Sunday, December 31, 2006

2006 Top Stories Redux

The editors of Crosswalk's Religion Today ( offer their own list of "Top Ten" religion stories in 2006. Most of the items correspond to the earlier list printed. But, I thought you might appreciate the contrast.

10) Navy chaplain’s fight to pray in Jesus’ name
(See Also: Navy Chaplain now Fighting Forced Discharge)
“Chaplain Gordon James Klingenschmitt received a reprimand and a suspended fine for the conviction, but he says the conviction will effectively end his military career, possibly by the end of the year. But Klingenschmitt says he will appeal the decision using the argument that the order was based on an illegal policy put in place by the Secretary of the Navy. ‘When I went there and prayed in Jesus' name, I relied upon the Navy uniform regulations,’ Klingenschmitt explains. ‘But no, the judge ruled that those uniform regulations don't protect me because the Secretary of the Navy policy now has redefined 'public worship.' It's redefined 'religious observance.’’”
Taking this basic Christian tenet away from military chaplains not only begs the question of what other freedoms may be lost, but what brand of religion are our chaplains allowed to preach to our troops?

Darfur conflict ongoing; some Christian ministries leaving
(See Also: Safe Return of Darfur Christian Relief Worker)

“At a time when it would be hard to imagine a more deteriorated Darfur – the situation has indeed worsened, forcing many relief groups and individuals to finally relent and flee the human-caused wasteland. ‘It is unbelievable for any human being to imagine that the entire Darfur right now is unsafe even in the cities,’ said Motasim Adam, a Darfurian refugee and president of the Darfur People’s Association of New York.”

You know it’s bad when even the Church has to vacate. Hope seems far away.

8) Christian movies keep coming (
End of the Spear, The Nativity, Facing the Giants (and it’s PG rating))

A conservative advocacy group is bristling over the PG rating given to a new family film with a "pro-God theme." According to the movie poster, the theme of Facing the Giants is, "Never give up, never back down, never lose faith." But the movie poster also says parental guidance is suggested "for some thematic elements."

These films and others like them continue to receive their fair share of reviews from critics both religious and secular. The more Christians buy tickets to them, the more they’ll get made.

American Christians on the forefront of aid during and after Israeli/Lebanese conflict

“Evangelical Christians dug deep into their pockets to provide humanitarian relief to Israel during the war in Lebanon this summer, donating nearly $20 million dollars to help rebuild the north, according to estimates. Though largely overshadowed by the massive generosity of their American Jewish counterparts, the pro-Israel Christian community also rallied significantly in support of the north, with less fanfare.”

The war dominated headlines over the summer, but it never led to the doom some predicted. Out of the chaos came the reminder that many Christians are strong supporters of Israel.

6) Gnosticism Returns (
Gospel of Judas/Da Vinci Code film near-simultaneous release)

“Gnostic ideas did become popular later, and they are becoming increasingly popular now. The truth of the Gospel stands, and Christians will retain firm confidence in the authenticity of the New Testament and, in particular, of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Nevertheless, old Gnosticisms are continually repackaged and "rediscovered" even as new forms of Gnostic thought emerge in our postmodern culture. Informed Christians will be watchful and aware when confronting churches or institutions that present spurious writings, rejected as heretical by the early church, on the same plane as the New Testament.”

The Gnostic Gospels received renewed interest from seekers, scholars, and believers alike in April and May, as everyone wanted to know what to make of the claims of The Da Vinci Code, the histories of Mary Magdalene and Judas, and how to share the truth with their friends. For all the noise at the time, things sure have quieted down, thanks in part to the movie’s poor showing.

5) Muslims offended by
Danish cartoons, Pope’s speech
(See Also: Pope Apologizes for Speech)

“The leaders of various religious parties in a joint statement termed the Pope’s comments linking Islam with violence as the third attack on Islam this year after alleged sacrilege of Quran by US soldiers in Guantanamo Bay prison facility and publication of blasphemous caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad by western publications. ‘The Pope should tender apology to Muslims and take his words back,’ the NNI quoted the religious leaders as saying.”

