Thursday, July 28, 2005

Going On Vacation

We'll be on vacation for the next two weeks-- though I will try to post if I can get the opportunity. Take care! Alex

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Christian Manifestos and Evangelical Co-Belligerence

I recently posted links to two articles, one, a 1982 address titled A Christian Manifesto by the late Presbyterian minister and author Francis Schaeffer, based on his well-known book of the same name, and the other, a more recent manifesto by Christian philosophy professor/author Doug Groothuis, titled Christian Apologetics Manifesto: 17 Theses, which outlines how apologetics ought to be pursued by Christians. I posted these because together they are a galvanizing call to action to the Christian community. Both authors say that Scripture compels Christians to act; Schaeffer also argues that bringing a historical perspective to the times we are living in is critical to understanding what we face and how to respond accordingly. I think that in calling Christians to action both rightly follow the mandate of Jesus Christ that we are to function as "salt and light" to the world (Matthew 5: 13-16). Nevertheless their manifestos need to be evaluated carefully in the light of Scripture, to see if all their conclusions and recommendations are indeed biblically accurate.

Then last week, I came across Steve Camp's excellent blog CampOnThis, and also his website AudienceOne, and was challenged by many of his articles to more deeply consider my own position and thinking on a central question brought out by these manifestos: what is the biblical mandate given to Christians for engaging the world and culture? Steve Camp's websites post a number of articles that warn of the The Dangers of Evangelical Cobelligerence.

What is evangelical co-belligerence? Co-belligerence is a term that describes when individuals or groups band together to wage war against a common enemy. Each member of such an alliance is a co-belligerent. Co-belligerents may not share the same beliefs and may not ordinarily have a close and "friendly" association with each other, but they band together on the basis of shared points of agreement and their goal to defeat a common enemy. Thus, evangelical co-belligerence describes when evangelical Christians get together with people of various denominations (or even unbelievers), to pool resources, intelligence and energies as they fight for the betterment of society on a number of different causes (abortion, prayer in schools, defending traditional marriage, who gets on the Supreme Court, etc).

The articles by Mr. Camp have challenged me to re-examine Scripture to determine Christian strategy for reaching our world. I believe that Schaeffer was right when he said that evangelical silence during the latter half of the twentieth century was culpable for allowing a humanistic system of thought to infiltrate and become dominate in our educational system, the media, the law and other aspects of society. Thus Schaeffer's manifesto calls for Christians to make their voice known, and to fight for the Christian worldview, through "every appropriate legal and political governmental means". The article by Groothuis states "the fundamental issue for apologetics is not how many apologists one has read, or what apologetic method one embraces (although that must be worked out). Rather, the fundamental issue is whether or not one has a passion for God’s truth—reasonably pursued and courageously communicated—and a passion for the lost because of the love of God resident in one’s life." His emphasis on being motivated by the passion for the lost that derives from God's love expressed in and through us is excellent. But is it true that the apologetic method we embrace is not also fundamentally important? It is clear that Jesus does want us to affect our society for the good, but the question of what are appropriate means for doing so has been frequently debated.

Well-known Christian evangelicals such as Al Mohler (see his article in Touchstone), Chuck Colson, James Dobson and others have followed the co-belligerance model, forging alliances with those who have the same attitude towards problems like abortion or protecting marriage, and using a campaign that seems dominated by political strategies to attack these problems.

Camp makes a powerful and, I think, biblically sound plea, that the focus of Christian activism must not become politics, legislation, and forging alliances based on the cause at hand. Camp points out how Paul's strategy to reach the extremely morally corrupt city of Corinth did not involve using political means, but focused rather upon preaching Christ forcefully and boldly, and making sure that the church was becoming mature as it repented from worldliness.

He says, "If in that sinful city, which is seldom if ever rivaled in our day, the Apostle would not stoop to co-belligerent moral political tactics, then by what justification do the Evangelical Co-Belligerents of today function and strive? Paul never 'focused on political moral intervention'; he focused on the Lord, he focused on the faith, he focused on the gospel, he focused on the church, he focused on the cross, he focused on repentance; he focused on the Word, and he focused on the ministry ".

I have talked elsewhere of how I think Billy Graham's compromises with doctrinal purity came about through his alliance with Roman Catholic and liberal churches in his ministry, and has seemed to lead him down a path of doctrinal murkiness even in his own thinking (as evidenced by recent interviews). The co-belligerence principle seemed to have been applied in his ministry. Graham's goal to reach as many as possible with the gospel, led him to take the pragmatic approach that he could get more workers on his team by working with churches that-- in the early stages of his ministry-- he seems to have recognized as doctrinally deficient. Nevertheless it seems that for him, the "ends justified the means", and it was more important to build a consensus of like-minded believers working to achieve the same goal (evangelism and getting people back to church) than to contend for sound doctrine.

But God does not work that way. When we work for Him, we are to use His means and methods, because these must be suited to His purposes, if His goal is to be the one we accomplish (1 Peter 4: 11, 1 Cor 3: 11-13). I have not yet worked out all of these issues in my own mind, but I believe that Mr. Camp is on the right track. I am thankful for his humbly stated reminder that we ought to function as "Bereans" as we examine these issues: "When it comes to matters of faith--matters of eternity, ... believers in the Lord Jesus Christ should.. examine, investigate, research, and study the claims of anyone who sets themselves up as a teacher of God's Word by word or song (including yours truly too) when they say they speak for God and represent His truth and gospel".

And we would do well to remember the words of the Apostle Paul:

"For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1: 22-24)",

"And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Cor 2: 1-5)".

And to remember, most of all, the words of our Lord:

And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." Matthew 28: 18-20

Since our primary commission is make disciples, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach others to observe everything that Jesus has commanded, Mr. Camp is on the right track when he says that our focus in trying to affect the world should not be shifted over to political strategems. Lives truly changed by the power of God working in the lives of fully submitted believers is the best and most powerful testimony the world can experience. Such believers truly can turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6), just as the early church did.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Christian Apologetics Manifesto-17 Theses by Doug Groothuis

New blogger Doug Groothuis, a philosophy professor and author, has posted a fine article (click title link above), on his site Culture Watch: Thoughts of a Constructive Curmudgeon. I believe his thoughts/directives concerning how we should conduct ourselves as Christian apologists is a good complement to the Francis Schaeffer's 1982 address The Christian Manifesto that I recently posted.

I am pleased to continue to find all of these great resources for Christians which can help and challenge us as we mature in the faith, as well as become better ambassadors.

What I am challenged by personally is the thought that we must be intellectually prepared to provide a defense of the faith as reasonable, and at the same time, we should be spurred on by our passion for the lost.

I have to admit that the passion has been lacking sometimes, perhaps because I am not following through on actually sharing with "live" people, but getting too bogged down with working out all the arguments. Peter and the other disciples were unschooled men, yet the Spirit of wisdom was working inside them, enabling them to confound even educated religious leaders. Praise God!

