Is Noah Biblical?

Derek Ouellette —  March 29, 2014 — 5 Comments

Watch-Noah-OnlineNOAH was an epic film. I throughly enjoyed it from start to finish. It has all of the elements I love in these types of movies. Action, suspense, romance, drama, magic (though a dash of comedy would have been nice). In fact at times I almost forgot that I was watching a movie “based on the Bible.” But I was, and that’s what I want to talk about in this post.

First, this Bible thumper (ah, that’d be me) gives this secular movie two whopping thumbs up. A solid eight stars out of ten. Loved it.

Second, spoilers ahead (duh!). Continue Reading…

Clergy DaysAs a semi-regular preacher at my Church, my pastor invited me to take part in this years Clergy Days, an annual event held in Toronto for our district of the Nazarene Church. I think he invited me because, though I’m not a “clergy,” I do preach often enough that he felt this year’s theme – “The Preaching Event–An Intersection Between Heaven and Earth” – would enhance my gifting and would benefit the church as I exercise what I’ve learned.

The speaker was Dr. Gary Bennett, a Nazarene pastor based out of Vancouver. Dr. Bennett trained under Haddon Robinson author of the book, Biblical Preaching, and he wrote his dissertation on (I believe) homiletics. I walked away from the event with some great nuggets to work into my approach. Here are a few things I jotted down. Continue Reading…

It’s been awhile since I’ve reviewed a book here on Covenant of Love so let me give you the down-low. The following review is not meant to be a blow-by-blow analysis so that by reading my review you somehow don’t need to read the book. Quite the contrary, this review will offer highlights designed to peak your interest or save you time depending on whether you think, based on my review, if it’s worth a read. And that, of course, depends on if I’ve built a rapport with you. Do you trust me? My reviews are based on five stars. So without further ado…

UnknownThe Social Church

By Justin Wise
3.5 Stars (out of five)

In my experience visiting pastors for my job there seems to be a sense of reluctance to embrace the new media world among more of them than I’d care to even count. There is some amount of justification for their reluctance (or fear, I suppose would be more accurate). First, it’s easy for a minister who has built his or her ministry and career upon Sunday morning services and actually hand to hand engagement to see the irrelevance of social media. There’s also the fear that by putting him or herself online the pastor may be opening themselves up for trouble. And also there’s the shrouded wisdom that says, social media does more harm than good, so I’ll lead by example by abstaining from going on and hope my flock follows suit (newsflash: they won’t).

But the reality is, social media is the latest globe changer. Just as writing changed everything, just as the printing press changed everything, just as the Industrial Revolution changed everything, the internet (web 2.0) and social media has changed everything again. The only question is, will churches adapt the everlasting message to the new medium or will they refuse change and – for sure! – fizzle out. God’s Church universal will never fail, Justin reminds us, but individual faith-communities have and will.

The Good

In his book, The Social Church, Justin Wise makes a compelling case for why churches cannot not be online. This book is a call for heretics to rise up – not doctrinal heretics but the kind of heretic who knows that the only way for faith-communites to be effective are those who go against the tradition of tradition (“this is the way things have always been done“) in order to meet people where they are. The great commission applies to Facebook too. If your people are there; if the people you want to reach are there, you need to be there.

The book is incredibly helpful in its insights and the information it provides. For example, a recent study showed that 47% of those surveyed said they would not visit a church for the first time if the church in question did not have a website. And Justin reminds us that number is only going to go up. But not any website will do. It can’t be a website where your church sort of pukes up information-overload and text-overload. Your church needs a clear Big Idea and they need to communicate that Big Idea succinctly on its website. And your website needs to look good and be thought out, but it shouldn’t use “stock photos” because that will deceive people into false expectations when they visit. Your church needs a Big Idea and a website before it gets into social media because your website – the only social media avenue you own – is the “hub” of your internet activity. All of this and other great advice and direction are provided throughout the book.