If it’s tough for you to swallow how apologies to non-Christian groups are easily handed out, but apologies to Christians are almost never seen, just know you aren’t alone…

ECUSA/Bishop Jefferts-Schori fallout
(See Also: ECUSA to Lose Its Largest Congregation)

“Controversy has escalated in the Episcopal Church after the denomination that three years ago ordained an openly homosexual bishop chose a woman as its national leader -- a move that observers predict could signal a major global split within the larger Anglican Communion. Katharine Jefferts Schori, bishop of the Diocese of Nevada, is the new presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church after a vote by delegates to the Episcopal General Convention in Columbus, Ohio, June 18. Schori said she voted to confirm Bishop V. Gene Robinson in 2003, and she has said she does not believe homosexuality is a sin.”

Since Jefferts-Schori’s election, more congregations are deciding to split with the Episcopal church, including two of Virginia’s oldest and largest this past month. When the Word is compromised in the highest levels of church leadership, why should we expect it to thrive?

3) Rick Warren in the middle of divisive issues (
global warming, AIDS, Syria, Obama)

“I do think that evangelicals as a whole, we’re trying to broaden the agenda. There’s no doubt about that. The way I tell it to my people is the church is the body of Christ, and for the last 50 years, the hands and the feet have been amputated. And all we’ve been is a big mouth. And most of the time, we’re known for what we’re against. And frankly, I’m tired of that. I think the church should be known for what it’s for, not what it’s against.” –Rick Warren, on NBC’s Meet the Press Christmas Eve

Not everyone agreed with the themes of The Purpose-Driven Life. But neither could anyone have foreseen the polarizing effect the Saddleback pastor could have following his success. Consider for a moment the results of a poll we recently ran on Crosswalk, which asked: “Do you find yourself more in agreement or disagreement with Rick Warren's stances and actions?” Out of 282 respondents, 63 percent said they tend to disagree with what Pastor Warren says and does. Only 27 percent tend to agree with Warren right now.

Ted Haggard steps down from pastorate and NAE
(See Also: Haggard Scandal, Confession Shakes Evangelical Community)
Ted Haggard, former president of the National Association of Evangelicals and former pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, has been in seclusion as the evangelical Christian community reels from news of his admission that he lied to conceal his "sexual immorality." Amid scandal involving allegations made by a male "escort," Haggard has stepped down from his posts and, in a letter to his church community, confessed his struggle of many years with "repulsive and dark" desires. According to reports, the former pastor denied in the letter that all of the allegations against him are true but said "enough of them are that I was appropriately removed" from church leadership.
The healing has hopefully begun. The media has used Haggard’s fall and that of other pastors as a springboard for hopes that maybe Bible-believing Christians will become more gay-friendly. But our true hope is that Haggard’s failure will remind all of us how easy it is to become ensnared by temptation, and that his admission will light the path for others in leadership who first need to get the log out of their own eyes.

And our top Religion Today story for 2006…

Amish response to Pennsylvania schoolhouse shooting
“The Amish have been reaching out to the family of the gunman, Charles Carl Roberts IV, 32, who committed suicide during the attack. Dwight Lefever, a Roberts family spokesman, said an Amish neighbor comforted the Roberts family hours after the shooting and extended forgiveness to them… Staring down the barrel of Charles Carl Roberts' gun, 13-year-old Marian Fisher and her 11-year-old sister, Barbie, bravely pleaded with the madman to shoot them and spare the eight other girls he was holding hostage. "Marian said, 'Shoot me first,' and Barbie said, 'Shoot me second,' " said midwife Rita Rhoads, who had helped deliver several of the victims. "They were really trying to save the younger girls. It is a real reflection of their faith’… At the behest of Amish leaders, a fund has also been set up for the killer's widow and three children.”

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Top Religion Stories of 2006???

His Barking Dog has been preoccupied with activities within the Baptist clan during 2006. But, wiser heads have observed newsmaking events and trends in the broader culture. Their findings?

The Religion Newswriters Association has released its annual survey:

"The online poll of RNA members was conducted Dec. 8th to 12th. A total of 149 people voted for a response rate of 35 percent. RNA has conducted the poll since the 1970s. This year's results appear below.

1. Muslims in a number of countries react violently to publication of Muhammad cartoons in Denmark and other European nations. Scores of both Christians and Muslims are killed in riots in Nigeria.

2. Pope Benedict XVI angers Muslims by including in a speech a centuries-old quote linking Islam and violence. He apologizes and later smooths the waters on a trip to Turkey. Earlier, he begins to downsize the curia and emphasizes God's love in his first encyclical.

