Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Liturgica has been kind enough to provide me with complimentary copies of their products to review. They have an excellent selection of liturgical recordings, books, and gifts. I will be reviewing some recordings by Fr. Apostolos Hill. Fr. Hill's music is in the Byzantine chant tradition but his arrangements have a unique beauty.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Gregorian Advent

I've been looking for music to listen to during Advent and this was selling used on Amazon for a couple of dollars so I thought I would give it a try. This is now the only CD I own that is nothing but Advent music and it's pretty nice. There's nothing spectacular about it--the performance and the recording are both good. The liner notes are as slim as can be. It's just straightforward, traditional, Gregorian chant. But it has songs for each of the four Sundays in Advent and I believe it will serve me well throughout the Advent season.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Confronting Death: A Christian Approach to the End of Life with Walter Wangerin Jr.

Paraclete Press sent me a complimentary copy of this DVD. A small study guide is included to use with a group. Wangerin speaks from his own experience of dealing with cancer and offers some good practical advice. Wangerin tells about how important it is to comfort those who are not sick that are in close relationship with the sick person. The video is touching without being sappy and the production quality is okay.

Unfortunately, although the DVD claims to offer a Christian approach, it doesn't deliver. Wangerin's ideas seem to be formed more by his life experience and psychology than they are by Scripture. Wangerin hopes that his part of his spirit will live on in the trees that he planted. It's not that he doesn't quote Scripture but that he's not looking to Scripture to see what it says about death and dying. He's taking ideas from elsewhere and then trying to read them into Scripture. I just don't think a passage where Elijah is grieving because all of God's true prophets have been killed and now they are trying to kill him are intended by God to be used as an example of general grieving over death. The Bible has plenty to say about death and plenty of comfort to offer. Someone could easily create a DVD about confronting death entirely based on the crucifixion. Unfortunately the crucifixion is only mentioned to tell us that Jesus was very quiet on the cross and so we should be quiet when we die as a witness to those around us that we are peaceful in death. That's just not the point of the passage at all. Jesus was being crucified! He could barely breathe! Our attention should be brought to the things that he said on the cross because of the great effort he would have had to put in to saying them! Because we have been joined to Jesus death in our baptism we will also be resurrected as Jesus was resurrected! That is the great comfort we receive in the Scriptures. But there is no talk at all of a bodily resurrection in Wangerin's video. He says that his resurrection will be when Jesus calls Him after he dies in some ambiguous spiritual way.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Paul says not to grieve as the world does. He doesn't say not to grieve. Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus. We can have hope--a certain expectation--that we will be resurrected bodily and that our brothers and sisters in Christ will be partakers in the bodily resurrection. If we place our hope in stories and feelings that exist in the mind of Wangerin, how can we have any certainty at all?

It's wonderful to hear the stories of saints who have gone before us that have peacefully entered into eternal life but I don't think they did so because they had a guilt-trip laid on them that they better do so as a witness to those around them. My wife and I lost identical twins and one of the pastors that came to visit us kept talking about how important it was to show that we were different from the world and not to grieve. Someone in that situation does not need the Law, they need the Gospel. A quiet stillness that is brought about because you are afraid what the world will say is not a true peace--it's a lie. True peace can only be found in the Gospel.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Coming of Christ: A Celebration of Faith in His Name

Paraclete Press sent me a complimentary copy of this Gregorian Chant CD performed by Gloria Dei Cantores Schola. The first seven tracks are Advent music and 8-32 tell the story of the life of Jesus from His nativity to early childhood. Recordings of Advent music are difficult to find. I've even seen CDs that are labeled "Advent" that are entirely made up of Christmas music and others that have only two Advent songs. There are countless Christmas albums but only a handful of really good Christmas albums. But it's even difficult to find a poorly done Advent album. When stores start decorating for Christmas and playing Christmas music in October, Advent can be difficult to celebrate. Advent is certainly not the money-maker that Christmas is--they can sell you an Advent wreath and calendar but that's about it. A penitential season like Advent certainly isn't as conducive to selling stuff. I suppose it's not surprising that stores would do away with Advent, but unfortunately much of the church-world has done away with Advent as well.