I also found the chapter called “Looking for a Mouse” to be insightful in its direction on how to use social media. Here’s a hint: it’s not about sharing “Jesus Loves You” pictures all the time or constantly trying to get people saved. Justin encourages the 80/20 rule. Make 80% of what you share to be about your community – ask questions, start conversations, be apart of conversations, provide inspirational and uplifting thoughts and so on – and only about 20% of your shared content should be about your direct message, your events, your witness.

One more point I’d like to highlight is how Justin puts his finger on the reality that social media is real life. That’s hard for slow moving traditionalists to wrap their minds around. But it’s true. There’s no such thing as “the real world” and “the cyber world.” The cyber world is just as real as the real world. What you do online does have real life consequences (as my friend Ryan often says), but that’s because what you do online is just as real as what you do offline.

What Could Be Improved Upon

The book could have been better had Wise not spent so much time elaborating on his Lutheran heritage at the start of the book. I believe he could have gotten his point across better by touching on the relevance of his background without making some of the doctrinal assertions and elaboration that may very well turn off non-Lutherans (and in particular, Catholic churches) readers who would otherwise benefit from his advice. I also found that at times he rambled which annoyed me I must confess. But that just might be me. A third critique is that I wasn’t always sure who the book was written for. Was it directed to church leaders? That seemed to be the thrust of the book so, in my bookstore, I would put it in the leadership section. But at other times he seemed to be speaking to a wider audience the way you might find, say, a book in the spiritual growth section of my bookstore. For example, he has a chapter called “Looking for a Mouse” in which he deals with the right and wrong type of content to share on social media – or perhaps I should say, the right and wrong ways we share our content. It was a really good chapter for everyone, but I didn’t feel any call-back for leaders to take the reins.

Conclusion

I would highly recommend this book and frankly wish there were more like it. The Church has always been a slow-moving machine. We’re called to be the body of the radical Christ, but sometimes it feels like we’re the body of a slug. Thick-skinned, resilient but slow as molasses. Paul used the technology of his day – writing instruments – to reach more people and provide a “presence” and “community” even when he couldn’t be with them physically. Luther and the Reformers used the technology of their day – the printing press – to spread their message and God’s word rapidly across the Western World. We need to utilize the technology of our day for the greatest benefit for the Kingdom of God.

bill-nye-debate-ken-hamLast week the internet was all abuzz over the hard-to-take-serious debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye (“the science guy”). I’ve got a bucket-load of thoughts about the debate which I’ll mostly keep to myself. Though I’ll remark here that I basically share the sentiments of the academic community which is that this debate by and large ignored the reflective and careful views which stand between the two extremes represented that night (naturalism on the one side and young earth creationism on the other).

If you were one of the unfortunately ones, obligated for whatever reason you had to watch the debate, no doubt you picked up on Ham’s continued ascertain that “we have a Book for that” every time Nye couldn’t answer a question. He was of course referring to the Bible. Now this irked me a little which might cause someone to wonder why a Christian referring to the Bible would irk a fellow evangelical, Bible-Believing Christian like myself?

But even if you agree with Ham, you should be irked too. And here’s why.

If what Ken Ham believes the Bible teaches about creation is true – that creation happened six thousand years ago – then the science should confirm that hypothesis. Ham knows this and does believe (or says he believes) that the science supports his interpretation of the Bible.

But if that is true, if the scientific evidence supports a young earth, then wouldn’t Ham have been able to appeal to the scientific data, and not the Bible, to show that the evidence supports a young earth?

The debate between Ham and Nye was one between a secular scientist and a religious fundamentalist over the question of whether “Young Earth Creationism Was A Viable Option.” I would think that for Ham, to defend that Young Earth Creationism is a viable option for the scientific community and for science classes in school, I would think that he would endeavor to make a case for Young Earth Creationism from science, not the Bible. If YEC is to be a scientifically viable option, it would have to be shown scientifically to be so.

The fact that Ham continued to appeal to “a Book” and not science just further suggests to me that the science does not support a Young Earth model and that perhaps, rather most likely, Ham has misinterpreted the Bible.

