October 1, 2016

Saturday Ramblings: October 1, 2016


1955 Nash Rambler 4-door Cross Country wagon

October has always been my favorite month to ramble. When we were first married and living in Vermont, the fall was the best time of year — mountains ablaze with color, sapphire blue skies, fresh apple cider, and all manner of quaint little villages to visit as we wound around those ramblin’ roads.

I still love it, and would love to take this autumnal-looking ’55 wagon on a road trip.

Whaddya say? Let’s ramble!

• • •

I always think of the Reformation and Martin Luther when October arrives. So, each week during the month here on SR we will include a Luther insult that you can enjoy and use in your web interactions (in Christian love, of course). These come from that awesomely magnificent site, The Luther Insulter.

My friends, this is what Sola Fide will get ya.


• • •


A baby with three “parents” — is this ethical?

What was the real offense behind the Great Schism?

Did you know the real story behind those amazing Dyson hand dryers?

Are Tullian Tchvidjian and ExPastors playing it straight?

What is the scariest things about health care in America today?

What are the best pop/rock songs of the 2000’s? (Hard for me to take this list seriously when “Impossible Germany” isn’t even on it.)

• • •


Arnie would have loved this…

American golf fan David Johnson was watching Team Europe golf pros on the practice green at the Ryder Cup this week. Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson were struggling with a 12-foot putt that neither of them could make, despite repeated efforts. Johnson yelled out that he could make it, and to his surprise, Stenson pulled him out of the crowd and gave him a chance.

Teammate Justin Rose turned up the pressure by laying a $100 bill on the ground next to the ball.

Remarkably, in front of the watching crowd and a team of some of the best golfers on the planet, he sized up the putt…and sank it!

To the replay:

Afterwards, Johnson said these immortal words, words everyone who has stood over a meaningful putt will understand: “I closed my eyes, swallowed my puke and hit the putt, and it happened to go in.”

• • •


220px-esvstudybibleCrossway has reversed its decision to make the ESV Bible text permanent. Jeremy Weber at CT reports:

The publisher of the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible has reversed its controversial decision to finalize the text after tweaking 29 verses.

“We have become convinced that this decision was a mistake,” stated Crossway president and CEO Lane Dennis in an announcement released today. “We apologize for this and for any concern this has caused for readers of the ESV, and we want to explain what we now believe to be the way forward. Our desire, above all, is to do what is right before the Lord.”

Last month, Crossway had announced that they had “closed the book” on future revisions, saying, “We desired for there to be a stable and standard text that would serve the reading, memorizing, preaching, and liturgical needs of Christians worldwide from one generation to another.”

However, scholars such as Tremper Longman criticized the decision, saying that (1) advances in scholarship regarding the text will be ignored, and (2) the ever-changing nature of the English language will render the ESV outdated for future readers.

No word about whether they would ever consider changing their controversial decision to re-translate Genesis 3:16, which critics asserted reflected the translators’ complementarian position on gender roles and not an accurate translation of the text.

• • •



The owner of the famous Manhattan Jewish restaurant, The Carnegie Deli, announced this week that it would be closing on Dec. 31 this year.

Though in recent years, the deli has become more of a tourist destination than a favorite hang-out for New Yorkers, this announcement marks the end of one of the city’s most recognized landmarks.

Alan Feuer at the NY Times describes it like this:

With its linoleum floors and animal protein odors, the Carnegie Deli was never fine dining, but the seedy lighting and eclectic checkerboard of celebrity photos (from the quarterback Y. A. Tittle to the Fonz, Henry Winkler) gave the place a homey sort of drop-ceiling charm.

The brand will carry on through a family-owned meat processing facility and commercial bakery in New Jersey, along with a scattering of licensed locations around the U.S.

The Carnegie Deli elicits a sense of old New York nostalgia in one of my favorite films of all time, Woody Allen’s Broadway Danny Rose. Here is A.O. Scott’s video review of that film, and as, you can see, the deli plays a prominent role in bringing back a world that may never really have existed, except in our minds and hearts.

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• • •


Finally, I have never had kidney stones, never wanted to have kidney stones, hope I never have to deal with kidney stones. I have a female friend who has been suffering with one for the past couple of weeks and I know even more than ever, I don’t want anything to do with kidney stones.

Hear that, kidney stones?!

But if, by some chance, I ever get kidney stones (no! no! please! no!), I know what I’m going to do.

I’m going to have someone drive me over to Cedar Point, the amusement park in Ohio, home of the world’s finest roller coasters. And I’m going to go straight to the greatest roller coaster I’ve ever ridden: The Millennium Force. Why? Because a team of Michigan State researchers has determined that riding a roller coaster can help people pass kidney stones.

So, kidney stones — beware! Because this is what I’m gonna do to you if you ever come around…

Fridays with Michael Spencer: September 30, 2016

Collapsing. Photo by Ben Kilgust at Flickr

Collapsing. Photo by Ben Kilgust at Flickr

Note from CM: Michael’s most well known articles were called “The Coming Evangelical Collapse.” I thought it would be good to re-post a few excerpts from these three pieces in light of the other discussions we’ve had this week.

