Saturday, February 14, 2009

Church Sign - 2/14/2009, Part 2

Church: Zion United Methodist Church (1807 Duncan Road; Knoxville, TN 37919)

Sign: “A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small package.”

Commentary: This sign utilizes a classic quote to remind the reader that the Christian should be externally focused.

Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2, NASB)

Church Sign - 2/14/2009, Part 1

Church: Zion United Methodist Church (1807 Duncan Road; Knoxville, TN 37919)

Sign: “No Jesus -- No Peace. Know Jesus, know peace.”

Commentary: This sign reminds the reader of the promise of peace Jesus gave. Jesus left a unique peace, one that transcends the worldly concept of peace. (John 14:27)

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” (John 14:27, NASB)

In the beginning of his spiritual autobiography, The Confessions of Saint Augustine, Augustine of Hippo (354-430) wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.”

Bible Trivia - 2/14/2009

Question: How many books of the Bible begin with the letter "J"?

Answer: 12.

Comments: More books of the Bible start with the letter J than any other letter. Counting the Johannine epistles as three separate titles, twelve books of the Bible begin with the letter J: Joshua, Judges, Job, Jeremiah, Joel, Jonah, John, James, I John, II John, III John, and Jude.

Note: This post was brought to you by the letter J.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Associated Baptist Press - 2/13/2009

Associated Baptist Press
February 13, 2009 · (09-20)

David Wilkinson, Executive Director
Robert Marus, Managing Editor/Washington Bureau Chief
Bob Allen, Senior Writer

In this issue
Baptist, Orthodox leaders hold groundbreaking conference in Europe (438 words)
Relying on pastors for everything limits ministry, speaker says (530 words)
Kay Warren: Following Christ means being 'seriously disturbed' (449 words)
It takes a village to renew community and build healthy society (844 words)
Assyrian Christians appeal to White House for autonomy in Iraq (357 words)
Opinion: Christian ethical values and government emergency spending (716 words)

Baptist, Orthodox leaders hold groundbreaking conference in Europe
By Bob Allen

PRAGUE, Czech Republic (ABP) -- European Baptist and Orthodox scholars convened Feb. 8-11 in talks aimed to promote understanding between two Christian groups often at odds over issues like proselytizing and the separation of church and state.

The International Baptist Theological Seminary in Prague, Czech Republic, was host for the "Christian Mission in Orthodox Context" colloquium. The seminary co-sponsored the event with the Orthodox faculty of St. Clement of Ohrid University in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Planners called the meeting, spearheaded by Parush Parushev, academic dean at IBTS and a Bulgarian, a major initiative for both institutions.

"We are delighted at the developing cooperation between ourselves and St Clement of Ohrid University in Sofia," said IBTS Rector Keith Jones. "It complements the partnership we have had for the past decade with the Orthodox Academy at Vilemov in Moravia on the theology of creation care."

The aim of the colloquium, attended by more than 30 participants from Orthodox, Baptist, free evangelical and Pentecostal traditions, was to discuss points of tension and opportunities for enriching Christian witness in secularized European contexts with a majority Orthodox religious presence.

"Much of the difficulties and the challenges faced by the baptistic faith communities in the interactions with Orthodox religious communities and the governments of culturally Orthodox countries arise from misunderstandings related to the Orthodox notion of canonical territories (and largely of Orthodox canon law), evangelical emphases on religious freedom and the nature of religious proselytism," said a web page announcing the event.

Other papers discussed social ministries, shared spiritual roots of Russian Baptists and Russian Orthodox and writings of the famed Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

A press release termed the event "highly successful." At an informal social event on the final night, Jones and Orthodox professor Emil Trajchev exchanged gifts as a sign of the continuing partnership.

Internationally, the Baptist World Alliance has held preliminary discussions with the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul, but a formal dialogue has not yet been inaugurated. Baptist and Orthodox scholars and church leaders have begun to make such connections in local contexts, however.

Baptist leaders in Russia recently applauded the election of Metropolitan Kirill as primate of the Russian Orthodox Church as "a clear vote for openness and dialogue." Leaders of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists said Kirill, who directed the church's ecumenical relations for 20 years, fully supported the dialogue and fraternity with Russia's Protestants started by his predecessor, Patriarch Alexei II, who died in December.

In visits to Russia and the Republic of Georgia in 2008, BWA General Secretary Neville Callam asked Orthodox representatives for cooperation in facing secularism and ministry to the poor and marginalized.

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

Relying on pastors for everything limits ministry, speaker says
By Marv Knox

WACO, Texas (ABP) -- A church that depends upon its pastor for ministry fails both the pastor and the laypeople, ministry strategist Alan Nelson recently told participants at The Next Big Idea conference at Baylor University.

A litany of woes afflict the local church in America, noted Nelson, former executive editor of Rev magazine and founder of KidLead, a leadership training program for children age 10 to 13. He is author of Me to We, a book on equipping laity for ministry.

On any given weekend, only 20 percent of Americans attend church, and that percentage is expected to be cut in half by 2050, Nelson said. Less than 15 percent of U.S. churches are growing, and less than 1 percent are growing because of evangelism.

"We have no reason to believe these trends will turn around," he lamented. "We're seeing a significant macro-exiting of the local church." On the local level, the pastor, staff and the "faithful few" are overworked, and as outreach become more difficult, spiritual maturity is lacking.

The cause is what Nelson calls "Pastor-Centric Ministry Syndrome" -- extreme dependence upon pastors to do the work of the church.

The solution is for pastors to focus on equipping church members to do ministry, he said. To illustrate, he reported that in healthy churches, 93 percent of members are "mobilized in some form of ministry service," while the number drops to 11 percent in unhealthy congregations.

"The Bible teaches ministry in context of togetherness," with pastors and laity serving alongside each other, he said.

Scripture shows Moses, Jesus and Paul all trained others to minister and delegated significant responsibility to them, he added.

"Jesus knew that if he got sucked into the minutiae of ministry, he could not do God's will," Nelson said, pointing to the numerous times Jesus either pulled away, leaving responsibilities to the disciples, or hand-picked Peter, James and John for mentoring.

Unfortunately, the church drifted away from shared ministry to pastor-centered ministry, Nelson said. One reason is economics -- churches structure their staff sizes proportionate to their congregational size, so that they can afford to pay ministers to do their ministry for them, he insisted.

Another reason is social and psychological, he added, noting: "Ministry feeds the ego. We [pastors] think, 'No one can provide the quality of care we do.' So, we give in to unrealistic expectations and unhealthy co-dependence between pastor and congregation."

Fortunately, recent church trends have tilted toward equipping laity for ministry, he said. Reasons range from the complexity of ministry; to the strong desire for laypeople to serve others; to the rise of education and information, which empowers laity to take on ministry that earlier generations would not have attempted.

Benefits of the trend include lay "ownership" of the church's responsibilities, increased use of spiritual gifts, and "the synergistic effect builds unity and momentum, diminishing criticism and consumerism," he said.

For this to work in a church, not only must the pastor embrace the value of equipping laity, but a "partner" must join with the pastor to advocate the value in the church, he said. A plan for implementing the equipping system can be found at, he said.

Marv Knox is editor of the Texas Baptist Standard.

Kay Warren: Following Christ means being 'seriously disturbed'
By Ken Camp

WACO, Texas (ABP) -- Becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ means being willing to say "yes" unconditionally to God, knowing he likely will lead his followers into uncomfortable places, Kay Warren recently told a conference at Baylor University. For Warren, it meant becoming a global advocate for people with HIV/AIDS, for orphans and for other marginalized and vulnerable groups.

Her husband, Rick, is pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., and author of The Purpose Driven Life.

Accepting Christ's invitation to deny self, take up a cross and follow him means being "dangerously surrendered, seriously disturbed and gloriously ruined," she told The Next Big Idea conference, an event sponsored by Baylor's School of Social Work, Truett Theological Seminary and the Leadership Network.

Warren told participants both at a conference plenary session and workshop how she became "seriously disturbed" a few years ago by reading an article about AIDS in Africa.

"The article said there were 12 million children in Africa orphaned by AIDS. And I couldn't name a single one of them. There were 33 million people with AIDS. And I couldn't name a single person who was HIV-positive," she said.

"It rocked my world. It was a pivotal moment when I said 'yes' to God, and he broke my heart. It turned my life upside-down." That kind of "signpost moment" happens when a Christian becomes "so broken by brokenness, so disturbed, that you feel like you can't live with it another second," Warren explained.

Discipleship also means allowing Christ to "gloriously ruin" one of his followers for the normal life he or she knew before, she added. Warren explained that, for her, it meant transformation from "a suburban mom with a minivan" to an outspoken advocate for HIV-positive people worldwide.

"The pursuit of the American dream in and of itself will ruin you. Pursuit of health, wealth and happiness will ruin you. And so will following Christ. If you're going to be ruined, why not be ruined for something that matters -- something that lasts?" she asked.

