Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Do Mormons believe in the Jesus of the Bible?

Do Mormons worship a different Jesus? Do they believe in the Real Jesus of the Bible or do they have a different Jesus?

Visit Watchman Fellowship on the web - www.watchman.org - for more information as well as resources to reach Mormons and others deceived by false prophets and teachers.

The Desire to be Accepted & Approved

From Josh Harris:
I illustrate the point that discernment requires resisting the world's way of thinking. I point out that this resistence often results in the world's disapproval and rejection of us. I tell the story of my painful and humorous experience of being featured on Ira Glass's radio show This American Life.

What Color Should Jesus Be?

From http://evangelicaloutpost.com/

"If we have no idea what Jesus looked like, how should he be portrayed?"

It's not often that I disagree with John Piper. But on this question Dr. Piper and I are on opposite sides. Andy Jackson recently pointed to a brief excerpt from one of Dr. Piper's sermons titled "What do you think of pictures of Jesus?". I've transcribed the text from the audio:

I'm a little hesitant about portraits of Jesus at all. There's that argument about whether that's breaking the first Commandment -- don't make any graven images, don't have pictures of Jesus in your house. The reason I'm not a stickler on that is because Jesus became incarnate, therefore we know he had a face. God the father didn't have a face, except insofar as He and the Son are one.

Jesus had a face and even though we don't know what it looked like I think renderings of it to show various things are okay. And if we're going to do that, they should be real diverse. I think they should be real diverse because you lock in on that famous one--I don't know what it's called, the one with the long hair, kind of the idyllic face and the blue eyes---that's absolutely absurd.

But I think they should probably be black portrayals of Jesus, and white portrayals of Jesus, and Chinese portrayals of Jesus. And everybody knows that they're not accurate. There isn't one that's accurate. That's why it's legitimate to do lots of inaccurate works. Because you just say we all know that we don't know what he looked like so what we want to say with our inaccurate Jesus is something true about Jesus. Namely, he's there for everybody.

There are three points in this statement in which I agree. I agree that such images do not break the first Commandment and I agree that Warner Sallman's "Head of Christ" is "absolutely absurd." I also agree that Jesus is there for everyone. Unfortunately, the rest of the passage seems to me to be confused and illogical.

For example, Piper says that the images should be "real diverse." But how much diversity is acceptable? Would he approve of portrayals of Jesus as an elderly man? What about as a woman?

The fact that no particular rendition can be completely accurate does not make it "legitimate to do lots of inaccurate works." Unless the work is intentionally abstract, then a degree of realism is to be expected from the artwork. By offering a portrayal that intentionally veers from the Biblical portrait of Christ, the artist is using Jesus to further a particular racial, ethnic, or political agenda.

Piper is also just flat out wrong in saying that "everybody knows that they're not accurate." Hitler claimed that Jesus was probably Gallic and that "it's certain that Jesus was not a Jew." The view that Jesus has Nordic features is still held today by white supremacists. Similarly, the view that Jesus was black is espoused by syncretic religions, such as Santeria or Voodoo, where African gods were merged with saints of the Roman Catholic Church. The Black Hebrew Israelites (a group that can be found preaching on street corners in our Nation's capital) also claims that since black people are descended from Israelites, Jesus had to be black.

The antisemitism that motivates and inspires most of these images is reason enough to condemn such revisionist art. Christians should stand firm against this vicious ideology by refusing to budge on the truth that our Lord and Savior took the incarnate form of a Jew.

But even when the motives are noble, we should reject such this faux diversity. Instead, we should express our humility by honoring the choices that God made in taking human form. We are created to reflect the image of our Lord; we shouldn’t try to recreate his image to reflect our own.

Lead us not into cyber-temptation as missionaries enter Second Life


Roman Catholic missionaries must reap a virtual harvest of cyber-souls in the kingdom of Second Life: this is the new instruction to the faithful.

It appears in the Jesuit journal La Civiltà Cattolica, a Rome-based publication approved by the Vatican Secretariat of State, in an article by the academic priest Father Antonio Spadaro. For Catholics in the postcolonial era, proselytism has become a dirty word, but there is now a new land to conquer for Christ, a computer world in which to convert nonbelievers.

Father Spadaro urges Catholics to go out into the simulation game of Second Life, to lead the cyber-embodiments of their fellow men and women out of the many temptations that exist there. Second Life players create a virtual version of themselves – an avatar – and wander through an ever-growing virtual reality with its own currency, industry and culture.

The site now has a population of eight million. Millions of real dollars change hands there every month.

Amid the virtual towns, however, sin has flourished. Freed from the constraints of their real lives, many occupants indulge in random fornication, and prostitution is flourishing. Gambling is widespread and, although occupants are free from the ravages of alcohol and drug abuse, they are vulnerable to mindless consumerism.

“It is not possible to turn a blind eye to this phenomenon, or offhandedly pass judgment glorifying or condemning it,” says Father Spadaro. “Instead it must be understood . . . the best way to understand it is to enter it and live inside it to recognise its potential and dangers.”

As in any society where sin flourishes, so does religion – of every kind. There are already hundreds of churches, synagogues, mosques and temples serving the faithful, many of whom regard it as their latest virtual mission to save Second Lifers.

LifeChurch.tv, one of the most technologically advanced churches in the US, is among those to have opened Second Life missions.

Commenting on the growing religiosity of the site that has become a haven of virtual escapism, John Lester, also known as Pathfinder Linden of Linden Labs, toldNew Scientistmagazine: “I interpret this as them wanting people to know that, just like in real life, there is a spiritual side to things [in Second Life]. I think it’s a cool idea for folks to want to make sure that this side of spirituality is being represented.”

In his Jesuit article, Father Spadaro, 40, asks: “Is there [cyber] space for God?” He quotes a Swedish Muslim who says that his avatar prays regularly “as he prays in real life”.

Father Spadaro cautions the uninitiated that “the erotic dimension is very present” in Second Life.

While the virtual world might be a refuge for some people seeking to flee the real one, it is also full of people seeking something more from life, including, possibly, religious enlightenment, Father Spadaro says. “Deep down, the digital world can be considered, in its way, mission territory. Second Life is somewhere where the opportunity to meet people and to grow should not be missed. Therefore, any initiative that can inspire the residents in a positive way should be considered opportune.”

Admitting that the anonymous nature of the site means a person’s virtual appearance can be open and honest, he adds: “On the other hand, one can also get caught up in a spontaneity that knows no limits or discretion.”

He also gives warning that users might become alienated from the real world and begin to identify themselves according to their self-created myth. Events or experiences are erased easily. Simulated reality allows the user to do almost anything at a “low level of risk”. “This has worrying emotional and affective consequences,” the priest says. In the virtual world everything is “under control and reversible”, making the real world look frightening.

He has a reputation for counter-cultural innovations in the spirit of Christian justice. He has lauded the singer Tom Waits as a role model for Catholics, because he represents the “marginalised and misunderstood”. He paved the way for the rehabilitation of Oscar Wilde by the Church when, on the centenary of the homosexual writer’s death, he praised the “understanding of God’s love” that had followed the writer's imprisonment.

Virtual welcome

–– Within your first hour, you'll notice that several residents approach you and introduce themselves – Second Lifers are eager to welcome you and show you around

–– Within this vibrant society of people, it's easy to find people with similar interests. There are dozens of events where you can party at nightclubs, attend fashion shows and art openings or just play games

–– Residents form groups ranging from neighbourhood associations to fans of science fiction films

Monday, July 30, 2007

Faces of persecution

What Color Should Jesus Be?

