Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Top Christian Colleges - 2009

Here is a comparison of Christian colleges taken out of the 2009 Forbes list of America's Best Colleges. Please note that a) Forbes leaves out a lot of Christian colleges, so this is very incomplete, and b) Forbes is not grading colleges on their quality as Christian schools. Also, keep in mind that there may be schools that I have simply missed. (And sorry about that if I have.)

Nevertheless, it is quite interesting. Perhaps it will bring a few colleges into view that you had not considered before. The number on the left is Forbes' ranking of the college. Here's the list:

58 - George Fox University Oregon
97 - Huntington University Indiana
103 - Wheaton College Illinois
109 - Oklahoma Baptist University Oklahoma
110 - Carson-Newman College Tennessee
120 - Mississippi College Mississippi
155 - Oklahoma Wesleyan University Oklahoma
172 - Houghton College New York
177 - Goshen College Indiana
185 - Covenant College Georgia
198 - Whitworth College Washington
212 - Northwestern College Iowa
222 - Westmont College California
245 - Erskine College South Carolina
278 - Union University Tennessee
279 - Bob Jones University South Carolina
289 - Cedarville University Ohio
291 - Northwestern College Minnesota
306 - Master's College California
314 - Biola University California
316 - John Brown University Arkansas
335 - Taylor University Indiana
364 - Grove City College Pennsylvania
384 - Asbury College Kentucky
394 - Dordt College Iowa
395 - Vanguard University California
407 - Abilene Christian University Texas
426 - Gordon College Massachusetts
451 - Seattle Pacific University Washington
455 - Calvin College Michigan
483 - Baylor University Texas
510 - Azusa Pacific University California
515 - Corban College Oregon
542 - Messiah College Pennsylvania

See the 2008 list here.

Another helpful college tool for masters degrees, is MastersDegree.com.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Too Much Community

It seems that there is a new emphasis on "Community" going around in Christian circles.

I've gone along with this without any fuss, because, well, community is important, but the emphasis has always made me a bit wary, and I've only recently gotten around to asking myself why I'm wary.

As I think about it, I believe the answer is that I am wary for the same reason that other emphases make me wary. I get wary when I think an emphasis is gaining such prominence that it might upset the bedrock emphasis that Jesus gave us in Matthew 22:37-40, that the most important command is to love God, and the second most important command (into which developing community would fall) is to love one's neighbors as one's self. When command number two starts to nudge out command number one, I start to get fidgety.

Also, I am a bit concerned that focusing on community can mean focusing on ourselves, as the church, and maybe forgetting those outside the church.

Another thing that kind of bothers me about "Community" (with a capital C), is that there is nothing inherently noble about communities. There are communities that do good works and there are communities of robbers and murderers. There are communities where the members are kept in misery and ignorance by abusive leaders. There are communities that don't want to be communities, such as prisoners in jail. You can't get away from communities. You probably belong to dozens of them. Your neighborhood, your city, your state or province, your country, your race, your religion, your hobbies, your work, your Facebook friends. Nazi Germany was a community, Soviet Russia was a community, Communist North Korea is a community. Communities are often sources of conflict as people identify themselves with their community as opposed to other communities.

Good and bad, they are all over the place and I don't think you can get away from community unless you are a self-sufficient hermit living in the outback of Australia or Alaska.

So I really don't think there is any particular need to emphasize the importance of community any more than there is a need to emphasize the importance of air. It is important; we all know it is important; and for the most part, it is just there.

And as for the church, the church IS a community, whether it wants to be or not, so I'm not sure I see much value in telling people, "We need to be a community" when that is what they already are. Instead, I think the church should emphasize being a good community, a godly community, worshiping God together and helping each other out and reaching out in love beyond our church community.

Happily, for the most part, even if I'm not entirely comfortable with their choice of words, I think that is what most people mean when they emphasize community, and so for the most part I applaud, but I just think we should be careful not to promote command number two to replace command number one.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


During a Bible study last year we were challenged to memorize some passages from the book of II Corinthians, and I got to thinking that maybe a website could help people memorize Bible verses or whatever else they want to memorize.

Making a website like that was (and is) a bigger project than I bargained on, but I think it is somewhat presentable now, and I invite you to take a look:


I've started using it myself and will hopefully make a few little improvements here and there, but anyway, if you're interested, there it is.

