Saturday morning fun…classic video game deaths

This one brought back some memories. I had forgotten about many of these games, but just watching the video brought back memories of many dark, noisy arcades filled with teen angst and endless frustration. Ah, those were the good old days.

The Importance of Punctuation

Flotsam and jetsam (3/25)

I’ve been on a mini blog sabbatical the last couple of days. It’s spring break around here. And, while I never actually take time off for spring break, I do use it to get caught up on all the projects that have been piling up around my office. It’s my version of spring cleaning. But, here are a couple of interesting posts from the last few days.

I have seen evidence of three characteristics that seem to pass as virtues today. In some parts of the Christian world, these are now embraced as Christian virtue: doubt, opaqueness, and an emphasis on asking rather than answering questions.

That is, people become Universalists because they need to, not because it’s true.   All who become Universalists do so because they fear the consequences of their loved one’s rejection of salvation.

No doubt, some Christians get worked up over the smallest controversies, making a forest fire out of a Yankee Candle. But there is an opposite danger–and that is to be so calm, so middle-of-the-road, so above-the-fray that you no longer feel the danger of false doctrine. You always sound analytical, never alarmed. Always crying for much-neglected conversation, never crying over a much-maligned cross. There is something worse than hurting feelings, and that is trampling upon human hearts.

The temptation to idolatry is multifaceted and ever-present, and therefore must be fought without respite.Harmonizing Keller, Wright, Beale, and Scripture leads us to three antidotes: (1) the identification of idols and their attractions; (2) the embrace of the gospel and its idol-destroying promises; and (3) the worship and imitation of the One True God rather than false gods.

It is sometimes stated that the life of the historical Jesus ends with his death, and there is a sense in which this is true. Historical study can only provide access to the human life of Jesus, and his human life, like all human lives, ended when he died. The resurrection per se is not an event like other events in human history, and for this reason cannot be studied with the tools of historical study, either to confirm it or deny it. This does not mean, however, that one cannot attempt to evaluate the historicity of some of the events mentioned in the stories that also include details connected with the rise of Christian belief in the resurrection.

  • Roger Olson has an excellent post on what he means by “the new fundamentalism,” the growing “via media” between traditional fundamentalism and post WWII evangelicalism.

What I see emerging, that in my opinion is not being recognized by most evangelical leaders, is a third way–a via media between movement fundamentalism and the postfundamentalist evangelicalism.  People from movement fundamentalism are emerging out of their isolation into this third way and calling it “conservative evangelicalism.”  People from postfundamentalist evangelicalism are adopting this third way and calling it “conservative evangelicalism.”

Before you criticize, be sure you understand the person and perspective with which you are taking issue. If you lack understanding you are essentially picking a fight with an opponent who does not exist. You’ll make a lot of noise, sell a few books, or attract people to your blog, but your criticism lacks wisdom and integrity.

Don’t pedal harder. Enjoy the ride.

One sunny Sunday afternoon, Leah and I stand on the sidewalk in front of our house. Gripped in my left hand rests a well-worn wrench. In my right, a pair of bolts, some washers, and a couple of nuts. At my feet like a pair of exhausted watchdogs, my daughter’s training wheels.

The time has come.

Well, the truth is that it’s been time for a while. Leah’s had her training wheels on for too long. But, you know how things go. She was comfortable with them, and I always had other things to do. So, we just never quite got around to it. But now, she’s getting a little self-conscious. None of her friends use training wheels. And she’s tired of being the only one who can’t ride on her own. The next phase of childhood has arrived.

So here we are. Training wheels off, helmet on, heart pounding with both excitement and fear.

She’s ready. She just needs a little push.

So, with my hand on her back and my heart in my throat, I help her get started. And that’s all it took. She was so ready, one little push was all she needed to be off and going, riding down the street, wind rushing through her hair, smile stretched across her face. I ran alongside for a bit to catch her in case she fell. But she didn’t need me. She was doing fine.

She just needed a little push.

As a parent, that was a great moment.

As a Christian, that story represents one of my most fatal flaws.

I understand perfectly well that I could never have begun Christian journey by myself. Like everyone else, I was dead in my sin, separated from God. And, dead is dead. Dead people can’t make themselves alive again. That’s just not how it works. So it was only because of God’s grace and mercy that I am able to live again, resurrected and forgiven through the power of the cross. I knew that I was stuck and I praise God for giving me a huge push so that I could ride freely into his kingdom.

