Wednesday, January 06, 2010

An Apologetic Orange Epiphany

This is our final week of Christmas break, and I have been busy attending this apologetics conference called Confronting the Culture, at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary under the auspices of the Institute for Christian Apologetics.

Both the format and the line-up of speakers has been outstanding. And I want to thank NOBTS and ICA director and NOBTS Philosophy professor Rev. Dr. Robert Stewart for their hospitality and for putting together such an opportunity for Christians to learn the nuts and bolts of defending the Christian faith against the multifaceted attack coming from the evil one. The conference is not expensive, and included in the registration cost, each attendee receives an MP3 CD of all of the talks by all of the speakers (11 plenary sessions and 69 breakout sessions of an hour-and-a-half each!). Since it is impossible to attend every session, having the notes and recordings of all the lectures is a great use of technology.

I really had hoped to have been able to attend my own Alma Mater's theological symposia this year (my last visit to Fort Wayne was five years ago), but it simply proved too expensive. So, it was fortuitous to have the opportunity to attend this week-long intensive Apologetics event, and it has been a great blessing in thinking about the faith and delving into the Scriptures - and I still have two more days left!

Being on campus does remind me of my time at the sem (which I really loved and treasured). One thing that was not a completely pleasant flashback is walking around in the cold. Our weather is breaking records because of the plummeting mercury. We were below freezing today (which is rather atypical for us), and in a couple days, we are looking at a low of something like 18 degrees. I had to dig out a parka out of the shed. It has kept me sane the past couple days (I really don't like being cold).

With a worse cold front on the way, Mrs. H. and I decided to harvest all of our citrus this morning - comprising of a Meyer lemon, a Louisiana Sweet orange, and a Navel orange tree. It was a fun job, but took so much time that I ended up missing the sessions at NOBTS for today (I was already going to miss the evening sessions on account of Epiphany Day service and Bible class). It was also a lot of work climbing ladders and using a tree cutter on a pole to retrieve the high fruits - tossing them down into Mrs. Hollywood and her awaiting basket. It became quite an operation, and we had no idea how much was out there! Our kitchen smells like orange peels. We have been eating oranges all day today, and Mrs. H. is squeezing lemon juice and freezing it into cubes.

Man, it is good! But it sure was a long day today. We also winterized a temporary shelter for our local colony of cats. It is not a good time to be an outdoor feline, that's for sure.

We had guests for Epiphany Mass and Bible class this evening - a couple dozen college students, mainly from Central Michigan University. They are here for a week-long mission trip to help in the ongoing post-Katrina restoration. It was really a great joy to have them visit us for the Divine Service! They were led by my dear friend, classmate, and colleague The Rev. Jon Bakker, who serves Zion Lutheran Church, Mt. Pleasant, MI and Christ the King Lutheran Chapel at CMU, and Shaina Mitchell, who serves as a deaconess at Grace Lutheran Church in Muncie, IN. John Zimmerman, a brother of another classmate and son of a pastor who worked at the sem while I was a student was also in the group.

Most of the students in the group were Lutheran, and sang the service with gusto. My pal Joe Taylor (a Lutheran religion teacher) was also present for the service.

And, as a very special treat, trombonist Pastor Bakker, along with a long-time friend of the congregation (a member of a sister congregation), Donna, played trombones for our service under the able command of Shelly, our organist. It was beyond delightful! I got to hear the trombone (or as Donna calls it, "the voice of God") and organ in my seminary days. Pastor Bakker also showed up at my ordination with his trombone, and it was a great ordination present. So, it was glorious to hear, and served to glorify our Blessed Lord. Thanks, Jon, Donna, and Shelly!

And thanks to all of our friends - who represented three countries: the U.S., Canada, and Nigeria - as well as the states of Michigan, Idaho, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa - who traveled such a long way to spend their Christmas break in hard physical labor for the sake of New Orleanians in need. We are grateful, and hope they can all come back again when it is warmer. We did pass around some fresh oranges - though there may have been a lemon or two in the basket. So, if you are one of our guests, and your "orange" tasted like a lemon, that's because it was a lemon. Meyer lemons are huge, and can easily be confused with oranges. So, you know the expression: "When life gives you lemons... (fill in a punch line about your least favorite auto company here).

So, after a rewarding day of physical labor and spiritual service, I will flip back into student mode and be returning to my intensive series of lectures all day tomorrow.