African-American Jesus White Jesus Chinese Jesus

Listen to John Piper talk about whether artistic portrayals of Jesus should be racially diverse.

"Utterly Normal?" -- No "Post-Homosexualist" Era Yet

By Albert Mohler @ http://www.albertmohler.com

Our language has reached some important natural limits of meaning. A recent media report considered the increasing number of homosexual couples, both male and female, who are now "having babies." Well, these same-sex couples are not "having" babies in the sense that language has customarily been used. When a same-sex couple "has" a baby, everyone knows that there is more to the story. A homosexual couple simply cannot "have" a baby the same way that a heterosexual couple can. This is a matter of the natural order and biology, not mere social custom.

This came to mind when I read Will Young's article published in the July 28, 2007 edition of The Times [London]. In "We Gays Haven't Won the Battle Yet," Young accepts the fact that modern society has experienced a massive shift on the subject of homosexuality.

In his words:

In the 40 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality, the passing of gay rights on to the statute book has been a triumph. Gay couples have more security and equality thanks to civil partnerships, and gays are now treated with fairness before the eyes of the law. So as a gay man, I celebrate this and feel lucky to be alive in Britain in 2007.

But, he argues, "it is important to draw a distinction between legal change and the shift in attitudes. It is quicker to pass a law than achieve the necessary movement of public opinion – and attitudes still lag behind the law. So we can't yet give ourselves a proverbial pat on the back."

Young was responding to a column written by Matthew Parris published just days before. In that article, Parris argued that his fellow homosexuals should realize this massive shift in favor of homosexuality and celebrate it, declaring victory in the struggle to normalize homosexuality.

As Parris argued:

I'm coming out as a post-homosexualist. Forty years (tomorrow) after the 1967 law ending the absolute prohibition of homosexuality, 13 years after the reduction of the age of consent from 21 to 18, six years after the further reduction from 18 to 16, and two years after the arrival of civil partnerships, I have finally become bored with the whole damn thing. Bored, not with being gay, but with talking about it. I blame Tony Blair.

Do cats witter endlessly on about being cats? Do redheads drive us to distraction with their thoughts on being ginger? How many serious comment columns in the editorial pages of newspapers are devoted to the musings of straight men on what it is to be a heterosexual? No, they just get on with it – with being cats, redheads or straights. Such things are for the lifestyle sections of weekend magazines, not rubbing shoulders with the debate on global warming, housing or the terrorist threat.

Fellow-queers: stop moaning. How interesting is any of this to the rest of the world any more? Other groups out there have it worse than we do in Britain. We've got the political changes we asked for. Social change will take longer but it's happening, steadily. Kidding ourselves that we inhabit some sort of a gulag is making it harder, not easier, for the next generation to relax about their sexuality. Let's remind them that in the whole history of mankind there has been no better, luckier, time or place to be gay than Britain in 2007.

So Parris called for the recognition of a new "post-homosexualist" era. He identified organized religion as the only major obstacle to full acceptance of homosexuality, but observed that "most of our fellow Britons don't seriously subscribe to any of these superstitions, so why take it out on them?"

Young isn't buying the argument. As he considers the status of homosexuality and homosexuals in society, he sees a very different reality -- and his observation is as relevant to the situation in the United States as it is to life in Britain.

Consider his argument about the "next stage" needed for the full acceptance of homosexuality:

The next stage is trickier. It's how to make people understand that gays are utterly normal; it's how to change outlooks so that it never crosses people's minds that to be gay is to be so different or alien; or to stare if two men hold hands, or to do a double take if a man says "meet my husband"; it's how to be able to be honest about yourself without people accusing you of "ramming your homosexuality down my throat". Hop over to the Netherlands and sexuality is not such an issue; but here in Britain things are different. I am still often referred to as the "gay pop idol – Will Young" (very much in that order of importance); yet in other countries the gay word doesn't come into it – someone's sexuality is regarded rightly as a being an irrelevance or unnoteworthy.

This is a very important observation -- and a crucial reminder that the natural order of things has a way of asserting itself in the end. Mr. Young wants people to "understand that gays are utterly normal." And this would mean that the issue "never crosses people's minds" -- that no one notices anything unusual when two men hold hands or if a man says "meet my husband."

Young, who is a well-known figure in Britain, became famous when he won the first "Pop Idol" contest on British television. In his view, a public acknowledgement of homosexuality should be a matter of no real interest. As he wrote, "Coming out should just be a statement of fact – I have red hair, I drink tea, I sleep with the same sex."

It isn't that simple, of course. And it isn't that simple precisely because there is a deep moral instinct within us that continually reminds that sex between persons of the same sex is not natural or normal. The very fact of this difference even remains a part of the discourse among liberals who think they believe in the moral normalization of homosexuality.

The stubborn fact is that most people still notice when two men or two women hold hands in public. When two men tell their colleagues and neighbors that they are "having" a baby, those neighbors can't help wondering how.

Will Young undoubtedly believes that this inability to see homosexuality as a matter of no consequence is explained by deep prejudices that are woven throughout the culture. But Christians believe that this moral instinct is explained, not by social custom and prejudice, but by the revelation of God in nature and in the human conscience --the very knowledge the Apostle Paul described in the first chapter of Romans. God has given his human creatures the knowledge that homosexuality is just not "utterly normal." This knowledge may be denied or suppressed, but it will not disappear.


Image: Rembrandt van Rijn, "Self-Portrait as the Apostle Paul"

Rethinking our Vocabulary: “Personal Relationship with Jesus”

by: Trevin@ http://saidatsouthern.com

Asking hard questions about our Christian vocabulary may make us squirm a little. But it’s healthy to ask questions if our goal is to adopt better, more-biblical terminology.

Let’s consider the phrase “personal relationship with Jesus.” In the last century, evangelical churches grew in number as many people fled the mainline churches for a conversion-centered, conservative Christianity. Evangelicals found that one way to gauge a person’s spiritual life was to discover how they viewed Christianity. Was their religion simply a weekly tradition, filled with dry rituals and empty ceremony ( i.e. high church)? Or was it a vibrant “relationship” with God through the person of Jesus Christ (i.e. evangelicalism)?

Evangelicals began saying Christianity isn’t a religion, but a relationship. Our emphasis on personal conversion and subsequent transformation separated us from other denominations. The phrase “personal relationship with Jesus” arose out of this context as a way to differentiate between the two types of Christianity.

A generation of worship songs and evangelistic crusades pounded the phrase into evangelical consciousness. Songwriters took the “relationship” lingo and began writing praise songs to Jesus instead of hymns about him. Evangelists emphasized the personal aspect of conversion, showing how it’s not enough to know about Christ. One must know him personally.

Where does all this put us today? I’m convinced that the phrase “personal relationship with Jesus” correctly expresses the biblical idea of discipleship and reconciliation with God. Evangelicals are right to use this phrase if through it we mean a personal, ongoing life of discipleship that includes gradual transformation into holiness. The Bible teaches that upon conversion we enter into a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Jesus is our mediator, the one who reconciles us to God, and justified by faith, we are united to Christ.