Thanks for giving it a look!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Farmer Cal's Geese

Once upon a time there was a wonderful farm by the sparkling sea. The sun was gentle, the mountains nearby were beautiful, the beaches were warm and the geese who lived on the farm were very happy.

True, farmer Cal took an egg from most of the geese once a year. From those who didn't lay eggs he took nothing, but from quite a few he took a golden egg.

But that was okay because Cal sold the eggs and used the money to keep the farm tidy and the water running, and he kept a little for himself, but that didn't bother the geese because he did a good job and deserved to be paid for his work and the geese got to keep most of what they made.

But farmer Cal grew old and died, and his children took over the farm. They looked enviously at the geese who laid the golden eggs, and came up with a plan.

"Oh geese," they said. "It is not right that some of you live in poor twig nests. We will collect a few more golden eggs and provide better things for the poor among you."

"Yes!" said the poor geese.

"That sounds good," said the geese who laid the golden eggs. "We're willing to give more so everybody can have nice things." But two or three grumbled that if they wanted to help poor geese, they didn't need Cal's children to help them.

So farmer Cal's children collected more golden eggs and built themselves very nice houses, and spent part of the money to help the poor geese.

And everything was still fine on Cal's farm.

But soon Cal's children wanted more, so they said, "Oh geese, some among you still are poorer than the others, so we will take a few more golden eggs and use them to help the poor.

"Yes!" said the poorer geese.

"Well... I guess." said the golden geese.

So Cal's children took more golden eggs and bought themselves Mercedes and spent part of the money to help the poor geese.

Some of the golden geese began to grumble, and some flew away to neighboring farms and some decided to retire from the golden egg business since they didn't get to keep as much as before. But most kept working and stayed. After all, they did want to be kind to the poor, and besides, the weather was still very nice and the mountains and sea were still beautiful.

Soon Cal's kids found they were not collecting as many golden eggs as before since some of the golden geese had left and some had retired and very few of the younger geese wanted to get into the golden egg business - at least not on Cal's farm.

And so Cal's children came to the geese once again:

"Oh geese," they said, "the supply of golden eggs is down and the poor among you are suffering! We will have to take more golden eggs to continue helping them."

"Yes!" said the poorer geese.

"No!" said the golden geese.

But now there were many more poor geese than golden geese, and so the objections of the golden geese were lost in the roar of approval.

But soon, when farmer Cal's kids came to get more golden eggs, they didn't find as many as before because many of the golden geese had left, and those who stayed had decided to get out of the golden egg business.

And with so few golden eggs Cal's children barely had enough eggs to pay for the gas and insurance for their Mercedes and for heating their swimming pools, so there was almost nothing left over for the poor geese.

So Farmer Cal's children went to the geese and said: "Oh geese, you can see for yourselves how greedy the golden geese are! They want to keep all the eggs for themselves! They don't care about the poor."

"Yeah!" said the poor geese, and they spat on the few golden geese that were left.

And the golden geese said nothing. They just flew off to a neighboring farm.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Google Book Deal

This is a little bit dated, but a while ago I was asked to give my thoughts for a small missions books publisher about the recent Google book settlement. (As background, Google was sued for copyright violations by a consortium of book publishers because it has been scanning and making available online portions of books, or complete books.) I'm not a lawyer, so don't take this as having any legal weight, but here are a few wild speculations that might be interesting:

One big problem in the publishing industry is trying to figure out who owns the copyright to what. There must be tens of thousands of copyright owners, and companies that own copyrights are started and go out of business with great regularity, and people die, and who owns the rights to what is often very mysterious. Google wanted to digitize all the books and publications it can get its hands on, but tracking down all the copyright holders to get permission from each one would have been a continuing nightmare.

So - and this may be my imagination, but I'm tempted to see a grand design by Google - Google executes this plan:

First, it does something that some would say is of dubious legality by digitizing in-copyright publications. This, of course, ticked-off the copyright owners, who generally have no more cohesion than a herd of cats, and forced them to band together to fight for their interests.

Ah-ha! Google has now forced its legal opponents to form a single, unified group. Now Google only has one organization to bargain with instead of tens of thousands of mostly-unknown copyright holders. Nightmare solved!

Google then seals a deal with the copyright-holders group, thereby covering itself legally and opening new business possibilities (such as putting ads on the pages of the digitized books). But since the basic legal issue (whether Google was within the law by digitizing the books) remains undecided, this would appear to mean that any competitors who want to copy Google's digitizing plan will have to overcome these legal hurdles on their own.

