Friday, December 12, 2008

Evolution Weekend 2009

Dr. McGrath's Sunday school class will touch on the topic of evolution in February 2009, in conjunction with Evolution Weekend. More information will be posted as the time gets closer.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Who Do You Say That Jesus Is?

Today in Dr. McGrath's Sunday school class we began our series on the person of Jesus. We began by briefly discussing what historical study can and cannot do, and our tendency to project our interests and values onto Jesus.

Rather than follow that with a survey of the New Testament writings relevant to the subject, or the creeds, we began by simply bringing up questions that we hope to look at and to which we are seeking answers. Some of the topics that came up include how Jesus understood himself, whether Jesus shared concepts from his time (such as demons), what Jesus was like growing up and formative influences on his life, Jesus' sense of humor (including the question of whether he ever nailed Peter's sandal to the floor).

In talking about the childhood of Jesus, I mentioned the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. I think everyone interested in this topic ought to read it, not because it will give the "inside scoop" about Jesus' childhood, but because as we react (most likely with horror) to the story it tells, it prods us to ask ourselves, "If this isn't how we imagine Jesus' childhood, then how would we imagine it?"

Next week there will be a business meeting during the Sunday school hour, and so we'll resume our study the week after that with an overview of Mark's Gospel.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Praise Team

New Sunday School Topic: The Person of Jesus

After considering a number of other possible topics, we've decided to make the next topic for Dr. McGrath's Sunday School class "Who Is Jesus?" It seems a particularly appropriate topic for the season leading up to Christmas.

This topic will begin on November 30th. We'll begin with the information in the New Testament, but it will be useful to read the Nicene and Chalcedonian creeds in order to have a sense of how historic Christian orthodoxy was defined.

The Nicene Creed

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through Him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
He came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
He became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
He suffered death and was buried.
On the third day He rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and His kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father.*
With the Father and the Son He is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. AMEN.

The Chalcedonian Definition

So, following the saintly fathers, we all with one voice teach the confession of one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and a body; consubstantial with the Father as regards his divinity, and the same consubstantial with us as regards his humanity; like us in all respects except for sin; begotten before the ages from the Father as regards his divinity, and in the last days the same for us and for our salvation from Mary, the virgin God-bearer as regards his humanity; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten, acknowledged in two natures which undergo no confusion, no change, no division, no separation; at no point was the difference between the natures taken away through the union, but rather the property of both natures is preserved and comes together into a single person and a single subsistent being; he is not parted or divided into two persons, but is one and the same only-begotten Son, God, Word, Lord Jesus Christ, just as the prophets taught from the beginning about him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ himself instructed us, and as the creed of the fathers handed it down to us.

Wonderful Cross

Here's a video clip of the praise team with guest violinist performing a modern version of "When I Survey The Wondrous Cross" this past Sunday:

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Church and State

Today in Dr. McGrath's class we finished our introductory topic on the Bible in the "When Christians Disagree" series. We looked at the example of circumcision, which in Genesis 17 is quite plainly said to be a permanent and absolute condition of membership in the covenant people, even for those not actually descended from Abraham. We then turned to Acts 15 and looked at how the church (or at least part of the church) decided that it was going to do something different than what a plain reading of Genesis 17 would require. Reading Acts and Paul's letters as Scripture, it can be hard for Christians to put themselves in the situation of the time in which they were written, when these texts were not yet Scripture, and were making the case for something that seemed to many to represent a departure from Scripture.

In Acts 15, as also in Galatians, the argument seems to allow experience to trump Scripture. God had shown acceptance of Gentiles by pouring out the Holy Spirit on them while uncircumcised. If God had accepted them in this way, who are we to impose other requirements upon them? To get a sense of how this argument seemed to many Jewish Christians in the first century, one may usefully compare the topic of homosexuality, in connection with which many today might make a similar argument...

As we turn to various topics on which Christians disagree, there are other factors beside the Bible that we'll need to consider, such as reason, tradition, and experience. The Bible can of course be thought of in different ways: as a source of writings which are authoritative on Christian doctrine and practice, or as a source or writings which allow us to see examples of how the earliest Church worked through issues, themselves making use of Scripture, reason, tradition and experience.

