Monday, August 30, 2010

A Move for the Blog

To all (or should I say both) of the people who read the musings on this site: I am moving my blog hosting over to wordpress. If you would like to continue reading my babblings, checkout the new stuff over at


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Few Words for Noah

My wife's family has a tradition of putting a book together with memories and wisdom for each other as they graduate from high school. The following is what I wrote for my brother-in-law Noah (Pictured left)


Best I can tell, and lets be honest counting and numbers aren’t my strong suit, I have known you since you were 9 years old. That means that I have known you for most of your life. You know, like more than half. Again, I’m not very good with numbers, but even if my math is wrong, it will be right in a few months time, anyway.

So what do nine years mean? And for that matter, what does it mean to graduate from high school? You won’t wake up and feel any different the morning after graduation. By the time it really sets in, you will be riding a lawnmower in the hot Hudson, FL sun. Then it’s too late to reflect on graduation, you are already in the throws of college life.

With all that in mind I have two things to tell you that you already know. It’s not very witty, but it’s probably true.

First, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Honestly, I have no idea who thought of that saying, because who would be so careless as to discard a child with dirty water. It just doesn’t make any sense. As you leave high school and home behind, you will want to stretch your wings, be your own person. That is not a bad thing; in fact it is a very good one. When you go to Hudson, you will be Noah Hartley, your sister’s legacies at Word of Life will be a distant memory and you will be your own man. Don’t forget what you have been taught. Your parents have instilled virtues and values in you that should not be discarded. At 3344 Verna, you have learned to be a Godly, kind, thoughtful, giving, and fun loving young man. Don’t forget those things. Don’t let college, even a Christian one, make you hard and cynical. It will be easy. Cynicism is the sport of college students, and Noah, don’t buy into it. Think through what you are learning, but don’t let it turn you into a critic.

Second, everything you need to know, you have known since you first began to talk. We often complicate things and seek spiritual formation from the newest things. This isn’t just true of your next year at Word of Life; it will be true of the rest of our lives. Remember what Paul says in his letter to the Galatians, if we started our relationship by God through faith, we will not be perfected by human effort. Or to put it another way, the best thing I can say to you has a catchy tune and goes something like this:

Jesus loves Noah, This I know
For the Bible tells him so.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Summer Reading

This summer I have planned out an ambitious reading plan. In the midst of the studies I am teaching, summer camps, vacations, and (Lord willing) my ordination. With just those little things going on, here is my reading list for the summer: (See if you can pick up the theme)

Sabbath – Dan Allendar
This is not a theological look at the topic, rather a practical encouragement to practice the 4th Commandment.

War of Words – Tripp
This is part of a requirement for my job. It focuses on the power of words and how they affect all of our relationships

Spiritual Theology – Simon Chan
I read this book early in my time in seminary. It is a systematic approach to the Christian life.

The Way of the Heart – Nouwen
I read this during the “Summer that God-hated me” and it was immensely helpful. I am revisiting it this summer.

Christ Plays in 10,000 Places – Peterson
I love Peterson and he always makes me think.

The Moral Vision of the New Testament – Hays
I read a chapter out of this book for a class my first semester of seminary. It was written unlike any other chapter on ethics I had ever read. I am interested to see what the book as a whole is like.

After You Believe – N.T. Wright
With all the drama surrounding Wright’s theology, I am interested to see him practically spell out his theology of sanctification.

Ender in Exile – Orson Scott Card
I always keep a fiction book on my nightstand and this is my current read. It fills in the time between Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead in the Ender’s Game series.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy – Eric Metaxas
I know I just said I keep fiction on my nightstand, but this looks very interesting and its still narrative, so it will take Ender’s place on my nightstand.

As I finish a book, I will cross it off. Also, the theme is "Spiritual Formation"

Updated 6/16

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Towards a Theology of Cultural Engagement

The church has debated the relationship it should have with the world since the earliest times. Just over a century after the death of the Apostle’s, Tertullian mused, “What does Jerusalem have to do with Athens?” The heart of Tertullian’s question was, what relationship does Christianity have with culture. The church has debated this topic ever since.

In the 1950’s, Richard Niebuhr’s book Christ and Culture set the agenda for all discussions on the topic that would follow. Neibuhr classified five approaches to culture. First, Christ Above Culture. This carries the idea that Christ is so transcendent that he is separate from culture. Culture deals with daily human issues, Christ deals with the weightier issues of the soul. Next, we see Christ and Culture in Paradox. This view pits Christ against culture, not in a hostile way, but more in an indifferent way. Christ is over here, culture there, never the two shall meet. As we approach the more common views we find Christ Against Culture. This view posits that culture (both pop and high) if not done explicitly for the glory of God by Christians is by its very nature hostile to God and Christianity. This is the prevailing view of popular, American evangelicalism. It is what has created the Christian ghetto, sub-genrizing anything it can. Since the turn of the millennium, the view of Christ of Culture has picked up steam. The Anglican revival coupled with the rise of the Emerging church has given new life to this view, previously buried by the other views. This view says that culture flows from Christ. It is often critiqued because of its failure to distinguish carefully from what is God’s Word and what are the mutters of the culture. The final category that Neibuhr presented was Christ Transforming Culture. This view (held mostly by Reformed Christians) carries the idea that Christ is very present in this world and “He is making the Kingdom of this world to be the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ” (to borrow from Isaiah/Handel).