Also, and I think most importantly for society and the publishing industry, the deal creates an independent, nonprofit organization tentatively called "The Registry," which will represent copyright holders in their relations with Google. The Registry is being given the task (among other things) of keeping track of the contact information for the rights owners and doing business deals for their benefit with Google.

Wow! This registry could be a very positive thing. It could facilitate publishers and authors contacting copyright holders to obtain permission to excerpt or reprint their works. Wedded to the Internet, it could be the basis for a "Permissions Marketplace," where copyright holders could offer a license to their works for sale at whatever price they choose. People could simply pay the price online and use the material without any further fuss. I think this could be a big boon to publishers in general.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Unity of The Bible

One of the things that struck me hard during my study of how the New Testament views the law is how neatly the Old and New Testaments are tied together.

Obviously, the Old Testament starts with the beginning and the New Testament closes with the end, but aside from those obvious bookends, what really hit me is the progression of the two.

The Old Testament is the outer, and the New Testament is the inner; or, as the book of Hebrews puts it: "The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming - not the realities themselves (Heb 10:1)."

After this study I am willing to take a bit of a leap and suggest that everything in the Old Testament has not only the everyday reality described by the Old Testment, but also a deeper, spiritual meaning.

As I've mentioned in the previous post, the New Testament uncovers the inner law beneath the outer law of the Old Testament, but also, the New Testament gives a new meaning to circumcision (Acts 15:1-2, 5-11, Rom 2:25, Gal 6:15, Titus 1:10, etc.), to the Passover lamb (it is Jesus himself), to unleavened bread (1 Corinthians 5:7-8), to the Temple in Jerusalem (Hebrews 8:5), to the implements used in the Temple (Hebrews 9:2-5), to the activities in the Temple (Hebrews 9:6-7) to individuals in the Old Testament (Sarah and Hagar) (Galatians 4:21-25), to places in the Old Testament (Jerusalem and Mt. Sinai) (Galatians 4:24-26), to the rock providing water in the desert (1 Corinthians 10:1-4), and so forth.

I think that perhaps everything - or just about everything - in the Old Testament also has a deeper, spiritual meaning. This struck me in part in an earlier post I wrote about how I was stunned to see how the history of the nation of Israel was a foreshadowing of Christ. I see now that this foreshadowing is far more extensive than I realized.

Now, I hasten to add that realizing that there is a deeper spiritual meaning to everything in the Old Testament doesn't mean we have to figure it all out. The apostle Paul condemns bickering over genealogies and the law (Titus 3:9), so I'll be safe and go along with Paul and say that if a discussion about the deeper spiritual meaning of some Old Testament passage leads to bickering, the wise - and biblical - thing to do is just drop the matter.

But anyway, it just excited me to discover this amazing unfolding in the Bible, going from the beginning to the end, proceeding from the outer to the deep, inner, spiritual reality.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Are We Under the Law or Not?

Even a casual reading of the New Testament will highlight two themes, each of which is clear in itself but not at all clear when put together. One: We are free from the law. We have died to the law and are no longer under it's authority. Two: There are things we must do; laws we must follow. Jesus came to fulfil the law, not abolish it. Not a stroke of the pen will disappear from the law until heaven and earth disappear.

Confusing? Well, yes, at first, but when you look at it more carefully it makes excellent sense.

So, the question is this: Do Christians need to obey the law?

On the one hand we have Jesus saying that he has not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it, and that the law will remain until heaven and earth disappear, and that nobody should teach otherwise (Matthew 5:17-18, Luke 16:17). But then we find him almost making a habit of apparently violating the law by performing healings, i.e. working, on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:9-13, Mark 3:1-5, Luke 13:10-16, 14:3-4, John 7:22-24), and then we find him telling a man to work on the Sabbath when he tells him to "take up your mat and walk" (John 5:10-11), and we find him defending his disciples who were accused of picking grain on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-8, Mark 2:23-27).

Hmm. Seemingly two different messages here.

And then there is Paul. Paul is famous for saying that we have died to the law and been released from the law (Romans 7:6) and that we have been saved by grace, not by works (Ephesians 2:8), and that Christ is the end of the law for those who believe (Romans 10:4). Sure sounds as if Paul is saying that the law no longer applies, but then Paul also says that the law is good if used properly (1 Timothy 1:8), and that faith does not nullify the law, but upholds it (Romans 3:30-31) and - oh my! - Paul gives lists (Romans 12 and 13) and lists (Galatians 5:19-6:10) and lists (Ephesians 4:25-6:20) of instructions on how to live - "laws," if you will.

