Saturday, February 28, 2009

This is Why I Love New England!

This is the Mt. Washington Resort in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. Mt. Washington - the tallest mountain in the Northeastern United States and home of the highest recorded windspeed on planet earth - is the mountain on the right. I took this picture earlier this evening. (Click on the picture for a larger view)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Book Review: "Pagan Christianity?" by Frank Viola and George Barna

I was really excited about Pagan Christianity? after reading the first three or four chapters. But by the end of the book, I was ready to rip it apart. I'm not sure how a book that really piqued my interest to begin with could crash so quickly. But that's what Pagan Christianity? did for me.

In case you haven't heard, Frank Viola (not to be confused with the former Boston Red Sox pitcher with the same name) and George Barna (although Viola is really the primary author) have crafted a provocative book that looks at traditional church practices that the "institutional" church promotes. Thus, they discuss everything from church buildings to the weekly sermon to tithing to baptism. In short, they take all of these practices and institutions - and a few more - and throw them in the garbage, saying that they are unbiblical and borrowed from pagan culture throughout the ages.

And I must admit that I buy some of what they are selling. I agree that there are many questionable practices we have that seem to be rooted in pagan culture. And they have a lot of good historical data, detailing how each practice arose many years after the New Testament church. As a Seventh-day Adventist reader, it is rather interesting to see how much overlap there is between the data that Viola uses in pointing out the sins of Constantine, for example, as it relates to church buildings, and what Adventists use to point out Constantine's sins in relation to Sabbath/Sunday worship. This should certainly resonate with the Adventist reader.

And I agree with Viola's overall premise that we are robbing many Christians of the opportunity to take a more active role in worship, in the church, and in ministry. I am even a little open to the idea that maybe, just maybe, we should not necessarily have a paid minister, who stands up and preaches a sermon every week. Addressing this, they quote one pastor who admits,
I began to analyze why I could preach a great sermon and people afterwards would shake my hand and say, "Great sermon, Pastor." But these were the very people who were struggling with self-esteem, beating their spouses, struggling as workaholics, succumbing to their addictions. Their lives weren't changing (p. 218).
I have had the same thoughts, though I try to keep in mind that one should not expect a person or a congregation to change over night, simply because they may have heard a good sermon. But I do also recognize that an interactive service - as opposed to a monologue - may actually have a longer-lasting effect on a person coming to church.

Similarly, I am sympathetic to their disdain for ritual. I have always wondered why we do communion the way that we do - why we insist that only elders can pray over the emblems, or why we eat a small piece of bread and drink a cup of grape juice that is smaller than a thimble. Viola and Barna argue that these things are not biblical. There should be, first of all, no separate class that can only facilitate the Lord's Supper. And, secondly, the New Testament idea of communion was not a once-a-quarter meal ritual, but a regular event that involved open and (almost) casual fellowship. I think if we did implement this, communion would probably have more significance for us, and we would get more out of it. I know that I, as the pastor, would be more blessed by more of an agape supper experience, rather than sitting up front three times a quarter (since I have three churches) behind a table that requires two deaconesses to carefully and reverently uncover the bread and grape juice - all the while supposing that this ritual has been handed down from God, Himself.

Similarly, I appreciated Viola and Barna's views on "Sunday morning costumes" and the "order of service." Regarding the former, they argue that the NT never required anyone to dress up when it came to "worshipping" God, and such a ritual is based more on the industrial revolution, than anything in the Bible.

At the same time, our order of worship each Saturday or Sunday is often lifeless. It is so rote that it has lost most of its meaning. And yet there is nothing sanctified about having a particular order of service, and certainly there is nothing holy about insisting we do it one particular way.

For all of these things, I applaud Viola and Barna. We probably should become less pastor-dependent, less ritualistic, less hierarchical, less building-focused.

But then they lose me. And I started to notice some things in the latter half of the book that I realized had been present all along - which others had been quick to point out but that I refused to notice.

