ISIS, The 21, and Letting The Bible Speak For Itself


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Yes and amen.

Josh Howerton

Yesterday, shortly after WG’s ended at The Bridge, news broke of ISIS releasing a video in which 21 Egyptian Christians – scornfully called “the people of the Cross” by the terrorists  – were marched to a secluded beach and savagely beheaded by men in black masks. After huddling our little family around the computer to talk about it, I was going to write a post. But sometimes a horror is so deep it’s best to place your hand over your mouth, unchain the Bible, and let it speak for itself…

Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.  – John 16:2

Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God… They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.  – Revelation 20:4

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life…

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some hopefully not weird Christian thoughts on Halloween.


73497_813635955116_1310185_nA friend emailed me yesterday asking if I had ever written a post on Halloween and how Christians should relate to it. This was my reply to him. Also, in honor of Halloween, I’m posting this picture of the best Halloween costume I ever had. Can’t figure it out? The answer is at the bottom of the post:

Sorry to be anti-climactic, but I don’t really have any strong opinions on the matter either way. I’ll probably stay home Halloween, work on school work, and hand out candy to kids.

I really think it’s up to the individual Christian’s conscience, though there are obvious things that might be “unwise”. For one, don’t get wrapped in the sexuality that seems to have pervaded Halloween. Second, if you do a costume, try not to be exploitative (grown-ups dressing like little kid-sort of things and sexualizing them, acting gay as a joke, mocking others, or I heard of one couple of white friends who went as a dead Trayvon Martin and a George Zimmermamn, with the Trayvon guy wearing black-face).

Importantly, though, I don’t encourage myself or other Christians to be “weird” about it.
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On Not Following the Christian Blogosphere (a plea)


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I pride myself on thinking that a large percentage of the readers of this blog have no idea of this odd subculture/alternate universe that is the “Christian blogosphere”. So for those that don’t know: there is a very large labyrinth of (largely evangelical) blogs and conferences and podcasts and websites that are dedicated to talking about “the” “Christian view” on any manner of things that (1) really don’t affect much of people’s real lives or (2) seem kind of weird to have a “Christian view” of.

It’s not simply talking about things from a Christian perspective (like this blog), but rather doing so with a particular reactive, evangelical, tribal “flavor”. I’m sure I fall into that at times here, but I’m not proud of it and I try to act against it.

the dangers of the Christian blogosphere

There are two primary things about the nature of these sites that more easily lend themselves to human weakness, I feel.
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Are you cool enough to raise kids in the city?


Halloween-RittenhouseFor my “Urban Christian” class, we’ve been looking into family life in urban areas. I was asked to comment on the challenges and benefits to raising kids in the city. Because it’s almost Halloween, I decided to use this incredibly cute picture as well.

Let’s face it, if you’re not already raising kids in the city (and probably even if you are), the idea of doing so can be terrifying. But, thinking about it, I wonder if this has less to do with the nature of cities themselves, and more to do with the lack of precedent many of us have when thinking through raising kids in the city.

This leads to two dynamics: fear of the unknown, and so concerns about safety, money, education, and child “corruption” by the wider culture arise because of the limited exposure most of us have to anyone that has done this before and come out the other side. This leads us to have to rely on stereotypes and caricatures of the city to inform our fears and concerns.
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I’m starting to wonder about this whole Urban Christianity thing…


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Let’s file this one under: Things I Never Thought I’d Say.

First, some realities.

America, almost since its founding, has had an Agrarian ideal spliced into its DNA that has thought more highly of the vision of the independent rural farmer–building himself up from nothing and sustaining his family by the work of his brow–over and above the idea of the dirty urban manufacturer, competing with others for the few jobs that are there.

Further, it’s pretty clear that during White Flight in the mid-1900s, whites took the association of “good, religious folk” with them to the suburbs (along with the support and attention of governments), leaving the cities to be seen as the cesspools of sin that deserved to rot away.

