Friday, December 21, 2007

Passing the Torch to the New "Person of the Year"

In the spirit of Hank Aaron, I want to pass the proverbial torch and congratulate President Vladimir Putin as this year's ambassador for Time Magazine's Person of the Year.

I have to confess that being named Time's 2006 "Person of the Year" came as a surprise to me. Sure, I managed a good GPA and made decent use of time as a research assistant. But I never once thought that anything I had done was earth-shattering or particularly meaningful to the world. However, as Wylie Burp told Fievel, sometimes the real hero is the last one to know about it. So, it is with such a humble spirit that I acknowledge the wisdom of naming me a recipient of this award last year. After all "it is a great accomplishment, which requires skill, longevity, and determination," as Hammerin' Hank might say. Being a student and part-time research assistant who tries to find the time to watch the occasional YouTube video is tough work, though I dare say Putin's 2007 has even surpassed the greatness of my 2006. I move over now and offer my best wishes to President Putin with the hope that his accomplishment will inspire others to chase their own dreams, whether it be watching streaming video on YouTube or leading entire nations.

President Putin, I suspect, will discover as I have that living with the burden of representing Time for a whole year will lead to immense bouts of self-doubting and anxiety. Once people associate you with "Person of the Year," it becomes difficult to meet their expectations. Yet, in spite of the tribulation, I do not regret the journey. Like an Olympian, I pass this prestigious torch. Though my light may fade from the public scene, we can only hope and pray that Putin's lantern has only begun to show us the way for a better 2008.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Revisited: What if LifeWay Christian Stores Sold . . . ?

Seeing how the Christmas season is nearly upon us, I expect many students will be making out their Lifeway Christmas list. But have you ever wished Lifeway could push the envelop as to the quality of their stock? This idea originated years ago during late night brainstorming sessions with my friend, Jesse Florida. I was further inspired to do this as a result of a related post by Tom Ascol.

So without further delay...

Rick Warren, The Prayer of the Purpose Driven Reformed Pastor to Desire God (Banner of Truth Trust, 2007) $12.99

Rick Warren's new appreciation of Richard Baxter is the first in a series of "Purpose Driven Paperbacks" by The Banner of Truth Trust. Warren offers a unique contemporary perspective that is sure to intrigue seasoned scholars and entice a new generation of believers to the wisdom of the Puritans. How would Baxter have balanced traditional and contemporary worship styles? What would he have thought of the 40 Days of Purpose? Warren tackles all these issues and more in a groundbreaking work that is sure to become an instant classic.

Warren: "My developing friendship with John Piper has resulted in my own greater appreciation of the Puritans. No one defines what a pastor should be better than Baxter. I am so grateful to Iain Murray and the Banner of Truth Trust for teaming up with Saddleback to produce the bold, new "Purpose Driven Paperbacks" series. These works will stand alongside the more traditional "Puritan Paperbacks" as a secondary source from a contemporary Christian worship and church growth perspective."

Bruce Wilkinson, Tim LaHaye, and Jerry B. Jenkins, The Purpose Driven Letter That Jabez Left Behind: Ancient Inspirations for Those Living in the End Times, 2 CD set. Narrated by Larry King (Tyndale Audio Series, 2007) $29.97

The best-selling book is now available on audio CD! Bruce Wilkinson takes us on an end times adventure through the eyes of the beloved Jabez. What would Jabez have told the tribulation saints? Did he know about the Rapture and the Millennium? These questions and more are explored through the masterful prose of Wilkinson, who has teamed up with Tim LaHaye's dispensationalism and Jerry B. Jenkins' storytelling to create an extraordinary work of fiction that will encourage any Christian who is suffering under the anxiety of our postmodern age.

Wilkinson: "Working with Tim and Jerry has really been a dream come true. I am living proof that God expands the territory of His children when we claim the promises He has offered us. What began as one small book on an obscure but powerful passage of Scripture has grown into a franchise far bigger than I could have ever imagined. Left Behind was the perfect fit for the next Jabez study because of its popularity and excellent marketing potential. And, of course, Larry King provides an excellent narration and the name recognition that will appeal to people outside the Church."

Larry King: "I admit I was surprised when Tyndale asked me to record this product. I don't have any particular connection with Christianity, but I do consider myself an agnostic seeker. I guess that why this project appealed to me... Because it is about seeking answers to things nobody really knows for certain. When it comes down to it, you just have to take some things on faith."

And finally, a new tool for teaching theology to youth!

3-in-1-D Glasses™, by the Garland-Earl Corporation®, $7.99

Early Praise for 3-in-1-D Glasses:*

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.: "I must admit that I was skeptical about this being another cheesy gimmick. But after I put on those snazzy shades and sat down in my recliner with my storybook in hand, I was hooked! I can't remember when I've had so much fun reading a book, and I read a lot of books, trust me. I'm sure every Christian parent will want to buy a set for their kids. This is exactly the sort of ambitious product that churches should invest in for children and youth ministry."

