PreachingNOW – Vol. 6, No. 39 November 6, 2007 From the Editor: Twilight of Atheism Articles: Linking Ancient text and Modern World The Atheist Delusion? Illustrations: Pain, TrialsHappiness, ConsumerismGiving, HonestyGood News, Bad NewsLink of the Week Humor And Finally… “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” (Satchel Paige) Sign up now for a 1-year subscription to Preaching Magazine. That’s 6 great issues for only $39.95-a savings of over 15% off the newsstand price! Subscribe Today Vol. 6, No. 39 November 6, 2007 Michael Duduit Are we witnessing the “Twilight of Atheism”? Despite the surge of best-selling books attacking religion, author Dinesh D’Souza argues (in his new book What’s So Great About Christianity) that religion – not atheism – is on the rise. In a recent interview he observed: “There is a whole body of data showing that the world is growing more religious. One reason for this is that religious countries and religious people are having more children, while secular countries and secular people are not reproducing themselves. Interestingly while Hinduism, Islam and Christianity are all growing worldwide, Christianity is the fastest-growing religion. Islam grows mainly because of Muslims who have large families, while Christianity is also growing through rapid conversion. Once a religion confined mostly to Europe, Christianity has become a truly universal religion and over time it will increasingly be dominated by Asia, Africa and South America. “This is very disturbing news for atheists. Not so long ago the typical atheist could be comforted by the idea that as the world became more modern, more urbanized, more educated, it would also become more secular. Religion would wither away. This hasn’t happened, and the trend is actually in the other direction. In fact, religion is booming in rapidly modernizing countries like India and China. Perhaps the new atheism is a backlash against the unforeseen success of religion.” (Click here to read the full interview. Click here to learn more about the book) Michael Duduit, Editormichael@preaching.comwww.michaelduduit.com Plan to be part of the 2008 National Conference on Preaching in Washington, DC. To learn more visit www.preaching.com/ncp LINKING ANCIENT TEXT AND MODERN WORLD The new book The Folly of Preaching (Wm. B. Eerdmans) contains a selection of lectures and sermons that have been presented at the Gladstone Festival of Preaching at Canada’s McMaster Divinity College since 1992. Among the contributors are William Willimon, Tom Long, Elizabeth Achtemeier, and Haddon Robinson. John R.W. Stott was a 1996 participant, and his “Biblical Preaching in the Modern World” is included in the collection. Talking about the challenge of being an expositor of the biblical text in a contemporary culture, Stott points out that the task of the Christian communicator “is not, of course, to make Jesus Christ and the gospel relevant but rather to demonstrate their relevance to the modern world.” Stott further observes: “We must not resent the cultural gap between the ancient word and the modern world simply because it causes us problems. It is one of the glories of divine revelation that when God decided to speak to human beings, he did not speak in his own language, if he has one, because the people of the ancient world wouldn’t have understood it if he had. Instead, God condescended to speak in their languages, especially in classical Hebrew and Koine Greek. “Moreover, in speaking their languages he reflected their cultures: the Ancient Near East in the case of the Old Testament, Palestinian Judaism in the case of the Gospels, and the Greco-Roman world in the case of the Epistles. No word of God was spoken in a cultural vacuum; every word of God was spoken in a cultural context. It is this cultural chasm between the biblical world and the modern world which determines the task of the biblical expositor . . .” “It is important to establish that our study must be on both sides of the cultural chasm. It is not enough to study the Bible and Christian theology and ethics and church history and so on. We also have to study the modern world. . . . Otherwise we can never relate the word to the world in a way that is equally faithful and sensitive.” (Click here to learn more about the book The Folly of Preaching) THE ATHEIST DELUSION? Oxford professor Alister McGrath was one of the featured speakers at this year’s International Congress on Preaching in Cambridge, and offered some powerful insights about preaching biblical truth in the context of a culture profoundly influenced by science. In The Dawkins Delusion? (InterVarsity), the new book by Alister and Joanna Collicutt McGrath, they take to task Richard Dawkins and his recent bestseller The God Delusion. In their concluding observations, the McGraths ask: “Might The God Delusion actually backfire and end up persuading