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Written by Sam Logan Monday, 28 January 2013 00:00

This blog, and I suspect several following blogs (at least the one tomorrow), will follow my reading of a specific book and will chart my reactions to this book.

The book is the recently updated and re-published Islam, Secularism, and Liberal Democracy: Toward a Democratic Theory for Muslim Societies by Nader Hashemi (Oxford University Press, 2009, 2012).  Further details about this volume can be found here:  http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/ReligionTheology/Islam/?view=usa&ci=9780195321241

The publisher describes this book as follows:

Islam's relationship to liberal-democratic politics has emerged as one of the most pressing and contentious issues in international affairs. In Islam, Secularism, and Liberal Democracy, Nader Hashemi challenges the widely held belief among social scientists that religious politics and liberal-democratic development are structurally incompatible. This book argues for a rethinking of democratic theory so that it incorporates the variable of religion in the development of liberal democracy. In the process, it proves that an indigenous theory of Muslim secularism is not only possible, but is a necessary requirement for the advancement of liberal democracy in Muslim societies.

But this book is about far more than Islam and democracy, as important as topic as that might be in a nation which is spending billions of dollars and thousands of lives to try to bring democracy to places like Pakistan and Afghanistan. 

This book is really about the very nature of democracy and whether democracy and religion can EVER be compatible. 

This means the book is not just about how Muslim societies treat women or whether shria law is possible in a democratic society.  It is also about the basis, in a place like the United States (which claims to be a democracy), for decisions about pornography or abortion or gay marriage or divorce or appropriate care for the poor.  On what grounds are decisions about matters like this to be decided? 

Nor are these questions relevant only to Muslim societies and the United States.  To a significant degree, these questions at the very heart of the conflict in Israel and the West Bank. Can there be a democratic JEWISH society? Or is that a contradiction in terms? 

What actually is the essence of a democratic society?  That is the first question that Hashemi explores and I will seek to explicate both what he says and what that might mean.  

I therefore, like Hashemi, start with this question:

What is the exact definition of “democracy?”  I would suggest that, if you are reading this blog, you stop and go no further until you have written out your answer to this question.  I will pick up this discussion in my next blog which will be published tomorrow.

To help you as you work with this question, I provide the following quotation, which appears in the “Introduction” to Hashemi’s book and which gets at one of the key issues involved.  Here is that quotation:

Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King - indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history - were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their “personal morality” into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.  - Barack Obama


Sam Logan is Special Counsel to the President and Professor of Church History at Biblical. He also serves as the International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship (www.wrfnet.org). He is an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is President Emeritus of Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia)..  He is married to Susan and they have two sons and two grandsons. See also  http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/samuel-logan  

 

 

Written by Dan LaValla Friday, 25 January 2013 00:00

With rumors and opinions about Manti Te’o dominating sports headlines for the past several weeks, people are finding it difficult to discern the truth about the hoax and the extent Te’o was victimized. Some have found it easier to believe that the likeable and popular Notre Dame all-star linebacker and runner up to this year’s Heisman Trophy was part of the hoax as a means to gain publicity to increase his chances of winning the Heisman rather than accept that he was a victim of deception. After reporting on September 12ththat his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, died of cancer, Te’o began to learn in December that something was awry about the story. While Te’o continues to deny any part in creating the hoax, in an interview with Katie Couric on January 23rd, he admitted that he initially went along with the hoax for a short period in December rather than admit that he was severely duped nor had never met Kekua in real life and yet publicly committed himself to her.

Many are calling him naïve and questioning his integrity. In a television interview earlier this month, one of his teammates in defending Te’o’s character argued that having a girlfriend whom Manti never met in real life makes perfect sense given the demands of football and his class schedule. The question many are now grappling with as a means to forgiving Te’o’s missteps as a victim is, how far a stable person can allow a virtual relationship to go.

