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Monday, June 19, 2006
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via Reuters: New US church leader says homosexuality no sin.

For the record: this isn’t surprising, nor would I have expected her to dodge the question.

Still, letting the whole “woman in charge of the denomination” thing sink it first might’ve been a good idea before jumping into the next controversy…

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Sunday, June 18, 2006
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Regardless of one’s interest level in the Southern Baptist Convention, there are some interesting issues for blogging and the way bloggers are often viewed by non-bloggers within this story.

First, there is the general fact that the situation with the SBC underscores that the blogging/non-blogging division is (as one would expect) one of also of age/generation.

Second, and I think quite fascinating, is that the SBC situation reveals what appears to be an emerging standard argument against blogging. The argument is, in short, that blogging is a waste of time that could be put to better use. We have seen this argument before as applied to academic blogging. Back when we were all discussing Dan Drezner’s denial of tenure at Chicago, Ann Althouse noted that for some the following describes blogging:

If you didn’t blog so much, you would have [used all that time to do whatever I think you ought to have done

For academics it is assumed that if one wasn’t blogging, one would be doing something “useful” (i.e., publishable). I commented on this as well at the time here.

As if channeling that critique as aimed at academic bloggers, the outgoing President of the Southern Baptist Convention (Bobby Welch) made the following statement in his outgoing address (via BP News):

Welch said he’d been wondering about Southern Baptists and that if “we’d spend less time on these websites that we’d be able to spend more time witnessing?

“Do you think if we spent less time blogging we might have more time to do some baptizing?

“Do you think if we spent less time fumbling around with those computers we might have more converts?”

Welch advised the crowd not to gloat that he’s chiding “them bloggin’ boys. Why, you run around with that wireless telephone up in your ear all day long like a pacifier.

“You think if we’d spend less time with those wireless telephones and more time on the street we wouldn’t win more people to Jesus?”

The key assumption is clearly that whatever the main output for the given profession is (whether it be academic writing or winning converts) would be increased if people didn’t waste all their time blogging. Of course, this assumption can be made about blogging because it is a public undertaking (with timestamps and everything), as oppossed to many other actions that people might be engaging in, but that we aren’t made privy to on the internet. One cannot critique what one does not know about, and as such, blogging makes itself an instant object of critique because it is done in public.

The response to such criticisms in both the academic and the religious spheres have similar responses. For me, blogging helps keep me focused on a panoply of political happenings, as well as stimulating a great deal of thought, much of which translates into the classroom or into more academic writing. And given that I am part of a small faculty that is required to teach a wide array of classes, blogging intersects well with my need to be a generalists as well as as specialist.

In like fashion two Baptist bloggers respond to Welch’s words with a similar argument.

First is the SBC Outpost where Marty Duren wrote:

I can’t speak for anyone else, but since my time in the blogosphere, I have become more aware of the lost, not less; have been more effective at building relationships with the lost, not less; more prayerful and intentional in demonstrating the love of Christ, not less.

That sounds wholly plausible to me. Blogging tends to focus your attention on that which one is writing, rather than detracting.

Similarly, blogger Kiki Cherry, writing at Sojourner, responds thusly:

His words were unfair and untrue. We are not spending all of our time blogging, and many of us have a deep passion for evangelism and compassion for the lost. If he had actually taken the time to read any of our blogs, then he would know that.

Much of what we write is iron-sharpening-iron stuff about church planting, discipleship, evangelism, or simply testimonies of celebration about what God has done. Many of the bloggers are missionaries.

We also have built a practical network of support and encouragement as ministers who feel alone and isolated much of the time in our ministries. We have not found solutions to meet those needs within the traditional avenues of the SBC. So we adapted and got together to be that resource for each other.

Of course, Welch’s also bespeak of a profound misunderstanding of the role and power of technology in the discussion and dissemination of ideas (not to mention some likely sour grapes over the fact that his faction within the Convention lost, and lost to all those time-wasting bloggers…).

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By Dr. Steven Taylor

E. J. Dionne has an interesting column on the topic: A Shift Among the Evangelicals.

Andrew Sullivan also weighs in here and here.

Alan Cross, one of the blogging pastors mentioned in the previous post, and an attendee at the Convention, comments here and here (wherein he goes inside baseball to deal with some of the issues that affected the race for SBC President).

WaPo weights in here: Young Pastors Encouraged by Southern Baptist Election

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Sunday, June 11, 2006
By Dr. Steven Taylor

The pastor of my church (who has his own blog) noted to me this morning a piece in the DMN on blogging Baptist ministers and the upcoming Southern Baptist Convention meeting: New-time religion.

It makes for an interesting companion to the pieces on the YearlyKos. Indeed, just as the Kossites are seeking to make waves within the Democratic Party, the DMN piece notes that Baptist bloggers have been seeking the same within their denomination:

Conservative Southern Baptists used to be more or less an amen corner, cheering one another on as they battled denomination moderates over such issues as women in the pulpit and whether the Bible must be taken as literally true.But a generation after conservatives began to control the Southern Baptist Convention, they are finding it harder and harder to stick together. Disputes over doctrine and power-sharing have come to the fore.

And bringing them there – with a flourish – have been a handful of youngish conservative pastors employing blogs.

