Redeeming Britney Spears

Theologians have long struggled to define the church’s role in popular culture. Should Christianity condemn pop culture or seek to redeem it?

Those who favor the “Christ redeeming culture” approach often stumble over what to do with thoroughly sinful cultural expressions and artifacts. Is there a point at which cultural elements become so sinful that they are worthless for any beneficial purpose?

Perhaps not.

Merchant navy officers are reporting great success in using Britney Spears music to scare off Somali pirates. After calling out warnings, music such as Hit Me Baby One More Time and Oops I Did It Again is played over loudspeakers. The current tactic is so successful that security personnel rarely have to fire upon the pirates, who usually choose to just move on and attack less obnoxious targets.

This development might shed light on a notoriously difficult theological issue. What should Christians do with the worst elements of their cultures? Weaponize them to fight pirates.

Iranian Christians to be Beaten for Drinking Communion Wine

Four Iranian Christians have been sentenced to each receive 80 lashes because they drank wine in a communion service. The four men have ten days to appeal the verdict.

The men were arrested December 6, 2012 at a house church and charged with consuming alcohol…. Iran bans alcohol for their Muslim citizens, but non-Muslim citizens are allowed to brew their own alcohol. However, it is a crime to convert from Islam to Christianity and it can be punished with the death penalty.

While the severity of this sentence is shocking, this incident is but one of many cases of religious persecution in Iran. According to a UN report:

“Authorities continue to compel licensed Protestant churches to restrict Persian-speaking and Muslim-born Iranians from participating in services, and raids and forced closures of house churches are ongoing…More than 300 Christians have been arrested since 2010, and dozens of church leaders and active community members have reportedly been convicted of national security crimes in connection with church activities, such as organizing prayer groups, proselytizing and attending Christian seminars abroad.”

TV and the Gay Agenda

A study of the 2012-13 TV season found that 4.4 percent of the characters are gay. This percentage is more that twice the actual gay American population (1.7%).

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) views this as a nice start.

GLAAD released a report honoring Fox for featuring gay characters ins 42% of its programming hours yet only gave Fox a “good” (not “excellent”) rating overall. The same report blasted the History Channel and Cartoon Network for their lack of gay characters.

Thirty-one percent of voters have become “more inclusive” of “marital equality” in the past ten years. Twenty-seven percent of those respondents listed “inclusive TV” as influencing them to become more “inclusive.”

TV’s portrayal of the LBGT lifestyle has undoubtedly affected American perceptions. According to a 2011 Gallup poll, the average America thinks 25% of the population is gay.

German Bishop Expelled over $43 Million (USD) Residence

Pope Francis expelled a German bishop for using Church funds to build a $43 million (USD, 31 million Euro) residence. Official statements did not specify whether the bishop might be reinstated after an official church inquiry.

German Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, 53, will be absent from the diocese of Limburg for an unspecified period of time. While the Vatican has not said if this expulsion will be permanent, sources have suggested that reinstatement is unlikely.

AP Calls Dead Baby “Fetus”

Over the past few days, the Associated Pres has been reporting on a teen mother who was found carrying her dead baby in a bag. The baby had been born alive the previous day and later asphyxiated. It was initially unclear whether the child was stillborn.

The Associated Press writers repeatedly called the dead baby a “fetus” even after initial reports indicated that the baby was born alive. This reflects an escalating trend of devaluing human live in the mainstream media.

While it is standard media practice to refer to an unborn/stillborn child as a fetus (which is a debate for another day), it now appears that presumption favors the use of “fetus” in cases of uncertainty. The initial AP story called the dead baby a “fetus” four times in a five paragraph story.

As more information became available, the AP continued to use the term “fetus.”

Preliminary reports from detectives suggest the fetus was born alive and possibly had been asphyxiated

Even if you believe that a fetus is something less than human, shouldn’t the benefit of the doubt favor humanity? Even with scientific evidence to the contrary, the Associated Press denied this child’s humanity. Are retractions only granted for those who can voice protest?

 

Pastor Brutally Beaten

norman-hayes-of-bridge-community-church-north-hampton-ohioA pastor in North Hampton, Ohio, was attacked after worship this past Sunday morning.

