1. Scott Hahn’s Journey to Roman Catholicism

    I recently picked up Scott Hahn’s book Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism from the used book store. I never had it out for Catholics like some Protestants do, and in fact, I’ve recently come to appreciate their tradition in ways that I didn’t have the categories to before.

    Anyway, I was a little intrigued by the title, given that several Protestant scholars made the switch in recent years. Francis J. Beckwith, who was president of the Evangelical Theological Society, comes to mind. And since I’d read Hahn’s Kinship by Covenant I decided to give this a try.

    I found the book intelligible as I set out, and I prayed I wouldn’t have some kind of ecclesial faith crisis! Thankfully it never came. Part of it was because what persuaded him resonates well with my own Wesleyan tradition, since Wesley is often referred to as a “conjunctive” theologian, wedding both the Catholic and Evangelical faiths together so well. Also, Hahn aptly critiques the Protestant “solas” which never really were meant to be taken as literally as some Lutherans and Calvinists do today.

    I found Hahn’s concept of covenant and family helpful, especially as a corrective to the judicial theme which takes precedence in Reformed traditions. Also, I found the narrative of his wife Kimberly’s coming to terms with Catholicism especially by studying birth control very fascinating. Finally, his understanding of purgatory as the fire of God’s infinite love which prepares us for his eternal presence is intriguing (on this note, I’ve yet to read Jerry Walls’ Protestant account of purgatory [Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation], but am a little intrigued).

    Finally, while he may be right on some points like the solas and tradition, I found some of his exegesis to be unconvincing, and I’ve landed on  Methodism/Anglicanism as a more “centrist” place for those who appreciate both the Catholic and Evangelical elements of our faith. Oh, and, this quote made my heart feel strangely warm: “The most important message of Vatican II—by far—is the ‘universal call to holiness.’” (p. 179)

     
  2. If their engagement session is any indication, Mark and Brittainy are in for a lifetime of joy and laughter. They made this easy. Really looking forward to shooting their wedding in the fall.

    Tagged #Photography
     

  3. Book Review: Four Blood Moons by John Hagee

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    It’s difficult to know where to begin with a book like Four Blood Moons: Something is about to Change (Worthy Publishing, 2013). It is the latest work put out by best-selling author and pastor John Hagee from San Antonio, TX.

    You typically try to approach a book without any bias, but knowing about his ministry and theology left me little to work with in this case. Also, I’ll note that the communities I’m a part of these days are largely uninterested in end-times speculation. Normally, after recognizing an author’s ill reputation, I wouldn’t invest time in reading their book. However, it’s hard to ignore a #1 bestseller that is giving shape to so much evangelical culture. Furthermore, there are people whom I deeply care about who are interested in how this blood moons phenomenon relates to the Bible.

    Here is my honest and heartfelt advice: do not invest your time reading this book nor any others relating blood moons to biblical prophecy.

    THE BIG IDEA

    The main premise of the book is this: since the Bible refers to the moon being turned to red (Joel 2:31; Acts 2:20; Rev 6:12), and God has used blood moons before to signal significant events in the life of the Jews, the upcoming blood moons mean that “something big is about to change” (the first one will happen April 15, 2014).

    If it’s so simple, why didn’t anyone else see this until now? Where did he get this idea from? He admits to have been inspired by his friend pastor Mark Biltz, whom he calls a Bible scholar. First of all, and this is really telling, Hagee uses the term scholar like no one else does. To be a scholar you must have earned appropriate credentials from an accredited institution and then be contributing something to a particular discipline in the academy. Mark Biltz has a ministry but does not seem to meet this criteria. Biltz has written his own book on the topic, and admittedly, it may be different from Hagee’s. I imagine the basic premise is the same though.

    Hagee continues down this troubling spiral in reading his own ideas into biblical terms and using them in ways that Scripture itself does not allow. This should be the first red flag.

    The second red flag is that very few chapters in the book are actually devoted to a discussion about blood moons. Instead, the bulk of it attempts to lay out support for his Dispensational theology. This is suspect because this is an easy way to increase page count in a book without any substantial content on the main topic. It seems like the publisher was gunning for a best-seller instead of setting out a thorough argument for the serious proposal Hagee is making.