I get that part. My problem is with what comes next.

After I gave her a push, Leah knew that the rest was up to her. For this to work, she needed to pedal. Otherwise, she’d just fall down. She knew, of course, that I’d be there to pick her up if she fell, with kisses, hugs, encouragement, and a little help to get going again. But, the real work was up to her. She had to keep pedaling.

That’s how I often see the Christian life. God gave me that big push I needed to get started, but after that it’s pretty much up to me. I know he’s nearby to help if I fall. But, if I’m going to get anywhere on this bike, it will be because I kept pedaling.

Thanks for the push, God. I’ll take it from here.

So, I start pedaling as hard as I can. Read my Bible, pray, go to church, tithe, volunteer, whatever. That’s how it works. That’s how you make “progress” as a Christian. Just keep pedaling.

I’m a fool.

That’s how Paul describes people who think like this (Gal. 3:1-6). It doesn’t make any sense! This has been a story about grace from the very beginning, from Genesis to Revelation, from the creation of time on into the endless spiral of eternity—God’s unfathomably amazing grace. So, what would make us think that the story somehow changes after we respond to the Gospel and enter the kingdom? Do we think that we’re going to find less grace the closer we get to God? Do we imagine that he would draw us near and then leave us on our own? That’s foolish. It’s like I’m someone who had been a zombie until I was miraculously cured and restored to true human life. But, instead of living like a human, I continue to stumble around at night with my arms stretched out before me, groaning loudly and slobbering on myself at every turn. Why would I do that? It doesn’t make any sense.

But we do it all the time.

We’re fools.

We constantly want to change the story, turning from God and his grace so that we can again trust in ourselves and our own works.

The truth is that we enter the kingdom by grace through faith, and we live in the kingdom by grace through faith. I don’t make myself more like God through hard work and self-discipline. God makes me more like him through the power of the Spirit, transforming me, and re-creating me in the image of his Son, so that I can again be his image bearer in creation as he manifests his glory through me.

None of this means, that any of the things that I mentioned above (Bible reading, prayer, church, etc.) are bad things. Each of them is a gift from God for his people, things to be cherished and enjoyed. And, as such, we should pursue them diligently and faithfully, just like we would any gift that a loved one has generously offered us. But, they are gifts to be received and enjoyed, not things that we should grasp greedily for ourselves, seeking to walk on our own, earning our way toward Christian maturity.

Don’t pedal harder. Enjoy the ride.

(You can read the rest of the posts in this series on the Gospel Book page.)

Books everyone should read: a consensus cloud

Can you come up with a consensus list of books that everyone should read by looking at a bunch of “must read” lists? I don’t know. But, this infographic from Information Is Beautiful makes a worthy attempt.

click to embiggen

Here’s how they came up with the books:

Do Top 100 Books polls and charts agree on a set of classics?  I scraped the results of over 15 notable book polls, readers surveys and top 100′s. Both popular and high-brow. They included all Pulitzer Prize winners, Desert Island Discs choices from recent years, Oprah’s Bookclub list, and, of course, The Guardian’s Top 100 Books of All Time. A  simple frequency analysis on the gathered titles gives us a neat ‘consensus cloud’ visualisation of the most mentioned books titles across the polls. Do you agree with the consensus?

HT Neatorama

Mommy, John Calvin is calling me names!!!!!!!!

I’m spending part of this semester wrestling with the doctrine of infant baptism.  I grew up in a Southern Baptist tradition so for most of my life my stance has been pretty defined by my upbringing.  I can sum it up this way: Credobaptism = good and biblical; Paedobaptism = bad and unbiblical.  Keep in mind I’m not saying that it is right (or wrong) yet.  I’ll let you know in another month.  However, imagine my surprise several years ago when I found out that John Calvin was a Paedobaptist, even arguing against my extended family the Anabaptists (and he wasn’t even a Roman Catholic at the time!!!).  Talk about conundrum.