Sherry Turkle author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other writes (page 1), “Technology proposes itself as the architect of our intimacies. These days, it suggests substitutions that put the real on the run. Technology is seductive when what it offers meets our human vulnerabilities. And as it turns out, we are vulnerable indeed. We are lonely, but fearful of intimacy. Digital connections and the sociable robot may offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. Our networked life allows us to hide from each other, even as we are tethered to each other. We’d rather text than talk.”

I know that you can develop online relationships, even in a text-only environment. As part of the first online cohort program at the University of Pittsburg (in the days before video and Skype), I developed personal connections online with students in my cohort. People with whom I would later remain connected in real life when we met on-campus a couple months later and one weekend per semester for the next couple years.  But the broader question is that with the absence of real-life contact, “How far can virtual relationships go with respect to authenticity?” Is attending an internet church weekly as fulfilling as attending a church in real life? Does God see people coming together in worship online equal to coming together in real life? Can the members of an online church actually hold one another accountable in a virtual-only environment or do the limitations of virtual relationships preclude this? Can training future pastors and counselors, where interpersonal and spiritual maturity is essential for success, be done as effectively in an online only program as an in-person or hybrid program?

 

Dan LaValla is Director of Library Services and Development Associate at Biblical. He is Chair of the Endowment Committee for the American Theological Library Association and is very active in his church and community, coaching youth baseball and football and has served on several community boards. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/daniel-lavalla

   

Written by Phil Monroe Wednesday, 23 January 2013 00:00

Last summer Biblical Seminary offered a 2 day intensive course/seminar on the topic of abuse in Christian settings. We examined legal, biblical, and counseling perspectives on this difficult topic. Now, you can have access to the plenary presentations made by myself and Boz Tchividjian (a former child abuse prosecutor and now director of GRACE and professor of law at Liberty University Law School).

Click here to purchase the DVDs from Vision Video.

The four plenaries (over 5 hours of teaching) cover:

  • Theological and legal reasons to be proactive to abuse allegations
  • Common offender strategies (and how to prevent them)
  • Ministry and counseling responses to abuse victims and offenders
  • Strategies for abuse prevention and response policies so as to minimize risk

In previous posts on this topic, I have pointed out that the best policies fail if the congregation and her leaders do not have regular opportunities to discuss these topics. We cannot assume that we will stay alert over time. If I may be shamelessly self-promotional, I think these videos will provide an excellent conversation starter for small group leaders, elders, deacons or even Sunday School classes.

For previous blogs here on the topic of abuse in the church, see:

Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychologyand Director of the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical. He also directs Biblical’s new trauma recovery project. You can find his personal blog at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.com.

   

Written by Susan Disston Tuesday, 22 January 2013 00:00

Last year IVP released a series of short books designed to equip the church for effective missional ministry. The third book in the series, Partnering with the Global Church (2012), equips readers with seven ways to be a global partner in Christian mission. The authors, Nikki Toyama-Szeto and Femi Adeleye, apply their years of experience as partners in various Christian ministries in the Global South and Global North to their understanding of how to develop and sustain global partnerships. They address persistent problems in global partnership such as power, money, communication style, cultural differences, trust, and unexamined assumptions. They whole-heartedly believe that, in spite of the challenges, “global partnerships fills out and expands our picture of God” (p. 16).

Toyama-Szeto and Adeleye state that the starting point for partnerships is getting to know each other, appreciating what the other has to offer, and establishing interdependency characterized by equality and the humility of Jesus (Phil. 2). Partnering involves listening, identifying resources, learning about each others’ values, and practicing the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fellowship, and worship.