Again, seemingly two different messages, but, they are the same two messages. You may find it confusing, but it is consistent.

So, what is going on here?

Well, the writers of the New Testament are simply saying that the outward law of the Old Testament is a shadow of the true, inner, spiritual law that was always at the heart of the Old Testament law, and that inner law is just as alive as it ever was.

This inner law is what Paul calls "the law of the Spirit" (Romans 8:2) or "God's law" (Romans 7:22, 25) and what James calls "the perfect law that gives freedom" (James 1:25, 2:12-13) and the "royal law" (James 2:8).

We can see this emphasis on the inner instead of the outer throughout the whole New Testament.

For example, the writer of Hebrews says that "The [old] law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming - not the realities themselves" (Heb 10:1). And Paul says that we "serve in the new way by the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code" (Romans 7:6), and that the dietary laws and special celebrations of the Old Testament are "a shadow of things that were to come; the reality, however is in Christ" (Colossians 2:17). And again, Paul says says that "a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart", (Rom 2:28). And he adds that there is "a new covenant - not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor 3:6). And there is lots more.

None of these authors want to throw out the true law, but only its old, outer expression. When you crack open a peanut shell, you throw away the shell and eat the peanut. Underneath the outer law is the inner law, and that is the law we Christians need to keep. As Christians we can observe the outer law if we feel like it - for example to avoid causing offense (as Paul attempted to do by being ceremonially clean in Acts 24:18; he explains his logic in 1 Cor 9:20-21), or to avoid violating our consiences (Romans 14:1), but it serves no further spiritual purpose.

Okay, but does Jesus agree with these writers? Oh yes!

Right after Jesus insists that he had not come to abolish the law he starts giving the true underlying meaning of a lot of Old Testament laws. He says that the deep meaning of the law is that murder is not just the physical act, but is a sin of the heart (Matthew 5:21-22); that adultery is not just the physical act, but a sin beginning in the heart (Matthew 5:27-28); that we should speak the truth because it is the right thing to do, not because we have spoken an oath (Matthew 5:33-37); that the deeper truth behind the eye-for-eye rule (which limited revenge) is that we should not return evil for evil but instead we should love our enemies (Matthew 5:38-44). And he teaches that our good deeds (Matthew 6:1-4) and prayers (Matthew 6:5-6) and fasting (Matthew 6:16-18) should not be done with people as our audience, but with God as our audience.

And as for Jesus violating the Sabbath, I think he was actually pointing to the deeper meaning of the Sabbath, that it was set aside by God to give people a time of rest and restoration. In obedience to that deep meaning, Jesus provided restoration to those who needed healing, just - as he pointed out - the Pharisees would provide restoration to an ox by pulling it out of a well on the Sabbath (Luke 14:3-4). Jesus is the lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:27), so he knows exactly what the Sabbath is about.

Also, notice that Jesus complains that the Pharisees were clean cups on the outside, but dirty on the inside, and whitewashed tombs - pretty on the outside but dirty on the inside (Mat 23:23-27), and he says that it isn't what goes into a person that makes them unclean, but what comes out of them (Mk 7:14-23).

Deeper, deeper, deeper. Inner, inner, inner. It's a theme that pervades the New Testament. Jesus and all the writers of the New Testament agree that the real core meaning of the law is deeper than the mere outward letter of the law.

Okay, but what is that deeper meaning?

If you are a Christian, you know what it is! You've heard it countless times. In fact, I found it a little humbling to spend months studying this topic and end up right back at what every first-grade Sunday school student knows:

The deepest meaning of the law, Jesus says, is first to love God and then to love our neighbor (Matthew 22:34-40, Mark 12:28-31, Luke 10:25-27, John 15:12, 15:17). And Paul agrees. The one thing that counts, he writes, is "faith expressing itself through love" (Galatians 5:6), and, he adds, we should serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13), and - of course - Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 13, the famous "love chapter," with the great line: "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." And James agrees as well: "If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, 'Love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing right."

