Archive for the ‘book review’ Category

A particular book contained a copy of a personal letter from a high-up LDS official.  The writer said that he did not believe that there was enough historical evidence to believe the Book of Mormon, that he and others had been duped by Joseph Smith’s great story, and that he was going to stick around in the “good ship” of Mormonism anyway.  You read that correctly.  This story illustrates our willingness to believe a good-sounding story, even in the face of evidence (or lack thereof).  If the story sounds nice, if it inspires morality,  then that is all that matters -even if you admit you were lied to.  This tendency can only be stronger when you hear the story from a clever speaker.

Most evangelicals shake their heads in dismay at this story.  However, there is a large wing of Evangelicalism that is equally willing to believe myths.  No, I am not talking about the Bible of course.  I am talking about the founding fathers myths.  The recently maligned David Barton and his book “The Jefferson Lies” is a perfect example.  Thomas Nelson -a Christian Publishing house- pulled its publication due to a loss of confidence.  Christians, not atheists, came out to criticize this latest tome from the religious right.

Despite that, many people persist in ignoring criticism of this book.  This has less to do with its merits, and more to do with rhetorical cunning.  David Barton asserted at the beginning of his book that detractors of his views are evil secularists, modernists, and minimalists and a host of a derogatory names.  These people, according to Barton, are the enemies of our country and have deliberately published lies when interpreting Jefferson.  This helps the reader understand that David Barton is here to give the truth to them.  Any one smell a con?

Furthermore, did you know you can just read Jefferson’s letters for yourself?

My interest, as a Christian, is really only in one section of this book: the final chapter which argues that Jefferson was not an atheist, but was a Christian.  This is something Barton has a serious burden of on.  Put very specifically, Barton must submit that Jefferson was a Christian.  Thomas Jefferson is known for the voluminous, meticulously cataloged collection of letters, writings, and essays that he left us.  So there is bound to be something.  So is Barton’s evidence sufficient?  In this blog, we can look at a few points.

Jefferson affirmed the Apostles’ Creed?

One of the most important claims that he makes is that Thomas Jefferson said certain Christian sounding things.  For instance Barton writes:

In 1776… he [Jefferson] penned his Notes on Religion in which he affirmed that Jesus was the Savior, the Scriptures were inspired and that the Apostles’ Creed “contain[ed] all things necessary to Salvation.”

Here then, it appears that Jefferson affirmed the Apostles’ Creed.  Unfortunately though, the notes on religion are just that: Notes on religion.  This collection of short notes surveys several Christian groups, several heretical group, and summarizes the views of John Locke -espeically when it comes to religious toleration/freedom.  The complete paragraph reads as follows:

The Epistles were written to persons already Christians. A person might be a Xn then before they were written. Consequently the fundamentals of Xty were to be found in the preaching of our Saviour, which is related in the gospels. These fundamentals are to be found in the epistles dropped here & there, & promiscuously mixed with other truths. But these other truths are not to be made fundamentals. They serve for edification indeed & explaining to us matters in worship & morality, but being written occasionally it will readily be seen that their explanations are adpated to the notions & customs of the people they were written to. But yet every sentence in them (tho the writers were inspired) must not be taken up & made a fundamental, without assent to which a man is not to be admitted a member of the Xn church here, or to his kingdom hereafter. The Apostles creed was by them taken to contain all things necessary to salvation, & consequently to a communion.

So why did Jefferson mention the Apostles’ Creed here?  Is it because he believed it himself, or because he’s taking short-hand notes on what other people believed?  In another section of Notes on Religion Jefferson wrote:

A heretic is an impugner of fundamentals. What are fundamentals? The protestants will say those doctrines which are clearly & precisely delivered in the holy Scriptures. Dr. Vaterland would say the Trinity. But how far this character of being clearly delivered will suit the doctrine of the trinity I leave others to determine. It is nowhere expressly declared by any of the earliest fathers, & was never affirmed or taught by the Church before the Council of Nice.

Here is another quote:

Another plea for Episcopal government in Religion in England is it’s similarity to the political governmt by a king. No bishop, no king. This then with us is a plea for government by a presbytery which resembles republican government.

The clergy have ever seen this. The bishops were alwais mere tools of the crown.

The Presbyterian spirit is known to be so congenial with friendly liberty, that the patriots after the restoration finding that the humour of people was running too strongly to exalt the prerogative of the crown promoted the dissenting interest as a check a and balance, & thus was produced the Toleration Act

If there is anything in “Notes on Religion” that indicates that Thomas Jefferson made serious commitment to one Christian group or the other, all the while personally affirming the doctrines of the Apostles’ Creed, I did not find it.  It doesn’t look like Barton did either.

Jefferson said “I am a Christian.”

Barton makes a bold claim based on two letters: one to Charles Thomson and another famous one to Benjamin Rush.  Both of these letters are nearly as famous as Google itself.  In the letter to Charles Thomson Jefferson said (and is quoted by Barton) “I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus.”  However, we read the complete letter, we find that Jefferson is separating himself from the “Platonists.”  Here again is the quote in context:

I, too, have made a wee-little book from the same
materials, which I call the Philosophy of Jesus ; it is
a paradigma of his doctrines, made by cutting the
texts out of the book, and arranging them on the
pages of a blank book, in a certain order of time or
subject. A more beautiful or precious morsel of
ethics I have never seen ; it is a document in proof
that / am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple
of tha doctrines of Jesus, very different from the
Platonists, who call me infidel and themselves Christians
and preachers of the gospel, while they draw all their
characteristic dogmas from what its author
never said nor saw.

