November 2013

Reconstructing lost faces of the Bible

November 27 2013 by Michele Chabin, Religion News Service

JERUSALEM – Many artistic renderings of biblical figures hang in churches and museums, but no one really knows what they and their contemporaries looked like.
Now, an international team of archeologists, forensic anthropologists and facial reconstruction experts has tried to answer this question by recreating the faces of three adults and a newborn whose skeletal remains date back to biblical times.
A new four-part TV series, “Lost Faces of the Bible” (airing on the National Geographic Channel beginning Monday (Nov. 25)), follows the experts as they recreate long-gone faces utilizing the same state-of-the art technology used by police investigators.
The series, created by Simcha Jacobovici, a controversial Canadian-Israeli filmmaker and amateur archaeologist, suggests who these four anonymous people might have been. Along the way, it illustrates what life in the Holy Land was like thousands of years ago.
Dramatizations woven into the investigation bolster the narrative. The series is hosted by David Berman who stars in “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”
The first episode, “Delilah Revealed,” focuses on a Philistine woman who, the producers say, “lived at the time of the biblical Delilah,” the temptress who betrayed Samson.
The second, “Ancient Warrior,” asks whether a man buried in a desert cave with a walking stick, a pair of sandals and a broken bow lived “the same challenging life of a desert nomad like Esau,” the twin son of the biblical patriarch Isaac.
The third episode, “The Man Who Saw Jesus,” attempts to recreate the life of a man from pre-Canaanite times whose bones were interred using a special funerary practice common in Jerusalem from 20 B.C. to A.D. 70.  The bones were found in a burial cave in a region of Galilee strongly associated with the ministry of Jesus. The show’s promotional material states “if Jesus was a well-known miracle worker and/or healer,” this unknown man “surely knew him.”
The final episode, “Sacrificial Child,” explores whether a baby whose remains were discovered in a Canaanite jar under a house was sacrificed by her parents, a common practice in those times.
While forensic experts have already reconstructed the faces of people from several ancient civilizations, this is apparently the first time scientists have worked with Bible-era remains, Jacobovici said.
One reason: the difficulty of obtaining the ancient bones for examination due to religious sensitivities.
“Ultra-Orthodox Jews believe you shouldn’t move the bones of the deceased,” Jacobovici explained. To get around the problem, the show’s forensic experts scanned the remains but did not incorporate them into the reconstructions.
Though Jacobovici  has achieved success in the entertainment field — he’s won three Emmys, among other awards — his films, including “Nails of the Cross,” a 2011 film that suggested that nails discovered in an excavation were quite possibly the nails that pinned Jesus to the cross, were criticized by some of the archaeologists whose work he profiles.
In a statement at the time, the Israel Antiquities Authority said the “interpretation” put forward in “Nails of the Cross” “has no basis in archaeological findings or research.”
But the forensic experts who worked with Jacobovici on the “Lost Faces” series say his dramatic style of filmmaking actually helps educate the public about the Bible in a new way, and heightens an appreciation for the scientific processes utilized to recreate the four figures.
At a Jerusalem press briefing earlier this year where the four reconstructed heads/faces stood, somewhat eerily, on a table in the corner of the room, Victoria Lywood, a Montreal-based forensic artist, explained how she had printed three-dimensional skulls from CT scans using a rapid prototype printer designed for facial reconstructions. The rest, she said, was based on soft tissue depth measurements and other forensic methodology.
“The science in the series is sound,” said Lywood, who often assists in law enforcement identification cases.
Israel Hershkovitz, professor of anatomy at Tel Aviv University, said he decided to participate in the series as way to get the younger generation “excited about the history of the Holy Land.”
Hershkovitz said he has “no idea” whether the newborn found in the jar was sacrificed, “but it is a possibility” because it was a common practice during biblical times.
“Look at Abraham, who was about to sacrifice his first-born son, Isaac. Today we think, ‘What kind of God would demand such a thing?’ But back then, people sacrificed their first son to gain luck for their family and tribe.”
Judaism, he noted, “was embedded in local custom but also found ways to convince people to abandon that custom.”
Hershkovitz said most people think the story of Delilah is about sex and violence.
If the show’s Delilah segment succeeds in teaching the history of the Philistines and the Israelites, “it’s served its purpose,” Hershkovitz said.

