Archive for February, 2013

holy-postSo, it’s a day after people noticed my National Post article “Disagree with Christians? Fine. But do not silence them.” I have to say, I’m surprised it got quite the attention it did. In just one day, 130 comments had been posted on the article, and a couple dozen tweets for and against had flown through Twitter. Meanwhile on Facebook, there were 322 shares and likes of the article, with a fair amount of accompanying conversation. One thing’s for sure: it got people talking. But how fruitful exactly was the resulting conversation?

You’ll recall that my major concern in the article was a growing intolerance in Canada towards religious people (especially Christians). It was pretty clear early on in the day that my concerns were shared by others: “Thank goodness someone finally noticed,” wrote one person on Facebook. “We live in a world where you can be of any faith or no faith, except for Christian.” Another on Twitter wrote that it “seems like [people] nowadays only defend freedom of speech and religion for a select few, while silencing others.” Many Christians seem to feel a growing antipathy towards them.

While some people agreed with my article, many others did not. A number of their comments were insulting, questioning my sanity for believing in “Christian mythology.” But that of course did not mean their comments were bad. Distasteful, perhaps, but not unacceptable. I was arguing in my article on the importance of open discussion, of allowing Christians to speak freely in the public arena. And being given that privilege myself, I also have to respect the freedom of those who disagree with me to speak freely as well. One commenter agreed with another that I was a bit mad. “But we don’t silence him,” that person cautioned, “We just criticize and ridicule him.” Fair enough. The right to insult is also included in the right to freedom of speech. To be sure, I don’t think this is a very helpful sort of rhetoric; it tends to shut down dialogue, not keep it going. But censoring each other in the public realm isn’t the answer either. That’s something I and the commenter both agree on: censorship should be eschewed.

Of course, some commenters confirmed my article’s point by saying openly that they thought religion should be banned—that is to say, censored—from the public forum. “It is reasonable to expect sex as being an activity for consenting adults in the privacy of their bedrooms,” writes one commenter, “and that’s the best for religion too.” Some would indeed like to see Christians (and other religious groups) silenced—to keep their religion at home and not let it show up in the public square. It’s an opinion that I fear is growing, and it is at this type of intolerance my article was aimed: knee jerk, shut ’em up, anti-Christian rhetoric.

As for the actual subject of religious persecution, some commenters don’t seem to think it’s an injustice at all: “People killed for their religion are no more martyrs than soccer fans killed in a riot,” writes one commenter. I find it shocking that the targeted extermination of people solely based on their religion can be so callously disregarded, shrugged off as it were the natural consequence of doing something you knew was dangerous. You played the game, the commenter seems to say, and sometimes people die in that game. Them’s the breaks. Don’t like it? Get out of the game.

But there were also oddball comments on the other side too. One commenter suggested that negative online reaction to the Office for Religious Freedom was done mostly by people who “take a personal delight in the death of Christians.” When asked by another if they specifically meant that the CBC as an organization takes a personal delight in the death of Christians, the first commenter said yes.

Needless to say, that’s a radical departure from what I suggested in my article—and a despicable accusation to boot. I argue that there’s a growing intolerance in Canada to people of faith, and that we see a glimpse of that in the overly negative online reaction to the Office for Religious Freedom. But I’m careful to point out that this is intolerance; it’s not persecution, at least not in the sense that many religious and non-religious people face persecution in other parts of the world. Still, we should resist attempts to silence religious people in Canada, to affirm our right to be part of the public forum. Whatever our faith or non-faith, we live in this country together; we all have the right to discuss openly and freely our opinions on how our shared society should operate. We should feel free to be part of the dialogue.

I was grateful to see at least a little bit of that happening in some of the comments on my article. One religious and one non-religious commenter suggested that, while the online debate was polarized, it might be easier to get along in real life. “If we met, I am sure we would get along fine because we [would] see each other as people first,” writes one.