The best thing about the debate, IMO, is that they were both using Mac’s. In that regard, Ham and myself see eye-to-eye.

Online Sales TaxesIn the January 2014 edition of Christian Retailing I learned that Amazon has some pretty huge innovations on the horizon.

One such innovation involves Amazon’s plan to use flying drones to deliver customer orders to their doorsteps within 30 minutes. If you don’t believe just watch this clip from 60 Minutes:

Continue Reading…

Here I’d like to offer you some advice based off my experience working in a bookstore, seeing self-published books arrive on the shelf from time to time, and now having published my own book. A lot of this comes right down to taste. So take it with a grain of salt.

Continue Reading...

Soldier PrayingN.T. Wright made some claims about the military and early Christianity which has sparked a bit of a conversation in certain quarters of the web close to me. I’m not a pacifist – though I’m quickly moving into the “non-violence” position, which is somewhat different – and so naturally I appreciate Wright’s cautious approach to the subject. To the chagrin of many Wright enthusiasts, the good scholar does not lead the charge with the mantle of pacifism raised high in the air.

It was acknowledged that Wright’s an Anglican. So without giving him a full pass, it’s said that we shouldn’t expect much different from an Anglican. But from what I know of reading Wright (who is said by Roger Olson to fit the description of a “post-conservative”) he has not been afraid to part with his tradition on matters he believes the Bible teaches (vis. women in the ministry). Wright is, beyond a doubt, a Bible-first Christian. If he believes Christians can – at least in principle – serve in the military, it’s probably not on account of his Anglicanism.

And so when a historian of Wright’s caliber makes a cautious statement about what he doesn’t know about the second and third century of the church, that gives me pause from thinking I can whip out a quote or two of a Church Father here or there and be done with it. A good historian knows that you can’t judge the ethos of a community in a period just by quoting a few literate voices. Continue Reading…

puce-sur-le-corpsAccording to a website of questionable credibility (the conspiracy laden site TipNews), “All European newborn Babies will be Microchipped from May 2014.” My wife remarked when she caught wind of the article, “If I shared this on Facebook, you know what the reaction would be?” It was more of a statement than a question. “Ya I do” I said. Few things ignite eschatological fervour among Christians like an article about embedded microchips.

Dozens of people left comments under the article including sentiments such as “The Anti-Christ is coming” and “All is going according to plan.” But I think the one comment that captures the sentiments of most is this one left by someone name Priscilla:

“This was written in the Bible.”

Really? Was it? Did I miss that memo? I’ve scoured the good Book for any clear reference to the European Union microchipping babies. I mean, I’ve read the Book dozens of times and I have yet to find a single reference to an RFID chip. Not one. I tried to find it. I gave people the benefit of the doubt. I scoured God’s word with a fine-tooth comb. Would someone please show me where in the Bible we find anything about microchips being embedded in humans?

Now of course I know what she’s referring to. When she says “This was written in the Bible” she’s alluding to the mark of the beast mentioned in Revelation. In chapter 13 verses 16 and 17 we read that the second beast

“… forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.”

Although we are not told clearly what the mark of the beast is, many people conclude that it must be a physical mark of some sort and that it must be related, in some way, to economics since people without the mark cannot buy or sell. In the 70′s people thought the mark of the beast was some sort of bar code. In the 90′s it was a computer chip. In the new millennium people began to speculate that it might be both a computer chip and a retinal scan (“… their foreheads.”). These people interpret Revelation in a “consistent literal” fashion.

Biblical Example: How First Century Literalists Mistook the Old Testament

Today many people read Revelation in the same way that many first century Jews read the Old Testament. For example, most first century Jewish interpretations of the coming of the Messiah held that when the Messiah came he would destroy the Romans and set up Gods Kingdom in a violent way reminiscent of King David. Because they interpreted the Old Testament in a consistent literal fashion it’s no wonder that almost all of them, save a couple of dozen, did not recognize their visitation. Sadly I think it’s going to be the same today with many people who insist on a consistent literal interpretation of Revelation.