To begin with, I realized that the authors are not balanced at all. They use very broad, sweeping statements, and make gross and exaggerated over-generalizations (I realize, of course, that this is ironically a broad and sweeping over-generalization). I can't help but think that such a method is borne out of the fact that they (or at least Viola) is very bitter and cynical about the "organized" church system. Any organized church seems to be public enemy #1 to Viola. And it seems almost impossible for him to ever concede the point that, maybe, the organized church has been used by God to be a blessing.

Another challenge is that Viola essentially views the Old Testament as purely pagan. It has no relevance to the New Testament Christian. Thus, tithing is out because the New Testament does not mention this. Choirs are out (even though David formed huge choirs and wrote music for them in the book of Psalms) because, not only does the NT not mention choirs, but choirs encourage a passive/non-participating audience, and that is bad. Thus, as Viola argues, some things can be "biblical" (because they're mentioned in the OT) but "unchristian" (in other words: pagan).

But this attitude presents serious hermeneutical errors. While I will grant the fact that there are some things in the OT that are no longer binding or relevant to the NT Christian, I cannot say that everything in the OT is wrong carte blanche. Does the NT need to mention an OT practice in order for it to be still relevant? I wrote about this in my last post, and I think Viola would be well-served to read that.

At the same time, I am not sure how one can make the argument that the description of the NT church is necessarily prescriptive and normative. Nowhere does the New Testament, that I have seen, ever set forth the admonition, "Thou shalt do church this way." While I am comfortable with the idea that the NT Christians met in houses, and they didn't usually have one person preaching, etc., nowhere do I read, "Thou shalt have house churches."

Ironically, Viola wants it both ways when it comes to this issue. When he caricatures a well-meaning Christian who wants to start a home-church and sets up elders because Acts tells us that "Paul and Barnabas also appointed elders in every church" (Acts 14:23), Viola says "No, no, no" and insists that this was not normative but localized. "The verse is referring to an event in south Galatia during the first century," he writes, " ' Every church' means every church in south Galatia in AD 49! Luke is talking about the four churches that Paul and Barnabas just planted" (p. 235). But he must allow the reader to use the same reasoning when it comes to the alleged normative practices that Acts elsewhere describes.

