CT 2/5/01 Issue

CT 2/5/01 Issue

Flanders Fest

I was more than a little disappointed by everything about "Saint Flanders" [Feb. 5], except for the cover art, which was excellent. At a time when everyone from sociologists to the Archbishop of Canterbury is praising The Simpsons, your writer is an "observant Jew" who seems to have no other credentials for evaluating the impact of Flanders and company on evangelicals than that he is acquainted with two (very conservative) families of them.

Overall, your treatment of the subject was a waste of good art.
Andrea Stutheit
Littleton, Colorado

Mark I. pinsky must be suffering from a severe case of not getting it in his commentary on Simpsons character Ned Flanders. It's evident that Simpsons creator Matt Groening draws the character to lampoon evangelical Christians and not to laud them, galvanizing those who consider people of faith to be uptight, superficial, and relentlessly annoying.
Ed Chapman
San Diego, California

I take the strongest exception to the icon on the sidebar accompanying the online article, "How Big is The Simpsons?"

As an Orthodox Christian, I wish to remind you that this desecration of an icon is deeply offensive to Orthodox Christians around the world. I demand an apology from your editorial board in writing in the next issue.

I would also suggest that you read, and publish, the decrees of the 7th Ecumenical Council, as well as some of the writings of St. John of Damascus and St. Theodore the Studite in defense of the Holy Icons. Such iconoclasm as you callously have displayed is an attack on the Incarnation of Christ himself!
Father John M. Reeves
Office of Church Growth and Evangelism
The Orthodox Church in America
State College, Pennsylvania
We intended no offense. This lighthearted cover had its serious theological side. The art was not a spoof of an icon, but a representation of a biblical truth rediscovered in the 16th century: that all God's people are called to be saints and all believers are called to participate together in the priestly ministry of the church. CT borrowed an artistic form historically reserved for extraordinary saints to say something important about the salt-of-the-earth believers next door. —Eds.

Given that many evangelical Christians are as predictable in their "righteousness" as Ned Flanders, your magazine will surely receive a plethora of complaints for making him the subject of a cover story.

Before you start sorting through the angry correspondence, here's a letter to tell you "good job!" As a 26-year-old evangelical who has grown up watching the citizens of Springfield, I appreciate the brilliant social commentary The Simpsons provides, particularly on American Christianity.

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By depicting Flanders as a bumper-sticker-Christianity-loving guy, and Homer as a person begrudgingly sitting through church thinking about football and barbecues, the show does not mock God. It mocks us! While perhaps not entirely intentional, The Simpsons highlights the absurdity and sadness of taking something as sacred as faith and reducing it to cheap slogans or, worse, to America's civic religion.

Good for you, CT, for seeing the humor and the positive elements of one of contemporary culture's favorite shows. (By the way, the cover picture of the Flanders icon went up on my wall. It is one of the coolest CT has ever done.)
David A. Steinbrenner
Mesa, Arizona

It is a rueful commentary on popular culture and evangelicalism that a cartoon character from The Simpsons is deemed an example of Christian faith.

The article on Ned Flanders never pointed out how pathetic, embarrassing, and ludicrous it is that millions of benighted souls judge Christianity by a video image that has no referent. More Americans can identify these cartoon characters than can name the writers of the four Gospels, yet the Simpsons do not exist; they are on television, the greatest unreality appliance ever invented.
Douglas Groothuis
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Denver Seminary
Denver, Colorado

Bonnke Brigade

The fascinating article on Reinhard Bonnke ["Come and Receive Your Miracle," Feb. 5] intrigued us and brought memories of service as Lutheran missionaries in Nigeria from 1952 through 1964. Nearly 50 years ago, there were already "health and wealth gospel" preachers in Nigeria, with hundreds of sects (Christian and quasi-Christian) springing up in the bush and in the towns.

Because most did not keep "Christ crucified" as the center of their theology, a quid pro quo mindset was inculcated in many: "If I become a Christian, what's in it for me?"

We praise God that up to 1.6 million people came on a single night to hear a Christian evangelist in Lagos. Undoubtedly Bonnke does preach Jesus as the Son of God who suffered, died, and rose again for the sins of the world. The faith that saves, justifies, and gives eternal life, however, is not faith in God's healing powers. Too often, perhaps, the cart is put before the horse.