But more to the point of the mark of the beast, here’s a comparative analogy demonstrating how off the mark a literal reading of that passage can be when read apart from the rest of the scriptures. In Deuteronomy 6:8 Moses instructs the Israelites to “tie [the law] as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads” (See also, Deuteronomy 11:18). Now to the best of my knowledge this was never literally practiced in ancient Israel. Neither Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Solomon nor any other Israelite actually put “phylacteries” (small boxes filled with scripture) on their foreheads or hands.

The message of Deuteronomy 6:8 (and its surrounding verses) was that the Israelites were to remember (forehead) to love the One God who delivered them from Egypt and to serve (hand) him faithfully always.

But some time after the exile some Jews began to interpret Deuteronomy 6:8 literally. They began tying little leather boxes filled with scripture to their forehead. In fact Jesus even addresses this “consistent literal” interpretation of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:5. Rather than interpret Deuteronomy to be a symbolic reference to their hearts, minds and actions, they took it literally (as a physical mark on their forehead and hands) so that people could see how careful they where to obey the Bible.

Today people who have been influenced by pop-culture Christianity – the likes of the Left Behind works of fiction, popular end times movies, television evangelists and so on – are making the same mistake.

In the scriptures the right hand and the forehead represent what you do and what you think respectively.

Just as in Revelation 13 there was not an actual dragon that stood on the shore, and just as an actual beast did not rise from the sea, and just like the 144,000 with God’s name on their foreheads in Revelation 14 are not actually 144,000 exact people with an actual mark (12 x 12 x 1000 = 144,000: the number 12 represents the people of God – twelve tribes of Israel, twelve apostles – and 1000 represents completeness in the scriptures. Thus 144,000 represents all of the people of God.) and just like so many other things in Revelation, the mark of the beast is a symbolic reference to those who worship the beast in mind and in actions. The reference to the economy – to buying and selling – is reminiscent of when Jesus said to his disciples in John 15:19:

“If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”

Prophetic language of Revelation is strongly hyperbolic like all poetic, prophetic, and apocalyptic language is. The point is that the “beast” (whoever he is) is going to deceive the world (as the devil has been doing from the beginning) so that the world will serve him with their mind and their actions. It’s the world loving the world and hating those who follow and serve Christ.

So in sum, what does the Bible say about computer chips? Nothing.

leap_of_faith_penguin-normalI just watched a short clip by William Lane Craig on YouTube where he argues, in my opinion, quite definitively, that in Paul faith is understood as something we produce.

Now, the claim that faith is a gift from God and not something that we produce is usually based on Ephesians 2:8-9. Here is what that says:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith (πίστεως)—and this (τοῦτο) is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”

When you read that verse you have to ask yourself (because you’ve probably come to a subconscious interpretation that you need to vocalize), what does the word “this” refer to?

Reformers will tell you that “this” refers to “faith.” To me that seems to be an unnatural reading of the sentence. The main clause of the sentence is “by grace you have been saved” with and explanation “and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift from God.” The phrase “through faith” is a qualifier to the preceding statement. So a natural and grammatical reading of the sentence in English suggests that the word “this” is not referring back to “faith.”

Not only is the Reformed interpretation unlikely in the English structure, but it is “demonstrably” incorrect when read in Greek (Craig’s word).

Here’s why.

Words in many other languages – Greek, Spanish, German – have genders (masculine, feminine, neuter). And words that refer to one another will grammatically gender-match (pronoun with noun). The gender of the word “faith” in Ephesians 2:8 is feminine. If the word “this” referred to “faith” Paul would have used the feminine gender form for the word “this” (αὕτη). But he doesn’t. Instead Paul uses the neuter (τοῦτο). Unless we think that Paul (and God) made a grammatical mistake in this sentence, it is impossible to say that “this” refers to “faith.”

So what does “this is not from yourselves, it is a gift from God” refer to then? It’s referring to the whole preceding clause: “salvation by grace through faith.” This is how God set it up. To quote Craig: “That God has elected to save by grace everybody who has faith in Christ.” That is God’s gift.