On the other hand, I do view my blog as a tool of apologetics and I have been working quite hard on it. And since I enjoy writing, it is a good and natural way for me to make a contribution to the marketplace of ideas. Yet I ought to do both-- take it to the streets-- and -- blog it!

P.S. Check out the Apologetics and Culture section-- I have added a number of new links to excellent apologetic resources.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

A Christian Manifesto by Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer

Click this link to read a fantastic speech by the late Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer, a wonderful Reformed theologian and scholar. The speech was given in 1982 at the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It is based on one of his books, which bears the same title.

It is a prophetic speech: looking at the current state of our country and of the Supreme Court, one might think that it was presented just last week, given how timely and relevant to today are its themes.

In light of the battle we may face in the immediate future to confirm President Bush's nominee to the Supreme Court, this speech reminds us of how critically important the stakes are, and helps us to reflect on the fundamental principles involved in the Christian's challenge to honor God in all spheres of life.

The Battle for the Supreme Court: Why It Matters

July 21, 2005
President Bush yesterday evening nominated conservative Judge John Roberts Jr. to the Supreme Court. Although I don't yet know much about the man, from the reports I've read thus far, he appears to be the kind of nominee that Bush has previously promised: conservative, and a strict interpreter of the law according to the Constitution (i.e, a constructionist). Christians should pray that he indeed is such a man, and if he is, for his speedy confirmation.

Why is the battle over who becomes the next Supreme Court justice so critical? The Supreme Court has gained such power and authority in the nation's affairs that its decisions impact the lives of all Americans far into the future, just as its past decisions are still affecting us up to the present moment.

Coincidentally, the Canadian Supreme Court yesterday signed into law legislation legalizing gay marriage, making Canada the fourth country in the world to make gay marriage legal (Netherlands, Belgium and Spain are the others). Such a decision could happen here too, especially if the balance of the US Supreme Court were to shift leftward. Theoretically and ideally, the decisions of the Supreme Court are not supposed to legislate new laws into being, but rather to interpret the law according to the Constitution, and according to legal precedent. But the current Supreme Court, despite the fact that many of its appointments came from the conservative Reagan and Bush administrations (O'Connor, Kennedy and Souter), has been unpredictable in its rulings. In many cases, it has demonstrated a willingness to set new precedents and to create new laws, inventing so-called "rights" not found in the Constitution.

It is for this reason that conservative Christians have called on President Bush to nominate to the Highest Court strict constructionists, who hopefully will join the more conservative justices (Scalia, Renquist and Thomas) in making rulings that reflect this approach. With the selection of Judge John Roberts Jr., it seems that President Bush has made good on earlier promises to deliver such a nominee. "Republicans believe Roberts is more conservative than O'Connor, the first female justice. They would prefer to have him voting on close cases than O'Connor, who has been the swing vote in several 5-4 decisions"*.

And of course Christians desire that not only will such a Court's decisions be less activist, but also more a reflection of Christian values.

*(this quote taken from a July 21, 2005 Washington Post story by Peter Baker and Charles Babington).

The Deepening Consitutional Crisis (collection of articles related to the Supreme Court)

President Bush Nominates Judge John G. Roberts for Supreme Court

Utilizing The Power of the Internet

Last month, I wrote about how you can Grow Your Christian Life Via the Web. I probably used the wrong term in my title, "Web", because according the official definitions, the Web (short for World Wide Web- www) refers to a service that operates over the Internet. So really the Web is a subset of the Internet, which is the "publicly accessible worldwide system of interconnected computer networks" that provide all the great free resources that I talked about in that article. The "Internet" would have been the more accurate term to use in my title, although many people, use the terms Web and Internet synonymously.

Whether you call it "Web" or "Internet", the vast resources we are privileged enough to tap into (if fortunate enough to have access to a computer with Internet access) is truly staggering. It's amazing to realize too, that the Internet is such a young phenomenon, having only become what it now is, a free public global network, during the 1990's!

As mentioned in the previous article, I have hoped to make this blog into a valuable resource for visitors by highlighting and organizing links through which you can utilize some of those vast resources. I have continued to add link items. For example, I have now created two new sections. "Public Policy Organizations" provides links to several organizations at the forefront of the task of shaping public policy, in terms of Christian values and ideals. "News from a Christian Perspective" provides links to organizations that report on the news through a Christian lens, and which highlight issues and areas that secular news organizations may neglect.

With President Bush's announcement last night of John Roberts as his nominee for the Supreme Court position that Sandra Day O'Connor vacates through retirement, it is so important that believers continue praying and staying informed about the current issues shaping the future of America. The links I have provided are some of the sites I have found helpful in this important task. Again, I welcome your suggestions of other good resources.

Of course, bloggers have also revealed themselves to be an influential force, because the rapid dissemination of information made possible by the Internet makes it possible for bloggers to quickly respond, and in effect, can become a collective voice. Such blogging can help to keep news organizations accountable. Additionally those in the Christian blogosphere have a wonderful opportunity to influence cultures with Christian truth, by engaging the marketplace of ideas. Let us utilize this power for good, remembering at all times to pray.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

New Blogger In The Big Apple

There's a new blogger in town and he's a City Pastor With Attitude. He's also my brother Daniel Jordan, an actor-turned-pastor and a pretty cool dude. Terrific family too...

We've been having "blog talks" for a while and I think I was an influence on him to start his own blog. Since he'd already been doing various series of teachings for his church, Living Hope NY (based in Manhattan), his blog launches with quite a backlog of material.

Daniel is a dynamic preacher whose excitement is infectious. During his preaching he's been known to jump up and down and even sweat, but his sermons don't appeal only to the emotions-- they're well-thought out, simply spoken and very applicational. His desire is to make an impact on NYC, and one of the means he uses to this end, in addtion to planting churches, is a "Prayer Table" ministry. That is, he sets up a table in some busy section of the city, puts up a sign saying "Free Prayer", and prays for people who stop by, sharing the gospel with them as well. Others often work with him in this venture (I've done it a few times myself); thus the prayer table ministry has become a training ground for Christians who want to get a taste of street ministry in an urban environment.

People are grateful to have someone who cares enough to pray with them about their concerns, so very often they are open to hearing about Jesus as well. Some folks that Daniel has prayed for have ended up at his church. Daniel knows the value of street ministry that opens the door for God to change people's lives-- he himself came to the Lord after a woman witnessed to him once day on the street...

Some of the best Christian blogs are being written by blogging pastors--so I urge you to visit his site as he develops his blog! Today for example he's posted an excellent article on secular music which stresses that liberty must co-exist with discernment in a believer's life, enabling us to make wise, God-honoring choices about music and other arts yet without imposing our judgments about these things upon others. It's a post I certainly relate to, being a songwriter who has been inspired more by secular artists than Christian.

Top 10 Ways To Know That You're Proud As a Devil

10. Coming home from that great sermon on pride, you race down the highway, cutting people off and blessing them with "the bird".

9. The church you attend has a lot of healthy, wealthy, good-looking folks like yourself, and of course, it's the best church anywhere!

