Where have you been?

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Posts have been slow here over the last year as our family has been weighing and working toward a relocation and a change in ministry direction.

In November, Anna was named as Associate Editor for InterVarsity Press. We knew we needed to move to Chicagoland and so we began to pray about the possibilities for my next job. IVP graciously allowed Anna a long transition time that included working remotely part-time before beginning on-site in April.

I pursued several opportunities and, in the end, God pleasantly surprised us in providing the opportunity to join the marketing team at InterVarsity Press.

Next week I will begin a new position as Academic Marketing Manager. In that capacity I will develop and execute marketing plans for the fifty-some titles IVP Academic publishes annually. I will also represent marketing on the Academic Publication Committee, the team that decides which proposals will be contracted and published. There are other fun elements as well: working on titles, attending academic conferences to represent IVP, and working with a really wonderful team of marketing managers and publicists who love God and love books.

The IVP statement of values communicates clearly why this is a wonderful place where Anna and I hope to spend a great deal of the rest of our lives:

Our identity is rooted in our affections for and allegiance to God, whom we seek to worship in spirit and in truth. According to our Faith Commitments and Doctrinal Basis, we wholeheartedly affirm the authority and teachings of the Bible as foundational for our lives and for our publishing decisions. We love the church, respect, and feed on its rich heritage, and desire to serve it with grace and truth. We seek to influence, engage, and shape the university world and our contemporary culture for the sake of Jesus Christ and his kingdom in the world. Aiming for thoughtful integration of the whole person and placing emphasis on the dignity of people and relationships, IVP practices beauty and stewardship in our work.

 

 

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Do you worship the Bible?

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Precisely twice in my life a conversation partner has warned me lest I be guilty of worshipping the Bible. It’s an interesting warning and, depending upon the context, there could plausibly be some merit to it. By and large, however, it’s a red herring. In my case, there is rather more danger to be had from worshipping popular interpretations of the Bible than worshipping the Scriptures themselves.

Ours is an age not given to the discipline of reading. We are functionally literate. We can complete forms. We can read and respond to emails. We can read one to two verses from the Bile or a page from a classic. We can follow printed instructions to assemble a new stand for our flat screen television. Beyond this, however, our literacy is sadly lacking. We haven’t even the most rudimentary knowledge of the classics of Western Civilization, let alone other races and cultures. And the Bible? The Bible demands way too much from us in order to understand it. Better to simply follow the guidance of someone who will confirm your pre-existing bias.

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Source: http://franklinchurchofchrist.com/blog/
  
John Stackhouse makes precisely this point in his recent post at the blog of the Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School. The wave of evangelical defections to affirm and endorse GLBT+ as normative is based not a new and closer reading of the Scriptures. There is virtually nothing in any of the documented “conversions” that evince a careful study of the Bible. Rather, most come from a reorganizing of the Scriptural witness to place a higher and broader value on Biblical witnesses the affirm values consistent with those predominant in culture today: unconditional love, acceptance, inclusivity, etc. 

These verses and witnesses become the lens through which other, more specific witnesses are dismissed as somehow inconsistent with Jesus’ message of unconditional affirmation. To borrow the title of a book by J. R. Daniel Kirk, Jesus have I loved, but Paul…? 
Everyone loves Jesus; some get bent out of shape when the apostle applies Jesus message to the specifics of messy lives in the ancient church.
And once your favorite pastor has endorsed the GLBT+ message then those who follow him–who, incidentally, rely upon him for their knowledge of the Bible–immediately and easily turn the corner to believe as he does and in line with the culture. It’s as easy as stopping swimming against a current. Off you go; it feels so easy, so natural. And yet it is so wrong.

If we consider briefly what the Bible says of itself, we may set aside some of anxiety some have regarding our esteem for it.  The Bible’s purpose is to provide guidance in our belief and practice (2 Timothy 3:16). It is a rod that prompts us to remain faithful as we follow our risen Lord. This guidance isn’t arbitrary or entirely culturally bound. The Bible’s guidance flow from it’s source, which the Bible itself and the earliest church affirm is God himself. 

The Bible is a efensive weapon in spiritual warfare. St. Paul refers to the Scripture as “the sword of the Spirit.” It is the weapon the Spirit uses to do his convicting and sanctifying word. When wielded toward us this sword is and any wound is superficial and short-lived. Wielded against the world, the flesh, and the devil the blade cuts through to the heart of the matter delivering us the counsel of God and the grace to persevere.

