מזל טוב – congratulations to Andrew Compton on the birth of his daughter

מזל טובMazel Tov

Congratulations to Andrew Compton and his wife on the birth of their daughter, Mia Lynn Compton.

She was 21″ long and 8 lbs., 12 oz. at birth on Feb 26, 2011 @ 4:41AM.

And rumor has it she’s already spoken her first words: “2 Samuel 7″.

Double congratulations!!

i stand with bart ehrman: a review of the ‘ehrman project’

Ehrman Project

The "Ehrman Project" provides dissenting, Christian responses to the biblical scholarship of Dr. Bart Ehrman.

If fundamentalist criticism of a biblical scholar is the truest sign of credible scholarship, then Dr. Bart Ehrman of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has quickly found himself at the top.

A collective of concerned Christians have launched the Ehrman Project, a website that provides dissenting, “Christian” responses to the biblical scholarship that Dr. Bart Ehrman has presented in his recent books, including Misquoting Jesus, God’s Problem, and Jesus, Interrupted.

It’s kind of like Josh McDowell’s books on Christian apologetics, except… well… actually it’s exactly like Josh McDowell’s apologetics, only online.

The website states it was launched by a campus minister and an undergraduate religion major to provide counter-arguments to the research of Bart Ehrman. But, since most of Ehrman’s textual arguments are essentially the well-established and long-accepted consensus views of just about every worthwhile critical biblical scholar not teaching at a Christian university, seminary, or school with the word “Evangelical” in the title (Ehrman admits as much beginning at the 7:50 mark in the video here), the site is essentially little more than an online video version of Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ, where conservative scholars attempt to refute the biblical scholarship that is taught in every major university save the aforementioned conservative Christian schools.

The video rebuttals offer little more than setting up and knocking down straw men, red herring explanations, the reframing and redefinition of certain critical questions in a strained effort to avoid answering them, and the recitation of facts leading to non sequitur conclusions that only non-critical scholars would accept as satisfactory answers.

The video rebuttals posted on the EhrmanProject.com website include interviews from other, “equally qualified scholars who deal with the same issues and come to very different conclusions than Dr. Ehrman.” This diverse range of notable scholars includes:

  • Dr. Darrell Bock, Dallas Theological Seminary
  • Dr. D. A. Carson, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
  • Dr. Ed Gravely, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
  • Dr. Michael J. Kruger, Reformed Theological Seminary
  • Dr. Alvin Plantinga, University of Notre Dame
  • Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, Dallas Theological Seminary
  • Dr. Ben Witherington, Asbury Theological Seminary

Notice anything in common?

Let me be clear: please don’t mistake my questioning of the EhrmanProject website as a questioning of all Christian scholarship or Christian universities and seminaries. There are plenty of excellent schools and seminaries that hire credible scholars who adhere to solid, critical methods of biblical scholarship, and who would never appear on a website calling into question the scholarly methods employed by most biblical scholars in the country. I simply wish to point out that the criticism of Dr. Ehrman (and the larger academy by proxy) is largely being done by a small number of vocal scholars at very conservative seminaries at the behest of a campus minister and a religion major who didn’t like their faith challenged by critical scholarship.

I encourage you to view the videos and judge for yourself whether or not those interviewed answered the questions and dealt critically with the evidence, or skirted the issues. Then, if you have any stomach left, you can visit other diverse and “equally qualified” scholarly apologetic sites like Josh McDowell’s site and Lee Strobel’s site and Kirk Cameron’s The Way of the Master site.

Fundamentalists certainly have their problems with Erhman. But to be fair, scholars have some issues of their own with Ehrman. The criticisms of Bart Ehrman from the scholarly community are essentially twofold: 1) must a scholar renounce his/her faith just because the Bible is not inerrant or infallible? and 2) Ehrman is only repeating the critical scholarship of other scholars in a popular format.