8. You're a fantastic conversationalist, with three well-developed themes: "Me, Myself and I."

7. The last time you gave someone a complement you said, "Well, thanks. You're not so bad yourself"... that was back in 1967 (you were in first grade).

6. No one preaches a better sermon on humility than you. No one!

5. As it turns out, you're always right-- it just comes naturally (well, there were a few times that you seemed to be wrong but actually there were mitigating circumstances, and ...

4. You act humble approximately half the time-- so people won't know you're proud.

3. Demons think you're swell and look forward to hanging out with you...for a very long time.

2. Satan has a nickname for you: "My Big-headed Dupe".

1. When a fellow Christian tells you I'm going to "seek the Lord" about a decision, you say, "OK, my son (or daughter), I'm listening".

A Soft Gospel of Love?

Parableman has an interesting discussion happening, related to a post by Abednego called Is God Primarily Love? (Part II) The good news

Abednego's post comments on an article by D. A. Carson titled On Distorting the Love of God, which speaks of the distortions that can happen when one aspect of God's character is emphasized out-of-balance with his other attributes. For example, there is much preaching today that emphasizes God's love, without at the same time emphasizing his holiness of character, which leads to a distortion of the meaning of God as love.

I have become actively engaged in the discussion, bringing up the point that I believe that Billy Graham's message provides an example of preaching that has been affected by the type of distortion described in Carson's article.

By the way, I do believe that God is primarily love, but His is a love that is not sentimental or fickle or limited or tainted by evil such as human love is, but is pure and holy, and is the most powerful force in the universe.

Here is the text of one of the comments I posted there:

I don’t think that the teaching of purgatory as a doctrine is irrelevant to the issue of hell if it leads some to believe that they can count on something other placing their faith in Jesus--in this life-- to be saved, and it leads them not to do so, to their eternal doom. The gospel teaches that Jesus Christ died for our sins, once for all (Romans 6:10, Hebrews 7:27, 9:12, 9:26, 10:10, 1 Peter 3:18) and that as a result of Jesus’ sacrifice, our “sins and lawless deeds I (God) will remember no more." We die once, and then we face God’s judgment (Hebrews 9:27). Purgatory seems to say that the cleansing of our sins provided by Jesus is not enough, that we need further cleansing from sins after we die. I can’t find such a teaching in the Bible.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul warned that if they began to follow those that teach that we must be circumcised in order to be good Christians, that they would fall away from grace by bringing themselves under law again, and would be following a different, false gospel:

“ I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! Galatians 2:21".

A different gospel, Paul seems to be saying, is one that detracts from the sufficiency of Christ’s work on the Cross. The circumstances which prompted Paul to write the letter, was the issue of circumcision. Purgatory similarly detracts from the sufficiency of the work of the Cross by saying that, somehow, we must be cleansed from sins after death--Jesus' cleansing was insufficient. This seems to be another gospel.

Paul does speak of our works being judged (1 Cor 3: 10-15), but as for our justification before God and our salvation from sin, Paul unequivocally states that it is by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph 2: 8-9)”.

“What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’. Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.’(Romans 4: 1-8)".

Jesus said to the thief, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43). John Piper comments on this passage: “Here is a dying man declaring a life-long thief accepted and loved and heaven-bound. Here is a grace that sweeps a lifetime of guilt away in an instant. Here is a power that says death can hold neither you nor me. Here is an authority that decides who goes to heaven and who doesn't. Here is an immediacy that says it will happen this very day. No purgatory, no testing, no penance. Just absolute forgiveness and acquittal and cleansing and acceptance.”

Even if purgatory is simply a place where people become fully purified so that they can go to heaven, I believe that the whole concept is misleading (because it could give the impression that one has a second chance at getting to heaven though they reject Christ) and unbiblical (because it is not found in Scripture but is only part of Catholic tradition).

If the co-redemptrix issue is merely an acknowledgment that Mary played a role in some necessary aspects of Jesus’ mission, surely all Christians would agree to this. But Catholic teaching seems to imply much more than this about Mary. Why was there a worldwide movement to lobby the Pope to officially pronounce Mary as co-redemptrix? Why is it claimed that Mary was immaculately conceived and that she remained a perpetual virgin? Why is she prayed to, and why is it said that she can intercede for us? It is clear that Catholic teaching elevates Mary to a place where she is no longer a mere human being that served God humbly, but is some kind of exalted Lady. Where are any of these teachings found in the Bible?

Paul exhorted Timothy to “watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”(1 Timothy 4:16) He told Titus that an elder of the church “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”(Titus 1:9)

These verses say that not only must we persevere in proclaiming the truth through right doctrine and a right life, we must also be able to refute that which is not truth, doctrine which is not sound. As a world-renowned and respected evangelist- one to whom many have looked to for answers to the most critically important questions of life, Mr. Graham should be able to give sound doctrinal answers. You say that “he proclaims the truth and that he says that those that disagree are wrong”. Does he? In the aforementioned interview with Larry King he did not say that either Jews or Muslims were wrong, only that he does not judge them. His ministry also neglects to highlight vital doctrinal distinctions between Catholic and Protestant teaching, apparently because he does not see them as important and/or sees the differences as minimal. It has been official BGEA policy for years that “anyone who makes a decision at our meetings is seen later and referred to a local clergyman, Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish."

He seems to do so on the basis of the “God is Primarily Love” approach, playing down the importance of doctrinal distinctions in the name of loving our Catholic brothers and sisters. Perhaps he also believes that Jewish people may become Christians without Christ, or that if you send a new Christian to a synagogue, somehow he won’t lose his faith and everything will turn out ok, just so long as everyone loves one another?

Abednego: most perversions of the gospel have just enough truth in them to make them sound right, which is why I believe it is biblical to fight against distortions, whether they come through addition or by leaving certain critical things out.

My apologies to all for the very long post-- I thought however that the issues I brought out in response to Parableman were also still related (at least in my thinking) to Abednego's original post. I am happy to discontinue the discussion here and renew it elsewhere, if you feel that is more appropriate.



Friday, July 15, 2005

A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity by R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

I came across today another terrific article by a man who is fast becoming one of my favorite essayists-- R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. The article is over at The Christian Post, and is titled, "A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity".

Dr. Mohler says that "God's truth is to be defended at every point and in every detail, but responsible Christians must determine which issues deserve first-rank attention in a time of theological crisis."

The article goes on to present an analogy of defending Christian truth by "theological triage", that is, determining which are the issues that require the most urgent and immediate attention, and giving such truths first priority. "A discipline of theological triage would require Christians to determine a scale of theological urgency that would correspond to the medical world's framework for medical priority", he says.

Dr. Mohler includes among the "first-level theological issues" those doctrines "most central and essential to the Christian faith". Among these are "doctrines such as the Trinity, the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, justification by faith, and the authority of Scripture."

Second-level issues, Mohler points out, are those upon which Christians may strongly differ, often forcing them to separate into different denominations. These issues are not the fundamentals of the faith however, and Christians may have honest, though strong disagreements over them. Mohler mentions the practice of infant baptism, or the ordination of women as second-level issues. I think that issues such as "speaking in tongues", or differences over the definition and practice of the "Baptism in the Holy Spirit", might also be placed in this category.