Being "gloriously ruined" means following the example of Christ to "take on pain that isn't our own," she said. In Warren's case, one of the first and most memorable examples involved an encounter with an HIV-positive woman who was living -- and dying -- under a tree because she had been expelled from her village.

"Nothing in my faith had prepared me to talk to a dying, homeless woman living under a tree," she said. "Nobody should have to die alone."

Being a disciple of Christ means doing what Jesus did -- "making the invisible God visible" and caring for "the least, the last and the lost," Warren said.

Ken Camp is managing editor of the Texas Baptist Standard.

It takes a village to renew community and build healthy society
By Ken Camp

WACO, Texas (ABP) -- On a corner lot in Shreveport, La., where dealers once sold drugs, flowers bloom and vegetables grow in a community garden. More significantly, a sense of community has blossomed in the Allendale neighborhood after neighbors recaptured an ancient idea -- the village. Mack McCarter, a Disciples of Christ minister, returned to his hometown in northern Louisiana about 15 years ago after 18 years serving churches in Texas. He wanted to see if he could help renew community, one neighborhood at a time.

He did, and in the distressed neighborhoods where residents have adopted his approach to community renewal, crime has dropped more than 40 percent.

McCarter, founder of Community Renewal International, recently presented his systematic approach to neighborhood renewal at The Next Big Idea Conference, an event at Baylor University sponsored by Baylor's School of Social Work , Truett Theological Seminary and the Leadership Network.

When he was still serving a church in the Texas Panhandle, McCarter began to think about community renewal by asking five questions:

· What kind of world does God want?
· What kind of society makes possible that kind of world?
· What kind of people makes possible that kind of society?
· What kind of environment makes possible that kind of person?
· What do we have to do to make that kind of environment possible?

The first question was the easiest, he decided. God wants a world where people love their neighbors as they love themselves. But in a society where many people don't even know their neighbors, answers to the other questions proved more elusive. "People are disconnected, and that disconnection has opened the door to massive dysfunction," McCarter said.

The kind of "others-centered" person who can nurture a loving society must be both competent and compassionate, he decided.

"Competent people have the willingness and ability to access and appropriate resources outside themselves which enable them to grow -- skillfully, socially, spiritually, physically, intellectually and emotionally," he said. "Compassionate people live a lifestyle devoted to seeking the good of others as one seeks his or her own good."

He began to study social systems, trying to discover what kind of society would make possible a world where people love their neighbors. Philosopher Elton Trueblood, historian Arnold Toynbee and social analyst Lewis Mumford shaped his understanding of how and why civilizations develop, decline and ultimately collapse.

As he studied the varied ways people have built civilizing structures, he discovered only one societal model has endured for millennia.
"Only the village has never failed," he concluded.

McCarter sees the village as a caring community built on a foundation of mutually enhancing relationships. Once the relational foundation is in place, members of the village make sure other needs are met, such as safety, housing, meaningful work, health care and education.

With his theoretical paradigm for community renewal in place, McCarter set developing structures to turn theory into reality. He began by going into one Shreveport neighborhood, looking for people who were willing to make friends with people in their block.

"I figured out of 300,000 people in Shreveport/Bossier City, about 1,000 want to hurt other people. The rest care about other people. But society won't be saved by individual random acts of kindness. The key is connecting caring people," he said.

McCarter began connecting the willing by enlisting them in his "We Care Renewal Team." Members of the team -- who now number 39,000 in Shreveport/Bossier city -- agree simply to identify themselves as caring people who want to develop friendships with their neighbors.

Community Renewal also designates Haven Houses -- a private residence inhabited by a block leader who agrees to spend one hour a week, three weeks a month intentionally getting to know people and connecting them with each other through events such as block parties.

Finally, Community Renewal has developed Friendship Houses, also called "Internal Care Units," in high-crime areas.

"We move in missionaries who live in these Friendship Houses. They go there to serve and win the trust of their neighbors, starting with children and youth," McCarter explained.

The Friendship Houses serve as community centers where after-school tutoring programs, adult education classes and other programs are made available. In time, they also become places where neighbors care for each other's needs.

From Shreveport/Bossier City, the community-renewal program has been replicated in 20 other cities around the United States, as well as an international pilot project in Camaroon.

The Pew Partnership for Civic Change gave McCarter's community-renewal model its "Solution for America" designation, and the White House Conference on Community Renewal cited it as a "Best Practice Model." Community Renewal International received the Social Entrepreneurship Initiative Award from the Manhattan Institute.

While Community Renewal leaders appreciate the national attention, they particularly value the opinions of people who have seen them up-close for years. The organization's website includes an endorsement by Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator: "I applaud what you are doing and the pillars you stand on. There is now peace and quiet in areas that were once No-Man's-Land, and that's refreshing."

Ken Camp is managing editor of the Texas Baptist Standard.

Assyrian Christians appeal to White House for autonomy in Iraq
By Bob Allen

WASHINGTON (ABP) -- A Middle Eastern ethnic umbrella organization has written President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden asking them to push for an autonomous region for Assyrian Christians in Iraq.

The Assyrian Universal Alliance released letters Feb. 10 appealing to Obama and Biden to urge Iraq to establish a self-administered region in ancestral Assyrian lands under jurisdiction of Iraq's central government.

Calro Ganjeh, secretary of the alliance's Americas region, said the action is needed save Iraq's dwindling Assyrian population from extinction.

Though predominantly a Muslim country, Iraq is home to one of the oldest Christian communions in the world. More than a million Chaldean Christians are thought to have fled sectarian violence in the country that followed by the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Dozens of Christians in the Iraqi city of Mosul died in a string of murders last fall, apparently because of their ethnic identity, amid a power struggle between minority Kurds and Sunni Muslims in provincial elections.

The letters to Obama and Biden said the situation in northern Iraq, the heart of Assyrian ancestral lands, "points to alarming deterioration of our nation's status."

"With so many Assyrians having fled Iraq, the very survival of the Assyrian nation hangs in the balance," Ganjeh wrote. "Our numbers are dwindling and our communities are being shattered. Should this continue, the world will witness the demise of one of its most ancient and historically significant nations."

Formed in 1968, the Assyrian Universal Alliance brings together various Assyrian national federations and organizations around the world. It exists to inform the world about the plight of ethnic Assyrians and promote safety and rights of Assyrian peoples wherever they live.

Ganjeh said an Assyrian region would encourage refugees and internally displaced Assyrians to return to Iraq.

Assyrians, also known as Chaldean Christians or Chaldo-Assyrians, date their community to the first century. The group includes both Eastern-rite Catholics who recognize the pope's authority and an independent church. Christians were offered protection under former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, but since his overthrow have been subjected to persecution by fundamentalist Muslims who say all Christians should either leave Iraq or be killed.

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

Opinion: Christian ethical values and government emergency spending
By David Gushee

(ABP) -- Every major public-policy decision involves arguments about facts, interests, and values. All three have been on display in the fierce debate over the massive $789 billion economic stimulus plan that, as of this writing, was about to head to the president.

Facts. Policymakers operate on the basis of some reading of the facts relevant to the legislation they are considering, as well as the likely realities consequent upon acting or not acting in various ways. In the case of this massive spending bill, a great majority of our leaders agree on the factual claim that our economic problems are sufficiently grave that major governmental intervention is needed. They don't agree on other factual claims related to what kinds of spending will produce the most effective economic stimulus in the shortest period of time. But enough of them agreed on a variety of options to get a plan passed.

Christian ethics has no special insight to offer on such factual claims, and must defer to those with particular expertise in these matters. Of course, no one operating at the highest levels of leadership in Washington has ever seen anything quite like this, so everyone is improvising.

Interests. Realism requires the recognition that every legislator comes to the table acutely self-interested, especially in their own re-election and rise in the political firmament. Every constituent of every legislator is also self-interested, as are leaders of every level of government, as are businesses and their leaders, as is every human being and human group. This means that there is always the temptation to cut loose the purse strings of government so that everyone -- or at least everyone who knows how to work the system -- gets their share of the pork.

Christian ethics can offer to public discussion the rich, sobering resources of our tradition related to the pervasiveness of sinful self-interest and the obligation to move beyond selfishness toward the common good. We can attempt to hold policymakers accountable for bridling rank self-interestedness -- and especially for barring favoritism directed toward the wealthiest, most powerful, and best connected.

Values. There are many value-laden issues related to this spending bill, as there are related to most important policy decisions. I think that reflection on these values is where Christian ethics can make its main contribution.

Consider the moral principle of intergenerational moral responsibility. Opponents of the current bill strongly resisted the massive borrowing involved. It is indeed true that a government that has been running major budget deficits and building a massive stockpile of debt is now about to add $800 billion more to the pile. That can only be described as a highly dubious move in terms of the responsibility of one generation of Americans to those that will follow. It can only be justified as essentially a national emergency measure. Once the economy gets back on its feet, this bill must be followed up by a level of government fiscal responsibility not seen in a long time.