The Christian who uses the Bible often and as the source of his beliefs shouldn’t be too concerned about the charge of worshipping it. It is, after all, the word of his master and his lord and should be esteemed as such.
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Why do I raise support?

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The question of that forms the title of this post, or permutations of it, has been asked to me in a variety of ways and in a variety of contexts over the six years I have served with InterVarsity. Sometimes it has an accusatory flavor (either against me or InterVarsity for making me do it). Sometimes there’s an undercurrent of pity (poor fool, out begging for your dinner). At other times it’s asked in bewilderment (are you crazy?) or in awe (you must be very holy indeed).

[Note: for those of you not familiar with InterVarsity, you can read a little about us here. Like many evangelical mission agencies our staff raise financial support to the cost of providing ministry to the campuses we serve].

Fundraising-Event

It’s a fair question when asked honestly. And I want to answer it personally (why I raise support). Here ten reasons I raise financial support:

  • Raising support has deep roots in Scripture. Philippians is a prayer letter, let’s be honest. Paul partnered with congregations he had started or ones he had served, to provide the financial resources to send him to new parts of the Empire.
  • Raising support has deep roots in the evangelical movement. The first foreign missions societies raised support to send men like William Carey and Hudson Taylor to parts of the world where the Gospel had not yet been preached.
  • Raising support reminds me that I am missionary. The emerging generations of college and graduate students are largely post-Christian, even in the Southern United States. This is missionary work.
  • Raising support creates a community of Christians who are invested (both in terms of financial investment but also in other ways) in the ministry God has entrusted to Anna and I. I need others to help me, guide me, and hold me accountable to do good work that is faithful to the Gospel. Donors are one way that I am able to remain rooted and centered. They help remind me that I am not the center of what God is doing on campus.
  • Raising support enables me to be free and faithful in expressing the ministry God has entrusted to me. I work on a university, but I don’t work for the university. This is critical. While I love and care deeply for the Wake Forest, I am not an employee of Wake Forest University. My ends (purposes) and the university’s ends are not the same. To be sure, there are many points of overlap and where these exist I am eager to help advance the university’s mission. However, at the end of the day I am about the work of building witnessing communities that will purposively influence the culture of the university.
  • Raising support enables donors to find joy in giving of the resources God has entrusted to them to advance the kingdom on campus, both at Wake Forest and across Virginia and the Carolinas. Giving to support ministries, missionaries, and churches ought to bring joy. If it doesn’t, ask why.
  • Raising support enables me to work with a mission agency that advances mere Christianity. Don’t get me wrong. I take theology quite seriously and, as a Presbyterian minister, I’m committed to the Reformed tradition as expressed in our Presbyterian confessions. However, Jesus emphasized in John 17 the unity of the Church. That unity isn’t a cheap or minimalist one. It is a unity based on the historic, Catholic creeds of the church: the essentials. Such a Christian expression can be quite compelling to people outside the faith who often see Christianity as marked by innumerable squabbles.
  • Raising support means that I get paid to do the work that God has called me to. Scripture says that the worker is “worthy of his hire.” Anna and I have been called and equipped to serve graduate students and faculty. We’ve followed God’s summons by getting a graduate theological education and entering service with InterVarsity. I have been ordained as a minister in the Presbyterian Church. I could work in a church if God so called me. As yet, he hasn’t. And since we need food to eat, clothes to wear, a house to live in, and to finish paying for my portion of those two graduate theological degrees, I don’t feel bad about the modest salaries we’re making.
  • Raising support is soul-altering work. There are a number of experiences that God often uses to make us more like Jesus (to sanctify us). Being a husband for seven years has been one of those experiences as has being a father. Raising support as a missionary can be a profoundly sanctifying task. It can be. It can also ruin your life if you lack the pastoral support or wander far from God’s gracious care. It will expose your deepest insecurities and force you to your knees in prayer. It is a severe mercy in many ways.
  • Raising support brings great joy to me.

So. There it is. What are your thoughts about missionary support-raising? I’d love your feedback.

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Five suggestions about plagiarism

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Celebrity preacher Mark Driscoll is in the news again. Surprise! Jonathan Merritt of the Religious News Service reports that more instances of plagiarism are alleged against the popular preacher and writer.

Driscoll

The first allegations came to light during an interview conducted by Janet Mefferds. You can read coverage of the initial interview here or you can listen to the interview embedded below.