I hope that type of level-headedness prevails.


holy-postLast week the Canadian Government announced the creation of a new Office for Religious Freedom, an entity devoted to highlighting the rights of those suffering religious persecution internationally. The online reaction to the office has, to put it mildly, been mostly negative. In so doing it highlights a growing Canadian intolerance for the religious and the belief that religion is something best confined inside believers’ homes—that one should not dare to bring it out in the open.

That concern lies behind my recent article for the National Post’s “Holy Post” blog. It’s entitled “Disagree with Christians? That’s fine. But do not silence them.”

Faith, it seems, is now to be understood as a concession made to backwards, backwoods yokels. If you must be religious, then for heaven’s sake do it in the privacy of your own home, where no one else has to see or hear you; religion has no place in the public sphere. Having government step forward to publicly defend religious freedom abroad, therefore, has critics gnashing their teeth.

Even those who have been cautiously optimistic about the office have betrayed a surprising indifference to the plight of persecuted religious minorities. Some pundits have warned against the office spending “too much” attention on Christian issues. To be sure, other groups facing religious persecution — Buddhists, Muslims, Bahai, Sufis, and, yes, atheists — must be just as vigorously defended. But what exactly is so verboten about speaking honestly about the severity of Christian persecution in the world and seeking to redress these wrongs?

I go on to discuss the current level of persecution facing Christians worldwide, before declaring my own faith and explaining that these beliefs “make me who I am” and “inform my decisions and actions in the world.” “Disagree with me?” I pose the question. “That’s fine. But do not silence me. Do not tell me my voice is not allowed in the public forum.” Especially when its raised in support of those who have no voice of their own—those suffering for their faith elsewhere in the world.

Read it all over at the National Post.

Note: There’s an error in the text as it currently stands over at The National Post. It says that Open Doors counts one hundred thousand Christians as suffering persecution. It should read one hundred million.


chi-rho-web“In the beginning was the Word,” we read, “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).

We know the verse, but too often we read it too quickly. Too often, I say, because this is a weighty sentence, a sentence requiring more than a moment’s pause. The Word was God. God was the Word. And that Word, we continue to read, “became flesh” (John 1:14).

But exactly what kind of word is this Word?

An answer comes in Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush. Moses asks, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” (Exodus 3:13).

God responds with this Great Word, the simple and unfathomable declaration: “I Am.”

“I Am,” God says. “I Am That I Am” (Exodus 3:14).

He is also the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God of the Israelites’ fathers, as the passage explain. But this is God defining Himself in relation to His creation—explaining Himself so that Moses can understand his own relationship to Him. But on His own, He is simply “I Am.” He is. He exists. He will always be.

This God, this I Am, is He who exists independently of all other things. God is not a contingent being, to borrow St. Anselm’s phraseology; He is a necessary being. That is to say, He does not rely on anything else in order to continue existing. God simply is. He is before the world was created. He is when the world will be destroyed.

God simply is. He is before the world was created. He is when the world will be destroyed.

What is more, without Him, nothing else could exist. His own existence is what makes possible the existence of other things. “For in Him we live and move and have our being,” Paul quotes the Greek poets (Acts 17:28; cf. 17:24). God is He who holds the whole of creation together.

And it is this great, uncreated, all-sustaining I Am who is the Word of John’s Gospel—“The Word who became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). Yes, the infant boy born to Mary is the same God “through whom all things were made and without whom nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3).

The Word becomes flesh. The necessary God becomes contingent human, marrying forever human nature and divinity in his Person. Intangible deity becomes tangible man.

In Christ, the unknowable “I am” comes close and speaks to us. “I am the Bread of Life,” the Word says. “I am the Light of the World. I am the Gate. I am the Good Shepherd. I am the Resurrection and the Life. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I am the Vine.” In the seven “I Am” statements of John’s Gospel, Jesus declares to us who He is in terms that reveal our relationship to Him.

