Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Bones of Jesus?

Considering the overhyped media reaction to this story I thought I would post at least a quick response, to what in my opinion, is not much of a story. By now you've probably heard some of the claims of the forthcoming documentary by James Cameron - six caskets found together in a tomb and among them, possibly the bones of Jesus, Mary Magdelane and their son (I find it very interesting that while DNA tests were performed to show the supposed bones of Jesus and Mary to demonstrate that they were not related, there were no DNA tests done on the bones of their purported child).

This has been a nonissue in the field of archeology for some time. The find itself is more than twenty years old, and the opinion throughout the realm of archeology is that although this is a significant find, the claim that the bones belong to Jesus and his family is not taken seriously. If archeologists really believed this claim, believe me, you would have heard of this before now.

What this story points out is how we view matters related to faith through our own particular world view. My initial reaction to the story - which continues to be my reaction - is to scoff at Cameron's claims because my belief is there are no bones of Jesus to be found. I believe in and affirm the historical Christian belief that Jesus was resurrected and that it was a bodily resurrection. Those who are skeptical or disbelieving of this claim will react to this news accordingly.

Will I watch the documentary on March 4th? I don't know. I may, depending on other plans, but I don't think I'll go to any great lengths to see it. I'm just not that interested in this program.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

A Reply to Megachurches

This post is an OpEd piece that was published in the Louisville Courier-Journal December 29, 2006. I wrote this as a reply to a pair of front-page articles in the Courier about megachurches, which in our area means Southeast Christian Church and a handful of others. You can certainly disagree with me, but I think it's time we think very carefully about the negative implications of the megachurch movement. But you can read on to see for yourself why I think this way . . . oh, and notice the irony of the title the Courier placed on this OpEd.

Small churches make news, too

By David Charlton
Special to The Courier-Journal

As the pastor of a church, I read with great interest the pair of front-page articles about megachurches in the Nov. 26 issue of The Courier-Journal. The articles provided a powerful reminder of the tremendous impact megachurches are having upon our society.

As megachurches increasingly influence both the religious and political agenda of our country, they are redefining what it means to be Christian and a church member in America, and there are some troubling implications to consider.

One of those implications is the damage suffered by all of the smaller churches that serve as the source of members for megachurches. The sheer size of megachurches creates an illusion of church growth that is not entirely accurate.

Though one of the articles quoted a researcher as saying growth in megachurches is occurring as many smaller congregations are dwindling, there was a failure to note the connection between the growth of the megachurches and the corresponding decrease of many other congregations.

A large portion of the growth of megachurches -- perhaps the majority -- comes as a direct result of people moving from smaller to larger congregations. A survey of churches in the Louisville region would probably find that most congregations have lost some members to one or more of the megachurches in the area.

The result of this shift has been the decimation of countless smaller churches and the decline of community-based congregations. Just as more and more businesses succumb to the "big box" retailers, increasing numbers of small churches are losing members to the "big box" churches. And just as the loss of local businesses hurts neighborhoods, so does the decline of local churches that serve the communities in which they are based.

A less obvious, but perhaps more troubling implication of the rise of megachurches, is the creation of the "religious consumer." A religious consumer mentality, encouraged by the sheer range of options and activities at megachurches, is reshaping the mission and function of churches as prospective members "shop" for a church the same as they would shop for a place to get their hair cut or buy their groceries.

As the religious consumer shops for a congregation that will offer the widest range of choices for his family, he is asking, essentially, what will the church do for me?

This consumerism fuels the rise in coffee bars, "family life centers" that are basically religious health clubs, and a full schedule of activities to keep every member of the family busy.

While effective in attracting members, these may have little to do with the central mission of the church, which is to encourage people to be followers of Jesus and his way of life. Jesus said he who has lost his life for my sake shall find it (Matthew 10:39), reflecting an attitude in direct opposition to the spiritual consumer mentality that asks, "How will I be served?" -- rather than, "How can I serve others?"

This religious consumerism would certainly be alien to the persecuted early church followers, who worshipped in secret among the decaying flesh of Rome's catacombs. Such difficult conditions, rather than being an impediment to growth, fueled the explosive growth in the early centuries of the church.