In this letter, -which can be found here– Jefferson refers to his “Jefferson Bible.”  This was the Bible in which he cut out the parts of the Gospels he belied were not authentic.  Jefferson is not affirming, “Christian” in any sense that your average Texas fundamentalist would recognize.

Barton makes a larger quote of the letter to Benjamin rush.  From Barton’s book:

To the corruptions of Christian I am indeed opposed; but no the genuine precepts of Jesus Himself.  I am a Christian in the only sense in which He wished any one to be: sincerely attached to His doctrines in preference to all others…

Of course, Barton leaves what follows in that letter.  Jefferson ended that phrase with, “in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; & believing he never claimed any other.”  Furthermore, Jefferson later refers to the influence of Joseph Priestly.  Joseph Priestly was an enlightenment thinker who authored “the Corruptions of Christianity.”  There, he denied both the Trinity and the atonement.  I cannot emphasize enough that Jefferson himself mentions Priestly favorably.

Thomas Jefferson didn’t really mean to deny the Trinity

Barton makes a great deal about Jefferson and the Trinity.  If he can prove that Jefferson affirmed the Trinity, than that is a big point in his favor, but Barton has some background work to do first.  He explains that around 1810 in Virgina a movement called “the primitivists” had gained a lot of popularity.  These primitivists rejected nearly every traditional Christian doctrine in favor of an extremely minimalized adherence to the Bible.  This excluded an affirmation of the Trinity.  Barton than actually quotes Jefferson when he explicitly denies the Trinity, the Eucharist, original sin, atonement.  Barton then acknowledges that these denials are heretical.  On the other hand Barton did say that “Jefferson had openly embraced doctrinal beliefs he was no rejecting,” yet he offered none of Jefferson’s letters to support that here.  So what does David Barton do?

Barton appears to assert that the influence of the primitivists made Jefferson deny the Trinity.  He asserts “it was during his affiliation with Christian Primitivism. that he first expressed Anti-Trinitarian views in a letter to John Adams in 1813.”  So we are to believe that Jefferson denied a core Christian doctrine late in his life, and it wasn’t really his fault.

The are two problems here.  First, Jefferson had already read Joseph Priestly by at least 1803.  He had sent Joseph Priestly a letter praising the author for his work.  Jefferson mentioned that he agreed with some of Priestly’s views and that he himself had hoped to do similar work.  Jefferson here wrote that he the doctrines of Jesus had been corrupted by people who pretended to be his disciples, that the question of Jesus’ divinity and inspiration were unimportant to him, and that the Jesus belong in the lines of the great moral teachers like Socrates, Cicero, and Seneca.  Therefore, Jefferson expressed these pretty non-Christian thoughts before 1810, when Barton asserts primitivism became popular.  The second problem is this: even if Jefferson denied the Trinity because of the primitivists, I don’t see how that means that Jefferson did not deny the Trinity.  At one point Barton thought that Jefferson “might have changed his position on the Trinity” had he lived a bit longer.  Does this vain speculation count as an argument?

David Barton closes the chapter with this:

Perhaps Jefferson, having once ha d a strong early Christian faith, which later became contaminated and weak, fits the category of 1 Corinthians 3:15 that “if anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved but only through fire.”

When I read this, I get the feeling that Barton doesn’t even really believe what he is writing anymore.  It is if he is begging the reader to imagine ways with him that Thomas Jefferson was a dye-ed in the wool evangelical.  These statements are sad for any scholar.  It speaks volumes of how far Barton is willing to stretch things.


David Barton really wants readers to believe that Jefferson was a Christian.  So how did he argue for it?  As you can see by the quotes, David Barton is good at lifting statements out of their context to suit his preconceived conclusion.  If he was doing this to the Bible we would call it poof-texting.  Additionally, he demands a sense of special pleading when it comes to Jefferson’s overt denial of the Trinity.  No contemporary figure would get this “free pass” if they did the same.  Finally, Barton ignored that Jefferson admired Joseph Priestly in this chapter.  By his own words, Jefferson tells us that he was the fan of a scholar who denied the incarnation, resurrection, atonement and the Trinity.  Yes, there were other “Christian” things that Jefferson did that I did cover here, but the very best conclusion you can get from that evidence is that Jefferson believed in a deity, that Jesus was a great moral teacher, and that religious toleration and cooperation ought to be promoted.  None of that is sufficient to make someone a Christian.

Ladies and gentlemen, David Barton thinks he can con you.

This leaves really only one stone unturned.  David Barton, wants you to imagine ways that Jefferson might have been a Christian.  Maybe he would have changed his mind.  Maybe his denial of the Trinity was because of his failing mind.  Maybe all his support of religious cooperation meant more than Unitarianism.  Let me remind the reader this: it is all a nice sounding story, exactly like the good ship of Mormonism.  But the evidence against Barton’s myth is there.  I hope  that members of the religious right have the courage to confront it.


