Saying No to the NFL and Yes to Seminary

Desiring God posted the story of Chris Norman, who played for the the University of Michigan and decided to say no to an NFL career. Instead, he has gone to seminary to prepare for a lifetime of ministry. One of the reasons Desiring God posted this story is that John Piper’s book, Don’t Waste Your Life, played a key role in turning Norman to take the path not often taken.

It’s worth the watch. Here it is.

Give Directly – A Bold Approach To Charitable Giving

Recently I was listening to Planet Money, which is something I regularly do. I relied on their analysis of the economic meltdown in 2008 and since then have appreciated their down to earth and common sense explanations of economic matters. They featured the work of Give Directly this month. The central conviction of this charitable organization is that those in need should receive directly the money rather than the services that are the hallmark of so many NGOs. Here is the radio interview. The belief is that the poor know better how to spend the money than others do.

GiveDirectly began in Cambridge, MA in 2008 when its founders were completing advanced degrees in economic development at Harvard and MIT. Through their work the founders learned of the explosion of mobile banking in developing countries and realized that this would make it possible to send donations securely and very cheaply to the poor. Because existing non-profits were not taking advantage of the opportunity, they created GiveDirectly as a vehicle for transfering their own money. As a non-profit created by donors, GiveDirectly is focused exclusively on giving to the poorest possible households at the lowest possible cost. Its leaders have no personal financial stake in the success of the organization, as their time is all volunteered.

These guys (and they are all guys) believe they can prove that giving in this way is a better way of giving and leads in the long run to better results, believing that the poor know best how to spend the money. Not only does the giving go directly to the individual needing help, there is no middle man, no bureaucracy that has to be sustained to distribute goods and services. 92.6 % of each gift made is directly passed on the recipient. Those leading the organization are volunteers and bear the costs of running it themselves. There are no salaries.

Of course, I began to immediately think of implications for Christian charitable giving. My sadly favorite example of wasted money is the $450,000 salary Franklin Graham was drawing until the Charlotte Observer ran a series on the Graham organization under Franklin’s stewardship. It wasn’t pretty. The overhead for most any Christian mission and charitable organization is rather immense. And, of course, once people start making money in such an organization, there are tendencies set in play which constantly are in tension with charity itself. This isn’t about evil motives. This is about basic self-interest. By the time the money we give reaches the field, there have been too many toll takers along the way.

What if we just gave the money rather than the shoeboxes for Christmas? What if we just gave the farmer the money rather than buy him a heifer? What if we……? You get the picture.

One of the closest ways of giving directly to missions is KP Yohanon’s Gospel for Asia. 100% of the money given goes directly to third world missionaries. You can imagine the consternation this causes among traditional mission boards!!! Rather than spending the $100,000 or so needed for many missionaries on an annual basis, many national evangelists can be supported for $30 per month. He doesn’t need two years for language study and cultural adaptation. He does not need furloughs for one year after every four on the field. Many have accused this model of creating financial dependency and attracting people whose ministry motives may be mixed since they can make a living through American dollars. Surely these things can happen. But they don’t have to happen in any way approaching a severe pathogen in the missionary cause.

But what about giving not even to third world missionaries, pastors, etc., but giving directly to the poor themselves? I am not familiar with a Christian organization that does so. Perhaps this is some kind of model that needs to be explored and developed. Just saying……

Is The Future In The Hands Of The Young? Or, Getting Older Is No Way Out!!!

This is a ready phrase, quickly spouted as the older of us look frustratingly at the mess of the world. It sounds positive and rather optimistic. But is it really forward-looking? Dorothy Sayers says no in her book Christian Letters to a Post-Christian World.

There is a popular school of thought (or, more strictly, of feeling) which violently resents the operation of Time upon the human spirit. It looks upon age as something between a crime and an insult. Its prophets have banished from their savage vocabulary all such words as “adult,” mature,” ” experienced,” “venerable”; they know only snarling and sneering epithets like “middle-aged,” “elderly,” “stuffy,” “senile,” and “decrepit.” With these they flagellate that which they themselves are, or must shortly become, as though abuse were and incantation to exorcise the inexorable. Theirs is neither the thoughtless courage that “makes mouths at the invisible event,” nor the reasoned courage that forsees the event and endures it; still less is it the ecstatic courage that embraces and subdues the event. It is the vicious and desperate furry of a trapped beast; and it is not a pretty sight.

Such men, finding no value for the world as it is, proclaim very loudly their faith in the future, “which is in the hands of the young.” With this flattery they bind their own burden on the shoulders of the next generation. For their own failures, Time alone is to blame – not Sin, which is expiable, but Time, which is irreparable. From the relentless reality of age they seek escape into a fantasy of youth – their own or other people’s. … Their faith is not really in the future, but in the past. Paradoxical as it may seem, to believe in youth is to look backward; to look forward, we must believe in age.

“To look forward, we must believe in age.” Time alone, the time of the future and of youth, will not heal us of the wounds of our sins. The work of the “aged” (whatever definition you give to that) is to accept our complicity in the messes made and make our contribution to the things done and left undone. To really look forward we must not pawn off our mistakes to be shouldered by others yet to come, but believe in this time, older though we have become, in order to courageously and humbly face the world of our making.