Now, as it relates to specific topics, here are some of my challenges:
  1. I understand his contention with the sermon and how it can produce passive and non-participatory Christians, but he doesn't seem to want to allow for the fact that a lot of good has been accomplished through preaching. Jesus preached. Paul preached. The Reformation - which he almost downplays altogether - resulted more from the preaching of the Word than anything else.
  2. He claims that accepting Jesus as Savior and the act of baptism should not be two separate events. He is mostly railing against the "sinner's prayer" method popularized by Dwight L. Moody, et al, which I am sympathetic to. However, I have put a lot of thought and study into this subject, and I do not necessarily think that a person who accepts Jesus should be instantly baptized, nor is it biblical to baptize someone apart from them joining the body of Christ (ie., indoctrination).
  3. He greatly denigrates American revivalism that saw such figures as Moody, Sankey, etc., and really harps upon "personal" and "individual" salvation. He does not like the idea of Jesus as a "personal Savior," and he spends a lot of ink tearing that apart. I understand what he is saying, but I think, above all, this rant reveals more the fact that he's grown cynical about popular Christian jargon than anything else.
  4. Where he really loses me is his tearing down of the Christian educational system. He claims that seminaries, Bible colleges, etc., are based more upon Aristotelian methodologies and logic than what the Bible uplifts. He seems to want to get rid of any reliance upon reason and logic, instead trading our brains in to rely upon some quasi-spiritual learning that we do. What he neglects to see - or, at least he mentions it in passing - is that Paul was trained by some of the best thinkers of his day and was quite a logician. Now, I don't doubt that, for many of us, we have way more "head knowledge" when it comes to our religious experience than we do heart-knowledge. And a PhD certainly doesn't necessarily qualify anyone for ministry, or secure our ticket into heaven. But God invented Wisdom. Indeed, He is Wisdom personified, and He invites us to come "reason" with Him. But the irony of all ironies is that, not only does he necessarily have to use the same type of logic to communicate his points to the reader, but he so often refers to authors, who will bolster his arguments, as "scholars."
  5. He laments the order that the New Testament canon is presently arranged and wishes that chapters and verses were never invented - as if this were the single greatest challenge to true Christianity. We do not really understand the true picture of the NT church, he claims, if we don't recognize that Galatians was the first letter Paul wrote, and 2 Timothy was the last, etc. We get a distorted picture of what God intended for NT Christians. This is all well and fine, but there are a few problems with his citing this as a problem. First, Paul's epistles themselves do not indicate the order that they were written, or the exact time they were written. Thus, any dating or ordering of Paul's books is extra-biblical conjecture and thus pagan (as he defines "pagan"). Secondly, the "average" Christian does not know the correct order of the books, or when they were written, and the only way to find out is to rely upon the "guesswork" of scholars (the same scholars that Viola decries because they received their pagan doctorates from pagan seminaries). Hence, such an exercise naturally sets up a hierarchy between the "enlightened" scholars who know all about the Bible, and the uneducated and uninformed "laity" who don't have the time, resources, or knowledge to figure these things out. And such a hierarchical set up is pagan.
  6. Viola necessarily has to downplay doctrine and theology (in fact, the word "theology" itself is anathema to him, having been invented, or at least popularized, by Peter Abelard in the 11th century). These are, for the most part, unimportant to him. All that matters is a bunch of "Christ-centered" people, who get together (face-to-face), sing songs, pray, and spontaneously do whatever the spirit leads them to do. But this watering down of theology and doctrine - which, at their best, are simply insights into God's loving character - is very problematic, not the least of which is because God cares about how He is represented to the world.
  7. Viola's favorite phrase, by far, is "organic church." This is what the church should look like today. But I'm not quite sure what he means by this, even though he explains it over and over again. For example, he writes: "The New Testament church was organic, not organizational. . . . The church was a living, breathing organism" (p. 248). Okay. So is the Baptist church, or the Catholic church, or the Seventh-day Adventist church not "living" and "breathing"? What does it even mean to say that a church is "living" and "breathing"? This concept does not even make sense to me and I'm not quite sure what he means by it. Furthermore, is "organizing" necessarily pagan and bad? If he would accept the OT as every bit as valid as the NT, he would recognize that God certainly condoned organization as it related to the 12 tribes of Israel - though I suppose we could also go to Revelation 7 to see that as well. At the same time, unless a church "organizes," how would foreign missions, for example, ever work? His way of doing church would be to have some type of "vanilla" church (with very basic "historic creeds" that serve as a doctrinal foundation, even though these creeds are themselves extrabiblical - or should I say "pagan") in each community that is totally isolated from any other church in any other community. Thus, under his model, I would go to Massachusetts and not know another Christian soul, and I would have to "reinvent the wheel" to plant another church there. But I don't believe this is necessary, nor do I think having an overarching structure is bad (ironically, those who have gone the organic/house church route have "organized" a website that can be resourceful to those who are interested: And, to be quite honest, there is something refreshing about going to virtually any Seventh-day Adventist church in the world, and meeting someone who knows someone you know, or knows someone that knows someone that you know. It gives a sense of connectedness; of common mission. It gives the sense that God's work is, indeed, a global movement.
  8. Finally, Viola is very inconsistent with his views on pagan practices that have crept into the church. When I picked up the book, for example, I assumed that he would certainly touch upon the issue of Sabbath/Sunday worship, seeing how it is very well documented that the NT church continued worshiping on Saturday, and it wasn't until the second century when Sunday-sacredness starting creeping in (ultimately culminating in Constantine's decree in the 4th century that Sunday would be the day of worship). But there was no mention of this at all. In fact, on his website, someone asked him why he did not address this subject in the book, and he answered by saying that there was "no evidence whatsoever that the early church gathered for their meetings on the Sabbath." This, of course, is a very faulty use of logic, since the burden of proof would rest upon the Sunday worshiper to demonstrate that the NT Church worshipped on a different day than was practiced by Moses, Ezekiel, and Jesus - to name a few. Instead, Viola violates his own disdain for proof-texting and taking verses out of context by citing Acts 20:7 and 1 Cor 16:2 as examples that the NT believers worshiped on Sunday. But this is just plain fallacious. Paul simply says in 1 Cor 16:2, for example, "On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come." I'm not sure how anyone could make the case for Sunday-sacredness from this, though, especially in light of the fact that the word "day" is supplied in our English versions, and the Greek actually literally reads, "On the first Sabbath, each of you should lay something aside." Talk about lifting a verse out of context!
And so, that's where I will leave our friends Frank Viola and George Barna. I am not sure that I will buy Viola's sequel, Re-Imagining Church - mainly because I didn't "buy" all of this book.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Which Ones Still Apply?