Yes, I am posing this as a question for everyone here to contribute.  However, please understand this is a question of whether Christians debate over Harry Potter, but at this point the question is why?!

We all know what the debate is.  When Harry Potter first became popular concerned parents started wondering if it was the devil’s work because their kids enjoyed it, but did not get it from the Bible book store.  This is a common recurrence.  It is the same semi-fundie to completely fundie mentality that raised issues over things like He-man, Pokemon, The Smurfs (the Smurfs?!), and Dungeons and Dragons.

Is Harry Potter the Devil’s work?  Well, no quite the opposite.  Harry Potter is Christian literature in the same tradition as Tolkien and Lewis, which the concerned parents typically praise!  The debate really should end with this quote from the Christian Post:

J.K. Rowling wrapped up the final book in the seven-volume series, and finally spoke openly in several interviews about her Christian faith.

She went so far as to say she had hesitated to talk about her faith previously because it would have made the series’ conclusion too obvious to discerning readers.

We know the authors intentions now.  That should close things right?  John Granger has also written a few papers on the Christian themes of the Harry Potter series.

In fact, many of the themes are fairly obvious.  A friend of mine once said that if people simply read the books, they’d see the Christian themes in them.  Perhaps though, prejudice and lack of aesthetic sense prevents people from doing so.

Nonetheless, this blog is for readers of Harry Potter who did notice Christians themes in the book.  Share what you saw in the books that were Christian themes.  Re-post it on facebook.  Share with everyone example after example of Christianity in the Harry Potter series because only when the opposition looks silly enough to be silent.  Let everybody know that this debate needs to be closed.  Be as specific as possible, and cite the books if you have them.

One example comes from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  While in the forest, Harry Potter sees a figure suck blood from the body of a slain unicorn.  It is one of the first truly scary scenes in the book.  A centaur, Firenze, comes upon the scene after the dark figure has escaped.  Firenze shares this insight with Harry Potter:

“It is a monstrous thing, to slay a unicorn,” said Firenze.  “only one who has nothing to lose, and everything to gain, would commit such a crime.  The blood of a unicorn will keep you alive, even if you are an inch from death, but at a terrible price.  You have slain something pure and defenseless to save yourself, and you will have but a half-life, a cursed life, from the moment the blood touches your lips.” -Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Immediately after reading this, the first thing that came to my mind was a passage from 1 Corinthians:

Therefore whoever east the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.  But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if does not judge the body rightly.  For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.  But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged.  But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the World. – 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 NASB

This association is reinforced by John Granger’s observation that a unicorn symbolized Christ in medieval artwork.  This was a remarkably subtle connection to the Bible and a passage that is very important to many Christians in high church traditions.

So what did you notice in Harry Potter that struck you as distinctly Christian?  What in the book looked like symbol for Christ or anything else from scripture?  What symbols did Rowling use that the Bible also uses?  The longer conversatinos like this get, the better the position will be.  Please comment as much as you like, and remember to subscribe for future comments and discussion.

>It hasn’t been that long since Love Wins was released. Yet the explosion of writing on it makes it feel much longer. The vanguard of reformed othrodoxy anathemesized Rob Bell. The two most notable leaders have been Piper who declared “Farewell Rob Bell” and Pastor DeYoung who cried heresy.

Heresy. That’s not a weak charge. Could you tell me what you really think, Pastor DeYoung?

Do you remember what it was like to be a younger Christian? Maybe you can listen to a little story. When I was younger evangelical I knew -or at least thought I did- who was in and out when it came to the Christian faith. Evangelicals were in. Catholics were in, but not as in as Evangelicals. Mormons were completely out. Conservative protestants were in. Hippie new-age Christians were out. Orthodox/Near-Eastern Christians were maybe “in” but only with great suspicion. Of course, back then it was never clear to me why that list existed. Or which beliefs were essentials or why those beliefs but not others.

Why, for instance, could Christians disagree about the whole Calvinism/Arminianism thing, but not the Trinity? Why was is kissing icons considered pagan, but not keeping Christmas trees? Can you believe in baptizing infants and still be a full Christian?

If you have ever wondered about that -and you probably have- than you may be equally confused. However, this blog is not about what I think, but it will be about what you think. Yes, this blog is interactive today! Why read this? Why follow along? Because this issue of hell and heresy is something that all Christians are going to have to think about, so please grab a pen and paper and attach your thinking camp now. It is going to be fun!

Here are four ideas that Christians believe, in no particular order:

    • Christians look forward to a physical, bodily resurrection.


  • God is three persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit



  • Those who reject Jesus will suffer unending, conscious, torment in hell.



  • Jesus Christ is both 100% God and 100% human, known as the incarnation


You have probably heard them all in sermons, books, and blogs. Think about what your pastor emphasizes in his sermons. Remember the feelings that you have about each one. How do these influence your life? Do they come to mind in times of prayer or worship? Are they in your church’s statement of faith? Ponder this for a moment, then continue reading.

