Science Fiction - Religious Science

In the new issue of Christianity Today, the cover story is about Science Fiction and "how the genre draws us to its own views of redemption." The author, James A. Herrick, writes,
"Ironically, the universe that science stripped of the supernatural is being resupplied with deities and redemptive purposes by science fiction writers and moviemakers. Apparently, we cannot do without myths."

Having been a fan of the genre for most of my life, I am very in tune with this. And the future of Christian apologetics will need to address the counter-myths that our pop culture's sci-fi stories have created.

As Herrick says, pop culture is "now our most potent form of religious persuasion... Arguments against Christianity and in support of rival worldviews now arrive daily as embedded components of visual and written fiction. Pop-culture fiction, not academic nonfiction, is now the cutting edge of public discourse on spirituality."


I supported Obama, but not this...

As most of your know, I supported the election of Barack Obama during this past election. I felt that evangelicals could, in good conscience, vote for either Obama or McCain. For reasons why I felt evangelicals should vote for Obama, read this. For reasons why I felt evangelicals should vote for McCain, read this.

One of the main reasons that I said evangelicals should vote for McCain is that he has been consistently Pro-Life. I believe that a vast majority of Christians (of all denominations) who voted for McCain did so because of the abortion issue. For them, this crucial issue (protecting the lives of the unborn) trumped all other issues. While I did not agree that abortion was the single most important issue in this past election, I am sincerely sympathetic to this stand. After all, it is a devastating realization when one understands that there are over one million abortions each year. This is truly a travesty of justice.

So, I definitely believe that the center of the “Pro-Life” issue is a strong opposition to abortion. However, it also includes such issues as war, poverty, hunger, disease, an unjust legal system, and the environment. All these issues are a part of a holistic and consistent “Pro-Life” agenda. Therefore, Christians who see “Life” issues beyond the core issue of abortion law (i.e., Roe v. Wade) voted for Obama, believing that these many issues lead this way.

At the same time, it deeply troubled us that Obama was such an outspoken proponent of abortion-on-demand. We understand that he wants to honor a woman’s right to choose, because women have had their rights terribly trampled on for so very long. But we insist that women’s rights do not trump the unborns’ right to life. This is a difficult issue, but Christians, at our best, are a people who stand up for the needs of the oppressed and for those who do not have the ability to speak for themselves. We are to act for justice as we walk humbly with our God. The unborn are the most oppressed people in our society – their very lives are in danger due to an extremely unjust law in our land.

Prior to the election, Barack Obama spoke to Planned Parenthood (see the video below). He made a promise to them that they will expect him to keep. He said, “The first thing I’d do as President is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. That’s the first thing I’d do.”

For all the good that President Obama can do as an agent of change in our country, this one decision would be a devastating mistake.

The Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA)
will do away with state laws on parental involvement, on partial birth abortion, and on all other protections. FOCA will compel taxpayer funding of abortions. FOCA will force faith-based hospitals and healthcare facilities to perform abortions. Americans United for Life has analyzed FOCA and says that it is a “radical attempt to prematurely end debate over abortion.” Obama has said, time and time again, that he would like "to see an end to the culture wars." This is a very good suggestion, which Christians should embrace. We need to get past inflammatory rhetoric and partisan bickering. We need to seek cooperation as we seek the common good. However, with this issue, it seems that President Obama thinks that "ending the culture wars" means stopping debate in its tracks and forcefully eradicating every state and federal law on abortion — laws that the majority of Americans support. This is not open dialog and non-partisan politics. It is more of the same old partisan power-grabbing, only this time it's coming from the Left.

I oppose FOCA, which would establish the right to abortion as a fundamental right (like the right to free speech) and potentially wipe away every restriction on abortion nationwide. Please read the expert analysis by Americans United for Life (AUL) and sign the Fight FOCA petition at www.FightFOCA.com.


Fight the Freedom of Choice Act

"The Freedom of Choice Act," which Senator Obama has promised Planned Parenthood would be the first thing he would sign as President is dangerous legislation and it must be exposed.

Please help stop FOCA by signing the Fight FOCA Petition.


Fight FOCA Petition

I oppose the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), because:

  • FOCA is a radical attempt to enshrine abortion-on-demand into American law;
  • FOCA seeks to sweep aside existing, protective laws that I and the majority of Americans support;
  • FOCA will prevent states from enacting protective measures in the future.


The Fight FOCA petition will be sent to key members of Congress upon the re-introduction of the Freedom of Choice Act in the 111th Congress, and to President-Elect Obama.


Gary Haugen and International Justice Mission featured in The New Yorker

International Justice Mission’s work is featured in the January 19 issue of The New Yorker – now available online and on newsstands.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Samantha Power spent more than two years researching IJM’s casework in four countries.