Billy Graham: "These glasses really are amazing. Not only are they a perfect object lesson for teaching children about God, but they double as an efficient pair of sunglasses when I have to go outdoors. And they look great too."

J. I. Packer: "I wish somebody had thought of this when I was a boy. It would have given me a great head start on my theological studies. I don't give out product endorsements easily, but 3-in-1-D Glasses are deserving of my full support."

*Endorsements may or may not represent the exact views of the parties represented. Quotes were obtained through fourth and fifth degree removed sources.

All in good fun, right?

Merry Christmas! I'll see you in thirty.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

You Might Be a Creepy Seminary Guy If...

I hadn't heard of this label until I arrived here at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. When I was in college at Union University, most young women figured they would get their Mrs. Degree before graduation. For many students, marriage was their 4-year goal. But in seminary, it is often expected that the student will already be married before enrollment. In my experience, the peer pressure put upon single students to marry is exceedingly beyond anything I knew at college. I suppose it is this high stakes game of "keeping up with the Joneses" that has given birth to the concept of "The Creepy Seminary Guy," that creature which no man desires to be as perceived as. But what does this term mean and what kind of fellow meets the criteria? I propose to offer some suggestions:

You might be a Creepy Seminary Guy if...

1. If you go to a Boyce College [SBTS's undergraduate Bible school] social event to scout out "the prospects"...

2. If your Facebook "friends" are mostly young ladies you haven't met face-to-face...

3. If you refer to your Facebook friend accumulations as "research and development"...

4. If you plan your course schedule based upon which girls are signed up for which classes...

*BONUS*: If you feel God has called you to a church with a large single ladies' ministry...

5. If you've ever called a girl in response to an unspecified "Roomate Wanted" flyer and proposed matrimony right over the phone...

6. If your "little black book" consists of the campus student directory (minus the Seminary Wives section, of course)...

*BONUS* If that "little black book" does indeed include the Seminary Wives section, then you are without a doubt a creepy seminary guy who should re-evaluate your calling.

7. If you can't remember the chapel sermons because you spent the whole time staring at a pretty face in the choir...

8. If the first thing you look for in a woman is whether she has a ring on her left hand...

9. If you memorize a girl's class schedule to increase your chances of running into her...

10. If you are single... and in seminary...

Then you might be a Creepy Seminary Guy!

In Jest and Joviality,
I am,
On the Shoulders of Giants

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"Strict Communion Less Exclusive than Paedobaptists?" or "Should the Water Divide Us?"

The Open Communion VS. Strict Communion debate has once again enticed a generation of Baptists holding to competing views. The question is an old one, "should our churches invite all Christians to partake of the Lord's Supper or just those who have been baptized?"

The open communicant answers, "All Christians should be invited to partake of the Lord's Supper."

In contrast, the strict communicant (under which I include both "close" and "closed," though I disagree with the latter) answers, "Only those Christians who have obeyed Christ and have been properly baptized (baptism meaning "immersed as a believer upon profession of faith") may be invited to take the Lord's Supper." This sort of answer immediately brands persons of this persuasion as exclusive, divisive, and more committed to ecclesiasticism than Christian love.

For the sake of putting my cards on the table, I confess I lean closer to the strict communion tradition.

This nuanced debate is unique to Baptists, as far as I can tell. Baptists are concerned about how to treat a Christian of another denomination if he should attend a Baptist worship service in which the Lord's Supper is being served. Is excluding him from the Lord's Table equivalent to an insult against his godliness?

The best argument I have heard on the subject is quite simple. I encountered it in John Quincy Adams' (not the U.S. president of the same name) Baptists: The Only Thorough Religious Reformers (1876).

To paraphrase Adams' argument:
1. In the New Testament churches, all who were baptized and members of the church were admitted to the Lord's table.

2. One considered a proper subject of baptism would never be excluded from the communion.

3. Baptists receive all proper subjects of baptism (i.e. believers who have been immersed upon their profession of faith).

4. Paedobaptists consider infants who are sprinkled to be legitimately baptized and members of the visible church.

5. According to this logic (of #4), all baptized infants should be admitted to the Lord's Table.

6. Yet, these infants are excluded, and thus the "paedobaptists are most inveterate closed communionists."

7. Paedobaptists have no argument against strict communion Baptists, who "refuse to receive persons whom we consider unbaptized, when they will not receive their own baptized members."

John Quincy Adams, Baptist thorough Reformers (1876), Reprinted: Rochester, NY: Backus Book Publishers, 1982, 160-161.

Solid paedobaptists and the like all believe that no one should be admitted to the Lord's table without being properly baptized. I find it ironic that on this particular point, strict communion Baptists agree with them 100%. The disagreement is on what constitutes a proper baptism. At the risk of sounding cliche, I suppose it all depends on what your definition of "is" means.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Speaking of the Dead (in Christ)

Speaking of the dead... I'm finally getting around to updating my blog!