Now with that pen and paper -and please do use a pen and paper- write them all down in order of importance and number them 1 to 4. Yes, they may all be equally important. This is only a thought experiment. Still, your intuition will probably guide you. Take only a few minutes, and then continue reading.

Now look at number 4 -your least important belief- and cross it out.

Let’s now pretend that we are figuring out the essentials of the Christian faith. Numbers one, two, and three are what matter most to Christians. To violate these is to be anathematized and decidedly “out.” Number four could be very biblical, but it is not an essential. Christians can disagree about that one.

Why did number four sink to the bottom, for you? What took precedence over it and why? Do you think about number four the least often? Is number two or three mentioned more often in the praise and worship songs of your church? Is number one frequently mentioned in your pastor’s sermons? Or is there another reason entirely?

Now you might be thinking, “hey, we don’t need to limit the essentials to three things. We don’t even have to put them order. All four could be equally important! You’re a mean blogger!” If you do, you are absolutely right*. The list is only a thought experiment and there is no need to limit the essentials to only three beliefs. It is entirely possibly that all four are equally important.

That is, in fact, what Kevin DeYoung and those who likewise anathematize Rob Bell are committed to. At minimum, a belief in eternal torment is as important as the hope for a future bodily resurrection, the Trinity, and the incarnation. This is true whether they are explicit about it or not.

In your comments you can share your list and your thoughts on this matter. Go ahead and skip this next part, scroll down, post, and share with friends of facebook because every evangelical is going to confront this sooner or later.

For me such a thing feels just plain weird. I could never consider all four beliefs equally important and equally essential. Certainly, the Trinity, the Incarnation, and future resurrection are lifted from scripture. They are equally emphasized in the major creeds, which Christians often use as arbiter between who is “out” and “in.” Those three beliefs have become incredibly important to me in Sunday worship, the songs I sing, and how I interact with others. The Trinity reminds me of the importance of community. The bodily resurrection reminds me of hope after death and hope in this world today.

Eternal torment in hell simply isn’t in the same category. It is as if I have to believe in three things that are good, that inspire Christians to do good, and then add on the loudest fear-appeal in history! Remember sesame street? “One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn’t belong…”

It is simply way too weird.

*except maybe the mean blogger part. I’m a nice guy! I swear! I think….

My initial plan with this review was to write first about all the nasty things that have been said about Rob Bell and his book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. However, I think that writing an actual review of this book might be a bit more urgent at this point. I will still be writing a blog about the common criticisms of Rob Bell (some of which are good, and many of which are bad), but that will probably have to wait until the weekend. For now, I’ll say that I don’t believe that a belief in eternal torment in hell is an essential for the Christian faith, and I sometimes get a little frustrated with those who do.

Now to the review. Rob Bell is an incredibly lucid and talented writer. Many people accuse Rob Bell of “confusion” and insist that people need “clarity” instead of the emergent theology or such. Honestly though, if you read the book, you will probably find it pretty clear.

Maybe “confusion” is thoughtful questions to assumed doctrines. If that be the case, than I think a little bit of confusion is needed. In fact, Rob Bell’s questions were my favorite part of the book. The first part of his questions could be summed up in the phrase “Hell: isn’t it a little bit weird?” Secondly, he believes that there might not be a clear way to tell whether or not someone is “in” or “out” when it comes to heaven/hell. To support this claim, Rob Bell cites several Bible passages -about a dozen- that show that there is a great deal of ambiguity on this subject.

This is something that many Christians know already -espeically those who are emergent. The fact that evangelicalism wants this to be clear and exclusive might be part of the reason why evangelicalism can be culturally clueless. If you think that you and your exclusive club are the only one’s who get in, than those are the only people you deeply associate with. If those are the only people you associate with, than you have a self-perpetuating social-proof of what makes someone “in.” It becomes harder to understand those who are “out.” It is a sub-culture that things it is relevant to the main culture, when it is in fact semi-autistic.

There is another charge that was tossed against Rob Bell. Rob Bell does “hermenutical gymnastics” to make his points. For sake of example, you can probably examine Rob Bell’s assertion regarding the word “hell” in the Gospels. It comes from the word Gehenna when spoken by Jesus. This is really important point since many assert that Jesus spoke of eternal torment and hellfire, since he did -in fact- mention “hell.” However, Rob Bell says that when Jesus was saying gehennahe was referencing Jerusalem’s disgusting, burning, city dump. Here’s why:

    • The etymology of word Gehenna
  • Relevant historical facts about Jersusalem in Jesus’ time
  • The usage of the word Gehenna in Jesus’ time.

How is that “hermenutical gymnastics”? Isn’t that what you are supposed to do when you exegete a Bible passage?

I obviously haven’t read every last internet critique of Love Wins, but I have not found anyone who actually addresses Rob Bell’s point here: When Jesus says “hell,” he is not referring to the nine layers of Dante’s inferno. He is referring to garbage dump outside Jerusalem. This only one example of Rob Bell’s exegesis, and cannot address all of them for you here.