So anyhow, it's joy not just to find a CD with some Advent music on it but it's truly wonderful to find one as good as this one. All of the tracks are exceptionally well-performed. This CD has both male and female voices. My collection of male Gregorian chant is larger than my collection of female Gregorian Chant and I find male Gregorian chant easier to listen to for long periods of time. It's also easier for me to understand the words in male Gregorian Chant. But female Gregorian chant can beautiful and this is some of the best I've heard. The recording didn't sound very good on my car stereo. I noticed the same thing with another CD I own that has female Gregorian chant--Paschale Mysterium. But both sound absolutely beautiful on my home stereo.

The first and last tracks on The Coming of Christ are short organ pieces. These also sound horrible on my car stereo but sound excellent on my home stereo. I actually think the CD might be better without these organ pieces. They are well-performed and well-recorded but I just find them distracting.

The CD has some good liner notes, describing the various pieces. It also lists both the Latin text and an English translation which is very helpful.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Sign of the Cross: the Gesture, the Mystery, the History

Paraclete Press sent me a complimentary copy of this book written by Andreas Andreopoulos and it's truly wonderful. I had written a review of a book on the same subject by Bert Ghezzi. Ghezzi is Roman Catholic and Andreopoulos is Eastern Orthodox. Ghezzi's book is written in a popular style that would be easy for any layman to pick up and read. Andreopoulos writes with great clarity but seems to be writing for the pastor, scholar, or educated layperson. Andreopoulos gives a very objective and thorough telling of the story of the history of the sign of the cross with lots of footnotes. It could be used for a college class or for a research paper. There is much less overlap between the books than I expected and I would recommend that both be purchased.

Chapter three, which deals with the meaning of signs and symbols is fascinating. I had never even thought of about 80% of what is dealt with in this chapter.

I did have some disagreements with the author on some of the issues dealt with in the book. The author holds to a synergistic view of salvation in which God and man co-operate. This is not much of a surprise--the author is Eastern Orthodox. Even though I disagree with him, I appreciate the way in which he presents these teachings. Andreopoulos makes it clear at the beginning of the book that he wants to write a book that is accessible to those outside of his own communion and he definitely does that. I've read books by Orthodox authors for an Orthodox audience that would be very difficult for a non-Orthodox reader to understand because of the theological jargon. Recently I've heard radio programs and read books written by Orthodox speakers or authors for what seems to be an evangelical audience. Sometimes these books and programs present Orthodox spirituality in a way in which no Orthodox Christian who has grown up in the faith would ever recognize it. Sometimes it even seems like they are being deliberately deceptive to try to lure evangelicals in. But Andreopoulos doesn't engage in any of this nonsense. He knows what he believes. He knows what his church teaches. He uses the vocabulary of his church but explains it so that it is understandable to the outsider. This is the only way that ecumenical dialog should ever take place. People should know the teachings of their church and not hide them or try to smooth over differences. They should also be able to explain these teachings in a way that is understandable to outsiders.

Has the subject of the sign of the cross been exhausted by the publishing of these two books? I don't think so. I look forward to a book written by a Lutheran or Anglican author on the same subject. But this is a great book.

Esteban Shows His Envy Of My Infallible Sermon Critiques

My friend Esteban has dared to question my sermon evaluations. Esteban, of course, is just jealous that he didn't come up with the system first. For shame! Since I am merciful I will give him time to repent before starting the imprecatory prayers.