The four-part series includes:
“Delilah Revealed”: 9 p.m., Nov. 25
“Ancient Warrior”: 9 p.m., Dec. 2
“The Man Who Saw Jesus”: 9 p.m., Dec. 9
“Sacrificial Child”: 9 p.m.,  Dec. 16
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Middle East correspondent Michele Chabin has covered events in the region for 18 years. In addition to her work at RNS, Chabin writes regularly for the New York Jewish Week and National Catholic Register and is a contributor to USA Today and numerous other publications.)
11/27/2013 11:46:42 AM by Michele Chabin, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Supreme Court takes up contraceptive mandate

November 27 2013 by David Gibson, Religion News Service

The Supreme Court announced on Tuesday (Nov. 26) that it will decide whether for-profit businesses can be treated like religious entities in a politically and constitutionally freighted test of the Obama administration’s mandate that employers include free contraception coverage as part of their health plans.
The cases, which will probably be argued in March and decided in June, will not deal with a string of other lawsuits over the mandate that have been filed by nonprofit faith-based groups. Those complaints are still working their way through the lower courts.
Still, the cases the high court will now take up are likely to establish important precedents by setting the parameters of religious rights in two key arenas.

Religious Freedom Restoration Act

The main yardstick for the justices, according to legal experts, will be the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Ironically, the law was backed by Democrats largely in response to an opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the bench’s most conservative members, that limited the rights of religious objectors.
RFRA sought to redress Scalia’s claims by mandating that the government may not “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” without a “compelling” reason.
Steve Green
Now that threshold is expected to be a major hurdle for a Democratic administration as the White House tries to fend off challenges to the contraception mandate, which has become one of the president’s most bitterly contested policies.
More than 80 lawsuits have been filed against the mandate by Christian groups and Christian-owned businesses — many of them Catholic — that object to providing birth control coverage or the coverage of sterilization procedures and what some believe are abortion-inducing drugs. Others object to the way the government decided which entities qualify for religious exemptions.
“It would be a huge expansion of RFRA to let businesses win cases under that statute,” said Leslie Griffin, a law professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who has written widely on church-state issues and the contraception mandate.

Citizens United

The second, though perhaps less important, guidepost for the justices will be the controversial Citizens United decision of 2010 in which a sharply divided bench ruled that corporations have free speech rights and therefore cannot be prevented from spending money to support or oppose political candidates.
Now the justices will decide whether corporations whose owners espouse particular beliefs also have some of the same rights as individual believers and houses of worship. Citizens United has already been cited by lower court judges in ruling against the mandate.
“We see no reason the Supreme Court would recognize constitutional protection for a corporation’s political expression but not its religious expression,” Judge Timothy M. Tymkovich wrote for the majority in a ruling for the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of Hobby Lobby Inc., a nationwide chain of crafts stores owned by the Green family, whose members are evangelical Christians.
The Hobby Lobby case is one of the cases the Supreme Court will now rule on; founder and CEO Steve Green welcomed Tuesday’s action.
“This legal challenge has always remained about one thing and one thing only: the right of our family businesses to live out our sincere and deeply held religious convictions as guaranteed by the law and the Constitution,” Green said. “Business owners should not have to choose between violating their faith and violating the law.”
The other case is an appeal from Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., a Mennonite-owned cabinetmaker in Pennsylvania that employs 950 people. Conestoga lost its case against the mandate in the lower courts and petitioned the Supreme Court to hear its claims.
Opponents of Conestoga and Hobby Lobby, which has 13,000 full-time employees, argue that because they are for-profit businesses they do not have the same rights as religious believers. They also note that the companies hire employees of varied faith backgrounds who also have religious rights. Another concern is that granting a religious exemption to businesses will allow companies to claim a range of other exemptions from other statutes.
Reactions to the high court’s decision to consider the cases reflected the highly charged debate over the contraception mandate.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which supports the administration’s position, said that “religious freedom does not include the right to impose your beliefs on others … particularly where that means discriminating against their employees.”
On the other side, Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, which filed an amicus brief against the mandate, said he hopes the Supreme Court “recognizes what the founders of this country saw, that religious liberty isn’t a gift handed to us by Uncle Caesar.”
Given the polemics, Notre Dame law professor Richard Garnett said he worries “that what I regard as accidental aspects of the case — the Citizens United debate, the ‘war on women’ rhetoric from the last election, the controversies about (health care reform) — will distract the court from the more specific legal question presented, which has to do, again, with the interpretation of a particular, and an important, federal statute.”
Other legal experts said that even without the atmospherics surrounding the issue, it is going to be hard enough for the justices to sort through the arguments, and few were willing to predict how the case will turn out.
“It’s one of the most difficult legal questions I’ve seen, in terms of all the issues that are intertwined,” Howard Friedman, a retired law professor who who runs the Religion Clause blog, told Christianity Today earlier this year.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Gibson is an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He writes for RNS and until recently covered the religion beat for AOL's Politics Daily.)
11/27/2013 11:30:59 AM by David Gibson, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Scouts' new leader: ex-defense chief Gates