But I’m also convinced that using the phrase “personal relationship with Jesus” in our witnessing efforts does not help us gauge a person’s spiritual life like it used to. Times are changing. I have met and talked with people who assure me that they have a “personal relationship with Jesus,” even though their lives do not show evidence of Christ’s indwelling presence. Others tell me they know Jesus personally but have no need for the local church. A few are all about “personal relationships” with key religious figures, including Buddha.

What do you do when witnessing to a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness who also claims to have a personal relationship with Jesus? In the shifting landscape of post-Christendom’s rampant individualism, a “personal relationship with Jesus” can mean many things, too many things I’m afraid.

The other problem with the phrase is the way it sounds to men. When I’m witnessing to another guy, it seems weird to ask them if they want to have a relationship with Jesus. It’s not because I’m embarrassed by the concept or by the gospel. It’s because the terminology sounds, well, feminine. How many men want to talk about relationships? That’s why I think it is wise to find other phrases to get across the same message – a life of discipleship, following Christ, serving his kingdom, submitting to his lordship, etc.

Confronting the Cultists at your Door

There are two valuable questions I like to ask Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses that come to my door. They're valuable because they require very little knowledge about their beliefs and yet they allow me to create a more meaningful conversation. Before I begin, however, I gently shift gears from answering all their questions to asking a few questions myself. You can ask these too (or some variation of them).

First, I ask them, "If you discovered you were mistaken about your faith, would you be willing to change your religion?" This question is critical because it exposes whether or not they're a genuine truth seeker. They are presumably there to show you're mistaken about your faith and should change it after they show you the truth. They should also be willing to extend you the same courtesy. If not, then I point out how their position is unreasonable and thank them for coming to visit. I try to avoid spending time with people who are not genuine truth seekers and are not willing to follow the evidence where it leads. You can waste a lot of time talking to people who are closed to the truth.

Second, I ask them, "Can you offer me three objective reasons or evidences for why you believe your religion is true?" Notice this question immediately shifts the burden of proof to them, where it belongs. It takes the pressure off you and gives you valuable insight into their rationale. Remember, they've come to you. You're under no obligation to jump through their hoops and answer their questions. Just be sure to keep them on track and not let them deviate from the question at hand. They're often hard pressed to offer you convincing objective reasons. Mormons often ask you to pray and ask God to reveal the truth to you. This is not an objective reason or evidence, however, so don't let them get away with offering it as an answer.

Notice my strategy. First, I avoid the trap of being dragged onto their turf with their questions and agenda. Second, I make them shoulder the burden of proof (for which they are responsible to do given the circumstances). Now that they are off their script, I'm more likely to have a meaningful conversation.

One-Minute Pro-Life Apologist

From http://www.str.org

Can you make the pro-life case in one minute?

Recently, I had a conversation with a pro-choice activist at Colorado State University. After she repeatedly talked over my questions, assuming she knew what I thought, I said, “You haven’t even given me a chance to make my case. Can I have even one minute to tell you why I am pro-life?” I got what I asked for. In fact, a crowd had formed and her friend set her watch and instructed me to begin. I was being timed.

Would you know what to say if you were in my shoes? Every day you have similar opportunities even if they are not as contentious as my campus debate. You can make a great impact if you think about what you might say beforehand. In my case, I had about three seconds to decide which tools I would include as I began my response. Then I said essentially this:
If the unborn is growing, it must be alive. And if it has human parents, it must be human.And living humans, or human beings like you and I, are valuable aren’t they? From conception, all that’s added to the unborn is a proper environment and adequate nutrition. But those are the same things all of us need. And not only that. There’s one quality all of us have equally that demands equal treatment: we all have a human nature. Racism and sexism are wrong because they pick out external differences and ignore the underlying similarity between men and women, blacks and whites. And my concern is for your rights as a woman,that you can vindicate them against the will of the majority, but you can only vindicate your rights if you base them on your human nature. But the unborn also has that same human nature, so shouldn’t we protect him from discrimination just like we protect minorities and women? (1 minute)

Outline of the One-Minute Pro-Life Apologist
1. The unborn is a human being.
2. Born or unborn, all of us need only a proper environment and adequate nutrition.
3. There is one equal quality among all valuable human beings: human nature.
4. To vindicate women’s rights we must base our case on human nature.
5. If Human nature is the valuable thing about women, and the unborn has it, we should
protect the unborn just like we protect women.

Church as It Was Meant to Be

BlueprintBy John MacArthur @ http://www.sfpulpit.com

In many respects, the contemporary church in America looks more like a large corporation than like anything described in the New Testament. Even church leaders sometimes bear a closer resemblance to CEOs and corporate executives than to humble, tender shepherds. Sadly, the good news — that a sinner can find forgiveness for sins before a holy God by placing his trust in and committing his whole life to Jesus Christ — is often eclipsed by “success”-oriented programs and an interest in the bottom line.

As a result, many churches have become nothing more than entertainment centers, employing tactics that effectively draw people into the church, but are incapable of truly ministering to them once they come.

God never intended the church to be like that. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus says, “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.” Notice the Lord’s one condition to that great promise: “I will build My church” (emphasis added). Christ’s guarantee is valid only when He builds the church His way. When you follow His blueprint, you can be sure that He is doing the work through you and that nothing, not even the gates of hell, can stop Him.

So, what’s the blueprint? A logical place to start is at the beginning with the first church — the church at Jerusalem. It began on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit filled 120 believers who had gathered for a prayer meeting. The Lord added 3,000 souls later that same day (Acts 2:41). Those fledgling believers didn’t know anything about building a church. They had no precedent; they didn’t have a book on the church; they didn’t even have the New Testament. Yet it was built Jesus’ way, and as such it’s the model for the church today.

Back to the Blueprint: Bible Study, Fellowship, and Prayer

Acts 2:42 gives the blueprint they followed: “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Those are the vital elements that make up the actual function and life of the church — and all of that in just one verse!

Here’s an obvious starting point: A church built to the Master’s plan will begin with the right raw material — a saved congregation. Verse 41 identifies the church as being made up of “those who had received [Peter’s] word,” and “were continually devoting themselves.” The church at Jerusalem was filled with true Christians — those who continually adhered to apostolic teaching.

If the church is to be built Christ’s way, it will be redeemed and therefore empowered by the Holy Spirit. An unsaved membership, devoid of the Holy Spirit, has no capacity to overcome self will, personal agendas, and the love of sin. Only believers have divine power to put those things off and so manifest the Spirit of God.

While the early church didn’t have a New Testament, they had God’s Word in the form of the “apostles’ teaching.” The church at Jerusalem was committed to receiving that Word. Doctrine is the basis of the church — you can’t live out what you don’t know or understand. That’s why Paul instructed Timothy to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2-3). That time has come. If your church isn’t teaching the truth straight from the Bible, how will you recognize error when it comes? How will you grow? Don’t ever allow anyone to stand in the pulpit who isn’t committed to leading the congregation through a deep, penetrating study of God’s Word.

The central focus of the early church’s fellowship was the breaking of bread — the Lord’s Table. It was the most fitting symbol of their fellowship since it reminded them of the basis for their unity — salvation in Christ and adherence to apostolic doctrine. If you share those things as common ground with other believers, then the Lord’s table — communion — is the most appropriate symbol of your fellowship too.