Rev. Norman Hayes, 57, pastor of the Bridge Community Church in North Hampton, was punched repeatedly and suffered a broken nose, bruises, and three long cuts requiring stitches.

Police Chief Jarrod Campbell said in his eleven years with the department, he’s rarely seen “an incident this brutal.”

The suspect, 28-year-old James Maxie, is a self-proclaimed atheist and has a history of violence. He has previously been convicted of a felony assault charge for which he served two years in prison. Maxie is also been convicted on other charges including animal cruelty and having unlawful sex with a minor.

Uncomfortably Godly

A house church in China was once expelled from the apartment it was renting. The police told their landlord that he would be fined if he didn’t stop renting to the church. Because of this threat, no one else was willing to risk renting to the church.

Rather than disbanding, the church began meeting underneath a highway underpass. The government left the church alone as winter had come, and such open-air meetings would be short-lived. To everyone’s surprise, the services were not shortened, and the church continued to meet throughout the entire winter.

God did not send these brothers and sisters a mild winter. The weather was bitterly cold Sunday after Sunday. Although they were eventually able to find a place to rent, God did not provide them a place to meet until after the winter was over. Rather than sending this church relief, God instead gave them the strength to endure the winter.

Some time later, the same police were preventing a cult group from meeting. The cult leaders complained to the police because they were now leaving the house church alone and “even let them worship in public for a time.” The police reminded the cult leaders of the temperatures that winter and said, “We know their faith is real.”

God does not promise believers a life of comfort. God sometimes allows His people to endure hardship in order to mold them into the image of His Son and to hold them up for the lost world to see. God may bring hard times to show his power in delivering us, but we must always be prepared to be uncomfortably godly.

Christians Doing the Harlem Shake

The Harlem Shake, a thirty-second dancing video, has become an internet sensation. In the past four weeks, at least 40,000 groups have posted their own version of the video. This internet meme has been covered heavily by the media, has resulted in 15 miners losing their jobs for safety violations, and has even launched an FAA investigation for a video shot on a commercial airliner. I wondered how many churches and christian organizations have done Harlem Shake videos, so I did a quick YouTube search.

As you might expect, you can find hundreds of Christian groups doing the Harlem Shake. By my rough estimation, there are somewhere between 600 and a thousand “Christian” versions of the Harlem Shake on YouTube. Even conservative Christian colleges such as Cedarville and Liberty have student groups posting Harlem Shake videos. The vast majority of “Christian” Harlem Shake videos appear to be coming from church youth groups. Here’s Saddleback’s video:

Before I say some not-so-nice things, I will admit that the line between being in the world and being of the world is not always clear and often leaves some room for debate. Furthermore, churches that isolate themselves from their surrounding cultures risk losing opportunities to evangelize and developing pride problems.

That said. Every Christian who has posted a Harlem Shake video should repent, ask God for forgiveness, and delete their post. Every youth pastor who has led their youth group to produce one of these videos should receive a public reprimand at the very least. Any pastor or church member who finds another church member posting one of these videos should initiate the process of church discipline beginning with a private confrontation.

What is wrong with American Christianity that we can’t bring ourselves to call a vulgar dance sinful? Sure, it’s popular and fun. Since when has sin been boring and unappealing?

 

Bible Statistics

I grew up occasionally hearing Bible statistics like the middle verse, the middle word, and the number of words in the Bible. Unfortunately, these stats rarely agreed because they were usually done by hand and were almost always flawed in their methodology.

The stats were based on the King Jame Version, a translation whose text varies slightly from publisher to publisher (due to there being no copyright). Furthermore, verse divisions are relatively recent concept (AD 1551) and are are not universal. For example, many verses in the Psalms are numbered differently in the Hebrew text because verse one begins with the superscription (“A Psalm of David”, etc).

Here are a few stats on the Greek and Hebrew Bible. Getting an accurate word count is a little complicated. Depending on how and what you count, you will get different results. However, I have annotated my results.