In all seriousness though I do think there may be some flaws in my method of evaluation. I'm just having difficulty thinking of better ones. Suggestions would be much appreciated. I would like the system to be as objective as possible. The evaluations do center on how Christ-centered the sermon is and I do think that they have accurately revealed that some ministers that are known for their Christ-centered sermons do not always preach Christ-centered sermons.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Kim Riddlebarger on Mark 9:33-50

This is the closest I could find to a sermon by Kim Riddlebarger on Mark 9:33-50. The title is "Whoever Is Not Against Us is For Us." Kim Riddlebarger is the pastor of Christ Reformed Church in California which is a member of the United Reformed Churches. Here is the text for Kim Riddlebarger's sermon:

Mark 9:33-50 33And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you discussing on the way?" 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35 And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, "If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all." 36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me." 38 John said to him, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name,(1 )and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us." 39 But Jesus said, "Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 For the one who is not against us is for us. 41 For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward. 42 "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,(1 )it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell,(1 )to the unquenchable fire.(2) 44 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 46 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 'where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.' 49 For everyone will be salted with fire.(1) 50 Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another."

1. Does the pastor explain the text correctly? Kim Riddlebarger spends so much time explaining other texts that he doesn't seem to have enough time to explain the text he is preaching on. When he finally gets around to explaining the text he reads it as a list of things for us to do. (-1)

2. Is the law preached lawfully? No. It is clear from the sermon that the disciples broke the law but I could easily walk away thinking that I haven't and it's presented in a very doable manner. (-1)

3. Is Jesus mentioned? Yes. Jesus is mentioned and nothing false is said about Him. (+1)

4. Is the sermon about what Jesus has done for us? No. We are reminded a couple of times throughout the sermon that Jesus is our righteousness, but given the way the law was preached throughout the sermon I don't know why I wouldn't be able to present my own righteousness to God. (-1)

5. Does the creation of a Wordle show a Christian focus in the sermon? Yes. Jesus is the most used word in the sermon (+1).

Kim Riddlebarger scores -1 or 40%.

The current standings are:

Don Fortner (Calvinistic Baptist) 57.5% F
Kim Riddlebarger (United Reformed Churches) 40% F
John Piper (Calvinistic Baptist) 35% F

Monday, October 12, 2009

Paraclete Press

I now review books for Paraclete Press. They are kindly sending me a copy of The Sign of the Cross by Andreas Andreopoulos.

The Search For God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World

This is a great book. It tells the story of the history of beer, the story of Christianity's historically close relationship with beer, the story of Guinness beer, and the story of the Guinness family. If it weren't for modern evangelicalism's condemnation of alcohol in all forms, I'm sure this story would have been told years ago.

The water in many parts of the world has been undrinkable throughout history. Recognizing the dangers of drunkenness, many Christians throughout history have brewed beer as an alternative to hard liquor. Arthur Guinness was part of this great Christian tradition of brewing beer. He recognized that brewing was not just a job to earn money, but a vocation--a calling from God. He worked diligently to create a high quality beer. He was very successful and he and his family used the wealth to serve their neighbor. Guinness workers received higher wages and all kinds of extra perks. The family also used the wealth to serve the community around them.

The book has a nice section on the idea of vocation as well as ways to apply principles used by Arthur Guinness. There are a few typos but the book is very well-written.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

John Piper on Mark 9:33-37

John Piper is pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church. Like Don Fortner, John Piper is a Calvinistic Baptist but his style is quite a bit different. The title of the sermon is Receiving Children in Jesus' Name.

1. Does the pastor explain the text correctly? Like Chuck Smith, John Piper does not believe that the pursuit of greatness is wrong in itself but that the disciples need redirection. Piper believes that Jesus is calling the disciples to pursue God which really doesn't appear in the text at all. A lot of what Piper says is true but he misses the point by making the focal point of the sermon the love of children in the name of Jesus. Jesus brought the child forth as an example, not as the main point. If somebody asks me how big something is and I bring an elephant out as an example, the elephant is not the main thing. (-1)

2. Is the law preached lawfully? No. The majority of the people at the church could have walked out without being convicted by the law. They may have felt anger at other people for the way others have broken the law but would not have been beaten down by the law themselves. (-1)

3. Is Jesus mentioned? Yes, Jesus is mentioned and nothing false is said about Him. (+1)

4. Is the sermon about what Jesus has done for us? No. It is all about what we need to do. (-1)

5. Does the creation of a Wordle show a Christian focus in the sermon? This sermon is focused on "children." Jesus comes in second. (+0.5)

I really expected Piper's sermon to have been better. His total is -1.5 or 35%.

