The fastest-growing denomination

That would be the Seventh-Day Adventists:

Rest on the Sabbath. Heed Old Testament dietary codes. And be ready for Jesus to return at any moment.

If these practices sound quaint or antiquated, think again. They’re hallmarks of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the fastest-growing Christian denomination in North America.

Newly released data show Seventh-day Adventism growing by 2.5% in North America, a rapid clip for this part of the world, where Southern Baptists and mainline denominations, as well as other church groups are declining. Adventists are even growing 75% faster than Mormons (1.4 percent), who prioritize numeric growth.

For observers outside the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the growth rate in North America is perplexing.

“You’ve got a denomination that is basically going back to basics … saying, ‘What did God mean by all these rules and regulations and how can we fit in to be what God wants us to be?’,” said Daniel Shaw, an expert on Christian missionary outreach at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. “That’s just totally contrary to anything that’s happening in American culture. So I’m saying, ‘Whoa! That’s very interesting.’ And I can’t answer it.”

via Adventists’ back-to-basics faith is fastest growing U.S. church – USATODAY.com.

Apparently the secret of church growth is NOT to conform to the culture.  But what people appreciate is law, law, law, as opposed to gospel.  Why do you think that is?

HT:Joe Carter

The Christian equivalent of the Dead Sea Scrolls?

 

the most ancient Christian texts

 

Archaeologists have discovered some 70 little books with lead pages that may be the earliest Christian texts, dating from shortly after the time of Christ.  Interestingly, they seem to have been made by Jewish Christians–being written in ancient Hebrew, depicting both a Menorah and a Cross, and including a stylized map of Jerusalem, outside of which is drawn a T shaped cross and an empty tomb.

Most of the writing is in code, though, so it isn’t  decipherable, at least not yet.  From the BBC:

They could be the earliest Christian writing in existence, surviving almost 2,000 years in a Jordanian cave. They could, just possibly, change our understanding of how Jesus was crucified and resurrected, and how Christianity was born.

A group of 70 or so “books”, each with between five and 15 lead leaves bound by lead rings, was apparently discovered in a remote arid valley in northern Jordan somewhere between 2005 and 2007. . . .

The director of the Jordan’s Department of Antiquities, Ziad al-Saad, says the books might have been made by followers of Jesus in the few decades immediately following his crucifixion.

“They will really match, and perhaps be more significant than, the Dead Sea Scrolls,” says Mr Saad.

“Maybe it will lead to further interpretation and authenticity checks of the material, but the initial information is very encouraging, and it seems that we are looking at a very important and significant discovery, maybe the most important discovery in the history of archaeology.”

The texts might have been written in the decades following the crucifixion

They seem almost incredible claims – so what is the evidence?

The books, or “codices”, were apparently cast in lead, before being bound by lead rings.

Their leaves – which are mostly about the size of a credit card – contain text in Ancient Hebrew, most of which is in code.

If the relics are of early Christian origin rather than Jewish, then they are of huge significance.

One of the few people to see the collection is David Elkington, a scholar of ancient religious archaeology who is heading a British team trying to get the lead books safely into a Jordanian museum.

He says they could be “the major discovery of Christian history”, adding: “It’s a breathtaking thought that we have held these objects that might have been held by the early saints of the Church.”

He believes the most telling evidence for an early Christian origin lies in the images decorating the covers of the books and some of the pages of those which have so far been opened.

Mr Elkington says the relics feature signs that early Christians would have interpreted as indicating Jesus, shown side-by-side with others they would have regarded as representing the presence of God.

“It’s talking about the coming of the messiah,” he says.

“In the upper square [of one of the book covers] we have the seven-branch menorah, which Jews were utterly forbidden to represent because it resided in the holiest place in the Temple in the presence of God.

“So we have the coming of the messiah to approach the holy of holies, in other words to get legitimacy from God.”

Philip Davies, Emeritus Professor of Old Testament Studies at Sheffield University, says the most powerful evidence for a Christian origin lies in plates cast into a picture map of the holy city of Jerusalem.