A.J. Jacobs has won many accolades for his book, The Year of Living Biblically. It details his quest to follow the Bible as literally as possible. Thus, when the Bible says that a person should not wear anything of mixed fibers, or that an adulterer should be stoned, he set out to do just that.

I have read about 100 pages of the book. And though I have found parts of it humorous and amusing - and have used a few of his experiences as sermon illustrations - I am in no hurry to finish it. I am a big fan of levity, but his treatment of the subject almost borders on irreverent, in my opinion. As a secular Jew, I think it is quite safe to say that one of his motives in writing the book was to undermine and ridicule fundamentalists - be they of the Jewish or Christian variety. He sought to demonstrate that many of the laws and regulations in the Bible are absurd, and those who claim to be biblical literalists are inconsistent, at best, in their quest to follow the Bible. And, of course, his ultimate desire, I believe, was to mock the "god" who is supposed to have given these laws.

With all this as a background, I have been pondering this very subject lately. That is: how do we determine which laws in the Old Testament (or the New Testament, for that matter) are still applicable and which ones are irrelevant? Many fundamentalist Christians, for example, will be quick to go to Leviticus to point out that homosexuality is condemned by God, yet they will pay no attention to the fact that the same book outlaws eating pork or lobster. And Christians of the more liberal persuasion are very quick to point out this inconsistency. Those of us who are Seventh-day Adventists are not as bothered by this, of course, since we follow the dietary laws in the Old Testament. But, of course, there are other parts of the Pentateuch that we do not follow. I am wearing a shirt right now, for example, that is 90% cotton and 10% polyester - an apparent violation of Leviticus 19:19 which says that a "garment of mixed linen" shall not come upon you.

This question has also come to my attention because I am presently reading through the book of Leviticus for my devotional time as I read through the whole Bible. Plus, I am reading another book, Pagan Christianity?, which essentially declares that the Old Testament is "pagan" and that anything it contains is non-binding to us as Christians. Thus, the author(s) informs us that tithing is no longer binding, for example, because Old Testament laws were done away with at the cross. I doubt, however, that he would propose that murder is now acceptable.