Another relevant moral principle is care for the most vulnerable. It is a basic biblical principle that the least of these, the most powerless, needy, and vulnerable, are of great concern to God and must be of great concern to God's people. This means that we have to scrutinize this spending bill for provisions it makes to employ the unemployed, give health care to those without it, keep people in their homes and reduce the tax burden on those who can least afford to carry it.

A final principle to consider is subsidiarity. This is a theme in Catholic ethics (it goes under other names in other ethical traditions) that emphasizes protecting and preserving the distinctive role, freedom and responsibility of the various actors in society. It is especially concerned about protecting individuals, families and local entities from having their functions taken over by higher-level organizations such as national governments. Subsidiarity recognizes the dangers of collectivism (and especially totalitarianism) and seeks to set limits on state intervention in the family, church, locality and economy.

A major question to consider in all economic legislation is whether it serves and strengthens other, "lower" sectors of society or instead takes over their functions in ways that would violate the principle of subsidiarity. The jury is out on this one right now.

David Gushee is distinguished university professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University.

Prayer Blog - 2/13/2009, #2

RWB from the Central Baptist Church of Bearden
called today and asked to meet tomorrow afternoon. Please pray for this meeting.

Prayer Blog - 2/13/2009

Today, I received a phone call from MLM requesting, that if possible, I drive CMU to prison. CMU must report in Beckley, West Virginia by 2 pm on Tuesday, February 17th. (See this November 21st “In Eckleburg’s Eyes” post for details.) He could report in Knoxville, but he has been advised that this would delay his arrival at his ultimate destination and he would be unable to keep any of his own possessions if he reports in Tennessee. Unfortunately, I could not be his chauffeur. Please pray that arrangements can be made for CMU to report in Beckley.

Church Sign - 2/13/2009

Church: Walridge Baptist Church (3020 Walridge Road; Knoxville, TN 37921)

Sign: “Don’t keep the faith. Share it.”

Commentary: While I would add the word “just” to the first sentence (as I feel keeping the faith is also appropriate), the sign’s charge to share one’s faith is important.

The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (II Timothy 2:2, NASB)

Who have you shared your faith with?

Word of the Day - 2/13/2009


Meshuga means crazy; insane. The Yiddish slang is derived from a similarHebrew term.

An evil spirit incited King Saul to behave in a meshuga manner and eventually turned him against his servant David.

Now it came about on the next day that an evil spirit from God came mightily upon Saul, and he raved in the midst of the house, while David was playing the harp with his hand, as usual; and a spear was in Saul's hand. (I Samuel 18:10, NASB)

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 2/13/2009, Part 2

News & Notes from Thursday, February 12th, 2009

-On Thursday night, my parents and I attended the Lady Vols basketball game at Thompson-Boling Arena. We were there to see my youngest cousin, HLN, dance at halftime with the Tennessee Children’s Dance Ensemble. We sat in Section 131, while my uncle sat nearby in 227. Unfortunately, despite sitting relatively close to each other, we did not connect.

-The crowd was surprisingly large. It was the most homogenous audience I can remember seeing. I challenged my father to find an African-American and he could not. The crowd also tended to be on the elderly side. I do not know if it is the game’s slower pace or the fact that the team typically wins but in short, old white people love the Lady Vols.

-I have not been to a Lady Vols basketball game in about a decade and I think I will be content to wait another decade for my next experience. The pace is just so slow. If I ever get to fall in love again, I will take a date to a game. I have always lamented that time flies when you are happy and I feel that taking a date there could prolong the honeymoon period.

-HLN performed well as always. The dancing troupe wore red, white, and blue, and performed a patriotic routine. They even used pom poms as props. Her maternal grandparents, big Lady Vols supporters, would have been so proud.

-After they performed, we had seen enough. We left with the Lady Vols leading Alabama, 41-30. Tennessee went on to hand the Crimson Tide their 10th consecutive loss and 34th in a row in the series! More importantly, the 80-61 final score meant all three of our tickets could be redeemed for free food at Chick fil-A.

-After the game, er half, my parents and I ate at the Silver Spoon Café . In my ongoing mission to try every pasta the restaurant offers, I ate the Italian meatball pasta. It was good, but I preferred the meatballs to the pasta.

-My night concluded at RAW’s home. RAW and MPW had met to eat RAW’s homemade chili (of which he is quite proud) and to watch the NBA on television. KLTW was not home from work and had let KJW spend the night with her aunt PWC. I was glad to see my friends but was none to pleased that she had given the toddler away.

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 2/13/2009, Part 1

News & Notes from Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

-Wednesday was a windy day in East Tennessee. Scott County Schools were dismissed due to the wind and at day’s end much of Knox County had yet to regain power from earlier gusts. My home was effected as well. The vent in my attic was blown off, leaving a hole in my house!

-On Wednesday afternoon, my mother and I drove to 3025 Ginnbrooke Lane in Maryville to the condo of the late HMC. I was there to pick up HMC’s books while his daughter ACR cleaned his condo. It recently sold. I was selected to inherit his library as his wife knew I would appreciate the books and because both her husband and I were devoted to John Claypool. Dr. Claypool used to provide his sermons via a mailing list and Dr. Chiles was one of the recipients. I was thrilled to get the sermons.

-I have been blessed to inherit several pastor’s libraries. The task of going through their books is always strange and I cannot help but wonder who will one day browse mine. HMC’s library had been reduced when he left the mission field. 22 banana crates full of books had been distributed to pastors throughout South Dakota where he was working at the time. What was left were his favorites. I could tell that, in addition to Dr. Claypool, he especially appreciated the preaching of Helmut Thielicke (1908-1986) and Elton Trueblood (1900-1994). HMC had also saved a copy of Ralph Elliott’s The Message of Genesis, which will tell the initiated where he stood on the SBC-CBF split.

-I also picked up books for some fellow members of the Central Baptist Church of Bearden who went to seminary. I felt that we should all have a part of one of the great people associated with the church.

-On Wednesday night, I met MPW and RAW at Thompson-Boling Arena to watch the Tennessee basketball team play Georgia. They arrived late as they had been celebrating their mother’s birthday in Seymour. They missed a humorously awkward Wayne Chism shot at the 18:50 mark, Brian Williams typical palms open hand gesture questioning a foul, and uncertainty in the Vols offense. The usual.

-Actually, Tennessee destroyed the Bulldogs on this day. The game was sloppy and the Vols missed numerous easy looks but it would have been hard to lose to Georgia on this night. Note: Firing coaches in January is a terrible idea!

-How dominant were the Vols? With 13:32 left in the second half walk-on (and Knoxville native) Quinn Cannington (SQC) checked into the game. This was highly irregular. Over the Vols’ first 22 games, SQC had totaled three minutes and had yet to score. SQC held his own and hit his first jump shot.

-Tennessee won the game 79-48. Georgia remained unvictorious in conference play (0-9). This was our best chance to receive free chicken (done when the Vols score 90 or more) and the missed lay-ups cost us this promotion if not the game.

-As an aside, freshman reserve Emmanuel Negedu has become a huge fan favorite, typically getting the biggest ovation from the crowd when he enters the game.

-I did not see anyone I know at the game. Attendance was surprisingly low, with the student section again being largely empty. Is there something happening on campus on Wednesday nights? With the stands empty, the Georgia team probably felt at home.

-The halftime entertainment was a six minute demonstration from the Tennessee baseball team, who will be opening their 100th season on February 20th. Vol baseball players were positioned at each entrance to distribute fliers and star Kentrail Davis was announced to the crowd during one break. During halftime, the coach narrated a series of drills. The indoor setting was not conducive to baseball and I am uncertain whether they helped or hurt their cause of creating a crossover audience.

-It was not all bad. At the end of the drills, the players hit items into the stands. While this seemed to be a lawsuit waiting to happen, no one appeared to be injured. Plus, we did not have to pay these guys. (I am still not over the Vols hiring a “professional Simon Says leader" to fly in from New York).

-After the game, I met JTH and JDM at Applebees where we watched North Carolina win at Duke, 101-87. AFH was our server. JTH ordered the buns that accompany their mini hamburgers. AFH did not deliver it with his meal. She explained the oversight, “I forgot because it’s ridiculous”. As you can see, JTH eventually got his bread.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Prayer Blog - 2/12/2009

Today, RGB called to update me on my status at UT. There has been further complications regarding my paperwork. The change of status form, which I completed on Decemeber 17th (from non-degree to degree seeking), is lost. See the December 18th edition of "In Eckleburg's Eyes" for details.

My GRE scores, sent (for the second time) on June 3rd are also missing. I have begun the process of rectifying these situations. I am, however, frustrated by the situation. I realize that with all of the bureaucracy at UT it is a miracle when paperwork arrives at its appointed destination, but the process has been frustrating. Please continue to keep my status with the university in your prayers.

Word of the Day - 2/12/2009


Solus means (referring to a man) alone; by oneself (used formerly in stage directions).

In Genesis' second account of creation, God concludes that it is not good for a man to be solus. (Genesis 2:18)

Then the LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him." (Genesis 2:18, NASB)

Note: This painting is "Adam Naming The Beasts" by William Blake (1757-1827).