Dr. Mohler continued by defining third-level doctrinal issues as those over which Christians have differences, yet are still able to continue fellowshipping together within one church or denomination. He spoke of people holding various views of eschatology as an example of the kind of third-level issue that might be present within a congregation.

Dr. Mohler's analysis of the errors present in the extremes of fundamentalism vs. liberalism is incisive. While liberalism tends to treat first-order issues, such as the authority of Scripture, as if they are third-level in importance, fundamentalism treats all disagreements as if they have a first-level significance.

Dr. Mohler's article is a clarion call to the Christian community. In a time when truth itself is under attack, we must band together to defend the vital, core truths of Christianity, and not get sidelined bickering over non-fundamental truths. But as he points out, in order to do this, we must be able to determine, as mature believers, which are those fundamental core truths.

This strong defense of the fundamental truths of the faith that Dr. Mohler exhorts us to practice is what I was lamenting as missing from the Billy Graham ministry (see my recent post on his visit to NYC). If one of the fundamental truths of the faith is that we are justified by faith in Jesus alone, as Graham preaches, then to be consistent with that word, the BGEA ought to send those who have made decisions for Christ only to churches that believe, practice and defend that doctrine. But sadly, it seems that it does not do this.

Some questions for discussion

Do you agree with Dr. Mohler's view that we should be defending the fundamentals of the faith? And would you agree with his list of the essentials; if not, which do you think are the essential Christian doctrines that need to be defended? Is it possible for Christians of various stripes to come to a consensus on what the "fundamentals" are, so that we can join forces in their defense?

What's Up With Haloscan?

Well I am finally beginning to receive more comments here and there and I'm quite excited about it, because it was my vision from the start that this should be an "interactive" site. Of course, in my naivete, I didn't relaize what a grand ambition that can be for a new blogger.

But what is up with haloscan? I use it as the free comments/trackback feature on my site (since it is compatible with type blogs).

I see the comments people have posted appearing and then suddenly vanishing throughout the day. Very frustrating. I'm thinking of going to an alternative system, or perhaps, just reverting to the comments system already provides (sans trackback).

Has anyone else been experiencing these problems with haloscan? Am I the only one?? (it's all a conspiracy to keep poor little blogger man down... the FBI is probably tapping my phone too, 'cause I wrote some posts mentioning John Lennon)...

P.S. Because of the problems with haloscan, if anyone is having trouble leaving a comment, please send it to me by email instead!

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Blogging Is Cool

I came across this very interesting piece on the practice of Christian blogging by blogging veteran Challies.Com, who in turn, was responding to an article with this great title: "Lessons of a Recovering Statistics-Addicted Influence Seeker", posted by Joe over at Evangelical Outpost (another venerable blog). And I didn't realize it at first, but Joe's post was also referring to another blogger, David Bayly, whose post Numbers and Blogging... was the one that started the conversation in the first place (well, that's how these blog conversations tend to go, isn't it?)

Not too long ago, I wrote Why Blog/The Faithful Blogger as a personal exploration of my motives/vision for blogging. Since then blogging has been increasingly taking up my time. And as I have spent more time blogging, I've been mulling over the possibilities of blogging, not only as ministry, but also perhaps, as a means towards starting a new writing career. Blogging on a regular basis has allowed me to hone my writing skills as I have taken on the challenge of writing on some heavy topics: spiritual warfare, the search for truth, what kind of legacy we may leave behind, and becoming a moral being, among others. I've even tried my hand at a little humor (Homeless Riff, Blogger Blues, Getting To Know the Real You). If I decide to maintain blogging as a not-for-profit pursuit, I nevertheless will have improved my writing skills, explored many issues more deeply (and in the process have gained some insight into them), maybe caused a few people too laugh (or yelp), and made a few new friends (enemies?) along the way. A worthwhile endeavor, if you ask me.

It's a challenge to work on blogging, though, and at the same time, keep up with my dedication to my other passion, songwriting. Still, it seems that the more busy people become (at least when their productivity is driven by the Spirit and by their passion), the more efficient and prolific they seem to get. I mean, the other day, I came across a blogging pastor who is also a tri-athlete (My word!). And when I click on many blogger's profiles, I find quite often that they are lawyers or professors! So it seems to me you can be quite the busy person and yet manage to make time to blog (and blog well, I might add).

As I mentioned, another great benefit of blogging is making new friends; finding like-minded people (and perhaps also making friends with those outside my particular "circle"). Well, at least there is the potential for making friends! I have been encountering some cool people lately whom it would be great to get to know better. That's one reason I'm excited about the God Blog Con '05, if Lord-willing, I get a chance to go. I look forward to meeting personally some of the terrific bloggers I've been reading, and coming back with new ideas and inspiration for blogging!

P.S. I came across yet another excellent take on blogging called Blogging About Blogging: Why I Blog on The Dawn Treader's site.

Shout Out to Christian Bloggers: God Blog Convention 2005

The Torrey Honors Institute of Biola University is proud to announce that the first ever GodBlog Convention will be held at Biola University on October 13th through October 15th, 2005. GodBlogCon is designed to establish and cultivate relationships within the Christian blogging community and to provide opportunities for Christian bloggers to think about their role within the broader blogging world.

A friend of mine told me about this a while ago and strongly encouraged me to go-- he thinks there aren't so many East Coast Christian bloggers like me and we need some representation. It does look like a very worthwhile trip; many leaders in the Christian blogosphere will be making presentations on various pertinent topics in 19 "breakout sessions". The chief speakers will be some of the biggest names in the God blog world: Hugh Hewitt, Dr. John Mark Reynolds, and Dr. Mark Roberts, with one other person still to be named. I plan on attending, God-willing. Let me know if you're going too! Hope to see you there!

"A Compelling Reason for Rigorous Training of the Mind" by John Piper

Pastor Steve Weaver's blog today brought my attention to a terrific article by John Piper on why it's necessary-- yes, to pray and to rely on the Holy Spirit-- but also, to rigorously train our minds as we take on the challenge of understanding the depths of meaning in the Bible. A passionate and well-articulated case, as always, from Mr. Piper. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Christian Carnival LXXVIII Scores A Home Run

The 78th Christian Carnival is up to bat today at A Ticking Time Blog. What is the Christian Carnival? It's a weekly gathering of Christian blogs, hosted at a different site each week, and often presented according to a theme devised by the weekly host. I think Byron Harvey (yet another blogging pastor) has done a terrific job with organization of this week's collection, employing a baseball theme from beginning to end. The Carnival this week includes over fifty blog posts, all fresh from the blogosphere dugout (OK, I'll quit with the baseball analogies now).

Anyway, glancing through the post descriptions, it looks like a terrific "all-star" lineup (OK, I couldn't resist one more). I'm honored to say that my post The War of The Worlds Is Real was selected for inclusion. It was submitted just in time to make it in-- scroll all the way down to the end and you'll find it!