November 27 2013 by Warren Cole Smith, Baptist Press

ASHEVILLE – The man who helped pave the way for homosexuals to serve openly in the military will become the new volunteer leader of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) in 2014.
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates became the president-elect of the BSA on Oct. 30. According to a statement released by the Boy Scouts, “This move means that upon approval of voting members of the National Council, Gates would begin a two-year term as the BSA national president in May 2014.” Gates will succeed Wayne Perry, the current national president.
The selection of Gates for this role was unexpected. AT&T chairman Randall Stephenson has been Scouting's BSA president-elect the past two years, and the normal procedure would have been for him to become president. According to Richard Mathews, a former general counsel for the Boy Scouts, “I believe this is unprecedented.”
Robert Gates
Was the change made because Gates is more likely to allow homosexual leaders in the Boy Scouts? Scouting spokesman Deron Smith said the selection of Gates “is not related to the BSA's membership standards policy.” But Smith would not answer questions from WORLD Magazine about Gates' or the BSA's plans for implementing new policy that allows openly homosexual boys to participate in Scouting.
“The BSA just completed a review of its membership policies and there are no plans to discuss it further,” Smith said.
Smith added that Gates has had a long association with Scouting and had been slated for a BSA leadership role until his service as secretary of defense and CIA director made that impossible.
“This move was made because the BSA had the opportunity to take advantage of a unique moment to add Dr. Gates,” Smith said.
Stephenson will continue to serve in the role of president-elect during the Gates presidency. “Aside from timing,” Smith said, “nothing has changed.”
Matthews, who now serves as general counsel for TrailLife USA, a Christian alternative to the Boy Scouts, said it is a “very difficult thing to know” whether Gates will be more or less likely than Stephenson to allow homosexual leaders in the BSA.
“Both of them have been outspoken about their belief that homosexuality should not bar participation or leadership roles in organizations,” Matthews said. “Certainly if an organization planned on making such a change there would be great value in having someone as its leader who has already supported and led such a change in the Department of Defense.”
But what about Smith's assertion that the BSA does not plan any further discussion of the issue? Mathews said silence likely would not be an option for the BSA.
“The BSA will lose the next legal challenge brought by an adult who is denied membership or participation because of 'sexual orientation,'“ Mathews said.
Pro-homosexual groups praised the Boy Scouts for the move to bring Gates on board.
“Former Defense Secretary Gates has previously confronted discrimination head on, ushering in a new era of equality in our nation's armed forces,” said Wilson Cruz, a spokesman for the gay activist group GLAAD. “We urge Dr. Gates to continue his work to ensure all people are treated equally, no matter who they are and no matter what uniform they wear.”
A gay Scouting advocacy group agreed.
“We are glad to hear that the Boy Scouts of America intends to elect former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as president of the BSA's Executive Board,” said Zach Wahls of Scouts for Equality. “Mr. Gates has led a distinguished career of service to our nation -- including the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' -- and we hope he will continue that legacy by leading the Boy Scouts into a future that protects all its youth and parents, regardless of their sexual orientation.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Warren Cole Smith is associate publisher of WORLD Magazine, based in Asheville, N.C. Used by permission from WORLD News Service.)
11/27/2013 11:06:32 AM by Warren Cole Smith, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Week of Prayer: December 1-8

November 26 2013 by BR Staff

December 1-8 will mark this year’s Week of Prayer highlighting missionaries of the International Mission Board (IMB). “Totally His” is both the theme and challenge of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions this year.
This year Southern Baptists celebrated 125 years of annual giving to support international missionaries. More than $3.5 billion dollars have been given to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, whose namesake inspired the first collection of gifts in 1888 so the world might know Christ. Then, as now, every penny given to Lottie Moon supports missionaries as they share the gospel overseas.
Southern Baptist churches are invited to be fully committed to Christ by loving Him and others with the ultimate goal that every man, woman and child on earth can know His saving grace.
The Lottie Moon offering is not a give-a-few-bucks-on-Sunday morning, pray-every-now-and-then kind of challenge. This is an all-encompassing and giving of everything so people can know the love of Jesus.
Being “Totally His” means constantly going deeper to be Christ’s heart, hands and voice – individually, as a church and cooperatively as Southern Baptists working together to reach all the nations.
On IMB’s website, there are various stories on missionaries, their partners and U.S. churches that are committed to being “Totally His.” Read or watch them, be inspired by them, add your own to the mixture. Discover some resources that will help you and your church in this endeavor to be totally His.
11/26/2013 1:41:40 PM by BR Staff | with 0 comments

Church Interiors helps facilities’ beauty, function

November 26 2013 by Emily Blake, BR Editorial Aide

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Church Interiors has been advertising with the Biblical Recorder for more than 10 years. We’re showcasing this company in gratitude for their support.)
In 1981, Charles Wicker and the late Ron Belton started selling pews, stained glass windows and carpet in High Point.
Their young business, Church Interiors, soon became one of the first companies to reupholster church pews.

Church Interiors photo
Retro-fit lighting is just one of the many services offered by Church Interiors located in High Point. The business offers renovations as well as stained glass and electrical and video services as well as church pew resoration.