The title of this entry carries a double meaning.
There are a number of reasons I have cut my blogging back to a minimum these days. One is that I have a very slow computer that always eats away more time than I can spare on little exercises like blogging. Another is that my brain is low on creative impulses. But the biggest reason is that I am trying hard to bridle my tongue so that I won't write something I might regret later. I believe blogging is a good thing, but I'm trying to mortify a few areas of my life that need more discipline.

One important reminder in this struggle occurred a few months back when I forgot the important fact that what one writes on the internet doesn't always communicate as well as a face to face conversation.

I left a mildly sarcastic comment on a blog in response to something another commenter had written. I'll spare the names of all parties involved, but the gist of the exchange was:
Commentator: "Was [said theologian] fat? I like fat theologians!"
Me: "Yes, and skinny theologians everywhere are offended. :-)"

At the time, I did not think my comment was rude or disrespectful.
A few weeks later, however, a respected mentor of mine came across the same blog and noticed my comment. He confronted me about the matter, and ,while not expressing any explicit signs of anger, challenged me to consider whether such a comment displayed appropriate respect to the legacy of this particular glorified saint. As a result of this conversation, I realized that my statement was careless if not intentionally disrespectful.

I was challenged with the concept of speaking of the dead in Christ as if they are still alive. In a very real sense, of course, they are. As Hebrews 12:1 reminds us, "Therefore, having so great a cloud of witnesses around us . . . let us run with endurance the race that is set before us."

I want to be careful not to suggest anything akin to saint worship, but the Bible reveals that God's glorified people, faithful in life, faithful at death, now serve as historical testimonies to the grace of God. Their lives and ideas are not above criticism and godly evaluation, but they are all certainly worthy of our respect, no matter how prominent or how obscure.

So, as I continue to meditate upon the application of this truth, I conclude this entry with a deep appreciation for those who have tilled the soil in which I now labor.

I am,
On the Shoulders of Giants

Thursday, July 26, 2007

"Iron Sharpens Iron" or "Spiderman Returns"

Matthew Crawford offered his thoughts on the flawed spiritual foundation of two of this summer's biggest blockbuster movies. One of them was, you guessed it, Spiderman 3.

Matt makes some insightful points that I avoided for spacial reasons in my original critique of the movie [Read it here]. Although he takes a very different conclusion away from the movie than I did, his insight is a wonderful example of how we need other voices in the Kingdom of God to illuminate the full truth of Scripture.

In the end, we both agree that Spiderman 3 is an imperfect movie when judged against the criteria of Scripture. However, I stand by my analysis that the movie does have commendable relative merits for what it was made to be: a superhero movie about struggling with personal depravity, forgiveness, and reconciliation of friendships. Does it succeed in telling the whole story? Of course not, and Matt makes that fact oh so clear. That said, I still recommend the movie for both enjoyment and evaluation. Just remember, Christians are never given a free pass to turn their brains off for anything!

But even more than Spiderman 3, I recommend everyone check out Matt's articulate cultural commentary [Click it here!]. You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

"Family-Friendly" the New Orthodoxy?

Ok, I'll eat crow.

You see, I really believed the majority of Bible-believing evangelicals would be offended by the premise of the new movie, Evan Almighty. So imagine my surprise when I spotted the cover of the latest issue of Christianity Today. The new "Noah" is featured complete with about a dozen pairs of wild beasts and a giant ark of gopher wood. The headline reads "Evan Help Us: How a movie- and a movement- are partnering with the church to change the world." Also don't forget the little note at the bottom of the page reading "Popcorn in the Pews."

To be fair, this isn't the actual cover to the magazine on account of the fact that there isn't even any story about the movie in the issue. No, this apparent "cover" is actually just a special advertisement. But its a very blatant advertisement. Seeing as how the famous CT title is boldly in view, we can't assume anything but that the magazine's creative board went along with this marketing scheme with gung-ho gusto. The inside cover of this advertisement promotes a new parachurch evangelical benevolence ministry (http://www.arkalmighty/) officially licensed by the movie's brand name. Willow Creek Association, Youth Specialties, and International Bible Society have all joined hands with Hollywood to promote the "family-friendly comedy" and its inspired "ministry initiative that matches up the needs in your congregation with the talents and skills of the members of your church." In short, ArkALMIGHTY promotes church-based volunteer benevolence ministry.

Granted, I haven't seen Evan Almighty. Granted, I don't plan on spending the money for the movie ticket in the near future. And, granted, I didn't see the original Bruce Almighty (staring Jim Carrey) until it aired on cable last week (which I had mixed feelings about). If I may be granted all those grants, then (I'd be a rich man at least) let me assert that I think American evangelicals are in deep trouble if this recent development is any indication of Christian cultural engagement at large. Evan Almighty is a comedy that uses the Bible as the set-up joke for the punchline. I don't know whether or not it lampoons the Bible specifically. I'm sure that the film contains a mix of good and bad elements as regards morality and religious discussion. I don't even know whether or not the movie is any funny or not. [Believe it or not, the film's director is a professing Catholic and Augustine fan in this interview.]