The current standings are:

Don Fortner (Calvinistic Baptist) 57.5% F
John Piper (Calvinistic Baptist) 35% F

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Don Fortner on Mark 9:30-37

Don Fortner is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Danville in Kentucky. Like Chuck Smith, Don Fortner follows a verse-by-verse approach in his sermons. Unlike Chuck Smith, Don Fortner is a Calvinistic Baptist. The title of the sermon is Matters of Tremendous Importance.

1. Does the pastor explain the text correctly? Smith briefly mentions the crucifixion but does not dwell on it. Markquart and Cantalamessa avoid it entirely. Cwirla does the best job of letting the text speak. Fortner uses these verses as an opportunity to defend Calvinist theology. Fortner claims that "the doctrine taught in these verses is the blessed gospel doctrine of substitutionary atonement." The doctrine of the substitutionary atonement is true and is certainly at the very heart of the Scriptures, but I don't believe that is what is being taught here. Jesus is saying that He will be crucified and rise again and is calling the disciples to die with Him. Fortner also takes time to speak of the sovereignty of God and the hardening effects of the Gospel but these are not the focus of the passage either. It is clear that Jesus was in control of the situation and was offering Himself up but to make it about God's abstract sovereignty distracts from what the text is saying. He sees that the text tells us to be servants but misses the point that Jesus is THE servant who we are joined to. (-0.25)

2. Is the law preached lawfully? Yes. Fortner does say that we are all guilty of the sin of pride. (+1)

3. Is Jesus mentioned? Yes. (+1)

4. Is the sermon about what Jesus has done for us? Some of it. It starts out talking about what Jesus has done for us but it does not present Jesus as the remedy for the sin of pride. It does not apply Jesus specifically to the hearer. (0)

5. Does the creation of a Wordle show a Christian focus in the sermon? No. "Pride" is mentioned 30 times. "God" comes in second at 23. Focus upon some sort of sovereign God is not necessarily Christian. (-1)

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So the total is +0.75 or 57.5%.

The current standings are:

Don Fortner (Calvinistic Baptist) 57.5% F

Friday, October 9, 2009

Chuck Smith on Mark 9:30-37

Chuck is pastor of Calvary Chapel. Calvary Chapel claims to be a "non-denominational church movement." From my understanding it functions as a denomination but that is irrelevant to this review. Calvary Chapel sermons are generally verse-by-verse expositions of the Scripture and this sermon is no exception. This sermon actually covers Mark 8-9 but I will be focusing on Mark 9:30-37. The sermon does not have a main idea that is carried through from beginning to end but is set up more like a commentary so I don't think the evaluation is impaired in any way by focusing on this particular section of the sermon. There is also an outline provided of Mark 9:33-36. It is not a word-for-word transcription of what is said in the sermon but it is followed pretty closely.

1. Does the pastor explain the text correctly? Chuck Smith sticks much closer to the text than either Markquart or Cantalamessa do. He's clearly trying to explain what the text actually says rather than just use the text as an excuse to talk about what he really wanted to talk about in the first place. A lot of what Chuck Smith says is true but he misses the point. Jesus was not JUST talking about turning from a life of ambition to a life of humble service. Jesus is not just redirecting them but showing them that the very act of asking the question showed that they had no understanding of the kingdom of God. Jesus had just told them about his upcoming crucifixion. As servant, Jesus was giving His life for the sheep. Jesus was calling on the disciples to die with Him. After the resurrection, all but John ended up giving up their lives in martyrdom as servants of the sheep. Jesus then brings a little child as an example. In Luke 18 Jesus has infants brought to Him and says that the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. The point is that infants and children are passive recipients. Infants do not do anything for themselves but have everything that they need given to them. Infants trust that all that they need will come from their parents and Jesus calls us live our lives trusting in God to provide us with what we need rather than jockeying for position or thinking that we have attained some higher level than the next guy. Because Chuck Smith does stay close to the text I don't want to give him a -1 but will instead give him a 0. (0)