Power thoroughly investigates many facets of IJM President Gary Haugen’s life, the mission and diverse viewpoints on anti-trafficking methodology. Ultimately, she provides the powerful evidence – by citing compelling IJM casework examples – of the life-changing and far-reaching outcomes of the work that you make possible.

Read Power’s article and go behind the scenes of IJM’s work (pdf).

With a circulation of more than one million, The New Yorker is one of the nation’s most influential news sources, and the article unveils on the world’s stage IJM’s passion for, and commitment to, strengthening rule of law on behalf of the global poor.

-Pamela Livingston, Vice President, Communications, International Justice Mission


The Problems of Departmental Divisions in the Church

I’ve been thinking about how local churches are organized, and I found myself troubled by the divisions that have been made for ministry. We create departments for the major areas of ministry (for instance, our church has "Worship, Community, and Mission"). It has taken me a few days to figure out what’s been troubling me. Here it is…

When I think of the “Church” (that is, a local manifestation of God’s People, not the “church universal”), I think of the people who are set apart for a purpose: to be God’s redemptive community on earth, especially in a specific locale.

This people are a Missional Community, living in the midst of people and loving and serving them with a view to be a redemptive blessing in their lives. Our redemptive work is the proclamation of the Gospel to our culture.

This “incarnational view” of church informs what we should be doing with our local congregations. each church is to be the incarnation of the body of Christ for their local community. The ministry is to be indigenous to this community, made up of people in this community to reach people in this community with the good news of Christ.

So, what are we supposed to do? We are to be a “Missional Community.” It boils down to this.

So, when we split up (in a very modernist way) our ministry into separate spheres (Worship, Community, Mission, etc.), we are pulling apart that which needs to be a cohesive unit.

I cannot imagine “community” without it being “missional.” I cannot imagine “mission” without it being by a community and for a community. And I cannot imagine “worship” outside the definition of Romans 12:1, where our lives are lived out sacrificially for others, as our “spiritual act of worship.”

In my view, the departments of the church need to serve the one purpose of Missional Community. This will ruffle some feathers in our churches, but the church’s departments all feed the overall purpose: to create and sustain a Missional Community.

The “Worship Department” is really just those in charge of the musical portion of our gathering time, where we come together to praise God.

The “Proclamation Department” is really just those in charge of preaching the gospel of joining in the Missional Community of the Church and instructing those involved in the Missional Community how to live out that calling.

The “Global Missions Department” extends our mission beyond our locality to those areas of the world that need our help to be reached.

The “Kids,” “Youth,” and “College” Departments proclaims the gospel of joining in God’s Mission to the younger generations, giving them purpose for their lives.

The “Adult Department” nurtures in adults the yearning to be Missional in Community.

The “Care Department” intervenes when members of the Missional Community are hurting.

But the overall goal is to create a cohesive ministry of people working together to live out the gospel in the midst of the people we are trying to reach. When we are a Missional Community working for the redemption of all things for the blessing of those in our cities, we are being the incarnation of Christ for their sakes.

We need to think about the implications of isolating up our ministry into these three separate divisions: Worship, Community, and Mission.

This post is mirrored at Missional Tribe.

My Top 10 Albums of 2008

Here’s a list of my favorite albums that I first heard in 2008 (I say this because some of these albums predate 2008, but for me, they are 2008 albums because this is when I listened to them).

1. O.S.I. - Free

The second album from Kevin Moore (ex-Dream Theater keyboardist) and Jim Matheos (Fates Warning’s Guitarist) continues the excellence of their first album, yet they succeed in moving things forward.

Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater) returns to play the drums.

A very unique sound – they seamlessly mix electronics with symphonic prog with just a touch of metal.

2. Frost* - Milliontown

An extremely listenable symphonic progressive rock album. Melodies are the centerpiece, with progressive rock changes in time signatures. For fans of classic Genesis, a must.

Also, shades of latter-day Peter Gabriel, but more melodic.

Especially good is "The Other Me," and "Black Light Machine."

Frost* has just released a new album (Experiments in Mass Appeal), which is not nearly as impressive as this first offering.

3. Ayreon – 01011001

When you listen to one of Arjen Lucassen’s Ayreon albums, you are in for an amazing treat: It is like going to the theater and experiencing an epic science fiction movie.

He immerses you into a story with sound effects and hard-driving rock with influences from Pink Floyd, Genesis, Dream Theater, Alan Parsons, and Metallica, depending on the song you’re listening to.

And it all flows together in an amazing seamless story. Ayreon's best album remains The Human Equation, but this album is still an amazing accomplishment.

4. Genesis – Live from Cleveland

I got the actual recording of when I saw Genesis play at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.