Now many have criticized Rob Bell for not dealing with certain issues. It is true that Rob Bell did not address any of the predictable objections to his view. Yet, sometimes these critics demand to much. For instance, why did not Rob Bell discuss the two wills of God or limited atonement? I would venture to guess it is because Rob Bell is not a Calvinist (which should be obvious!) and is not writing to Calvinists. Why didn’t Rob Bell expand on a particular issue, like penal substitution? I suppose because he is writing a popular book -which introduces and surveys a topic- rather than a article for an academic journal -which is very specific and narrow.

Despite all that, I still feel that the major weakness of Rob Bell’s book was that he never answered any particular objections. Doing such, in my opinion, is one of the most important things you can do when you drop a bomb like this. Greg Boyd’s God of the Possible was equally if not more controversial. In that book, Boyd devoted an entire chapter to answering objections in fair, direct, and polite manner. A simple addendum to Love Wins would have been equally desirable. It would have been nice if Rob Bell offered an alternative to penal substitution in this book too.

Ultimately though, I feel that all reviews of the book will fall short. Much of the internet does not deal with the substance of the Love Wins, but instead cry “liberal” or other anathemas. Like the Harry Potter series, many evangelicals have decided that it is wrong already and have not bothered to give it read.

The next blogs will mention a few of those other anathemas. Until then, thank you for reading, commenting, and reposting.


LOVE WINS. – Available March 15th from Rob Bell on Vimeo.

There’s a new virus spreading on the internet. It’s called “Rob Bell releases a new book.”

People have already begun to accuse Rob Bell of universalism. I’ll keep my opinion of Rob Bell quiet until I get a chance to read the book, which comes out later this month. Nevertheless, there is already a huge blog buzz about a prominent evangelical pastor making statements that sound like universalism. He would not be the first minister to be anathematized as such.

The purpose of this blog is not to take a position on exclusivism (only Christians go to heaven), inclusivism (Christians and some others go to heaven), universalism (everybody goes to heaven) or annihilationism (there is no hell), but rather to frame the debate. Specifically, I feel that detractors of Rob Bell (or anyone else who sounds universalist) might consider checking their premises.

What I mean is this: people who argue for the necessity of hell or God’s wrath often assume that certain premises are true and undisputed. They are so deeply assumed that people often forget how to defend them. This is bad, because -mark my words- debates about universalism/inclusivism will lead to additional debates about the three premises I am about to mention. If other Christians want to persuade Rob Bell or others, they must be prepared to defend these major premises, and not make the mistake of assuming that they are self-evident and undisputed. the new reformed Christians especially (forgive the generalization) seem to make this mistake.

Also, yes, this kind of thing is important for everyday Christian living. After all, another Pastor, Kevin DeYoung argues that we need hell to even forgive our enemies.

Let us begin:

Premise number 1: Justice is avenging evil-doers. This seems to make sense right? Justice, especially divine justice, is making sure that the evil-doer gets what’s coming to them. Think of the death penalty. A famous Texas comedian once remarked “If you kill someone [in Texas], we will kill you back.” A more academic example is Kant, who said that the death penalty was not just an option, but a moral requirement in the case of a murder. Even the Christian saint Thomas Aquinas said that “Justice was getting what is due to you.”

However, this is not the only vision of justice. This idea of retribution has been criticized. An alternative is the idea of restorative justice. This type of justice is not concerned about smiting evil, but restoring what was lost to evil. Instead of “If you kill someone, we will kill you back” it says “If you kill someone, God will raise them back to life.” It also implies that all are corrupted by evil, and restorative justice seeks to “restore” what evil did to the soul of the evil-doers themselves.

Premise Number 2: Penal Substitution is the best/only atonement theory. Penal Substitution is common idea. It is so popular that many do not know of any alternatives. I had to get a degree in theology before I heard of alternatives!

It works like this: Humanity has offended God with sin. Since God is infinitely good, so the debt of sin also infinite. Humanity is finite and cannot pay the infinite debt. God must somehow “pay” the infinite debt since no one else can. So God became human in Jesus in order to pay the infinite debt on the cross. This is very dry and technical, but I think it sounds familiar to everyone.

Now, please look for that description of atonement in the New Testament. Yes, please find something very specific. Make it as specific as Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo (“why God became man”). A Lutheran minister once shared that penal substitution comes down to us from the middle ages -and he’s right. Anselm wrote in the 12th century. That does not make his theory of atonement wrong, but it does put it up for debate doesn’t it? When we think about penal substitution, we should not think “how does the Bible teach this?” but rather “did Anselm get it right?”

Premise Number 3: Things are made right/good because God says so. Of all the things mentioned here, I think this one is the quickest to come up. Someone might say that heaven doesn’t seem good if there’s a tiny torture chamber somewhere near it. Similarly, someone might mention that God’s goodness does not allow room for eternal suffering. A common response is something like “God decides what is good” along with pious appeal to Romans 9:16-19.

