Sunday, July 30, 2006

Preaching Evaluation

As I was browsing the 'net the other day, I came across a Preacher Evaluation Form that got me thinking about the quality of sermons we preach. Some years ago, I read a book called Why Teenagers Reject Religion... and What to Do About It which reported on a survey by 'Zbaraschuk, who found that "quality of sermons" was one of the reasons young adults gave for leaving the church.' (Dudley, 1978, p. 23) Those of us who preach bear a great responsiblity if this is true! But how often do we really evaluate what we are doing? Sure, when we finish a sermon, people often come up to us and make comments. But given the importance of the sermon in the life of the church and its potential to positively or negatively influence our congregations, I believe we need to be much more rigorous in seeking feedback about the quality of our preaching. I know that this is something I have never really done -- relying primarily on informal feedback from my friends (those who think I've done well!) I plan to start doing it with my next sermon. If you preach and would like to do this, check out the Preacher Evaluation Form (or something similar). I suggest that, next time you do a sermon, give at least three people a copy of the questionnaire and invite them to fill it out. Choose people you trust and who you believe will be honest in their evaluation -- there is no point in doing it if the feedback you get is not honest! Collect the evaluations at the end of the sermon and prayerfully reflect on the results. May God bless each one of us who take on the weighty responsibility of preaching... Reference Dudley, RL 1978, Why Teenagers Reject Religion... And What to Do About It, Review and Herald Publishing Association, Washington DC.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Bible Tools

I'm always on the lookout for good Bible tools, particularly reference material that will help aid in high quality interpretation of Scripture. Two particularly important types of tools are cross referencing and word study tools. Comparing Scripture with other passages of Scripture on the same topic/theme is essential in getting an overall picture of Bible teaching on a subject. And because the Bible was not written in English, a student of Scripture needs to be able to study the original words in their context. In addition, it is often helpful to study words in relation to others. But how do you know what other Bible words are related to the one you are studying? I've come across a web site that provides an interesting approach to both of these issues. In both cases the product of a search is a set of cross references. Both tools can be found at the Bible Exposition website. You either type in a Bible reference to or a word you want to study and click appropriate button to get your results. The author explains that:
the cross references are unique to this site. They are constructed mathematically by analyzing the rarest words in the verse and looking for other verses with the same rare words. This certainly does not replace the painstaking labor of something like the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge. However it is theology neutral and it does allow you to quickly find verses with similar keywords. I have found it particularly useful for tracking down imagery in prophetic passages such as Revelation and Daniel.
In the case of the word cross reference tool, I will quote the author at length:
This is one of those tools you will love or hate. It finds relationships between words in the bible based purely upon mathematics... This tool is designed do show which words of the bible are textually associated with each other. By textually associated I mean that where one word turns up another tends to. If two words tend to turn up a lot together then probably there is some kind of a relationship between them. At its very simplest this tool simply shows those people that are related to others and the main events they are related too. When I do a deep bible study I will often look up interesting words in a verse and see where else they appear in the bible. This allows me to see what emphasis the bible places upon a particular word. This is particularly useful when picking apart imagery as in Revelation. The problem is simply that this is a ton of work. This tool does all of that work for you. Look up any word and it will tell you which other words turns up in a way that is statistically significant. The data on these pages is entirely automatically generated using mathematics and computer horsepower. Note that no theology is implied. Look at the results and judge for yourself. I consider this a feature. This tool is turning up RAW data it has not been bent to anyone's opinion.
This is a fascinating, unique tool. Have some serious fun!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Book Review: A Generous Orthodoxy