2. Is the law preached lawfully? No. The law is preached as something can be accomplished. Chuck Smith prefers to use the law only as principles for living and says that God overlooks are mistakes. He says that we sometimes do the things that the disciples were doing in the passage but a person could easily walk away from the sermon thinking that they have not done anything like that recently. (-1)

3. Is Jesus mentioned? Yes, Jesus is mentioned and nothing false is said about him. (+1)

4. Is the sermon about what Jesus has done for us? No. Chuck Smith spends the bulk of his time talking about principles that he finds in the text and not about what Jesus has done for us. Without stern proclamation of the law it is difficult for anyone to have a sermon about what Jesus has done for us. (-1)

5. Does the creation of a Wordle show a Christian focus in the sermon? I am actually using the outline mentioned above to create the Wordle rather than the text itself but I don't think the results would be much different if the actual sermon were used. "Greatness" is the focus but "Jesus" does come up right behind so I'll give it a 0.5. (0.5)

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So the final result is -0.5 or 45%.

So far we have:

Chuck Smith (Calvary Chapel) 45% F

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Why We Need Creeds

The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology
By Charles Porterfield Krauth

Standing really upon the everlasting foundation of this Rule of Faith, we stand of necessity on the faith, of which it is the rule. It is not the truth as it lies, silent and unread, in the Word, but the truth as it enters from that Word into the human heart, with the applying presence of the Holy Ghost, which makes men believers. Faith makes men Christians; but Confession alone marks them as Christians. The Rule of Faith is God's voice to us; faith is the hearing of that voice, and the Confession, our reply of assent to it.

By our faith, we are known to the Lord as his; by our Confession, we are known to each other as His children. Confession of faith, in some form, is imperative. To confess Christ, is to confess what is our faith in him. As the Creed is not, and cannot be the Rule of Faith, but is its Confession merely, so the Bible, because it is the Rule of Faith, is of necessity not its Confession. The Bible can no more be any man's Creed, than the stars can be any man's astronomy. The stars furnish the rule of the astronomer's faith: the Principia of Newton may be the Confession of his faith. If a man were examined as a candidate for the chair of astronomy in a university, and were asked, "What is your astronomical system?" and were to answer, “I accept the teaching of the stars," the reply would be, "You may think you do--so does the man who is sure that the stars move round the world, and that they are not orbs, but 'gimlet-holes to let the glory through.' We wish to know what you hold the teachings of the stars to be? Do you receive, as in harmony with then, the results reached by Copernicus, by Galileo, by Kepler, by Newton, La Place, and Herschel, or do you think the world one great flat, and the sun and moon mere pendants to it?"
“Gentlemen," replies the independent investigator, "the theories of those astronomers are human systems--man-made theories. I go out every night on the hills, and look at the stars, as God made them, through a hole in my blanket, with my own good eyes, not with a man-made telescope, or fettered by a man-made theory; and I believe in the stars and in what they teach me: but if I were to say, or write what they teach, that would be a human creed--and I am opposed to all creeds." “Very well," reply the examiners, "we wish you joy in the possession of a good pair of eyes, and feel it unnecessary to go any further. If you are unwilling to confess your faith, we will not tax your conscience with the inconsistency of teaching that faith, nor tax our own with the hazard of authorizing you to set forth in the name of the stars your own ignorant assumptions about them." What is more clear than that, as the Rule of Faith is first, it must, by necessity of its being, when rightly used, generate a true faith? But the man who has true faith desires to have it known, and is bound to confess his faith. The Rule cannot really generate two conflicting beliefs; yet men who alike profess to accept the Rule, do have conflicting beliefs; and when beliefs conflict, if the one is formed by the Rule, the other must be formed in the face of it. Fidelity to the Rule of Faith, therefore, fidelity to the faith it teaches, demands that there shall be a Confession of the faith. The firmest friend of the Word is the firmest friend of the Creed. First, the Rule of Faith, next the Faith of the Rule, and then the Confession of Faith.