Along with this, the American Church (especially so, but this is definitely global) has tended to neglect cities, enjoying the safe numbers and comfort of the suburbs. In my opinion, this has helped ravage American faith, causing it to take on the aspects of the surrounding suburban culture, making it often isolating, consumerist, capitalistic, intellectual, based on convenience, behavior-driven, and not rooted to any sort of historical tradition or depth. (This does not extend to individuals per se, and it is a broad generalization, but it’s one that I think statistics would show is generally true.)

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Are Cities too broken for Christians to fix them?


philly-city-hall-1As I go through these seminary discussions and readings concerning the relationship between Christians and cities, two things are pretty certain for me. First, God loves cities and had/has great intentions for them. Second, things went horribly, completely, and utterly awry.

I have the privilege of taking these courses along with incredibly thoughtful people. They haven’t just taken wholesale this newly “rediscovered” urban emphasis of Christian faith. They get the reality that God and the Bible have an urban-centric feel to them, but they really want to fight for a conception of God’s work in the world that comes to bear upon every person in every type of place in the world–not just city-dwellers.

And so I’ve been wondering: is this “urban call” to Christians a general one, or does it only go out to a very specific type of person? Are the difficulties in cities so big, so intractable, and so unique that only certain types of Christians with certain types of giftings could find a place for Kingdom work?
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Putting the FUN back in Fundamentalism! (vs. Atheism)


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For those that follow this blog only through WordPress, you may have seen the guest post yesterday–a beautiful meditation on spiritual realities that Autumn brings to our minds–and didn’t think much of it. It was pretty and all, but not controversial, right?

Not so, on Facebook.

A good friend, and Atheist (that we here at the blog know quite well), made a comment taking issue with references to the “Fall” and “first parents” (and even the Resurrection) on the grounds that these do not jive with evolutionary science. (Although I don’t think he clicked on the link to a similar post I wrote last year in which I used the same terminologies in the same way, but whatever.) He was surprised that I would have let a seemingly “young earth creationist” (someone who thinks the world was created in six literal days) post on my blog.

Though I assured him that this guest poster was not, in fact, a young earth creationist, and was merely speaking using the common poetic language shared by all of Christian theology and not at all trying to speak in scientific terms, he doubled down. Then, Christians and Atheists all jumped into this thread. Sarcasm, insults, and “who-said-what when” arguments began, all having little to do with the post, and more to do with who was condescending first, who understands genre theory, and who were the more aggressive and defensive parties in the discussion.
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Discipleship: Making Good Little Pharisees?


Caravaggio-The Calling of Saint Matthew{summary: the way we disciple others in the church is far too often a results-based process, and not a grace-driven one. Here, I explore Jesus’ example in Matthew as a guide for us. And, once again, we see Jesus’ radical application of grace to his Disciples’ lives.}

I’m taking a class on “The Practice of Discipleship”. Some discussions on our online message boards inspired these thoughts. Discipleship, as many people could tell you is all about “following Jesus”. After all, that’s how Jesus himself invited his disciples into it. But as I was thinking about this, I realized something: Pharisees had disciples too.

Now, with “Pharisee Discipleship” the point was to let that Pharisee get all up in your business so that you could become a good, well-behaved Pharisee someday. Christian Discipleship, as we are often told, is not about following Christians per se, but following Christians who are following Christ. The ultimate goal is to follow Christ and to help one another do that.

This is how it works in theory. I can’t speak for everyone, but at least in my experience, a lot of Christian Discipleship subtly looks more like the type that creates well-behaved Pharisees than the one that truly follows Christ.
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A Christian Pacifist’s Lament for Syria, with help from Quakers


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{summary: Though I consider myself a pacifist and consider force as something that goes against the Kingdom of God, I feel that governments, because they are not the Kingdom of God will always fall short of that and have a necessary level of sin in them. And so, for the sake of a greater good, I would not speak against my government using military action in Syria (though I wouldn’t say I’d explicitly “endorse” it).}

As many people have been doing, I have been snarkily criticizing President Obama’s pursuit of making an attack on Syria. It seems too pointless, too risky, too naivetoo counter-productive, and too lonely. I had felt sadness over the plight of Syrians, but while the rebel forces are over-run by Islamic radicals and terrorist groups, I haven’t thought that empowering, arming, or making their victory certain was better in the long-run. (If you need a refresher on the details of the Syria situation, this is a great one.)
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Advent & the Goodness of Worldliness, c/o Dietrich Bonhoeffer [QUOTE]