    The final red flag comes from his disdain for historic Christianity (p. 10). Hagee chooses to separate himself from what the Spirit of God has been doing in and through His church over thousands of years by choosing to hold such a narrow understanding of our historic faith. Historic Christianity in all discussions I read refers to our common, catholic, and orthodox faith especially expressed in the ecumenical creeds. But Hagee chooses to understand it narrowly as that evil legacy the church has left behind—whether it be the Crusades, apostasy, or whatever. When it comes to historic Judaism, however, he gives it a pass. We’ll just ignore the fact that the Gospel of John refers to “the Jews” as having been the culprits in crucifying Jesus. I’m not really anti-semitic on this point, I’m simply saying that he can’t have it both ways.

    TWO MAJOR PROBLEMS

    There are 2 major problems as I see it. The first is that he irresponsibly handles the biblical text in ways that end up being inconsistent. The second is that he twists historical evidence to suit his interpretive grid, which he uses to invest historical events with his own meaning.

    1. A gross mishandling of the text

    The first mistake John Hagee makes is reading Scripture through a Dispensational interpretive grid. The basics of this theology are as follows:

    A) God has divided history into 7 neat categories: Innocence, Conscience, Human Government, Promise, Law, Grace, Millennial Reign of Christ.
    B) God has a separate promise and plan for the Jews than he does with the church.
    C) God will rapture his church before the great tribulation and millennial reign of Christ, which is separate from Christ’s second coming.

    First of all, let me say that I am glad a fellow dispensational thinker, Mark Hitchcock, has written his own rebuttal to Hagee’s sensationalistic work (Blood Moons Rising: Bible Prophecy, Israel, and the Four Blood Moons). But I also must add that, to his credit, Hagee refuses to offer specific predictions about the timing of the rapture. Good for him!

    Nonetheless, these Dispensational ideas are the first problem. The rapture especially is an idea without precedent in church history before the 19th century. You will search in vain for this teaching in the Bible. In the New Testament, when the church is taken is simultaneously when Jesus returns for his final victory and defeat over evil. For example, Hagee uses the following events but they aren’t in fact referring to the rapture. Matthew 24 has two events in mind—Jesus’ foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem, which happened in 70 AD, and his final return which will be a phenomenon the entire world witnesses. 1 Thess 4:15-17 also is about the reception of a king using ancient imagery—we will go to meet Jesus “in the air” and then hold a welcome celebration/parade to usher him into his conquered world, just like they did in ancient times. There will not be empty cars on the highways, missing students from classrooms, or airplanes left without a pilot. His return will be like lighting (Matt 24:27); it will be visible to all and have immediate consequences for all.

    As far as the 7 dispensations go, notice that these are alien to Scripture. The Bible does not superimpose 7 categories on history. Instead, most of the time it speaks very generally of two covenants: the first, and the new (Hebrews 8:7-13). It says very little about the times in-between and does not grant us permission to speculate about their purposes.

    Finally, his interpretation of the millennial reign of Christ and its relation to the Jews ignores and misinterprets key elements that serve as its foundation. In the New Testament, the church becomes the elect of God, not the Jews, as he claims (p. 11; see Gal 3:29; 4:28; Rom 4:13-14; 8:33; Eph 1:10-14) It is troubling that he advises unconditional support, even militarily, for Israel (p. 13; 120). Indeed, this goes beyond the measure of God’s own covenant with them, which involved discipline.

    As it relates to blood moons, however, the greatest mishandling of the text comes from how he interprets this sign so literally. For example, he ignores that the stars are also said to fall from the sky during the opening of the 6th seal in Revelation 6, where the blood moons are referenced. Why is this sign left out of his theory? But the problem ultimately is his literal interpretation of this phenomenon. It’s not that God may not use these signs, or that at the end of time something like that won’t happen. However, it doesn’t mean that when these natural phenomena happen there is a connection to biblical prophecy. We simply aren’t given this interpretive license.

    Rather, these evocative cosmic signs were the ancient and biblical way of referring to serious judgment at the hand of God by use of powerful imagery. See for example Isaiah 13:10, which combines all of these heavenly signs into a powerful image. See also the scope of judgment as illustrated in Isaiah 34:4. Finally, notice that Matthew 24:29 states that the stars will fall from heaven, which, again, is a phenomenon he chooses to leave out of his theory.