So this morning I read through Leviticus 19, which seems to be a hodgepodge of various laws. I think it is one of the most representative chapters when it comes to this question of which OT laws are still applicable today. In 37 verses, the Lord sets up the following laws. (As you will see, some of them are quite palatable to our Christian - and perhaps even secular - mindset. But others leave us scratching our heads.)
  1. We must reverence our parents
  2. We must keep the Lord's Sabbaths
  3. We must not "turn to idols" or make "molded gods"
  4. If we offer a peace offering, it should be voluntary
  5. When a person harvests his/her land or vineyard, he/she should not harvest the corners of the land or harvest every grape. Such shall be left for the poor and strangers
  6. We should not steal
  7. We should not "deal falsely"
  8. We must not lie to one another
  9. We must not swear by God's name or profane it
  10. We must not cheat our neighbor or "rob him"
  11. We must not hold on to the wages of someone we hire overnight
  12. We must not curse the deaf
  13. We must not put a "stumbling block" before the blind
  14. We should not do "injustice in judgment"
  15. We must not be partial to the poor
  16. We must not honor "the person of the mighty"
  17. We must not go around as a "talebearer" (gossiper) among our people
  18. We must not hate "our brother" in our hearts
  19. We should "rebuke" our neighbor and not bear sin because of him
  20. We must not take vengeance or bear any grudges against the children of our people
  21. We should love our neighbor as ourself
  22. We must not let livestock breed with another kind
  23. We must not sow our fields with mixed seed
  24. We must not wear any garments of mixed fiber and wool
  25. If a man has sex with an engaged concubine, the man and woman should be "scourged" but not killed
  26. That man shall bring his trespass offering to the Lord and he will be forgiven
  27. We must not eat anything with "the blood"
  28. We must not practice soothsaying or divination
  29. We must not shave around the sides of our heads, or "disfigure" the edges of our beards
  30. We must not make any cuttings in our flesh for the dead, nor have any tattoos
  31. We must not make our daughters into prostitutes
  32. We must keep the Lord's Sabbaths
  33. We must reverence the Lord's sanctuary
  34. We must not go to mediums or "familiar spirits"
  35. We must "rise before the gray headed" and "honor the presence of an old man"
  36. We must fear our God
  37. We must not mistreat strangers/foreigners
  38. We must treat a stranger/foreigner as though he/she was "born among" us, and we shall love him/her as we love ourselves
  39. We must not do injustice in judgment, in measurement of length, weight, or volume
  40. We should have honest scales, weights, ephah, and hin
  41. We must observe all God's statutes and all of His judgments
This is just one chapter in the whole Pentateuch - and there are a couple that I didn't mention! But looking at this short list, it seems to me that there are things that just about everyone - no matter what your religious persuasion is - can agree with. Most of us agree, for example, that we should honor our parents, or love our neighbors as ourselves. What is not clear, however, is what to do with the rest of them - especially if they don't make sense to us.

Some Christians would like to propose, it seems, that only those Old Testament laws that are reiterated in the New Testament are still applicable to us today. Thus, since the New Testament doesn't explicitly affirm tithing, for example, then we are not required to tithe today - on this side of Calvary. This, to me, seems to be an argument from silence, at best, however, and there seems to be a lot of positive commands in the OT that the NT never echoes.

On the other hand, some people seem to imply that only those OT laws that are explicitly condemned in the NT are no longer binding, and all others are, therefore, still applicable. This, too, seems to be an argument from silence as well - and I'm not sure how many people that propose this are refraining from wearing clothes of mixed fibers, or following the admonition to not shave "around the sides" of their heads - neither of which is addressed in the NT.

Still, there are others who categorize the OT laws - something the Old Testament doesn't explicitly do. Thus, we get the distinction between ceremonial laws, and civil laws, and health laws, and moral laws, etc. And then a person picks and chooses which of those categories is still binding to the New Testament Christian.

But the New Testament never systematically categorizes or makes those distinctions about the OT laws. So any such exercise is purely extra-biblical.

So my quest continues - a quest that I hope to solve!

One of the individuals who has been helpful in my thinking is Dr. Roy Gane. Gane teaches Old Testament at the SDA Theological Seminary and he is one of the most pre-eminent scholars within academia on the Pentateuch as a whole, and the book of Leviticus specifically. In fact, many within academia recognize him as the foremost scholar on Leviticus. When I took a class on the Pentateuch with him, he discussed this very subject. And, though I will not cite his whole treatment of this topic, his overall thesis is thus: "A [Old Testament] law should be kept to the extant that its principle can be applied unless the New Testament removes the reason for its application" (Syllabus for OTST565: Pentateuch, 2003).

In making such a statement, Gane seems to promote a variation of the last two alternatives, though he leaves a little more wiggle room for the interpreter by simply declaring that the "reason for [the law's] application" must be removed, instead of the specific law itself. He also points out that the "principle" should be applied. This, I am comfortable with, though it seems to me that some people "principle" laws away so much that the actual law eventually disappears altogether. We must be careful to guard against this "over-principlizing" that inevitably takes place.