Baptist bloggers have become a force in the last year, generating large numbers of hits on their Web sites as they post comments – some would say, as they air dirty laundry – about the SBC, the country’s largest Protestant denomination, with 16.3 million members.

The bloggers’ rise coincides with the first seriously contested election for the SBC presidency in more than decade. Three candidates have announced, and more could emerge before next week’s annual gathering of delegates (”messengers,” Baptists call them) in Greensboro, N.C.

“Not to be presumptuous, but I think we have helped shape the debate,” said Marty Duren, a Buford, Ga., pastor and blogger. “Issues that we began discussing as far back as last summer are now part of interviews with candidates.”

Benjamin Cole, a 30-year-old pastor at Parkview Baptist Church in Arlington, is even more of a true believer. He calls Internet communication the “Gutenberg press of the new Reformation.”

Interestingly (and not surprisingly) much of the issue at hand-at least in the newspaper story-is Convention politics…

For those interested in Baptist Blogging, Alan Cross (the aforementioned pastor of Gateway Baptist Church) is going to be live blogging from the SBC meeting in North Carolina this week.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Madonna is actually quite talented. So, why does she feel the need to engage in these types of antics?

Good thing she didn’t make fun of Mohammed….

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Thursday, April 20, 2006
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via ReutersTexas college bars students from posing for Playboy

Baylor University in Waco, Texas, which bills itself as the world’s largest Baptist college, has threatened to discipline female students if they pose for Playboy magazine, which is trying to recruit models from the college.

Imagine that: a Baptist University doesn’t like its student posing nude. Amazing!!

This is the school that only recently allowed dancing on campus. As such, this is hardly news.

(And btw, what’s the “bills itself as” bit? I am fairly certain that Baylor is the world’s largest Baptist college).

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Sunday, April 16, 2006
By Dr. Steven Taylor

May you all have blessed day.

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Friday, April 14, 2006
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Yesterday, OTB noted a story about the Gospel of Judas about which I commented.

The CSM yesterday had a story on the topic, which dealt with some of the same issues I mentioned: Christian mavericks find affirmation in ancient heresies

many of early Christianity’s most steadfast figures rejected gnostic teachings as heresy - that is, false representations of Jesus’ life and of God’s nature. (Gnostic doctrines assert rival divine beings and emphasize salvation through secret knowledge.)

If anything, this is an appropriate topic for discussion, given that Christianity today commemorates Good Friday, the day Christ was crucified-the direct result of Judas’ betrayal.

Clarification: Of course, this is not to suggest that Judas bears the ultimate responsbility for the events in question.

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Thursday, April 13, 2006
By Dr. Steven Taylor

James Joyner, in writing about a controversy concerning profits made over the Gospel of Judas makes the following statement:

This, it seems clear to me even as a non-believer, is the Big News: “No one questions the authenticity of the Judas gospel, which depicts Judas Iscariot not as a betrayer of Jesus but as his favored disciple.” Given the importance of Christianity to world civilization, this is a fantastic discovery.

I would clarify (and speaking as a believer, in the interest of full disclosure), I don’t think anyone is questioning the authenticity of the document as a being a document that was written roughly in 300 AD by Gnostics. Further, as has been noted elsewhere, the existence of this document was previously known, although I don’t think a known copy of the document existed prior to the discovery of this codex.

The question of its profoundness or lack thereof, is the real issue in terms of its effects on Christianity. If it is a reflection of the view of the Gnostics, who were considered heretics by the early church (and still are considered such today) then all this document does is reinforce something that was already known about a particular sect. If the document could be demonstrated to be an actual first person testimony of Judas, that would be a wholly different thing and would put it on par with the documents currently included in the Christian Bible, the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Indeed, there are a number of non-canonical (i.e., apocryphal) gospels-see, for example, here.

However, there is little doubt that the document is a Gnostic text, making it historically interesting, but likely of little consequence in religious terms.

To put it it in scfi geek terms for the non-religious, the significance of this document vis-a-vis the Christian faith is about the same as unearthing a piece of Star Trek fan fiction from 1971 would be in terms of the “official” history of Trek. It might be interesting, but it doesn’t change the story as we know it. If you are neither religous nor a Trek geek, I can’t think of a good analogy, so sue me.

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Thursday, April 6, 2006
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Reports the NYT: ‘Gospel of Judas’ Surfaces After 1,700 Years. If anything, the documents are a remarkable find:

The entire 66-page codex also contains a text titled James (also known as First Apocalypse of James), a letter by Peter and a text of what scholars are provisionally calling Book of Allogenes.

Discovered in the 1970’s in a cavern near El Minya, Egypt, the document circulated for years among antiquities dealers in Egypt, then Europe and finally in the United States. It moldered in a safe-deposit box at a bank in Hicksville, N. Y., for 16 years before being bought in 2000 by a Zurich dealer, Frieda Nussberger-Tchacos. The manuscript was given the name Codex Tchacos.

When attempts to resell the codex failed, Ms. Nussberger-Tchacos turned it over to the Maecenas Foundation for conservation and translation.

Stephen Bainbridge comments on the Gnostic nature of the document and the problems therewith vis-a-vis orthodox Christianity and the Anchoress notes a number of stories of late aimed at discounting Christian belief. Both note the pending release of the Da Vinci Code as a potential catalyst for the overall theme.

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