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recommended listening: In Our Time and Issues Etc.

I’d like to recommend two fairly podcast episodes, both more or less about differences between religions or between religious traditions.

The first is an episode of the BBC 4 program In Our Time [link], a discussion of the Oracle at Delphi, with the amazing Melvyn Bragg and three academic historians. The oracle was active for about 1200 years, from the 8th century BC until consulting it was banned under Roman Emperor Theodosius I [link]. There are almost no references to Christianity in this discussion, but it is always lurking in the background as the religion of reference, especially when the panel says things like “it used to be a religion was something one did.” As opposed to what, I only half-wonder. This is one of the native religions Paul the Apostle would have encountered while traveling; there’s good reason to believe the girl he encounters in Philippi was part of the same Greek religion.

The second is a Todd Wilken review of an Ed Young Jr sermon [mp3]. I like the fact that Wilken does this occasionally, because it gives a sort of differential view of different traditions with Christianity (it’s more helpful to see how different groups see each other than it is to read a list of their differences and imagine what they imply), and also because Wilken gives a simple schematic for analyzing a sermon:

  1. Is the sermon about Jesus Christ and what He’s done for you? Or is it about something else? Measure this by counting how often Jesus is mentioned.
  2. Is Jesus the subject of the verbs? Are the sentences about Jesus?
  3. What problem has the preacher diagnosed? What remedy is he providing?

I don’t agree with Wilken’s approach; I believe pastors should preach their way through all of Scripture and let the theme of each passage rise from the passage first and from the whole of Scripture second. The Gospel is the theme of the whole of Scripture, but it is not the theme of every passage, and attempting to make every passage a presentation of the Gospel does violence to the text. That being said, I appreciate Wilken doing this and saying in a straightforward manner how he’s going to listen to the subject sermon. Also, I would probably never voluntarily listen to Ed Young Jr and his wife otherwise. The entire Ed Young Jr phenomenon boggles my mind.

One of the things that troubles me about this particular sermon is the Youngs’ use of survey data as motivation for the sermon. It’s a pet peeve of mine when a preacher refers to survey data, especially when the survey is meant to cover a population the preacher isn’t speaking to: partly because it puts the preacher’s endorsement on the data, without regard for it’s accuracy, methodology, etc., and partly because the surveyed population isn’t the preacher’s responsibility. For example, I don’t think it matters how many marriages end in divorce unless the people participating in those marriages are the preacher’s responsibility. I tend to think the unstated premise (“what’s true of America is probably true of you”) is a sign that Ed Young Jr. is out of touch with the people who attend his church and/or views them as an amorphous blobby market rather than individual sinners just like him.

Also, the subject of the sermon (sexual intimacy and its importance to a healthy marriage) is a worthwhile thing for a pastor to discuss with people in his church, but not from the pulpit, and not the way the Youngs are going about it.

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