Church Interiors continued to add to their services as the needs arose, eventually moving into electrical, audio and video as well.
Today the company specializes in complete church sanctuary renovation and has performed more than 10,000 renovations in churches all over the country.
Wicker and Belton eventually moved into a partnership with LifeWay Church Architecture. Due to this relationship with LifeWay, much of their work has been done in Baptist churches.
Church Interiors is dedicated to making churches beautiful and more functional. References and photos of satisfied customers are featured on the company’s website, showcasing their quality work.
Some testimonies date back almost 30 years. Much of their success over the years has come from these referrals from one church to another.
When working with Church Interiors, a personal consultant discusses the different options that will fit the church best. Church Interiors can work with a variety of different styles and layouts to create the atmosphere desired, be it traditional or contemporary.
Wicker noted that smaller churches need versatility from their main rooms. Often one large room serves as a place for worship, weddings, funerals and potlucks.
Church Interiors provides a menu layout to each customer of all their purchases, showing exactly where their money is going.
The customer also receives a 3D rendering in color, which gives the congregation a visual of the expected outcome. This has served well as motivation for churches doing fundraising.
One of Church Interiors’ expansions was into general contracting and sub-contracting. This has allowed them to keep their prices low and provide a quality service that is affordable.
“We don’t sell anything that we wouldn’t put into our own churches,” said Wicker.
Visit or call (800) 289-7397.
11/26/2013 1:30:54 PM by Emily Blake, BR Editorial Aide | with 0 comments

SBC entities defend ministerial housing allowance

November 26 2013 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – The Southern Baptist Convention's religious freedom and financial benefits entities both expressed their opposition to a federal court ruling invalidating the ministerial housing allowance.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and GuideStone Financial Resources protested a Nov. 22 decision by federal Judge Barbara Crabb that struck down the portion of a 1954 federal law that allows clergy to exclude for federal income tax purposes a portion or all of their gross income as a housing allowance. Crabb ruled that the provision violates the First Amendment's prohibition on government establishment of religion.

Crabb, a judge in the Western District of Wisconsin, blocked enforcement of her opinion until the appeals process in the lawsuit is complete.

In a combined news release Nov. 23, ERLC and Guidestone officials expressed their solidarity in working to protect the housing allowance.

"The clergy housing allowance isn't a government establishment of religion, but just the reverse," ERLC President Russell D. Moore said. "The allowance is neutral to all religions. Without it, clergy in small congregations of all sorts would be penalized and harmed.

"We will continue to fight to protect the housing allowance, because we believe clergy are essential for flourishing, vibrant communities," Moore said.

GuideStone President O. S. Hawkins said, "Although this particular case does not have immediate impact, we know that pastors and others in ministry are facing challenges in our very own nation as never before. This decision, while not unanticipated, is sadly symptomatic of our culture today. We count it a privilege to be an advocate for those who have given their lives to ministry – and we will not forsake our mission to undergird those who so faithfully serve our churches and ministries."

At its website, GuideStone describes the housing allowance as "the most important tax benefit available to ministers. Section 107 of the Internal Revenue Code allows 'ministers of the gospel' to exclude some or all of their ministerial income designated by their church or church-related employer as a housing allowance from income for federal income tax purposes."

The allowance has been especially helpful to smaller congregations because their pastors or ministers – who typically receive lower salaries – benefit from part of their income being non-taxable.

A 2002 estimate offered by then-Rep. Jim Ramstad of Minnesota said the housing allowance would save ministers $2.3 billion in taxes during the following five years.

Crabb's decision came as no surprise. In 2010, she ruled the National Day of Prayer violates the establishment clause. A three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago unanimously struck down Crabb's ruling the following year. The appeals court ruled the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) did not have standing to bring the lawsuit.

FFRF, which is based in Madison, Wis., was qualified to sue federal officials in the housing allowance case, Crabb ruled, and its co-presidents celebrated the judge's decision. "The rest of us should not pay more because clergy pay less," Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker said.

Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said in a statement for Baptist Press, "The clergy housing allowance exemption is a special government subsidy extended only to religious leaders. On those grounds, it appears to be a violation of church-state separation.

"The exemption was crafted during a time when many congregations maintained parsonages and were structured much differently than they are now. I'm sure this decision will be appealed. Regardless of what happens, I hope America's religious and political leaders take this opportunity to consider revamping some old practices that may no longer make sense in the modern era."

Defenders of the housing allowance appeared hopeful the Seventh Circuit Court would again reverse Crabb.

In response to questions after the ruling, Thom S. Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, predicted in a Nov. 25 blog post that Crabb's decision "will eventually be overturned or reversed" but the housing allowance "will continue to be challenged."