• • •

Party Almost Over

The party is almost over for evangelicals; a party that’s been going strong since the beginning of the “Protestant” 20th century. We are soon going to be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century in a culture that will be between 25-30% non-religious.

This collapse, will, I believe, herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian west and will change the way tens of millions of people see the entire realm of religion. Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become particularly hostile towards evangelical Christianity, increasingly seeing it as the opponent of the good of individuals and society.

The response of evangelicals to this new environment will be a revisiting of the same rhetoric and reactions we’ve seen since the beginnings of the current culture war in the 1980s. The difference will be that millions of evangelicals will quit: quit their churches, quit their adherence to evangelical distinctives and quit resisting the rising tide of the culture.

Many who will leave evangelicalism will leave for no religious affiliation at all. Others will leave for an atheistic or agnostic secularism, with a strong personal rejection of Christian belief and Christian influence. Many of our children and grandchildren are going to abandon ship, and many will do so saying “good riddance.”

Monumentally Ignorant

Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people the evangelical Christian faith in an orthodox form that can take root and survive the secular onslaught. In what must be the most ironic of all possible factors, an evangelical culture that has spent billions of youth ministers, Christian music, Christian publishing and Christian media has produced an entire burgeoning culture of young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it. Our young people have deep beliefs about the culture war, but do not know why they should obey scripture, the essentials of theology or the experience of spiritual discipline and community. Coming generations of Christians are going to be monumentally ignorant and unprepared for culture-wide pressures that they will endure.

Do not be deceived by conferences or movements that are theological in nature. These are a tiny minority of evangelicalism. A strong core of evangelical beliefs is not present in most of our young people, and will be less present in the future. This loss of “the core” has been at work for some time, and the fruit of this vacancy is about to become obvious.

…Despite some very successful developments in the last 25 years, Christian education has not produced a product that can hold the line in the rising tide of secularism. The ingrown, self-evaluated ghetto of evangelicalism has used its educational system primarily to staff its own needs and talk to itself. I believe Christian schools always have a mission in our culture, but I am skeptical that they can produce any sort of effect that will make any difference. Millions of Christian school graduates are going to walk away from the faith and the church.

A Rescue Mission?

A hope for all of evangelicalism is a “rescue mission” from the world Christian community. If all of evangelicalism could see the kind of renewal that has happened in conservative Anglicanism through the Anglican Mission in America and other mission efforts, much good would be done. It is time for missionaries to come to America from Asia and Africa. Will they come? Will they be able to bring to our culture a more vital form of Christianity? I do not know, but I hope and pray that such an effort happens and succeeds.

At present, most of evangelicalism is not prepared to accept pastors and leadership from outside our culture. Yet there can be little doubt that within our western culture there is very little evidence of an evangelicalism that can diagnose and repair itself.

Will This Prompt Change?

Will the coming evangelical collapse get evangelicals past the pragmatism and shallowness that has brought about its loss of substance and power? I tend to believe that even with large declines in numbers and an evidence “earthquake” of evangelical loyalty, the purveyors of the evangelical circus will be in full form, selling their wares as the promised solution to every church’s problems. I expect the landscape of megachurch vacuity to be around for a very long time. (I rejoice in those megachurches that fulfill their role as places of influence and resource for other ministries without insisting on imitation.)

Will the coming evangelical collapse shake loose the prosperity Gospel from its parasitical place on the evangelical body of Christ? We can all pray and hope that this will be so, but evidence from other similar periods is not encouraging. Coming to terms with the economic implications of the Gospel has proven particularly difficult for evangelicals. That’s not to say that American Christians aren’t generous….they are. It is to say that American Christians seldom seem to be able to separate their theology from an overall idea of personal affluence and success American style. Perhaps the time is coming that this entanglement will be challenged, especially in the lives of younger Christians.

I’ll end this adventure in prognostication with the same confession I began with: I’m not a prophet. My view of evangelicalism is not authoritative or infallible. I am certainly wrong in some of these predictions and possibly right, even too conservative on others. But is there anyone who is observing evangelicalism in these times who does not sense that the future of our movement holds many dangers and much potential? Does anyone think all will proceed without interruption or surprise?

• • •

Photo by Ben Kilgust at Flickr

No Good News Here

Built between 1743 and 1745, Augustus Lutheran Church is known as the shrine of American Lutheranism.

Built between 1743 and 1745, Augustus Lutheran Church is known as the shrine of American Lutheranism.

Let me begin today by saying that, though I have some familiarity with the workings of my particular denomination, I am certainly no expert when it comes to the mainline Protestant church in the U.S. I grew up in the United Methodist tradition and have been a member of an ELCA Lutheran church for many years now. I went through the ELCA candidacy process (or at least the process as it was altered to fit my unique situation) and gained some exposure to the denomination, at least in my synod. I have served in a variety of ways in my local congregation as well as a few other ELCA churches, and will be serving in a short-term capacity as a supply pastor this winter in a rural congregation in central Indiana.