    In another place, Hagee acknowledges the central role of “word pictures” in the Bible (p. 85), however, he picks and chooses which ones to interpret literally and which ones to understand properly as metaphors (for more on Dispensationalism, see Ben Witherington in The Problem with Evangelical Theology)

    2. Twisting the historical evidence.

    The most obvious and in my opinion embarrassing oversight of Hagee and others in relating literal blood moons to God’s purposes is that the Hebrew calendar is a lunar calendar. This means their feasts will naturally fall on these special lunar events, because that’s how they were instituted. So when rare things like 4 blood moons occur closely together (Tetrads), it is very likely that it will fall on a Jewish feast day.

    Furthermore, Hagee conveniently ignores the actual dates in the timelines he uses to support his theory. For example, he refers to the Edict of Expulsion which was part of the Spanish Inquisition. However, this happened in 1492 while the blood moon occurred on Passover, April 2, 1943. Also, he conveniently asserts that 1948 merely “began” the rebirth of the State of Israel, since the blood moons only happened the next year. These serve as clear counterexamples to his claim early in the book that signs serve to warn people before major events transpire.

    Finally, notice that for Hagee’s theory to work one must have a Calvinist deity who is meticulously controlling every element of creation. Notice what he says on p. 21: “A fireball traveling at forty-four thousand miles per hour with a long, blazing white tail visible one hundred twenty-five miles away has to be considered a sign from heaven," (emphasis his) and on p. 31, "God totally controls the sun, moon, and stars." At the heart of the Dispensational model is a Calvinist God who is meticulously controlling all of nature and the lives of persons (see also p. 119). Every phenomenon that appears in nature is indeed the work of God, sending us signals. There isn’t time to critique this view here but one does have to acknowledge the intimate connection between his Dispensationalism and Calvinism. All that I will say is that this operates from the false assumption that God’s omnipotence must result in his meticulous control over nature.

    CONCLUSION

    Much more can be said about his interpretation of the Bible and resulting theology. It is troubling that he denies the doctrine of assurance as taught in places like Rom. 8:16 and replaces it with the assurance received from the Rapture (p. 81); he mis-characterizes Covenant Theology as the claim that God has broken covenant (p. 113); he claims that “Jesus is in heaven right now speaking Hebrew” (p. 115); he has a novel division of the gospel into the gospel of the kingdom and the gospel of salvation (p. 148). But this review has already turned into a novel.

    Be weary of people like John Hagee, who assert so much authority with their claims. He boldly even says in one place, “If you are deceived into believing there is no Rapture, prepare to stand in line to get your personal tattoo from the Antichrist” (p. 79). This kind of divisive statement is telling insofar that it reveals he is moving further away from the center of the church. He is isolating himself form the historic witness of the church on these issues.

    What Hagee is supposing the church does with the blood moons is, plain and simple, astrology. Astrology is not the worship of the stars, as he claims (p. 18). It is looking to the stars for things otherwise concealed (like the end times). His book ends up being exactly that which he seeks to avoid.

    Some have said that this doesn’t engage in speculation and prediction, rather it merely suggests that blood moons reveal “seasons” for the church to pay attention to. But the Bible has one simple category for the time we’ve been living in since the Christ event and it is “the last days.” Since the Spirit has been poured out on all flesh, we have lived in the era which is paradoxically both evil (2 Tim 3) and good, since the in-breaking of God’s kingdom is making its way slowly across the earth, and will finally receive its consummation when Christ returns in final victory. This is in fact how Peter interprets Joel 2 in his Acts 2:17-21 speech.

    It is commonly said that every generation thinks it’s the last generation. In a way they’re right—we’re living in the last days. But every generation has been living in the last days since the time of Christ, and predictions about more fine seasons and generations is not granted by the Bible. Dispensational theology spreads during times of crisis such as the American Civil War, which is when the idea was popularized (it has its origins barely before that in the early 19th century). Therefore, the advice that John Hagee offers the church is unhelpfully alarmist and ultimately escapist.

    The blood moons are an exceptional phenomena that point to the existence of a glorious and powerful God. To claim anything beyond this is to go beyond the provision of Scripture. So I must conclude that books like this one by John Hagee are sensational and distracting for the church.

     
  4. My article today on Seedbed | “6 Steps to Reading the Bible like John Wesley

     

  5. Some Notes on American Rival Regions

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    I’ve been reading a fascinating book (here and there) by Colin Woodard called American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. It’s the kind of work that challenges the flattening of history into simplistic categories and phenomena. It definitely critiques the kind of history you might have learned in grade school and possibly even in college, particularly the united part of our history’s retelling, and especially following the Revolutionary War.