3. The Episcopal Church riles conservatives when the General Convention elects a presiding bishop who supported the consecration of a U.S. gay bishop, which conservatives oppose as unbiblical. Seven Episcopal dioceses refuse to recognize the leadership of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who is also the first woman elected to the top post. Later, the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin becomes the first diocese to adopt measures that set the stage for it to secede from the denomination.

4. Charismatic leader Ted Haggard resigns as president of the National Association of Evangelicals and is dismissed as pastor of the huge New Life Church in Colorado Springs after allegations surface of gay sex and methamphetamine use.

5. Candidates backed by the Religious Right suffer a series of defeats in the fall elections, with many voters citing morality as one of the strongest motivators in the way they cast their ballot.

6. Religious voices grow louder for peace in Iraq, but by year's end experts fear the spread of sectarian tensions throughout the Middle East. Conflicts between Sunni and Shiite Muslims increase, and the Israeli incursion in Lebanon aimed at curbing attacks by Hezbollah touches off major strife within Lebanon. Christian churches also reconsider efforts to pressure Israel on the Palestinian question.

7. The schoolhouse shooting deaths of five Amish girls in Bart Township, Pa., draws international attention on the Amish community's ethic of forgiveness after some Amish attend the killer's funeral.

8. (tie) The release of the film "The Da Vinci Code" adds to the previous buzz about Dan Brown's novel. Religious critics, who say the book portrays traditional Christianity as a fraud, are divided over whether to boycott the film or hold discussion groups. Controversial plot lines include Jesus marrying Mary Magdalene and conceiving a child.

8. (tie) Same sex marriage bans pass in seven of eight states that hold referendums on the issue during mid-term elections; Arizona becomes the first state in which voters defeat a same-sex marriage ban. Meanwhile, the New Jersey Supreme Court rules that same-sex couples are entitled to the same benefits as married couples.

10. President Bush casts his first veto to defeat a bill calling for expanded stem-cell research, to the delight of religious conservatives and the disappointment of more liberal ones. The issue is later credited with playing a deciding role in the key Missouri Senate race. Meanwhile, progress is reported in efforts to create stem-cell lines without destroying embryos."

What do you think? Are there events the religious newswriters missed that you think are of seminal significance? Are some of their choices less important in the long run?

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Cradle the World Cannot Hold

Chromatius (fl. 400), served as Bishop of Aquileia. He was a friend of Rufinus and Jerome and the author of numerous tracts and sermons. His Tractate on Matthew contains the following reflection upon the visit of the magi and contains some of the best of the consensual exegesis of the church prior to our critical era.

Let us now observe how glorious was the dignity that attended the King after his birth, after the magi in their journey remained obedient to the star. For immediately the magi fell to their knees and adored the one born as Lord. There in his very cradle they venerated him with offerings of gifts, though Jesus was merely a whimpering infant. They perceived one thing with the eyes of their bodies but another with the eyes of the mind. The lowliness of the body he assumed was discerned, but the glory of his divinity is now made manifest. A boy he is, but it is God who is adored. How inexpressible is the mystery of his divine honor!

The invisible and eternal nature did not hesitate to take on the weaknesses of the flesh on our behalf. The Son of God, who is God of the universe, is born a human being in the flesh. He permits himself to be placed in a manger, and the heavens are within the manger. He is kept in a cradle, a cradle that the world cannot hold. He is heard in the voice of a crying infant. This is the same one for whose voice the whole world would tremble in the hour of his passion. Thus he is the One, the God of glory and the Lord of majesty, whom as a tiny infant the magi recognize. It is he who while a child was truly God and King eternal. To him Isaiah pointed, saying, “For a boy has been born to you; a son has been given to you, a son whose empire has been forged on his shoulders.”

To the readers of His Barking Dog, I have one message today: May our Lord grant you a most blessed and meaningful Christmas, full of a sense of God's condescending love!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Merry CHRISTmas, Dr. Dawkins!

How do the new post-Christian atheists celebrate Christmas? Recently Roger Kennedy of The New York Times mused about the observance of Christmas by the new crop of atheists who have books selling off the shelves of Borders and Barnes and Noble, authors such as Sam Harris (The End of Faith) and Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion).

As “post-Christian” atheists, they are content to wish one another a purely secularized “Merry Christmas,” shorn of the Christological content and evangelical implications. In a recent blog by Al Mohler, he characterizes Dawkins as follows: “The self-identified ‘post-Christian atheist’ argues that Christmas long ago ceased to be a ‘religious festival.’ He dislikes silly Christmas songs on the basis of aesthetic judgment (a judgment shared, by the way, by many Christians) and is happy to ‘wish everyone a Merry Christmas.’"