So I decided last Friday to finally engage with Mr. Calvin.  We argued for almost three hours.  He is very smart…and tricky!  Every time I had at my disposal an argument to dispatch his  defense of infant baptism, he would take it up in his work a paragraph later and challenge me.  Now what really surprised me was not that he was  intelligent and anticipated my every argument, it was how he argued with me.  I tried being cordial (only putting exclamation marks next to a few comments), and he responded by calling me the following names:

  1. A frenzied spirit and disturber of the church
    • “But since in this age, certain frenzied spirits have raised, and even now continue to raise, great disturbance in the Church on account of paedobaptism, I cannot avoid here, by way of appendix, adding something to restrain their fury.”
  2. A Hard Hearted Person
    • “See the quibbles to which men are obliged to have recourse when they have hardened themselves against the truth!”
  3. Stupid – this one really hurt!
    • “But God furnishes us with other weapons to repress their stupidity.”
  4. A Furious Madman
    • “Let us now discuss the arguments by which some furious madmen cease not to assail this holy ordinance of God.”
  5. A Barbarian Destroyer of Scripture
    • “In asserting a difference of covenant, with what barbarian audacity do they corrupt and destroy scripture?”
  6. A Trickster who Cloaks Falsehood as Truth
    • “But lest they should blind the simple with their smoke, we shall, in passing, dispose of one objection by which they cloak this most impudent falsehood.”
  7. Deluded and Lazy
    • “Hence it cannot but happen that they are every now and then deluded, because they do not exert themselves to obtain a full knowledge of any subject.”
  8. Absurd
    • “And, indeed, if we listen to the absurdities of those men, what will become of the promise by which the Lord, in the second commandment of his law, engages to be gracious to the seed of his servants for a thousand generations (Ex. 20:6)?”
  9. Ridiculous and void of Reason
    • “The distinctions which these men attempt to draw between baptism and circumcision are not only ridiculous, and void of all semblance of reason, but at variance with each other.”

WOW!!!  And I’m only half way through this particular treatise.  In light of all the recent Rob Bell discussion, I wondered if John Calvin would be welcomed into much debate today.  He would not be thought loving, tender, or politically correct enough for many who want to classify any type of strong disagreement as sinful judgment.  I would know….he’s the one calling me names.

To Skype or Not to Skype: Technology in the Classroom

As my students can attest, I’m constantly fiddling with my classes. Almost every semester, I’m trying some kind of experiment, testing out some new content or a new way of delivering that content, getting feedback from students, and tossing what didn’t work. I’m sure it drives some students batty. But hey, it builds character.

One thing I haven’t tried yet is video-conferencing or live streaming in the classroom. I’ve done a lot with recorded material, and I’ve had students participate by phone several times, but I haven’t yet experimented with live video content. From other professors I’ve talked to, this approach has some tremendous benefits, as well as a few significant problems.

On the positive side:

  1. It makes it easier to use guest lecturers in the classroom. The costs associated with bringing a guest lecturer to campus are usually prohibitive unless the right person just happens to be in town (not terribly common in Portland). But, video-conferencing makes it far easier. Indeed, one of our professors in San Jose, routinely uses this approach to allow students to interact with the authors of books they’ve read for class. Talk about a great learning opportunity.
  2. It makes the classroom accessible to a much broader audience. Western has had a pretty aggressive distance education program for a long time,  making most of our courses available to people who don’t live in Portland. And, that’s a great thing. Live streaming takes this a step further and opens the classroom itself to more people.
  3. It makes it easier for students who need to miss a class. The Chronicle of Higher Education had an interesting article on this a few weeks back, “Absent Students Want to Attend Traditional Classes via Webcam.” I’ve already experienced this in classes that I’ve supported with recorded material. Students no longer have to scramble afterward to copy another student’s notes, hoping that she was paying attention in class. Instead, they can just view the lecture/discussion for themselves.

On the negative side:

  1. The technology isn’t always as stable as you’d think. Nearly every professor that I’ve talked with who has used some kind of live online content has a story about the technology not working properly and the classroom time that they wasted troubleshooting and fiddling with the technology. Even seasoned technology like Skype can glitch unexpectedly, costing precious classroom time.
  2. It can be frustrating for the students who are physically present. I can’t imagine that there’s anything more annoying that sitting in a class watching a professor fiddle with some technology designed to make the lecture available to people elsewhere. You have to be thinking, ” Hey, I’m right here! I spent good money on this class, so let’s get started.”
  3. Students may be tempted to skip class more often. This is one of the more commonly cited worries whenever you talk about making classes available outside the classroom like this. And, I’m sure it’s a worry that’s worth talking bout seriously. As the video clip below from the movie Real Genius demonstrates, though, this is a worry that’s been around for a while.