Again, I reiterate my praise for the Carnival concept-- I think it's a fabulous way of highlighting some really interesting blog writing and finding out about some great Christian blogs. And if you are a blogger, it's a good way of perhaps drawing new readers to your blog. It's hard to believe that so much excellent material is being produced each week!

To find previous Carnivals you can visit Matt Jones' list of previous carnivals.

Monday, July 11, 2005

The War of the Worlds Is Real

Well last week I gave you some light fare. This week, we're back to heavy-duty stuff. But it all began with a little trek to the movies. Last July 4th weekend, like many, my wife and I sought respite from the heat at the local air-conditioned movie theater (actually, they keep it as cold as a meat locker!). We decided to see War of the Worlds, a contemporary re-telling of the classic H. G. Wells sci-fi adventure story (starring Tom Cruise and directed by Steven Spielberg), thinking it would make a good "big-screen" movie. The movie delivers lots of action thrills, but its resolution is not altogether satisfying. Yet I took away from the movie a useful metaphor for our spiritual lives as Christians, and will comment more upon this later.

Here's the synopsis of the film, from the official War of the Worlds website:

"Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise), a divorced dockworker and less-than-perfect father is about to get his kids for a rare weekend visit. Soon after his ex-wife (Miranda Otto) and her new husband drop off teenage son Robbie (Justin Chatwin) and young daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning), a strange and powerful lightning storm touches down.

Moments later, at an intersection near his house, Ray witnesses an extraordinary event that will change all their lives forever. A towering three-legged war machine emerges from deep beneath the earth and, before anyone can react, incinerates everything in sight. An ordinary day has suddenly become the most extraordinary event of their lifetimes--the first strike in a catastrophic alien attack on Earth.

Ray scrambles to get his children away from this merciless new enemy, embarking on a journey that will take them across the ravaged countryside, where they become caught in the desperate tide of refugees fleeing from an extraterrestrial army of Tripods.

But no matter where they run, there is no safety, no refuge-- only Ray's unconquerable will to protect the ones he loves."

The last two lines of the synopsis above capture well the major idea of the movie, "there is no safety, no refuge-- only Ray's unconquerable will to protect the ones he loves". War of the Worlds has stunning visual and technical achievements, as expected from a Spielberg production, but the movie's strongest element is Cruise's performance as an immature father jolted into action by a series of events that threaten the very existence of his family. His "unconquerable will", to me, symbolizes humanity's reflexive response to the challenge of survival, yet as the movie illustrates, this strong will is futile in the face of certain enemies (more on this later).

I thought the movie provided Cruise with some of his best acting moments to date. As Ray, he is convincing as a Dad who's emotionally missing from his kid's lives, though he shares custody with his wife. Contrasted against self-indulgent, adolescent Ray, there is a new, more reliable (and wealthier) male figure in their lives (his wife's new boyfriend/husband?). Ray never really stepped into the role of providing strong male leadership and guidance to his kids, so he has lost, perhaps irreversibly, the position of authority and respect he ought to have as "Dad". He relates better to his young daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning), who is precocious and mature for her age. But there is emotional distance and hostility between him and his son, Robbie (Justin Chatwin), a troubled teen. Robbie's opinion of his father is pretty low-- he thinks his father cares for no one but himself. There seems to be truth in this assessment by the son, as seen in the way Cruise portrays Ray-- especially in the early scenes of the film-- he is rather arrogant, obnoxious and self-centered.

As the movie opens, Ray's pregnant ex-wife Mary Ann (Miranda Otto) is leaving the children with him for the weekend. Her pregnancy signals the fact that she is moving on with her life, whereas Ray apparently is floundering in his life as a divorcee. After looking around at Ray's disarrayed apartment, and seeing no food in the refrigerator, Mary Ann is a concerned about leaving the kids. But Ray assures her that she has nothing to worry about. No sooner has she left than mayhem begins: an odd, ominous storm suddenly darkens the entire sky and draws the attention of the entire community. Ray at first maintains his customary bravado, as he and his daughter observe the storm from their backyard. Moments later however both come running for cover into the house, as lightning strikes down near them. His daughter needs re-assurance, but Ray can offer her none-- he is totally flustered, and just as scared as she is.

In Ray, we find the usual Cruise confidence and swagger, but unlike most other Cruise characters, his cocky attitude here masks insecurity and perhaps guilt over his unsuccessful marriage and less than stellar fathering skills. Yet when crisis hits-- in the form of an alien invasion-- Ray finally rises above himself, becoming willing to do whatever it takes to protect his family. I will leave now the details of the remainder of the story, to examine the spiritual theme the film suggested to me.

You see, I believe that the "war of the worlds" is real. But it isn't like the movie, or the novel by H.G. Wells, that portrays a physical war waged between aliens from another planet and the human race. In War of the Worlds the aliens are highly intelligent beings that have studied mankind for millions of years. They strategically buried their ships underneath the ground long ago, so that when the right moment arrived, they would be in position to attack and destroy. But why do the aliens want to destroy us? I'm not sure if the movie ever answers or even raises this question, but it is clear that these aliens are completely without mercy, having no regard whatsoever for human life -- their only mission is to exterminate humanity-- and we are simply food for them.

So why do I say that the War of the Worlds is real? I say it because in reality we face unseen enemies just as relentless, merciless and evil as the ones portrayed in this story. Just like these aliens, the enemies we face are intelligent beings who have studied us carefully, and are bent upon our total annihilation. Am I speaking of Islamic terrorists? These are enemies, but not the ones I'm referring to.

The real enemies we face are invisible spirit beings who wage a spiritual war against us. The aliens in War of the Worlds, ruthless as they are, merely destroy people physically. Islamic terrorists also use the threat of death (and our fear of death) to scare us into submission to their agenda. But the devil and his army are not content with our physical destruction. Satan wants our very souls destroyed forever in hell.

"For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. " Ephesians 6: 12

As I write this, I realize that readers who don't subscribe to a Christian point of view, or maybe even some who do, may think I'm nuts when I talk about invisible demonic forces. But let me ask you something: are you more inclined to believe that the War of the World's scenario, that of aliens coming to planet Earth on a mission of death, is less crazy than the idea that we are under attack by invisible spiritual enemies?

Perhaps both ideas sound equally far-fetched, but the biblical, Christian view at least provides an explanation of what is happening in our world. Satan and his cohorts want to destroy us because they are evil-- they are in fact the embodiment of evil. Satan might be described as a disgruntled former "employee" of God, now gone completely beserk-- except that he has much more power and ability to wreak havoc than your average fired postal worker. Satan was more than just an employee in God's economy; he was the most exalted angel in the universe, second only to God in the magnificence of his splendor and gifts. But this became a problem-- he didn't like being #2. Pride and jealousy caused him to rebel against God, and when he did so, many angels apparently rebelled along with him, joining his malevolent cause. To this day Satan wages war against God and against any who align themselves with God (i.e., Christians). Satan is a liar, in fact, he is called the "Father of all Lies"; pride and deception so distort his thinking that he believes God to be a terrible, unfair being. Or perhaps he knows He's not, but hates Him anyway.