‎”I remember a conversation that I had in America thirteen years ago with a young French pastor. We were asking ourselves quite simply what we wanted to do with our lives. He said that he would like to become a saint (and I think it’s quite likely that he did become one). At the time I was very impressed, but I disagreed with him, and said, in effect, that I should like to learn to have faith. For a long time I didn’t realize the depth of the contrast. I thought I could acquire faith by trying to live a holy life, or something like it. I suppose I wrote The Cost of Discipleship as the end of that path. Today I can see the dangers of that book, though I still stand by what I wrote.

I discovered later, and I am still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman (a so-called priestly type!), a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world–watching with Christ in Gethsemane. That, I think, is faith: that is metanoia; and that is how one becomes a [human] and a Christian (cf. Jer. 45!). How can success make us arrogant, or failure lead us astray, when we share in God’s sufferings through a life of that kind?”

— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (via Kait Dugan)

Could you maybe help me win some Bible stuff? One click is all that’s needed.


Hello, blog readers. I just ran across this sweepstakes on the site of my favorite Bible Study software, Logos. To celebrate the release of Logos 5, they are giving away a Microsoft Surface Pro tablet with Logos 5 on it. With my seminary and graduate school studies starting anew, both of these items would be of great, great value to me, my thinking, my studies, and my writing. Which means, if you all help me win this, I promise you’ll reap the benefits here on the blog as well.

With that being said, could I humbly ask you to click the this link? For each person that clicks, I get 5 more entries into the drawing: http://ptab.it/iGGA

Thanks again.

Christians & the Art of Profanities in Art


This post is not a defense of Christians cursing in their everyday lives (I wrote that post a few years ago, though I think at some point I may need to revisit some of what I said there).

This post, rather, is about the merits of Christians creating (or doing) art in which there are profanities (this also has implications on other “worldly” things in art like sex and violence, but they won’t be my main focus today). I’m writing this to prepare some people for the stories I plan on writing for this blog. I talked yesterday about how I’m participating in StoryADay September (Update: I’m done), and hope to post an original, completed fiction story every weekday in September. Concerning that, I wrote:

I will not be doing “Christian art” or “prophetic art” or “evangelistic art” as I write and post here. I will simply be trying to create Beauty in words and character and story in a way that is original, interesting, and stirring.  My stories tend to be rooted in reality as much as possible, and so they will probably include “real” things like sadness, violence, sexuality, cursing, or other things that challenge many Christians’ sensibilities. Know this ahead of time.

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September, Stories, & Writing (my brain needs a break!)


As anyone that even remotely follows this blog knows, my summer was mainly spent with me teaching a Bible Survey Class at my church (the fruits of which can be found here). I spent roughly 15 to 20 hours a week working on it. As I mentioned last week, I read and read and read to prepare each week for this class. I’d spend the week reading scholarly articles, books, journals, commentaries, etc, and then spend Friday and Saturday writing anywhere from 15 to 35 pages of material for the class. Nearly every week.

I’m exhausted. The analytical side of my brain needs rest. And so, I’m going to take September to spend some time with some stories and fiction. I’m doing this in three main ways:
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Debates with Atheists (And Good News for Them)


Recently, a friend sent me a link inviting me to a debate between a prominent evangelical intellectual and a prominent atheist thinker. It made me remember how I used to eat those sorts of things up when I was in college, and I really appreciated this friend sending it, but at this point in my life, I genuinely had no interest whatsoever.

Eventually, you realize that every debate of this sort goes the exact same way. At some point–without fail– there’s comes a moment when the evangelical says something to which the atheist responds with “well, what proof [or “evidence” or “basis” or “reason”] do you have to make such a claim!”, to which the evangelical responds with something like “well, it’s faith” (or something like that).

And then the debate should end. The fool’s errand of these events has been exposed.

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