Brian McLaren's A Generous Orthodoxy is a true breath of fresh air. McLaren is the author of A New Kind of Christian which I have previously reviewed. In A Generous Orthodoxy he outlines his vision of a both/and Christianity for our postmodern world. With Jesus, love, and missional intent at the heart of his orthodox Christianity, McLaren calls for a generosity that truly engages with all points of view across the landscape of Christian thought. He describes himself as a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/calvinist, anabaptist/anglican, methodist, catholic, green, incarnational, depressed-yet-hopeful, emergent, unfinished Christian. That should give you some idea of the diversity of McLaren's beliefs! McLaren has sometimes been criticised for holding to relativism. Far from it! Those who accuse him of this have not read him closely enough. The orthodoxy part of his manifesto affirms the central doctrines of Christianity -- but they are doctrines with "heart". This orthodoxy, though, is a generous one that values the good in all Christian points of views while discerning of those elements that don't fit with Jesus, love, and missional intent. If you feel as though you are on the fringes of Christianity, or the Christianity you have grown up with doesn't quite seem to fit what you think it should be, or even if you are right inside of Christianty, there is something in this book for you. If Christianity is going to survive the modern world, it needs to revision itself -- and McLaren's generous orthodoxy may just fit the bill. Although the book is very easy to read, the ideas will provoke your thinking and give you much to chew over. McLaren's views have come in for some criticism (see, for example, the critical Emerging Church link below). Whatever else the book does to you, you may never think of Christianity the same again. Related Links

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Big Religion Comparison Chart

Here's an interesting project -- a big comparison chart of religions! Here's how the makers describe it:
The Big Religion Comparison Chart is an attempt to summarize all the complexities of religions and belief systems into tiny little boxes on a single, quick-reference comparison chart. Yes, this is impossible. As we always warn with our comparison charts, this is no substitute for reading about religions in greater detail, talking with religious adherents, etc. But this religon comparison chart can (hopefully) be a useful and accessible way to "get the gist" of some unfamiliar groups and compare basic beliefs and practices of the world's religions and belief systems.
To read more about the chart and to use it, click here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Book Review: Rumours of Another World

If you have ever read a Philip Yancey book before, you won't need much encouragement to read Rumours of Another World: What On Earth Are We Missing? Yancey takes an age-old topic -- the idea that there are hints of something more to our world than what we see -- and breathes new life into a meditation on the ways we need to learn to see rumours of a transcendant reality. Yancey's writing is superb -- intelligent, profound, personal, and practical. He draws on great literature to illustrate his overarching theme. His specific audience is those people who live at the 'borderlands of belief -- a place between doubt and faith'. And he communicates superbly. A survey of any Christian bookstore will overwhelm you wil mountains of superficial dross. But Yancey is one contemporary Christian author that really has something to say and says it in the most compelling, convicting way. His writing is fresh, unique, and evocative. He tackles issues that we moderns naturally shy away from -- guilt (he calls it a gift!), suffering, and sex. Don't miss reading this book if you want a re-visioning of the world we live in and the way it persistently, but quietly, points us to something beyond the visible.

Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Aaarghhh me 'earties! Jack is back in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) owes a blood debt to the legendary Davey Jones (Bill Nighy) which, if left unpaid, will result in Jack living a life of servitude on Davey's ghostly ship of the undersea, the Flying Dutchman along with all his other undead sailors. But Jack won't give in without a fight -- he plans to find Davey Jones's still beating heart, reputed to be stored in a chest beneath the sea. And, of course, the adventure interrupts Will (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth's (Keira Knightley's) wedding plans as they are drawn into Jack's plans. This second episode of Pirates of the Caribbean is a swash-buckling romp that will have you sitting on the edge of your seat at times. It starts off a bit slow, but when it gets going we are in for a thrilling ride. It is a worthy sequel to The Curse of the Black Pearl. The special effects are even more stunning than in the first, the actors improve on their characters, there is tons of action (watch out for the Kraken!) and we are left hanging at the end in anticipation of the next episode. Disney have really done it well this time. So grab your sword, eye patch, and parrot and head to sea for a great holiday adventure. My Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5) Positive Review 'Lively is an odd word for something called Dead Man's Chest, but lively it is. You won't find hotter action, wilder thrills or loopier laughs this summer.' - Peter Travers/Rolling Stone Negative Review 'More than the usual bad or even numbingly horrible movie. It's an amalgam of many of the modern cinema's worst tendencies and modern filmmaking's most unfortunate misconceptions.' - Mick LaSalle/San Francisco Chronicle Content Warning Intense sequences of adventure violence, including frightening images Related Links