"The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology"(pp.166-167)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Raniero Cantalamessa on Mark 9:30-37

Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa is the Pope's personal priest. He's probably one of the better examples of Roman Catholic preachers. I've even heard good things about him from Lutheran ministers. He titles his sermon Whoever is Great in Service is Great.

1. Does the pastor explain the text correctly? No. Cantalamessa sticks to the text at the beginning of his sermon a little bit better than Markquart did but he still seems to miss the point. He is not letting the text speak. Cantalamessa doesn't even talk about the cross or the children but is completely focused on being great in service. (-1)

2. Is the law preached lawfully? Absolutely not. The law is presented as very doable. Win the race by serving others. (-1)

3. Is Jesus mentioned? Yes. Nothing false is said about Jesus but not much is really said about Him. (+1)

4. Is the sermon about what Jesus has done for us? Absolutely not. In many Roman Catholic sermons Jesus is mentioned quite a bit but set up as a moral example. In this case Jesus is hardly mentioned at all. This sermon just calls us to obey Jesus' words. (-1)

5. Does the creation of a Wordle show a Christian focus in the sermon? No. This sermon is brought to you by the number "one." Then comes "Great." "First," "Others," and "Jesus" tie for third. (-1)

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The final score is -3 which converts to 20%. The current results are:

Cwirla 100% A
Markquart 40% F
Cantalamessa 20% F

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Edward F. Markquart on Mark 9:30-37

I have decided to review multiple sermons on Mark 9:30-37. The previous sermon was by Rev. Cwirla who is a Lutheran minister in the LCMS, which is the denomination I am a part of. This sermon is by Edward Markquart, a Lutheran minister in the ELCA. The ELCA is theologically more liberal than the LCMS and I thought it would be interesting to see how this affects the preaching. I will use the same method of evaluation that I did in reviewing Rev. Cwirla's sermon.

1. Does the pastor explain the text correctly? No. The lectionary reading is Mark 9:30-37 but the pastor seems to think that he is preaching on the song "Jesus Loves the Little Children of the World" and various pictures associated with that song. Some of what the pastor says is true but the message of the pastor is not the message of the text. Christ's crucifixion is explicitly mentioned in the text but this is not even commented on. (-1)

2. Is the Law preached lawfully? No. There is nothing within the sermon that would convict me of my sins. The preaching of the law is vague. What should be preached as Gospel is preached as a sort of light form of the law. The law in the sermon is basically "Be like the kid and sit in Jesus' lap" and provides examples of organizations that are successfully fufilling the law to love the children. (-1)

3. Does the sermon mention Jesus? Yes. The sermon does mention Jesus and does not teach anything that is false about Jesus although it does leave quite a bit out that is found in the passage that is true. (+1)

4. Is the sermon about what Jesus has done for us? There is no talk at all about the crucifixion that is mentioned at the beginning of the passage. We are told that Jesus holds us but the focus of the sermon is on examples of people who fufill God's law. (-1)

5. Does the creation of a Wordle show a Christian focus in the sermon? Yes. Jesus appears largest. (+1)

Wordle: Markquart on Mark 9:30-37

So the grand total is -1. If the score were converted into a percentage it would be 40%. The current standings are:

Cwirla 100% A
Markquart 40% F

Monday, October 5, 2009

In the interest of full disclosure...

