Became Flesh

I have another mini-article up on Just Pastors about one of the areas I think postmodernism can have the best impact on Christianity.

The Word Became Flesh

Sunday, March 12, 2006

First Baptism

by Doug Knopp

To give you a little perspective, I am 6'4" tall (190 cm) and this fellow makes me look little. I think I was more nervous than he was, because we barely had enough room in the tank. But it was an awesome experience.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Jokes

Remember back in the days of low-bandwidth when the internet was basically one big joke factory. Those were the days of my youth, and my chief concern was levity--specifically, the accumulation and dispensation thereof. I could recite more jokes than scriptures (probably still can--sheesh!), and consumed a steady mental diet of Dilbert, Calvin and Hobbes, the Far Side, Frasier, Seinfeld, and The Simpsons.
How does a soprano change a light bulb? She just holds it up and the world revolves around her.
But as I grew older and took on more responsibilities life gradually took on a more serious tone, and my obsession with jokes turned into an obsession with achievement. Now I am more prone to be short with those close to me and view the hours I used to spend telling jokes and shootin' the breeze as a waste of time. I'm not sure the young-me would like the old-me, and I'm starting to see there's something wrong with that.
Never park your RV on a hill; it might roll away if it's so inclined.
Today is especially bad, a lot of things are on my plate this weekend. So I'm telling a few jokes to see if that makes me feel better. After all, to quote scripture: "I said of laughter, "It is madness," and of pleasure, "What does it accomplish?" (Ecc. 2:2). Oops, wrong one. "A joyful heart is good medicine, But a broken spirit dries up the bones." (Prov. 17:22). Ya, that's it!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Mistakes

I hate making mistakes. One of the characteristics of my personality type is that I am plagued by a "haunting sense of impending failure" and am prone to "spend considerable time second-guessing" myself (via Typelogic). So when I make a mistake, I know it immediately and wonder how long it's going to take the conference to fire me.

The last couple of weeks have felt like one screw-up after another on my part. I feel them as a hollow fear in my stomach that drives me to alternately escape or work harder than before. Those days sometimes have me contemplating leaving the ministry altogether--the ultimate act of second guessing.

What I try to do at these times is ground myself in a second-opinion, because too much second guessing leads (counterintuitively) to less objectivity. My Senior Pastor, mentor, is a great source of encouragement. But when I feel like a total failure I start to think that even he's feeding me a line.

So then I go to God. I tell Him that if he wants me to quit my job because I'm too incompetent, all He needs to do is tell me. I'm leaving the choice up to Him, after all, He's the one who got me into this business.

He hasn't told me that yet....I feel a lot happier today.

In Memoriam: Kirby Puckett

FOX Sports | Twins legend Puckett dies after stroke

Minnesota is in mourning today. It was because of men like Puckett that I loved baseball while growing up, before the strike and steroids killed the sport. His career was cut short by an errant pitch that hit him in the eye, and I don't think his spirit ever recovered from that tragedy. But I'll never forget the seasons of '87 and '91; they said the noise in the Metrodome was louder than a jet airplane.

Video: Will Wright And Spore

If you want to know what the "emerging church" is (and have and affinity for computer games or science fiction), watch this video:




Spore is to video games what the "emerging church" is to Christianity. It's church where you create the content; where there are no invisible, arbitrary boundaries, and where you tell the story instead of playing the role you're given. The analogies are virtually endless. (Seriously, someone show me where the analogy breaks down. Because I'm sure it must, but am too blown away by this video to figure it out right now.)

The real kicker, though, is that even though Spore is all about making your own story, it still relies on a metanarative, namely evolution, to define the parameters and goals of the game. A truly openended game would be not only boring but unplayable. I think that's because human beings always seek to integrate their story into one that's bigger than their own, and it's the grandest stories that give us the most freedom and fun.

And it's on this point that the "emerging church" has one over on the secular-postmodern worldview. After all, what bigger story is there than the one about the God of the universe trying to win back the hearts of his creatures? I guess you could try to write a hack that would let you play that one as the final level of Spore; or you could just get together with some other believers, use the Bible to define your parameters and goals, and see what emerges.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Cartoon: It's A Miracle

Here's a Sunday morning cartoon for your viewing pleasure and philosophical edification:

Doonsbury | It's A Miracle

I love how this one explores the concepts of miracle, creation, and reason. It gets in good digs on both sides. It was intelligently designed.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Movie Review: Munich

I saw Munich with my brother in late December of 2005. The reason I've waited to review it until now is that it's taken me this long to process what I watched. It's probably the most disturbing film I've seen, and at the same time one of the most morally instructive.

The film tells the story of an Mossad assassin sent to track down and kill Palestinian terrorists responsible for organizing the kidnappings of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. It's based on a book called Vengeance which claims to be the "True story of an Israeli counter-terrorist team." While I believe that the story is a piece of historical fiction (for a thorough debunking see this article), the truth of the film rests in its portrayal of tit-for-tat violence which is a fact of the Israel-Palestine conflict, as well as many others.

And it's the violence in this film that gets to you. Not that it's more gory and any other film I've seen; Spielberg's earlier epic, Saving Private Ryan, has more blood spatering on the camera lens. But it's the shear cold bloodedness of it; watching terrorists beg for their lives before being gunned down leaves you feeling highly conflicted. If they deserve to die for killing those athletes (killings that we also see in graphic detail), then why does it feel so wrong when we kill them?

