Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Living Word of God (in an Age of Truth Decay)

The third volume in my little trilogy on the Protestant 'sacraments' (baptism, the Lord's Supper, the Word of God) is now out, and honestly I think it is one of the best and most practical books I have ever written. I have tried to make it a sort of one stop shopping kind of book which you can see from scanning the table of contents:


CHAPTER ONE: SEEKING THE WORD OF GOD ( here I explain the subject of the book and why I am taking the particular approach I take. The subject of this book is the 'truth' about what sort of truth claims the Bible actually makes, and in the case of this particular book I am focusing on the NT and its truth claims)

CHAPTER TWO: INSPIRATION WITHOUT AN EXPIRATION DATE (in this chapter we look at questions like, how was inspiration viewed in Biblical times? Did the NT writers think they were inspired? How did inspiration actually work? Was it a matter of mechanical dictation, or not? What did the phrase 'Word of God' mean when used by Paul and other NT writers?)

CHAPTER THREE: THE ENDS OF ENNS (Here I am critiquing a particular recent study on the Bible and its authority and inspiration-- the book by Peter Enns in which he tries to suggest that the Bible is analogous to the classic Nicean notions of two natures of Christ, one of which was human, one of which was divine. I am dealing with the problems with this whole approach, particularly problems with taking a pass on historical truth claims that the Bible seems to be making).

CHAPTER FOUR: TRUTH TELLING AS AN ART FORM (here we deal with the whole question of how genre affects truth claims. What sort of truth claims should we expect to be made in the context of using forms like the ancient biography or Hellenistic history writing, or rhetorical discourses and sermons, or ancient letters, or an apocalypse? The issue here is that genre is the key to understanding what sort of information a Biblical author is trying to convey)

CHAPTER FIVE: CAN THESE THINGS BE TRUE? ( here I am discussing problems of various sorts-- historical, ethical theological, exegetical etc. that various texts raise for us. I am saying that there are reasonable explanations for what we find, provided we interpret the material in the proper contexts and ways)

CHAPTER SIX: DID THE CANON AND ITS TRANSLATORS MISFIRE? (here the subject is coming to grips with the process by which the NT books became part of the canon. How did this happen, were their mistakes made, and what do we make of the fact that these books were translated into numerous languages long before English came along. Is the Bible the Word of God in translation, or is it only the Word of God if we have it in the original languages? Why is it often said that every translation is already an interpretation?)

CHAPTER SEVEN: HOW TO PICK A TRANSLATION WITHOUT LOSING YOUR RELIGION (this is intended to be a practical chapter to help one see that differing translations and Bibles serve differing audiences and functions, and one should therefore be prepared to ask the question what one intends to do with the Bible before deciding which Bible or translation to go with. We also discuss thorny issues like the inclusive language debate)

CHAPTER EIGHT: RIGHTLY DIVIDING THE WORD OF TRUTH ( here we offer a basic survey of the various rules usually used to guide how we ought to interpret the Bible e.g. Scripture is its own best interpreter and so on. There we also discuss how to move from proper interpretation to application, and how not to jump the gun by going straight for application without properly understanding the meaning of the text. This is one of the major problems in the misuse of 1 Cor. 14.33b-36 and 1 Tim. 2.8-15 to prevent women from being involved in pastoral ministry of various sorts).


( this chapter deals with how post-modernism has affected Biblical interpretation, and also comes to grip with Miller, Bell, and McClaren who all are often thought to reflect post-modern approaches to the Bible).

AFTER WORDS: THE SACRIFICE OF THE INTELLECT? ( Here I am stressing that it is not the sacrifice but rather the sanctification of the intellect which is required to study and understand the inspired Word of God)

APPENDIX-- BIBLE Q AND A-- (having been the Bible Q and A guy for Beliefnet website since that most viewed of all religious websites began, I hear reprint by permission some of the more interesting questions and the ways I tried to answer the questions).

It is not necessary to have read the previous two books on baptism and the Lord's Supper to benefit from this book, as it stands on its own and can be read as a self-contained argument.

Let me know what you think when you check this one out.

Charles Wesley Rocks Your Chains Off

Who knew that Charles Wesley, that great writer of over 6,000 hymns, was a closet rocker? But now we have the proof in the form of a brand new CD-- Prisoner of Hope. Here is the basic info--
go to the web site: and you can order the CD. Price and ordering information is there. The cost is $14.00 plus s&h. Profits from cd sales will go to a student scholarship fund.

There are some 16 songs on the CD, and I will tell you now that you get everything from rock, to country Gospel, to hip hop, to alternative, to pop, to grundge, to just plain beautiful. My personal favorite is Depths of Mercy, but some of the Pearl Jam-eque numbers are pretty darn convincing as well. I would urge you to check this out, as the whole CD has been done by graduates or current students at Asbury college and seminary and the proceeds will go to student scholarships-- a good cause indeed. There's something on this CD for everyone-- not just the teens, but even old fogies like me. Rock your Chains Off!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Puns for All Hallow's Eve

For those of you who don't know the history of how holy days became holidays, including All Hallow's Eve and All Saints Day, I would encourage you to read about All Saint's Day by Googling it. Me personally I will be celebrating with my Red Sox as the saints go marching down Com Ave. in Boston

For now however, I figured some of you could use something to lighten your day... like some puns that make you groan or laugh, or both.


1. Two antennas met on a roof, fellin love and got married. The ceremony wasn't much, but the reception was excellent.

2. A jumper cable walks into a bar. The bartender says, "I'll serve you, but don't start anything."

3. Two peanuts walk into a bar, and one was a salted.

4. A dyslexic man walks into a bra.

5. A man walks into a bar with a slab of asphalt under his arm and says: "A beer please, and one for the road."

6. Two cannibals are eating a clown. One says to the other: "Does this taste funny to you?"

7. "Doc, I can't stop singing 'The Green, Green Grass of Home!'" "That sounds like Tom Jones Syndrome." "Is it common?" Well, "It's Not Unusual."

8. Two cows are standing next to each other in a field. Daisy says to Dolly, "I was artificiallyinseminated this morning." "I don't believe you,"says Dolly. "It's true, no bull!" exclaims Daisy ..

9. An invisible man marries an invisible woman. The kids were nothing to look at either.

10. Deja Moo: The feeling that you've heard this bull before.

11. I went to buy some camouflage trousers the other day, but I couldn't find any.

12. A man woke up in a hospital after a serious accident. He shouted, "Doctor, doctor, I can't feel mylegs!" The doctor replied, "I know you can't - I've cut off your arms!"

