Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Prodigal God

I was first introduced to Tim Keller by my RUF (Reformed University Fellowship) campus minister, Paul Bankson while a student at Mercer University.  Paul often referenced some nugget of truth he had extracted from Keller's sermons he listened to on tape, yes I am that old...before podcasts and cd's of sermons there were tapes. In college I read one of Keller's books that talks specifically about service to the "least of these" but I hadn't read any of his recent books until I picked up Prodigal God at a bookstore going out of business. It was a great reminder of the depth of my sin and the lavishness of God's love and grace and mercy!

If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did (18-19).

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Denomination Formerly Known as the Southern Baptist Convention

Last week, Bryant Wright, President of the Southern Baptist Convention announced the formation of a task force to study the possibility of a name change to the largest Protestant denomination with an estimated 16 million members. The reaction by many has been less than favorable, while key leaders within the denomination have noted the negative associations with the word "southern" as evidence of the need for a change in name.

I would readily agree with the negative connotations but I also feel like there are other things more pressing for the sake of the Kingdom than the name of our denomination. I will borrow from a colleague who said it will be like how we try to tell people that an event is in our Multi-purpose room, which works fine for new comers, but it is also the old fellowship hall. The dilemma is that we have to double announce that an event is going to be Tuesday at 6pm in the multi-purpose room, the old fellowship hall, in order to get people to realize where the event will be.

Or perhaps it will be like the pop music star of the 80s and know the one who sang Purple Rain, When Doves Cry, and others...he used to go by Prince but then he changed his name to The Artist formerly known as Prince. Unfortunately, I think that this may happen with our denomination. Whatever we change the name to, as well intentioned as it may be, we will become the denomination formerly known as the SBC.

History Matters

Why history matters and should be a topic of interest to anyone in ministry.

Evil pt. 2

Most of the quotes in this post from N.T. Wright's book on evil center around what Wright argues is God's ultimate solution to evil, the crucified savior. Wright's own view of understanding the atonement, is the Christus Victor view, that has strong historical roots in such people as Martin Luther and into the modern era of biblical scholarship as Gustaf Aulen.

But when we ask the question, Why did Jesus die? with an eye to the deeper issue of why, in the purposes of God, Jesus might have had to die, we move from historical analysis of events and motivations to a theological account of what God decided to do about evil. That, ultimately, is what theories of "the atonement" are all about. p. 75

The Gospels tell the story of how the evil in the world--political, social, personal, moral, emotional--reached its height, and how God's long-term plan for Israel (and for himself!) finally came to its climax. They tell both of these stories in--and as--the story of how Jesus of Nazareth announced God's kingdom and went to his violent death.  p. 79

We realize with a start that he has been obedient to the Israel-vocation which he had himself announced in the bracing and so often misunderstood Sermon on the Mount. He had turned the other cheek. He had picked up the Roman cross and gone the second mile. He was set up on the hill, unable to be hidden. He was acting as Israel, the light of the world, on behalf of the Israel that had embraced the pagan darkness. p. 85-86

This (the last supper with his disciples) was Jesus' own chosen way of expressing and explaining to his followers, then and ever since, what his death was all about. It wasn't a theory, we note, but an action (a warning to all atonement theorists ever since, and perhaps and indication of why the church has never incorporated a specific defining clause about the atonement in its great creeds). Perhaps, after all, atonement is at its deepest level something that happens, so that to reduce it to a proposition to which one can give mental assent is a mistake at a deep level. p.91

This, the Evangelists are saying to us, is what "the kingdom of God" means: neither "going to heaven when you die" nor "a new way of ordering earthly political reality" but something which includes both but goes way beyond them. p.93

No, all theories of atonement adequate to the task must include both a backward look (seeing the guilt, sin and shame of all previous generations heaped up on the cross) and a forward dimension, the promise that what God accomplished on Calvary will be fully and finally implemented. p. 96

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Great Quotes from Great Saints of God

It is not your hold of Christ that saves you--it's Christ. Charles Spurgeon

I remember two things: that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great savior. John Newton

The Pope, Martin Luther, and an Evangelical Walk into a Pub

Very interesting post at iMonk about the dialogue going on between Pope Benedict and German Lutherans. What Pope Benedict says is extremely powerful and insightful.