Perhaps the church in modern America would do well to consider the lesson from the early church: that it is challenge and the giving away of one's self, and not comfort or activities, that ultimately grows churches.

Bigger, while helpful in attracting media attention and members, is not always better.

Finally, one could question whether the paucity of articles about small churches is indicative of a belief at The Courier that nothing newsworthy happens in such congregations. As media attention is often equated with significance, it is important to note that countless numbers of small churches faithfully serve their communities every day, gaining no attention except from those they serve.

While that service may not make headlines, it certainly makes an incalculable difference in the lives of millions of people.

David Charlton is pastor of the First Baptist Church of New Castle, Ky. He is a 2006 Forum Fellow.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

God: The Failed Hypothesis by Victor J. Stenger

In preparation for a sermon series titled Confronting the Skeptics I am reading God: The Failed Hypothesis - How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist by Victor J. Stenger. Stenger has not changed my mind - as I'm sure I wouldn't succeed at changing his either - but it's helpful to try and understand his perspective.

One of the shortcomings of his book, as is common with most writings of unbelievers, is that Stenger sets up the usual "straw man" arguments. He argues, for instance, against the six day creation timeline in Genesis, saying that science has proven the evolution of the world and the universe is in the billions of years. I would certainly not argue with him on this point. To deny the reality of an evolving world and universe is, in my opinion, neither a sensible or scientifically tenable argument. Certainly there are people who would hold to the idea that God created the world in only six 24 hour days and that it was done only five or six thousand years ago, but this kind of bad theology doesn't disprove all theology just as bad science (just watch any diet pill commercial for an example of bad science) doesn't disprove all science. Stegner demonstrates very little understanding of religious and Biblical metaphor, which is incredibly important when we approach the Bible. To wonder why God would need to rest when he was done creating is an argument that just cannot be taken seriously. God did not need to rest. The word rest is implying something far deeper than an inane insinuation that God was physically tired from his creating and needed to rest.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Mac vs. PC

Have you seen the series of Apple Mac commercials, with the two guys posing as a PC and a Mac? I think they're priceless. I have never been a Mac user, but I'm very close these days. Last October I purchased a Sony Vaio laptop after my HP laptop died. The HP had one problem after another, so I decided to buy a computer that's highly rated - the Vaio. Well, it has been a huge disappointment. I have used system restore numerous times to correct problems and even had to restore the factory settings several times. You can probably guess the amount of time it took to reload programs and drivers every time. Several weeks ago I even had to have the system board replaced. You would think that would take care of the problems, but no. Now I have to ship it back to Sony (7 to 10 days for repair plus shipping time) for repair. Take my advice - stay away from a Sony Vaio. When I replace this computer, I'm 99% certain it will be with a Mac.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Exiled: Voices of the Southern Baptist Convention Holy War

I recently published a book review of Exiled: Voices of the Southern Baptist Convention Holy War in the Louisville Courier-Journal. I decided to post the review here and invite your comments.

Faithful Baptists, exiled from a radicalized faith

By David P. Charlton
Special to The Courier-Journal

A Holy War may be the ultimate oxymoron. In 1984, Roy Honeycutt, then president of Louisville's Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, declared a holy war on the fundamentalist leaders seeking to take control of the Southern Baptist Convention.

As a declaration of resistance to the fundamentalist takeover, it was short lived. Honeycutt resigned in 1993 after fundamentalists had gained a majority of seats on the seminary's board of trustees and by the mid-'90s the Southern Baptist Convention was firmly under fundamentalist control, and a purging of conservatives and moderates within SBC institutions was nearly complete. In Exiled, 31 writers tell their stories of being stripped of their positions and being sent into exile from the denomination they had faithfully served for years. Readers of their stories quickly find there was little or no holiness found in the flexing of institutional muscle by the fundamentalist leadership of the SBC.

These are stories from those who paid a personal price for their convictions. They are the stories of church politics, betrayal and the power over others that can be wielded by those who control religious institutions. They reflect the cold, hard reality of people committing unChristian acts in the name of Christ. And they express the chilling effect that intimidation, the threat of career and financial ruin, and damaged reputations can have. It is also a powerful warning of how the silence of moderate voices can be complicit in allowing such acts to take place.