13 . I went to a seafood disco last week...and pulled a mussel.

14. What do you call a fish with no eyes? A fsh.

15. Two fish swim into a concrete wall. The one turns to the other and says "Dam!"

16. Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft. Unsurprisingly it sank, proving once again that you can't have your kayak and heat it too.

17. A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse. "But why?" they asked, as they moved off. "Because", he said, "I can't stand chess-nuts boasting in an open foyer."

18. A woman has twins and gives them up for adoption. One of them goes to a family in western Egypt and is named "Ahmal." The other goes to a family in western Spain; they name him "Juan." Years later, Juan sends apicture of himself to his birth mother. Upon receiving the picture, shetells her husband that she wishes she also had a picture of Ahmal. Her husband responds,"They're twins! If you've seen Juan, you've seen Ahmal!"

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Memo to Mr. Osteen from John Wesley

"I fear, wherever riches have increased, the essence of religion has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore, I do not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality, and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches."

--- John Wesley (1703-1791).

Cutting a Covenant, and when Covenant People can't Cut it

One of the most valuable part of my education over thirty years ago at Gordon-Conwell Seminary was learning the nature of covenanting, or making treaties in antiquity. Meredith Kline, one of my OT professors was brilliant when it came to this stuff, as he had studied ANE covenanting and how it worked in detail, particularly how ancient suzerainty treaties worked, including Hittite ones and Biblical ones. If you want to read an interesting tiny book long out of print, read Kline's 'By Oath Consigned'. There are many insights that come from such a comparative study of ancient treaty making, but here are the salient points. You can also find some resources on line from Kline as well if you Google his name.

Firstly, as Kline showed in detail, there were various different sorts of covenants or treaties in antiquity, and the kinds which we find in the Bible are suzerain-vassal treaties. They are not parity agreements between equals. All such parity covenants, treaties, or contracts are not analogous to what we have in the Bible, because of course God does not relate to his people as equals.

In a suzerain vassal treaty/covenant, it is the suzerain who dictates all the terms, lays down the law, makes certain promises, and explains the sanctions if the covenant is violated. It is entirely at the discretion of the suzerain whether he cuts a new covenant with his people if they have not kept the old one. He is under no obligation to do so. It is also true, that if the covenant is basically kept by the people in question, then the suzerain has the option to renew it on the same terms, or on different terms, if he wishes. The point is, it is entirely at his discretion what happens in such matters.

Secondly, covenants while many were unilateral, were almost always conditional in nature. This is the very nature of a covenant with stipulations, which if they were not kept, the suzerain had obligated himself to enact the curse sanctions. Thereafter, it was up to the suzerain to decide whether even to do another covenant or not. Fortunately for us, the Biblical Suzerain, our God, has chosen to continue to re-up, either renewing (some of the OT covenants), or in the case of the new covenant, starting afresh with a new covenant, which promised to be more permanent.

Thirdly, there were a variety of kinds of covenants, just as there were a variety of kinds of treaties or contracts. Sometimes you will hear about a covenant being mainly a law covenant, or a covenant could be more like a promissory note, emphasizing promises. But in fact, so far as I can see all covenants in antiquity involved both stipulations by the Suzerain (rules and laws), and also some promises.

The old covenants in the OT involved both law and promises, both stipulations and obligations. There is no such thing as a 'grace' less or a 'promise' less covenant in the Bible, and in regard to this particular matter we should not contrast the old and new covenants.

The new covenant most certainly has laws. Paul calls these the Law of Christ (see Gal. 5-6; 1 Cor. 9). The old covenant certainly had elements of grace and promise as well. However, and this is the crucial point, because the stipulations and promises and sanctions are in various regards different between the various old covenants and the new one, it is clear enough the the new covenant is not simply a renewal of any of the old covenants. Paul does inform us that the new covenant involves the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham through Christ, but this is a different matter. God has chosen to carry over certain promises into the new covenant and have them fulfilled by and through Christ.

The form of ancient covenants was all basically the same: 1) historical preamble explaining why the covenant was made or what circumstances caused it to be made (cf. the description in 1 Cor. 11 as to how the Lord's Supper came to be celebrated); 2) covenant regulations or stipulations, such as the ten commandments; 3) promise or blessing sanctions if the covenant was kept (see Jesus' beatitudes and woes), and curse sanctions if it was not. All such covenants were inaugurated by means of a sacrifice.

There was often as well a covenant sign, and the sign itself usually was the sign of the oath curse, a reminder of what would happen if the covenant was not kept. For example, circumcision was a sign of the warning-- 'if you do not keep the covenant I will cut you and your descendants off'. What more graphic reminder of having yourself and your descendants cut off than the circumcision of the organ of generation, from which descendants come?

Notice as well that circumcision is a male specific covenant sign in Israelite culture, whereas baptism is a gender inclusive sign. This clearly enough signals a major difference between various old covenants and the new covenant. The sign of the covenant indicates something of the character of the covenant. There was a phrase we hear from time to time in Israelite literature--- 'to cut a covenant, 'karath berith'. This could refer to the cutting of its stipulations it in stone, or the cutting its sign in the flesh, but it meant that the covenant was inaugurated and valid.

In the NT we hear language about Christ's death being both like a circumcision, a cutting off, and like a baptism, a symbol of drowning by water ordeal (also a curse sanction), and further more Christian baptism is associated not primarily with repentance, but rather as Rom. 6 makes clear with death and burial--- of the old person. The reason for this is clear enough-- the covenant sign symbolizes the curse sanction.

In the death of Christ God enacted the the curse sanctions of the Mosaic covenant on Jesus. And here is the crucial point---once the curse sanction has been enacted, the covenant is over and done with. It is abolished and finished. It is fulfilled and done away with. It becomes obsolete. This is made perfectly clear in the NT at various junctures.

For example, in Gal. 4 Paul likens the Mosaiac covenant to a child minder, a paidagogos, which one out grows when one comes of age. The job of Jesus, as Gal. 4 says that he was born under the Law to redeem those under the Mosaic Law out from under that Law. Or in 2 Cor. 3 Paul reminds that the glory of the Mosaic covenant was a fading glory. Notice that he is not saying it was a bad thing, just not a permanent covenant by any means. It has been eclipsed by the permanent glory of Christ and his new covenant. Or again, notice what Heb. 9-10 make so very clear. Christ is a mediator of a new and better covenant, and not only so he died as a ransom to set free those who needed to be set free from the penalty for the sins committed under the 'first' covenant (by which he means the old one-- see Heb. 9.15).