Old Testament (Hebrew)

I used the Leningrad Codex as my text. The Leningrad Codex is the oldest complete manuscript of the Old Testament (AD 1008), represents the masoretic text, and is the text most commonly used by OT scholars as it is reproduced in BHS.

There are 468,748 words in the Hebrew Bible. This figure accounts for prefixed and suffixed words (for example,  וּבַבְּהֵמָה֙ would count as four words [waw, preposition, article, and word], not one). If prefixed and suffixed words are not considered separately, the total word count would be 323,177. Words separated by a maqaf (hyphen) are treated as two words. If neither hyphenated nor prefixed/suffixed words are counted separately, the total would be 281,112. Note that all these totals include the entire Hebrew text of BHS (minus verse references). Thus things such as psalm superscriptions (“A Psalm of David,” etc) are included in the totals. For what its worth, the Hebrew Bible contains 2,243,936 characters (without spaces) or 2,525,047 characters (with spaces).

New Testament (Greek)

I used the NA27 text. This is the most common text among NT scholars. It has been recently replaced by the NA28, but the text is virtually identical as the vast majority of the changes occurred in the footnotes.

There are 138,020 words in the Greek New Testament. This number is much easier to calculate as Greek does not employ prefixed/suffixed words. You should note that this number reflects my minority opinion (at least among scholars) that the longer ending in Mark and John 7:53-8:11 are part of the biblical text. There are 879,270 characters (without spaces) or 1,009,365 characters (with spaces).

Middle Verse/Word/Letter/Etc

The middle verse, word, letter, etc is a product of what you count and how you count them. For example, the middle everything in the Bible falls somewhere in the Old Testament. However, the book order of the Hebrew Bible is different than that found in English translations. Therefore, the midpoint will vary widely depending upon how verses and words are counted as well as the order in which they are counted (the canonical order of books). I didn’t even try to generate stats on the midpoint. Instead, I took the easy way out.

There are 606,768 words and 3,123,206 characters in the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures combined. There is no middle word or letter.

Theological Traditions

biblethumbAmerican evangelicals tend to dislike tradition. Perhaps this is due to the individualism of American culture or a response to the excessive trust Catholicism places in tradition. Whatever the reason, evangelicals tend to be soured towards tradition even though evangelicals hold many traditions themselves.

Every believer inherits conclusions about the meaning and application of Scripture from other believers. These conclusions are expressed in distinctive collections of beliefs and practices know as a traditions (e.g. evangelical, reformed, covenant, dispensational). Theologians cannot entirely separate their personal theological studies from their communities’ doctrinal positions. Moises Silva writes,

“The old advice that biblical students should try as much as possible to approach a text without a prior idea as to what it means (and that therefore commentaries should be read after, not before, the exegesis) does have the advantage of encouraging independent thinking; besides, it reminds us that our primary aim is indeed to discover the historical meaning and that we are always in danger of imposing our meaning on the text. Nevertheless, the advice is fundamentally flawed, because it is untrue to the very process of learning. I would suggest rather that a student who comes to a biblical passage with, say, a dispensationalist background, should attempt to make sense of the text assuming that dispensationalism is correct. I would go so far as to say that, upon encountering a detail that does not seem to fit the dispensationalist scheme, the student should try to “make it fit.” The purpose, of course, is not to mishandle the text, but to become self-conscious about what we all do anyway. The result should be increased sensitivity to those features of the text that disturb our interpretive framework and thus a greater readiness to modify that framework” (“Systematic Theology and the Apostle to the Gentiles,” Trinity Journal, new series 15 [Spring 1994]:26).

Tradition plays a key role in communicating doctrine from one believer to another. Christians are commanded to gather together and exhort one another (Heb 10:25). God uses tradition to perpetuate correct doctrine (2 Thes 3:6). However, since all tradition is human in origin, it will never escape the effects of the fall. We cannot assume that our beliefs and practices are correct just because we love and respect those who hold those positions. Of course, theological study must begin somewhere, and theologians will naturally assume their beliefs are correct anyway. Thus theologians ought to treat their communities’ traditions as provisionally correct and constantly critique their theological assumptions with Scripture.