The biggest news is perhaps that we have chosen our next major topic: "Church and State". It was on our list and seems particularly timely (we'll probably finish with the topic in early November). We will begin next week. We did not have a chance to discuss what we'd read to prepare, but I'd suggest that, in addition to the Ten Commandments and some of the places where Paul and Revelation mention those in authority, we should also read the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution, since that is a key component in the distinctive form that debates on this topic take in an American context. Here it is:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My Church and Facebook

Crooked Creek Baptist Church is now on Click on the link and sign up!

In addition to the features offered on this site, this will also allow members who are on Facebook to list their connection with the church on their profile.

Crooked Creek Baptist Church does have a presence on Facebook, by the way, so do pay us a visit there too!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Fulfillment of Prophecy

In Dr. McGrath's Sunday school class today, we discussed what Matthew's Gospel means by "fulfillment of prophecy". A number of passages are quoted and said to be fulfilled in the first couple of chapters of Matthew's Gospel. Yet if we read the texts which are quoted in their original context, we'll see that they are not predictions about a future Messiah. In fact, a common theme seems to be that they relate to key events in the life of the people of Israel - the Exodus and the Exile, for instance. In Matthew chapter 4, we see another great instance of this sort of typology, as the story of the temptation in the wilderness takes on more meaning as we understand it to be intentionally echoing the story of Israel in the wilderness, presenting Jesus in comparison and contrast with that story.

We also paid a quick visit to the Book of Jonah, and considered the fact that Jonah's prediction that Nineveh would fall within 40 days did not come true. This shouldn't lead us to conclude that Jonah was a false prophet, but rather that prophecy in ancient Israel was not about the inevitability of things that were predicted, but precisely about averting disasters that the nation was heading towards. This is important, since some who understand prophecy as about predictions that inevitably come true may not grasp the Bible's teaching about second chances, repentance, and new beginnings (a key theme in today's sermon).

Next time, we'll look at an instance when it seems that the early church discerned that something that appeared to be God's commandment for all time was no longer applicable! If you want a head start, take a look at Genesis 17:9-14; Acts 15; Galatians 5:6 and 1 Corinthians 7:19. (Scot McKnight's latest book, The Blue Parakeet, has an interesting section on this topic, if you want to dig deeper still). Hope you can make it!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Word(s) of God

In Dr. McGrath's Sunday school class today, there was an interesting discussion of some of the ways that Christians at times refer to the Bible, such as "the Word of God" and "the words of God". A good example of the difference between those two expressions can be seen in the Book of Job. In the book, there are many words attributed to Job's friends. Yet at the end of the book, God is depicted as saying he wasn't pleased with what Job's friends said about him. So, when one considers the book as a whole, are the words of Job's friends the "words of God"? Or is the "Word of God" one encounters in and through the Book of Job something that requires that one read the whole story?

We also talked about textual criticism (i.e. the fact that we do not have the original manuscripts of the Biblical writings, and the need for scholars to make their best judgment about the most likely original form, at the very least the earliest form), and touched on many other topics.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Biblical Literalism

I've posted a clip on YouTube that recaps a key point that came up in our Sunday school class this past weekend, namely that no one simply "believes the whole Bible" and "takes it all literally".

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Divergent Birth?

Apologies for the pun in the title, but it seemed the best way to sum up the theme of today's installment in Dr. McGrath's Sunday school class. After a brief introduction of how historical study works, we compared the geographical movements and time frames in the infancy narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

In Matthew, unless one knew otherwise before reading the text, one would assume that the hometown of Jesus' family was Bethlehem, the first geographical setting mentioned. It is hinted that Jesus may be up to 2 years old, since Herod, after inquiring when the star appeared, gave orders for all males two years old and under to be killed. At the very least, Jesus does not seem to have been a newborn. The family is found in a house.

They flee to Egypt, and particularly striking is what happens after that. After Herod's death, they want to return to Judea, and only head for Nazareth in Galilee because they are afraid of Archelaus, Herod's son who ruled over Judea after his death. Going home for Joseph in this Gospel thus meant returning to Bethlehem.

In Luke, the impression given is very different. The family lives in Nazareth, and only go up to Bethlehem for the census. If we ask how long they stayed there, we have a firm basis to draw a conclusion about that. They go up to Jerusalem to take care of Mary's purification, as specified in Leviticus 12. They were thus in Bethlehem for little more than a month after Jesus was born. We're told that once they completed everything required by the Law, after making a very public appearance in the capital of Judea (which it would be hard to imagine them doing in Matthew's Gospel) they return to Nazareth.