Just as God used Balaam’s ass to speak forth his truth, so the creator who came into his creation two thousand years ago seems quite able to speak forth his message through the vehicle of an evolutionary Oxford professor, despite himself. Whether he likes it or not, “Merry Christmas” cannot be so easily separated from the underlying core of truth: It is Christ who transforms our brutal alienation into a truly merry reconciliation.

As the Christmas card I am giving this year (designed by the good folks at Answers in Genesis) puts it: "As promised from the beginning, the Creator stepped into His creation to give the greatest gift of all. Have a blessed Christmas!"

Friday, December 15, 2006

A Barking Dog Was Let Inside the House, Oh My!"

First impressions on the Transformation Ministries Board

After receiving a several hour board orientation on Wednesday and participating in an all day board meeting yesterday, there are a few observations worth sharing regarding the board of Transformation Ministries (formerly ABCPSW) . . .

As an organization we have moved on. While some of us still grieve over the withdrawal from an organization we were part of for decades (in my case more than half a century!), as an organization Transformation Ministries does not look backward, only forward. Conversations about “the” ABC were relegated to break times between some of us older pastor types. There was no “bad mouthing,” no conspiring, and no attention paid to fighting with our sisters and brothers in the ABC. It was as close to a “bless each other and move on” situation as one could imagine. Dale Salico did not even appear particularly aware of what has been happening in the ABC since withdrawal some months ago.

TransMin is rapidly retooling to have a congregation focus and truly associational feel, so different from most regional judicatories in any number of denominations. The talk yesterday was on seeing ourselves as a “movement of Baptist churches in association with each other.”

TransMin has made a commitment to shed the trappings of old patterns of judicatory management in order to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.

First, yesterday we voted to offer nearly two dozen congregations their deeds which have been held by the region. These were the first churches our staff had completed researching; many more are yet to come. In some cases this meant forgiving gift loans from decades ago. In other instances, it involved forgiving substantial debts of more recent vintage. And, in one example where a church wanted to withdraw from TransMin and to remain in the ABCUSA, we will be offering to transfer their deed to another ABC region. The board is intent upon "getting out of the property business."

Second, the board has adopted a modified “Carver Model” of policy governance so popular in both the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors. In place of old hierarchical micromanagement style, the board, executive minister, and staff have clearly delineated roles and functions. With carefully articulated and “nested” sets of “guiding principles,” “boundary principles,” and “accountability principles,” the board governs, the executive leads, and the staff manages. Rather than getting caught up in the minutiae of management, the board devotes its time to prayer, Bible study, in being inserviced on policy governance, and governing by setting policy and holding the executive accountable for specific, empirical, and written outcomes. The board majors on ends and the executive and his staff are given the authority and responsibility to select appropriate means consistent with the guidelines, boundary principles, and accountability standards.

There remains a good deal of hurt occasioned by misleading characterizations, misstatements, and outright untruths being reported out of meetings with ABC officials attempting to cobble together a new ABC region in the Southwest. One might expect sisters and brothers to at least attempt to meet the biblical standard of not bearing false witness. Here again, Dr. Salico has elected to take the “high road” and has neither responded in kind nor did he engage in efforts to undermine the work of the ABC representatives, even when the tactics have not met the minimal standards of truthfulness or fair play.

I am privileged and excited about being part of a movement of Baptists who take ALL of the Baptist distinctives, including biblical authority and classic orthodoxy, seriously. As organizations falter and crumble around us, may the Lord add his blessing to this important new work.

[His Barking Dog is actually a part of the board of TransMin and must claim some responsibility for decisions made by that body. However, as a new member without tenure or access to the executive committee, my barkings are still VERY much my own and undirected by my masters in the Southwest. Hey, Dale, arf . . . arf. . .. owww . . . did you have to put such a heavy choke chain on me?]

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

ABC Insider Stinnett Weighs in on ABC Reorganization Efforts

Executive Minister Dr. Dwight Stinnett, posted an incredibly insightful piece on the current state of ABC reorganization efforts on his blog today ( While pessimistic in tone, it represents one of the most candid pieces I have ever read by an ABC insider. Here is just one small sample from a very long blog . . .