Now what made Satan revolt so completely against God? We don't know exactly, as the Bible doesn't fully explain this, but the biblical portrait describes Satan as a being whom God made so beautiful he was originally known as Lucifer (The Light-Bearer). But in turning away from God, he became the "Prince of Darkness", and his nature turned completely and irrevocably evil. Jesus said about Satan that he is a thief who "comes only to steal and kill and destroy" (John 10:10).

Again, you may find talk of Satan and his activities quite fanciful, but if you look at the evils in the world today, and look back at the evils perpetrated by humanity for hundreds of years, you observe that there is true horror in what human beings are capable of doing to one another, acts of cruelty and hate that defy naturalistic explanation. This is due to the satanic influence, which, while it cannot make people do anything, fans the flames of evil in our hearts and suggests to our minds ways of carrying out those dark desires. The remainder of what follows applies to Christians involved in spiritual warfare.

Although the description of evil above represents a biblical understanding of how Satan interacts with human desires to bring about his evil designs, many, even among Christians, seem to dismiss this picture. The media finds this topic a surefire way to ridicule Christianity, and many believers are embarrassed by the whole subject, and/or ignorant of what spiritual warfare is all about.

Though this has been changing in recent years, with a proliferation of ministries, books and websites emerging that deal with the topic of spiritual warfare, there are still large segments of the Christian community who neglect study of this area. Some do so because they mistakenly think that merely being Christian makes them victorious over the devil and immune to his influence. But the more cognizant one becomes of spiritual realities, and the more observant we are about human nature and the nature of evil, the more clear it becomes, I believe, that "Satan is alive and well on planet earth" (to quote Hal Lindsay's book by that title), and Christians are often his favorite targets.

I consider that I have much to learn in this area. So not long ago I set about studying as much as I could about spiritual warfare, motivated in part by personal experiences in which I, or people close to me, have been the objects of satanic attack. The basic lesson I've learned is that Satan's objectives and methods are primarily spiritual. Though he also has power to afflict the body, his primary intention is to get you to "curse God". He wants people to disbelieve, not trust in, and forsake God, and his chief weapon towards achieving this goal is deception.

One of the ways the devil has been very successful in deception is in concealing what he is really like and what his real methods and strategies are. There are those who engage in what is called "deliverance ministry", whose approach to the demonic is not entirely biblical, and who make the exorcism of demons into drama. In the same way, movies like "The Exorcist" and "The Omen" exaggerate Satan's powers, or sensationalize them as being primarily these horrible calamities that he causes. The picture of spiritual warfare one derives from such sources is misleading, since Satan has always been much more subtle and crafty in his ways, preferring to accomplish his goals by stealth more often than by flashy attention-getting displays of power.

Many sincere Christians also have been taught by their churches or seminaries that Christians cannot "have a demon"; there has been much debate about such matters, but those who hold to this position tend to not see demonic influence in human affairs. Certainly, I think a strong case can be made that the primary New Testament focus for believers is not an obsession with demons, but rather upon our daily walk with God-- by being obedient to Him and busy with the mission He has for us. On the other hand, one of the powers promised to followers of Jesus, is authority in the name of Jesus to cast out demons. It is important therefore that we know how to exercise that authority when necessary (and it may be needed much more often than we realize). And certainly the primary targets of satanic attack, who will need to exercise this authority, are precisely those who are on the front lines of ministry in Jesus' name.

But even if one is not directly engaged in the casting out demons, there is an invisible war going on all around us, a battle to capture the souls of men and women worldwide. Everyone instinctively fears physical death, but what of what comes afterward? Cruise's character Ray fights, as best as he can, to stay alive; his "unconquerable will" in this movie is like a primal instinct that drives him to fight to keep himself and his family alive. But the enemy he faces is too overwhelming and powerful for him-- he is no match for their weapons. I won't give away the ending, but War of the Worlds shows mankind surviving by a kind of fluke, nevertheless, the movie seems to congratulate humanity on its triumph of survival. What is ultimately unsatisfying about the film is that the Enemy is unfathomable, so our victory by fluke seems pointless.

Again, there are a few parallels and contrasts between the movie and the real spiritual war we fight (whether aware of it or not). IN both, we are helpless and weak and hopelessly overmatched by our enemies. The defects of human nature make us all too susceptible to the temptations the dark world continually assaults us with. But our survival then, is not dependent upon our strength of will, nor is it dependent upon our adaptive capacity for survival (an evolutionary take). Rather, we must cry out to our Deliverer, the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone can give us strength to overcome the evil without and within. Our victory is pictured in the Bible as a cosmic struggle between the forces of good and evil, where good finally triumphs. Stories and films that portray this classic struggle effectively seem to be the most memorable and satisfying.

Jesus gave us His followers the key to winning the battle when He said: "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28).

If we fear only physical death, or those who can kill us, we are not seeing reality as it really is. Enemies can only kill your body, but your soul will live on, either to be with the Lord, or to be separated from Him. We must hold to this true perception of reality as we fight the spiritual battle, using spiritual weapons:

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints." (Ephesians 6: 10-18)

Monday, July 04, 2005

Which Is the Best Browser?

Today I'm posting on a lighter subject than I normally do: browsers. What is a browser, some of you may ask? Well, the browser is a program on your computer that provides a viewing environment for the web pages you want to see. An example of a browser is Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE), which is also the most widely used, but there are many alternate browsers out there. OK great, you might respond, but why should I care which browser I'm using?

I admit, most browsers do their job quite well, in terms of connecting you to the Internet. The most popular browser is definitely Microsoft IE (6.0), followed by Mozilla's Firefox (latest version: 1.0.4), then Netscape (latest version: 8.0) and Opera (latest version: 8.0). In recent years IE has been losing market ground to these other browsers because the alternates offer more nifty, innovative features to make it easier to get around the Internet quickly and organize pages you visit on a regular basis, among other things. Additionally, these browsers provide lots of tools for customization, enabling you to tailor the look and functionality of your browser to your personal needs and preferences. These tools can also make your browser quite fun!

Tabbed Browsing
Browsers such as Firefox, Netscape's latest (8.0) and Opera all include "tabbed browsing", a feature that allows you to open web pages by loading them as "tabs" within the same browser window. This makes surfing multiple pages more convenient, because it's easy to switch back and forth among open pages. Tabbed browsing also conserves system resources, since you only have one browser window open. Until recently, tabbed browsing was not included as part of IE. Realizing that it has become a very popular feature, Microsoft has now developed tabbed browsing as a function within their new MSN toolbar, which when downloaded can bring this functionality to the IE browser. With its upcoming 7.0 release, Microsoft will include tabbed browsing in IE (read IE: Not Dead Yet).