As Christ kingdom grows in its expression we find the Gospel in seed form in places where Christianity is unknown. There are numerous examples of this, but one in particular comes to mind. In Japan there is a folk-legend called Hanasakajijii. This legend tells the story of two neighbors in dispute over a magical dog. After a bit of intrigue, the dog is murdered and transported to the floating world. As the family mourns, they are comforted by the “man who makes dead trees bloom”. This man restores the land from a drought. This is an extremely poor retelling of the story, but as early missionaries arrived in Japan, this story quickly helped the Christians explain their faith in an intelligible way. It was a cultural point of entry where adherents to Japanese folk religion could be engaged and taught of the gospel.

Here it may be helpful to distinguish between cultural relevance and cultural engagement. Many who find themselves in the Christ against Culture camp still use culture for a number of purposes. Often the idea is simply to illustrate a point or in other cases simply to show that the speaker is not “afraid” of culture. These uses are typically guarded and sparse. The idea here is to garner attention or to prove a point. This differs greatly from cultural engagement. In cultural engagement a speaker/minister/whatever may reference a number of pieces of pop or high culture. The idea is not to garner cool points or even to simply illustrate a point. Here the goal is a bit broader, by incorporating pop culture, the speaker is modeling a lifestyle that engages the world around the hearers and cultivates the beauty from the ashes. It finds the cultural touch points that have been buried in the culture and excavates them, showing where Christ has gone before us. We participate in His redemption of the world by sifting the beauty away from the ashes. We can see the messianic beauty of Children of Men, the redemptive significance of The Matrix, the nature of narrative in Stranger than Fiction. Here the goal is not illustration, but the cultivation of a life that engages the world with our beliefs and seeks to understand how and where Christ is working.

In closing it may be helpful to give the Biblical rationale for this view. When Paul came to Athens, he found a culture inundated with views, opinions, beliefs, and idolatry. When he was invited to speak at the Areopagus, Paul preached (Acts 17) one of his most eloquent sermons. In this sermon he quoted Epimenides of Crete in verse 28. This is the same Epimenides who was responsible for one of the most popular accounts of the origins of the Greek gods. These Theogonies (accounts of the where the gods came from) were often graphic and read more like a soap-opera than a history. Paul however engages Epimenides and shows how he was (inadvertently) speaking the truth. He then quotes the poem Phanomena by Aratus. This poem is a praise song used to worship Zeus. Nevertheless, Paul culls the truth that we have our being in YHWH, not in Zeus. Paul quotes other works in his epistles as well. He even quotes Epimenides a second time in Titus. Paul engaged his culture, and I believe this should be normative for us as well.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Bibliography for the Paper, Wright or Wrong

For those who are interested in the bibliography for my recent paper Wright or Wrong, here it is:

Report of Ad Interim Study Committee on Federal Vision, New Perspective, and Auburn Avenue Theology. By Paul Fowler, chairman. Atlanta, GA: General Assembly of the PCA, 2007

Hill, Charles E. “N.T. Wright on Justification.” IIIM Magazine Online Vol. 3, #22 (May 28 – June 3 2001)

McCormack, Bruce, ed. Justification in Perspective. Grand Rapids: William B. Baker Academic, 2006.

Piper, John. The Future of Justification: A response to N.T. Wright. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2007.

Sanders, E.P. Paul and Palestinian Judaism. Philidelphia: Fortress Press, 1977.

Stendahl, Krister. Paul among Jews and Gentiles. Philidelphia: Fortress Press, 1976.

Van Voorst, Robert E. Reading the New Testament Today. Belmont, California: Thompson-Wadsworth,2005.

Venema, Cornelis P. Getting the Gospel Right. Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth Trust, 2006

Wright, N.T. The Climax of the Covenant. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993.

___________. Justification. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2009.

___________. What Saint Paul Really Said. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1997.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Response to Worship and Theology, Post 6: Mediocrity is Not Sufficient

Rich has posted the latest in our series on worship and theology over on his blog and here is a response to it:

Ahh, So I see the gloves have come off, eh?

I have some thoughts on your blog:

First, I think you miss read my post regarding U2. I was in no way holding them up as exemplary, especially for church music. Here is how the argument [was intended] to flow: We have lots of professional musicians in Christendom. Their music is extremely popular (I’ll address some thoughts on this in a bit). They are so popular they sound like arguably the most popular band in the world. (At this point I whole heartedly agree with your thoughts on the quality of U2, but that is exactly not the point I am making) As great as these bands seem to be, both commercially and otherwise, they are theologically vacant and therefore failing. Even if Handel recomposed the music to the songs I mention in my post, they would still be vacant. (The dichotomy issue will be addressed, wait for it.)