The problem with this, is that it assumes a certain answer to the famous Euthyphro dilemma. The question is “Are things good because God loves them, or does God love them because they are good?” I think many Christians answer “good because God loves them” and may even endorse baby eating if God said so. I don’t think, though, that the question is so easily settled by an appeal to Romans 9 or similar passages. That passages tells that we don’t know the reasons for God’s choices. God may not tell us his reasons for mercy, or those reasons might be beyond our keen, but neither one of those implies no reasons at all. Not all Christians are happy with “because God says so” type of answers. This blogger sure isn’t

Now of course it is possible that someone might believe all three of these premises and be a full blown universalist. Alternately, they may disagree with all three and still be an exclusivist. No matter what though, these things are going to come up in the internet debates, magazine articles, and book reviews about Rob Bell’s new book. If Rob Bell really is a universalist, and his detractors uses these premises to condemn him for it, they will need to articulate and defend them quite carefully.

Reposts, retweets make me happy. So also do your welcome comments.

>A long time ago a friend told me that he was reluctant to take up a musical instrument because he didn’t think he’d be good. On that night, I shared a recent epiphany with him: in order to become good at any talent (or “excellence” as the philosopher says), one my first have the courage to suck.

Yes, the courage to suck. Not the absense of fear, but the resistance to it. One must suck, and suck for a long time, and only then will one slowly get better at whatever it is you are pursuing.

So get ready to suck!

Last year, I desperately wanted to NaNoWriMo. I got all excited for my friends who were writing their 50,000 words of garbage. I wanted so badly to have time to produce that same amount of garbage that I was even quite a bit envious. Why couldn’t I angst up, force manic-episodes, and type feriously at my laptop until I needed some wrist exercises?

Because I was in grad school, I resolved rather to do it this year than last year. I have since purchased a few books on writing. One such book was Creating Characters, which is short but packed with a lot of really simple advice in order to get characters going. I have learned, that I have been thinking way to hard about the characters I create. So with that in mind, my characters will be much better. Another book (which is mostly about comics) was Scott Mccloud’s Making Comics. It was book that also highlighted, expanded, and downright paradigm shifted, my approach to making any comics in the future.

Most importantly, I going through the Making Comics. This is part daily devotional, part mental exercise. Ideally, I would’ve started this months ago, as the book is a guide a long a twelve week program. Still though, I feel that book is good. The very first chapter of the book encourages the reader to shut off their left brain -internal censor- that constantly criticizes and judges.

I think I can live with that.

You, who read this, probably have a creative bone in you. I really hope that everyone who is checking this blog consider NanWriMo. Remember, have the courage to suck.

I mean, just look at the webcomic I ran.

>I orginally posted this on my myspace account years ago. It still has humor value, so I reposted it here. I have finally deleted my myspace account.

Hello everyone! I’ve been reading “To Own a Dragon
” by Donald Miller. It is all about growing up when you are in your late twenties.

I have been giving so much thought to adolescence lately. A former roommate shared the causes of prolonged adolescence with me. I work at a charter school where I baby sit teenage boys for $120/day. I have many friends who are all over the map in age and maturity. It has been something on my mind for quite some time.

I thought it would be nice to talk about if responsibility and making decisions because Donald Miller’s advice keeps people out of prison. The hard part is identifying whether or not you are one of those 20 something guys and are irresponsible. I’ve decided, after some reflection, to put together a simple list. After this, I’ll provide a list of signs that tell if you should go to college or to work.

If you were a kid at Bethel’s youth ministry while I was there, this list is for you!

    Are you irresponsible? Check these signs!

  • Your diet consists of fast food, microwave burritos, and pepsi.
  • You won’t take a commission only job, because you don’t wanna work that hard.
  • You live in the basement of a more successful relative.
  • You missed a job interview because of the the last World of Warcraft expansion.
  • Somehow, you managed to fail PE class at a Junior College
  • It has never occurred to you that now might be a good time to kick that Marijuana habit.
  • You dream about being a rock star, professional skateboarder/surfer, comic book artist, or video game competitor while you are unable to wake up on time for anything.
  • You still don’t understand why your friend got so mad when you hit on his sister.
  • If you don’t open bills, they don’t apply to you.
  • You’ve ever been really concerned about the legal definitions of statutory rape and workman’s comp fraud.
  • You live off the trust fund your rich grandfather/uncle/parent set up for you.
  • You maxed-out your credit card on electronics or car parts.
  • You deserve more than $7.75/hour just because!
  • You describe MAXIM and FH magazines as “Life coaching publications.”
  • Even though your rent is over $400/month, you still manage to buy junk at Spencer’s.
  • You don’t like doing dishes, so you buy disposable paper plates.
  • …and you don’t like taking out the trash, so they still pile up.
  • You have one or more restraining orders from ex girlfriends.
  • Your life was the inspiration for the Chez Geek games.
  • Your idea of saving money is buying your soda and beer by the case, not the six pack.
  • It’s not your fault anyway. It is all because of your estranged parent(s), the government, your boss, the mean kids in high school… blah blah ad nausem.

Now, I don’t want to leave everyone hanging. There are ways that older boys in their twenties can become responsible. One common proposition, usually from the mind of their girlfriends, is “get Married.” If the above list applies to you, I’d like you to read the next sentence out loud. Getting married in order to become responsible is a very bad idea. People wonder why the divorce rate is so high. I think this proposition is a cause thereof. Most guys have no problem not listening to their girlfriends on this one. Still, if this ever comes up, ye have been warned.