Toyama-Szeto and Adeleye point out seven ways to be a global partner. They call these ways “partnership practices.” The purpose of the practices is to cultivate the heart, mind, and behaviors that default at partnership, rather than self-sufficiency. They remind Christians that “we need to work as members of a whole body, rather than as individual specialized parts. ‘The eye cannot say to the hand, I don’t need you!’” (I Cor. 12:21). (p. 16)

Their seven partnership practices are:

  • Practice listening and learning.
  • Practice interdependency.
  • Practice assuming God is already at work.
  • Practice giving and receiving from others.
  • Practice identification with others in their world and realities.
  • Practice paying attention to the effects of power on communication, decision and resources.
  • Cultivate the practices of being a partner in yourself, your group, your organization before entering into a partnership. (p. 21)

Toyama-Szeto and Adeleye describe these practices through examples of what they look like in real life ministry situations. They compelling demonstrate how indispensible they are for authentic, transparent, and effective ministry in global ministry.

The book is written for Western Christians, who, unlike much of the rest of the world, consider partnership with others an option. In its pages readers are challenged with critically important insights that will help them to develop self-awareness and other awareness as they prepare for global ministry.  Their message is clear: we’re not prepared for global ministry unless we start practicing it with a teachable spirit every day.

You can get your own copy of Partnering with the Global Church is available at IVP in eBook and in print.

http://www.ivpress.com/cgi-ivpress/book.pl/code=3460


Susan Disston is assistant dean of curriculum and assessment at Biblical Seminary. http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/adjunct-faculty-theology

   

Written by Phil Monroe Monday, 21 January 2013 00:00

Maybe Christian counselors shouldn’t use the bible when they promote their counseling theory. Maybe they should just articulate their theory and leave the bible verses out.

Sound radical? An overreaction? Guilty as charged. But…consider with me that some of our most popular Christian models may be built on rather flimsy biblical data.

Some (simplistic) background thoughts

All Christian counselors recognize that the bible plays a unique role in counseling theory. Otherwise, they would just be “counselors.” But not all use the bible in the same way. Some view the bible as the primary (even sole) guide or resource for understanding human nature and recovery from every sort of relational and/or emotional struggle. These counselors would likely cite 2 Tim 3:15-16 as evidence that Scripture provides primary directives in our fight against sin and guide to suffering well. Others view the bible as a helpful foundation designed to remind us who God is, who we are, and a resource for comfort, encouragement, and rebuke. But, these counselors might also look to other resources as well—psychological research, physiology, medicine, communication theory, etc. They would not dismiss the value of the bible but would argue that God does not intend to make the bible the only answer guide for all the questions we might have. Thus, sources of human knowledge are important to the work of good Christian counseling. Now within this second camp, counselors vary widely as to how important either Scripture or human sources of knowledge function in their given practice. Some seem to emphasize (or neglect) one source more than the other.

The problem…

No matter where a counselor falls on the above continuum, it is far too easy to use the bible to baptize a particular viewpoint or theory. At one Christian counseling conference I heard a plenary speaker say something like this (not a quote but pretty near exact):

Men need respect. It is their airhose. Women need love. It is their airhose.

Along with this statement, the speaker bolstered points with personal stories and biblical passages indicating the women should be loved and men treated as having authority (submitted to). Here the speaker used bible passages to indicate that men are designed to operate optimally when respected and women designed to operate optimally when loved.

Is this true? It could be. I certainly think that this SEEMS to be true for most men and women. But, and this is the BIG BUT…does Scripture indeed teach this? Does Paul teach us that these are our basic needs in order to function well?

Close but way off

Love and respect cannot be our “airhose.” Habakkuk 3:16f would suggest that when everything has been taken away, it is possible to have joy in all things. Notice that Ephesians 5 is about what each are commanded to do…not about what each of us needs to receive. Christ is our “airhose” and nothing else. This speaker might be better served just teaching us about what actions tend to make for better marriages than to indicate that the Scriptures teach us we have these two needs.

So, the next time you pick up a cool book by a Christian counselor. Check out how they use the bible. As a support for a good theory (e.g., this verse teaches us…)? Or, as a source for understanding the problem of evil and the nature of our God who leads, guides, and saves us?

If you are interested in this topic, let me give you a couple of resources.