QuoteWe eat and drink in remembrance of Christ’s self-sacrificing love that took Him to the cross. In your fellowship, make it your habit to practice the same kind of love Christ demonstrated toward you. Practically speaking, you can always give your life to those God brings across your path. Do you habitually pray for fellow believers? Are you encouraging them, edifying them, meeting their physical needs? Do you love them enough to confront them when they are sinning? Those are the marks of true Christian fellowship. It is church as it was meant to be.

Acts 2:42 says the believers continually devoted themselves to prayer. Sadly, the same devotion to prayer is often neglected today. Churches can pack pews by offering entertainment, but when a prayer meeting is held, only a faithful few trickle in. The early Christians remembered the Lord’s promise: “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:14). As they demonstrated dependence on the Lord, the results (Acts 2:43-47) were astounding.

Built to Scale: Wonder, Love, and Joy

What happens when true believers remain under biblical teaching, in a spiritual fellowship, and in devotion to prayer? Acts 2:43 says, “Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe.” “Awe,” the Greek word for fear, speaks of a sense of reverence. It is reserved for special times when people are struck with wonder because of something divine or powerful that defies human explanation.

Your church ought to be able to instill awe in your community. That first church certainly did. Verse 43 says everyone was in awe of them because “many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.” Though the miracles and wonders of the apostolic times are no longer necessary now that God’s Word is complete, God’s power remains on display. What could be more miraculous than giving life to people who are dead in sin? He heals people of their hurts, puts broken homes back together, and brings people out of the bondage of sin to Christ. In short, He transforms lives. When the church follows God’s design, He will do marvelous and powerful things in individual lives before a watching world.

The early church was full of love — they “had all things in common” (v. 44). There was ownership in the early church – believers didn’t live in a commune — but no one owned anything to the exclusion of someone who had a need. The Greek verbs in verse 46 translated “began selling” and “were sharing” show that they were continually selling and sharing their resources as needed. That kind of sacrificial love is the result of the Lord’s work in obedient believers who follow His blueprint.

The Lord blesses those who labor according to His plan. First, He fills the obedient church with gladness (v. 46) and praise (v. 47). How can you not be happy when you see God at work in your midst? How can you keep from rejoicing when you watch God use your church to make an eternal impact in the world? Second, He adds to their number. Acts 2:47 concludes by saying that “the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

I want to see the church grow, and I know you share that desire. My prayer is that we will let God build the church His way as we await our Lord’s return. If you want to make the most of your church, just follow the blueprint, and encourage your church leaders to do the same.

The Law of the Lord Converts the Soul

By William @ http://reformingbaptist.blogspot.com

When we as Christians go about the impossible task of "making disciples" or "soul winning", it is like asking a doctor to give life to a corpse. The task of evangelism is daunting! It is only by the Spirit of God and the Word of God that a disciple is made or a soul is won to Christ. Of course, we are the instruments God uses to be controlled by the Spirit, and to share the Word of God. We are simply seed sowers, nothing more. God is the only one who brings the increase of a converted soul. He uses His moral law as a schoolmaster to drive you to Jesus:

Psalm 19:7 The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.

When we share the gospel with a sinner, I am learning that we probably shouldn't start with: "Jesus loves you." Of course that is a true statement, but the sinner EXPECTS to be loved because he is self centered and loves himself above anything else. What the sinner needs to understand is his guilt before a Holy God. Now that sounds fundamental enough, but most people will acknowledge that they are sinners...however, the sinner doesn't have a problem with the fact that he's a sinner. In fact, it's the status quo. We need to make him realize the seriousness of his transgression. Jonathan Edwards was a master at this in his preaching. He could make the most upright person see himself as the most vile sinner on earth. Using the Old Testament law to reveal the lost condition in detail is a great way to approach evangelism. If the sinner has no care about his condition, there's no use in continuing with him to tell him the good news. Leave him with the bad news of his guilt before God and that the wrath of God abides on him. He's not ready for the good news until he has been convinced of his condition and wants something to be done about it.

Should Christians drink alcohol?

By Kenneth L. Gentry @ http://www.banneroftruth.org

Anyone considering the problem alcohol brings to our society today is challenged to become a total abstainer. That is a choice many Christians make. They don't flaunt this fact before others, but are happy to live alcohol-free lives. Other Christians do reserve the right on occasions to drink alcohol.

Here are some principles to keep in mind when considering whether or not to drink alcohol:

* Remember that alcohol is part of God's creation, and as such, it can either be used well or abused. Just as people have abused the gifts of food, sex, and money, people have also abused alcohol, causing great destruction in the process. Alcohol itself is not intrinsically bad; the way in which it is often used is bad. Approach alcohol with an attitude of wise stewardship.

* Know that the Bible clearly and strongly condemns drunkenness.

* Know that alcohol can be used in beneficial ways, such as for communion during church and for medicinal purposes. Remember that Christ drank alcohol, and His first public miracle was turning water into wine at a wedding feast. Christians are free to enjoy alcoholic beverages, but choosing to do so may not prove beneficial to some people.

* Think and pray about whether you should choose to drink. Consider whether you have a family history of alcoholism, whether you suffer from health problems that would be exacerbated by consuming alcohol, whether you might lead someone close to you astray by indulging in alcohol, and whatever other issues God brings to your mind.

* If you do decide to drink, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you exactly what limits you should place on your drinking, since every person's tolerance for alcohol is different. Then pray for the grace to remain faithful to those limits.

The above is adapted from "God Gave Wine: What the Bible Says About Alcohol" by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., copyright 2001 by Gentry Family Trust.
Published by Oakdown, Lincoln, Ca., www.oakdown.com.

Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., pastor of Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Costa Mesa, Ca., is the author of 12 books and numerous journal articles on various theological subjects, including prophecy and Christian living.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

A Sabbath-Eve Gospel Prayer

by Tullian Tchividjian @http://theologica.blogspot.com

As all of us prepare our hearts and minds for worship tommorrow, my prayer is that we go expecting to encounter the glory of God, his powerful presence, first and foremost. I pray that, as we sleep, God would expand our want to sing of who he is and hear of what he’s done. I pray that we go ready and willing to feel the grief of our sin so that we can feel the glory of his salvation. I pray that we go, in other words, to see God on display, not preachers or musicians. A worship service is not the place to showcase human talent. It’s the place for God to showcase his Divine treasure. A worship service that contains the power to change us (even us preachers) is a worship service that leaves us with grand impressions of Divine personality, not grand impressions of human personality. Isaiah did not leave the temple in Isaiah 6 thinking, “What great music, what a great building, what a great preacher.” He left thinking, “What a great God.”

Perhaps John Stott's words will be used to grow our love for the the great Gospel we will encounter tommorrow: “The essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be.” Amen!

Remember: we gather for worship not to escape the real world, but to be reminded that this world is not there is. For the Christian, the best is yet to come. So worship humbly and hard tommorrow. You need it!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Respect Your Elders!

The Lighter side of Neighbourhood Visitation

A new pastor moved into town and went out one Saturday to visit his community. All went well until he came to one house.

It was obvious that someone was home, but no one came to the door even after he knocked several times.

Finally, he took out his card, wrote on the back "Revelation 3:20" and stuck it in the door.

The next day, as he was counting the offering he found his card in the collection plate.

Below his message was a notation "Genesis 3:10." Upon opening his Bible to the passage he let out a roar of laughter.