What is especially amazing about the death of Jesus from the perspective of covenantal theology is three things: 1) his sacrifice for sins is 'once for all', not only once for all time, but a ransom once for all persons (see e.g. 1 Tim. 2.6). Previous sacrifices only had a temporal and temporary benefit, and did not cover sins committed with a 'high hand' for which there was no forgiveness under OT Law. This is not true of the new covenant cut by Christ; 2) Christ's death exhausted God's righteous anger against sin committed under the old covenant, and indeed his general wrath against sin even of non-covenantal peoples. In other words, the curse sanction was exhausted on him, and so the OT covenant ended on the cross, in Christ's sacrifice; 3) but equally amazing is the fact that the inaugurating sacrifice for the new covenant was this same death of Christ. It served a dual purpose of ending the old covenant and beginning the new one, in the same act. It thus is the ultimate place where we see the convergence on God's justice and mercy, his holiness and his grace, in a single act.

There, is so much more I could say about all of this, but here are some of the implications:

1) when a new covenant is inaugurated, a suzerain may choose to carry over some of the promises and stipulations and sanctions into the new covenant, as well as adding to them new promises, stipulations, and sanctions. One of the reasons Christians get confused about the relationship of the old and new covenant is that they both have some of the same rules and regulations and features. This is hardly surprising since God, who makes these covenants, has not changed in character.

But it needs to be stressed, that only those commandments given as a part of the new covenant are binding on Christians. Thus for instance, Christians are not obligated to keep the sabbath, food laws, and a host of other stipulations we find in Leviticus. On the other hand, Christians are obligated to love their enemies, turn the other cheek, and leave retaliation or vengeance entirely in the hands of God. This is a striking difference between the old and new covenants. The reason why Christians keep the commandment'-- 'No adultery' is because Jesus stipulated it was part of his law for his disciples. Not because it is part of the ten commandments. In fact Jesus basically reaffirmed most of the ten commandments, but not the sabbath commandment. And as Mk. 7.15, he also declared all foods clean. This did not make him a Law breaker, because, in Jesus' view the new eschatological covenant was on the way, and the old one was in any case irreparably broken, and there remained only the curse sanction of the old covenant still to be enacted, something which he himself would endure on behalf of God's people on the cross.

2) The last supper has to be the most amazing Passover celebration ever. Here Jesus inaugurated a new way of celebrating it, with bread and wine symbolizing his body and blood. But notice that he is symbolically distributing the benefits of his death---before he ever died on the cross. That is, so sure was he of the outcome of the cross, and that it would be beneficial for his disciples that gave them tokens and pledges of the benefits before he even died. He was not simply celebrating a Passover meal--- he was inaugurating a new meal practice with new symbols and signs, for he was both the fulfillment of the old Passover, and the inaugurator of an entirely new one on the cross.

This is more than enough, perhaps too much to process all at once. But if you want more of this, then have a look at my two little books on the sacraments now out from Baylor Press--- 'Troubled Waters' and 'Making a Meal of It'. My third book in that series on the Bible as the 'Living Word of God' will be out next month as well.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

'Gone Baby Gone'- A Modern Morality Play

Perhaps you remember 'Good Will Hunting'. It was a promising beginning for Ben Afleck and his buddy Matt Damon, both of whom hail from the Boston area. But there lives went in very different direction after that. Matt Damon went on to being on the A list of top actors, and apart from his appearance in Hollywoodland as 'Superman' there has been very little to show for Ben Affleck's various ventures on the silver screen. With 'Gone Baby Gone' that has all changed. Here is a movie with depth, breadth, surprises, excellent acting, which raises profound moral questions worth pondering. If Ben Afleck is out of his depth here, he hides it well, for he both co-wrote the screenplay (adapted from a novel by another famous Bostonian), and he directed this film, which comes in at a svelt one hour and 55 minutes. There is not an ounce of filler in this film. What there is however is more than an ounce of foul language, something many blue collar Bostonians that I have regularly encountered in my many days in that place seem to have PhD's in. There is also some violence, but the R rating is surely mostly for the 'colorful' language.

This film has been aptly compared to that other recent Boston film of note, 'Mystic River' only while that one is film in blue tones as deep as that river itself, this film is more film noir, in the sense that it is dark in general-- dark in character, dark in mood. One feels like on is getting a personal tour in the upper levels of Dante's Inferno. The film stars Casey Afleck, the brother of Ben, and a fine actor in his own right, who has the native Bostonian accent quite naturally, and Ben has chosen to populate the film with numerous natives of Dorchester, where it is set, and that vicinity. Also playing prominent roles in the film are Michelle Monighan (the Sandra Bullock look-alike, only a better actress) and the remarkable Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris as Boston cops. Look for some Oscar nods for some their performances.

The film centers on a simply premise. A young child named Amanda has been kidnapped, and there is a massive search on to find her. Not satisfied by the police efforts 'Bea' (played by Amy Madigan who is almost unrecognizable), a extended family member of the child enlists the aid of Patrick (i.e. Casey) and his girl Friday as private detectives to see what they can uncover about the whereabouts of the child. Things already look bleak by the time Patrick enters the picture, but he takes the case, much to the chagrin of the police.

Patrick is a good Irish Catholic boy who not only wears the jewelry, he actually has had conversations about morality with his priest. Early on we hear the Gospel dictum 'lo I send you out as sheep amongst wolves, so be wise as serpents, and innocent of doves'. We are meant to read this tale through the lens of the Gospel, and particularly its ethical filter. Ah, but is even this ethic adequate for the seamy underbelly of Boston, where at best a rough justice may occasionally prevail, and at worse evil not mere lurks, it reigns. The tussle in this drama will be between situation ethics, the 'making the best out of a bad situation philosophy and choosing the lesser of two evils' and the absolutist, represented by Casey Afleck. And in a very powerful way indeed the question is raised-- who gets to decide what is the 'lesser of two evils' if you decide to slide down that slippery slope. This is a tale for our post-modern times where we hear not of truth, but of 'truthiness', not of sin, but of mistakes, and not of ethics, but bad choices.

In one compelling scene where Patrick is interrogating a cop named Remy (played by Harris), they talk about murder. 'Murder's wrong, plane and simply' says Patrick, to which Remy rejoinds 'depends on who you're killing'. 'No says Patrick, the priest says if it makes you feel shame its wrong, and it's always a sin, regardless'. But the world weary Remy wishes to justify himself, and so he disagrees, all the while confessing that he once planted evidence on a bad guy to get him sent to jail. Patrick does not approve of this sort of the ends justifies any means sort of approach to justice.