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Associated Baptist Press - 2/11/2009

Associated Baptist Press
February 11, 2009 · (09-19)

David Wilkinson, Executive Director
Robert Marus, Managing Editor/Washington Bureau Chief
Bob Allen, Senior Writer

In this issue
Austrailian Baptists begin response to devastating Victoria bush fires (343 words)
Baptist pastor and wife fail to reunite with kidnapped children (662 words)
Former Whitewater prosecutor says Proposition 8 about voters (418 words)
NC Baptists look forward to 5th century of Baptist movement (591 words)

Australian Baptists begin response to devastating Victoria bush fires
By Robert Marus

MELBOURNE, Australia (ABP) -- Australian Baptists were responding Feb. 10 to what has already become the deadliest outbreak of wildfires in the nation's history.

According to news reports, authorities have confirmed 181 deaths as of the afternoon of Feb. 10 from the fast-moving fires, which raged over the prior weekend. They fear the death toll may reach as high as 300 once all of the charred bodies are identified. Whole towns in the rural areas north and east of the city of Melbourne have reportedly been incinerated.

The Baptist Union of Victoria -- the southern Australian state where the worst of the fires have been concentrated -- sent a Feb. 9 letter to approximately 200 member churches asking for contributions to a "Emergency Bushfire Relief Fund." The fund is a joint effort of the statewide union, the broader Baptist Union of Australia and Baptcare, a Victoria Baptist benevolent agency.

The letter said the fund began with a grant of $50,000 in Australian dollars from Baptcare and "generous" contributions from the two Baptist unions.

"Many Baptist churches in Victoria and beyond have contacted us asking us what they can do to help. Many have already opened their building to provide emergency centres and accommodation; offered pastoral care and support; started collecting clothes," the letter said. "Pastors in the most affected areas tell us that financial assistance is likely to be the most effective help they can give, so we are hoping, through the generosity of the churches and their agencies, to resource these churches to meet the needs of their communities."

Baptcare is also soliciting donations on its website.

Eron Henry, director of communications for the Virginia-based Baptist World Alliance, said Feb. 10 the worldwide Baptist umbrella group is monitoring the situation. He said any donations made to Baptist World Aid, the group's relief arm, for the Australian fires would be channelled through the Baptist Union of Victoria.

The union also is providing samples of prayers to churches to guide them to pray for the bereaved, emergency medical workers and God's transformation of tragedy.

Robert Marus is managing editor and Washington bureau chief for Associated Baptist Press.

Baptist pastor and wife fail to reunite with kidnapped children
By Bob Allen

SAN JOSE, Calif. (ABP) -- A Baptist pastor and his wife have returned from California to their Georgia home after failing to reunite with their two children, who vanished along with their maternal grandparents 20 years ago.

"I think they're kind of spooked," Mark Baskin, a high-school band teacher and bivocational pastor of Normantown Baptist Church in Vidalia, Ga., said in a Feb. 9 interview on NBC's Today Show. "How would you feel if you've suddenly realized the last 20 years of your life have been a lie?"

Baskin and his wife, Debbie, traveled to San Jose, Calif., in hopes of reconnecting with their now 28-year-old daughter and 27-year-old son. The two were allegedly kidnapped after the children, then 8 and 7, were left in custody of Debbie Baskin's parents in Tennessee while the Baskins were students at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., in 1988.

Christi and Bobby Baskin now go by the names of Jenny and Jonathan Bunting. They apparently are standing by their grandfather, Marvin Maple, alias John Bunting, who was arrested on kidnapping charges Feb. 2 thanks to anonymous tips after an article about the cold case appeared in the Jan. 12 issue of the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Maple, 72, waived extradition and made an initial court appearance Feb. 10 at Rutherford County General Sessions Court in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Wearing shackles and an orange jail jump suit, Maple requested more time to prepare for a preliminary hearing, which is now rescheduled for March 17. Mark Baskin said the couple knew before they left for California the children might not want to see them. The presumed that Maple and his wife, Sandra, now deceased, likely said horrible things about the parents during the two decades the family was broken apart.

The Maples won temporary custody of their grandchildren after claiming the Baskins abused Bobby during a visit. Police investigating the charge found no evidence of abuse and recommended the children be returned to their parents. Two weeks before a court order gave the Baskins custody, the Maples and children disappeared.

Since locating their children, the Baskins have gone on a media blitz attempting to tell them they still love them, don't blame them for what happened, and want them to reconnect with their family, including two younger brothers ages 25 and 16.

"It's been probably very hard for them. We realize that," Mark Baskin said. "We came here thinking that this very well could be the case, but we came anyway, because we want to see them, we want to reestablish our relationship with them. I think with time they'll realize they do need to reach out to us."

Today's Meredith Vieira asked Debbie Baskin how she survived two decades not knowing where her parents were or if her children were dead or alive.

"I survived because of Jesus Christ," Baskin said. "We've had so many people in America and across the world praying for us and just remembering us. When you have faith, you have hope, and we've hung on to that hope and the memories and lovely, lovely people. We've been very blessed with just so much support all these years and people don't realize but a kind word can just make somebody's day and keep you going, and that's how we've done it."

Debbie Baskin, also a teacher, said she tried to talk to her father while in California, but he refused to see her.

"I wanted to tell him that I had forgiven him, but there are consequences to actions and he was going to have to deal with those consequences now," she said. "And I also wanted to tell him that he had tried to destroy me and our family, but we've not let this define our lives. We have two sons. We have adopted a son, and I wanted him to know that his plan did not totally work. And I wanted to see him. I hadn't seen him for 20 years."

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

Former Whitewater prosecutor says Proposition 8 about voters
By Bob Allen

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (ABP) -- The controversy over California's Proposition 8 is larger than homosexuality, Kenneth Starr, lead counsel for a group set to argue before the state's Supreme Court in favor of upholding the ban on same-sex marriage March 5, told religious broadcasters Feb. 10.

Starr is the former United States solicitor general most famous for leading the investigation prompting the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton. At a public-policy session at the 2009 National Religious Broadcasters convention in Nashville, Tenn., he said the larger issue is whether the constitutional revision, approved by 52 percent of California voters, is enough to deny any minority group the right to marry. "There is certainly a fundamental right to marriage," Starr said. "The Supreme Court has so said, and it's deeply rooted in our traditions, but we regulate marriage. Plural marriage, which is lawful in 28 countries that are members of the United Nations, would not be recognized. There are many, many regulations -- age regulations, et cetera."

Starr said what is being argued in the case is not the definition of marriage, but whether the people have power to amend the state constitution to overturn a specific decision of the California Supreme Court.

"It's a very important, nonetheless different, issue than the underlying constitutional issue of the right to marry someone of the same sex," he said.

Nadine Strossen, former president of the American Civil Liberties Union, compared Proposition 8 to laws in 16 states that formerly had deep-rooted traditions of preventing interracial marriage.

"It has broader implications far beyond the gay-marriage debate," she said. "It has broader implications for religious people in particular, and the issue is whether the people of California, by a bare majority of those who turn out to vote on a particular issue, can revise the California Constitution to take away what has been held to be a fundamental right."

Strossen said the constitutional question is whether it rather takes a super-majority process to take away fundamental rights, such as two-thirds vote of both houses of the legislature.

"One of the many friend-of-the-court briefs that was filed on our side was filed by a very broad array of religious organizations saying we have to be very careful, because if the people of this state by a bare majority vote can take away fundamental rights -- can take away equality rights -- from an unpopular minority group, then we have to worry that can be a power that can be used against religious communities," she said.

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

North Carolina CBF anticipates fifth century of Baptist movement
By Tony Cartledge

GREENSBORO, N.C. (ABP) -- How can Baptists maintain an effective witness into their fifth century of existence? More than 400 participants gathered at First Baptist Church in Greensboro, N.C., Feb. 9 to mark the 400th anniversary of the Baptist movement and to anticipate what the fifth century of Baptist life might hold.

Sponsored by Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina (CBFNC), the Convocation for a New Baptist Century drew guests and CBFNC ministry partners from across the state and as far away as Texas and Washington, D.C.

CBFNC Coordinator Larry Hovis said that if Baptists in the next century are to be faithful, they must preserve and live by bedrock Baptist principles, pursue the mission of God and work together in missional collaboration.

Hovis highlighted the traditional Baptist hallmarks of believing in the Lordship of Christ, trusting the Scriptures as authoritative, recognizing that every believer is a priest before God, appreciating the autonomy of the local church, promoting religious liberty, and intentionally cooperating with others.

In pursuing the mission of God, Baptists must recognize their need for one another, Hovis said, and "provide an authentic Baptist community where we can celebrate our oneness and respect our differences."

Past programs of cooperation among Baptists have focused on funding from the churches and governance of funded institutions by the denomination, Hovis said. He pledged that CBFNC, in contrast, will facilitate mutual collaboration based on conversations between representatives of the churches, the supported ministries and CBFNC leadership.

Entering the new century, he said, CBFNC is ready to serve as a "robust catalyst" to assist collaborative partners "as we pursue God's mission together."