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A teaching pastor, G. O. Oke, said in the article, "We cannot have prosperity without salvation." A more biblically true statement is "We can have salvation without prosperity."
Harold and June Hein
South Elgin, Illinois

Bloesch Bash

Respected theologian or not, there are so many generalizations and unfounded accusations in Donald G. Bloesch's "Whatever Happened to God?" [Feb. 5] that I was truly upset.

I suspect that many of the churches and pastors he critiques may be making a small dent on our culture, whereas the churches and worship he prefers are as dead as a Wittenberg doornail.
David Jankowski
Minooka, Illinois

Donald G. bloesch's "Whatever Happened to God?" unwittingly exposes the widespread blindness to the current church renewal.

I am concerned that the article's string of platitudes will be used to reinforce the resistance to so-called contemporary worship that God is using to reach so many young families.

Bloesch complains that "Contemporary worship is far more egocentric than theocentric." The most egocentric worship is the worship of selfish people who think it is more important to be "spiritually fed" and "intellectually challenged" than it is to reach lost people.

In the present spiritual climate, contemporary worship gives us an effective (and probably fleeting) means to introduce our friends and neighbors to our Master. Let's seize the opportunity and be ready to move on to other methods when this one wanes.
Bruce Southerland
Hooksett, New Hampshire

Thank you for providing us with a sobering, thought-provoking wake-up call in Donald G. Bloesch's "Whatever Happened to God?"

Throwing out the hymnal can be seen as a means of growing larger church memberships, but as Bloesch points out, the cost may be a compromised church based not on Scripture but on "the carnal desire for a place in the sun."

Let's keep the God-centered praise choruses and other contemporary music, but let's also keep the meat of the God-revealing hymns that serve as commentary on Holy Scripture. Perhaps this can be a start to rediscovering God in worship.
Roger Wayne Hicks
Mobile, Alabama

"Whatever Happened to God?" was troubling to me. I agree with Donald G. Bloesch that there is a shallowness to many Christians, but to cast the blame on contemporary worship is not the answer.

I love some of the grand old hymns with their wonderful message of redemption, and I also happen to find the contemporary praise songs very worshipful, more so than some of the dreary, difficult-to-sing hymns. Not all of the hymns of the past have had their theology straight.

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It is divisive to make a blanket statement that "contemporary worship is far more egocentric than theocentric."
Carol Ciresi
Fayetteville, North Carolina

Palestine Preoccupation

As a settler in Gilo, Clarence H. Wagner is part of a continuing military occupation ["Between a Rock and a Holy Site," Feb. 5]. In CT's attempt to "balance" the previous article by Palestinian Christian Jonathan Kuttab ["The Peace Regress," Jan. 8], you unfortunately chose someone who is part of the occupation but lies about it.

Gilo was established between 1973 and 1979 on land confiscated from Palestinians beginning in August 1970. The settlements are illegal under the Geneva Convention (signed by both Israel and the U.S. in 1949) and are targets of Palestinian gunmen precisely because settlers are occupiers and colonizers, not neighbors. No one from Bethlehem would ever characterize their relationship with Gilo as "harmony."

Wagner is referring to the "harmony" of any brutal occupation in its strength. In Beit Jala last November and December as part of Christian Peacemaker Teams, I rented an apartment on a Friday, and on Sunday the Israeli heavy machine guns in Gilo sprayed our entire neighborhood, breaking our windows and those of many others.

I worked to help Israeli peacemakers (working to end the occupation) together with Palestinian peacemakers (who can still imagine living side by side with Israelis). We understand that we are working against a functional coalition of war-makers—Israelis (settlers) and Palestinians (terrorists) who would rather keep fighting for domination.

I encourage your readers to reread both the Kuttab and Wagner articles, and then ask themselves, "Which of these writers is prepared for a peace that is not based on one ethnic and religious group dominating another?" Then ask yourself whether continued military occupation should be supported by Christians.
Rich Meyer
Millersburg, Indiana

I was saddened by Clarence H. Wagner Jr.'s "Between a Rock and a Holy Site," a severely biased piece by an American who apparently is a Christian Zionist who lives in Gilo. American citizens should not be living in illegal settlements.

Having lived in Jerusalem from 1976 to 1980, I saw Gilo being built against the warnings of the U.S. government. Wagner's statement that "Since 1967, these two communities have lived side by side in harmony" is, sadly, a misdescription of a colonial-type "master and servant" relationship in which Israel, the stronger, took the land of the Palestinian, the weaker. Living in harmony was, is, and will continue to be impossible under such circumstances unless there are steps to obtain justice for the wronged party.