Later there is a further moral melodrama between Patrick and the then retired Boston captain Dobbs played by Freeman. Freeman is arguing that his actions, while illegal, were ethical because it was what was best for a particular child. Patrick explodes and asks, how in the world he could presume to know what was best for a child. What seems best to one, could in fact be completely immoral. Doubtless Hitler thought it was best to eliminate the Jews. It was the 'final solution'. Who gets to play God, when it comes to ethics. Patrick does not think we ought to be bending God's rules, and as you will see, it costs him.

I will not spoil the drama, and surprises of this film, but I will say this. This movie does a better job of raising the debate about ethics, especially when it comes to the life and welfare of an innocent child better than any film I have ever seen. It is worth wading through the sea of foul verbage to ponder the question again--- What is right and wrong? And who ought to decide such ethical issues? And what role do we want our representatives of 'Law and Order' to play in this morality play that is our lives, especially in major urban settings where drugs, and violence, and sexual immorality are an everyday way of life for so many.

I for one am thankful I saw this film. And Patrick is a character whom I will ponder long into the night.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

No Reincarnation without Legal Permission in China

You have got to love it. The Chinese government, in order to have some control over certain social aspects of Buddhism in China has issued Order No. 5-- from the Administration of Religious Affairs. Cutting to the chase basically this order says that no Buddhist monk has permission to return from the dead, by way of reincarnation, WITHOUT GOVERNMENT APPROVAL. If only the first century Jewish authorities and Pilate had thought of issuing such an edict as well!

The story about this made major news in the NY Times recently, and here is the link----

What makes this Order No. 5 interesting to me is that China is increasingly allowing Christianity to proliferate prodigiously. They believe that religion can be a major force for social stability, but they know it can also be a force for instability as well (cf. the recent events in neighboring Myanmar). In fact there are even students going to Regent College in Vancouver on the Chinese government's yen. The Chinese government has worries that the economic boom is putting too much stress on the social fabric. What they do not say, but what seems likely, is that they have quietly concluded that the ideology of Mao is not super-gluing the fabric of society together in the desired way. They are also concerned about ethics as well. This is presumably one reason why I was asked three years ago to be a founding dean or director at Bejing University's first Christian studies program (master's degree-- and now PhD as well). The only Mandarin I know however is 'duck', so I will only go once in a while to do some teaching with a translator.

Nevertheless, one thing is clear from my recent trip to Hong Kong. Christianity is burgeoning in this whole region, and as one missionary said to me-- 'the 21rst century could belong to China' both economically and spiritually, if it doesn't get in its own way. Time will tell. In the meanwhile, if you are planning to come back from the dead, and are deathly ill, do not make last minute vacation plans for China.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Lost-- The Parables, not the TV Show

The following was my sermon Sunday Oct. 21 at First UMC Lexington, Ky. See what you think.



If I were to ask you what the opposite of lose is, you would immediately reply—win’. But suppose I was to ask you what is the opposite of ‘lost’? If you said found, you would be right. Did it ever occur to you that often when we are lost, the only way out is to be 'found'? Have you ever been truly lost? I mean in a place where you had no clue either where you were or which way to go? I’m not talking about the kind of lostness you feel when you wake up from a vivid dream and are disoriented, and can’t figure out where you are for a moment. I’m not even talking about the lostness you may feel when you are in a strange building and someone turns out the light--- like in that great thriller with Aubrey Hepburn—‘Wait until Dark’. Men in particular, when they get behind the wheel of a car, have a hard time admitting they are lost. “Well this looks familiar… well, I think I have been here before…. Well I am sure we will come on something recognizable soon…” I’m not even talking about the kind of lostness represented in the popular recent TV show LOST-- on ABC.

Most human beings seem to think, almost innately, that when they are lost, they can find their way out of it, finesse their way out of it, talk their way out of it—but alas, our parables for today suggest this is really not so, at least if we are talking about a kind of lostness that a GPS device cannot cure. For in our parables for today, someone has to go out and rescue the lost sheep, or diligently search until she finds the lost coin. There is a kind of lostness that can only be overcome when someone rescues you. You see neither the lost sheep, nor the lost coin knew they were lost. There is no evidence they cried out for help. They were not looking to be found or rescued, nor were they hoping for a self-help scheme to come along so they could take care of themselves and have ‘their best life now’. These two brief vignettes are parables about how it is with us, when it comes to lostness, real lostness, spiritual lostness.


Jesus told parables as his modus operandi for public ministry. The interesting thing is that the Greek term we translate parable could be a proverb, it could be an aphorism, or even a one liner (physician heal thyself is called a parable), or it could be a more extended analogy or metaphor in the form of a very brief story. The essence of the parables is that they are figurative or metaphorical speech meant to tease the mind into active thought. They are the ancient equivalent of brain teasers in some case, though the meaning of some of them seems to be a no brainer. In fact all the parables are parables of or about the Kingdom of God, by which is meant the divine saving activity, and its results. Jesus’ parables are not meant to be sermon illustrations, they are the preaching themselves. They don’t make some other point, they are the point. This is how Jesus wants to communicate with us, and it does not amount to him putting the cookies on the bottom shelf. Rather Jesus wants our reach mentally and spiritually to extend further than our present grasp. Hence, all things are spoken in mysterious parables so we must ponder things—including the meaning of our very lives.

One of the things scholars have noted about these wisdom sayings called parables is that Jesus seemed to like to tell them in pairs. In this case we have the parable of the lost sheep, paired with the parable of the lost coin, and in fact the real meaning of these two parables is basically the same—God seeks and saves the lost. But why tell that story in these two different ways? One reason, clearly enough is that Jesus was a radical. He is the first Jewish teacher we know of that had both men and women as disciples, and indeed not just casual disciples, traveling disciples (see Lk. 8.1-3). Strikingly, in the first of these two parables God is portrayed as like the male shepherd, leaving behind the 99 sheep to go and find the one lost one, whereas in the second parable he is said to be like the woman who is frantically sweeping the dirt floor of her house looking for a lost coin. We have here God portrayed as both a man and a woman seeking the lost. This must have surprised quite a few people in Jesus’ milieu, to say the least. It doesn’t surprise me though—not only was Jesus an equal opportunity redeemer of all sorts of people, both male and female, God, who in the divine nature is Spirit, neither male nor female, has no problems with being said to be like either a man or a woman who seeks to find what is lost. It’s some of us that get hung up on such a notion.