My favorite browser, Mozilla Firefox
Still, when it comes to customization, the favorite browser of many, and the one I use most often as my main browser, is Mozilla Firefox. Firefox is an uncluttered browser that also has hundreds of themes you may download to enhance the way it looks (very appealing to my aesthetic needs). But the best thing is its great functionality, via "extensions" that are easy to download and install. Some extensions I use within Firefox: Adblock- lets me get rid of annoying ads on a page; Menu X- adds the ability to collapse any toolbar and provides up to 24 function icons I can add to any toolbar; Foxy Tunes- lets me listen to the installed media player of my choice right from the status bar; Bible toolbar-- lets me search the Bible by keyword or passage. I have others still more extensions, among them the Preferences Toolbar, a Calendar, Remember Password; I haven't even explored all the ways I may utilize these completely. Yet all of these extensions work without a hitch, and I can always uninstall a particular extension if it isn't functioning correctly.

I think my favorite aspect of the Firefox browser, though, is that I enjoy using bookmarks (favorites), and Firefox allows me to arrange my bookmarks strategically within a "bookmarks toolbar folder" that gives me easy access to them. An entire folder of bookmarks residing on this bookmarks toolbar folder might be clicked and opened simultaneously, as tabs.

I have also set up Firefox so that every time it opens, three favorite "home pages" open simultaneously, in tabs. I can always change these settings or add more home pages in the future.

The recently updated Netscape browser 8.0 was based on Firefox and offers many of the same features; it sets up more for you on the browser. Thus I would recommend it for those who would rather have a browser that is more "ready-to-go". Read the PC mag Netscape review for more details. Like Firefox, Opera has loads of features, yet I think that using it is not quite as intuitive as Firefox. Also, to get rid of the ad banner that comes with the free version, one must purchase their browser, something I would be unwilling to do with other great browsers available for free. Still, Opera comes with some of its own unique features.

Enhanced "IE" browsers
There are also browsers built on the IE framework which add improved functionality to the basic IE. These include the Avant and Maxthon. I downloaded these two recently and found them to be very simliar. I would recommend them if you have grown accustomed to IE but perhaps would like some enhancements.

Well, happy browser hunting on this 4th of July!

P.S. What's your favorite browser?

Friday, July 01, 2005

Billy Graham's Last Stand

June 25th, 2005 was a gorgeous, typically hot and humid Saturday night in NYC, as the people made their way into Flushing Meadows-Corona Park to hear Billy Graham. It is the same historic park that, in 1964, hosted "The World's Fair", which sought to bring together the international community in a goodwill convention. The early 60's was an era marked by a certain kind of hopeful optimism. Many believed that new technologies and scientific progress, coupled with a spirit of cooperation, were the answers to the problems of humanity. This view was reflected at the '64 fair, whose theme was "Peace Through Understanding," and was dedicated to "Man's Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe". There were numerous internationally-sponsored exhibits at the Fair, and at the center of them all was a 12-story high, stainless-steel model of the earth called "Unisphere". By the time the Fair had completed its two six-month seasons on October 21st, 1965, millions had passed through its many attractions.

This same World's Fair also had a strong religious presence-- Mormons, Roman Catholics and the Billy Graham Evangelical Organization (BGEA) all had well-attended pavilions there. Graham's message was also one of hope, but his message of hope was not based in the solutions offered by man's ingenuity; his message of hope was rooted in the person of Jesus Christ, whom he preached as the only One who could solve man's root problem: sin in the heart. At the Fair, a million people watched the free film that the BGEA showed them about commitment to Christ. Thousands of these visitors also sought further counseling.

By 1964, Billy Graham, though only 46 years old, was already a veteran of ministry, with 27 years of public ministry service behind him. He had become an internationally known figure beginning in 1949, when, through the publicity and media attention given his evangelistic crusades, his name and face became well-known. Graham's 1957 crusade to NYC was a peak moment. Televised nationally, it was held in none other than Madison Square Garden, in the heart of New York City. The turnout was so huge that the crusade continued nightly for 16 weeks, 10 weeks beyond its original schedule. The vital Mr. Graham would have many more years and crusades ahead of him.

Coming to see/hear "the Man"
All these years later, with the famous Unisphere as a backdrop, people were gathering to hear Graham, though he now 86 years old and ailing in health. It is fitting that he would return here to New York, the site of one of his most famous crusades, for what might turn out to be his final crusade appearance. So we decided we ought to mark this historic event, and planned on trying to meet up with a friend there (who would be armed with that special homing device known as a cell phone).

As we arrived, my wife wasn't feeling very well; we ambled forward with the crowd, slowly migrating in the direction of the main stage, which in turn was following after the sounds of music emanating towards us in the night air. At our dignified pace, the half-mile walk to the crusade area seemed never-ending. We were met many times along the way by people handling out literature. At first, I thought it might be evangelistic tracts from the Billy Graham people, but much of the literature turned out to be from a group called Twelve Tribes (a commune-like group) that is not supportive of Graham. Some others were openly hostile-- one person carried a sign saying "Billy Graham Sends to Hell", or something like that.

We had made a bit of progress in our journey when we unexpectedly happened upon my pastor brother Daniel, his wife Sheila and their three kids, sitting on a little blanket in a grassy section of one of the "overflow" areas. From the little haven they'd set up, they, along with many others, were watching a big screen that projected the events happening from the main stage.

We decided to join them (rather than continue on towards the main stage for the unsure possibility of a closer seat). It turned out a wise choice, as the music-- by musicians 363, Nicole C. Mullen and Jars of Clay-- was quite loud, amplified after the fashion of rock concerts these days. 363 sounded to me like a CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) version of U2 ,while Nicole C. Mullen seemed a CCM version of hip-hop, complete with trendy dancers. The popular Jars of Clay rounded out the evening, playing their biggest hit to date, "Flood"; they also played songs from their latest album.

Strange disconnect
There was a strange disconnect between performers and crowd. The musicians were doing their best to engage the audience, shouting out questions like "how ya doin' out there?", but seemed to get only a tepid response. The program for the evening included some "MTV" style interview videos projected on the big screens in which teens of different races gave testimonies about how being in a relationship with Jesus makes a difference in their lives. Judging from these videos and also from certain remarks Graham was to make during his brief talk later, it seems the evening was being targeted towards youth. I noticed that there were quite a few young people, but the crowd also included many families and older folk. Perhaps the incongruity between the "rock concert" atmosphere and the "family-friendly" kind of crowd had something to do with the subdued response to the music. This-- thankfully-- was not your typical boisterous, lets-get-rowdy-at-the-concert kind of crowd. It was a mild-mannered bunch, many coming together en mass from their churches, and it really seemed that for them, Billy was the main attraction, rather than the music. Everyone it seemed was there to hear the legendary evangelist make his last stand.