The impression given and the historical details seem irreconcilable to someone approaching the text asking historical questions (even without bringing in outside considerations about the census under Quirinius). But while this may raise problems for those arguing to inerrancy as popularly understood, such situations can be good news for historians, since they suggest that the two authors did not collude with one another. It certainly makes clear that the later church did not conspire to assemble a canon that spoke with a single unified voice, reflecting the aims of Constantine or some other authority.

A discussion ensued of how one might make sense of these aspects of the Biblical writings. Next week we'll look at some of the theological content of the stories, including themes and motifs such as the genealogies and the fulfillment of Scripture in Matthew.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Outside the Canon

Another subject that came up yesterday in Dr. McGrath's Sunday School class is the character of those writings that existed in the early Christian centuries but did not become part of the canon of Scripture. Possibly the best site to learn more about those other writings (some of which were excluded because they were deemed "heretical", but this is clearly not the case for all of them) is Early Christian Writings. I recommend it for anyone interested in exploring this particular subject further.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sunday School August 31st 2008

Today in Dr. McGrath's class we continued considering the topic of what the Bible is. The discussion ranged from the topic of whether God still speaks today, and if so what the implications might be for our understanding of the canon, to the importance of historical events for the Christian faith.

Next time, we'll be looking at Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2, which provide an excellent example both of historical difficulties and of the relevance of cultural background to making sense of the Bible. Some of Dr. McGrath's class notes from a course on the historical figure of Jesus that he teaches at Butler University can be found online, and the ones about the infancy narratives are relevant to next Sunday's topic.

If we move at our usual slow pace, we'll still be talking about them at Christmas time, making the topic seasonal as well!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Welcome Rev. Tom Bartley and Family!

Today Crooked Creek Baptist Church voted to invite Rev. Tom Bartley to become our senior pastor. We welcome Tom, his wife Jessica and their children into our church family!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Comparing views of the Bible

In preparation for our first main topic in the "When Christians Disagree" series, I've posted some links reflecting different views of and approaches to the Bible among Christians. Hopefully those who are planning to attend will manage to at least glance at one short article from each category - just pick one at random, since it will be more interesting if different people have read different things!

Progressive/Liberal Christian
Borg, Marcus

Brown, Delwin, "Understanding Biblical Authority"
Dodd, C. H., The Bible Today
Common Sense Christianity: "The Bible"

Moderate Christian
Keck, Leander E., Taking the Bible Seriously
Bruggeman, Walter, "Biblical Authority"
Placher, William C., "Is the Bible True?"
Sanders, James A., "The Bible as Canon"
Taylor, Barbara Brown, "Caution: Bible Class in Session"
Noyce, Gaylord, "Bible Stories, Literalists and the Sunday School"
Hyers, Conrad, "Biblical Literalism"
Dayton, Donald W., "The Battle for the Bible"
Goodspeed, Edgar J., The Story of the New Testament
Fosdick, Harry Emerson, A Guide to Understanding the Bible
Davis & Hays, "Learning to Read the Bible Again"
Hays, Richard B., "Salvation by Trust"
Wink, Walter, "How I Have Been Snagged by the Seat of My Pants While Reading the Bible"
Newsom, Carol, "Probing Scripture"
Worden, Ronald D., "Taking the Bible on its Own Terms"
Christian Bible Reference Site: "What is the Bible?"; "How To Study the Bible

Conservative Christian
Bruce, F. F.
Johnston, Robert K.,

Noll, Mark A., "Battle for the Bible"
Boa, Kenneth, "Is the Bible Trustworthy?"
Keathley, J. Hampton, "The Holy Canon of Scripture"
Packer, James I., "In Quest of Canonical Interpretation"
Dryness, William A., "How Does The Bible Function in the Christian Life?"
Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, "The Bible"
Don Carson mp3s (including two on the reliability of the New Testament)
Posts on inerrancy at Parchment and Pen blog

It was impossible to read all articles on even the above mentioned sites, and thus the characterization of the theological outlook of each may be imprecise or inaccurate. The categorizations are themselves problematic, since we are dealing with a spectrum of views rather than watertight categories.

I have also made available scans of excerpts from two books. The first represents an American Baptist moderate, with replies from a conservative and a liberal. The second is an excerpt from Keith Ward's book What the Bible Really Teaches which I found helpful. There is also a two part piece by Rudolf Bultmann on the Gospel message (Greek kerygma) and myth (i.e. a pre-scientific understanding of the world), which is part of a larger conversation on the subject, and which helpfully brings into focus the issues of the cultural and historical background of the Bible in relation to readers in our time. You may also want to take a look at some web materials I've created, including an interactive Bible textbook and a page entitled "Is the Bible true?"