As can be seen from the badge that appears on the side of my blog, I review books for Thomas Nelson which means that they send me free books in exchange for me writing a 200 word review of said book. As is abundantly clear to anyone who has read my reviews of Thomas Nelson products, this does not mean that I give positive reviews and I do not believe that the fact that I receive the book for free makes me any less objective in my reviews. I am reading a book published by Thomas Nelson about the founder of Guinness and it will most likely receive a very positive review because it is a very good book. Anyhow, now I am also receiving free books from Tyndale and Augsburg/Fortress and will be posting reviews of said books.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Cwirla on Mark 9:30-37

As I mentioned in a previous post, I plan to do some sermon reviews and to provide some sort of numerical grade. Here is the method I have determined to use.

1. Does the pastor explain the text correctly? (+1 for explaining the text correctly, 0 for not explaining the text at all, -1 for explaining the text incorrectly)

2. Is the law preached lawfully? (+1 for preaching the law in all its sternness, 0 for not preaching the law at all, -1 for preaching the law as if it is doable)

3. Does the sermon mention Jesus? (+1 for saying true things about Jesus, 0 for not mentioning
Jesus, -1 for saying false things about Jesus)

4. Is the sermon about what Jesus has done for us? (+1 if the primary focus of the sermon is about what Jesus has done for us, 0 if the sermon does not mention Jesus, -1 if the sermon is all about what we do for Jesus)

5. Does the creation of a wordle show a Christian focus in the sermon? (+1 for yes, 0 for sort of, -1 for no)

5 is the highest possible score and -5 is the lowest possible score. I may tweak this in the future, but this is my first attempt and I've decided to start with what I would consider to be a model sermon. The sermon can be read or listened to here. This is the text that the sermon is based upon:

Mark 9:30-37 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise." But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him. And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you discussing on the way?" But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, "If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all." And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me."

1. Cwirla makes use of some narrative-style preaching and does a good job of explaining what is going on. The sermon is tied very closely to the text. (+1)

2. The law is applied lawfully. Cwirla shows how the sin of the disciples is our own sin and nobody can walk away from the sermon thinking that the law is doable or that they are not guilty of this sin. (+1)

3. The sermon speaks of Jesus quite a bit and all that it says about Jesus is true. (+1)

4. Jesus is the subject of the verbs and He is the one doing everything for us losers. (+1)

5. The Wordle shows that the sermon is all about Jesus. (+1)

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Cwirla gets a perfect 5 out of 5.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


A friend of mine suggested I review Epicenter! It's available on youtube in six parts and is about an hour total. It's basically a brief overview of the current situation in Israel told from a dispensational perspective. There really isn't much Scriptural interpretation going on in the series. Dispensationalism is assumed and then current even are given a dispensational interpretation. The main problem with the videos and dispensationalism in general can be found at 5:21 in the first video. One of the "Bible scholars" says, "Bible prophecy is always relative to one single nation, and that is the nation of Israel." These "Bible scholars" are still reading the Scriptures with the same veil over their eyes that the Jews did at the time of Jesus. Bible prophecy and the entire Old Testament and New Testament for that matter are not about the nation of Israel. All of Scripture is about Jesus.

2 Corinthians 1:19-20 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us -- by me, Silvanus, and Timothy -- was not Yes and No, but in Him was Yes. For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.

All the promises of the Old Testament are fulfilled in Jesus. Immediately following the guy at 5:21 there's another guy who claims that Israel is "the focal point of human history." Jesus is the focal point of human history, not national Israel. Jesus is the new Israel.

Hosea 11:1 When Israel was a child, I loved him, And out of Egypt I called My son.

Matthew 2:14-15 When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, "Out of Egypt I called My Son."

Either Matthew was absolutely wrong or Jesus is the new Israel.

Galatians 3:28-29 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Either Paul was wrong or all who believe in Christ are heirs of the promise given to Abraham. Through faith we are joined to Jesus who is the true Israel.