Earlier in the day, Baptist historian Bill Leonard, dean of the Wake Forest University Divinity School, presented a paper addressing "The New Baptist Century in Historical Context," and responded to questions in a time of lively discussion.

In a closing message, Mike Queen, pastor of First Baptist Church in Wilmington, N.C., said Baptists are "tribal people." Christians have divided themselves into many tribes, he said, and Baptists have developed tribes of their own, but "that's how it's always been in the Kingdom of God."

Queen noted how Moses instructed the Israelites to encamp by tribes surrounding the Tabernacle, each flying its distinctive banner. Thus, "both unity and uniqueness were celebrated" in the peoples' "corporate identity as children of Israel and particular identity as members of their tribes."

As a former president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina General Board, Queen was a tireless advocate for unity within the state convention during the 1990s, an effort that ultimately ran aground in the rising conservative tide that now dominates the state convention. During the same period, CBFNC emerged as an alternative nexus of cooperation and fellowship for those who felt disenchanted with or disenfranchised by the state convention.

"I spent a long time chasing the wrong things in Baptist life the past 25 years," Queen told the congregation. "CBF of North Carolina is my tribe in the Baptist nation," he said, "but it is not a denomination to be won: it's all about mission and freedom."

"It's exciting to be a part of something that is still new and filled with hope we can scarcely imagine," Queen said. That hope can be found in Jesus alone and calls for vigilant focus, he said, for "When you fall in love with an institution, you may lose the ability to follow Jesus."

"The easy part of our faith is to believe," Queen concluded. "The following part gets hard: that's where we need one another."

Tony Cartledge is a professor at Campbell University Divinity School and contributing editor to Baptists Today.

Prayer Blog - 2/11/2009

Today I met ACR, the daughter of the late HMC. She is in the process of cleaning out her parents' condo in Maryville. This is an especially difficult task. Please keep the Chiles family in your prayers.

Word of the Day - 2/11/2009


A rampike is a dead tree, especially the bleached skeleton or splintered trunk of a tree killed by fire, lightning, or wind.

While entering Jerusalem, Jesus used a rampike as an object lesson for the disciples. (Matthew 21:20-22; Mark 11:20-22)

And Jesus answered and said to them, "Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' it will happen. (Matthew 21:21, NASB)

Note: This rendering of a fig tree is by the Swiss painter, Paul Klee (1879-1940).

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 2/11/2009, Part 3

News & Notes from Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

-I woke up early on Tuesday morning and showered in KAW’s bathroom, fully decorated in Little Mermaid decor. When I opened the door I was startled to find KAW waiting at the door. The four-year old struck fear into my heart in that moment. KAW soon filled me in on the day’s itinerary: TV, hide and seek, Lucky Charms, duck duck goose (which proved difficult with only two people), “just talk”, “and then you can go home”.

-We were soon joined by BKW. KAW interrupted a conversation between her father and I by interjecting, “so what about two guys getting married?” Reminder: KAW is four years old.

-Over breakfast (the aforementioned Lucky Charms), KAW began meowing, emulating a cat. I asked her if her dog, Jack, liked her even when she was posing as a cat. This was a tactical error. She did not know but she tried to find out. She chased the dog around meowing at him with great vigor.

-As I left, BKW asked if I would like to see Jack perform a trick. He asked me to open my car door. I did. Jack entered. Getting the dog out of my XTerra proved far more difficult than getting him in, especially as BKW laughed at my attempts for some time. After finally returning the dog to the house, I hit the road. I had planned on attending a class at the McAfee School of Theology later in the day but had some time to kill. Traveling into Atlanta in the morning is futile. So I decided to stop by Towne View Baptist Church where my old seminary pal JCL works. I had not seen him in some time. Amazingly, our SUVs pulled into the parking lot at the exact same time.

-JCL took care of some business at church and then we headed to Starbucks. We spent the next three hours there! I was thrilled to see him and our stories proved to be remarkably parallel. We have so much in common. We also talked of our old seminary days and it felt like two war veterans finally talking about their old battles long after the fact. I finally have perspective on my seminary experience.

-JCL is well. His wife is planning to enroll in McAfee soon and the two will soon be adopting a child. JCL has gravitated towards the same social justice issues I have. (Note: The personalized Obama icon used as JCK’s Facebook profile picture can be made at Obamicon.Me.) We discussed Shane Claiborne (author of Jesus For President), Religion & Ethics, etc. He also put me onto Tony Campolo’s appearance on the Colbert Report. Campolo and Colbert are two personal favorites. The appearance was on February 27th, 2006, and can be accessed here.

-JCL also has developed a blog called Soul Ache. Check it out.

-After leaving JCL, I headed into Atlanta to attend a class on the Book of Acts (NTG 816.24) taught by one of my favorite professors TBS. (I just realized that those are his initials.) I had not been to the school in four years and was afraid they might have forgotten me. I was pleasantly surprised by the wonderful reception I received. TBS introduced me by acknowledging that I was the first student he had ever had to write a Greek exegesis paper in an English based class. He even remembered my parents.

-The class was great. I sat by the wife of DWL, who husband is the former pastor of First Baptist Church in Knoxville. Daniel Marguerat’s The First Christian Historian: Writing the 'Acts of the Apostles' is the course's primary text. As always, I learned a lot from TBS. I stayed after class and we caught up for some time. I was sad to break the news of his colleague DLD’s death.

-For those who know him, TBS’s commentary on Ephesians from Smyth & Helwys is ready to be sent to the publisher.

- It was a great homecoming. On my way out, I bumped into DGG, another beloved professor. After a great day in Atlanta, I made the trip back to Knoxville.

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 2/11/2009, Part 2

News & Notes from Monday, February 9th, 2009, Part 2

-After he got off of work, I met BKW at Grand Slam Pizza. BKW prepared my goddaughter, KAW, and I to see each other. She is now four years old. As he attempted to explain the concept of godfather, she equated it to having a fairy godmother. She was excited by the prospects until she asked whether or not I could fly. When BKW admitted I could not, I think the child felt cheated. He tried to redeem my reputation my noting that I renounced Satan to become her godfather. This just did not compensate for my inability to fly without the crutch of an airplane.

-We then drove to BKW’s gated community, Legacy Park, where we ate the $5 pizzas we had picked up. BKW lives in a cul-de-sac. Also living on the cul-de-sac is rapper Big Snow.

-I got to play with BKW’s dog, Jack. Jack is quite possibly my favorite dog ever. He can get rowdy and wrestle and when you want him to calm down he can change emotions on a dime. It is amazing. I thought only women could change moods so quickly. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) What is it with me loving dogs lately?

-The family is great. BKW’s wife, RCFW is doing well. She had recently gotten glasses and they are quite becoming. She had a positive doctor’s report earlier in the day and hardly looks pregnant. The baby is due on April 19th (though I am hoping it will be born a week early so we can share a birthday). The baby’s name will be Caroline. I asked if the name would be spelled with a K to compliment her sister, Kelsey. BKW was pleased I asked as he had also made the suggestion and been ridiculed for it.

-KAW was entertaining as ever. She always introduces me to her beloved bear. In one breath, she said, “This is a girl and it’s a bear and its name is Bear (I smile) and that’s not funny.”

-KAW is really into princesses. She showed me her room, which has a Disney Princess theme, complete with a canopy over her bed. KAW’s preschool at Summit Baptist Church in Acworth has a wall banner asking four year olds the question “What would you ask Jesus?”Here are some responses:
  • Lawson: “Can I learn kung fu?”
  • Nathan “How do you make tornados?”
  • Luke: “How tall will I be?”
  • Hannah: “How do you make flowers different colors?”
  • Marlee: “Can I have a cat?” (Anyone else find the irony of a Marley wanting a cat? Probably not...)

-What did Kelsey ask? “Can I be a princess forever?” BKW told her that Jesus said “yes.”

-KAW is also excited about being a big sister. She has been promised a big sister basket full of goodies. After discussing the basket’s possibilities at length, I asked her which she was more excited about, the baby or the basket. Her reply, “Both.” She is quite the diplomat.

-While BKW showered and changed clothes, Jack, KAW, and I watched Sheerluck Holmes and the Golden Ruler, the 28th episode in the VeggieTale series. BKW joined us for the conclusion and is especially fond of a “silly song” which lampoons gated communities. It reminds him of his own.

-After watching the video, BKW and I headed to his church, Light of Christ Anglican Church (located at 775 Franklin Rd SE #100 in Marietta). There we discussed inner healing ministry at length.

-BKW and I then caught the 9:40 PM showing of The Wrestler at the AMC Barrett 24 Commons in Kennesaw. BKW wanted to see the film with me as professional wrestling is one of my (few) areas of expertise. I appreciated the film. It was remarkably authentic and as such, a little painful to watch. I forget that those unfamiliar with wrestling are unaware that wrestlers cut themselves to bleed in matches or that wounds are commonly patched with super glue.