Here’s a summary of the allegation from Merrit’s account:

Syndicated Christian radio host Janet Mefferd accused Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll of plagiarism on her Nov. 21 broadcast. Mefferd claimed that Driscoll quoted extensively from the work of Dr. Peter Jones for at least 14 pages in his book, A Call to Resurgence, without direct or proper citation.

“In this book,” Driscoll responded, “I took [Jones’] big idea and worked it out through the cultural implications but I wasn’t working specifically from his text.”

Tyndale House, Driscoll’s publisher, is standing by him:

Tyndale House takes any accusation of plagiarism seriously and has therefore conducted a thorough in-house review of the original material and sources provided by the author. After this review we feel confident that the content in question has been properly cited in the printed book and conforms to market standards.

This story is likely not over. We’ll see what strange by-ways it takes in the coming weeks.

Plagiarism is a sticky business. Judging by the interactions I have with friends in higher education, the appropriation of someone else’s written work and intentionally passing it off as your own is quite common among college students. It has never been easier to lift text and insert it into you own document. I the quotes above were cut and pasted into wordpress. Simple. Ease, anonymity, and urgency create big incentives to take short cuts in research and to omit any or proper attribution. 

Where this gets interesting is in the case of oral documents like sermons. Good preachers do a lot of research in preparation for delivering a sermon. Giving attribution in a sermon can become cumbersome and turn a lively sermon into an AAR/SBL paper if it has too many phrases like “as Rowan Williams has noted,” or “to quote C. S. Lewis,” “Thomas Aquinas argued.” The same is true for a blog post, which is a more casual piece of writing than a published book.

How then can you avoid plagiarism in your writing, whether that content is received aurally or visually:

  1. Footnote. Footnote. Footnote. If you’re blogging do your best to link to the original source if you’re quoting it. If you can’t find it, say so. If you’re writing a paper or book chapter, make sure you footnote. My rule of thumb here is: if in doubt, footnote. In my academic writing, which I haven’t done much of lately, my rule of thumb was that the number of citations should be roughly twice to three times the number of pages (excluding introduction and conclusion) in the document.
  2. If you’re delivering a sermon and you directly quote someone, you must state that you’re doing so. For this reason, I suggest not having more than one to two direct quotes in a sermon. Use them sparingly because the value of the quote has to far exceed the cost of stating “Charles Williams states….”
  3. Always have down time between reading/research and writing. Some of you won’t struggle with this, but I find that if I read a chapter of a book or an article on a topic I’m researching, and then immediately try to incorporate that into my article I will disproportionately be influenced by that research. When you’re really concentrating on understanding the depths of another’s argument and even interacting with in a mental conversation or sparring match, I find it takes some time before I’m ready to integrate these new insights into my writing with the appropriate degree of differentiation.
  4. Don’t outsource research. Period. My advice is try to avoid outsourcing research, especially if you’re a pastor. If you’re a writer or academic then it’s more justifiable. Remember, if you outsource research then you’re also outsourcing your integrity and your reputation so be sure you trust your assistant and do your due diligence (i.e., double check).
  5. Remember, you only get one chance. Somehow I doubt that Driscoll will do what he’s told others to do and quite his ministry over this. However, his reputation has taken a hit and for a lot of people what he’s alleged to have done will be seen as one more reason to deride the Christian faith.

What do you think?

 

 

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Five family trends that will blow your mind

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The New York Times features a piece on the changing face of the American family. The best way to summarize the article would be to quote a paragraph:

The typical American family, if it ever lived anywhere but on Norman Rockwell’s Thanksgiving canvas, has become as multilayered and full of surprises as a holiday turducken — the all-American seasonal portmanteau of deboned turkey, duck and chicken.

The complexity of today’s family will blow your mind. Virtually all of the assumptions I grew up with in respect to family are being challenged.

Moreover, it requires that the church actively consider what these trends mean for the continued effective ministry in our contexts. For example, if we consider the decoupling of marriage and childbirth it becomes obvious that many traditional church children’s programs are designed for a reality that now only exists among the well-educated, affluent middle class.

Five trends discussed in the article caught me by surprise and I think pose particular challenges for evangelical Christianity. Each of them is related to the size and/or composition of the family.

  1. Today’s birthrate is half what it was in 1960.
  2. By 2050 only 21% of the US population will be under 21.
  3. The average mother has two children down from three in 1970.
  4. 41% of children are born out of wedlock.
  5. 1 out of 37 ( or 3%) children under the age of 18 lives with same-sex parents.

Do any of these surprise you?

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