But, what I do know is that making a movie about a "god" who decides to rehash "Noah & the Ark: Part 2" as a means to teach people how to better care for their environment and do good deeds for one another is a dangerous undertaking. Evan Almighty may be a decent movie with the usual mix spiritual strengths and weaknesses, but its fundamental premise about an actor playing God with dialogue written by Hollywood writers unsettles me. I feel this way when anyone (real or fictional) tries to speak words for God that we have no account of Him saying in Scriptural revelation. I am simply surprised that more evangelicals aren't exhibiting similar anxiety, but are actually standing behind the film as a triumph of evangelical-friendly values suitable for the whole family (here is at least one exception).

That said, let me acquit myself of three potential misunderstandings: (1) I really do like the environment. Green is my favorite color, for crying out loud! Although I'm not a tree-hugger, I believe personal stewardship is both biblical and ethically significant. (2) I'm all for churches getting involved with benevolent ministries, especially for needy people within our own churches. (3) I like family-friendly movies. All these things are fine and good in general.

But this present evangelical lobbying of movies that are high on family-friendly virtues (no violence, minimum intense thematic elements, mild language, no sex, etc.) but shallow on godly reverence disturbs me. Maybe I'm just being paranoid (wouldn't surprise me really, heh), but I think evangelicals' lack of second thoughts in promoting this particular movie is a symptom of a deeper problem. What's the problem? Christians have become so desperate for entertainment they can share with their families that they have thrown in the towel on the Gospel. The biblical account of Noah and the Ark is about man's sin against God, God's judgement of sin, and (most importantly) God's mercy and salvation of men. I'm pretty sure that Evan Almighty's story doesn't center around those themes.

I would appreciate reader input on this. I won't get mad if you disagree with me. I only hope I have made my point. Is "Family-Friendly" the new orthodoxy? I hope not.

Monday, June 11, 2007

"Want Forgiveness? Get Religion!"

Warning: NO major spoilers. This review will NOT ruin the movie if you've yet to have seen it [, that includes you, Joseph!].
Spiderman The Third.

Oh wait, sorry, I meant Spiderman: At World's End.

No, that's not right either! Uh... Spiderman 3, maybe? I think that's right. . . [checking guess with Wikipedia] . . . Yes, Spiderman 3! (With all these new sequels out, I get confused!)

After being the last person in America who planned on seeing the new movie that still hadn't seen it (except for maybe this fellow), I have to say I enjoyed it. I find all the harsh critical reception this movie has received a little harsh, though somewhat understandable. The most justified criticism I've heard is from a NY Times writer that "the three villains [Sandman, Green Goblin II, and Venom] here don’t add up to one Doc Ock." And I have no choice but to agree. Alfred Molina's portrayal of Doctor Octopus was simply masterful in Spiderman 2. Despite the film's 2 hour 36 minute running time (that's 28 minutes longer than the last one, and you can really feel the length if you're one of those people like me who is addicted to movie theatre soda drinks), the introduction of villains like Sandman feels rushed and cliche. Thus, Spiderman 3's biggest problem is that it doesn't quite live up to its own standard of excellent, at least in my opinion.

All that negative stuff out of the way, let me proceed with the point of this essay. I am not seeking to review the quality of Spidey 3 but simply to offer a reflection on the movie's moral theme from the lens of a Christian worldview.
For context's sake, let's review the moral theme of the previous 2 movies:
Spiderman: "With great power, comes great responsibility."= Uncle Ben's motto that Peter Parker learns to appreciate as he grows from boy to man.
Spiderman 2: "Sometimes in order to do what is right, we have to give up what we want the most." = Parker learns that moral absolutes do exist in this crazy mixed up world, and they should take priority over the selfish hedonism of the 'Hakuna Matata' philosophy (ok, I made that last part up).
Honorable mention: "Intelligence is gift (not a privilege) to be used for the good of mankind."

And now, the motto of Spiderman 3:
"If you find a black alien goo that wants to bond with you, don't let it!"
Ha, just kidding! Actually, I got the sense that the central theme of this movie was that we all have to learn how to forgive one another, as we are all capable of great evil under the right circumstances. Or as director Sam Raimi stated.

"He considers himself a hero and a sinless person versus these villains that he nabs. We felt it would be a great thing for him to learn a little less black and white view of life and that's he not above these people. He's not just the hero and they're not just the villains. They were all human beings and that he himself might have some sin within him and that other human beings, the ones he calls criminals, have some humanity within them and that the best we can do in this world is to not strive for vengeance, but for forgiveness."

