Should We Give to the Poor?

Should we give to the poor? Doesn’t it just reinforce their dependence upon others rather than becoming independent contributors to society? John Barclay gives a riveting explanation of why the early church gave, and gave so sacrificially:

In our Annual Theology Conference ( last spring, we had a number of lively speakers and papers about The Church in Early Christianity. One of our plenary speakers was John Barclay, an eminent NT scholar from Durham University. His lecture reveals the highest level of scholarship which is also accessible to non-specialists.

As explained last week, our next Theology Conference ( will be in February. Definitely plan to attend and to bring others.

Do also come hear our annual A.O. Collins lecture on Thursday, October 29:
Dr. Nicholas Perrin, “From Stories to Scriptures: When Did the Gospels Become Authoritative?”
Thursday, October 29, 7:30pm, Belin Chapel

Upcoming Theology Events

There are several upcoming events that I want to bring to everyone’s attention.

First, on October 29th at 7:30pm Nick Perrin, from Wheaton College, will deliver this year’s A.O. Collins Lectures. His title is “From Stories to Scriptures: When Did the Gospels Become Authoritative?” Prof. Perrin is an internationally recognized expert in the Gospels. He has written on the Gospel of Thomas and the historical Jesus. The lecture is free and open to the public. (See the tap at the top for more details.)

Second, we are very excited about this year’s Theology conference: “Ad Fontes, Ad Futura: Erasmus’ Bible and the Impact of Scripture.” The conference marks the 500th anniversary of Erasmus’ Greek text and the Reformation. Our keynote speakers are Craig Evans (Houston Baptist University), Timothy George (Beeson Divinity School, Samford University), Herman Selderhuis (Theological University Apeldoorn) and Daniel Wallace (Dallas Theological Seminary). The plenary talks are free and open to the public.

As with previous conferences, we invite short papers. The call for papers can be found at the Conference webpage: You can also find a schedule and registration information there.

Planned Parenthood, Josh Duggar, and our Crazy, Crunchy Sense of Moral Proportion

Seldom has a dinner conversation so vividly exposed the moral drift of a culture in decline.  Seldom has the troubled heart of a nation been put on display more clearly than in those now infamous videotapes of Planned Parenthood representatives casually discussing the selling of body parts.  Over wine and salad they chatted about less “crunchy” procedures for killing these unborn human beings that would leave those organs more intact.

While many rushed to the defense of Planned Parenthood and insisted that all of this is done for noble purposes, many others were appalled by what seemed to them a barbaric display of utter disregard for human life and feeling.

But the question begs to be answered why anyone should be so shocked.  After all, we twice elected, by a sizable majority, a President who supported partial birth abortion.  If most Americans do not have a problem with their President supporting this “procedure,” why should we suddenly be shocked that mere doctors, nurses and medical administrators are practicing what has become an acceptable position at the highest levels of our government?

And really, is there anything more objectionable about the less crunchy procedure than the crunchy one that crushes those helpless unborn human beings and disposes of them as masses of tissue inconveniently growing in the wrong place?   The fact that it is legal to crush human beings as they emerge from the womb, and dispose of them, should be more disturbing than selling their body parts.

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Is the End of the World Near?

The question, “Is the end of the world near?” would conjure up a host of reflections and emotions in people. It would, no doubt, remind people of the recent natural disasters. It was barely two weeks ago when, on April 25, 2015, an earthquake which measured 7.9 on the Richter scale hit Nepal. As of today, the death toll stands at over 8,100, thousands are still nursing their wounds, and hundreds of Nepal nationals and foreigners are still reportedly missing and presumed dead. Even as I was writing this note, it was being reported that another earthquake of magnitude 7.4 on the Richter scale had just hit Nepal, with the death toll on this one being lower but still undetermined! There is not a day when there is no war in some place on earth. Earthquakes, tornadoes, forest fires, mudslides, hurricanes, tsunamis, etc., seem to be more frequent now than ever before. NBC News reported this morning that in the last six days alone there have been 131 tornadoes from South Dakota to Texas. Unthinkable things are happening too! On March 24, 2015, the co-pilot of Germanwings Flight 9525 deliberately flew the plane into the French Alps, killing himself and 149 innocent people. The Malaysia Airlines plane MH 370 disappeared from the skies over a year ago, and there is still no trace of it, no debris of any kind. These and other events should remind us of the words of our Lord:

And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains (Matthew 24:6-8).

How people lead their lives in connection with the notion of the end of the world can be classified under four headings.

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Reflections on 40 years in theological education

The plan is that I will be retiring from Houston Baptist University in a few weeks. This is not retirement to a rocking chair, but more like retirement to church ministry: I plan to be very involved in church ministry, including formation programs for clergy, I will do some limited teaching for theological institutions, and, of course, I have writing and editing project, but with respect to HBU and with respect to funding it will be retirement. I am already quite excited about this new phase of life, this new adventure. Ordination 236 Recessional starting DSC_0236

However, this shift of focus gives me a chance to reflect on the changes that I have seen in university-level theological education over the 40+ years that such education has been my major focus. Please note that none of what I write is specifically about Houston Baptist University; I have made my own observations in many institutions and also read a number of articles in such publications as the Chronicle of Higher Education. These changes are far bigger than one institution in Houston, Texas.
TSM Campus
First, there has been a shift from the collegial model to the business model. When I entered theological education the ideal of the college had not yet faded. Faculty of whatever rank were mostly full time. The faculty meeting was where the business of the theological institution got done, often with faculty also serving various official capacities such as dean, registrar, and the like (at least in smaller institutions). In the larger institutions, of course, it was the senior faculty, members of a faculty senate, who had the real authority. Now the model has, for the most part, changed. To a large extent theological institutions or departments of institutions are in the education business. There is a board who holds a CEO accountable for reaching the agreed-upon goals of the institution. The CEO directs the business through various officers. Faculty committees exist, but usually to advise those who run the business or to implement their policies.