  • October 2011 print issue of Christianity Today covers the general misuse of the bible. It is not just counselors who do this. They list the example of a book with anti-aging techniques supposedly gleaned from the bible.
  • 2 chapters in Care for the Soul:Exploring the Intersection of Psychology & Theology (IVP, 2001). Chapters 12 and 13 both cover the issue of hermeneutics. Richard Schultz addresses how counselors misuse wisdom literature and chapter 13 (myself and my colleague Bryan Maier) give more general recommendations for good hermeneutic work.


[A version of this post was previously published at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.comin 2011.] Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling and Psychologyand directs both the Masters of Arts in Counseling program and the newly formed Global Trauma Recovery Institute

   

Written by Todd Mangum Friday, 18 January 2013 00:00

I made a presentation to the Christianity and Culture Study Group at the Evangelical Theological Society Conference on the topic of general revelation and Reformed theology; my title was, “Reformed Theology is Right about Romans 1 . . . well, except. . . .” I’m working on getting the piece published, so I won’t post the whole paper here.  I will give you some excerpts as a “teaser,” though — and would welcome any conversation or engagement. I’m even willing to send you a copy of the full paper if you ask for it — just email me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Fair enough?

Here are the basic points of my thesis:

  1. Romans 1 does reveal that the wrath of God is revealed against faithless humanity who “suppress the truth in unrighteousness”; the “truth” revealed in view here is (commonly and rightly agreed to be) what theologians have called “general revelation” — creation and conscience. 
     
  2. This fact should be read as point of lament, even frustration, though — not as a point of a satisfied plan on God’s part that he orchestrated. 
     
  3. General revelation may be genuinely revelatory; and “common grace” may in fact be genuinely gracious; what is called “general revelation” may be a gracious provision to humanity on God’s part, genuinely designed to reach them (not just damn them or add to their culpability). 
     
  4. Traditional Reformed theology has rightly teased out implications of Romans insofar as concerns human depravity. However, Reformed theology may have neglected the gracious intentions of God toward undeserving, depraved humanity “in general,” and have not thought enough about what could happen if the potency of “general revelation” were combined with the eye-opening, mind-opening, and heart-opening supernatural work of the Spirit. 
     
  5. Romans 10’s “How can they hear without a preacher,” and “faith comes by hearing,” is followed by “But have they not heard?  Indeed they have — in fact, the voice/sound has gone out to all the earth and their words to the end of the world.” This is a quotation of Psalm 19’s description of “general revelation” . . .   Hmmm.  What are we to make of that?  (Evangelicals, Reformed interpreters particularly, have not made enough of it; their consideration typically stops at v. 17, and that’s a mistake.)

What on earth does this have to do with the conference theme, “Caring for Creation”?   Here’s how my paper ends:

“If Creation still serves as a divinely designed “lighthouse,” then we can, with Paul, genuinely lament and be appalled at the needless carnage left by foolish captains whose ships are now wrecked on the shoals and jagged rocks inevitably run into just beyond what the lighthouse constantly, faithfully warns against. But we — we maintain the lighthouse, even knowing the discouragingly vast number of ships still that will wind up as wreckage on the hazards that lie just past its beaming lights.  We continue to care for Creation, not because we know how many will heed its beacon, but in part because we hope some may; and because we know our God is sending forth its voice into all the earth, its words to the end of the world for a reason.”

So, what do you think?  Anything here pique your interest?


Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical.  He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.

   

Written by Todd Mangum Wednesday, 16 January 2013 00:00

Every once in a while, evangelicals are blessed with good timing. Just one week after Superstorm Sandy pummeled the northeast coast, the Evangelical Theological Society hosted its annual meeting; this year’s theme: “Caring for Creation.”  I’d say the spectrum of views presented there was pretty good indication of where conservative evangelicals are generally on “environmental issues.”