people that atheism is just as intolerant, doctrinaire and disagreeable as the worst that religion can offer? “Dawkins seems to think that saying something more loudly and confidently, while ignoring or trivializing counterevidence, will persuade the open-minded that religious belief is a type of delusion. Sadly, sociological studies of charismatic leaders – religious and secular – indicate that Dawkins may be right to place some hope in this strategy. For the gullible and credulous, it is the confidence with which something is said that persuades rather than the evidence offered in its support. “Yet the fact that Dawkins relies so excessively on rhetoric rather than evidence that would otherwise be his natural stock in trade clearly indicates that something is wrong with his case. Ironically the ultimate achievement of The God Delusion for modern atheism may be to suggest that this emperor has no clothes to wear. Might atheism be a delusion about God?” (Click here to learn more about The Dawkins Delusion?) ONLY TWO CONFERENCES LEFT FOR 2007REGISTER NOW! There are only two more chances to attend a Preaching magazine one-day conference in 2007! Enjoy our brand new seminar, “Growing a Biblical Sermon.” The last two conferences will be held in: Columbus, Ohio (Nov 8)Oakland, CA (Dec 10) Each conference features Dr. Michael Duduit, editor of Preaching magazine, plus a guest speaker. Cost is $95 for the first participant from a church, and $50 for each additional person; the cost includes lunch and a notebook packed with helpful resources. For more information or to register, visit www.preaching.com/events PAIN, TRIALS In a sermon for the LifeWay Pastors newsletter, Andy Cook writes: The following are actual responses from comment cards given to the staff members at Bridger Wilderness Area in 1996: Trails need to be wider so people can walk while holding hands. Trails need to be reconstructed. Please avoid building trails that go uphill. Too many bugs and leeches and spiders and spider webs. Please spray the wilderness to rid the areas of these pests. Please pave the trails so they can be snow-plowed during the winter. Chair lifts need to be in some places so that we can get to wonderful views without having to hike to them. The coyotes made too much noise last night and kept me awake. Please eradicate these annoying animals. A small deer came into my camp and stole my jar of pickles. Is there a way I can get reimbursed? Reflectors need to be placed on trees every 50 feet so people can hike at night with flashlights. Escalators would help on steep uphill sections. A McDonald’s would be nice at the trailhead. The places where trails do not exist are not well marked. Too many rocks in the mountains. (Source: Mike Neifert, Light and Life, February 1997) We’re not fond of pain, or even slight discomfort. We rebel at the suggestion of it, recoil at the sight of it, and reject the suggestion that it might be good for us. But the lessons of life are almost always taught in the classroom of suffering — whether you’re “suffering” through an elementary-school spelling quiz, dealing with the excruciating pain of disease, or the heartbreak of grief. (Click here to read the full sermon.) HAPPINESS, CONSUMERISM Economist Richard Layard believes that although people are getting wealthier and living more comfortably, they’re not getting happier. He argues in Happiness: Lessons from a New Science that a “zero-sum game of competition for money and status has gripped rich societies, and that this rate race is a big source of unhappiness.” Studies show that only about 30% of Americans identify themselves as “very happy,” a number that has remained constant since the 1950s despite the fact that incomes have doubled (even taking inflation into account). To judge by actions, consumerism is a cherished value in contemporary American society. Yet trusting in more and better things to make us happy is misplaced trust. Only faith in God can bring meaning to our lives. (Today in the Word, June 2007) From the November-December issue of Preaching . . . In an article on “Preaching the Psalms as Stories,” Bill Fleming writes: “Some psalms tell their stories directly. Other psalms are clearly written in the midst of a story. Psalm 51 is written in the midst of David’s sorrow over his sin with Bathsheba. Psalm 56 is written when David was seized by the Philistines. Psalm 130 is written from the bottom of a pit – either spiritual or literal – and tells the anguish of a trapped man. Psalm 137 catches the psalmist by the rivers of Babylon, weeping in unresolved anger. At the end of the psalm, he still has not fully dealt with his trouble. It ends with him saying ‘Happy is he who repays them for what they have done for us – happy is he who takes their infants and dashes them against the rocks!’ (Try reading that one to a sleepy Sunday morning congregation!) There may also be stories that embrace more than one psalm. Psalm 120-134 are the psalms of degrees, or ascent. They were pilgrim songs sung on the way to Jerusalem for holy days. They may also be psalms sung as the exiles returned to Jerusalem. These psalms reflect an upward movement from despair to joy. In other words, they tell a story.” _______ Every issue of Preaching contains insightful articles on preaching, plus great model sermons and practical resources. If you’re not a current subscriber to Preaching magazine, click here (or call, toll free, 1-800-527-5226) to go begin your subscription! Also in the November-December issue of Preaching: Interviews with Eugene Peterson and Max Lucado, “Blue Man Preaching,” “Preaching the Psalms as Stories,” Part 3 of Michael Quicke’s series on “Preaching and Trinitarian Worship” and much more. Order your subscription today! An earlier item in this issue discussed Alister McGrath’s new book The Dawkins Delusion?, a critique of Richard Dawkins’ most recent book. If you are interested in hearing more about McGrath’s views on Dawkins and the new atheism, here’s an interview with him from a Canadian TV show: http://www.cbc.ca/thehour/video.php?id=1589 GIVING, HONESTY When the minister picked up the phone, Special Agent Smith from the IRS was on the line. “Hello, is this the minister?” “Yes, this is.” “I’m calling to inquire about a member of your congregation, a Dr. Reynolds. Do you recognize the name?” “Yes, he is a member of our congregation. How can I be of service?” “Well, on last year’s tax return, the doctor claimed that he made a sizable tax-deductible contribution to your church. Is this true?” “Well, I’ll have to have our bookkeeper verify this information for you. How much did Dr. Reynolds say he contributed?” “$25,000,” answered Agent Smith. “Can you tell me if that amount is true?” There is a long pause. “I’ll tell you what,” replied the minister. “Call back tomorrow. I’m sure it will be.” GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS “This house,” said the real estate salesman, “has both its good points and its bad points. To show you I’m honest, I’m going to tell you about both. The disadvantages are that there is a chemical plant one block south and a slaughterhouse a block north.” “What are the advantages?” inquired the prospective buyer. “The advantage is that you can always tell which way the wind is blowing.” _______________________________ No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds – November! (Thomas Hood, “No!”) TEN COMMENTS YOU’RE LEAST LIKELYTO HEAR IN THE CHURCH 1. Hey! It’s my turn to sit in the front pew. 2. I was so enthralled, I never noticed your sermon went 25 minutes over time. 3. Personally I find witnessing much more enjoyable than golf. 4. I’ve decided to give our church the $500 a month I used to send to TV evangelists. 5. I volunteer to be the permanent teacher for the Junior High Sunday School class. 6. Forget the denominational minimum salary — let’s pay our pastor so he can live like we do. 7. I love it when we sing hymns I’ve never heard before! 8. Since we’re all here, let’s start the service early. 9. Pastor, we’d like to send you to this Bible seminar in the Bahamas. 10. Nothing inspires me and strengthens my commitment like our annual stewardship campaign! Feel like skipping school or work, but afraid you’ll get caught? No worries: the Excused Absence Network is now available. According to an Oct. 25 Associated Press story, students and employees can buy excuse notes (for about $25) that appear to come from doctors or hospitals. Other options include a fake jury summons or an authentic-looking funeral service program complete with comforting poems and a list of pallbearers. The company’s owners don’t get into messy issues like ethics or legality; they say they’re just helping people do something they would have done anyway. The company won’t reveal sales numbers, but they say their website gets about 15,000 hits a month. Customers receive templates which enable them to print excuse notes after typing the name and address of a local doctor or emergency room. For jury duty, you enter their county courthouse information on the form. Though the company’s disclaimer advises the notes are “for entertainment purposes only,” the website shows people sunbathing and playing golf using the phony excuses. One testimonial says: “I’ve managed to take the nine weeks off using these templates! It couldn’t be any easier!” As the AP story reports, for one New Jersey woman it wasn’t so easy. She was arrested this year after using one of the company’s notes to support her claim she was too injured to appear in traffic court for a speeding ticket. She was caught after court officials called the chiropractor listed and he told them he never heard of the woman. Yet another evidence of total depravity. 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