Revelation 3:20 reads: (Pastors note) "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man hears my voice, and opens the door, I will come into him, and will dine with him, and he with me." Genesis 3:10 reads: "And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked."

(A Bit Less) Positive About Potter

How Focus on the Family, Prison Fellowship, and others have—and haven't—changed their views about the books over the years.

"Harry Potter books and films have been attacked in the past by evangelicals for allegedly glamorizing the occult," say the papers. But Christians "are now eschewing condemnation for praise, embracing Ms. Rowling's tales as powerful religious fables for our time."

It's a narrative as fictional as the Potter books themselves. In late 1999, I noted that, contrary to media reports, no major Christian leader had spoken against the Harry Potter series, and several had actually supported the books. Some readers were upset with my summary, but the most prominent critic they could come up with at that time was Texas pastor John Hagee. Four books and five films later, it's time for an update to that piece.

One of the most prominent evangelical supporters of the series in 1999 was Charles Colson. "The magic in these books is purely mechanical, as opposed to occultic," he said in his BreakPoint broadcast. "That is, Harry and his friends cast spells, read crystal balls, and turn themselves into animals—but they don't make contact with a supernatural world. … The plots reinforce the theme that evil is real, and must be courageously opposed. … [Harry and his friends] develop courage, loyalty, and a willingness to sacrifice for one another—even at the risk of their lives. Not bad lessons in a self-centered world."

Now, eight years later, Colson tells his listeners, "Personally, I don't recommend the Potter books. I'd rather Christian kids not read them. … Dare [Christian kids] to have Daniel as their role model, not Harry Potter."

But four days after Colson's BreakPoint commentary, Prison Fellowship president Mark Earley had his own BreakPoint commentary recommending the books. "They are a good read," he said. "People have found something in the Harry Potter stories that is far more profound and inspiring than just a desire to be a part of the literary in-crowd. … A good fantasy author can remind us of the necessity of sacrifice and the redemption that can come from even the most brutal and senseless acts. They can help restore our faith in goodness—and, yes, sometimes even in God. … Great stories are even more closely related to the gospel than we realize. No wonder that great stories are so enticing."

Posts on Prison Fellowship's The Point blog, written largely by Prison Fellowship staffers, effusively praise the series, including the final book.

Meanwhile, Focus on the Family wants to make it clear that The Washington Post was wrong when it reported, "Christian parenting guru James Dobson has praised the Potter books." The Focus on the Family website issued a response, which it promoted on its daily radio program, that explains:

This is the exact opposite of Dr. Dobson's opinion — in fact, he said a few years ago on his daily radio broadcast that "we have spoken out strongly against all of the Harry Potter products." His rationale for that statement: Magical characters — witches, wizards, ghosts, goblins, werewolves, poltergeists, and so on — fill the Harry Potter stories, and given the trend toward witchcraft and New Age ideology in the larger culture, it's difficult to ignore the effects such stories (albeit imaginary) might have on young, impressionable minds.

That may be true of Dobson himself, but earlier Focus on the Family treatments of the Hogwarts series specifically denied his charge. "The spiritual fault of Harry Potter is not so much that Rowling is playing to dark supernatural powers, but that she doesn't acknowledge any supernatural powers at all," Lindy Beam (now Lindy Keffer) wrote for Focus on the Family's entertainment guide, Plugged In. "These stories are not fueled by witchcraft, but by secularism."

Keffer's comments no longer appear on the Focus on the Family site, but Keffer repeated a version of her argument this month in her review of the film version of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:

Even with all the magic in the air, the worldview of Phoenix can't be called consistently occult. Like the world we live in today, it's a hodgepodge of ideas that are accepted simultaneously, even if they don't really fit together. Students repeatedly wish each other "Merry Christmas" before their school holiday begins. At one point, Snape tells Harry to pray, with no reference to whom he should pray to. And much of the magic in the film is arguably "mechanical," lending support to a naturalistic philosophy.

World magazine, meanwhile, continues the ambivalent position it has taken toward the books ever since its parent company stopped selling them through its book club in 1999.

"Although the witchcraft taught here is arguably not the same as that of devil worshippers or even Wiccans, parents were right to worry that the Potter novels and movies might make real witchcraft seem attractive to their children," Gene Edward Veith wrote about the Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire film in 2005. He continues:

True, in the Potter universe, there is a conflict between good witches and bad witches, so that a moral structure prevails. But in the first three books and movies, the conflict between good and evil is mostly symbolic. … Goblet of Fire is more mature. It does not dramatize the Muggle/Witch dichotomy, and the realm of magic is depicted not as fun but as a grim and dangerous place. … In this movie, the conflict between good and evil is genuine.

Veith still recommends that parents keep their kids from the books and films, but he does not condemn them. A 2005 review of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince similarly avoids direct criticism while telling readers that concerns that the book implicitly approves of sorcery "should be taken seriously." Likewise, the magazine's review of the Order of the Phoenix film this month refers to "objections of many thoughtful Christian parents" without actually endorsing those concerns. Meanwhile, on World's blog, features editor Lynn Vincent noted that her children stood in line at Barnes & Noble Friday night to get a copy of the final volume.

As an editor at a magazine that has repeatedly praised the Harry Potter books and films (our reviewer didn't care for the latest movie, but it had nothing to do with concerns about occult imagery or violence), I can attest that there are a number of Christians out there who adamantly feel that the books endorse evil—or are evil themselves. They have tried hard to get Christianity Today to change its view on J. K. Rowling's works, but without success (we haven't actually taken an official stance on the books since our January 2000 issue). Whether similar efforts have convinced Colson, Dobson, and some others to take a slightly stronger stance against Harry Potter is unknown. There may have been other reasons. (The books have indeed become increasingly dark and violent, for example.) Regardless, their heart doesn't seem in it. I still don't think there's a groundswell of opposition to the Potter books. But what opposition does exist, it seems clear, is originating in the pews rather than the pulpits.

Related Elsewhere:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is available from Amazon.com and other retailers.

Our coverage of Deathly Hallows includes:

The Gospel According to J.K. Rowling | The magic world of Harry Potter begins yielding to a 'deeper magic.' (July 23, 2007)
What Would Jonathan Edwards Say About Harry Potter? | How the preacher responded to pop culture's version of transcendence. (July 24, 2007)

The Harry Potter Books

nick6.jpgby Kevin T. Bauder @ http://www.sharperiron.org

Harry Potter has become a phenomenon. These books have provoked unbelievable enthusiasm among both children and adults. They have also provoked unbelievable controversy from some on the religious right.

Harry PotterThe enthusiasm is understandable. J.K. Rowling has captured the whimsy of a generation in the Potter series, especially in the earlier volumes. Much of the series is simply a delightful romp, almost a parody of the fantastic genre. Witches ride broomsticks, but mainly to play airborne soccer (quidditch). Trolls are discovered to have boogers. Characters move from fireplace to fireplace through the “floo network.” Much of the charm of Harry Potter comes from its quality as a spoof. It is a cross between J.R.R. Tolkien and Mad Magazine.

The appeal of the series also stems from Rowling’s ability to choose themes that resonate with contemporary adolescents. Harry Potter is lonely and alienated. He yearns for the comfort and structure of a world with authority, yet he is suspicious and resentful toward authorities. He wants enough morality to be justified in feeling wronged, but not so much as to keep him from doing wrong when wrong seems useful. These are moods that seem to prevail among juveniles in today’s postmodern, no-parent-household, grow-up-too-fast world.