Rainer advised ministers to be conservative as they deal with the issue. "If at all possible, do not be dependent on the tax benefits garnered from having a housing allowance," he wrote. "Look carefully at the tax benefits you gain with the housing allowance. Be prepared to know what to do if the benefit goes away."

Ken Klukowski, director of the Family Research Council's Center for Religious Liberty, said in a written statement, "Since the U.S. Supreme Court has made crystal clear that these sorts of laws do not injure anyone, we expect the [Seventh Circuit Court] to promptly reverse this decision. This is a decision that flies in the face of controlling precedent."

In her opinion, Crabb said the housing allowance "provides a benefit to religious persons and no one else, even though doing so is not necessary to alleviate a special burden on religious exercise."

She wrote, "Some might view a rule against preferential treatment as exhibiting hostility toward religion, but equality should never be mistaken for hostility."

If a law "imposed a tax solely against ministers (or granted an exemption to everyone except ministers) without a secular reason for doing so, that law would violate" the U.S. Constitution, Crabb said.

While she ruled the housing allowance breaches the establishment clause, "this does not mean that the government is powerless to enact tax exemptions that benefit religion" as long as they have a secular purpose, Crabb wrote.

The case is FFRF v. Lew and Werfel. Jacob Lew is secretary of the Treasury and Daniel Werfel is acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. With reporting by Martin King, director of communications for LifeWay Christian Resources.)
11/26/2013 1:18:58 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 2 comments

Calvinism: Mohler, Hankins hold 'conversation'

November 26 2013 by James A. Smith Sr., Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Southern Baptists need to “learn the table manners of denominational life” when discussing Calvinism, R. Albert Mohler Jr. said during a “conversation” with Mississippi pastor Eric Hankins at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, and Hankins, pastor of First Baptist Church in Oxford, Miss., co-chaired a 19-member Calvinism Advisory Committee that issued a unanimous report in May to Executive Committee President Frank Page, who assembled the group. While acknowledging tension over Calvinism within the Southern Baptist Convention, the report urged Southern Baptists to “grant one another liberty” on the doctrine while joining arms for the Great Commission.

In recent years, a debate about Calvinism, a term associated with the doctrine of salvation taught by 16th-century theologian John Calvin has generated controversy within the SBC, with each side of the debate convening conferences, publishing books and issuing theological statements. Mohler holds to Calvinistic soteriology. Hankins was the primary author of “A Statement of Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation,” issued in 2012 as an alternative to Calvinism.

Mohler invited Hankins to hold a public conversation before students and faculty in order to model how Southern Baptists who differ on Calvinism can dialogue with each other while remaining committed to working together. Hankins also preached in Southern Seminary's chapel earlier in the day.

Throughout the hour-long conversation Nov. 7, both men affirmed the need for Southern Baptists on both sides of the debate to exercise humility and show grace to those who disagree.

Photo by Emil Handke
R. Albert Mohler Jr. (right), president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Mississippi pastor Eric Hankins discuss their divergent views of Calvinism. 

“We have to learn the table manners of denominational life,” Mohler said. “There is a certain etiquette and kindness that is required, just like in the family reunion.”

The Southern Baptist family is made up of Calvinists and those who are not, Mohler said. “The decision to be a Southern Baptist is the decision to work with the people” on both sides of the debate, he said.

“We should not be surprised by differences of understanding of the issues that are comfortably within the Baptist Faith and Message,” Mohler added, citing the SBC's confession of faith, most recently revised in 2000.

Hankins said, “There's been too much ugliness,” noting that a friend warned him before issuing the “traditionalist” statement that “Calvinists will maul you. … And he was right.”

“That goes both ways,” Mohler responded, to which Hankins replied, “I absolutely acknowledge that.”

Both men agreed that terminology and labels are significant hurdles to better understanding on both sides of the debate.

Hankins flatly rejected the term “Arminian” to describe his theology due to Arminianism's rejection of eternal security of the believer, among other reasons.

Arminianism is named for late 16th-century Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius who rejected some tenets of John Calvin's theology of salvation. His followers, known as the “Remonstrants,” issued their views in 1610, to which followers of Calvin responded in the Synod of Dort in 1619. Both Calvinists and Arminians express their convictions with five points addressing various aspects of salvation.

Hankins said “non-Calvinist” is not a good term – one he “hates” – while conceding, “We do not have good terms.”

Hankins said he used “traditionalist” to attempt to describe his views in contrast to Calvinism, although he acknowledged the term is offensive to some Calvinists.

“I wasn't trying to insult anyone. I was just trying to come up with a name. … I hope to figure out some way to talk about what the distinctions are, but I don't have a good answer to that question,” Hankins said.

Mohler said, “I am troubled at times and challenged perpetually about what language to use,” noting the term “Reformed” carries its own misunderstandings.