“As soon as I saw that, I was dumbstruck. That struck me as so obviously a Christian image,” he says.

“There is a cross in the foreground, and behind it is what has to be the tomb [of Jesus], a small building with an opening, and behind that the walls of the city. There are walls depicted on other pages of these books too and they almost certainly refer to Jerusalem.”

It is the cross that is the most telling feature, in the shape of a capital T, as the crosses used by Romans for crucifixion were.

“It is a Christian crucifixion taking place outside the city walls,” says Mr Davies.

Margaret Barker, an authority on New Testament history, points to the location of the reported discovery as evidence of Christian, rather than purely Jewish, origin.

“We do know that on two occasions groups of refugees from the troubles in Jerusalem fled east, they crossed the Jordan near Jericho and then they fled east to very approximately where these books were said to have been found,” she says.

“[Another] one of the things that is most likely pointing towards a Christian provenance, is that these are not scrolls but books. The Christians were particularly associated with writing in a book form rather than scroll form, and sealed books in particular as part of the secret tradition of early Christianity.”

The Book of Revelation refers to such sealed texts.

Another potential link with the Bible is contained in one of the few fragments of text from the collection to have been translated.

It appears with the image of the menorah and reads “I shall walk uprightly”, a sentence that also appears in the Book of Revelation.

While it could be simply a sentiment common in Judaism, it could here be designed to refer to the resurrection.

via BBC News – Jordan battles to regain ‘priceless’ Christian relics.

HT: Joe Carter

Euro-court OKs crucifixes in public schools

The European Court of Human Rights has overturned a lower court’s decision to outlaw crucifixes in Italy’s public schools.  Not only that, the court ruled that Christianity is, in fact, the religious foundation of European civilization, a fact that need not be hidden.

The Grand Chamber ruling. . .recognizes that “human rights must not be placed in opposition to the religious foundations of European civilisation”. rules

The decision is an affirmation of the respect owed to each country of the European Union for “the religious symbols of its cultural history and national identity” and for national decisions on how the symbols can and should be displayed, Fr Lombardi said.

A lack of respect, he said, would lead to a situation in which, “in the name of religious liberty, paradoxically one would limit or even deny this freedom, ending up excluding every expression of it from the public sphere”.

via Vatican welcomes European court decision on crucifixes  | CatholicHerald.co.uk.

Would that same reasoning apply in the United States of America?

Nominal Christians

In an article about sociologist Bradley Wright’s book  Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told: A Sociologist Shatters Myths From the Secular and Christian Media journalist Adelle M. Banks discusses his findings that Christians who go to church regularly have lower divorce rates, contrary to the assertion of other researchers that Christians have the same divorce rate as everybody else.

We’ve talked about that topic, but what I’d like us to consider is another issue raised in the story:

Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, agrees there’s been some confusion.

“You do hear, both in Christian and non-Christian circles, that Christians are no different from anyone else when it comes to divorce and that is not true if you are focusing on Christians who are regular church attendees,” he said.

Wilcox’s analysis of the National Survey of Families and Households has found that Americans who attend religious services several times a month were about 35 percent less likely to divorce than those with no religious affiliation.

Less active conservative Protestants, on the other hand, were 20 percent more likely to divorce than the religiously unaffiliated.

“There’s something about being a ‘nominal Christian’ that is linked to a lot of negative outcomes when it comes to family life,” Wilcox said.

via Christians question conventional wisdom on divorce – KansasCity.com.

“Nominal Christians.”   We often say that churches are full of nominal Christians.  But it is probably more to the point that nominal Christians–including many who would classify themselves as “born again” and “conservative”–do not generally go to church.  They are Christians in name only, as opposed to Christians, whatever their faults, who attend worship services where, to whatever measure, they seek God and receive His Word.  That’s not being “nominal.”

There is no longer any cultural pressure to attend church, as there once was, and indeed the cultural pressure is in the other direction.  So those who are in church, I would argue, on some level, really mean it.