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Where We Are

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History and Life of the Crooked Creek Baptist Church

The Crooked Creek Baptist Church was organized June 10, 1837 with fourteen members. Their purpose was to establish a new church north of Indianapolis to grow, and give comfort, strength and love both spiritually and physically through the power that comes from God through Jesus Christ. Madison Hume, one of the original members, became the first pastor. One of these fourteen founding members was African-American, and over the course of much of its history (including the present day) has been a racially mixed congregation.

The original church structure was an old log schoolhouse across the road from our present location. In 1840, a plot of ground north of the school was purchased and a frame building built. A second building, erected in 1856, was built across the road (to the north of the present building). This structure was altered and enlarged many times and in numerous ways. In June of 1935 Franklin Crutchlow, a student at Franklin College, accepted the call to pastor the church and was ordained in the church in September 1937. Our Centennial anniversary was celebrated June 12 and 13 of 1937 and it was determined that it was the appropriate time to consider a larger building for the growing congregation. Ground was purchased south of the old church (where our present church stands) for a price of $982.50. World War II then stopped all construction, so the new building had to be delayed. A ground breaking ceremony for the new building was held in August 1950 under the leadership of Pastor Louis G. Crafton. Construction started in August 1951 and the cornerstone was laid. On July 19, 1954, a farewell service was held in the old church and on July 25, 1954 the first service was held in the new building with Pastor Crafton delivering the message. The new building was dedicated in October 1954 in a service that remembered the fourteen founders.

In March 1955, Rev. Orval Sutton accepted the call to become our pastor. In 1981 Michael Snow came to Crooked Creek as Associate Pastor and Youth Director. Rev. Snow was ordained in the Church on May 16, 1982. In June of 1987, we observed our sesquicentennial, celebrating 150 years of heritage. In March 1995, Rev. Orval Sutton retired after 40 years of ministry at Crooked Creek. In April, 1995, Rev. Michael Snow became our new Senior Pastor after serving 14 years as our associate. Under the leadership of Rev. Snow, the church continued to grow and prosper. In May of 1999, Crooked Creek called Mike Thompson to be Associate Minister for Youth, Young Adults, and Families. Mike grew up at Crooked Creek and felt God’s call to ministry. In November 1999, Rev. Kevin Bengtson was called to be Associate Pastor in Music and Worship. Rev. Thompson was recently ordained in the church, and Rev. Bengston served as interim pastor until August 2008. On Sunday, August 24th, 2008, the church extended the call to Rev. Tom Bartley to become the senior pastor.

In 1998, Crooked Creek established its current Statement of Purpose. It is as follows:

• To be a Loving and Caring Community of Believers
• To Glorify God Through Personal and Public Worship
• To Lead Others to Christ and to His Church
• To Grow in Christ and in the Knowledge of His Word
• To Show God’s Love by Serving Others

Our church is now 171 years old. Some members today have third, fourth, fifth, and sixth generations on the church roll. As an example, a member of our church for 82 years (baptized at 9 years of age) joined the chancel choir at age 14 and only just recently retired from singing in it. He and his wife are still active in the life of the church.

We continue to be actively involved in our community and seek to minister to the needs of those around us. We are also actively involved in the life of the American Baptist denomination. We look forward to what God is calling us to do in the years ahead.

When Christians Disagree: Introduction

In beginning a study series on "when Christians disagree", we ought to mention why some seem to find it so surprising that Christians do in fact disagree. For some, the reason this seems surprising is the impression they have been given that Christianity is (and/or ought to be) a single, monolithic entity that has a clearly defined and uniform set of beliefs and practices. For others, the reason might be the assumption that, at the very least, those Christians who agree on the Bible's authority ought to agree.

But in fact, the Bible is one of the reasons for Christians disagreeing, for a number of reasons. First, Christians do not all agree about what the Bible is. For some, it is "inerrant", and in popular speech that may be taken to mean that everything in the Bible is not only without error, but precise in detail. However, a look at a statement about Biblical inerrancy made by conservative scholars and theologians, such as the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, makes clear that for those who study the Bible in detail and in depth, the concept of inerrancy needs to be carefully nuanced if it is to reflect what we find in Scripture. And of course, if one defines inerrancy without regard for what we find in the Bible, then that definition is being imposed on the Bible and thus has authority over the Bible. And since those who argue for Biblical inerrancy usually do so because they regard it as the ultimate authority, the result is a contradiction.