So, for the Christian, the outer law is irrelevant, but the true inner law of love underlying the old law remains as valid as it every was.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Picasso and God

I had coffee the other day with my friend Chumly (not really; I'm making up a story) and between sips on his grande, half-caff extra-hot latte with two (not one) packets of Equal, he explained to me there is no God because if there was, he would have designed the human eye to be like the more-efficient octopus eye.

I thought maybe God figured we could be dangerous enough with the eyesight he gave us, but instead, I stared vacantly out the window and then said, "Hmmm ... Did you know that Picasso never existed?"

"What are you talking about?" Chumly asked.

"Have you ever looked at the portraits they say were painted by him? The nose is pasted on sideways, the mouth and eyes are in the wrong places and are the wrong size and the colors are garish and not human?"

"We were talking about God, not Picasso! But I will digress long enough to urge you not to be an idiot. There are books about Picasso; there are people alive today who knew Picasso; there are photographs of Picasso. Of course Picasso existed!"

"But what about the portraits? They're all wrong!"

"Look, just because you don't understand or like Picasso's style doesn't mean he didn't exist."

"I rest my case."

"What?" Chumly said. (Chumly never was very quick on the uptake.)

"Just because you don't understand or like God's style doesn't mean He doesn't exist."

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Dirty Spiritual Feet

In John 13: 2-17 is the well-known story of Jesus washing his disciples feet. At the end of this sermon-by-demonstration, Jesus tells the disciples that he has given them an example that they should follow. Most teachers I have heard understand Jesus to be saying that we should serve one another in all sorts of ways, not just by washing feet.

All well and good. I agree.

But as I read the passage recently, I suddenly noticed in the middle of the story an interesting little sermon-within-a-sermon. Jesus replied to Peter - who had in his impetuous Peter-like way insisted that Jesus wash all of him, not just his feet - that, "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you."

As is so often the case, Jesus takes an exterior example to make an interior point. If Jesus was talking about dirt on the body, it seems unlikely he would have excluded Judas from the ranks of the clean. And this seems especially unlikely since John specifically indicates (13:11) that the reason one of the disciples (Judas) was not clean was because he would betray Jesus. So it seems quite clear that Jesus is saying that his disciples (except Judas) were spiritually clean, and - if I may extrapolate a bit - fit for heaven.

But, if they were clean, then why did Jesus need to wash their feet?

I think Jesus meant that though they were clean and devoted to God, just walking around in this dirty world tends to stain them (and us) with various sins. We say and do bad things on the spur of the moment, or in a flash of passion or anger or inattention or weariness, things that smudge us with the dirt of sin. And though we are basically clean inside - we really do love Jesus and we really are citizens of heaven - we still need to have Jesus wash away those daily sins.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Longest Words

For a project I needed to repeatedly type a word (any word) and click the mouse button. I got annoyed taking my hand off the mouse to reach over for a key, so I wrote a little program to find the longest words that you can type with a single hand on a standard keyboard (without cheating and reaching over with the other hand), thereby allowing one hand to remain on the mouse.

Here are the results of my having too much time on my hands:

Longest words for left hand typing, winner is "reverberates" with 12 characters:


And a few shorter left-hand favorites:


Longest words for right hand typing, winner is "hypophyllum" with 11 characters:


Awful set of words, huh?

And a few shorter right-hand favorites:


Let me know if you can find any longer words for either category, and I'll add them. And let me know if you don't want me to use your name, otherwise I may.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

15-Minute Church

If I was the pastor of a little, dying church, I think I know what I'd try. I think I'd have about 12 15-minute services each Sunday morning, each separated by five minutes of coming-and-going time.

It's a shame, but people these days are so busy that I wonder if even an hour each Sunday seems like too big a committment to them. I wonder if it would be attractive for some people to be able to drop in just about any time throughout the morning, or even throughout the day, and maybe even on Saturdays, too.

People who don't normally go to church might stop by on their way to play golf, or on their way to the beach, or after Sunday brunch at the local restaurant, or whatever.

And as for content, I actually think a lot can be packed into 15 minutes. A couple good songs, a prayer and a short sermon. Shortening things often makes them better, more pointed.

I know! I know! It seems this encourages a rather casual, uncommitted attitude toward gathering together. It may, but I'd rather have 15 minutes of their time than none of their time, and I'm not aware that the Bible says exactly how long a church meeting has to be. In any case, I envision this as an introduction, and that some people would step up from this into a deeper and more active level of commitment, perhaps by getting involved in a Bible study group.

Just an idea.