I like to ask my students—now what part of this parable seems odd to you, not really true to life? Immediately some will say, well, what shepherd in his right mind would leave the whole flock apparently unattended to go find one lost straggly sheep? Excellent question. Just so. The parable does not say the shepherd had helpers or a sheep dog named shep even. It simply says he left the 99 and went after the lost one. If you find the element in the parable which is NOT true to ordinary life, you will find the way in which it is commenting on our extraordinary God and his divine saving activity.

Now if you know anything about sheep, they are not notably smart. They do quite readily wander off when not supervised. Did you ever wonder why Jesus kept saying his followers were like sheep—this is not exactly the most flattering thing one could say about one’s disciples. Have you seen that commercial where there is a herd of sheep in the middle of the road, and the family van is stuck because the sheep won’t move out of the road? The father in vain gets out of the vehicle and tries to shoo the sheep into moving—then suddenly he has a bright idea, makes a few clicks on his picture phone, and suddenly a snarling wolf shows up, and the sheep hear it and run off—as in the background we hear a country singer singing “overcome the big things…” Yes sheep are not notably smart, and when they get lost, someone has to go and find them and rescue them. And the saddest part is that often the sheep do not even know or recognize they are lost.

In regard to the parable of the lost coin, Joachim Jeremias tells us that women wore their dowry in their headdress—perhaps you have seen such a picture on TV with a middle eastern woman with coins hanging from her headdress. Those are not fashion accessories, or baubles, bangles and beads. No, that’s her precious dowry which she keeps on her all the time. It’s her emergency bank account. In the parable this woman is frantically searching for the lost coin, because to her, it is exceedingly precious, worth a lot, and she can’t afford to lose it.

Now we need to stop for a moment and ask—is God really like the shepherd and the woman in these parables? Does God indeed see us as so precious, so valuable, so needing to be saved, that he would search frantically for us, even take great risks Are we really that needy, really that lost—and would God really take the trouble to make an all out search to find and rescue us? Does God really care that much about me, even me? Maxie Dunnam once said God love’s you as if you are the only person in the whole world he had to love.” Look at the emphasis in the parable about joy in heaven when one lost person is found. But to better answer that question let’s consider three stories. Since Jesus preached using stories, I figure that is one rather remarkable precedent for doing so.


C.S. Lewis is certainly one of my heroes, one of the great Christians of the 20th century or any century. And you can read the story of his coming to Christ, or better said, Christ’s coming to him, in his book ‘Surprised by Joy’. The title of the book is deliberately ironic, not only because he ended up unexpectedly marrying a woman named Joy, but even more unexpectedly, God found him. Now Lewis’s background was Northern Ireland, and if you know anything about Northern Ireland, even today, the Christian religion in that context is not seen as something that unites people, rather it divides them. It is not seen as something that saves people, it is seen as something that gets them killed if they are too vociferous about being Protestant or Catholic. Christianity as he grew up with it left a terrible taste in C.S. Lewis’ mouth, and it certainly didn’t lead to his going on a long spiritual journey trying to ‘find God’. Rather God, came after him, much like the description in the famous British poem, ‘The Hound of Heaven’ Listen to the opening stanza of the poem that speaks of one fleeing from God, and God in hot pursuit—

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;

I fled Him, down the arches of the years;

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways

Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears

I hid from Him, and under running laughter.

Up vista-ed hopes I sped;

And shot, precipitated,

Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,

From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.

But with unhurrying chase,

And unperturbèd pace,

Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,

They beat -- and a voice beat

More instant than the Feet --


This is the way it was with Lewis, and when finally he gave in to the relentless knocking on the door of his heart by Christ, he said thereafter—“I thus became the most reluctant convert in all of Christendom”. You know sheep, don’t much want to be rescued—until they are, and finally the need for it dawns on them. And coins—they don’t care at all who finds them. Are we like that--- that lost, that insensible to the divine overtures?

I have a second story, and it is my own. I went off to Carolina in a turbulent time, and got away from the church. The Vietnam war was on, and I was angry with the establishment, angry with our government, angry with the church for being complacent or even complicit in such a war. My friends, some of whom were Christian were praying for me, and I honestly didn’t much want to be prayed for, but they did it anyway. Then there was a night as I walked across a quad in Chapel Hill, late one night, I actually heard an audible voice calling me--- it simply said ‘Ben’, ‘Ben’.

I looked around, and there was no one there. No one at all. No one even close. But I had heard the voice so clearly and distinctly. Later I remembered what Jesus said in John’s Gospel, “I know my sheep, and they know the sound of my voice, and I call them by name”. That in fact is true—sheep know the sound of the voice of their shepherd, and in Jesus’ world shepherd’s named their sheep, so precious were they to him. You see this image above me in that window--- that’s the Jesus I encountered that night. He had come for me, and I didn’t even know I was lost. He had come for me, even me. I wouldn’t be here this morning, were it not for that dark chilly night in 1972.

This experience was just the opposite of the time when I got a form letter from Time magazine asking me to renew my subscription. They had left the typing of my name into the letter’s gaps to the computer. The computer read my name Dr. Ben Witherington, III and figured it was too long to fit into the space, so it simply read as follows (I kid you not):

Dear Dr. Third:

Your magazine subscription is about to run out and we wanted to make this personal appeal to you Dr. Third to renew your subscription to our great American news weekly. Surely, Dr, Third, you will not want to miss a single issue and keep abreast of foreign and domestic affairs, so please sign your name at the bottom—DR. THIRD, and you will continue to get our great service without interruption.

Yours sincerely,

Time Inc.

I was very tempted to write them back a letter which began—“Dear Inc.” You see when the world tries to be personal it treats people like numbers and things, but when God is personal, he comes after you, and calls you by name, as he did with me.

I have one more story to share, and this one is from one of my favorite preachers—Fred Craddock. Fred and his wife Nettie were in the Smoky Mountains which both he and I dearly love, in a little town called Cosby, near Gatlinburg. It is not that far from where he currently lives in retirement. They were having a meal at the Black Bear Inn which has a great scenic view of the mountains out a big picture window. Early in the meal an elderly man approached the Craddock’s table and said ‘Good Evening’.

Fred said: ‘Good evening”

The man said “Are you on vacation?”

Fred replied “Yes,” (but under his breath he was saying ‘it’s none of your business’).

‘Where are you from?’ the man asked.

‘We’re from Oklahoma’ said Fred.

‘What do you do in Oklahoma?’ asked the persistent man.

Under his breath Fred was saying ‘leave us alone, we’re on vacation and don’t know who you are’, but out loud he said—‘I am a Christian minister’.

The man asked--- ‘Which church?’

Fred said ‘The Christian church’.