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Battle Over Hell

Here's an excellent article by Keith Stump that describes the centuries long Battle Over Hell. Prompted by the fact that the Christian doctrine of hell is considered, by many people including some Christians, to be one of the best 'arguments against Christianity', Stump surveys the various perspectives on hell and proposes his own solution. He esssentially argues that God, who is a God of love as well as of justice, must be able to work out a plan so that '[s]omehow, someway, every person will have a full opportunity to hear the gospel and repent.' You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Book Review: Four Views on Hell

What do you think of the Christian doctrine of hell? Many people find it abhorrent - how can a good and loving God inflict eternal burning on people as punishment for their sins? Of course, this is only one Christian view, albeit the most popular. If you have ever wondered about the doctrine of hell, and what the Bible really teaches about it, then Four Views on Hell edited by William Crockett might be just what you need to read. The book is one in the series of Four Views on ... books which provides an opportunity for a proponent of a view to argue for their position and the other contributors to respond to each argument. The four views on hell covered in this book are: the literal, metaphorical, purgatorial, and conditional. John Walvoord opens with his explanation of the literal view which interprets the biblical passages on hell exactly as they read with God consigning the wicked to actual flames that will burn them forever. William Crocket follows with the metaphorical view that doesn't see the descriptions of hell in Scripture as literal but as metaphors which express a spiritual reality of eternal conscious punishment but not necessarily with real smoke and fire. Zachary Hayes offers the Catholic view of purgatory followed by Clark Pinnock's conditional immortality view which results in the eventual destruction of the wicked. The way that the different authors understand the same Scriptural data is fascinating -- and all of them see the Bible as authoritative when it comes to doctrine. The book will not tell you which of these views is the best or most biblical one. You will need to think through that yourself. The one failing of the book is the lack of opportunity for each author to respond to their critics. In most arguments, the proponent should have the last word. Overall, this little volume is very helpful in outlining the main options on hell and the pros and cons of each view. Related Links

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Jesus Mean and Wild: The Unexpected Love of an Untamable God (Christianity Today)

Here's a really great article discussing the issue of relevance in the modern church. The author argues that what we might use to measure a successful church isn't necessarily shared by God.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Movie Review: Superman Returns

Superman Returns delivers what one would expect from a Superman movie - a shallow plot, a bit of romance, a bit of action, a bit of violence, a nasty evil character that is trying to take over the world (America, anyway), and Superman rescuing damsels and other people in distress by lifting cars, slowing down crashing planes, intercepting falling buildings, and avoiding the dreaded Kryptonite. Superman (Brandon Routh who looks so much like Christopher Reeves it's uncanny - although without the acting ability) has been on a trip into the deepest reaches of space after hearing that scientists may have discovered his abandoned planet, Krypton (remember the first movie with Christopher Reeves?). After five years' absence and discovering that the scientists are wrong, he returns to earth to pick up where he left off. Superman Returns is a no-brainer but it's a reasonable bit of escapism. Kate Bosworth makes a good looking Lois Lane who is torn between her love for Superman and her de facto husband and son (just whose son is he?). Kevin Spacey's Lex Luther is suitably evil in a restrained performance that is nicely nuanced. And his plan to take over the world makes more sense than some of his 'predecessors' as he tries to get rich in a very contemporary item -- real estate. The outstanding feature of Superman Returns is the special effects which have to be some of the best you have ever seen. I am proud to say they were produced in Adelaide, South Australia. The flying man of steel has never flown so well and the destruction that Superman has to contend with is superbly rendered. Some of the shots are truly superb. Perhaps the only flaw is the rather obvious facial enhancement of Superman. If you can over the stupidity of people who can't tell that Clark Kent is Superman (except for one person who seems to be onto it), then it's a reasonable, but slow ride (154 minutes long and feels like it) -- but don't expect anything too deep. Unless you want to make something of the obvious and cliched references to saviours of the world and such things. But even they are not enough to make the movie fly as high as Superman. My Rating: *** (out of 5) Positive Review 'Superman Returns is a lush and enthralling piece of adventure storytelling that's both revisionist AND reverential, putting a timely spin on a timeless character without violating his primal appeal.' - Scott Foundas/LA Weekly Negative Review 'The bigger problem is that Singer’s weighty rhythms are disastrous for Superman, and the movie actually gets heavier in its last half-hour.' - David Edelstein/New York Magazine