Forgiveness. The best thing we can strive for in this world, according to the director. I was profoundly struck by the sobriety of this third installment in the Spidey series. Yes, it had plenty of action and special effects. Yes, it had some well executed sprinklings of humor. And, yes, it had plenty of angst and frustration that were so common to the first 2 films. What sets this sequel apart from its predecessors, however, is that the hero becomes the true villain of the story. Peter Parker's obsession with power and responsibility bring trouble upon himself. No longer is he just a poor, misunderstood kid who always tries to do the right thing. Rather, he has allowed himself to become a slave to power and a glutton for fame and pleasure.

Spiderman learns that even his soul is not above that of the villains he seeks to bring to justice. In the course of the movie, he betrays the trust of his would-be fiance, gloats his power over everyone else, and nearly commits murder with a sense of vindication. All these sins lead him to a sense of brokenness and he retreats to the sanctuary of a cathedral to ponder the shambles his life has become. As Spiderman despairs of himself, he realizes that he must choose to begin making amends with those he has hurt. Thus, begins his long road back to redemption.

Not everything in this movie is compatible with the Christian worldview, of course. For instance, Aunt May tells Peter he must "forgive himself." Even though I know what she meant, I think forgiveness is something that can only take place when there are 2 or more parties involved. Forgiveness (humanly speaking) is the admission of wrongdoing on the part of one party against another. With the admission, the guilty party seeks reconciliation with the victim and promises to do whatever is necessary to make restitution for damages done. It is a lot more than saying "I'm sorry." This movie isn't so much an illustration of Christian soteriology as it is a lesson in Christian anthropology. All men have sinned (indeed all men are wicked in nature) and fall short of the glory of God, the only Holy One who alone is worthy to judge the hearts of men.

In conclusion, I think Spiderman 3 has a great message that Christians can appreciate, even if it doesn't quite succeed in its character development. For Spidey fans, I think the movie wraps up the loose ends from the previous movies nicely. If nothing else, it is a heck of a lot better resolution to the series than X-Men: The Last Stand's blood crazy martyr-fest of iconic characters. I recommend this movie to a mature audience, but just use some discretion about buying a soda pop at the concession stand.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Women and Weeds

Neil Jackson is a third-year Southern Seminary student with a bachelor's degree in Chemistry from Union University. He likes British and Scottish Church history, J. C. Ryle, Orange Crush sodas, John Wayne movies, good preaching, and a hard day's work. Most importantly, he's been my roommate for the last 2 years.

I did not come up with the following statement. It was repeated to me by one, Neil Jackson, who heard it from his grandfather who said he heard it from a preacher (and preacher stories are notorious for being recycled over and over). I now pass it onto to you, and beg your mercy that in the future you refrain from throwing objects in my general direction in light of the fact that I didn't say it. Still, its just too funny not to tell.

The two hardest things to do in life:

(1) Climb a fence that is leaning towards you.
(2) Kiss a girl who is leaning away from you.

Neil is such a great roommate with a mix of wisdom and wit.

But sometimes I wonder about that boy...

For instance, a couple of years back when I first started rooming with Neil, he came in one afternoon from doing yardwork with a handful of weeds. Later, he proceeded to put those weeds into a pot and boil them on the stove. The whole purpose was to preserve the weeds for tea-making purposes, which he then drank for the following week.

And, yes, it looked just as nasty as the picture suggests.

Neil tells his story as such:

"I was working for this old gentlemen, Mel Greer, and the task of the hour was pulling weeds in his flowerbeds. He wanted some varieties of flowers to be pulled up so I got to this one type and it reminded me of a minty weed that I had encountered in my youth. When you crush the weeds you can smell a minty flavor I wasn't sure if it was peppermint or spearment. I pulled a few of these weeds and when he wasn't looking I stuffed them in my left front pocket. There they remained for the rest of the afternon during my employment. When I got back to the room, I placed them on a paper towel and let them dry until the next morning. I then put them in a pot of boiling water, thus making some tea out of the organic extraction from the leaves."

"It's legal, I reckon!"

And as a bonus feature, I thought I might include this neat little undead zombie-fied version of Neil's picture above. I like it!

Friday, June 01, 2007

Boris Said at Southern Seminary?

Said at Southern officially begins today

What's that? Is road racing expert and NASCAR moonlighter Boris Said answering a dramatic call to the Christian ministry? Afraid not, dear friends. Said at Southern is just the new communal blog site that hosts the blogs of various students and alumni at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

As for Boris, I guess he'll just have to keep on trying to qualify for those NASCAR races. Had he indeed put in his application for SBTS, he would have joined Brian Vickers as the second NASCAR name to be associated with both racing and theological education. Boris Said is staying put for now. Which, I expect, will keep this fellow happy.

Boris' decision to stay in racing will also be good news to his sponser, SoBe. That's the company that makes the SoBe No Fear energy drinks.