The man paused and then said: “I owe a great deal to a minister of the Christian church.’ (Clearly this man was relentless and did not know when to quit).

At that point the man pulled up a chair and sat down next to the Craddock.

Fred said feebly—“Yes, have a seat.” But in his mind he was asking—‘Who is this person?”

The man said: “I grew up in these mountains. My mother was not married and the whole community knew it. I was what was called in those days an illegitimate child, in fact they called me that ugly name—a bastard. In those days that was shameful, and I was ashamed. The reproach that fell on my mother, fell also on me. When I went into town I could see people staring at me, making guesses as to who my father was. At school the children said ugly things to me, so I stayed to myself at recess and at lunch.

In my early teens I began to attend a little church back in the mountains called Laurel Spring Christian Church. It had a minister who was both attractive and frightening. He had a chiseled face, a deep voice, and a heavy beard. I went to hear him preach, I don’t know exactly why, but it did something for me. But I was afraid I was not welcome, since I was, as they put it, a bastard. I would go just in time for the sermon and then quickly leave before someone could ask me—what’s a boy like you doing here? One Sunday however I got trapped in the aisle, there were too many adults in front of me leaving, and I felt a heavy hand on my shoulder. It was that minister. I caught a glimpse of his beard and face and knew. I trembled in fear. He turned his face around so he could look me in the eye, and seemed to be staring at me for ever so long. I knew what he was doing—he was sizing me up in order to guess who my father was. A moment later he said--- “well boy you are a child of…” and he paused there. I just knew what was coming, I just knew I would have my feeling hurt—again! I knew I would never go back to that church again. But then he said ‘Boy, you are a child of---- God! I see a striking resemblance, boy.” Then he swatted me on the bottom and said ‘Now go claim your inheritance.’ I left church a different person that day. In fact really that was the beginning of my life. I had been found, and found out, and I found out who I was.”

Fred Craddock says that he was so moved by the story that he asked the man “What’s your name?”

The man said “Ben Hooper”

Fred then said—“I suddenly recalled that my own father had once told me when I was just a child how the people of Tennessee had twice elected as governor a ‘bastard’ named Ben Hooper.”

You see, that one straggly sheep had been worth rescuing and God puts his hand on that little sheep that day and claimed him, and the rest, as they say, is history. God is a God who diligently seeks and saves the least, the last and the lost

And all God’s people said--- AMEN.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Beautiful Turkey-- from the Air

I must confess to being prejudiced. After spending a lot of years in the lands of the Bible, my favorite, in terms of the visual side of things and the cordiality of the people and the variety of OT and NT sites that don't just involve indecipherable rocks and sand, is Turkey. Here are some of my favorite aerial shots of Turkey.

Among them you will see a cliff hanger of a monastery, a gaunt salt tree and archepelago, Hagia Sophia, Lake Van, a remarkable aqueduct and a dam, balloons over Cappadocia, a minaret in the middle of a bay, and two ancient Roman theatres, including the famous nearly intact one at Aspendos at the bottom. Enjoy.

The Debate about God's Existence Heats up in ole Alabama

There was a recent, and surprisingly civil, debate between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox (a mathematician) in Birmingham Ala. They are both Oxfordians. This is the first time Dawkins has ventured into the Bible Belt for a debate, a region he once dubbed "the country's reptilian brain" as opposed to the North and east and west coasts which he has dubbed the country's "cerebral cortex". No prejudices reflected there! Here is a link to a Wall Street Journal review article on the debate which James Foster kindly sent me.

For those interested in two recent good rebuttals to the fulminations of Dawkins see: 1) Alistair and Coleen McGrath's The Dawkin's Delusion (IVP); and just released, the marvelous story of how one of the world's most famous atheists Anthony Flew became a theist-- "There is A God-- How the World's Most Famous Atheist Changed his Mind" (Harper Collins). Francis Collins says this book will infuriate the fundamentalist atheists.

What I would remind folks on either side of the debate is that atheism is a religious point of view, not a scientific one. Why? Because it requires a certain kind of faith on the part of a mortal who is not omniscient to believe adamantly or event to pretend to know that there is no God, and to think that the evidence is so overwhelming that the counter evidence can be dismissed as non-scientific, insubstantial, purely subjective etc. This is indeed a form of fundamentalism, like various other sorts of fundamentalisms since there IS evidence, indeed strong evidence that a reasonable person could count as for the existence of God, including empirical evidence. Indeed, the vast, vast majority of human beings in all ages, intelligent or otherwise, have always thought that the evidence as we have it at least favors the existence of God. Atheism has always been a tiny minority view point, and continues to be such. It's just that some atheists have become more high profile and more provocative in the last ten years and they are getting more of a hearing than they did in the past.

But I will not spoil the reading of these two good books. They speak for themselves.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

More Children's Letters to God

Here are a few more real letters from young children to God. Clearly they think honesty is the best policy when it comes to talking to the Almighty :)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Michael Clayton-- The Truth can Be Adjusted

In the shadowy world of relativism, there is no darker corner than the American legal system where 'truth' can be bought, sold, adjusted, revamped, distorted, sanitized, protected, defended, attacked, and a host of other things. Americans have a difficult time understanding the advocacy system, as it is not the job of lawyers to find the truth and stand up for it. It is there job to represent their clients well and put the best possible face on their case within the limits of what is legal. It is assumed that a judge or a jury will care about the truth and sort things out, but then, perhaps you remember Jesus' judge who once asked 'What is truth?'

Sydney Pollack is a master of shadow and light, and I am not just talking about cinematography, I am talking about dealing with the shadows and light that come forth from the human soul. There is no better 'shadowland' in America to film a story about 'the truth being adjusted' than in NY city. So it was with certain expectations that I went to George Clooney's latest movie-- 'Michael Clayton' in which Pollack both directs and indeed is one of the cast as well-- Arnie, the head of the law firm for which Michael Clayton=Clooney works.

The story revolves around a giant conglomerate agra-business called UNorth that is being sued, and their law firm just happens to be the one for which Clayton works. Clayton, however, is not a trial lawyer, he is a fixer, a bag man, or as he prefers to call himself a legal janitor. It is his job to go around behind the scenes cleaning up other people's messes. Michael Clayton, then is no 'Law and Order' star in the court, he's the one behind the scenes making sure that what is done in court doesn't come unraveled elsewhere.

But this whole story is about unraveling of various sorts-- legal, psychological, emotional, even spiritual. Clayton clearly doesn't make the big money, and equally clearly his own life is frayed at various edges. He has a son, but he is no longer married. He has a brother who is an alcoholic. He has a brother on the police force struggling to make ends meet. And he himself owes the bookey, presumably mostly because of his restaurant nest egg deal went wrong, due to his screwup alcoholic brother. The story is not a warm and fuzzy one, but it does it's share of soul probing.