Hankins said most Southern Baptists who hold to less than four points of classical Calvinism do not consider themselves Calvinists. Mohler noted that Southern Seminary's confession of faith, the Abstract of Principles, only requires adherence to three points of Calvinism: total depravity, unconditional election and perseverance of the saints. The other two points of Calvinism are limited (or particular) atonement and irresistible (or effectual) grace.

“So it is a very interesting thing in that I think most people would look at the Abstract of Principles and say it was Calvinist, and I think that would be right,” Mohler said, adding that “from the very beginning” of the seminary, there were faculty “who were more or less Calvinist on some of these very questions.”

Hankins said a “real problem” is Calvinists who consider his soteriological views to be “deficient.” That attitude “propelled me to say something,” responding to what he considered to be a new “tone” among Calvinists.

Mohler responded, “Well, I do think your soteriology is deficient,” while adding that in truth Hankins would say the same about his soteriology.

Mohler said “theological humility” requires both sides to acknowledge that “we're doing the very best we can.”

Mohler said those who hold to all five points of Calvinism and those who do not are still capable of cooperating together in the Great Commission and other ministries as long as they can both affirm the Baptist Faith and Message.

Both men agreed that the BF&M in its current form is sufficient for both sides of the debate.

“I need to say publicly in this conversation with you – I do not want our Baptist Faith and Message to be any narrower than it is now,” Mohler said. Hankins responded, “I sense zero interest in having the Baptist Faith and Message be this battleground and we're going to fix it there.”

Mohler asked Hankins to outline areas of Calvinist “misbehavior.”

Hankins said Calvinists should not dismiss those who disagree with them as “stupid.” Some young, aggressive Calvinists make older pastors who reject Calvinism “feel inadequate.”

Hankins noted, “Those who hold to non-Calvinism can do so with a robust seriousness about the sovereignty of God, a robust seriousness [about] the absolute ruination of sin over humankind, and the singularity of the Gospel in bringing about salvation and the absolute necessity of the prior working of the Holy Spirit to bring about salvation.”

Another problem, Hankins said, involves Calvinists who fail to disclose their convictions when under consideration by pulpit committees.

Search committees should move beyond a yes or no question, “Are you a Calvinist?” on pastoral search questionnaires, Hankins said. “And if you check, yes, they're going to wad it up and throw it in the trash, which does not need to happen.”

Mohler responded that it's good that young believers are interested in these issues. “I don't think you can be too excited about theology or the truths of God's Word,” he said. “You can just be too excited about your system.”

Mohler added, “If there's a young, Reformed guy who's more interested in traveling across the state to argue about John Calvin when he's not talking to his next-door neighbor about the Gospel, then there's a huge problem.”

Hankins suggested a “rule” for both sides of the debate: “You only get seven days to talk about [Calvinism] and for another seven days you have to actually share the Gospel.” The truth, he added, is that all Southern Baptists are failing to share the Gospel.

Hankins said his hope for the future of the SBC is based on cooperation to carry out the Great Commission.

“The concept of cooperating together to do the work of missions and evangelism is beautiful and it's brilliant,” Hankins said, adding that seminarians need to be engaged in the denomination. “This seminary exists because of that cooperative movement.”

Mohler said in a “post-Christian culture” all Southern Baptists “need each other because we're going to be up against unbelievable ethical, moral, leadership, discipleship challenges. … I feel right now we desperately need one another and we need the resources we all bring to this.”

Mohler added, “What we need to think about is what it means to have healthy Gospel churches in a hostile culture ready to be faithful to Christ.”

In his chapel sermon, Hankins preached about “A Great Commission Hermeneutic” from Luke 24:44-49, asserting the need for “Christ-centered preaching.”

Audio and video from the discussion with Mohler and Hankins' sermon are available at

(EDITOR’S NOTE – James A. Smith Sr. is executive editor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. RuthAnne Irvin contributed to this report.)
11/26/2013 12:59:09 PM by James A. Smith Sr., Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Clergy tax-free housing allowance, unconstitutional

November 25 2013 by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service

A federal judge has ruled that an Internal Revenue Service exemption that gives clergy tax-free housing allowances is unconstitutional.
The exemption applies to an estimated 44,000 ministers, priests, rabbis, imams and others. If the ruling stands, some clergy members could experience an estimated 5 to 10 percent cut in take-home pay.
U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb ruled on Friday (Nov. 22) in favor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, saying the exemption violates the First Amendment because it “provides a benefit to religious persons and no one else, even though doing so is not necessary to alleviate a special burden on religious exercise.”
The case, decided in the District Court for the Western District Of Wisconsin, will likely be appealed to the the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers the states of Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.

Photo by James Steakley
The parsonage of First Methodist Church in Monroe, Wisc.

The housing allowances of pastors in Wisconsin remain unaffected after Crabb stayed the ruling until all appeals are exhausted. Crabb also ruled in 2010 that the National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional.