Second are the issues of popularity and portability. You make a number of statements elevating technically correct music as the ideal. You say people should work to understand worship in the paragraph concerning burgers and filets. There is an element of Christianity that has always been blue collar. The most powerful movements of the Spirit in history have almost always been born out of the marginalized. Christianity is a populist religion, not an elitist religion. (I am, by and by, fully aware of the irony of this statement given the fact that I work in one of the less populist denominations) I guess what I am saying is that if Stan the Roofer doesn’t understand the music being played at his church, have we over aristocri-sized the church? And this problem is exacerbated as we think of Christianity on a global scale. Should we expect excellence in worship (by the standards of your post) in a church plant in Papua New Guinea? We can and should expect theological excellence; after all they have the authoritative guide on worship, the scriptures. That is to say that theological excellence in worship is universally applicable, while musical excellence is, by its necessary cultural moorings, subjective. Musical excellence in aboriginal Africa will look incredibly different than in the West.

I guess this means I am copping out (at best) or perhaps engaging in lazy thinking (at worst)

Lastly, it may perhaps be helpful to revisit the categories of post 3. It seems that you are blurring the lines between services of worship and worshipful services. While our services of worship should be excellent musically, each Sunday does not need to be a Sistine Chapel. Kathy brings up the issue of Scientist and other professionals, which we need to remember fall into categories (at least for our purposes in this series) of worshipful services. When we begin to blur these lines, which may be helpful in terms of vocation, we obscure the issue at hand.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The 20 most imporant CD's

I posted this elsewhere, but it may be interesting.

1. Weezer/The Blue Album – This was the first album I ever really loved. I learned to play every song on the guitar while spending my 8th grade summer at Matt Gilbert’s house.

2. Jimmy Eat World/Clarity – This is an incredible album that I bought my senior year on a whim from a mall CD store. It was this or Texas is the Reason. Boy, did I make the right decision. This is one of the best albums ever written and to top it off the final song is about my favorite novel. I have listened to “Goodbye Sky harbor” on the way to and from every graduation I have been a part of.

3. Juliana Theory/Understand This is a Dream – Wow. Wow. The album is incredible and the show at the State theory was one of the most memorable nights of my life.

4. Blink 182/Enema of the State – I don’t know what is more memorable here, the first time I heard this in high school or singing it at the top of my lungs at the old days of Hope Prevails.

5. 3rd Eye Blind/Self-titled – This was the album that got through my first break-up and the second hardest summer of my life. I can remember laying on the floor of Sean McLawhorn’s house listening to it as he talked to his girlfriend Francis on the phone.

6. Arcade Fire/Neon Bible – This was the album that helped get me through the “Summer that God Hated Me”. You know, the one where I lost my job, blew out 3 tires, my iPod died, I went over my cell phone bill $500 killing my chance for getting an iPhone, and I had to move out of the city I love. O yeah and the album is pure genius.

7. Ben Folds Five/Whatever and Ever Amen – A gift from Eddy and Natalie that I wore out my junior year

8. Dashboard Confessional – I will never forget listening to Brandston on a slurpee run my freshman year when John Thornley says, “You gotta check this out”. He was right. I think I memorized every word of the album within a week. It was just so catchy.

9. Get Up Kids/Something to Write Home About – O so good. I love almost any thing Matt Pryor has done. Conner’s first album will be the Terrible Two’s.

10. Derek Webb/She Must and Shall Go Free – This is all about the Abbey at Shawn’s. This album was so provocative in its time and so tied to my spiritual formation.

11. FiveIron Frenzy/Upbeats and Beatdowns – The show at the Cuban Club where everyone got crazy sick (Leila even lost her spleen) and we paid partially in old socks to get in. That night and that album were amazing.

12. Zwan/Mary Star of the Sea – I know it is low level sacrilege to leave the Pumpkins off this list, but this album (essentially Billy’s solo project) still gets much more play than Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness

13. U2/All That You Can’t Leave Behind – This is probably the best album by one of the best bands. EVER.

14. Sufjan Stevens/The Christmas EP’s – From Thanksgiving til New Years Day, this is just about all I listen to.

15. Radiohead – OK Computer – What an album. Everytime I listen to it I find new layers and nuances.

16. Deathcab for Cutie/Transatlanticism – This is another one of those front to back great albums

17. Pedro the Lion/Control – The night this CD came out, Matthew Leahy, Charlie Williams, and I sat and listened to it straight through. Twice. In a Winn Dixie parking lot in Hudson. It was the most memorable night that an album came out for me.

18. Manchester Orchestra/Mean Everything to Nothing – This is a new one, but man is it good. I don’t know if there has been a better album in the past few years.

19. Zao/When Blood and Fire Bring Rest – Though we didn’t sound like them, this always reminds me of my time with Left Shoe Untied. Luke and Kyle played it for me and I was hooked.

20. Anathallo/Sparrows – This is probably the full length album ever created, lyrically speaking, ever created.