Friday, September 23, 2011


Some of my favorite R.E.M. tunes

Feeling Gravity's Pull :: A Personal Tribute to R.E.M. :: Paste mPlayer

R.E.M. embodied so many things that this article acurrately points out. They were the soundtrack to many people's lives of my generation. They were the door you walked through to discover other bands who reinvented Southern Rock such as Drivin' and Cryin', Widespread Panic, Vigilantes of Love, The Indigo Girls, and others. The lyrics were provocative and mysterious at the same time, if you could understand just exactly what Stipe was singing at different times. (Look no further than Tommy Boy where Chris Farley and David Spade mumble a verse of the song along with the band.) The brought so many incredible new sounds to modern rock. I still remember playing my first cassette tape of theirs (Green) in my grandparents hallway and dancing while I sang...good thing there wasn't a video camera around!
Feeling Gravity's Pull :: A Personal Tribute to R.E.M. :: Paste mPlayer

Rob Bell to Leave Mars Hill Church | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

The question I will raise is, "Did he write the book so he could exit the pastorate?" or "Did his authorship of the book necessitate an exit from the church?"
Rob Bell to Leave Mars Hill Church | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Friday, September 16, 2011

Personified Evil?

Great article on the continuing influence of Alice Cooper on Rock Music. Interestingly, Cooper is professing Christian and an intense amateur golfer.


The challenge of Evil is on that philosophers, theologians, and nearly anyone with a pulse has thought about at some time or another. Many books have been written about this subject to try to come to grips with how a loving, compassionate God can allow evil and suffering in the world in which he created. N.T. Wright offers his thoughts on the subject in slightly different light in Evil and the Justice of God. One of Wright's motivations in composing such a book was to attempt to "answer" the outcry of people mourning such tragic events as 9-11, Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami that devastated the Indian Ocean and other recent world disasters. He says that the problem of evil is not something which we humans can solve in the present reality of life, but rather we are "to bring signs of God's new world to birth on the basis of Jesus' death and in the power of his Spirit, even in the midst of "the present evil age."

As I read this book I was reminded yet again of the immensity of a heart and mind like Wright's to ask tough questions and find answers in the mystery of creation, redemption, and new creation. Although I hadn't read anything by Wright until about 5 years ago, he has quickly become one of my favorite authors. His deep love for the bride of Christ, the church, and his commitment to plumbing the depths of God's riches revealed in the Living Word (Jesus) and the spoken word are an encouragement to me. I want to share a few of the insights that stuck out to me in a couple of posts (because there are so many). His thought his at once philosophical and simple so I will try to let him speak for himself.

God's justice is a saving, healing, restorative justice, because the God to whom justice belongs is the Creator God who has yet to complete his original plan for creation and whose justice is designed not simply to restore balance to a world out of kilter but to bring to glorious completion and fruition the creation, teeming with life and possibility, that he made in the first place. And he remains implacably determined to complete this project through his image-bearing human creatures and, more specifically, through the family of Abraham. p. 64

God chooses to bring the world back to rights through a family which is itself composed of deeply flawed human beings and thereby generates second- and third-order problems of evil--which have to be addressed and solved in their turn. p. 72

The story of Gethsemane and of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth present themselves in the New Testament as the strange, dark conclusion to the story of what God does about evil, of what happens to God's justice when it takes human flesh, when it gets its feet muddy in the garden and its hands bloody on the cross. p. 74

On Satan as the "face" of evil...
And yet it is wrong to think of the satan as "personal" in the same way that God or Jesus is "personal"--which is not to say that the satan is a vague or nebulous force. Quite the reverse: I prefer to use the term "subpersonal" or "quasi-personal" as a way of refusing to accord the satan the full dignity of personhood while recognizing that  the concentration of activity (its subtle schemes and devices) can and does strike us as very much like that which we associate with personhood. p.112

On the false belief in universalism...
Grand-sounding statements of universalism are offered on this basis: it cannot be right, we are told, for the redeemed to enjoy their heaven as long as one soul is left in hell. Of course, by thus appealing to our sense of feeling sorry for the one left outside the party, we put that person in a position of peculiar power, able to exercise in perpetuity a veto on the triumph of grace. p. 140

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Study of God

I recently finished a book entitled Who Needs Theology? by Stanley Grenz and Roger Olson. I have read a few books by Grenz and I try to keep up with Olson's blog. The book is designed to be an introduction to theology to be used by laypeople, college and seminary students, and ministers.