Earlier this month, the 7th Circuit barred the enforcement of the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate, an issue circulating through federal courts across the country and likely to be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court next spring.
Churches routinely designate a portion of a pastor’s salary as a housing allowance. So, for example, a minister that earns an average of $50,000 may receive another a third of income, or $16,000, as a tax-free housing allowance, essentially earning $66,000. Having to pay taxes on the additional $16,000 ($4,000 in this case), would mean an 8 percent cut in salary.
The exemption is worth about $700 million per year, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation Estimate of Federal Tax Expenditure.
Crabb ruled that the law provides that the gross income of a “minister of the gospel” does not include “the rental allowance paid to him as part of his compensation, to the extent used by him to rent or provide a home and to the extent such allowance does not exceed the fair rental value of the home, including furnishings and appurtenances such as a garage, plus the cost of utilities.”
Tobin Grant, a political science professor at Southern Illinois University, said the exemption dates from an era when churches paid clergy who lived in church-owned parsonage.
“Over time, fewer churches owned parsonages and instead gave clergy housing allowances, which were also treated as tax-free. The difference, however, was that these were regular salaries that now had an exclusion. Part could be tax-free, part couldn’t. So, why not give a pastor a huge housing allowance, which is tax free?”
The ruling addresses the housing allowance, while parsonages are still tax-exempt properties, like the churches that own them.
Peter J. Reilly, a contributor to Forbes, writes that the exclusion goes back to 1921.
“I’m not sure what Congress could do in this instance,” he said. “There is strong clergy influence on both sides of the aisle though, so there is a good chance that Congress will at least try to make it look like it has done something.”
The law’s tax exemption has been contested since a decade-old dispute between the IRS and California megachurch pastor Rick Warren. In 2002, the IRS attempted to charge Warren back taxes after he claimed a housing allowance of more than $70,000.
He eventually won the federal court case, and that led Congress to clarify the rules for housing allowances. The allowance is limited to one house, and is restricted to either the fair market rental value of the house or the money actually spent on housing.
Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker, co-presidents of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which brought the suit, hailed the decision. “May we say hallelujah! This decision agrees with us that Congress may not reward ministers for fighting a ‘godless and anti-religious’ movement by letting them pay less income tax,” they said. “The rest of us should not pay more because clergy pay less.”
The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and Southern Baptist-affiliated GuideStone Financial Resources plan to fight for the exemption.
“The clergy housing allowance isn’t a government establishment of religion, but just the reverse,” said Russell Moore, president of ERLC. “The allowance is neutral to all religions. Without it, clergy in small congregations of all sorts would be penalized and harmed.”
Church housing has been a hot topic in recent months as the Southern Baptist pastor of one of the nation’s fastest-growing churches is building a 16,000-square-foot gated estate near Charlotte, N.C. The tax value on the 19-acre property owned by Steven Furtick of Elevation Church is estimated to be $1.6 million.
Earlier this year, the federal government offered the Freedom From Religion Foundation a tax break available to religious groups that it rejected.
Separately, in a federal court case in Kentucky, atheists are challenging IRS regulations that exempt religious groups from the same financial disclosure requirements of other non-profit groups.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Sarah Pulliam Bailey joined RNS as a national correspondent in 2013. She has previously served as managing editor of Odyssey Networks and online editor for Christianity Today.)
11/25/2013 1:20:22 PM by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service | with 1 comments

Max Lucado on his new film

November 25 2013 by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service

NEW YORK – Former presidential candidate Rick Santorum and popular Christian author Max Lucado have paired up with singer Susan Boyle for a Christmas film in the trio’s first theatrical release, which hits theaters Nov. 22.
The Christmas Candle” features a minister who struggles with his own faith and belief in miracles as he ministers to the English village of Gladbury. The film is a first for Santorum, who is now CEO of distributor EchoLight Studios.

“The greatest thing I have going for me is that people always have low expectations,” Santorum said after a film screening.
Religion News Service spoke with Lucado, whose book inspired the movie and who has a cameo in the film, on the film’s tensions and why December can be so difficult for so many. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