On one end of the spectrum was Wayne Grudem, who gave a presentation entitled, “The Global Warming Hoax Makes You Pay More for Everything and Threatens Your Freedom: A Biblical Response to Global Warming Claims.” On the other end of the spectrum was plenary speaker Richard Bauckham of St. Andrew’s University. The “middle position” — of the Evangelical Theological Society we’re talking about — was plenary speaker Calvin Beisner of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, who suggested that conscientious environment conservation is called for, but climate change claims are typically overblown, based on dubious science, and are often politically motivated.

A couple of observations are in order about all this:

The “middle/moderate position” of the Evangelical Theological Society would be considered an extreme “far-right position” in the general discussion in American society at large.  It is hard to say anything that tries to “characterize the conversation” that does not engage in sweeping generalizations. But the fact is telling that one of the Cornwall Institute’s most popular instructive videos is entitled, “Resisting the Green Dragon,” which itself forwards the thesis that most “environmental activism” is nothing more than “propaganda” and that such has infiltrated most all of our public schools, public policy discussions, and major media outlets. This suggests that the Cornwall Institute itself recognizes itself as a minority position in the discussion.

What is to be made of the fact that no scientists were invited to address the issues at a conference on “caring for creation”?  It is the Evangelical THEOLOGICAL Society, so not too much should be made of it. The speakers all spoke from a biblical and theological standpoint, and that’s to be expected. But they also all made reference to “scientific data.”  And several of the speakers noted that having some scientists weigh in would have been profitable — but of course the elephant in the room was that the scientific discussion has itself been politicized (echoing the debate over evolution and creation?). New Testament scholar, Douglas Moo, in the final panel discussion openly asserted that had the most credible, most commonly accepted scientific data been brought to bear on the discussion or simply accepted (which he recommended), the discussion would have shifted away from any assumption that climate change phenomena are simply a hoax to be dismissed. 

I am not a scientist, either; and I believe Moo’s point is well-taken.  It does not bode well for evangelicals to grow accustomed to just ignoring science or scientific evidence, or to foster the anti-intellectualism that was a by-product of the modernist-fundamentalist debates of the early-twentieth century.  Not to over-read the absence of scientific representation at the ETS Conference, but a couple of us did walk away with some questions and concerns about this. . . .

There are points of common ground surfaced that perhaps we all can agree on.  Even though the ETS handling of “environmental issues” may have been less than perfect — secular environmental organizations would surely have been completely unimpressed — several points of consensus did emerge even there.

     1.  Caring for the environment and not abusing the earth’s resources are part of the stewardship God continues to expect and require from us. 

     2.  The fact that the U.S. constitutes only 5% of the world’s population but consumes 20% of the earth’s resources used annually is not good; greater conservation measures are certainly called for.

      3.  Storms and natural disasters may or may not be a judgment from God. Not much of a point, much less a point of “consensus” is it? 

Anyway, it was commonly noticed that New Orleans makes an easy target for pretty simple-minded, “See there — God zapped them for their sin” suppositions, but we tend to be less quick to do so when the people whose houses are destroyed are police officers and firefighters, or when the people without power for a week are our friends and neighbors. We should probably be less quick in general to say anything that sounds like “rejoicing in destruction.”

In addition, point #2, above, does — or should — get us to thinking more seriously about all of this.  It is doubtless reductionist to suggest that consumers driving hummers caused Hurricane Katrina. On the other hand, it is not so silly to suppose that materialism and consumptionism have a negative effect on the environment that may bring nasty natural side effects. Also to be considered: God may be displeased as well. Trifling with Mother Nature is unwise — and that’s enough to motivate secular environmentalists into action.  Shouldn’t we as Christians be at least as concerned about not displeasing God with our treatment of His Creation?

That last point is one made by Christopher Wright in his lecture here at Biblical Seminary the week before. Part of the “mission” of a missional approach is intelligent environmental concern and caring for creation, he said.  Do you agree?  

What this entails exactly and to what extent is a topic worthy of fuller consideration.  What do you think?


Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical.  He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.

   

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