Others prefer to speak of "infallibility", which usually means that the Bible is trustworthy in everything it affirms about God and salvation, without necessarily being accurate in all details of botany or mathematics or science.

Still other Christians view the Bible as errant and fallible, the work of human beings who wrote out of the depths of their experience of God, but who were nonetheless not made to write perfectly. Some would go further and emphasize that Christianity is about following Jesus, not the Bible, and that claiming inerrancy as an attribute for anything other than God is idolatry.

Even when Christians agree about what the Bible is, they do not automatically understand it and interpret it in the same way. It may turn out that this is because the Bible does not always give a single definitive answer about a particular subject, and we must resist the temptation to choose some teachings and use them to dismiss others because "they can't possibly mean that because the Bible says this", since one could always start with the other set of passages and argue the reverse.

Even Protestants agree that experience, reason, and tradition also have a place in Christians' thinking about matters of doctrine and practice. And while it might seem ideal to emphasize that the Bible has primacy of place, in practice none of us reads the Bible before having been influenced by parents and teachers and our own personal experience.

Christian who emphasize the Bible's authority also do not as a result always spend time making use of scholarly resources such as commentaries that would help them understand the text.

Christians of the modern era, whether Liberal or Conservative, tended to emphasize that there is a single absolute truth, whether it was to be found by reason, experience or revelation. In the postmodern era, some deny that there is in fact an absolute truth. In response, the idea of "critical realism" has been developed, which means being committed to the notion that there is a real world, that there is such a thing as truth, while also humbly acknowledging that what I believe may not correspond to that truth, and certainly there is a strong chance it will not correspond perfectly and precisely.

In addition to the differences that result from our interaction with the Bible, new issues that arise also lead to differences. We see this happening in the early church as it wrestled with the issue of the status of Gentiles in this Jewish Messianic movement. Today, we are in a similar situation, unable to simply look up a passage in "2 Newton" and read the verse that tells how Christians should view stem cell research. Most Christians agree that one should identify principles which can then be applied to the new issue. But even if we agree on the relevant principle, we may not agree on its application.

Disagreements among Christians thus seem inevitable, and in my opinion (you are free to disagree!) this is a normal and ideally should be a positive thing. If church is not simply a place for the spiritually mature, but also a place for those who are new to the faith to be nurtured, then we should expect there to be different viewpoint, and members who are at different stages in their Christian experience. As a community of fallible human beings, when we read in Galatians of Paul rebuking Peter, it should lead us to reflect that if one of the closest disciples to Jesus, who was an eyewitness to his public ministry, and was according to Acts 2 filled with the Holy Spirit, if he (who some identify as the first Pope!) could be wrong, then how much more so can we? And if he wasn't wrong, then Paul, one of the authors of Scripture, was presumably wrong to think that he was! Either way, the characters in and authors of Scripture left a lot of examples that should lead us to humility. It might be ironic were we to repeat their words, confident that we are never in error in doing so.

The Bible encourages us to have a childlike faith. Often it is claimed that this is a faith that accepts whatever it is told without questioning. Clearly those who understand it that way have forgotten what it was like to be children, and have no children of their own. Children question everything, and are often painfully honest about the emperor not having clothes on, while adults play along in a facade of mutual self-deception. Hopefully in discussing subjects that Christians disagree about, we can have this naive honesty. Hopefully as well we can separate people from the opinions they hold, and emphasize that our disagreements need not automatically lead to conflict on a personal level.

As this series progresses, there is no illusion that we will all come to agree. But hopefully we will better understand why we disagree, and if we continue to do so, will do so for better reasons, having critically examined the issues, the evidence and the arguments on various sides. Since the Bible will have a key place in all topics, we had best turn our attention next time to the different views Christians have of the Bible, of what it is and of how it is to be interpreted and applied. We hope you can join us!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Dr. McGrath's Sunday School Class Starting New Series

Dr. McGrath's class (formed from the combination of the earlier classes/small groups and BASICS) will begin a new series a week from today, on Sunday August 10th. The subject will be "When Christians Disagree: Dealing with and delighting in our differences".

The first class in this series will introduce the general theme and solicit ideas for topics to be covered on subsequent Sundays. The first major topic will be different views of the Bible that Christians have.

Today's class will finish off the series on John's Gospel.