Harry Potter finds his escape (and readers find theirs) in a world populated by fantastic diversity. Rowling has scoured every corner of myth, legend, and literature to populate Potter’s world with the richest array of fantastic creatures and objects. She has supplemented her discoveries with a smorgasbord of her own invention, from multi-flavor beans to a flying Ford Anglia (that goes feral, no less), to portraits that can move from frame to frame, to a willow tree that bats everything within reach. The variety is bewildering and (so to speak) enchanting.

The characters in the series are engaging and believable. Who hasn’t met a snob like Malfoy, bullies like Goyle and Crabbe, an incompetent like Lockyear, or a “brain” like Hermione? Who wouldn’t want a friend like Hagrid? And who would not wish for a wise, old Dumbledore somewhere in his or her life? Rowling introduces us to characters who display depth, texture, and even contradiction.

What about the witchcraft in the Harry Potter stories? This is where most of the controversy has been aimed. Is it cause for concern?

Nearly half of Rowling’s witchcraft is drawn from various mythologies. Trolls, werewolves, vampires, centaurs, pixies, and veela reflect mythology from Greek, Germanic, Celtic, and Baltic sources. None of this is any more objectionable than Grimm’s Fairy Tales or Homer’s Odyssey.

Another big part—nearly half—of Rowling’s witchcraft is unadulterated malarkey. She invents wry spells in faux Latin. She brings lawn gnomes to life as stupid little creatures which have to be tossed out of the garden. She depicts immature mandrakes as infant-shaped vegetables which utter an incapacitating cry when plucked from the soil. Again, nothing here is objectionable.

That accounts for nearly all of the magic in Harry Potter—but not quite all. The bit that is left over seems more serious than most of Rowling’s inventions but lacks the fairy-tale quality of her mythological borrowings. Does she actually employ elements from real witchcraft? Getting an answer to this question would require a person who knows witchcraft. Possibly, however, Rowling may have imported this remnant of magic from the real world of occult observances. To the pure, all things are pure, but the possibility of real-world witchcraft should be enough to give Christian readers pause.

What is more disturbing is the stories’ lack of a moral base. To be sure, Rowling does present virtues such as loyalty, courage, and compassion. She also depicts vices such as murder and torture. In between, however, the moral ground gets quite foggy. Even the “good guys” engage in a fair amount of deception, larceny, trespass, smuggling, and a variety of other unseemly activities. Harry Potter leaves a key question hanging: how much evil can be justified in the pursuit of a good end? In fact, even the virtues in Harry Potter appear to be relative. Loyalty to Dumbledore is good; loyalty to Voldemort is bad. Voldemort’s followers lie constantly, but they dare not lie to him. Harry and his friends also lie constantly, even to legitimate authorities. The intention of the character seems to be the only consideration that defines the virtue.

The worst flaw with Rowling’s work, however, is that it simply has nothing important to say. The tales are amusing, but Rowling is merely playing with the form. She offers amusement for amusement’s sake without any serious reflection upon the larger issues of the real world. She is skillful in what she does, but she does not turn her skills to good use. In this respect, she is poles away from Bunyan, Tolkien, or Lewis.

Does this mean that Christians must not read Harry Potter? The answer will vary with the situation. These stories are not good fare for young children whose moral base is still being formed. Even the earlier books are mildly subversive, and as the series progresses, the attitudes become uglier and the actions more violent.

Whether adolescents should read the series is a decision parents need to make child by child. Much in these books provides a poor model for young people. Still, the series may even provide fruitful material for the discussion of moral complexities. Even bad examples can be turned to good uses (witness any of the historical books of the Bible).

In short, I do not recommend the reading of Harry Potter by or for children. I also do not recommend that parents permit younger teens to read any of these books unless the parents have read them first and are willing to discuss their contents. On the other hand, I do not believe that mature readers will be harmed by these volumes. Even should they fall into the hands of our offspring, the damage will probably be minimal. Harry Potter is not spiritually healthy fare for the immature, but it is more like junk food than it is like poison.

Kevin BauderThis essay is by Dr. Kevin T. Bauder, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). Not every professor, student, or alumnus of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.

MacArthur on Emergent

An interview from May 28 promoting his new book The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception (Thomas Nelson: 2007).

Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (pt 4)

By Caleb Kolstad @ http://expositorythoughts.wordpress.com

E. God gave the man the right to name the woman. Genesis 2:23, Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” The same Hebrew word is used throughout Gen 1-2, qara, meaning to call or to name. After the fall Adam “called” his wife a personal name. We read about this in Genesis 3:20, The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. In Genesis, the one who names a thing or a person has the authority or power to name. If you don’t believe me check out the following examples: Genesis 1:5, 8, 10; 2:19-20. In our country the parents (not the government, not the elder board, not the in-laws, thankfully); have the authority to name their own children. Genesis 4:25-26, And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, ‘God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.’ To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD. Genesis 5:3 records, When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. In unique situations, God changed the names of persons (for an example check out Genesis 17:5, 15). Dr. Grudem adds this helpful thought, “In every case the person who gives the name has authority over the person who receives the name.”

F. Adam was given the distinct role of representing the human race. Who sinned first according to Gen 3:6? It was Eve. Yet who is ultimately held responsible for the fall of the human race? Adam was held responsible. 1 Corinthians 15:22 , For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 1 Corinthians 15:45-46 records, Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. Paul shares some wonderful truth corresponding to this point in Romans 5:12-21, Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned - 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. 18 Therefore, as one trespass1 led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness2 leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Man had a unique position as leader and head. Therefore God holds Adam responsible for the sin of all mankind. God comes looking for Adam, not Eve, in Genesis 3:9. But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” Being the “head” is a privilege that carries with it many unique responsibilities. One day all men will give a special account to God by virtue of their role. Adam was given the special role of representing the human race. By way of a footnote, the doctrine of federal representation is actually a very good reality because Jesus Christ came and did what we could never do. Jesus Christ is called in Scripture our 2nd Adam. In Adam, the world fell. In Christ, the elect are saved. Our righteousness is imputed to our accounts through faith in Christ. The ground of our justification is not our faith but the perfect righteousness of Christ (see 2 Corinthians 5:21 and Romans 5). Let’s return now to the discussion at hand.

G. God named the human race “Man” not “Woman”. Genesis 5:1-2 notes, This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. 2 Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. Genesis 5 records some of the events that happened before the fall. The Hebrew word translated “Man” is adam. The word man represents the Hebrew word adam in Gen 2:22, 23, 25; 3:8, 9, 12, and 20. I would encourage you to check these verses out for yourself. Dr. Grudem explains the significance of adam, “In the early chapters of Genesis, the connection with the man in distinction from the woman is a very clear pattern. God gave the human race a name which, like the English word man, can either mean a male human being or can refer to the human race in general.” Ray Ortlund Jr notes, “God’s naming of the race ‘man’ whispers male headship.”

Genesis 1-2 help us see the following observations:

A. God made Adam the central character.

B. God created Adam first (the creative order).

C. God formed the woman out of the man.

D. God created the woman for the man.

E. God gave the man the right to name the woman.

F. Adam was given the unique role of representing the human race.

G. God named the human race “Man” not “Women”.

Next time we will look at Genesis 3 and examine some of the consequences of the fall. Don’t forget in all this the first key we observed from the first chapter of Genesis. Men and women are equal in value, dignity, and personhood. Different gender defined roles do not undermine that central truth.