Speaking of energy drinks, I tried the new Mountain Dew amp Overdrive for the first time today. It's Pepsi Co.'s answer to Red Bull, and the can promises to provide an "intense cherry hit" so that I can "live life louder!" What did I think? Well, it tasted fine (better than Code Red Dew but not quite as good as regular Dew IMO). It actually tasted pleasant and relaxing, something I don't think the marketers of the drink are aiming for. For pete's sake, the can has a warning label on the back that says, "Not recommended for children, pregnant women or people sensitive to caffeine. THIS PRODUCT IS NOT INTENDED TO DIAGNOSIS, TREAT, CURE OR PREVENT ANY DISEASE." And make sure you note that last sentence (as if ALL CAPS weren't enough), because anytime something sooo00OOO out there in left field is printed on products you can bet that some ignoramous has already done it and sued the company over it.

Anywho, the real question is will MD amp Overdrive replace my habitual craving for original recipe Mountain Dew. Well, let's compare the stat sheet:

Mountain Dew
Price: 75 cents - $1.00 per can
Calories: 170 per serving
Carbs: 46 grams
Sugar: 46 grams
MD amp Overdrive
Price: $2.00 -$2.25+ per "Tall Boy" can
Calories: 110 per serving
Carbs: 29 grams
Sugar: 29 grams

Okay, hold the phone! Something that sells itself as an "energy drink" has no business getting out preformed by plain soda pop in the sugar count (granted Overdrive does win nearly 2-1 in the caffeine ratio). The taste seems more sour than sweet to me. Imagine putting Sour Punch Straws in your Dew and you'll get my impression.

In fact, these statistics might lead you to assume MD amp Overdrive is actually a healthy beverage alternative to soda. That is, until, you check the rest of the ingrediants on the can. For instance, the label promotes itself as containing: B vitamins (sounds good, right?), Guarana Extract (doesn't sound so good, does it?), Taurine, Ginseng (isn't that what we use to clean the sink?), and Maltodextrin (I don't even want to know). Now if you bother to read the "Supplement Facts" on the back of the can, you will see that the Food and Drug Administration has no idea how much Guarane, Maltodextrin, Taurine, etc. is needed for a daily diet value. Thus, the good people at Mountain Dew are making us into the FDA's test subjects to see what this stuff actually does to the human body. Sounds fun, right? Maybe that's what the "Intense Cherry Hit" is supposed to mean!

In the end, I found MD amp Overdrive to be a pleasant drink to accompany my turkey sandwich down my digestive track. it gets a B+ for taste. It fails, however, to deliver on its promise of allowing me to "live life loud!" Red Bull doesn't taste as good as amp, but it actually alters my sensory functions for a short time. False advertising is a major deficiency, so amp Overdrive gets a C- in its purpose. I think Pepsi Co. needs to drop the gimmicky approach and just promote amp as a Mountain Dew soda like Code Red. Amp needs a reasonable price and a new packaging to fulfill its potential. Final grade (not an average score): B.

So, in conclusion, all I'm really trying to say is visit Said at Southern to see some of the finest young minds express themselves on the internet. is an alternative to the oft-malfunctioning, which essentially deletes people from the main page if they upgrade from old blogger formating to new blogger formating. Strange, isn't it?

For more reviews of Energy drinks, check out Energy Drink Ratings blog (its the place where I got the picture of the amp Overdrive can).

Monday, May 21, 2007

Is Jack Bauer a Christian's Role-Model?

24... also known as "Jack Bauer: The Series." It has become a national hit, but is it something Christians can justify watching? For the last six years, its been one of the most popular shows on television. Even though its ratings have dropped this season due largely to the show's creative team hitting the inevitable writer's block, it is still a weekly primetime hot spot. And I'll admit, it is one of my favorite shows, a list that includes such gritty hard-nosed dramas such as Family Matters, Ducktales, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. (Can you guess the odd-man out?)

24 just wrapped up its latest season in the ongoing efforts of Jack Bauer to save America from the dastardly deeds of terrorists and government conspiracies. In order for Jack to save the world this year (as has been the case every year), he had to resort to making split-second, life-threatening decisions that often included deceiving his adversaries and even the ever controversial interrogation/torture of suspects and perpetrators. The show's depiction of torture has drawn national criticism in light of such real-life controversies over American G.I.'s torturing their prisoners. The logic goes: Why should Jack Bauer get a free pass when a handful of America's finest are facing demerit and criminal charges for doing essentially the same thing? Does a Christian have the right to condone the idea that morally-dubious means (torturing prisoners) are justifiable to achieve clearly moral ends (saving millions of lives from acts of terrorism)? Furthermore, are the show's writers guilty of crafting a show that glorifies gore and violence that sells itself to man's barbaric lusts?

I have to concede the point that 24 at times seems to cross the line between entertainment and duty when it comes to torture. This is a legitimate moral strike against the show, as is its use of profanity, and its occasional moral indifference to unmarried characters who are engaged in sexual relationships. There, I said it. (On the other hand, I don't think the show is responsible for depicting Muslims in a stereotypical light, seeing as how Jihad is a reality and that the show's villains come from very diverse backgrounds.)