Some readers may ignore this book because they have no interest in Southern Baptist life. But these stories should not be overlooked, as they warn of the dangers that arise when fundamentalist religious beliefs are institutionalized and given control and power over the lives of others.

Exiled is a warning of what can happen if religious fundamentalism is allowed to operate unchecked. The same fundamentalism that came to power in Southern Baptist institutions is now moving into the larger culture, seeking to enforce a uniformity of belief that can be seen in the debate over same-sex marriage, the teaching of evolution in public schools, the treatment of the environment and even our nation's foreign policy decisions.

Two of the stories are by local writers. Michael Duncan, pastor of the Eminence (Ky.) Baptist Church, writes of a sermon delivered to his congregation in which he resigned his membership in the Southern Baptist Convention. Paul Simmons, a former faculty member of Southern Seminary and now a faculty member at the University of Louisville, writes bluntly and powerfully of his forced departure from Southern.

David P. Charlton, of New Castle, Ky., has been pastor of New Castle First Baptist Church for 16 years. He is a member of the local Renaissance Board, Tri-County Community Action Board and CARE Team Board, and is a mentor for the Henry County Public Schools. He is a 2006 Forum Fellow.

Friday, February 16, 2007

"Lost" in the ratings?

I seldom make time to watch a particular TV show; there's just not much on these days that grabs my attention. There is one exception - "Lost" on ABC. CNN reports today that viewership has dropped fairly significantly since its return to the airwaves last week. As a fan of the show, I have to say that I think it continues to be incredibly gripping and I still look forward to new episodes.

The move to 10:00 p.m. seems to getting most of the blame for the drop in viewers, but I have to wonder about the wisdom of ABC splitting the season in two. Was it really a good idea to broadcast only six new episodes last fall before going on an extended hiatus that stretched through the fall and into February? I think it was a bad decision by ABC. I'm not wild about the show moving back an hour later (because I don't watch American Idol, from which ABC is trying to protect Lost, I say leave it at 9:00. I watched one episode of American Idol, when the contestant sang Queen songs, and I must say that I just don't get it) but I will watch Lost however late it comes on.

This is an all too frequent occurrence at the major networks. A show becomes a hit and the network screws it up by moving it around on the schedule or holding back new episodes. ABC did the same thing a number of years ago with another show I enjoyed - NYPD Blue.

I do wish the show's producers would speed up the schedule of revealing some of the lingering mysteries of the show. It's really time for us to learn more about the Others and how they came to be on the island. Next week's show is being advertised as giving some answers about the three biggest mysteries of the show. That probably won't include the mystery of why ABC is beginning to sabotage the show.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Skeptics, atheism and unbelief

I am preparing a sermon series that will begin after Easter entitled Confronting the Skeptics. As is obvious by the title, the messages will deal with the issues of unbelief and how to address those who are skeptical of - or hostile to - religious faith. It will also deal with the questions and issues that arise from the challenges of unbelief.

In preparation, I am reading a number of books by both unbelievers and also by Christian apologists. One book is God: The Failed Hypothesis, How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist by Victor J. Stenger. While he makes some interesting arguments, he leaves me as unconvinced as I'm sure he would be by my arguments.

If you have any comments regarding this topic I would love to hear from you. Feel free to respond to this post or email me at davidcharlton@bellsouth.net

Valentine's Day greeting

In an effort to keep my blog more up to date, I'll try and add something just about every day, from small matters of everyday life to some of the larger questions and issues.

Does anyone else find it odd that so many people wish you a happy Valentine's Day? I know this seems fairly irrelevant, but I really don't need everyone wishing me a happy Valentine's Day. This is a holiday about romantic love, so why would I want anyone besides my wife wishing me happy Valentine's Day?

Yesterday at lunch, the server behind the counter wished me happy Valentine's Day. No offense to him, but why would he do that? I'm not trying to be cranky, but please don't wish me a happy Valentine's Day - but feel free to give me something chocolate as a friendly gesture.