Here are some of the sections that stood out to me the most:

"Good theology always moves from the head to the heart and finally to the hand" (46).

"Too many people confuse 'simple, childlike faith' with 'simplistic and childish faith" (58).

"The question, therefore, isn't 'Am I a theologian?' Rather, we must ask, 'Am I a good theologian? Is my operative theology a good theology?'" (104)

"Yet while necessarily biblical, theology is never simply the juxtaposing of various scriptural statements. As is evident in the doctrine of the Trinity, theology seeks to show the connectedness of such statements" (106).

"Our Lord doesn't intend to be Lord of our intellectual commitments alone. He desires to transform our character and our conduct. He wants our commitment to him to take its lodging in our heart and to move our hands. Theology plays a role in this process. In fact, right belief, or correct doctrine, is vital to Christian living. We seek theological knowledge so that we might be wise Christians--those who live holy lives to the glory of God. Therefore, the true theologian explores how the great confessions of faith we recite on Sunday morning affect our Monday world" (126).

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Birthday Girl at Lunch

Happy Birthday!

In the midst of the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina I fondly remember checking in at Brookwood Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama on August 31 so that the next day Cyd and I would have our first bundle of giggles and ponytails. Neither one of us got any sleep that night, meanwhile what seemed like 3/4 of our entire family was on the way to our cookie cutter house to stay the day and/or night to see the new baby. Our lives changed forever that September day as we welcomed our oldest child into the world. Overwhelming...yes... changing...yes! What an incredible joy and privilege to be a be able to try to instill in children the biblical principles of life and faith!

I look back on the last 6 years and it seems like we were just bringing her home from the hospital (a scary scene indeed as Cyd and I looked at each other and said now what do we do after we all three got strapped in the car to drive home). Life has brought many challenges through the years but one of the greatest is the responsibility of being a godly parent. Trying to model a godly life, a life of faith, hope and love can be a daunting task at times, but I am often reminded that God works in spite of my sin in my own life and in the life of my family to teach us to love each other deeply and authentically.

Working with teenagers also means that Claire is turning 6 but she thinks she is 16 at times. I have seen so many students make great choices and so many make poor choices...being a parent has taught me that I need to be faithful to God in my responsibilities and pray like crazy for my girls and then to rest in the knowledge that they are secure in his hands, no matter what.

As we celebrate Claire's 6th birthday we anticipate the arrival of Pagliarullo baby #3 in the spring. If it's a boy he will need help from having two big sisters and a mother smothering him...but if it's a girl I will need help paying for proms and weddings, so just to be safe I will take donations beginning yesterday.

Happy Birthday Claire! We Love You!

The Gospel According to Dylan

I recently finished The Gospel According to Bob Dylan by Michael Gilmour. When I saw the title on I couldn't wait to dive into it. I got introduced to Dylan in college through friends and a couple of history classes. To say that I love the man's music is an understatement. Part of what I believe so many people find intriguing about Dylan is ability to speak prophetical about a myriad of issues, yet when pressed about the inner life of Bob Dylan one can only connect bits and pieces together through the lyrics, the interviews, and the volumes of articles, books, and blogs written about the man and the music.

Gilmour opens the book by saying that just as when a person listens to music the meaning and interpretation become so subjective that we can't determine the cold hard facts for the artist himself. Thus the book is more about his own pilgrimage with Dylan and how he has seen religion in different shapes through the music and the man. I was hoping for something just the opposite, but for a "Bobhead" this would be an enjoyable look at some of the less critically acclaimed periods of his immense catalogue of music.