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My many Palestinian Christian friends do not have the fears of Muslim dominance that Wagner refers to. They have lived as a minority in a Muslim world for centuries. I do not mean to imply that there are no signs of Islamic intolerance in Palestine/Israel, but American Christians should not accuse Muslims of extremism against Palestinians when their primary problem is the 33-year-old Israeli military occupation.
Don Kruse
Vienna, Virginia

Carter's Courage to Lose

In "The Courage to Lose" [Feb. 5], Stephen Carter pans both candidates of the recent presidential election for not "approach[ing] the controversy in a sacrificial spirit." I could not disagree more.

It is certainly true that a Christian candidate should not attempt to win at any cost. It is not, however, true that being a Christian requires us to surrender in the face of opposition for nothing more than the sake of surrender.

Carter fails to demonstrate how a surrender by either party would have furthered the cause of the Kingdom.

In Acts, Paul himself uses his status as a Roman citizen when he is arrested.

We then watch as Paul goes on to bring many more people to Christ, both during his journey to and his imprisonment in Rome.

Had Paul approached his legal entanglement with a sacrificial spirit, he would likely have died at the hands of the same people who killed our Lord. While this would have "show[n] the world Christ's sacrificial love," how much more was accomplished by God through Paul because he "follow[ed] every legally available avenue that might lead to victory."
Chris Tourville
Lancaster, Pennsylvania

CT 1/8/01 Issue

CT 1/8/01 Issue

Common Prayer

Regarding "Learning the Ancient Rhythms of Prayer" [Jan. 8], after my 10-year stint as a Vineyard pastor, I found refuge and rest in a congregation that observed the Christian year, had a discernable liturgy, and used common prayers.

But after about five years, the lectionary wasn't working. It was the same Word being preached across the world, but it missed giving direction to our local church. The same was true of common prayers; they were familiar and comforting, but we need something from the heart and more directive.

Now I usually write the call to worship and the prayer for the day myself. The text and sermon are directed to the specific direction or needs of the church.

I write prayers informed by Scripture and our situation, and we recite the Lord's Prayer (sometimes singing it).

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During Advent and Lent, I return to the lectionary and use every liturgical resource available. Returning to the Christian year and common prayers during Advent and Lent gives us a connection with the historical church and the church worldwide.

My point is this: Common prayer, the lectionary, and liturgies are a beautiful part of Christian life and worship, but they are no substitute for the Word of God speaking to specific issues in the local church by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Bryan Martin
Fresno, California

Transcendental Monetization

Your article on Transcendental Meditation ["Field of TM Dreams," Jan. 8] overlooked a major and critical aspect of this program: the illusory quest for spiritual progress with monetary strings attached.

With one hour of training, candidates can learn how to use a mantra for two 20-minute meditation sessions per day.

This indeed does produce a major physical relaxation that is purely physiological and has nothing to do with Hinduism or any other religion.

If more people were aware that they could get these major benefits without going into all the religious aspects that are connected with TM, far fewer would be getting tangled up in that miserable program.

The TM organization promises more spiritual depth with additional training. This is nothing more than a carrot hung on the horizon that is never obtained.

It also should be noted that as one starts to progress on the "spiritual" road, one learns about the monetary contributions that are expected.
Dennis Oliver
Saunderstown, Rhode Island

CT 12/4/00 Issue

CT 12/4/00 Issue

Baylor and Dembski

The article on the Polanyi Center controversy at Baylor University and William Dembski's reassignment to a strictly academic post without administrative duties ["Design Interference," Dec. 4, 2000] leaves the impression that the center's existence is in jeopardy. This is not the case at all.

Its work, either as a renamed center or a well-defined program under the auspices of the Institute for Faith and Learning, will continue in consultation with a faculty advisory committee. The acting director, Bruce Gordon, is very supportive of technical work in design theory and has been a vigorous defender of its academic interest and importance against detractors.

The article also suggests that Dembski's reassignment was a major setback for design theory. Not necessarily. Dembski's talents lie much more in the area of academic research than administrative diplomacy.

Since it is credible research and publication that will do the most to enhance the academic prospects of design theory, it is arguable that rather than receiving a setback from the latest developments, design theory has received an academic boost.

In conclusion, since the tenor of Tony Carnes's article indirectly calls it into question, let me state emphatically that Baylor University remains committed to a Christianity that is both historic and orthodox.
Michael Beaty
Professor of Philosophy
Director, Institute for Faith and Learning
Baylor University

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