Unsettling questions
As with my other recent excursion to see/hear another big name, Pastor David Cho, (An Evening With Pastor David Cho), I went with some unsettling questions about Billy Graham and his ministry running through my mind. Personally, I've always liked him-- he strikes me as a charming and humble man. He has always seemed most genuine, and he is certainly a gifted communicator of the gospel, direct and simple in his presentation. Yet it had troubled me greatly to read certain web-based reports regarding his ministry. For example, it is reported that as a matter of policy, Graham crusades direct people who have made "decisions for Christ" to their local church of whatever denomination, or even, to their local synagogue! As far back as 1957, Graham has been quoted in the newspapers as affirming that this indeed is the official policy of the Crusades. Now if this is true, it doesn't make sense at all and is quite disturbing. Why would you direct someone who has just responded to a message that Jesus Christ is "the Way, the Truth and the Life" and that no man can come to the Father except through Him, to a Jewish synagogue, where of course they neither believe nor support this belief?!

As I have researched this subject on the Internet, it is well-documented that Mr. Graham consciously decided, at a very early stage in his ministry, that, being that his objective was to reach the most people possible, he would major on the central truths of the gospel message while avoiding "controversial", potentially divisive issues, which to him were of secondary importance. Though initially identifying himself as fundamentalist in his beliefs, he apparently also pragmatically decided that he would not be overly concerned with the theological convictions of those who participated in, or sponsored, the various crusades. Accordingly, despite some early preaching in which he stood against Catholic and modernistic teaching, over the years he became more and more friendly with Catholics and played down any doctrinal differences between Protestantism and Catholicism. In his ministry and interviews he has essentially said that there is no difference between the gospel that he preaches and the gospel of Roman Catholicism, or he has downplayed the differences, saying that they are inconsequential. This goes hand-in-hand with his longstanding policy of sending converts to the religious institution of their own choice, which apparently, usually ends up being the Catholic church. For Catholics, Billy Graham has been a very good friend indeed, since he has helped bring thousands back to their churches and has had great praise for the Pope and Catholicism over the years.

This is troubling. I believe that although many Catholics know Jesus personally, and are my brothers and sisters in Christ, yet there is much unsound doctrine within the Catholic Church, doctrine that is not biblical (my desire here is not to vilify Catholicism but to hold to the truths of the Bible as best I know how). So why is it that Graham's ministry, which points to the Bible as authority for its teaching and actions, does not make any strong distinctions between the doctrines of churches? Mr. Graham surely must know that there are churches that teach all kinds of things that are not biblically sound. Yet, by allowing all sorts of churches (liberal, Catholic, modernistic) over the years to participate in his evangelistic campaigns, and by sending converts to whatever church they might choose, Graham's ministry seemingly makes no distinctions between true and false churches/church teaching. The impression is thus conveyed that "any church will do" for the newly converted Christian, no matter what it teaches.

Certainly the gentleness and affability of Mr. Graham are admirable qualities that have served him well as a minister. Over the years he has managed to have many friends in high places, including all of the American Presidents, and has transcended partisan politics by relating to Democrats and Republicans equally well. But the question is: have Graham's friendships and associations compromised him as the symbol of Christianity and its truths that he is to many? Among those Graham has claimed as friends, and whom he is quoted as greatly admiring, are Pope John Paul II, Robert Schuller, Norman Vincent Peale and Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. All of these men have preached and taught (in my view) serious errors, and a seemingly different gospel message than Mr. Graham preached at his crusades over the years. Why did he not see this? Or did he? Had Graham so limited the scope of his message that no other doctrinal issues were important to him so long as Christ crucified, buried and risen again was preached? But although these men do talk of Jesus Christ, they also add unbiblical elements to the message of the gospel.

Friends Bill and Hillary, the Christians?
Ex-President Bill Clinton and his wife, NY Senator Hillary Clinton, were prominent guests this night, sitting on the platform behind Graham. Graham warmly introduced them as his personal friends and later jokingly, yet earnestly, remarked that Bill Clinton, with his gifts of communication, would make a "great evangelist" and that Bill should leave his wife Hillary "to run the country". It was evident that this was meant to be a light-hearted remark and not a serious endorsement, but it is another example of how unimportant it seems to Mr. Graham with whom/what he is associated. Mr. Clinton warmly reciprocated, calling Graham "a man I love and whom I have followed".

It's not that there's anything wrong in being personal friends with Bill and Hillary Clinton, of course. The Clintons seem to be decent folk with good intentions in their public service. They identify themselves as Christian and attend church. Nevertheless, the couple is well-known for pro-abortion and liberal views on most issues, which are very much at odds with the views and beliefs of most Christians. The impression given therefore by their appearance at the Crusade, and Billy Graham's remarks about them, is that it's ok to be a Christian, just like Bill and Hillary Clinton. The very next day would find Hillary marching down the street in the Gay Pride parade. Many articles have come out this past week saying that the Clintons turned Graham into their political pawn by trading on their friendship to obtain Graham's quasi-endorsement, all to promote Hillary's possible future bid for the White House. Whether or not this was a motivation for the Clintons, Mr. Graham, it seems to me, should have more discernment about what the perceptions might be.

Compromised by Popularity and Fame?
But, as stated earlier, Graham decided long ago that his major focus and goal was to preach the gospel to as many people as possible, and the means that he has chosen to do this over the years have been extremely inclusive and seemingly non-confrontational over sin. Thus his basic message has stayed on point; he generally touches upon social or political issues briefly, only to quickly return to his plea that his listeners turn their lives over to Jesus Christ and receive salvation. Being primarily an evangelist, this might seem a good, focused strategy. Yet Jesus calls us not only to make converts, but also disciples, and a crucial part of making disciples is to help people become mature in thinking and practice, and to do so within sound, Bible-teaching churches/communities. Both Jesus and Paul fearlessly contended for correct doctrine, making this an integral part of their ministry, because they saw that the eternal destinies of those they were trying to reach were hanging in the balance. Ultimately they paid for such teaching with their lives. Yet these vital aspects of ministry (disciple-making and contending for right doctrine) seem neglected by Graham's organization to a point that is possibly irresponsible, in light of the universal call to make disciples. Did Billy Graham succumb to the lure of fame and popularity with men, so that he has rationalized not standing up for correct doctrine, or helping people select sound churches?

Love Hopeth All Things
Mr. Graham must be commended for his tireless and pioneering efforts in the work of evangelism, and his faithfulness in reaching so many with the message of the gospel. The message tonight, though brief, once again sounded his familiar theme-- that only in a relationship with Jesus Christ do we find meaning and satisfaction in life. His voice rang out strong and true, and his delivery was sure, despite age and illness. As the old hymn "Just As I Am" played, hundreds walked forward to the altar at the invitation, just as they had so many times before at other crusades. Billy sat down and prayed. These were for me the most moving moments of the evening.

As we slowly made our way out, we again passed by some from "Twelve Tribes", joyfully dancing together in a circle. They seemed genuinely happy. Their literature questions whether or not Graham's "decision-makers" actually become disciples who bear fruit and thus show that they have indeed received salvation. It is an important question, and tonight my heart is sad because the answer is not entirely clear.

But I thank God for any/all who made sincere decisions for Christ tonight, and for Billy Graham's part in this. I pray that they will become true disciples. And I am challenged again about my own responsibility both to be a disciple and to "go, and make disciples".