    Anyway, it is a #1 bestseller and I would recommend it. Part Two onward provides some insight into our religious makeup. Of course you can hardly ever expect a secular historian to get religious movements exactly right (for instance, the way he handles revivals), but much of it is helpful.

    In particular, it is helping this “yankee” come to grips with the nuanced culture that makes up the region south of the Mason Dixon line. For instance, the region where I now live—the Bluegrass—is an enclave of Tidewater culture imported from the East Coast into a characteristically Appalachian area. This explains some of the eclectic things you’ll notice around Lexington and Louisville, notably the equine culture with its extravagant stables and estates, all tucked inside a largely mountainous, rugged area with a noted spirit of defiance (to avoid more crass ways of describing it).

    Furthermore, it is helpful to understand that the “South” is an exchange of cultures from Tide Water on the East Coast—which was a take off English gentry and aristocratic society (think Virginia); the Deep South culture from Caribbean migrators—which is where the barbarous slavery began; and the rough Appalachian culture —which inherited its spirit from the reclusive Scotch-Irish settlers. This all helps me to better understand the fascinating and often rich culture I’ve encountered in parts of the South.

    Indeed, southerners prided themselves in the privilege of pursuing the finer things in life, which owning slaves allowed them to do. Yankees, on the other hand, who championed equality, were a “nation of shop keepers,” according to one early southern political leader (Woodard, 202).

    What this has helped me realize is that “the South” (not to be confused with country, which is nation-wide) references deep traditions of economic, religious, political, and even cultural exchanges across the region over the centuries. Values such as honor, homage to elders, horticulture, etc. didn’t arise from the dust. They are remnants of deep-seated attitudes that originate from time past. The expression of aristocracy and aesthetic sensibilities stand out to me in particular. They are values which, though having morphed over the years, are still alive and well. In many ways I see close parallels to my own Eastern European roots.

     

  6. Tagged #Links
     

  7. "She is grateful for having lived in an age when she was able to ‘acquire a coherent worldview by the time I started to publish, whereas now people have to publish far too fast’."
    — Mary Midgley (source)
     
  8. In the beginning, God created a garden and then he rested. Today, we rested and then created a garden! This will forever be remembered as our first garden together as a family.

    When I was a child, I used to help my grandfather plant and keep our garden of flowers and vegetables. I’ve since lost the art, but am glad to rediscover its joys.

    Leigh’s family also values growing veggies and flowers (and can name most every tree or flower they spot!). I still remember the first time I visited her parents—her father showed me the trees that lined their property. It was a neat experience. One of their current ventures is growing asparagus, which takes several years to mature before it can be eaten—talk about fostering the virtue of patience. I’m sure they will savor every bite!

    Our garden, although restricted to pots this year, marks what I hope is the beginning of a lifetime of delighting in God’s creation together. I also hope that it reflects the ongoing rhythms of work, play, and rest. I love the excitement that new seasons bring, along with their blossoming gifts of colors and fragrances. Someday our children will get to join in.

    This year we planted 4 flowers: Yellow Aloha Konas, Purple Geraniums, Red Salvias, and Gold Glow Roses. The roses have yet to blossom. By the way, roses are my favorite flowers.

    Two new ceramic pots will welcome guests and the rest will sit outback on our patio—soon to be joined by a small deposit of vegetable and herb pots.

     
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  10. Dr. Frank Macchia assesses the merits of the so-called “Prosperity Gospel.”

    View it on Seedbed.com

     
     
  11. Do Time Travelers Tweet?

    "Perhaps civilization will come to an end before the future generation can determine how to travel through time."

    Some of us are hoping that it’s the Second Coming.

     

  12. "Chanel No. 5 perfume costs $38 per ounce, while the equivalent amount of Hewlett-Packard printer ink can cost up to $75."

    Tagged #Links
     

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  14. Loved hanging out with this Pentecostal theologian today. He’s Italian American too—makes things more fun! Dr. Frank Macchia

     

  15. How should we understand the story of Noah in Genesis 6-9? What are some of the issues involved? Dr. John Walton of Wheaton College explains.

    View and purchase some of John Walton’s most popular books.