I wish I knew more about what Wilcox says about “a lot of negative outcomes when it comes to family life” that are associated with “nominal Christians.”  I suppose someone who is Christian in name only may well consider himself or herself married in name only, carrying over the tendency for superficial commitment in all relationships, with spouse as well as with God.

Can anyone fill in what Wilcox says?

Maybe Christians aren’t so bad after all

Bradley Wright, a professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut, has published a book entitled Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told: A Sociologist Shatters Myths From the Secular and Christian Media

This is the book that provides the research we blogged about earlier that Christians who faithfully attend church do not, in fact, as is often said, have the same divorce rate as non-Christians.  What’s especially interesting to me is that Professor Wright takes on the source of so many of these statistics the evangelical pollster George Barna.   Barna defines “evangelical Christian” as someone who has had a born-again experience.  Wright looks rather at church attendance as evidence of Christian commitment.  (You can buy the book, giving the Cranach blog a commission, by clicking any of these links.)

Here are product descriptions from Amazon:

From Publishers Weekly

A sociologist at the University of Connecticut, Wright examines recent survey data on Christian evangelicals to see if they substantiate the often misguided and hyperbolic public perceptions of this faith group. Separating the wheat from the chaff, he explains how some poorly worded, ill-sampled statistics give the wrong impression of evangelicals and why people should avoid giving them credence. Though he often blames the media for gleefully reporting bad news about devout Christians, he doesn’t spare evangelical polemicists such as Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel for their false exaggerations of evangelical shortcomings. His biggest target may be the pollster George Barna, whose surveys on Christianity have generated intense controversy. Wright’s colloquial writing style gives this volume the feel of a folksy college lecture series. The abundant use of graphics adds to the impression the book’s genesis was cribbed from introductory sociology of religion classes. The conclusions drawn here–no surprise–are that the most committed Christians practice what they preach, performing better than the rest of the population on a host of social measures including divorce, domestic violence, sexual misconduct, crime, substance abuse, and everyday honesty.

Product Description

According to the media, the church is rapidly shrinking, both in numbers and in effectiveness. But the good news is, much of the bad news is wrong. Sociologist Bradley R. E. Wright uncovers what’s really happening in the church: evangelicals are more respected by secular culture now than they were ten years ago; divorce rates of Christians are lower than those of nonbelievers; Christians give more to charity than others do. Wright reveals to readers why and how statistics are distorted, and shows that God is still effectively working through his people today.

via Amazon.com: Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told: A Sociologist Shatters Myths From the Secular and Christian Media (9780764207464): Bradley R.E. Wright: Books.

 

The Calvinist case against Lutheranism

Darryl Hart, a Reformed theologian who favors  “confessional” Protestantism over against the new American varieties–including  “neo-Calvinism”–takes up and interrogates the Calvinist critique of Lutheranism.  He quotes the venerable B. B. Warfield:

Just as little can the doctrine of justification by faith be represented as specifically Lutheran. It is as central to the Reformed as to the Lutheran system. Nay, it is only in the Reformed system that it retains the purity of its conception and resists the tendency to make it a doctrine of justification on account of; instead of by, faith.

It is true that Lutheranism is prone to rest in faith as a kind of ultimate fact, while Calvinism penetrates to its causes, and places faith in its due relation to the other products of God’s activity looking to the salvation of man. And this difference may, on due consideration, conduct us back to the formative principle of each type of thought. But it, too, is rather an outgrowth of the divergent formative principles than the embodiment of them.

Lutheranism, sprung from the throes of a guilt-burdened soul seeking peace with God, finds peace in faith, and stops right there. It is so absorbed in rejoicing in the blessings which flow from faith that it refuses or neglects to inquire whence faith itself flows. It thus loses itself in a sort of divine euthumia, and knows, and will know nothing beyond the peace of the justified soul.