24 is not a perfect show when it comes to morality. I contend, however, that it is a show that forces its viewers to consider what is the right thing to do, even if it is the unpopular decision. Take this season's finale, for example. A young boy's life is held for ransom as a terrorist demands his life in exchange for a military component that will prevent America from engaging in an unnecessary war with Russia. The acting president, in cooperation with most of his cabinet, decide that one innocent boy's life is worth the price of sending off thousands of innocent young U.S. soldiers to their death in a war. This decision can be likened to the decision of Winston Churchill to sacrifice the British city of Coventry to the Nazis in order to prevent them from getting wise to the fact that Britain had cracked their communication codes. The ruins of the city's cathedral stand as a reminder that the blood of Coventry was on Churchill's hands. Was Churchill right? The citizens of Coventry probably didn't think so, but in hindsight most of us would agree that he chose the lesser of two evils. In the course of war, a few must be sacrificed for the lives of many.

But what if Churchill had decided that he should bear the sacrifice with his British brothers? What if he had waited until the last minute before the attack to enter the city to suffer with his people and (assuming he survived) would be in position to help lead the recovery mission? Perhaps, this is a ridiculous suggestion, but this is the kind of decision that Jack Bauer makes on an hourly basis. It is exactly this sort of decision that Bauer made in order to save the life of this particular innocent boy after the government had abandoned him as an unfortunate yet inconsequential sacrifice.

Bauer proves again and again that he is not willing to sacrifice the lives of the innocent if he can do something about it. His decisions are not always popular with his over-seers, but it is his conviction that often the right thing must take priority even over blind submission to authority. It is Bauer's recurring unselfishness that makes him the ultimate fictional patriot, in spite of his other character flaws.

Is Jack Bauer a Christian's Role-Model? Of course not. He is not a man of faith, so he can't be considered on the same level as the flawed heroes of Hebrews 11 such as Abraham, Samson, and Jephthah. But Jack Bauer does exhibit a moral sense that a Christian can appreciate. Jack acts upon his convictions, not what is politically correct. He makes the hard choices, not the ones that will give him the most comfort.
Every Christian has the responsibility to determine what is appropriate moral stewardship of his/her time. There are many factors that must be taken into account in such a decision, such as setting an example for the family for instance. Not every Christian will come to the same conclusions on these decisions. It has been my purpose to articulate one possible interpretation of the show's moral conscience. I hope that it has been well-articulated and hope that it will serve as a defense of a show that (while not perfect) has many characteristics that a Christian may find worthy of appreciation.

Fight on, Jack Bauer. Your country needs you.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The First Seeker-Sensitive Church?!?

If you think consumerism and market-driven church growth strategies are bad now, wait till you see what our 20th century forefathers had to deal with:

From George Marsden's Fundamentalism and American Culture (p.157):
"A sense of doom was created . . . and heightened by growing dismay about the moral condition of the nation. . . . Young men and even women were openly smoking . . . It was particularly galling that churches accepted such changes. Methodist church choirs, for instance, allowed young women to display 'brazen bared knees.' . . . Dancing, once an abomination to the Methodists, was now allowed even in their churches."

The King's Business was a publication which attacked the growing trends of secularism and liberalism in Christianity and culture at large. The reprinted image above represents their disillusionment with the "New Theology" of religious academics and their higher critical dissection of the Bible and the degeneration of the churches into an entertainment hall with "dancing lessons every Friday night" complete with bowling alleys and pool halls. At the root of it all, this entertainment-driven church is held together by the conviction that Man is sovereign.

Perhaps the write-up was a bit fundamentalist in tone, but it would seem that these evangelistic right-wingers had some foresight into the ramifications the consumer-driven culture would have on our places of worship. Now, make sure to cover up your knees.

(Thanks for the inspiration, Tim. And check out this sadly accurate parody of the modern understanding of a seeker's church.)

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Southern Gospel Music & Why I Like It

Following up on the problem of prejudice, I want to take a pot-shot at my generation of Christians. If there is one thing young Christians are prejudiced against, its gotta be Southern Gospel Music.

For many of the contemporary Praise & Worship crowd, Southern Gospel is just too old to be relevant. Its the music of your parents and grandparents. Its the music that you play at Billy Graham crusades, not for people who talk theology at Starbucks.

For many conservative Reformed thinkers, Southern Gospel is too akin to the revivalistic Pentecostalism and the Arminian worldview from which it sprang. It is too performance-driven and performer-centered to be spiritually edifying. Or perhaps, it's just too southern to be taken seriously.

There is, perhaps, some merit to each of these suggestions. One has to consider whether a song about the birth of Christ is best celebrated by mass foot stomping and clapping. Furthermore, Southern Gospel can easily fall into a similar trap as most modern praise & worship music as being primarily taste-driven with watershed theological depth.