Ephesians 2:8-9 does not teach that saving faith is a gift from God. That is grammatically incorrect. The gift of God, according to Paul, is that God saves by grace everyone who has faith in Christ. And that is not a work. Faith is never taught by Paul to be a meritorious work toward salvation. That is a gross misunderstanding of Paul. The apostle always treats Faith and Works as oppose and against each other. Faith is not a work toward salvation but it is something we produce in response to Gods prevenient, or amazing, grace. The gift of God, to word it another way, is that he saves (by his grace) those who believe.

Here is the four-minute clip where Craig explains more or less what I just said:

 

The Bible SaysHave you finished reading your copy of Wright’s “little” 1500+ tome, Paul and the Faithfulness of God?  Don’t rush. It seemed when this opus magnum came out bloggers everywhere raced “read” and “reviewed” it in like a week or something. Sorry, but it’s hard for me to take those reviews seriously in this instance. A book as massive as that needs to be worked through and savoured and enjoyed and critiqued carefully. You can’t rush it.

But by June you might need a little break. No problem. Have a little reading candy with his latest forthcoming book: Surprised by Scripture, set to be released June 3.

Though the current cover mockup (above) implies that it will be called “The Bible Says,” it seems Harper has settled on “Surprised by Scripture,” though the cover for that has yet to be designed. My guess is you just change the words and you’re good to go.

Anyways. I think this book will be somewhat different from most of Wright’s previous work in that he turns his attention (at last) to hot button issues among Evangelicals and seems to give his blunt opinion – even making a case – on contemporary controversial subjects including:

  • Why it is possible to love the Bible and affirm evolution
  • Why women should be allowed to be ordained
  • Where Christians today have lost focus, and why it is important for them to engage in politics—and why that involvement benefits everyone
  • Why the Christian belief in heaven means we should be at the forefront of the environmental movement
  • And much more

The subtitle says it all: Engaging Contemporary Issues.

From Harper Collins website:

Helpful, practical, and wise, Surprised by Scripture invites readers to examine their own hearts and minds and presents new models for understanding how to affirm the Bible in today’s world—as well as new ideas and renewed energy for deepening our faith and engaging with the world around us.

No doubt about it. N.T. Wright is a writing beast!

Untitled

I still remember how scandalized I was back in the mid ’90′s when reports began to circulate that D.C. Talk kept beer in a fridge backstage during concerts.

Could it be, I thought to myself, that my favourite Christian band are only Christian on the surface?

I was young in my faith, passionate and on fire for Christ. But passion mixed with naivety is the quick road to fear and judgementalism.

Recently while I was sipping a shot of Rum in my office I realized I am quite the scandal to my past self. Though today my faith and security in Christ and my love for Jesus and understanding of his Word are all deeper than ever, my past self would question whether my current self is even saved.

Here are three ways I’m a scandal to my past self. Continue Reading…

Stack

I shouldn’t be so skeptical about self-publishing. After all, William Young was a clerk at a hotel when he self-published The Shack which became a New York Times bestseller simply by word of mouth. And Dave Ramsey’s self-published book, Total Money Makeover, sold from the back of his car before it skyrocketed to the top. So it is possible to established credibility by self-publishing. But not likely. So when I say I’m a “published author,” don’t make much of that. I’m really not. Well, I mean, I am (technically). But I don’t see myself as having the credibility of a published author because, well, if anybody can do it, its credibility becomes diluted. And believe me, this was an easy (easy!) system. I could write an entire document with just the letter “z” (“Zzz, zzzzz, zz, zzzz. Z, zzzzzz, zz?”) and give it a title “Z” and have it published by tomorrow. So don’t make much of this. I’m not.

Okay, enough with the self putdown. I published a book. That’s a fact. It’s called The Joys of Marriage.

Now if you have followed this blog for any length of time you are probably just as surprised as I am that my first published book would be a memoir on marriage. There are two reason for this. 1. It was already written (pretty much). 2. I wanted the experience.

