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.