After all these years, Genesis still “have it.” The best band of all time. It was a remarkable concert.

The mass-market live album of this tour is called Genesis Live Over Europe 2007.

5. DeeExpus Project – Half Way Home

I was introduced to this band during a break at this past summer’s 3 Rivers Progressive Rock Festival by the organizer of NEARFest. He played it on his car’s stereo for a bunch of us who were tailgating between shows.

DeeExpus Project
actually “out-porcupine-trees” Porcupine Tree with this album! (see #7 below)

"Greed" is the best song of the year. But "PTTee" (an ode to the greatness of Porcupine Tree, especially their album Deadwing, one of the best of all time) comes in a close second. Pointless Child is haunting and beautiful - with harmonies singing of a despairing relationship.

6. Coldplay – Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends

Coldplay is the best thing on the radio. Period.

This album establishes that with no doubt in my mind.

Legendary producer Brian Eno (former keyboardist for Roxy Music and producer for U2's "Joshua Tree") brought out the very best in the band.

7. Porcupine Tree – Fear of a Blank Planet

PT’s latest offering is another amazing display of Steven Wilson’s genius.

Porcupine Tree is the most popular prog band today ("Fear of a Blank Planet” debuted at #59 on the U.S. Billboard album chart), and there’s a reason for it: Excellence in writing, performance, engineering, and production. Wilson is the one of the best producers (and the band is filled with some of the best musicians) in the business.

This concept album speaks to the emptiness of suburban youth culture, very poignant and moving.

8. Simon Collins – U-Catastrophe

The son of Phil has arrived with this album.

It’s like listening to Genesis for the 21st Century. Hard-driving epic rockers and heart-felt melodies.

Guest artists include dad Phil on a wonderful drum-duet instrumental piece (“The Big Bang”) that is worth the cost of the CD in and of itself, as well as Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett on the excellent “Fast Forward the Future.”

9. Red – End of Silence

Who says Christian artists are lame?

Red’s “End of Silence” silences those critics.

This is as good as any hard rock going today, and with deeper meaning.

10. Neal Morse – Lifeline

Neal’s latest offering is vintage Morse (the former leader of Spock’s Beard, he left after the excellent album, "Snow").

The best parts are when he lets out all the stops with epic Prog songs, like “So Many Roads” which tells the story of how we have so many choices in life – either to walk with God or away from God.

The title track tells the story of Neal's life of seeking fame and fortune but God broke in and threw him a "lifeline." It's a Cliff's Notes version of the story he told on "Testimony."


The Emerging Church: Swinging the Pendulum too Far?

Is Right Practice the Antidote to Easy Belief-ism?

Michael Wittmer’s first book is one of my favorites of all time. In Heaven is a Place on Earth, Wittmer maps out a biblical worldview by combining a proper understanding of the imago Dei with the biblical story of Creation-Fall-Redemption.

His follow-up book is called Don’t Stop Believing: Why Living Like Jesus is not Enough. In it, he tries to strike a balance between conservative evangelicalism and the emerging church. His premise is that the evangelicalism of the 20th Century pressed too far one way, and that “postmodern innovators” (his term for the leaders in the emerging church movement) are overreacting by swinging the pendulum too far the other way. He states that his book is a “friendly warning” to the postmodern innovators of the emerging church. He states,

“I am thankful for their emphasis on authentic Christian living. Their vision for what the church can become is both exhilarating and challenging. My only concern, and the point I will press in this book, is that their quest to correct abuses of previous generations must not lead them to err on the opposite extreme. Perhaps our parents overemphasized right belief more than good behavior, but that must not become an excuse to teach good behavior at the expense of right belief. If we continue down this road, it may not be long until our liberal method leads to liberal conclusions. Authentic Christianity demands our head, heart, and hands. Our labor for Christ flows from our love for him, which can arise only when we know and think rightly about him. Genuine Christians never stop serving, because they never stop loving, and they never stop loving, because they never stop believing.” (pp. 19-20)

Wittmer’s book is a welcome addition to the conversation. Whereas D.A. Carson’s book Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church was poorly researched and reactionary without truly understanding the movement, Wittmer is actually conversant with the emerging church. He understands it, and thus he can authentically deal with one of the major issues for evangelicals who want to embrace the emerging church: The tension between belief and practice.

Evangelicals have placed a high emphasis on "believing in Jesus," and this “belief” has often (in a modernist world) been articulated as believing certain propositions about Jesus. According to many evangelical churches, if you can state that you believe that Jesus died for your sins and trust that he satisfied God’s wrath against those sins on the cross, you are “saved.” This is topped off with saying a “sinner’s prayer,” and an assurance that from now on, no matter what you do, you’re in… you are guaranteed your place in heaven.