Here’s how I describe the story behind the story on The Joys of Marriage website:

By the end of our first year of marriage we were broke. Like any decent man I wanted to give my wife a very special anniversary gift, but without a lot of money I had to tap into my creative side. So I decided to write a memoir highlighting our first year of marriage and give it to her as an anniversary present.

This short memoir was written for her and originally intended to be read by her, myself and perhaps years down the road, by our children and grandchildren.

Since then we’ve had some family and friends read it and the reaction was positive enough that I decided to make it available to a larger audience.

I tweaked it and edited it and made slight adjustments then added an epilogue summarizing the five years since the book was first printed at the local Staples. Then I put it up on Amazon as an ebook (self-published) and I’m in the process of self-publishing a paperback edition with Lulu or CreateSpace which will also make a physical copy available on Amazon, Barns and Nobles and Ingram.

This book is short. Really short. In paperback format it comes out to about 44 pages. Amazon estimates the page count on a kindle to be closer to 25. The average person can have it read within an hour.

I hope that you find it at times humorous and witty, at times emotive and, by the end, inspirational and encouraging.

Since the book has already been written it made for an easy way to get the experience.

But allow me to share my trepidation with telling anybody about it. Yes, there’s an ebook (and soon, a paperback) available for sale on Amazon written by yours truly. But it wasn’t written for you, it was written for my wife and in her honour. It was written with a tiny audience in mind. And as such I bare my soul in a way I’ve never done online. I’ve exposed myself deeply. I’ve shown my weakness. I’ve not sought (except, perhaps at the very end) theological precision. Because the book is so personal in nature, negative reviews kind of scare me. From peers the reviews have been mostly positive. Like this one:

The Joys of Marriage was such a delight to read. This was an honest look at the first year of marriage, complete with the joy, laughter, struggle, and even heartbreak all marriages face. This book had me laughing out loud (love the bathroom scene), but also feeling the pain Derek felt when they had to move from the apartment. I would love to read more from this author.

By opening up the book to a wider audience I hope that is does just as it seemed to do for this reviewer. I hope that readers will find it at times funny, at times emotive, always real and, at least by the very end, encouraging.

In that regard, if you’d like to read my memoir, The Joys of Marriage: A Story About Surviving the First year of Marriage (with Joy), follow the links below:

And after you’ve read the book you can leave a review on the official website:

Of course you’re more than welcome to leave a review on your own blog (thus exposing the book to an even wider audience) and on Amazon. You can also share the book with your friends by clicking on the share icon for your favourite social media site.

[2014: do something new. Done]

Building on Ken Bailey’s work, the three misnomers about the nativity are:

1. That Jesus was born the night Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem (not true).

2. That Mary and Joseph were turned away from a commercial inn (not true).

3. That Jesus was born in a stable (not true).

And as a bonus, I’ll add a fourth:

4. The magi arrived a when Jesus was probably almost a toddler (not true).

3kings… well, at first I thought so. Then I changed my mind. Now I’m back where I started, kind of.

Most nativity sets come complete with Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, a shepherd, some sheep and three wise men known to tradition as Gaspar, Balthasar, and Melchior.

So I’d say the vast majority of people think that the magi were on set shortly after Jesus was born. That’s what I thought too. Continue Reading…

Untitled3When I first read his now infamous quote in the GQ article I gave Phil something of a pass. After all, being myself a churched Christian I’ve come across my fair share of brass aged Christian men with no shortage of loud opinions. I still remember one man pulling back my headphones and letting go so that it slapped against my ear. “That music is from the devil son,” he said in his brute authoritative voice. “Don’t listen to it in church.” (It was Petra.) I’ve learned to just shrug my shoulders while taking into consideration their age and the era they’re from.

And when the context of the conversation is taken into account, you begin to feel sorry for Phil in the same way you do for your grandma who speaks bluntly about sexual matters in public places to her granddaughters. It’s embarrassing to everyone, but you give old granny a  sympathy pass because you figure she must be going senile or something. Continue Reading…