In a few weeks, NOBTS's annual Greer-Heard Point Counterpoint series will include noted skeptic and Jesus Seminar member John Dominic Crossan debating against Christian apologist Ben Witherington III - as well as other speakers. The cost for the conference for the general public is $20. These debates and discussions are recorded (audio and video) and will be available for purchase soon after the conference. This is a Friday and Saturday event, and I highly recommend it to theologically-interested clergy or laity in the NOLA area.

From the Greer-Heard website:

Previous forums have featured discussions between N. T. Wright and John Dominic Crossan on The Resurrection of Jesus (2005), William Dembski and Michael Ruse on Intelligent Design (2006), Alister McGrath and Daniel Dennett on The Future of Atheism (2007), Bart Ehrman and Daniel Wallace on The Textual Reliability of the New Testament (2008), and Paul Knitter and Harold Netland on Pluralism (2009). Books based on the first three conferences and edited by Robert B. Stewart are available for purchase from Fortress Press. The Textual Reliability of the New Testament and Pluralism are also forthcoming with Fortress.

The discipline of Christian Apologetics doesn't include a lot of Lutherans. However, I was pleasantly surprised to learn what a giant The Rev. Dr. John Warwick Montgomery (LCMS pastor and professor) is in his ongoing legacy as an apologist. He is the director of the International Academy of Apologetics, Evangelism, and Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. He virtually pioneered the very idea of debating against skeptics and those who attack the faith - such as the format of the Greer-Heard forum above).

At the conference, I ran across the 2008 book: Tough-Minded Christianity, a hefty 768 page tribute of essays (I suppose what we Lutherans would call a Festschrift) in honor of Dr. Montgomery. It is authored by some 44 contributors across the Christian landscape - including some very heavy-hitters in modern Apologetics. In the forward, Paige Patterson, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, credits Montgomery for saving the SBC from the ravages of Biblical liberalism. LCMS pastor and professor Rev. Dr. Alvin Schmidt has a contribution called "Christianity Needs More Lutheran Apologetes." I read the essay, and I agree with Dr. Schmidt's premise.

Obviously, we Lutherans have some pretty basic theological differences with our Baptist brethren. But when it comes to defending the biblical account of creation, the integrity of the testimony of Holy Scripture, the two natures of Christ, the Holy Trinity, the real historic Jesus, the veracity of the miracles (including the virgin birth and th resurrection), and taking on the outrageous claims of the New Atheists, Neo-Gnostics, cultists, postmodernists, and celebrity attackers of the faith, we can stand shoulder to shoulder with our Baptist brothers and sisters in Christ, learn from them, and join with them in the battle for the hearts and minds of those whose faith has been wounded by these attacks.

I also picked up a book co-authored by two of the speakers at this year's conference, Dr. Michael Licona and Dr. Gary Habermas, entitled A Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. It is endorsed by not only Dr. Montgomery, but also by LCMS pastor and scholar Rev. Dr. Paul Meier as well. I was very impressed not only with the intellectual acumen of Habermas and Licona, but also by their ability to communicate and do so in a pastoral way. I enjoyed speaking with both of them, and I look forward to reading their book - hopefully making use of it in giving a defense for the hope that is within us.

Mrs. H. communicates with some strange specimen on Pandora...


+ Robert Wurst said...

Tell our Michigan brethren hi for us. One of my members is on the trip . . .

I was hoping to see you at the symposia. It is expensive but I'm looking forward to it.

I'll be traveling with Bishop Vsevolod of our Siberian Lutheran brethren next week. I'll get him to the sem in time for the lectures . . .

BTW, your DVD's are in the mail.

Anonymous said...

We also winterized a temporary shelter for our local colony of cats. It is not a good time to be an outdoor feline, that's for sure.

May a thousand camels laden with gold traverse your abode!


Tim said...

I am glad you are having a good time at the conference. I pray you enjoy it.

I pray that angels would warm the halls of your... kitties. :)

Also, you'll have to convince your wife to tell me how she is using Na'vi techniques ;)

Rev. Thomas C. Messer said...

I'm sorry, but Mrs. Hollywood does NOT look very cold in that pic. You southern folk - sheesh! :)

Glad Pr. Bakker and company stopped by. Someday, we'll get him to travel the 15 miles or so south and play his trombone for us (listening, Jon?).

Thanks for the info on the Greer-Heard Point Counterpoint series . . . look forward to purchasing and listening to that.

But, stop whining about being cold, would ya?

Numa Pompilius said...

I can still remember the wonderful taste and exotic perfume of those marvelous Meyers lemons. May all of your harvests be bountiful.