Older age is no escape from responsibility. It is not being 65 and passing the baton to the younger who will pay our Social Security and solve our cultural and national problems. Those of us who have entered into these years are required to bring adult thinking to the table and the courage that has been honed over the years by trial, temptation and overwhelming odds.

The Scripture Promise Box

When I was a child, we had on the kitchen table a Bible Promise box. It was in the shape of a small loaf of bread to remind us that God’s Word is true bread. And in sticking out of the top of that loaf were rectangular cards, each with a promise from God. We would take a card each evening and read a promise from God. Great idea, isn’t it?

After supper and sometimes during the day I would take those promise cards and build a multilayer house. Wanted to see how many floors I could add. Of course, I was only working out the metaphor of building my house on the rock, the true Rock.

I can’t recall during my 40 years of pastoral ministry seeing a Scripture promise box in anyone’s home. How could such a great idea go missing? Maybe for some the simple claiming of a promise is too juvenile and oh so simplistic. But as I was building my house of cards I remember reading those verses from the Bible. I thought they were true. I still do. And that makes life an adventure, always looking to see what God will do.

Scripture Promise Box

Scot McKnight’s 20 posts review of NT Wright’s “Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision ” all in one place

I had previously posted 13 of Scot McKnight’s posts on NT Wright on Justification. Ultimately McKnight wrote 20, so here are all of them in one place. Wright’s position is that “final justification” includes the Christian’s works. There is plenty of biblical texts to support him in this instinct if not in his actual exegesis of this or that text. I am friendly to Wright’s concern and his attempt to call the usual Reformed soteriological formulas to task for simply erasing biblical data that indicate the serious place of works of the believer in final judgment, though NT Wright would not use this manner of expression.  I continue to have serious concern about what I perceive to be radical strains of antinomianism within some Reformed circles. There is simply no room for moral effort and no drama to their description of sanctification. It is not only counterintuitive to our moral nature, but the deep decisionism of the New Testament documents seems to require an awareness that grace puts us to work and something is to be lost when that working is clearly nonessential to one’s eternal relationship to God.

Read these posts for yourself and get ready to pay serious attention. Continue reading

Another Study Bible?

Yep, another one. Just in case there was a nuance here and there you missed. Each newer movement in Evangelical Protestantism has to produce its own study Bible, to put their notes and interpretations right alongside of God’s Word just to make sure you understand that the Bible rightly interpreted is down the line pretty much what they say it is. All the while Apostles and Nicene Creed Christianity takes a hit as Protestantism continues to splinter and become niche Christianity.

Here is a picture of just some of my study Bibles in two stacks. Too much money for too little info.


Another Response to Reza Aslan’s “The Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth”

Ben Witherington posts a blog by a fellow New Testament scholar on Aslan’s “new” book on Jesus. Once again, the conclusion is that Aslan is simply offering interpretations of Jesus buried and forgotten years ago – Jesus as political revolutionary encouraging armed struggle against Roman oppression. (At this point I am suppressing my yawn!)

What Aslan does do is tap into a strain of imagination that seeks to understand Jesus in wholly political/cultural/historical categories. Jesus as God the Son, Savior, offering an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world on the cross, raised from the dead, ascended to heaven and coming again is too revolutionary for our current appetites. There is the need to calm him down, make him one of us, wholly explainable by rational and human categories. But Jesus refuses to go there. The evidence just won’t support it. It all points to the reality that we are the visited planet and God indeed walked among us and opened the door to eternal life for all to enter.

Are the Neo-Reformed Too Optimistic About Redemption of Culture? The Introduction of “Tidal Christianity”

Short answer – Yes, I think so. Church planting success in several highly secular urban cultures has given extra fuel to the imagined redemption of the spheres of the arts, law, etc., along with the influence of NT Wright and company. (I am a huge NT Wright fan, so no attempt here to diminish his scholarship and his value to the broader church). Surely there are inroads into radical secularism. But these forays remain anecdotal and will always be so. The attempt to broaden the meaning of redemption to include the beginnings of the “new earth” feels strained to me, somewhat like President Obama’s promise that the ocean’s rise will be abated during his presidency. We love to imagine it so, but it’s overstatement. 

There is a serious attempt to move away from personal salvation as the primary marker of Evangelicalism, a la Billy Graham. Christianity has come to be seen more as tidal movement that lifts all boats, what I call “Tidal Christianity.”  Yes, personal evangelism is on the agenda, but not the “embarrassing” kind, like Evangelism Explosion of the D James Kennedy kind. What this means in reality is that evangelism is not on the agenda. Most churches do not train in evangelism anymore. They train in influence. Direct announcement of the Gospel complete with an invitation to say yes to the offer of eternal life is considered so 1950s. 

This article I am linking builds a connection with Abraham Kuyper and the Neo-Reformed optimism about cultural redemption. It is worth the read and serious reflection. Neo-Reformed utopianism is, well, utopianism. As we know, utopias are always overstated, and in some cases can lead to very bad places.

Left understated or unstated is the simple and primal value of a revived and evangelistic church, sharing Christ one person at a time. I think some in the Reformed movement, such as John Piper and Al Mohler, have not bought into utopian scenarios and still have enough of the traditional views of evangelism to not sell their birthright for the promise of the porridge of influence.