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C.S. Lewis’s Wit

One of my favourite books is Frederick Buechner’s Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale.

The chapter on Comedy is especially good, I think. And especially needed. Both church-life and the world of theological study are far too po-faced.

As my contribution to injecting a little humour into this situation, I thought I would do a quick survey of C.S. Lewis’s shining wit.

Lewis once wrote: ‘The English take their “sense of humour” so seriously that a deficiency in this sense is almost the only deficiency at which they feel shame.’ It must be remembered, of course, that C.S. Lewis was Irish. If he’d had the great good fortune to be born English (as I, I humbly admit, did) he would have realised how grievous a thing it is to be humour-impaired.

To lack a sense of humour is to lack a divine attribute. Lewis himself observed, in a letter he wrote in 1956, that ‘there may be some humour [in the New Testament]’. He gives three possible examples:

Matthew 9:12 – “People who are well . . . don’t need doctors.”

Matthew 17:25 – ‘Jesus said, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their sons . . . or from others’?”’

Mark 10:30 – ‘Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake and the gospel’s, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands – ahem, with tribulations, – and in the world to come eternal life.’

If there are other examples of dominical humour, Lewis wonders whether he, as a Westerner, would be able to spot them. He wrote, ‘I’ve been much struck in conversation with a Jewess’ – he means his wife, Joy Davidman – ‘by the extent to which Jews see humour in the [scriptures] where we don’t. Humour varies so much from culture to culture.’

So don’t worry if you don’t find this blog-post funny. Humour varies so much from culture to culture . . .

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Apologetics in Parenting–An Interview

This week, an interview I did with Christianity Today on parenting and apologetics went live on their website. Is apologetics a necessary part of child-rearing? What are the signs that children are ready to begin discussing the harder questions? What does it look like to be a woman and a mom working in this field? Click here to read “The Apologist Mom.

Theology Conference on the Church – April 16-18

The Department of Theology  here at Houston Baptist University is hosting a conference next week on “The Church and Early Christianity” on April 16-18, 2015, and we want to invite you to attend. You can find out more details at

In addition to a number of short papers, which you can see at the Conference Schedule, our plenary speakers are

  • Thursday (7:30p): John Barclay (Durham University) – “‘The Poor You Will Always Have with You’: Why It Mattered to the Church to Give to the Poor”
  • Friday (7:30p): Ben Witherington (Asbury Theological Seminary) – “The Social Identity of the Earliest Christians”
  • Saturday (9:00a): Everett Ferguson(Abilene Christian University) – “Images of the Church in Early Christian Literature”

Admission to the plenary lectures is free of charge, and each will be offered in Belin Chapel (in the Morris Cultural Arts Center).

The cost to attend the whole conference is $40. We would love to see you there, so please come out to hear these great scholars and invite others to come with you.

Spontaneous Prayer

I come from a tradition that privileges “spontaneous prayer” and looks Oranssuspiciously on scripted prayers or prayers written beforehand.  According to this perspective, spontaneous prayer means prayer from the heart while prescribed prayers or prayers written down beforehand are not from the heart.  I accepted this myself for many years until I met some remarkable Christians and began to read and reflect on Scripture.

One day I was looking for a guitar pick in the guitar case of a friend of mine.  He was a well known Christian recording artist.  Because I was a musician too, I looked up to him not only for his talent but also because he was a man of faith.  As I looked in  his guitar case, I found a stack of papers on which my friend had written out a series of prayers to God.  Later he told me that he found that writing out his prayers helped him focus and pray more faithfully.  Often when he prayed silently or spontaneously, he said, he found his mind wandering.  One minute he was praying.  The next he was thinking about something else entirely.   I knew well what he meant and think you probably do too.  What was clear to me is that the prayers he had written truly reflected his heart, much like love letters written to one you love.

On another occasion I heard a deacon pray before collecting the evening offering and the sermon.  The prayer went something like this:  “God, we thank you for this day. We thank you for your many blessings.  Be with the missionaries in foreign fields.  Be with the preacher as he brings the message this evening.  Bless the gift and the giver.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”   This was a spontaneous prayer—it was from the heart of a kind, generous Christian—but it was also in many ways a collection of thoughts and prayers we had heard many times before.  As I have listened to others pray publically, I realize that in many ways spontaneous prayers are not that different than prayers scripted beforehand.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus instructed his disciples to pray:

Our Father in heaven,

let Your name remain holy.

Bring about Your Kingdom,

Manifest Your will here on earth,

as it is manifest in heaven.

Give us each day that day’s bread—

no more, no less—

And forgive us our debts

as we forgive those who owe us something.

Lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil. (Matthew 6:9-13; The Voice)

Any good commentary on Matthew 6 and Luke 11 will advocate that Jesus wanted his disciples to pray this prayer and he also wanted his followers to pray prayers like this.  One is scripted.  The other is more spontaneous.

One pastor I admire claims that prayer is the hardest work he does.  Perhaps you will agree.  I have come to appreciate both kinds of public prayers: spontaneous prayers spoken from the heart that collect bits and pieces of earlier prayers and scripted prayers written from the heart that reflect someone’s desire to speak honestly before a gracious God.

Here is a good prayer exercise.  Read a biblical psalm through several times and then turn it into your own prayer.  It may help to write it down on a piece of paper.  In any case make it your own.   There are many wonderful prayers in the Bible that can be models for us.


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