I propose two ways in which might help a person be responsible. I say might because there must be some degree of responsibility before you can do either of these. The prescription is one of these: go to college, or get a grown-up job.

You should go to College if…

  • You did well in high school, but never applied to Colleges because you partied to hard during senior year.
  • You read on a regular basis.
  • You’ve ever sat around work and been annoyed with the stupid banter from your co-workers.
  • You became the token introvert in high school because people got offended when you said things like, “No. World War I ended in 1918. You’re thinking of the Civil War.”
  • You won’t go to college because your afraid to lose contact with all your friends who are still playing HALO, doing crank, and getting their girlfriends pregnant.
  • You ask, “if I to College, how will I have time to become a professional skateboarder, video-game competitor, or rock star?”

You should get a Grown-up Job if…

  • You hear a statistic like, “The average American watches over 1140 hours of TV a year” and it sounds low to you.
  • You want to move up in supermarket businesses.
  • You’re annoyed with that Mr-smarty-pants co-worker you keeps correcting you about history ‘n shit.
  • You are willing to work for commission and you look good in a suit.
  • You became an extrovert in high school when you started selling the smart-kid’s answers to the tests.
  • You are delighted by the saying “PhD’s work for the C students.”

Well there it is!

In all seriousness, you might want to check out that book by Donald Miller because it is a very emotional and inspiring book.

>Since leaving graduate school, I have been reading Surprised by Hope. The book is incredible. The subject is Christian hope. Most evangelicals feel like they have an idea of what that is -especially in relation to the afterlife. Imagine though, you had never seen anything but a 1950s black and white television complete with bunny ears. Then someone came in and replaced it with 36 inch plasma screen. That is the difference between the tepid evangelical approach to Easter and the dramatic interpretation that N.T. Wright offers.

In one section, N.T. Wright took words straight out of my mouth. The final chapter of the book deals with Christian mission and Christian worship in light of Easter Sunday. When commenting on the various traditions in worship, specifically the difference between older traditions and low-church contemporary worship. He says:

I am always amused, on this point, when I visit churches that carefully abandoned all signs of professional worship from a former age -robed choirs, processions, organists, and the like -and then invented new forms of worship that demand just as much professionalism in terms of competent people managing sounds systems, lighting, overhead projection and PowerPoint, and so on. There is nothing wrong with either. All can and should be done to the glory of God. But the implication that older styles of worship are somehow less spiritual and modern electronic worship is somehow more worthy is sheer cultural prejudice and should be happily laughed at whenever it emerges. (Emphasis mine)

I could not have said it any better myself.


This blog is dedicated to my cousin, Christine Apa-Gonzaga

Pardon the short departure from plans in my last blog, but I now return to my reviews of The Crow. In my last blog, I talked about the character of the Crow himself, but now I’d like to deal with the major theme. The book asks whether there are crimes that can be forgiven. Implicit in that question is a certain view of justice that leaves a taste a disappointment. I will deal with both in this blog.

Two Contrasting Views of Justice

The Crow is a revenge tragedy. In a revenge tragedy, there is a view of justice that is best called retributive justice. In retributive justice, the emphasis is on the perpetrators. Those who commit crimes or injustice must be brought to account and be punished for their wickedness. This may also be done in order to prevent them from doing more crimes, but the main purpose is that they have committed some crime and they must now pay. The scales must be balanced. Typically, the perpetrators are brought to account by an avenger who acts on the victim’s behalf, but in the Crow the victim himself rises again to overpower his enemies.

Retributive justice, whether in comic books or not, contrasts with restorative justice. Restorative justice, as far as I understand it, is part Christian theology, as expounded by Jurgen Moltmann’s In the End-The Beginning: The Life of Hope. Restorative justice does not place an emphasis on the perpetrators, but rather on victims. Justice, in this case, is not concerned about balancing scales of wrongs, but rather restoring what was lost to evil. So if a person is terribly traumatized by having a loved one taken from them, restorative justice seeks to bring that loved one back or at least heal the trauma of the victim. If a relationship between two people is broken, restorative justice seeks to repair the relationship not punish who was the wrongdoer. Moltmann takes this even further as he believes that all people are victims, including those who perpetrate evil*. The wicked man who abuses his spouse was first abused as a child.

Reprobates and Tragedy in the Crow

Is there any room for forgiveness in the Crow? Not really. The Crow is merciless and wrathful, as I mentioned in an earlier blog. Already, it is clear that J. O’barr thinks that there are things that cannot be forgiven –and one can hardly fault him for his feelings. The character of Fun Boy embodies this theme.

None of the characters the Crow kills are repentant, but Fun Boy is nearly the antithesis of repentance. The ugly criminals the Crow kills all have rotten souls, but none of them have any since of self-examination to acknowledge it. Fun Boy is different. Fun boy is fully aware of his state. He is not sorry for the crimes he has done. He knows that he is monster deserving of death. Yet at no point does he ask for or presume mercy. When the Crow kills him his dying request is not “forgive me” but only “kill that bastard slow.” (He refers to T-bird, the next person the Crow intends to kill). Fun Boy’s dying request is not forgiveness, but only more hatred, of which he is fully aware of.