The “postmodern innovators” of the emerging church have reacted to this by saying that Jesus is more interested in our actions than in what we can state to be truth. In Brian McLaren’s book The Last Word and the Word After That, the character Markus states that conservative Christians wrongly believe that “on judgment day, all God will care about is opening up our skulls and checking our brains…to see if we had the right notion of salvation by grace through faith in there somewhere.”

Wittmer states that McLaren’s answer to this incorrect understanding of faith is insufficient. Wittmer writes, “McLaren counters this extreme view by claiming that God judges people on the quality of their works rather than on what they believe.” (p. 35) Wittmer’s point: the postmodern innovators so underemphasize right belief and so overemphasize right ethics that they swing the pendulum too far the other way.

But does McLaren actually advocate “works righteousness?” No, he does not. In fact, McLaren very much advocates faith in the person of Jesus Christ. He has said, "I believe people are saved not by objective truth, but by Jesus. Their faith isn’t in their knowledge, but in God." (source) This is an excellent quote, and gets at the center of the issue.

The question that Mike Wittmer is going to have to deal with is this: Does faith in our knowledge about Jesus save us?

I believe it does not. I believe that faith in the person of Jesus is what delivers us.

But, here is where it gets very tricky: What basic facts do we need to “know” in order to place our faith in Jesus? This is what Wittmer gets into in his second chapter. Watch for my interaction with Mike Wittmer on this in an upcoming post.

Sign this Ecumenical Christian Letter to President-elect Obama

Support diplomatic efforts for a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians

I've added my signature to the following letter that is being sent to Barack Obama for his inauguration.

Ecumenical Christian Letter to President-elect Obama

Dear President-elect Obama,

As Christians of the Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox and Protestant traditions, we are united by a Biblical call to be peacemakers and a commitment to the two peoples of the Holy Land who yearn for a just peace. As Americans, we urge you, Mr. President, to make achievement of Israeli-Palestinian peace an immediate priority during your first year in office.

The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has gone on too long. It has caused untold suffering for both sides, created economic hardships, and provided a rallying cry for extremists.

As people of faith and hope, we believe peace is possible. Majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians continue to support a negotiated solution based on two secure and sovereign states as the best way to end this tragic conflict.

In order to achieve a durable peace, your Administration must provide sustained, high-level diplomatic leadership toward the clear goal of a final status agreement. Building on past discussions, we ask you to encourage Israeli and Palestinian leaders to make historic compromises necessary for peace.

Your commitment to working for the establishment of a viable Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel can help strengthen U.S. security and improve stability and relationships throughout the Middle East. We believe that Jerusalem – home to two peoples and three religions – has the potential to become a powerful symbol of hope and coexistence for people across the region and the world.

We know the work for a just peace will not be easy. It will require great courage and resolve, but the risk of inaction is even greater. Without active U.S. engagement, political inertia and perpetuation of the unbearable status quo will make achievement of a two-state solution increasingly difficult.

Moreover, we are concerned about the negative impact a further delay will have on the Christian community in the Holy Land, whose numbers continue to decline.

We call on all Christians and people of goodwill to join us in praying for the peace of Jerusalem and in supporting vigorous U.S. diplomatic efforts to secure Middle East peace. Mr. President, as you take up the many challenges facing the United States and the global community, we urge you to work for a better future for all the children of Abraham in the land that is holy to us all.

Noted signatories include
Richard Mouw
, President of Fuller Theological Seminary, David Neff, Editor in Chief of Christianity Today, Stanley Noffsinger, General Secretary for the Church of the Brethren, Bishop Gregory Vaughn Palmer, President of The Council of Bishops for The United Methodist Church, Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly for the Presbyterian Church (USA), Metropolitan PHILIP (Saliba), Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, Chris Seiple, President of the Institute for Global Engagement, Ron Sider, President of Evangelicals for Social Action, Richard Stearns, President of World Vision, Jim Wallis, President of Sojourners.

The final letter, signed by Christian leaders and congregants from across the nation, will be delivered to President Obama during the time of inauguration. The last day to add your name is January 16, 2009.

Please add your name to the Christian Call for Holy Land Peace today and join your fellow American Christians in supporting vigorous diplomatic efforts to secure a just and lasting two-state solution.


I’m Baaa - aaack!

Some of what to expect here at Vanguard Church:

More on Integrating Faith and Work

Interactions with Mike Wittmer’s new book on the Emerging Church, Don’t Stop Believing: Why Living Like Jesus is Not Enough

Interactions with Scot McKnight’s new book on biblical interpretation, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible

Check out (and maybe join!) the new network of missionally-minded people, Missional Tribe