While I agree with the first criticism of Ehrman (one need not necessarily renounce one’s faith in order to be a critical scholar of the Bible, especially if one does not accept fundamentalist notions of inerrancy, soteriology, and/or systematic theology) – I actually applaud what Ehrman has done with regard to bringing critical biblical scholarship to a public audience. This is the truest form of education, and one must ask why earlier scholars haven’t made more deliberate attempts to bring what all good critical scholars know (that the Bible is not inerrant and not completely reliable as history) to the public. (It may have something to do with critical scholars not wanting to lose their jobs at Christian universities, or scholars at public universities not wanting to incur the wrath of (and lose book sales to) Christian audiences, but I digress…)

We should applaud Ehrman as a representative figure of what good critical scholarship does – use verifiable facts and sound logic to seek truth, and disseminate that truth to the public even if the public (often acquiescing to the threats pressure authority of organized religious groups) does not want to hear it.

Therefore, I stand with Bart Ehrman as a biblical scholar who feels we should pursue the truth no matter where it may lead. It can only make scholarship (and the faith for that matter) stronger. For if one’s Christian faith can’t stand up to a few simple questions, then it is not a faith worth following. And if apologists must duck questions, offer red herrings, and flat out lie to others in order to convince them of the brand of Christianity they are selling, then the product is not worth buying.

Christian scholars may not like that Erhman renounced his faith, and may not like his often confrontational delivery, but we must stand behind scholarship’s critical method, facts, and conclusions, and we must not pander to the fundamentalist Christian organizations who seek to defend faith by less than scholarly means. The EhrmanProject website claims it is “not meant to be an attack on Dr. Ehrman,” and I would agree; it is not only an attack on Ehrman, it’s an attack on critical scholarship in general by conservative apologists behind the veil of a campus minister’s website.

HT: Toto

happy 62nd anniversary (kinda) dead sea scrolls

Qumran Inkwell Party Hat

A Qumran inkwell celebrates the 62nd anniversary of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. (I chose the inkwell because, you know, inkwells were discovered at Qumran ;-).

Ferrell Jenkins has an excellent summary of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls over at his Travel Blog. The “discoveries” were made beginning 62 years ago this week, and scholars have been fighting ever since. Of course, Qumran had a long history of visitors well before the discovery of the scrolls, but it was the scrolls that have been all the rage ever since.

I’ve been doing my part to honor the scrolls over the past couple of years. I gave the site of Qumran a makeover a few years back, wrote a book about them, and hosted a documentary on the writing of the scrolls last year, which you can watch here.

So happy anniversary to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. You have brought me nothing but pain suffering headaches Charles Gadda court appearances trials tribulations joy ever since I’ve known you. :)

on malice, predictable stupidity, and chess

King and Queen together on Chess Board

King and Queen stand together on the playing field, outnumbered by their opponent.

Malice breeds predictable stupidity. Humans will do and say ridiculous things to protect pride and power. When gossip and anonymous animosity pervade a political power structure, surrendering all desire to succeed within said power structure becomes an enlightened advantage, resulting in candid lucidity and articulated observation against which those who remain within the structure, constrained by their fear of exposure, must regularly defend and duplicitously connive. The rest is just playing chess… patient, calculating chess, because malice, pride, and self-doubt cripple an opponent into a predictable stupidity, and predictable stupidity is the one weakness that consistently leads to one’s demise.

ucla receives $200 million from lincy foundation

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block and Kirk Kerkorian, founder of The Lincy Foundation, today announced the formation of the Dream Fund at UCLA, a community-based fund devoted to the support of medical research and academic programs at UCLA, as well as the support of a wide range of charitable projects throughout the United States. The Dream Fund will be part of and administered by the UCLA Foundation.

The Lincy Foundation will be transferring all of its assets (valued at approximately $200 million) and its charitable programs in progress to the Dream Fund as an expression of hope that other private foundations, wealthy individuals and businesses will join with UCLA and Lincy in this endeavor. Upon receipt of requisite government approval, The Lincy Foundation will complete this gift and terminate its operations.

“The UCLA Foundation and the entire UCLA community are grateful for a magnificent act of support by a private foundation,” Block said. “Mr. Kerkorian and The Lincy Foundation have a long history of major charitable giving, and the UCLA Foundation is honored to have been entrusted to continue their mission.”