Are Mormons "Christians?" -- Ending Where I Began

By Albert Mohler @ http://www.albertmohler.com

My concluding article in the Beliefnet.com dialogue, "Are Mormons 'Christians?,'" is now posted and can be found here. An excerpt:

The debate has never been about whether Mormons are good Americans or would make good neighbors. I dare say that most American Evangelicals and traditional Roman Catholics would find more in common with Mormons in terms of child-rearing, sexual morality, the protection of marriage and family, and a host of other issues, than they would with liberal Catholics or liberal Protestants. No argument there.

The debate is not over Mitt Romney or his right to run for President of the United States. That is a settled constitutional fact – and a fact for which we should all be thankful. Nor is it about whether Evangelicals should vote for Mitt Romney. There is so much to admire in the man's marriage and family and leadership ability. This question is very complicated – as is the case with almost all political questions.

The debate is not over the right of Mormons to hold their faith, promote their faith, and spread their faith. That, too, is a constitutional right – the same right that protects the religious liberty of all persons of all faiths and no faith.

For me, and as the question was posed to me, the issue is theological. That is why I cannot answer the question except as I have from the start.

Here is the bottom line. As an Evangelical Christian – a Christian who holds to the "traditional Christian orthodoxy" of the Church – I do not believe that Mormonism leads to salvation. To the contrary, I believe that it is a false gospel that, however sincere and kind its adherents may be, leads to eternal death rather than to eternal life.

Indeed, I believe that Mormonism is a prime example of what the Apostle Paul warned the Church to reject – "a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you" [Galatians 1:8-9].

And thus I must end where I began. Mormonism is not just another form of Christianity – it is incompatible with "traditional Christian orthodoxy."

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Relationships, Dependence, and Responsibility -Jerry Bridges

What Would Jonathan Edwards Say About Harry Potter?

How the preacher responded to pop culture's version of transcendence.


So there we have it. The most engrossing imaginative world created at the start of the 21st century is essentially pagan. Don't get me wrong—I like the Harry Potter series. I've read all of the books. And I'm sure Jonathan Edwards would have done so, too.

Edwards was acutely aware of the cultural movements of his time. He said in "Some Thoughts Concerning the Revival" that he made it his practice to take light from wherever it came. Of course, reading John Locke and the like is not quite like reading books designed (originally) for children.

It's hard to imagine that Edwards would have remained ignorant about what has become such a powerful phenomenon of our time. He immersed himself in the cutting-edge Enlightenment thinking of his age, and his book list and letters reveal a breadth of reading anything but narrow. No doubt Edwards would have mined the Harry Potter series for insights into the predominant spiritual atmosphere in which we live.

Edwards neither ignored nor capitulated to the Enlightenment's materialistic/mechanistic view of life and the universe. Instead he "re-formed" the Enlightenment on specifically biblical terms and constructed intellectual bridges to cultural attitudes, along which the orthodox gospel could more readily transverse.

Or you could imagine his engagement with Enlightenment thinking as sending Trojan horses full of gospel truths into contemporary minds. He carefully used "sense," "idea" and "light"—Enlightenment buzzwords—in sermons and his more erudite works, and he invested those terms with biblical material and content.

The latest and last of Rowling's Potter series (though she leaves it tantalizingly open to sequels, despite her reported refusal to contemplate future work—perhaps not Potter, but maybe a return to Hogwarts?) is all about death. In case the title didn't make that clear ("the Deathly Hallows"), the frontispiece has two quotations referring to death. There is a sense in which the whole seven-volume series has been about death.

Even Dumbledore (beware: spoiler) seems to have tinkered with the less-than-salutary sides of this fascination. Also, there's Voldemort, with his evil determination to avoid death at the cost of others' lives, and Harry, dear Harry, who with his purity and bravery manages to cheat death again and again, even finding himself at one point in a sort of cosmic waiting room with the dead Dumbledore.

What does this tell us, Edwards would have wondered. He would have discovered that we live in an age that is fascinated by the transcendent—and the paranormal—but that, while intrigued, is totally confused about that realm.

Edwards would have seen that the essential question of spirituality—What happens when I die?—is a great vacuum that culture is looking to fill. The series also tells us—and this no less important—that if Rowling's world is expertly reflecting the light our world can shed on these matters, true understanding is at a pretty low level.

That doesn't mean I shouldn't read it. Nor does it mean that Edwards would disapprove of us learning from it (light from wherever it comes), but (borrowing from more recent intellectual heroes like Lewis or Tolkien) it does mean that if the world's imagination is captured by Potter-esque versions of the afterlife and the transcendent—a less-than-Christian way of looking at the world—we have work to do. The imagination is a hairbreadth away from the soul.

I believe Edwards would also look from Potter to us and say, "Who's going to tell a more compelling story that sheds true gospel light on the transcendent?"

Josh Moody (PhD, Cambridge University) is senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Newhaven, CT, associate fellow of Jonathan Edwards College, Yale University, and the author of The God-Centered Life: Insights from Jonathan Edwards for Today.

Related Elsewhere:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is available from Amazon.com and other retailers.

For more articles on previous Harry Potter books and movies, see our full coverage area.

Christian History and Biography has an issue on Jonathan Edwards.

Hello, My Name is ESPN: What's In a Name?

From Chuck Colson @ www.breakpoint.org

It was an event all new parents enjoy: Watching their unborn child turn somersaults on the ultrasound screen. Seeing their child hiccup or suck his thumb makes parents realize that, for real, there is a baby in there.

A New Zealand couple, Pat and Sheena Wheaton, were so impressed with the reality of their child that they decided to name their son "4real."

That's when their troubles began. A judge told them they couldn't do it: New Zealand law forbids the use of numbers when naming babies—also, names that are likely to offend, such as Hitler or Satan. Bloggers around the world attacked the Wheatons for their foolishness, calling them names that can't be repeated here. The "4real" controversy caused a furor at our own blog site, The Point.

The Wheatons are not alone in wanting to give their child a name so distinctive it raises eyebrows—and snickers. Two sets of American parents have named their sons ESPN. Actress Gwyneth Paltrow named her baby after a fruit: Apple. Comedian Penn Jillette named his daughter Moxie CrimeFighter—apparently anticipating a future career in law enforcement.

But after we stop laughing, we ought to ask ourselves: How will these bizarre names affect the children who bear them?

According to the research, names are far more significant in shaping our characters and personalities than many of us realize.

Susan Seligson writes in Redbook magazine that "an increasing amount of research suggests that our names and our destinies may be inexorably intertwined."

Often, she says, the prophecy in a name becomes uncannily self-fulfilling. For example, one study showed that girls with exceedingly feminine names like Lucy and Rose "did in fact have more girlish personalities." And although it's hard to prove, she writes, "our personalities may also evolve to fulfill the subtle mandates our names carry."

Amy and Leon Kass, professors at the University of Chicago, write in First Things that the naming of children is an expression of the parents' best hopes and dreams. Parents may memorialize a worthy ancestor, historical figure, or biblical character, hoping certain qualities associated with that person will rub off onto the child.

In Scripture, a person's name was often intimately linked with what God planned to do with his or her life. For example, at the command of the Archangel Gabriel, our Lord was named Jesus, which means "God will save us."