-Both BKW and I were impressed with the juxtaposition of the wrestling and stripping professions. It was well done and thought provoking.

-I must also note that the Bruce Springsteen song, “The Wrestler”, which plays at the credits roll, may be the best marriage between a song and a movie I have seen. I am not especially a Springsteen fan but felt the song was unbelievable. It won the Golden Globe on January 12th in the best original song category. The song can be accessed on YouTube here.

-We then returned to BKW’s home where I spent the night in a room being renovated for baby Caroline.

-Finally, On Monday I was paid one of the biggest compliments of my life. I was informed that I would be inheriting the library of my church’s saintly former pastor, HMC, who died on November 20th.

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 2/11/2009, Part 1

News & Notes from Monday, February 9th, 2009, Part 1

-On Monday morning, I met CBP at 8 am at the Panera Bread on North Peters Road. We prepared for my lecture on the apostle Paul at Carson-Newman College on March 10th (keep that one in your prayers) and had an enlightening discussion. One of the most important things I learned is that there are actually places open at 8 am and people who go there at that time. Hopefully, I will not join their ranks again any time soon.

-After meeting with CBP, I packed my bags (far more than I needed to for a two-day trip) and headed to Kennesaw, Georgia, to spend the night with my seminary colleague BKW. BKW is like a brother and far closer than the term colleague implies but I have always wanted to have colleagues.

-As usual, I broke up the trip at McKay’s in Chattanooga. Since my last visit, they have placed an employee at the door wearing a golf shirt that reads “McKay’s Loss Prevention”. (Sorry about the picture quality. I assure you, he did have a head).

-While at McKay’s I bought Michael Ian Black comedy CD “I am a Wonderful Man” to listen to on the second leg of the trip. I loved his commentary on I Love the 80's but I was honestly disappointed by the CD. One thing of note: He is married.

-While en route, BKW’s friend Stephen Fredericks (DSF) called me and we talked for 34 minutes. We discussed inner healing as he is the director King of David Healing Ministries. That is a long time to talk to someone you don’t know, especially about the intimate details of your life. SDF's book, Loosing the Key of David, was released on January 29th and was just picked up by

-When I arrived in Kennesaw, I frequented their Goodwill. It was the most upscale Goodwill I have ever been too. (It is Cobb County.) Even the movies that had were art house films! In my continuing survey of Goodwills, paperback books sell for $1.50 and hardbacks for $2.50 in Georgia. That is exorbitant.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Prayer Blog - 2/10/2009

Today at the McAfee School of Theology, I sat by the daughter-in-law of WEH. Dr. Hull is Theologian in Residence at Mountain Brook Baptist Church and Research Professor at Samford University. He was also Dr. Claypool's best friend.

I learned that he has been diagnosed with the highly degenerative disease, ALS (aka Lou Gerhig's Disease). At age 78, he is past the typical age to be maligned by the illness. This past week he was moved to the first floor of his house as he can no longer get to other floors. This especially significant as his library is on the third floor. He is spending a great deal of time writing while he can. Please keep this Baptist legend in your prayers.

WAM Quote of the Day - 2/10/2009

Today at 12:57 PM, I received the following text from WAM:

“The end is near”

Naturally, this alarmed me. With anyone else, I would assume that this was an exaggeration, which would lead to a more prosaic observation. With WAM, I was wondering what he knew that I did not and whether or not he was directly involved with any actions that would fulfill this statement. With much trepidation, I asked. “Why?” He replied, “Because I am on twitter (bigbillmcguire)!!!>:-) only one tweet so far :0)”

So if you are on Twitter, tweet with WAM.

Word of the Day - 2/10/2009


Inanition is exhaustion from lack of nourishment; starvation.

Facing inanition, four lepers opted to enter the enemy Araemean camp as they felt they had nothing to lose.

"If we say, 'We will enter the city,' then the famine is in the city and we will die there; and if we sit here, we die also. Now therefore come, and let us go over to the camp of the Arameans. If they spare us, we will live; and if they kill us, we will but die." (II Kings 7:4, NASB)

The lepers found the encampment abandoned.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Associated Baptist Press - 2/9/2009

Associated Baptist Press
February 9, 2009 · (09-18)

David Wilkinson, Executive Director
Robert Marus, Managing Editor/Washington Bureau Chief
Bob Allen, Senior Writer

In this issue
Two centuries after his birth, Darwin still controversial (771 words)
Intelligent design renews debate between science and religion (1,003 words)
Scientific organizations, court: 'intelligent design' isn't science (1,023 words)
Evolution Sunday says a dichotomy between faith and science is false (716 words)
'Young-earth' creationists value literal reading of God's word over human intellect (1,121 words)

Two centuries after his birth, Darwin still controversial
By Bob Allen (771 words)

(ABP) -- Two hundred years after his birth on Feb. 12, 1809, British naturalist Charles Darwin remains controversial.

His theory of evolution became the linchpin of modern science, but a majority of Americans believe God created humans in their present form. And church-state battles continue to rage over whether teaching about evolution ought to be balanced with alternative theories like intelligent design.

The debate began 150 years ago, with the 1859 publication of The Origin of Species. In it, Darwin argued that species were not distinct and direct creations of God but rather evolved from common ancestors.

Darwin didn't invent the idea of biological evolution. His preface cited 34 authors who believed in modification of species or at least disbelieved in separate acts of creation. His concept of natural selection -- the idea that organisms that inherit favorable traits over long periods of time survive while those with unfavorable traits become extinct -- created a firestorm, however, because it contradicted the popular belief in the literal biblical account of creation.

Some liberal theologians embraced natural selection as the instrument of God's design, but Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, one of the most prominent religious figures in England in the 19th century, called it "absolutely incompatible with the word of God."

Darwin's book also divided the scientific community. Thomas Huxley, a London lecturer and naturalist who opposed church control over science, coined the term Darwinism and compared Darwin's achievement to the theories of planetary motion propounded by Copernicus. Huxley's ardent defense of evolution earned him the nickname "Darwin's Bulldog." Scientist Richard Owen, meanwhile, inventor of the word "dinosaur," viewed ideas in The Origin of Species as dangerous to society. He thought Darwin's theory left too many questions unanswered and steered science away from its role of investigating God's creation.

Darwin's own views on the subject evolved during the first 50 years of his life. As a young man, he began studying for the Anglican clergy at Christ's College at Cambridge. He embraced philosopher William Paley's famous metaphor of the watchmaker to argue that complexity of the universe implies an intelligent designer.

Introduced to botanist John Stevens Henslow, however, Darwin's interest shifted to natural science, and Henslow, an Anglican priest, became one of his closest friends. Darwin first began having doubts about Paley's argument from design with observations made during a five-year expedition journaled in his 1839 book, The Voyage of the Beagle.

Darwin said in his autobiography he was "quite orthodox" while aboard the ship, and in fact was laughed at for quoting the
Bible as an unanswerable authority on points of morality.

"I gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation," Darwin said. His disbelief crept over him so gradually "that I felt no distress, and have never since doubted even for a single second that my conclusion was correct," he explained.

Darwin's main objection was the belief that if Christianity is true, all who do not believe will be punished eternally. "And this is a damnable doctrine," he wrote.

"The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble to us," Darwin wrote, "and I for one must be content to remain an agnostic."

Darwin's book, however, was not overtly anti-religion. He used the word "Creator" several times, though scholars disagree about whether that was because by then he believed evolution was guided by a divine hand or simply to head off accusations that he was an atheist.

Darwin's argument was that religious dogma should not trump reason. Arguing contrary to scientific observation on religious grounds, he observed, "makes the works of God a mere mockery and deception."

"I would almost as soon believe with the old and ignorant cosmogonists, that fossil shells had never lived, but had been created in stone so as to mock the shells now living on the sea-shore," he wrote.

Darwin kept his theories about evolution to himself for a long time, because he knew they would be explosive. Seventeen years before publishing The Origin of Species, he made an outline of reasons not to publish that included concern that trouble-making atheists would use it for their agenda and the church would scorn him.

Darwin's health was too poor for him to spend much energy in the debate he launched, but his ideas grew into the mainstream so fast that by the time he published The Descent of Man in 1871, where he applied his concepts to human origins, there was little outcry.

Darwin died April 19, 1882, and was given a state funeral. He is buried in Westminster Abbey, a burial place that England has long reserved for kings, the famous and the great.

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

Intelligent design renews debate between science and religion
By Bob Allen (1,003 words)

WACO, Texas (ABP) -- If there ever were a chance that conflict between evolution and religion might die a natural death, it ended with the birth of the "intelligent design" movement.

Just ask William Dembski. Educated as a probability theorist, Dembski had a "Eureka!" moment in 1988 when he heard a statistician say at a conference that mathematics can define what randomness is not, but not what it is.

It made sense to Dembski, a born-again Christian who later earned a master of divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary. If God created the world, he reasoned, it should exhibit order instead of chaos. Scientists' difficulty in defining the randomness driving the evolutionary model, therefore, actually could be evidence of an intelligent designer.