Our present structure is one designed for impasse, inaction and frustration. The program boards (International Ministries and National Ministries) are tied to the General Board in a Gordian knot that neither can unilaterally cut. The General Board is specifically charged to “give general oversight and direction for the life and mission of the denomination,” and to “set policy in the areas of program functions, planning, coordination and evaluation.” The General Secretary (as the chief employee of the General Board) is “responsible for implementing all General Board policy decisions and for coordinating the implementation of American Baptist Policy Statements and Resolutions.” But there is no authority by which the General Board (or the General Secretary) may in fact implement those functions, goals, policies, etc., with regard to the program boards.

Stinnett goes on to draw the following conclusions about the trajectory of reorganization efforts in the ABCUSA . . .

While a single board is both my heart’s desire and my best organizational perspective, it seems very doubtful that we will go that way. It seems more likely to me that we will find ways to get farther apart and have even less mutual responsibility—so we can stop irritating one another. There is potent energy from both the Left and the Right driving this. The price we will pay is that we will be able to do even less together and our common identity will be even more diluted. I also predict that this “solution” will prove unsatisfying. At some point (certainly after I am gone) there will be another effort to “unify” us. I hope it works. If not, we will dissipate and spin apart into complete irrelevance.

Stinnett seems on target in his analysis. The pressure from those on both the right and the left will result (most likely) in some compromise designed to "find ways to get farther apart and have even less mutual responsibility--so we can stop irritating one another." And, my organizational behavior training leads me to believe he is also correct in his prediction that such a "solution" will prove "unsatisfying."

We face a major crisis in authority. From whence do we derive our authority? Does the text of the Bible (as the written Word of God) mean what it SAYS and say what it means (after being interpreted contextually, historically, and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit) OR is the Bible but one element of consideration to be weighed along with a variety of other factors such as current sociological fads, psychological theories, current trends and mores in our own secular society, etc.?

Those who elect to temporize the Bible in light of society's current predilections stand at odds with those who insist on viewing the Bible as God's revealed voice with a transculturally relevant message. Dwight is correct. A solution that just finds ways to keep the two views far enough apart so as not to keep "irritating one another" will prove about as satisfying as a marriage lived out in two separate houses. Ultimately a truly substantial ground for common confession must be found or the whole thing will dissolve into irrelevance.

My point of quibble with Dr. Stinnett relates to his prediction that we have as much time as he evidently anticipates (i.e., "certainly after I'm gone") for the organization to get its collective act together. With Transformation Ministries already gone and significant mission giving congregations dropping out on a regular basis, do you really think that any solution that cannot even be voted on until 2009 (at the earliest) will come soon enough to staunch the flow of ecclesiastical blood?

[His Barking Dog, back from his daughter's wedding and the second of three receptions, does not intend to get into a barking game with ABC loyalists. However, Dr. Stinnett's provocative piece was too important to ignore. While these observations are my own opinions ONLY, still unrelated to my domestic masters in the southwest, Dr. Stinnett's blog is MUST reading for those interested in Baptist polity.]

Monday, December 04, 2006

"The Nativity Story" - Hagiographic Retelling of the Greatest Story Ever Told

The Nativity Story conveys both one of the most realistic treatments of the nativity ever filmed and one of the most fawningly hagiographic. Never has Bethlehem or Nazareth appeared so gritty and realistically Middle Eastern. Seldom have the characters ever looked their parts better than in this movie, all the way down to the scruffy shepherds. Never have I seen Joseph represented with such faithfulness to the emotions he must have been feeling at the news of Mary's pregnancy. Even the treatment of Herod as a sinewy schemer rather than an obese oaf has something to commend it.

Yet, in the climatic scene, the movie resembles not so much a faithful retelling of the biblical account as a video representation of a home nativity scene one might purchase at Wal Mart. At the manger we find Joseph, Mary, and the infant Christ, surrounded by the shepherds, sheep, camels, and three wise men. Even the Magi carry the names tradition has assigned to them. Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, the identifications of the Magi derived from an early sixth Century Greek manuscript in Alexandria, arrive on the scene at approximately the same time as the shepherds, giving a nod to Christmas lore rather than biblical or historical scholarship.

Yet, despite the historical and artistic liberties, The Nativity Story is a reverent and moving film to be enjoyed as part of one's Christmas celebration. Some reviewers have carped that in preaching to the choir, the director has only succeeded in putting the choir to sleep. An Academy Award nominee it "ain't," but if you have been touched by the actual story of the incarnation, you will probably walk away blessed and a little misty eyed in the process of seeing it retold on the big screen.