At 8:50 of the same video the same guy says "even going up on the temple mount is restricted as a Jew or as a follower of Jesus...those who worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are severely restricted." This is telling and not uncommon to hear among dispensationalists. He is saying that Jews and Christians both worship the same God. This is absolute heresy.

Matthew 11:27 All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all had faith in Christ. The Jews do not. The Jews worship an idol. They do not worship the true God. There is no evidence that anyone taught dispensationalism prior to the 1800s. Some trace its roots to a vision a Scottish girl had of a rapture. It became popularized Darby and Scofield, both of whom held to a two track theology of salvation. They taught that Jews were saved by obedience to the law and that Gentiles are saved by faith. Of course anyone who has read Paul knows how wrong this is. The law only condemns us and shows us our sin. There is no salvation to be found in the law. There have been several revisions of the Scofield Bible and some have removed this section promoting a two track theology of salvation but there is always a definite tendency within dispensationalism to offer another plan of salvation for Jews who deny Christ.

Modern dispensationalists have even formed organizations to help support Jews return to Israel that promise not to try to convert any Jews to Christianity. What a horrible and hateful thing to do. You want to give them a chunk of land in exchange for not telling them what they really need to hear? They're going to die one day in that land and they are going to go to hell. At that point I don't think they'll appreciate all dispensationalist talk about the two tracks of salvation and the chunk of land they received. In the very last section there is talk of Muslims converting to Christianity but nothing about Jews converting nor even a desire to evangelize them.

Jesus makes little more than a cameo appearance in the whole video. There is brief mention of the saying of Jesus about the fig tree but it's taken out of context and misapplied.

Matthew 24:32-34 Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near -- at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.

Notice that Jesus was not talking about some far off future event but something that was going to happen in the very generation in which He lived. Jesus was talking about the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.

Dispensationalism requires you to take your eyes off of Jesus and put them on a nation--a nation that hates Jesus. WARNING: If you're a neo-conservative Republican war-hawk stop reading right now. If you think Limbaugh and Hannity are alway right then you aren't going to like the rest of this review. There was much talk of Islamic persecution of Christians on the video but Jewish persecution of Christians was completely ignored. The Jews of course were the first persecutors of Christians and leaders in Israel today tend to look the other way when Jews set fire to Christian churches. Christians tend to live among the Palestinians and are subject to some of the same mistreatment that Israel inflicts upon the Palestinians.

Dispensationalists like to point to re-establishment of Israel as a nation but this is an example of self-fulfilling prophecy. If I prophecy that next year I will punch you in the face and next year I walk up to you and punch you in the face that's not exactly an example of miraculous prophecy. So if certain groups determine through manipulation of Biblical data that Israel should become re-established in a certain year and people are already sympathetic towards the Jews after WWII and you work through political means to make it happen, it's not exactly like the Red Sea parted. And if you displace other people out of the land to give the Jews some land then obviously those people are going to be ticked off. If somebody came to your house tomorrow and told you to move out because some poor people needed to live in your house, wouldn't you be ticked off? The US tends to ignore when Israel kills Palestinian civilians but doesn't do so when it happens the other way around. I don't claim to have a solution to our current problems. This is probably the most balanced article I've seen on the topic.

It is most definitely true that the Qu'ran calls for conversion at the end of a sword. It is not a religion of peace. But it is also not a monolithic religion. Sunni and Shiite Muslims can't get along with each other and there are a lot of Muslims that do not follow the teachings of the Qu'ran and view Islam as more of a cultural issue. There are many Muslims who have absolutely no interest in killing Christians regardless of what the Qu'ran says just as there are apparently many Christians who have no interest in telling Jews that Jesus died for them. Of course, if you occupy Islamic land and import porn into it then that kind of ticks them off. It doesn't justify their reaction but you can see why they might not like us so much. America also likes to give lots of money to Israel in the form of credits for American made weapons so that Israel can kill Palestinian civilians which also understandably makes Palestinians and the Muslim world not big fans of America.