The actors in the Munich all give fine performances. Eric Bana, Australia's most underrated actor, has come along way since The Castle and gives his best performance to date as the leading man playing Avner, the leader of the hit-squad. The supporting actors are all excellent, but the ones that stood out to me are Israeli actress Ayelet Zorer as Avner's wife, Daniel Craig (the next James Bond) as the most bloodthirsty of the hitman, and Geoffrey Rush as Avner's supervisor. And Steven Spielberg, the director, proves again that he is a master storyteller; and between Munich and Schindler's List he tells both sides of the story.

Munich is a powerfull exposition on the morality of revenge. It pulls out your deepest hatred for violent people and then gives it an emotional spanking as you watch the consequences of acting on those emotions unfold. Though it contains graphic violence, I recommend it to those who are willing to consider the issues it raises.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Top Five: Door-To-Door Tips

Few phrases invoke as much fear in a congregation as "door-to-door". It conjours up images of snarling dogs, sore feet, unbearable rejection, and being mistaken for Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses. That's probably why I've been doing all of the door-to-door inviting for an upcoming church program by myself.

I've been doing door-to-door most of my life; probably because I'm just wierd enough that I don't care if people like me or not yet not so wierd that I put people off. The funny thing is that the more I've done it, the more I've enjoyed it. Today I just did three hours worth in -15 C weather, froze my kiester off, and it was the best ever.

I admit, there were times when I thought that I should pack it in and go home, but every time that happened someone would show such interest in the program that I would have to keep going. I find it hugely rewarding when some one smiles and says "Yes, I know that church; sounds interesting; I might come."

So in the spirit of the pseudo-expertise that permiates the blogosphere, here's five things I've learned over the years that can make door-to-door a rewarding experience.

"Top Five Door-to-door Tips"
  1. Whenever your not talking to someone, pray silently. If you do this, the worst afternoon can be a positive spiritual experience.
  2. When in doubt, smile.
  3. Practice what to say, and keep it short, to the point, and non-threatening.
  4. If you're turned down, move on graciously and quickly.
  5. Dress like you're going to a casual party at a friends house.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Book: Escape From The Flames

Escape From the Flames: How Ellen White grew from fear to joy--and helped me do it too is the latest offering on the topic of inspiration by the sometimes controversial Adventist scholar, Alden Thompson. In this book he approaches the topic from the questions surrounding the writings of the Adventist prophet Ellen White and his own experience with them and those about scripture. I emailed Thompson and asked him for an interview about his book, and he was kind enough to spend an hour on the phone with me this morning.

DH: So should I call you Dr. Thompson, Alden...Mr. T.?
AT: Whatever you feel comfortable with.
DH: I still remember the conservative uproar over Inspiration: Hard questions, honest answers from my college days. What has been the reaction to Escape From the Flames?
AT: At this point, I have heard no negatives. Of course that could be because the Adventist sub-culture that is not good at disagreeing openly. There were a couple of comments that came out of advance readers copies that were encouraging. Retired secretary of the Ellen G. White Estate, Bob Olsen, said he wished he'd read the book 40 years ago. But in general, it is amazing how much mail I don't get.
DH: Your books that I've read (Who's Afraid of the Old Testament God, and Escape from the Flames) have a strong autobiographical component, especially Escape From the Flames. Why did you decide to include so much of your personal experience in this book?
AT: I'm hoping that it will make it possible for some of the ideas to be more palatable. The German translator of Inspiration said he was hoping to read a book about Ellen White but instead read a book about Alden Thompson. But Americans seem to appreciate that style.
DH: The main question the critics of your ideas seem to have is How can I retain the authority of inspired writings in my life while applying the casebook approach? That approach, as I read it in Escape from the Flames, sees scripture as primarily descriptive as opposed to prescriptive.
AT: I see The one [law of love], The two [greatest commandments: love God; love your neighbor], and The ten [commandments] as the umbilical cord. That's where the line is drawn in Deuteronomy 4:13,14. The enormous change I would like to see take place is recognition that the whole purpose of scripture is practical application. The law is our anchor, Jesus is the wind in our sails, and the rest are illustrations that point us toward the kingdom.
DH: When negotiating moral dilemmas with the help of scripture and spirit of prophecy, should we look to those cases which represent the highest possible standard or those that best fit our current context?
AT: What I would like to see is that we consult all the cases that have possible application; this gives us parameters and data. Identify the ideal, and then you plot a course from where you are. Acts 15:28 provides a model where the apostles say, "It seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us that...", so community needs to be involved in the process.
DH: Escape From the Flames seems to build on the ideas presented in Inspiration. How can someone who missed the boat the first time around get a copy of that book?
AT: The Review Publishing Association decided not to reprint it, even though it has gone as high as $135 for sale on the internet. But they took a lot of flack for that book. I am hoping another publisher will pick it up.
DH: Are you working on any other projects that we can look forward too?
AT: Escape is the first in a four-part series on Ellen White. The proposed title of the next one is "Small Bonnets, white bread, and strong cravings: Ellen White and the Adventist Life Style". After that will be one about Ellen White and scripture called "But Sister White Says..." And the final book will be about Ellen White and doctrinal development.
Escape From the Flames is a valuable contribution to the current Adventist debate about how inspiration works and the kind of writings it produces. Thompson articulates a theology of inspiration that can withstand critical attacks on scripture, while keeping it relevant to the church. I would not recommend this book to someone who is not yet asking the questions it addresses, because many have lost faith over these issues. But for those who do have serious questions about scripture or Ellen White it is not to be missed.

UPDATE (2-27-06): Corrected the proposed title of Thompson's next book. The post originally read: "I'm next one will be on Adventist lifestyle, and the title will probably be 'Tight Bonnets, White Bread, and Strong Cravings'." Apologies to Alden for butchering the title and his articulate diction.