Thank you to Kirk Kerkorian and the Lincy Foundation for the generous gift.

three thoughts on egypt for 2/11/11

 

2-11-11 - Egyptian Democracy Day (image by Dr. Robert R. Cargill)

2-11-11 - Egyptian Democracy Day (image by Dr. Robert R. Cargill)

Here are three thoughts on Egypt for 2/11/11, the day Hosni Mubarak resigned the presidency:

  1. 2/11 did what 9/11 couldn’t: it showed that nonviolent Arab dissent can defeat what militant Arab dissent desired: a nation ruled by autocratic force.
  2. 2/11 used to be Islamic Revolution Day in Iran (here and here and here), establishing the present Islamic regime in Iran.
    Today, 2/11 becomes Democracy Day in Egypt.
  3. Less than two months ago, Egyptian Coptic Christians were massacred in a New Year’s mass in Alexandria (here and here and here). Today, the Egyptian President, Muhammad Hosni Mubarak, is gone. It was only when the people of Egypt – both Muslim and Christian together – rallied in a secular, nonviolent protest, that the people of Egypt united as one to take back control of their country.

Follow the celebration at UCLA’s Hypercities Egypt Digital Humanities project.

ucla digital humanities twitter project preserves voices of egyptian protesters

UCLA Hypercities Egypt

UCLA Hypercities Egypt

A front page story by Jonathan Lloyd on the NBC Los Angeles website highlights a UCLA Digital Humanities project that is using Twitter to preserve the voices of the protesters in Egypt.

The Hypercities Egypt project streams Twitter updates and overlays them on a digital map of Cairo.

My UCLA DH colleague, Yoh Kowano, explains how it works in this video. He says:

“You just let the program run, and you almost feel like you’re there,” explained Yoh Kawano, a member of the UCLA Center for Digital Humanities program, who built the program’s interface. “It collects tweets live from Cairo and displays them in real time on a map.”

A story by UCLA’s Meg Sullivan offers more details:

Subtitled “Voices from Cairo through Social Media,” the program displays a new tweet every four seconds over a digital map of Egypt’s capital. Because it gathers tweets from those who have enabled Twitter’s “add location” function, the program also maps the precise location in Cairo from which they were sent. And the Twitter users’ avatars — often photos of the protesters themselves — accompany the poignant messages, providing a moving immediacy to the experience.

Visit the site here.

my choice for worst christian song ever: ancient words

Rod of Alexandria has begun a meme asking different bloggers to choose the worst Christian song in existence and describe why it is so abhorrent to them. Those who know me know that I have been no fan of much of what passes as “Christian music” for many years, be it what we today call contemporary worship or “praise” music, ridiculous, out-of-date hymns (especially those particular hymns with “Christian soldier” themes, or those that employ the use of the word “yonder”), or the newest fad, wannabe Christian rock songs, which (imho) were they any good would be able to cut it with the big boys and girls on the “mainstream” charts like U2. The fact that so many Christian musicians and bands choose to flee to the safety of the “Contemporary Christian” minor leagues to have any chance at “success” is quite telling.

And let not a Christian song’s widespread presence in churches across the country fool you; the fact that a “praise song” gets played repeatedly in many worship settings is usually more of an indication that the song’s instrumentation is easy to play, or that the congregants mindlessly singing along lack any theological training or inquisitiveness than it is an indicator of a well-written song. Let us also not neglect the possibility that many crappy Christian songs survive only because individuals in worship settings are often too polite to look to the person standing next to him/her and say, “This song really, really sucks!” For some reason, we’re told we’re not supposed to criticize bad Christian songs, because it may have edifying qualities to another listener no matter how theologically unstable the song’s lyrics may be. This phenomenon tells us much about the state of Christian music (and Christian knowledge of the actual text of the Bible) today. But I digress…

Contemporary worship or “praise” music bugs me the most. With their theologically vapid lyrics, I have just about had it with what passes for worship music today. The theological complexity of many of these songs today often sounds like little more than: “Jeeezussss, I sooo freakin’ loooove youuuuu, you are my all in all, fill me with your presence, help me feeeeel you inside me, me me me me me me me me.”

It seems “worship” is quickly taking the place of doctrine/dogma as that which stands in the way of what ought to be at the center of the Christian life: service to others. But, service to others is hard (read: “haaarrrrd,” like a whiny child), and takes a lot of time, as does forgiveness, kindness, making do with what you have, and educating oneself about precisely what one believes (and, for that matter, what one does not believe, as well as what can be proved and what cannot be proved, what is outdated, and what no longer belongs as part of a modern Christian life!). It’s much easier and much more fun to see church as a divine therapy session, where self-righteous, self-absorbed doctrine helps us feel superior, and “meaningful worship” helps us recharge for another dreary week of actually having to interact with others outside of the gated communities and guard booths, and make a difference in the unsterilized, unsanitary world Christians are supposed to be affecting. But again, I digress…

Being raised in the Restoration Movement in an a cappella tradition, song lyrics are all the more important, especially when there is no instrumental accompaniment to cover up poorly written, theologically defunct, or grammatically incorrect words.