It seems as well that the brilliant lead lawyer of Michael's firm has gone off his meds (manic depression), and stripped naked in a parking lot in Milwaukee where the trial is going on. Damage control is needed, lest the firm lose millions and millions of billable hours worth of dollars. But the problem is much more than money, the problem is ethics. UNorth has been producing a product that, while it may help crops grow, also kills human beings-- 468 of them to be precise. And they know it. And then suddenly the lead lawyer in Michael's firm knows it, and goes crazy.

What to do? Should the firm change sides of the aisle? Should there be a coverup? Meanwhile the in-house lawyer of UNorth decides that the fancy trial lawyer is a loose cannon that needs not merely to be fired, but indeed to be killed-- and he is. But this doesn't stop the problem, because Michael gets his hands on the damning internal memo.

Will he sell his soul for money? Will he turn state's evidence? Will he lose his life? Does Arnie (aka Pollack) the head of his firm even care about the real truth of the matter? I will not spoil the ending of the movie, but lets just say it is very suspensful, as many of Pollack's films are, and it takes a while to mentally sort out what is happening as you watch the film. Patience is required to get to the bottom of things, and find 'the truth' both in the movie, and of the movie. Like a good morality play, this film asks all the right questions, and then hints at answers, but allows the audience to fill in the blanks.

This film is two hours in length, and has a little coarse language, which I suppose is what got it it's R rating. There is actually almost no violence, and no sex in the film at all. It is however an adult film, complex, brooding, and probing, and well worth seeing. I suspect Clooney gets another Oscar nomination for this one.

But I will leave you with one abiding impression-- perhaps you know the old saying 'be sure your sins will find you out', or even 'the truth will out'. As it turns out, this film understands that representations of the truth in court, are not the same thing as 'the truth' as in reality as it happened. The question becomes-- does reality finally come to light and have it's day in court even in a relativistic post-modern world? That of course is what the Bible says when it talks about a final day of Judgment, a day when truth and justice and yet also love and mercy finally prevail. Go see this movie-- but be prepared to hear the echo of a great one liner from another good film in your head--'You can't handle the truth'.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Love-- as Defined by Children

A group of professional people posed this question to a group of 4 to 8 year-olds, "What does love mean?"
The answers they got were broader and deeper than anyone could have imagined. See what you think:

"When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn't bend over and paint her toenails anymore.
So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That's love."

Rebecca- age 8

"When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different.
You just know that your name is safe in their mouth."

Billy - age 4

"Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other."

Karl - age 5

"Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs."

Chrissy - age 6

"Love is what makes you smile when you're tired."

Terri - age 4

"Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK."

Danny - age 7

"Love is when you kiss all the time. Then when you get tired of kissing, you still want to be together and you talk more.
My Mommy and Daddy are like that. They look gross when they kiss"

Emily - age 8

"Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen."

Bobby - age 7

"If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate,"

Nikka - age 6
(we need a few million more Nikka's on this planet)

"Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it everyday."

Noelle - age 7

"Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well."

Tommy - age 6

"During my piano recital, I was on a stage and I was scared. I looked at all the people watching me and saw my daddy waving and smiling.

He was the only one doing that. I wasn't scared anymore."

Cindy - age 8

"My mommy loves me more than anybody
You don't see anyone else kissing me to sleep at night."

Clare - age 6

"Love is when Mommy gives Daddy the best piece of chicken."

Elaine-age 5

"Love is when Mommy sees Daddy smelly and sweaty and still says he is handsomer than Robert Redford."

Chris - age 7

"Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day."

Mary Ann - age 4

"I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones."

Lauren - age 4

"When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you." (what an image)

Karen - age 7

"Love is when Mommy sees Daddy on the toilet and she doesn't think it's gross."

Mark - age 6

"You really shouldn't say 'I love you' unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget."

Jessica - age 8

And the final one -- Author and lecturer Leo Buscaglia once talked about a contest he was asked to judge.

The purpose of the contest was to find the most caring child.

The winner was a four year old child whose next door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife.

Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman's yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there.

When his Mother asked what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said,

"Nothing, I just helped him cry"

When there is nothing left but God, that is when you find out that God is all you need. Take 60 seconds and give this a shot! All you do is simply say the following small prayer for the person who sent you this.

Heavenly Father, please bless all my friends in whatever it is that You know they may be needing this day! And may their life be full of Your peace, prosperity and power as he/she seeks to have a closer relationship with You. Amen.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

No Halo for Halo 3

I have had an interesting exchange with my son this week, who has indeed played Halo 3, though he is hardly seems enamored with it. But he knew so much more about gaming and provided so much good information that I thought I would post our discussion, at some length---
Please excuse the squiggles which I could not get rid of when I did the cut and paste from Hotmail.

I see you've already blogged away about this, so i thought I'd add some thoughts, being not registered to Blogger.
First an unscientific survey:
- Gaming blogs and their users posting there are largely decided that this is not a great idea, mainly due to the religiously-motivated aliens which are engaged en masse.
- - A large number of those posters which also go to youth groups and have gaming nights fall into two categories: A. "who cares? it's cartoonish enough for the action to be unoffensive" or B. "Shooters aren't the best games to be doing fellowship." Shooters ARE overwhelmingly the most popular, however. Among ALL our youth. Halo is bigger than football on many college campuses I can tell you. I can also personally attest to this... but that's for another email.
The big pull of "Halo" isn't just that it's a star wars save-the-universe type story. What we REALLY have is "The US Army (the UNSC) saves the world once again from religious extremeists (the alien Covenant) who have control over a WMD (the Halos)" Sound familiar? That said, Halo can be and IS used as an army recruitment tool. It's advertisements are used almost in tandem with Army commercials. Master Chief is 100% GI JOE American hero idol worship. Playing online, you will run into gamers who are serving in Iraq. People are joining because of Master Chief. In the minds of middle-american youth organizers I think i can hear the tune of: "Are American soldiers not the champions of Righteousness?'


I am so glad you sent me this as I need an inside perspective, and I know you have played this. I would like to understand better what the whole appeal of this is. Am I being too negative and harsh about this? I ask because I got a call from FOX today to come on national TV and talk about this--- so I need a crash course from you about all this--- can you help? Can we talk tonight after you get home? I would like to post what you said with your permission on my blog. It will help.