Not only is there no forgiveness in the Crow, but there is not even the preceding penitence either.

After the killing of Fun Boyd, the story quickly moves into its final movement of tragedy. The Crow spends one night in his loft. He burns all of his memoirs of Shelly and then shouts out the window, “Shelly I’m coming home.” He confronts his final murderer, T-bird. The Crow’s last fight scene is long, insane, and bloody. He kills not only T-bird, but everyone who works for T-bird. T-bird dies in a panic, and the final time we see him is when the Crow veers over with holding a hammer.

After the last killing, the Crow returns to grave. The final pages of the comic are still, serene, scenes of a snow covered graveyard. The Crow is dead. He rests again with Shelly. This is the tragedy of the Crow. The avenger completes his task, and then just dies.

Happy Vengence?

I can now only speak for myself, and not what the story attempts to communicate. Is there such a thing as happy vengeance? I am not sure. In the story of the Crow, every evil doer is killed. But the hero leaves the dark world to its darkness. With justice done, he returns to his grave. The ending is sad, as it leaves the reader wanting. It is not enough to know that all the murderers will no longer murder. We all want to see the happy couple alive again and the Crow free from his mourning. Anger and wrath sprinkled with kindness leave a disappointed taste in the mouth not matter how one serves up the revenge platter. This feeling of let-down seems to go beyond the novel itself: J. O’barr admitted that writing the Crow did not prove the emotional catharsis he hoped it would become.

No one can stand in judgment of the Crow or J. O’barr for the feelings they have, least of all me. Anyone who has lost someone they love has a right to feel angry and to want the murders brought to account. Yet I cannot help but think that the let-down feeling at the end of the Crow is part of the failure of retributive justice. The grief at losing a love one to murderers is to fold: the desire for that person to be back in your life, and for the death to be avenged. It seems to me, that the first is the stronger emotion. The desire to overcome our own grief is what turns into anger and wrath directed at those wicked people who hurt us. But vengeance does not remove sadness and grief from the heart of the victim. It only adds more dead bodies.

I cannot help but see the restorative justice of the Christian Gospel as the only hope for the victims of evil, both living and the dead. The Gospel tells us that God-the-Son became a victim of horrendous evil at the crucifixion. It tells us that God the Father is well acquainted with the feelings of grief and injustice. The answer is that of a Resurrection from the dead and overcoming of evil with restorative justice. Christians look forward to a glorious future in which every victim of murder, every dead prisoner from the gulags, every refugee who was gunned down by soldiers, and every martyr who was fed to lions will one die rise again in resurrected bodies and meet their savior who suffered as they dead. Death and injustice are not avenged. Death and injustice are reversed. The feelings of anger, wrath, and trauma will likewise be defeated in the all-encompassing victory of God. There will be no need for vengeance in the new heaven’s and new earth.

Behold, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind. –Isaiah 65:17

In that place, the Crow dances joyously with his untarnished bride, and the atrocity of their deaths never comes to their minds.

Thanks for reading.

*I can never forget that Moltmann was a German soldier in WWII and knew fully the kind of evil that infected his whole society.

>This blog begins with the following Maxims: Writing down goals and making them measurable is the best way to get them accomplished. Millionaires read one non-fiction book a month. I like reading a lot. I can’t wait till I’m out of graduate school.

I have several goals. Perhaps to many. However, one of my goals is to read five books this summer. That’s already a lot. However, I know I can do it. I am busy, picking them right now.

What I need are suggestions from other smart people of what books out there are worth reading -especially in the second and third categories.

Here’s the list of books by categories:

1. Theology and Pastoral work. (So that I can be better lay minister).
I will without a doubt read Surprised by Hope. My brother got it for me for Christmas. It will be the last “middle-weight” theological reading I do for a long time. I also really want to read From Wild Man to Wise Man by Father Rohr. I like the whole masculine Christianity stuff. I like it better when it is thoughtful, serious, and not cheesy. This book came with the recommendation of a retired Methodist minister -my cousin-in-law’s father. I am trying to keep my theological reading down to a mininum this summer. I imagine I’ll read both of those, and no more in this category.

2. Creativity and Humor (For my writing talent and future re-imagining of the Uber Bean webcomic.)
I am right-brained, technique oriented writer. I need therefore, to read some stuff that is decidedly left-brained book like Writing Down the Bones. Dr. Kern, from APU, said I should read it. I will. Also, there are other books on writing and story telling like Aristotle’s Poetics for Screenwriters. I don’t know much about this book, but I know I want to learn how to tell better stories.

3. “People Skills” and other things that make you money. (So that I can learn how to be kinder, gentler, leader)
This is probably going to be the most important category. I need to get some of these skills growing again whether I become a teacher, a sales rep, a manager or whatever I do for employment. There is one book called Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion which I am interested in, but I have no idea if it is good or not. There are others that are aimed specifically at large groups (students maybe?) such as Win the Crowd. Finally, there are even sexier books aimed at using the verbal medium only.

Of course, there are books like If Aristotle Ran General Motors that sit on my shelf unfinished.

That’s the end of this strange little blog. I am not sure what to read next.

But five books this summer for sure. That’s nearly two a month.