Yes, He is the great I Am, God of all, immortal, incomprehensible. But He wants us to understand—just as the great I Am wanted Moses to understand—that He is a God who exists in relationship with His creation. In Christ, we see the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). He is not a mystery—a question without an answer. He is the Word of God made manifest to us. In Christ, the immortal comes down and pitches His tent among us. He in whom we find our life chooses to live with us—and die for us—so that we might at last live with Him.


first-thingsThis is just a brief post to let readers know of an article I wrote which went up on First Things recently. Entitled “Roman Catholics and Confessional Lutherans explore deeper ties,” it highlights emerging talks between the two church bodies. A selection follows:

In noting it was Roman Catholics who initiated conversation with confessional Lutherans, Dr. Klän suggested there was “a deep rooted disappointment [among] Roman Catholics—in Germany at least— with the Lutheran World Federation or some of its member churches.”

While dialogue between Roman Catholics and mainline Lutherans continues, a desire has arisen among Roman Catholics to begin looking to confessional Lutherans for more fruitful dialogue.

For more, read the whole story at First Things. On the same topic, a short article went up today over at The Canadian Lutheran entitled “Lutheran Church–Canada and Roman Catholics begin talks.”


LogosA few months ago Logos Bible Software was kind enough to make me a gift of their Scholar’s Library package, in exchange for my doing a review of the program. Then life happened—as it has a habit of doing—, and so the review was put off for a little bit. There were issues of The Canadian Lutheran to finish, bronchitis to survive, Christmas holidays to be had, and a wedding (and honeymoon!) to be enjoyed. [And boy were the last two enjoyed!] But now that I’ve had time to play (and work) with the program, it’s time to let you know what I think.

Logos is a leader in Bible study software, and an invaluable aid for research, whether for academic studies, sermon/article writing, or personal education and devotion. That much you probably already know; Logos has a reputation for excellence in these matters, and that reputation is well-deserved. The textual resources can be adapted to your preference: place textual notes beneath the text if you like to give your favourite translation an interlinear look; alternately, keep the text clear of the clutter and simply mouse over a word you’re curious about to see the Greek/Hebrew analysis. All the while, help from commentaries, books, maps, images, and a thousand other resources are just a click away. Keep a few windows open to keep track of things; or keep it clean and switch between tabs when you want to double check something.

That last feature (the numerous resources available) is perhaps the main selling point for me. Chances are, if you’re at all like me, your bookshelves are all very, very full. Logos condenses a full library and puts it right at your fingertips. Want to see how a Greek word was used in older, non-biblical texts? Take a look in the Perseus classics. Want to reread John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress? Pull it up in another window. Perhaps a somewhat newer book is to your liking? Never fear; Logos carries books and resources from well over 150 publishers, including Oxford University Press, Zondervan, Moody Press, and (yes, for you Lutherans among my readers), it also carries books from Concordia Publishing House, Augsburg Fortress, and Northwestern Publishing House.

Lutherans are a good example of those who can benefit from using Logos, provided they’re willing to put in the money for the extra resources. Get all 55 volumes of Luther’s Works for $260 (compare with $1,870 in print). Catch up on the back-issues of WELS’ Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly. Download CPH’s Lutheran Study Bible, and/or get Augsburg Fortress’ Lutheran Studies Collection (complete with Spener’s Pia Desiderius). Supplement your reading with works by Melanchthon, Chemnitz, and Gerhard. In short, get a veritable Lutheran library for a fraction of the cost—a library which will require no extra space on your bookshelves.

Logos has recently upgraded to Logos 5, meaning the system is a little different than what I’m currently running (I have Logos 4). As a result, I can’t advise you directly on which package is right for you. You can check them all out here yourself. But I can certainly tell you that Logos is a powerful research tool for the thinking Christian. Just remember that, whatever package you choose, you’re likely to want to purchase a couple of extras (like the Lutherans one I mention above) over and above the package to get the most out of it. That’ll increase the cost, so keep it in mind when calculating what the program is worth to you.