Fox wants your input? Well we all know how much they love overreactions ;)

1. Adult Content: Definitely overblown!

About that M rating (The R rating of the ESRB)...usually they're given to shooters like Halo on merit of "violent conflict." It cannot be legally sold to minors in software stores. Playing is

Another matter.From our perspective (any any kid of ANY AGE paying attention to games, namely most of them), aliens being blown up with purple blood is pretty average fare--remember

Independence Day? That's PG-13 and I would call it more graphic in terms of realism. I don't know anyone who thinks Halo has "adult content" other than the theme of war. Swearing? I think I

heard "damn" once or twice--which slips into PG fare. A typical unsheltered kid's life has far more "adult" content than this. But obviously not this much shooting. Nobody thinks much about violence in movies much...

2. Violence vs the Church: Should God's children be playing violent games in church? OR at all??

I can't answer this, but considering how popular this game is...Check out a few comments on gaming blogs here:

While I wont presume to be a definitive voice of gamerdom, I know most gamers find it humorous and dismaying when media hype finds a game--usually a shooter.
Don't forget this is more popular than comic books ever were. And the players are no small segment of our culture. The next generation is already immersed in it.
So what do we do? None of us see the games themselves to be an inherant problem--but when it or any other piece of our culture being used as a political or religious tool?
Not so good.

Personally, I don't think youth pastors should be TAKING THEMES FROM THE HALO STORY and trying to apply them to matters of Heaven and Earth.
Then again, popular culture is used all the time for ministry... Should we play them at all in church? The truth is, we've all been playing racing, sporting, fighting, shooting games around
youth groups for some time now. No less than table tennis, air hockey, gymnasium activities. 10 years ago we were all playing Goldeneye (the Nintendo 64 game based on the Bond movie), which pitted Bond against, well, the usual people to shoot. And then we shot up each other in multiplayer matches. Why? It's a social glue. I will say it's been a majority male activity, but girls are starting to join up too. We treat these games as the same fantasy thrill of any other type of game--Halo 3 just happens to be a lot prettier.

4. Overarching relevance:

Here's an interesting tidbit: The supersoldiers of Halo are code-named SPARTANS. Not an accident: What I see is an ingrained attraction to "conflict and glory" dating back to antiquity. And
I say our Master Chief is our next Odysseus. His stories are definitely not PG-13
5. Most importantly, you will want to educate yourself on the game, and heres the wiki:

DAD: My biggest concern, besides the effect of acted out pseudo-violence, is really the way this sucks a person into a virtual reality that becomes all consuming in terms of one's time, money, interests--- its absolutely addictive for those who are already OCD. Meanwhile the real world suffers, and people do not learn more skills for dealing with the real world. Of course it is more than a form of escape, but it certainly is that as well.

DAVID:There are cases of internet, gaming, and online gaming addiction. I think the medical view is they are the same as any other addiction. I would argue gambling addiction is more destructive just with its quicker spending potential. Then you have online gambling get the point. There's the hardcore crowd and the casual crowd. I actually have more casual games on the xbox than hard-hitting epics like halo, as it gets pretty intensive. I'm currently checking out: , adapted for the xbox. I'm also working on a respectable score in .

You seem to be concerned about the question: "What are we learning from all this?"
Well.... I've learned that when you play with random, anonymous guys online, there's no shortage of foul-mouthed jerks and jocks. So I prefer to play only with those I know. Not much different from real life. I've also discovered that for the same reason, loyalty, teamwork and generosity are highly sought after in organized gaming clans. Brothers in arms indeed.

So are you saying gaming is preventing the progression of human society, like opium destroyed China?
Can't really argue that people should be out looking for the cure for cancer instead of thrill seeking, or that games are a time and money sink. Idle hands and all that.

Well, let's discuss the time factor for a minute. On average, how long does it take to play a full Halo game in the Versus mode (or is there no limit to how long it could go on?).

The average say, "team slayer" (usually 4 on 4) match lasts 5-10 minutes, depending on variables. Then you start another match. And another. Gotta warm up first of course.
There's also the option of playing the single-player campaign cooperatively with 3 other people, which you can play for several hours on end if you're trying to make progress and finish it together.

O.K.... Best guess scenario--- how long do these games go on when people get together to do this-- one hour, two hours, more--- all night??? What seems normal?


I guess it depends how serious a gamer you are. You can get together with the guys and make it an all night or all weekend LAN or online type deal, just like with the PC. Or jump in and play a match online and quit...a couple hours or more a day seems average for serious players, who are very competitive.

Halo3 isn't necessarily "all consuming" of time. That behaviour is considered to be reserved for MMO (massively multi online) games like World of Warcraft, which is a persistent world and doesn't really have an "end," you just quest and quest and quest alone or with a guild to build up your character for days, months on end. That certainly has potential for destructive behavior physically and socially. The community is well aware of it.

An interesting note: There are actually "healthy gaming" initiatives at Microsoft and Nintendo... for example:

O.K.. that gives me a pretty clear picture of things. How much of a game like Halo requires actual thinking, or is it more a matter of manual dexterity and quick reaction time....rather like being defensive back in football, not sure of what's coming?

Hmm... There are several modes that require more strategic teamplay, and planning out moves, like in capture the flag mode with defense and offence. Not as popular as run-and-gun slayer to be sure. However, good teams have to think about several things, at least before the game starts: knowing the multiplayer levels (referred to as maps) for navigation, paths of approach, and where items are placed. Locations of teammates and opponents on the radar, using defensive and offensive items to assist yourself and the team. Underlying all of this is your skill in tracking the opponents and aiming in fairly chaotic battle. So the core of the game is reactive, but in any other mode than basic free-for-all slayer, you will fail as a teammate without thinking strategically like one.

One thing I am trying to assess to what degree this really is like 'real' physical games which involve both team play, preparation in advance, practice, and also read and react skills.

That's a good question for the Pro Gaming League or Cyberathlete Pro League or the other "major league" gamer groups. They play for cash, have coaches, and even drug tests.
I can say there are plenty of people who treat this like real sports, such as this guy in the CPL: I would say that in your mind, you really can apply "real world" team skills, if you are a team player. These games--especailly shooters--are very, very intensive as I've said. Heck, in South Korea, Starcraft (a strategy game) is practially the national sport. It's HUGE! Their Pros are media celebrities, and the winnings go to the $100,000s. The pro gamers practice hours every day as if its the "real deal" for percision and teamwork. That all said, pro gamers are not a large group of people, but there sure are a lot of wannabes!

O.K.--- I am on information overload now, so I will have to process all this. Thanks so much for the education, your a fine son :)


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