Thus, since the New Testament declares that the sanctuary we look towards today is in heaven (see Hebrews), any OT law that relates to sanctuary ritual is no longer applicable. On the other hand, the NT does not denigrate the importance of health and, therefore, dietary laws - those not directly related to OT sanctuary ritual - are still relevant. In fact, the NT seems to strengthen the dietary laws in light of the fact that Paul declares that our bodies are the "temples of the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor 6:19). And, at the same time, the health and well-being of a person's body is a universal and timeless reality. Of course, some Christians would definitely argue with the implications of this idea (Jesus says, they will insist, that it is not what we put into our bodies that defiles us, but what comes out), but that is a discussion for another day.

So I am comfortable with Gane's overall thoughts on this subject. But I am not exactly sure how I would apply this to every law in the OT - especially the ones about shaving my beard or wearing mixed fibers.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Who Has the Heart?

One of the things I often take stock of is where my thoughts wander. I think this goes a great deal towards telling me if my walk with Christ is one of intimacy, joy, and fellowship. I am humbled by the description of the righteous man in Psalms who delights "in the law of the Lord" and meditates on it "day and night" (Psalm 1:2). Elsewhere, the Psalmist quite joyfully proclaims, "Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day" (119:97).

All day and all night? That seems like overkill, doesn't it? I struggle to meditate on God's word beyond my morning devotions. 

And that is just the thing. Where do your thoughts to turn when you're driving in your car or daydreaming about your ultimate joy?

This is why I've appreciated the very sobering questions that Ellen White asks in Steps to Christ. They seem very tangible to me and serve as a great barometer of my heart's affections. She wonders:
Who has the heart? With whom are our thoughts? Of whom do we love to converse? Who has our warmest affections and our best energies? If we are Christ's, our thoughts are with Him, and our sweetest thoughts are of Him. All we have and are is consecrated to Him. We long to bear His image, breathe His spirit, do His will, and please Him in all things (p. 58).
For many of us, our sweetest thoughts are directed towards the basketball game we just watched or the next episode of The Batchelor. I know that I am a very temperemental person who gets easily side-tracked. I very often get really excited about my devotional experience, yet it seems like it takes hardly ten minutes of e-mailing or catching up on the news of the day before my affections are diverted elsewhere. This is why I need to keep Christ and Him crucified constantly before me. This is, no doubt, why the Psalmist chose to meditate on the law day and night.

Perhaps I should follow suit.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Monster We've Created

I try to stay away from sports conversation on this blog, but the recent developments in baseball reach beyond sports, I do believe. They extend to society-at-large and are a reflection of our values.

First, let me get this out there: I am not a fan of New York Yankees short-stop, Alex Rodriguez. Not at all. My lasting memory of him will forever be his silly glove-slap that he committed against the Boston Red Sox in the 2004 American League Championship Series. That, to me, was an accurate representation of who he is as a player. He's a punk. Plain and simple.

And so, humanly speaking, when I heard that he tested positive for steroids, I not-so-secretly felt a little satisfaction. Unless you're a devoted fan of his, I'm sure that most people felt the same way.

But when I took a step back from that initial reaction, I realized that the whole situation is an incredibly sad commentary on our values and behavior as a society. Because of our infatuation with sports; because of our demands for athletes to be bigger, faster, stronger, smarter; because of a plethora of things, we, in some ways, have created the monster that is Alex Rodriguez, or Roger Clemens, or Barry Bonds, or Marion Jones. This doesn't exonerate these individuals of personal responsibility. But if I am to understand that "no man is an island," and that what happens to one person affects the whole, I have to realize that I have had a personal part to play in this whole unfortunate drama.

And the irony of it all - if I may call it that - is that we then turn around and demonize such individuals for doing all they can to become bigger, stronger, faster, quicker. We set them up to engage in these unfortunate behaviors, and then we feel happy when they are caught. There is a tremendous inconsistency to the whole process.

Of course, through this whole thing, Alex Rodriguez has been incredibly superficial in his apologies. And yet there is still a place to feel sorry for him. Taken at face value, he said the reason that he started taking steroids is because he just wanted to live up to the expectations of signing the largest contract in sports history. Do you appreciate the irony of this sad state of affairs as well? When he pursued a new contract, he was pretty unabashed in his attempts to get the most money he could. And then, after signing the contract, he decided he needed to take steroids so he could live up to the expectations that had been - quite justifiably - heaped upon him. And now he wants us to feel sorry for him.