However, in spite of the potential for abuses of the genre, I have to believe that much of the modern distaste for Southern Gospel comes from an a priori, fundamental prejudice against music that is associated with the traditional South. Both the Contemporary Praise & Worship movement and the Reformed tradition typically have more success in the climate of intellectualism than for the backwoods of Tennessee.

Southern Gospel Music is recorded in Nashville (a city which still suffers from the hick-town stigma despite its current metropolitan status) and appreciated by people in small towns. That doesn't mean that every church will have special music with untalented people trying to sound like Gospel singers (though it happens). Neither does it mean everybody who likes Southern Gospel has big hair, excessive jewelry, and bad suits.

Some Southern Gospel songs bring a tear to my eye for the piercing nature of the truth it teaches, other songs make me cringe on account of the shallowness of the doctrine (or lack-thereof). But there are at least two good examples that I want to showcase that should resonate on some level with most believers in Christ.

The first is a fairly recent song by Steve & Annie Chapman entitled, "Don't Unpack Your Bags." It is, essentially, a story about a young preacher coming to a new church and dutifully trying to introduce himself to every town-member he could before beginning his pastorate. One woman, having been a former member of his church, warned him against the power-hungry, back-stabbing nature of that very congregation notorious for demolishing the spirit of their pastors. Her recommendation for the pastor is laced with a bittered, sarcastic truth:
"Touch a feather to their ear
Tell them what they want to hear
Give ’em milk, don’t give ’em meat
Make it short, make it sweet
If you wanna stay around
That’s what you’ll have to do
But don’t unpack your bags, young man
If you plan to preach the truth

The second song, "Excuses" is by the Kingsmen Quartet (I absolutely love men's quartets!). It lampoons the motives of everyone who thinks of ways to criticize their church and spend their Sundays at home:
"Well, the preacher he's too young. And, maybe he's too old.
The sermons they're not hard enough. And, maybe they're too bold.
His voice is much too quiet-like. Sometimes he gets too loud.
He needs to have more dignity. Or, else he's way too proud.

Well, the sermons they're too long. And, maybe they're too short.
He ought to preach the word with dignity instead of 'stomp and snort.'
Well, that preacher we've got must be 'the world's most stuck up man.'
Well, one of the lady's told me the other day, 'Well, he didn't even shake my hand!'"

My point is: many Southern Gospel songs have excellent content presented in a harmoniously balanced musical style. Yes, it is Southern. Yes, it is primarily listened to by people in their 50s and up. Yes, it is not respected by mainstream intellectuals. But is it worth listening to? I answer that question with a hearty, "Amen!"

Monday, January 15, 2007

Martin Luther King Day 2007

As a nation, America has come a long way since the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. Racial street riots are no longer common, de-segregation has been enacted nationwide, and despite the fact that hate crimes still occur; they are heavily persecuted. In that sense, I am sure that King would be very pleased if he were alive today.

King lived in a time when his very life was at risk the moment he stepped out of his own house. He witnessed the horrible hypocrisy in both the Church and America in general. He was ordained as a Baptist minister and devoted his life to living out Jesus’ call for all men to love each other as brothers. The Sermon on the Mount was King’s source of inspiration and gave birth to his mission to help in the fight to bring justice to the oppressed. As he wrote to Southern pastors in a letter from a prison cell in Birmingham, Ala.:

For years now I have heard the word, “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

King understood his Christian conviction was to fight the very law itself, and, if at all possible, to fight it with an attitude of nonviolence. Though he understood the meaning of turning the other cheek, he did not simply allow injustice to take place unrestrained. At the cost of his earthly life, he fought for what he believed was a great truth of the Bible. Though many personal injustices were committed against him and his family, he kept his focus upon Washington, where rules are created and revised. How would King have responded to a profanity ushered at him? Would he have tied up the judicial system just to win financial compensation and vengeance for emotional stress? I think not, King had witnessed too much evil in his life to be phased by mere racial slur issued from the mouth of a fool. In the 21st century world, no insult goes without retaliation. No attack on dignity is ignored. And hardly any sin is forgiven. Can’t take a dumb joke? Sue 'em.

Perhaps the opportunism promoted by pseudo-Kings are the reason Americans feel that the world owes them special treatment. When a civil-rights leader leads a march on a high school crying "racism" when a kid gets suspended for being involved in a brawl at a football game, the example of King becomes all the more refreshing. When an athlete calls NFL owners "slave-masters" for paying him millions of dollars and expecting him to play by the rules, King must role over in his grave. King pushed for equal rights, not special treatment

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Am I the Person of the Year?

Looks like I've just won Time magazine's Person of the Year award for 2006. Have to confess I didn't expect it, but I'll welcome the honor all the same.

Only problem is that if you read it you'll probably contest that you won the award too.