It has been my experience considering ordination and dealing with two congregations needing pastors that has raised my concern for the decline of my denomination. And then I read the following report: The Supply and Demand for Clergy in the ELCA, and realized that the situation is truly critical.

Here are some of the things I found. These figures represent statistics from the years 2005-2014.

  • Between 2005 and 2014, the number of congregations in the ELCA decreased 11 percent, from 10,549 to 9,392 (‐1,157).
  • Not only did the number of congregations decline, but in the churches that remain, the number of baptized members declined by 22 percent, and the number of worship attendees declined by 29 percent.
  • About half of ELCA congregations are in rural areas or in small towns with a population of fewer than 10,000. Nearly 75% of ELCA congregations are in locations with 250,000 people or fewer.
  • Between 2005 and 2014, the income of a typical congregation in the ELCA declined by 23 percent.
  • In 2014, 6,192 single‐point congregations could afford to call a first-call pastor [the lowest level of remuneration], and 1,941 single‐point congregations could not. The median level of defined compensation those congregations were paying pastors was $26,000.
  • In 2005, there were 9,105 clergy serving congregations. In 2014, there were 6,868.
  • Seventy‐seven percent of the pastors serving under a congregational call in the ELCA are solo pastors serving a single congregation. Nine percent serve a single congregation as part of a team.
  • Enrollments in ELCA M.Div. programs have decreased from 1,252 in the 2004‐2005 academic year to 735 in the 2015‐ 2016 academic year. This represents a 41 percent decline.
  • In 1988, the average age on the active clergy roster was just above 46 years old. At that time, just over 9 percent of active clergy were above 60 years old. By 2013, the average age of clergy had increased to 54 years old, with 32 percent of active clergy above 60.

There is, simply, no good news in this report.

On the ground here in Indiana, I am a member of a church for which the synod has been unable to find an interim pastor. It’s a newer congregation (about 20 years old) with a solid core of people, great facilities, an excellent location, and a setting in a relatively wealthy community. Yet, apparently, no options exist at this point for someone to come in even in an interim role. This astounds me.

The other church, the one I will be serving this winter, has not had an official ELCA pastor for a dozen years now. They had an “interim,” an Episcopalian who served them for ten years, and then a retired ELCA pastor who was their supply pastor for the past two. I’m the only option they apparently have at this point for the short-term fix they need over the winter (one who has not been ordained according to Lutheran standards), and they’re talking about becoming a shared parish with another congregation to ensure their future.

In an article in the ELCA’s magazine, The Living Lutheran, which references this study, here is the conclusion they draw:

While the number of ELCA congregations that can afford a full-time minister has dropped steadily since 2005, there still aren’t enough pastors. …In short, the ELCA has fewer congregations, fewer members, fewer leaders and fewer financial resources.

…The ELCA is on pace to experience a major shortfall in full-time clergy. Parish pastors are retiring in record numbers, according to current data and projections from ELCA Research and Evaluation. This, coupled with decreased seminary enrollment, means there aren’t likely to be enough pastors for the number of open calls.

Jonathan Strandjord, ELCA program director for seminaries, calls it a “retirement tsunami,” stressing the shortfall isn’t a future problem. “It’s here,” he added. “We’re in the middle of it, and that clergy gap will continue to widen. In fact, the gap is wider than it has ever been.”

Exodus from U.S. Religion

On Saturday we referenced a recent study released by PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute), called "Exodus: Why Americans are Leaving Religion—and Why They’re Unlikely to Come Back." The study looked at a clear trend that must … [Continue reading...]

Another Look: Together on a Stretch of Green

Note from CM: In honor of Arnold Palmer, my first golf hero. • • • To begin with, as I say, my introduction to golf came when I started swinging myself out of my shoes with that old cut-down ladies’ club at age three and was … [Continue reading...]

Music Monday: Bach and the Church Year

Music Monday: Bach and the Church Year For years now, one of my favorite sites on the internet has been the Bach Cantatas Website. This comprehensive site covers all of J.S. Bach's cantatas and vocal works, and many of the … [Continue reading...]

Pic & Poem of the Week: September 25, 2016

(Click picture to see larger image) From A Dog Has Died Ai, I'll not speak of sadness here on earth, of having lost a companion who was never servile. His friendship for me, like that of a porcupine withholding its … [Continue reading...]

Saturday Ramblings: September 24, 2016 – Grandpa’s Pride Edition

Look what we got this week! A new grandson! Number 5 grandchild. Little JD broke the tie we had -- 2 girl grandchildren, 2 boy grandchildren, and now boys have taken the lead, 3-2. But, God willing, there's plenty more to … [Continue reading...]

Fridays with Michael Spencer: September 23, 2016

Note from CM: Over the next season on Fridays, we will focus on some of what Michael wrote about the church and church-shaped vs. Jesus-shaped spirituality. • • • I am going to disagree in some fundamental ways with the … [Continue reading...]

Open Mic: September 2016

Open Mic: September 22, 2016 It has been awhile since we've hosted an Open Mic day, but today provides a good opportunity for one. I'll be playing in the annual Daniel Mercer Foundation charity golf tournament to support … [Continue reading...]