Speaking of theologically lacking, grammatically incorrect music, let me introduce Lynn DeShazo and perhaps one of the worst offerings of grammatical nonsense of the past few decades. About five years ago, the University Church of Christ in Malibu introduced a song entitled Ancient Words into the repertoire. This group of thrown-together words that some call a “song” has got to be one of the most ill-conceived songs in the recent history of the English language. And yet, it gets passed along from one church to another like a joint at a reggae concert, often without anyone ever pausing to ask, “but is this really any good for us?” If you succeed in getting past the fact that Michael W. Smith is performing it (above), you are then left with the unavoidable reality that the song is a complete butchery of the English language.

Here are the lyrics:

Holy words long preserved
for our walk in this world,
They resound with God’s own heart.
Oh let the ancient words impart.

Words of Life, words of Hope
Give us strength, help us cope
In this world, where e’er we roam
Ancient words will guide us Home.

CHORUS:
Ancient words ever true
Changing me and changing you,
We have come with open hearts
Oh let the ancient words impart.

Holy words of our Faith
Handed down to this age
Came to us through sacrifice
Oh heed the faithful words of Christ.

Holy words long preserved
For our walk in this world.
They resound with God’s own heart
Oh let the ancient words impart.

CHORUS x4
We have come with open hearts
Oh let the ancient words impart.

Please allow me for a second to explain the grammatical concept of a transitive verb.

Intransitive verbs do not need an object. I run. The dog eats. He dies. These verbs are intransitive; they don’t require direct or indirect objects. One cannot die something. You die. In this sentence, “die” is an intransitive verb. However, transitive verbs are verbs that require objects. For instance, were I to say, “Tomorrow, I am bringing,” you would think me an idiot, because “bringing” is a transitive verb and requires a direct object. What, precisely, am I bringing? (Answer: I’m bringing the smackdown on this disgrace of a song.)

Now re-read the lyrics to Ancient Words above and pay special attention to the chorus. “Oh let the ancient words impart.” Period. Impart what exactly? Impart direction? Impart wisdom? Impart love? Joy? Happiness? What are the ancient words imparting? Nothing! We don’t know what the ancient words are imparting because the song’s author never tells us! She just wrote some pretty sounding ancient words together, but forgot the ancient rules of grammar!

Here’s a Christian lyric for you: Of what good are open hearts if we know not what the words impart? (See, this stuff is easy.)

It’s a sixth grade grammatical song for an increasingly sixth grade Christian consumer market, willing to recite anything – including theological and grammatical nonsense – just to have their ears tickled and feel good. In many contemporary worship services, words mean nothing, but, if we sing them with heart and passion, perhaps we can overlook the fact that the lyrics are fundamentally ridiculous.

So add Ancient Words to Ha-la-la-la-la-la-la lei-lu-jah (whose second verse, ‘Jesus is a friend,’ sounds like a bunch of snakes hissing at each other), Blue Skies and Rainbows, Shine Jesus Shine, Onward Christian Soldiers, I Come to the Garden Alone, and anything written and/or arranged for a cappella by Ken Young as songs that should never be sung in corporate worship settings. And, as I have the unfortunate experience being reminded of others, I shall add them to this list.

Until such a time as this, allow me to offer this challenge to songwriters: focus on the lyrics. Good lyrics make good songs. But, don’t just write pretty sounding lyrics. Show your lyrics to others, preferably, to those with a theological education and at least a sixth grade education in English grammar. Use poetic license, but check for glaring grammatical errors. And, for the love of all that is good and holy, write lyrics that have meaning beyond simply fitting alliteratively into a fixed syllabic space.

the things they don’t teach children in sunday school

one more from i think i believe:

the passive aggression of the christ

via i think i believe (via Buzzfeed via alepisaball.com). thought this was clever.

Passive Aggression of the Christ
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