What do you think? If you’re a teacher and you’ve used these technologies in the classroom, what did you think? Was it worth it? Or, if you’re a student (or you used to be one), have you been in a class that used video-conferencing or live-streaming? Did you find it distracting or beneficial? Did it contribute to or detract from your learning experience?


Saturday morning fun – Inception in 60 seconds

The only thing that would have improved this 60 second summary of Inception done completely with paper cutouts better is a voiceover by Isaiah Mustafa, the Old Spice guy.

Just because…The Tree of Life

What makes a question dangerous?

I’m sure you’ve heard that there aren’t any stupid questions. That’s an interesting saying, though completely untrue. But, while there may not be any stupid questions, dangerous ones certainly exist, questions that seem to have no other purpose than to lead people in unfortunate directions..

I’ve been thinking a lot about questions lately. I began with Rob Bell‘s promotional video and the argument that “he was just asking questions” (Luther on the Power of Questions). But,this post was sparked by something else entirely. The high school group at my church is in the midst of a series on sex and dating. (Why does it seem like high school groups are always in the midst of a series on sex and dating?) And, last Sunday, I was asked to lead a discussion on that perennially problematic question, “How far is too far?”

I hate that question.

After countless series on sex and dating, I’ve become convinced that there is almost no way of asking that question profitably. Instead, it seems inherently designed to twist the conversation in unfortunate ways. It’s a flawed question.

  1. It immediately puts us in the wrong mindset. The question almost begs us to see how far we can push things before we’ve gone “too far.” It’s a question about boundaries and how far out they can be stretched. It’s a little like asking, “How fast can you drive before you get a speeding ticket?” Let’s find the outer edge of appropriateness so that we know how much we can get away with. Very little real benefit lies down that road.
  2. It hides more important issues. By immediately focusing our attention on boundary-stretching, the question hides more important issues like, “How can I love and honor this other person best?” or “Why did God design us to be physically affectionate people and what should I learn from that here?”. I’m sure there are better questions that these. The point is that “How far is too far?” is dangerous because it distracts us from much more important issues.
  3. It tricks us into making certain assumptions. The question leads you to believe that the earlier steps on the journey are inherently safe. After all, what could be wrong with one little kiss? So, the only real challenge is to determine when you’ve gone too far. But, the reality is that any step on the journey can be a problem if taken selfishly. I knew guys in high school who kept lists of how many girls they had kissed. I’d say that using another person’s body for one’s own egotistical gratification, even for one little kiss, is already going “too far.” But the false assumptions embedded in the question prevent us from seeing that.

I’d say much the same thing about another of my least favorite questions: What do you need to believe in order to be saved? Now, I can understand why this question gets asked a lot. But I still don’t like it.

  1. Setting the wrong mindset. Right out of the gate, the question has us focusing on the bare minimums necessary for salvation. It’s almost like we want to know how much a person can be ignorant of, or reject entirely, and still be saved. How much can we get away with and still slip into heaven by the skin of our teeth? Such a mindset seems necessarily misplaced.
  2. Hiding more important issues. I’m not sure where to begin on this one, the hidden issues are so many and so great. At the very least, the question hides the true grandeur of the story of salvation. Most people who try to answer this question place things like the Trinity, the Church, the image of God, and the eschatological new creation in the category of things that are important but not necessary for salvation (i.e. you can be ignorant of them or misunderstand them and still be saved). But, by framing the question in this way, we’ve hidden the fact that these (and more) are fundamentally a part of the story of salvation. We’ve reduced salvation to the individual person and his or her faith in some relatively finite set of facts (sin, cross, etc.). But salvation is so much more than this.
  3. Bearing false assumptions. I think we can find at least four false assumptions buried in the question: (a) It is possible to identify the bare minimum for salvation; (b) Salvation is ultimately about knowing certain facts; (c) Salvation is primarily about you as an individual; and (d) People know what the word “saved” means. I could write an entire post on why these four are all false assumptions. And the question seems to bring all four along with it.

So, a dangerous question is one that seems fundamentally flawed in these three ways. I’m sure almost every question could be accused of doing these to some degree. But, some do so to such an extent that I think we should categorize them as “dangerous questions” and just stop using them. (I should say, though, that such questions can be used as an effective teaching tool when you show people why they are flawed questions.)

What do you think? Are there other questions that you think are dangerous questions?