In 1996, Dembski met Robert Sloan (at the time president of Baylor University) who had read some of his work and was impressed. Three years later, Sloan approached Dembski not only about teaching, but also offering him a whole center dedicated to the relationship between faith and science.

The center was to be named the Michael Polanyi Center for Complexity, Information & Design after Michael Polanyi, an outspoken physical chemist from the 1930s, and housed within Baylor's Institute of Faith and Learning.

Although Dembski met with a few members of the Baylor faculty, most heard nothing about the arrangement until the center's website went online and colleagues in other institutions around the country began asking if it meant Baylor was surrendering to fundamentalism and planned to start teaching creationism instead of evolution in its science classes.

The chair of the Baylor Faculty Senate called the ensuing controversy "one of the most divisive issues to have arisen on the Baylor campus during my 32 years on the faculty." Incensed they were not consulted before launching a major venture overlapping with other teaching disciplines, the faculty eventually called on the administration to dissolve the Polanyi Center. Sloan refused.

The faculty and administration reached a compromise, and an external peer-review committee determined that while controversial, the dialogue between science and religion had a place on a university campus. The committee proposed broadening the center's work, establishing an advisory committee composed of faculty members from related disciplines and dropping the Polanyi name.

Dembski responded with a press release hailing the report as a "triumph of intelligent design as a legitimate form of academic inquiry" and "a great day for academic freedom."

Dembski's exultation further enraged his opponents, who had expected an olive branch. The next day, Dembski was relieved of his duties as director of the center and reassigned as a research professor, with an explanation that his actions did not promote collegiality.

Dembski eventually left Baylor to become the first director of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's Center for Theology and Science in 2005. After one year, he moved to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, citing professional and family reasons. He now serves there as research professor of philosophy and director of Southwestern's Center for Cultural Engagement.

Supporters of intelligent design view Dembski's story as part of systematic censorship of a theory that questions the some of the basics of Darwinian evolution. Dembski's celebrity earned him a role in Ben Stein's 2008 independent documentary film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, which argued that mainstream science suppresses academicians who see evidence of intelligent design or criticize evidence used to support evolutionary theory.

Like its cousin, the creation-science movement in the 1960s, intelligent design is a reaction to Charles Darwin's notion of natural selection, which explains the emergence of current life forms by a series of random events governed by natural laws without any reference to an ultimate creator.

Critics of intelligent design, in fact, say it is nothing more than a modern reincarnation of creationism -- a political Trojan horse being used to undermine scientific consensus about evolution and inject religion into public education in ways otherwise prohibited by the separation of church and state.

Proponents strongly deny the charge. Dembski says intelligent design differs from creationism in that it sets out not to prove the Bible's account of creation, but rather challenges Darwin's assumption that evolution occurred devoid of any intentional purpose.

Advocates of intelligent design argue that some patterns in nature are best explained not as accidents, but rather the result of some kind of intelligent cause. Biochemist Michael Behe, for example, uses an analogy of a mousetrap to describe microscopic organisms that are "irreducibly complex."

Composed of a wooden base, a spring and a trigger, a mousetrap doesn't work at all unless all the individual components are present, begging the question of how interacting parts of the simplest organisms could have evolved without a previous function of their own.

Dembski cites the example of Mount Rushmore. If humans went extinct and aliens discovering the massive sculpture in the future had no direct evidence it was man-made, how would they know it wasn't simply the natural result of wind and erosion?

For Dembski and other "design theorists," it comes down to a formula called "specified complexity."

In the novel Contact by Carl Sagan, for example, astronomers discover a long sequence of prime numbers being transmitted from outer space. Because the sequence is long, it is interpreted as unlikely to have occurred by chance. Because it is mathematically significant, the scientists are convinced it is evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence.

But when the same criteria are applied to biology and the natural sciences, Dembski says, it is denounced as creationism and false science. Dembski insists the problem is that science currently is dominated -- both in the secular and Christian academy -- by naturalism, excluding any appeals to anything "non-natural" or supernatural.

As long as that remains so, Dembski says, there is no possibility of integrating science and faith. For him, the key is "an enriched conception of nature that leaves room for intelligent causes."

Dembski is a fellow of the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that supports scientists and scholars who challenge evidence of neo-Darwinian theory and develop the alternative intelligent-design theory.

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

Scientific organizations, court: 'intelligent design' isn't science
By Rob Marus (1,023 words)

WASHINGTON (ABP) -- Teaching the alternative to Darwinian evolution known as "intelligent design" in American public schools would require fundamental shifts in one or both of two things -- the way scientists generally understand the basic philosophy of their profession, and/or the way the nation's courts interpret the First Amendment. But that hasn't stopped proponents of the movement rom trying.

"While supernatural explanations [about the origins of life] may be important and have merit, they are not part of science," wrote United States District Judge Stephen Jones III in a groundbreaking 2005 decision on the teaching of intelligent-design (ID) theory in a Pennsylvania school district. "ID is reliant upon forces acting outside of the natural world -- forces that we cannot see, replicate, control or test -- which have produced changes in this world. While we take no position on whether such forces exist, they are simply not testable by scientific means and therefore cannot qualify as part of the scientific process or as a scientific theory."

Jones' decision came in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, in which he declared unconstitutional a disclaimer the school board in the central Pennsylvania town of Dover had attempted to force biology teachers to read to their classes. It claimed there were flaws in evolutionary theory and suggested students interested in an alternative read Of Pandas and People, a textbook that promotes intelligent-design theory.

Jones -- an appointee of President George W. Bush -- concluded that intelligent-design theory asked questions and proposed answers that were fundamentally non-scientific, because they were theological in nature. The Dover policy was conceived by proponents of ID theory and promoted an ID textbook. Because of that, he said, the school district's policy violated the Constitution's ban on government endorsement of religion.

The relatively small number of scientists who promote intelligent design propound it as a scientific challenge to some of the fundamentals of Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection, which underpins modern evolutionary theory. ID proponents cite certain biological systems that they find too complex to have arisen from random mutations in living structures. They posit that such "irreducible complexity" points to an intelligent designer.

In scientific contexts, at least, they don't argue that the designer is God. But virtually all of the scientists and organizations behind the ID movement have deep ties to conservative Christian groups.

The leading organization for ID proponents is the Discovery Institute, a conservative Seattle-based think tank. The organization has, in the past, pushed for the teaching of ID theory in schools at the secondary and university levels. More recently, the organization has backed away from support for ID teaching, instead calling on schools to "teach the controversy" that ID proponents claim exists over the validity of the overarching theory of evolution.

But an internal Discovery Institute document, leaked and published by ID opponents in 1999, said the organization's goal in the ID debate was ultimately "to defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural, and political legacies" and "to replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God."

ID proponents have tried -- in the Dover case and through legislative attempts or attempts to revise statewide teaching standards -- both to get public schools to teach ID or to at least raise doubts about the validity of overall evolutionary theory.

But almost all of the nation's major scientific organizations have issued statements saying there is no scientific controversy about the overall validity of evolutionary theory.

"Some bills seek to discredit evolution by emphasizing so-called 'flaws' in the theory of evolution or 'disagreements' within the scientific community. Others insist that teachers have absolute freedom within their classrooms and cannot be disciplined for teaching non-scientific 'alternatives' to evolution. A number of bills require that students be taught to 'critically analyze' evolution or to understand 'the controversy.' But there is no significant controversy within the scientific community about the validity of the theory of evolution," read a 2006 statement by directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a coalition of the nation's major scientific societies. "The current controversy surrounding the teaching of evolution is not a scientific one."

What legitimate scientific controversy exists over ID and purported flaws in evolutionary theory regards whether the basis of modern biology should be what the Discovery Institute has called "the materialist world-view that has dominated Western intellectual life since the 19th century."

Materialism is the philosophical term for the idea that the only things that can scientifically be proven to exist consist of matter.

In a 2004 article on the backlash against ID theory, prominent ID proponent William Dembski wrote, "From our vantage, materialism is not a neutral, value-free, minimalist position from which to pursue inquiry. Rather, it is itself an ideology with an agenda. What's more, it requires an evolutionary creation story to keep it afloat. On scientific grounds, we regard that creation story to be false."

Hal Poe, the Charles Colson professor of faith and culture at Baptist-affiliated Union University, interviewed in response to the 2005 Dover decision, said he thinks neither intelligent design, in its current form, nor the aspect of evolution it challenges qualify as science.

"My view is that intelligent design at the present moment is philosophy of science rather than science," he said. "With natural selection, you have the argument that mutations [in life forms over time] occur by random chance. The argument of intelligent design is that mutations occur through some intentionality."

But both are predicated on competing philosophies of science, Poe said. Evolutionary theory predicates that natural selection is the process by which evolution takes place, and that its effects are scientifically measurable and observable. ID theory, meanwhile, is predicated on the philosophy that a non-natural explanation -- the existence of an intelligent designer -- is a legitimate form of scientific inquiry.

But he sees both as being different fundamental frameworks for viewing the results of scientific inquiry.