But don't you have to sleep in the bed you make? If you are ruthless in trying to drain a team for every penny its worth, shouldn't you be able to live up to those expectations?

But I do feel sorry for him. I am sure he did feel overwhelmed, as every athlete has, to respond to those pressures. I also feel sorry for a guy who thinks that he needs to make $250 million to feel valuable and then has to turn around and take steroids to feel as though he is worthy of that $250 million. It speaks to his confusion, and lostness, and emptiness. On the one hand he feels worthy, yet on the other hand he doesn't.

And such is the game we play. This is true not only of sports, of course, but all of life.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Pastor and His Gadgets

For quite some time I have been wondering about the technologies that a pastor needs. Every occupation has certain tools of the trade that are non-negotiable essentials. Does the pastor need anything more than a Bible and a car, however?

This is relevant to me because I see so many of my colleagues with plenty of gadgetry. It seems as though most pastors would have a person believe that to not have an iPhone or a BlackBerry or Macbook would be akin to living in the Dark Ages. But can a pastor survive without these things?

And this discussion applies to technology in general. Ten years ago, a cell phone would probably have been a "luxury" item. Now, just about everyone has one, and for a pastor not to have one is very rare (though there are some - leaving me to believe that maybe a cell phone isn't as "essential" as we would like to think). But when does something go from simply being a convenience to an essential? I doubt anyone would argue that having a phone is simply a convenience, for example, or even a computer (though my father-in-law has a T-Shirt that says "Computers: Just another fad.") But in our pursuit of aquiring more and more gadgets, have we lost the call to lead a life of simplicity? Do we really need a new BlackBerry every couple of years?

I, personally, have never been at the front of the technological race. I am usually a couple years behind, which is fine. I don't need to have the latest and greatest "stuff," but there does come a time - like now - when I wonder if it is essential that I acquire something new. For example: I have a very simple cell phone, which seems to do the trick. It has never been my desire to get a more sophisticated or advanced wireless device. For one thing, I will never enjoy putting my appointments in an electronic device. I prefer the 'ol fashinoned feel-it-in-your-hands experience of a planner, complete with paper and all. There's something about being able to flip through the pages and see where your appointments are in relation to other places in the planner.

The same is true for me with books. I don't do electronic books. I need to be able to feel the pages, know where I am in relation to the rest of the book - and the toggle bar on the right-hand side of a computer screen doesn't accomplish that for me.

But, on the other hand, as someone who communicates via e-mail about 75% of the time, having a BlackBerry or iPhone would be a whole lot more convenient. When I was sitting in the airport in Detroit yesterday, for example, it would have been very efficient for me to catch up with my e-mails during my time. True, I could have easily called people that I needed to communicate with, but as one who hates talking on the phone (I love talking to people face-to-face, however), e-mail is a whole lot better proposition.

But do I really need such a gadget? It would be more money spent, both on the BlackBerry and on the monthly fees, and I have somehow seemed to survive without it thus far. Over the last year or so that I've been pastoring again, there has probably been only a handfull of times when I've been on the road - out visiting - and needed to check my e-mail immediately to see if there were any updates on my scheduled appointments (this is partly because the individuals I had an appointment with didn't even have cell phones, but communicated via e-mail themselves! Maybe I should just buy them a cell phone.)

I will say that communicating via e-mail is so much more convenient. You don't risk interupting a person if they are in a meeting or talking with someone. But does all this gadgetry just complicate our lives more? Do we get enslaved to these technologies, thinking we always need to check our e-mail or voicemail? And should the expectations of society - or church members - influence our acquisition of new technology? Or are these simply excuses we use to justify buying the latest and greatest things every few months?

These are all questions I often ask myself. Of course, I must also tell you that I just bought a used lens for my camera on eBay for $365. But when I buy camera stuff, I'm not under the delusion that I "need" it for professional reasons. It is purely a luxury item, I understand. Of course, this doesn't necessarily make it okay, either.