According to Amy and Leon Kass, the act of naming imparts a blessing to the child whereby parents "dedicate themselves to the work of making good the promise conveyed in the good name thus bestowed."

This means that Christians, of all people, need to name their children with care. If we desire to raise a goodly seed, as the Puritans put it, we need every resource available to us, including names that point to the kind of character we seek to instill in our children.

Regardless of what we name our kids, we need to teach them how to make good names for themselves.

Most important of all, we need to teach our Lucys and Roses, our Apples and our ESPNs, how to identify their own names with the name that is, for real, above all names—Jesus Christ.

Book Review - Girls Gone Mild

From Tim Challies @ http://www.challies.com

In 2000, when she was only twenty-three, Wendy Shalit published A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue, a book in which she argued that the sexual revolution may not have been entirely beneficial for women. She decried the lack of modesty this revolution has brought about and, according to TIME defended "compellingly, shame, privacy, gallantry, and sexual reticence." Of course many people, and feminists in particular, were disgusted with the book and ruthlessly mocked her.

In her second book, Girls Gone Mild, she writes about a new trend she has discovered in speaking to thousands of girls and young women in the aftermath of the publication of A Return to Modesty. She draws upon over 100 in-depth interviews and thousands of email exchanges with women from ages twelve to twenty eight, representing diverse racial, religious and economic backgrounds. Some identify as Christians or Jewish, liberals or conservatives, feminists or not. The one thread tying all of these together is a desperation to find new and better role models. Shalit says the book is "about my search for an alternative to our Girls Gone Wild culture. It's about finding a way to acknowledge sexuality without having to share it with strangers. It's about rediscovering our capacity for innocence, for wonder, and for being touched profoundly by others."

Shalit opens by discussing Bratz, those Barbie-like dolls that look "hotter than hot," appearing overtly sexual in slinky clothes. Marketed to pre-teen girls, these dolls encourage even the youngest girls to see themselves as sexual creatures who can use their sexuality to attract others. In a Bratz book even the youngest girls are asked to fill in the blanks: "When I want to look hot for an extra special occasion I'll put on _________." "These days, the way dolls are dressed," Shalit says, comparing Bratz to a beloved Cabbage Patch Doll from her youth, "the question is not so much 'Is my dolly real?' as 'How much does she charge per hour?'" From Bratz and the countless similar products, whether sexy dolls or t-shirts sold to infants emblazoned with sexy slogans or thong underwear for six year olds, we see that being a child is no longer a valid excuse not to be sexualized. And further to this, being publicly sexual has become the most, and possibly the only, acceptable way for girls to express maturity. Thankfully a rebellion is underway, and one that may even represent the dawning of a fourth wave of the feminist movement. This rebellion, girls and young women rising against the sultry status quo, is a reaction to the over-sexualization of nearly everything. The rebellion is the theme of the book. It shares equally the despair of the status quo and the hope for a better future.

Our culture has some things backward. Where it was once the "bad girl" who stood out from the crowd and who was known for her reputation, today the bad girl is the new normal, the new expectation. The "good girls," on the other hand, the ones who refuse to engage in sexual behavior and the ones who refuse to flaunt their bodies, are the ones who face rejection from their peers and, tragically, even from adults. Young people need to be and to act bad just to fit in. And this is exactly what they do. "Consider how girls today need to be thin, available, and always sexy. At the same time they are supposed to have no hopes, no messy feelings, no vulnerability. They must be aggressive, yet somehow inviting. It's complicated, and to rebel against the new bad-girl script takes enormous confidence." But it can be done. Unfortunately it needs to be done with few role models to serve as guides or mentors. Where a group of girls is rising and extolling the benefits of chastity and more traditionally feminine behavior, it is adults who are criticizing this movement and attempting to keep it from gaining ground. Many young people are tiring of the game and are tired of experiencing the consequences of bad girl behavior, but adults continue to push them into it.

Shalit thinks this movement towards chastity, towards feminine virtue, would be far greater and far more powerful were it not for the repression girls experience because of the new normal. Many women stifle their desires for more chaste lifestyles simply because society teaches that casual sex is good and wonderful and healthy. Further, society teaches that it is the weak who delay sex while the strong, those who are uncomfortable with their sexuality, are the ones who hold out. Similarly, the ones who are comfortable with their bodies are glad to exhibit their nakedness in public while only those who are ashamed of their bodies keep them covered.

The book has many stories of hope. The author writes, for example, about "Pure Fashion Divas," girls who hold fashion shows exhibiting clothing that is trendy but not exhibitionist. The way people dress, after all, makes a powerful statement. "Dress can turn a young woman, unwittingly, into walking entertainment for men, or it can do the opposite, and cause people to focus on her internal qualities." A statement that seems shocking only for how old-fashioned it sounds today. Shalit is correct when she shows that today's bad girl is really just a girl who is prone to please others. An overwhelming desire to conform to other people's expectations leads them to surrender their dignity and their sexuality. The costs are high. I was intrigued by a chapter called "Excuse Me, Ma'am, Have You Seen My Friends?" Here Shalit argues that women are fast losing their ability to maintain strong, meaningful friendships. Women today enjoy fewer same-sex friendships because adultery and competition for men is now normal. Women no longer trust other women; they no longer understand what it is to be happy for someone else and to rejoice with those who rejoice. Their relationships are strangled by a sexualized, competitive spirit. Ironically, the liberated woman is increasingly a woman who is alone. The consequences of the new bad girl behavior eventually isolate women from even each other.

I think I can be excused for often thinking, while reading this book, "Isn't this what the Bible has been saying all along?" Shalit is Jewish and conservative in her belief and practice of her faith. And, in fact, faith is a theme throughout the book as Shalit often turns to the Old Testament or to Jewish tradition to show how Scripture provides wisdom that is applicable to this topic. Many of the examples of young women who fight the status quo are Christian girls, fed up with the sexually-charged atmosphere around them. The Bible has been telling us all along that God has created men to be men and women to be women. Men and women are equal in value and worth but separate in function. The feminist movement has been pushing women, exhorting them to become more like men. But this book shows, as have many Christian authors in recent years, that true liberation comes not from pushing aside feminine distinctives but by rediscovering, embracing and celebrating them. What makes this book distinctive, at least among the similar titles I've read, is that it comes from outside the Christian publishing industry. It ties in nicely with titles like Unhooked, Female Chauvinist Pigs and others. It has already been widely reviewed and is sure to generate a great deal of discussion. If Shalit's first book is any indication, it will generate anger, bitterness and outrage. Yet hopefully it will also give young women at least a few role models--pure fashion divas, girls who refuse to give it all away, and perhaps the author herself--who can be role models to a new generation of girls gone mild.

Somewhat ironically, I wrote this review while spending time with my family at the beach. If we are in the midst of a trend towards modesty, I don't think there is much evidence of it here. My wife and I conferred and agreed that swimwear does not seem to be showing much in the way of modesty. Yet I do believe that Shalit's thesis is right. Girls are increasingly fed up with the way they've been told to act. They are the ones who bear the consequences for their behavior and they are the ones who are beginning to agree that enough is enough. As the father of two girls I hope and pray that this movement lives through its infancy and makes an appreciable impact. Few things would be healthier for society than to rediscover some semblance of femininity as defined by the One who created women to be women.

I found Girls Gone Mild a fascinating read and am glad to recommend it to others.