Not being able to question one's own philosophical framework is "a major problem in the academy, because most scholars, most professors have no training in philosophy to recognize it when they see it," Poe said.

Robert Marus is managing editor and Washington bureau chief for Associated Baptist Press.

Evolution Sunday says dichotomy between faith and science is false
By Bob Allen (716 words)

INDIANAPOLIS (ABP) -- While many Christians view evolution as a threat to faith, a growing number of churches view Charles Darwin's 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of his seminal work The Origin of Species as something to celebrate.

More than 900 congregations in the United States and elsewhere are scheduled to participate in Evolution Weekend 2009, an annual event that began with a letter-writing campaign in 2004.

That summer, the school board in Grantsburg, Wis., passed a policy requiring that all theories of the origin of life be taught in the district's schools. A Christian minister who heard about it penned a short response letter saying the dichotomy between science and religion was false.

Michael Zimmerman, dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Science at Butler University in Indiana, worked with about 200 clergy across Wisconsin to prepare a statement in support of teaching evolution. It went so well, Zimmerman decided to take the project nationwide.

Today, more than 11,800 people have signed the Christian Clergy Letter, including about 250 Baptists.

Most are current and retired pastors, but they include notables like Ralph Elliott, the former Southern Baptist seminary professor whose 1960 Broadman Press book, The Message of Genesis, sparked controversy presaging the rift 20 years later between moderates and conservatives in the Southern Baptist Convention.

The two-paragraph statement articulates a position that Christians can embrace evolution and calls for teaching evolution in public schools.

First celebrated in 2006, Evolution Sunday has since been renamed Evolution Weekend to expand the focus beyond the Christian faith. Separate clergy letters exist for Jewish rabbis and Unitarian Universalists.

The emphasis has three goals:

· To elevate the discussion on the topic beyond sound bites to meaningful conversation.

· To demonstrate that people from many religious faiths view evolution as sound science that poses no problems to their faith.

· Along with the Clergy Letter Project, to argue the case that people do not have to choose between science and religion.

"Science can't prove that God doesn't exist," Zimmerman wrote in a February 2007 op-ed piece in the Indianapolis Star. "That's not what science is about. But for far too long, strident voices, in the name of Christianity, have been claiming that people must choose between religion and modern science."

Because the vast majority of people consider themselves to be religious, Zimmerman says, when forced to choose, many will opt for religion.

"People don't have to choose," Zimmerman said. "Go to church -- whether or not it's one that celebrates Evolution Sunday. Love God. Believe in religion. But respect science. And keep science and religion separate."

Michael Castle, pastor of Cross Creek Community Church in Dayton, Ohio, said his church, dually aligned with the Alliance of Baptists and United Church of Christ, planned to participate in Evolution Sunday for the third time this year.

"I have found this emphasis to be a good opportunity -- and a good reason -- to lift up the compatibility and complementary relationship between religion and science," Castle said. "So many Christians have it in their heads that science is opposed to religion and see science as a threat. I think that religion is most relevant and powerful when it deals with life as it is, not as we wish it to be."

Castle said the first year he prepared for Evolution Sunday, he wondered how his church would respond. The most telling comment came from a member who is a scientist. He told Castle he had never heard a sermon like that, and it made him feel good to know his profession did not make him less of a Christian.

In his 2007 Evolution Sunday sermon, Gary McCaslin, pastor of First Baptist Church in Painted Post, N.Y., said science isn't what threatens faith -- instead, it's "being shackled to a literal interpretation of the Bible that insists on everything being provable."

McCaslin said stories in the Bible are "images" of God described by ancient writers who had no need to provide accurate history or scientific details.

"When we try to impose a scientific understanding on subjects that have nothing to do with science, we get in trouble," he said.
McCaslin appealed to the Bible's "real authority," meaning that the Bible is true regardless of what science learns about the world or universe.

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

'Young-earth' creationists value literal reading of God's word over human intellect
By Bob Allen (1,121 words)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (ABP) -- In his 2006 best-selling nonfiction book, The God Delusion, British biologist Richard Dawkins said he is hostile toward religion because of what it did to Kurt Wise.

Wise, a Harvard graduate who studied under paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, gave up his dream of teaching at a major university because he could not reconcile claims of science with his faith.

At one point, Wise took out a newly purchased Bible and a pair of scissors. Beginning at Gen. 1:1, he cut out every verse that would have to be removed in order for him to believe in evolution.

Months later, he cut out his final verse and one of the last verses in the Bible, Rev. 22:19, which read, "If any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book."

Wise describes what happened next: "With the cover of the Bible taken off, I attempted to physically lift the Bible from the bed between two fingers. Yet, try as I might, and even with the benefit of intact margins throughout the pages of Scripture, I found it impossible to pick up the Bible without it being rent in two. I had to make a decision between evolution and Scripture. Either the Scripture was true and evolution was wrong, or evolution was true and I must toss out the Bible."

Dawkins called Wise's story "pathetic and contemptible."
"The wound to his career and his life's happiness was self-inflicted, so unnecessary, so easy to escape," Dawkins lamented. "All he had to do was toss out the Bible or interpret it symbolically or allegorically as the theologians do. Instead, he did the fundamentalist thing and tossed out science, evidence and reason, along with all his dreams and hopes."

Wise's current boss, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler, viewed it as a badge of honor. Mohler brought Wise to Southern Seminary in 2006 to lead the Center for Theology and Science.

Wise replaced William Dembski, a leading thinker in the theory of intelligent design, who moved to a sister seminary. Unlike Dembski, Wise is a so-called "young-earth" creationist. Based on his understanding of Scripture, he believes the universe is on the order of 6,000 years old.

After a global flood during the time of Noah, Wise believes, animals left the ark to disperse and multiply as God commanded, while humans disobeyed God's command and settled in a city to build the Tower of Babel.

During that time, Wise theorizes, some animals became buried in layers of sediment during a series of catastrophic events that occurred while the earth was recovering from the flood and today are preserved as fossils. That would include the higher primates, such as the famous fossil "Lucy" discovered in 1974 that scientists believe is 3.2 million years old and an ancestor of humans.

Wise acknowledges fossil evidence interpreted as transitional forms between humans and lower animals lend support to evolutionary theory. He believes that because it is still a new science, young-earth creationism hasn't yet come up with an explanation for the existence of such fossils -- but it is only a matter of time before it does. That is because he thinks science inevitably leads to incorrect conclusions unless it appeals to the Bible.

"It seems to be a clear reading of Scripture that God told us that the earth is young, and I hold that position for that reason," Wise said Feb. 13, 2007, on Mohler's radio program. "I also believe science is such that these are theories of humans, so if it's a choice between God's clear word and humans' reason, then I'm going to take God's word over it. That's why I am a young-age creationist as opposed to an old-age creationist."

Mohler concurred, speaking not as a scientist but a theologian. "I have to come to the Scriptures -- and in particular the first 11 chapters of the Book of Genesis -- and try to figure out why I should interpret those 11 chapters differently than I would interpret any other passage of Scripture," Mohler said.

In another 2007 radio broadcast, Mohler called theistic evolution, a middle-ground argument between evolution and direct creation, a "lie" and said Christians cannot have it both ways.

Mohler said teaching in Genesis that death entered the world as a result of Adam's sin makes no sense if species of animals had been dying off for millions of years. He also said without a literal Adam, it's hard to explain what the Bible means when it talks about notions like creation, the fall of humankind and redemption.

Mohler and Wise are far from alone, and their ideas aren't new. A 2005 poll by CBS News found 51 percent of Americans reject the theory of evolution and say God created humans in their present form. And more than 500,000 people have visited the $27 million Answers In Genesis Creation Museum since it opened near Cincinnati in 2007.

In 1987, the Southern Baptist Convention Peace Committee reported that most Southern Baptists believe in "direct creation of mankind and therefore believe Adam and Eve were real persons" and called on denominational agencies to "build their professional staffs and faculties from those who clearly reflect such dominant convictions and beliefs held by Southern Baptists at large."

Richard Land, head of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Chris Matthews of MSNBC in 2007 that he thought only a small minority of Southern Baptists believe God used the evolutionary process to create humans.

Land said the belief that humankind was created gradually rather than in seven 24-hour days is "an acceptable belief" held by many Christians, but he is not among them.

"I don't believe that," Land said when asked if humans evolved from lower species.

That incenses skeptics like Dawkins.

"Fundamentalist religion is hell-bent on ruining the scientific education of countless thousands of innocent, well-meaning, eager young minds," Dawkins complained.

"Non-fundamentalist, sensible religion may not be doing that, but it is making the world safe for fundamentalism by teaching children from their earliest years that unquestioning faith is a virtue."

Mohler said rejecting evolution "raises intellectual questions that I don't have neatly answered, but the alternative position leaves a larger number of messy questions, so I find this a much more intellectually satisfying position as well as theologically satisfying."

"We have to remember that Christianity dignifies science because we believe God has given us a creation that is intelligible, because he wants us to love him, even as we come to see him in this world," Mohler said.

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.