Calvinism asks with the same eagerness as Lutheranism the great question, “What shall I do to be saved?” and answers it precisely as Lutheranism answers it. But it cannot stop there. The deeper question presses upon it, “Whence this faith by which I am justified?” And the deeper response suffuses all the chambers of the soul with praise, “From the free gift of God alone, to the praise of the glory of His grace.”

Thus Calvinism withdraws the eye from the soul and its destiny and fixes it on God and His glory. It has zeal, no doubt, for salvation but its highest zeal is for the honour of God, and it is this that quickens its emotions and vitalizes its efforts. It begins, it centres and it ends with the vision of God in His glory and it sets itself; before all things, to render to God His rights in every sphere of life-activity.

via Old Life Theological Society » Blog Archive » Did Warfield Make the World Safe for Piper?.

Now let’s think about this.  Lutheranism rejoices in the comfort of the Gospel.  But Calvinism is not content with that, going on to rationally speculate about where faith comes from–that is, according to that system, in double predestination and limited atonement–to the point that the comfort gets lost!

Furthermore, here is what Dr. Hart has to say about this quote, drawing on Luther’s Theology of the Cross:

Several items are worth noting in this quotation. First is Warfield’s notion that Reformed Protestantism is not content with faith alone but embarks upon a deeper quest to find the origins of this faith. He does not explain here what this quest looks like, but his could be an argument in favor of the kind of introspection that experimental Calvinists like Edwards and Piper favor.

A second curious feature of Warfield’s contrast is the idea that Lutheranism emphasizes justification while Reformed Protestantism stresses the glory of God. This suggests common view in some union with Christ circles that Lutheranism manifests an anthropocentric view of Christianity (e.g., man’s salvation) that contrasts with Reformed Protestantism’s theocentric outlook (e.g., God’s glory). After all, an oft-made contrast between Heidelberg (which is considered a catechism that made concessions to Lutheranism) and Westminster is that the former catechism begins with man’s “only comfort” while the Shorter Catechism begins with “God’s glory” as man’s chief end.

The danger in this contrast so far – man’s salvation vs. God’s glory – is that Lutherans had good reasons for not becoming absorbed with God’s glory. Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation was a forceful warning to theologians who were tempted to identify God’s glory with outward and external signs or forms. In other words, writ large in Luther’s theology is the idea that God’s ways are not man’s, and so God may not actually glorify himself the way that man expects. The cross is folly. Preaching is weak. Christians are poor and humble. In which case, God saves an unlikely people through surprising means. And that may also mean that God’s glory is not always as glorious as human beings expect it.

If God’s glory can be a complicated affair, then perhaps Warfield is wrong to draw the contrast between Lutheranism and Reformed Protestantism the way he does. If Lutherans actually believe in God’s glory but are also aware that it comes in surprising ways, then maybe Reformed Protestants need to learn a thing or two about how to be truly theocentric. The Lutheran theology of the cross could teach Reformed Protestants a measure of humility in their self-ascribed ability to locate God’s glory in every nook and cranny of the created order. Reformed might also consider that Lutherans understand better than Reformed triumphalists and experimental Calvinists that God’s glory is nowhere more on display, at least in this world, in the justification of sinners. After all, if man is the crown jewel of the created order and if Christ took on human form to save fallen sinners, then contra Warfield, we may not need to go much beyond justification and man’s salvation in seeing the glory of God.

If this is so, then Reformed Protestants may need to be content with the glory that is revealed in the cross and the salvation it yields instead of yielding to the temptation to find God’s glory in human powers of discernment. If Reformed Protestants followed the lead of Lutherans more, we might be spared many of those neo-Calvinist efforts to show the “Christian” meaning of calculus, Shakespeare, or Dutch history.

So while the game of saying that Reformed highlight God’s glory and Lutherans stop with justification sounds theocentric, it may turn out to be an unintended example of anthropocentricity in which believers try to prove their own godliness by discovering God’s glory through forced interpretations of general and special revelation. Perhaps Lutherans are the truly biblical ones who rest content with the glory that God has revealed in the salvation accomplished by Christ for weak and poor sinners. What could be more glorious than that!


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