The Christmas Candle photo
Sylvester McCoy plays the candlemaker in the village of Gladbury. Legend says that every 25 years an angel visits the village candlemaker and touches a single candle. Set in 1890 on the verge of the electric age, “The Christmas Candle” visits this village and shares the story of an astonishing Christmas.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish with this film?
A: Our hope is hope. Our hope is that we can have a creative way of retelling the Christmas story about the birth of Christ in a way that’s engaging and encouraging. It’s actually a story of people in this small village living with the promise of the birth of Jesus. The story of the birth of Jesus says that God enters the world in common places and does uncommon things, and Gladbury is a very common place where uncommon things were happening.
Q: The film seems to display a tension between faith and works. What is the role of miracles in that tension?
A: As a minister, I struggle with, “Is it all right to pray for a miracle? Why does God heal or why doesn’t he?” I don’t think it’s too tidy. As the minister struggles, it’s a bit autobiographical. There have been seasons in my life where I’ve wrestled with what’s my part and what’s God part.
My thinking is that miracles exist to reveal God, but miracles don’t exist for God to do me any favors. There are occasions where God intervenes in the natural flow of events to display his power, as much as to do something kind for me. That helps me on the occasion when he doesn’t answer the way I want him to. My faith helps me say, “God is using my struggle. My struggle is the answer to the prayer.” There’s a mixture of faith as trusting God to do what is right, not in expecting him to do what I want.
Q: There’s a lot to compete with around the Christmas season. How do you break through the noise?
A: At Christmas, there’s not a lot of stuff about Christmas – I mean the biblical story of Christmas. I think there’s an opportunity for retelling the birth narrative in creative ways that people long for and appreciate. Every person, at some point during Christmas, asks, “Now why do we do this? Santa Claus and shopping are fun, but isn’t there something more to this?” Those of us who know the birth narrative, we want a reminder too. I think there’s always a place to come back to the Bethlehem story.
Q: It seems like there’s a lot of potential for outrage with the Christmas wars. Is that productive?
A: I don’t know if there’s any need to get antagonistic about it. Every faith has its story; every faith has its roots. The Muslim faith, the Hindu faith, the Christian faith – we all have our stories. Part of the joy of sharing this planet together is that we all share our stories. I don’t think there’s any threat to hearing one another’s stories. I think the danger comes when we tell people “quit telling your story.”
Q: Is it challenging to be a pastor in December?
A: Christmas is happy for many people, but there are a large number of people who are finding it real difficult because it reminds them of what they don’t have. The way to respond to that, I think, is to acknowledge how difficult it can be and to bring a word of comfort, but then also to remind them of what they do have. The Christmas message says what you have is a Redeemer, a Savior, a God who came, who cares, and who’s coming again.
Q: You have said that your wife dealt with depression, and struggled to deal with it in a public way as a pastor’s wife. You said, “In tough times, it’s important for us to be a barnacle on the boat of God’s church.” Are you suggesting people just hang on and run with it?
A: That’s to combat the thought that “Nobody can understand me, or nobody’s been through this before.” I really believe the devil has lies. What makes tough times tough is we start believing those lies. You combat the lies by staying in community with people, at least availing yourself to the possibility that somebody’s been through this and somebody has a solution.
Q: The pastor character in the movie seems to struggle during the Christmas season.
A: There’s a very poignant scene in which the reverend, who’s struggling with faith, has refused to pray for sick people, because he doesn’t believe anything happens. Then finally he does, and he comes in with his Bible in which he’s written Scriptures and placed them on the pages, apparently because he can’t find them, and he reads these Scriptures. It’s really a tender moment for him and the person for whom he’s praying.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Sarah Pulliam Bailey joined RNS as a national correspondent in 2013. She has previously served as managing editor of Odyssey Networks and online editor for Christianity Today.)
11/25/2013 1:01:49 PM by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service | with 1 comments

ITE helps churches transport members

November 25 2013 by Emily Blake, BR Editorial Aide

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Interstate Transportation Equipment has been advertising with the Biblical Recorder for more than 10 years. We’re showcasing this company in gratitude for their support.)
Interstate Transportation Equipment Inc. (ITE) is a company that has satisfied customers in both North and South Carolina for 66 years. Established in 1947, ITE is the oldest commercial bus dealership in the Carolinas.

ITE photo
Buses like the Startran allow Interstate Transportation Equipment, Inc. (ITE) to offer North and South Carolina options for transporting church members to various events.

Owner and President Robert Coleman started washing buses for ITE (then called Superior Sales) at age 11 and, he has been with the company for 40 years.  “We try to really stand behind our product and focus on the Golden Rule: [‘do unto others as you would have them to unto you’],” said Coleman. “Even when it’s not the most financially beneficial choice for our company.”
This commitment to a morally upstanding business is one of ITE’s finest qualities. They focus on honesty, complete customer satisfaction and fair prices. After decades of service, ITE is still dedicated to meeting the transportation needs of school and commercial bus users throughout the Carolinas.
Selling and leasing buses may seem fairly straightforward, but ITE has evolved over the years according to the specific needs of their customers, many of which are Baptist churches. With two locations in Columbia, S.C., and High Point, they provide a variety of buses for school, commercial and transit, maintaining a large stock of spare parts. In addition to buses manufactured by Thomas, ITE was recently appointed a dealer for DaimlerChrysler Commercial Buses N.A.
The service department at ITE features a staff with a combined experience of more than 80 years. Daily, they utilize three mobile service trucks as well as ASE certified technicians.
ITE has been successful throughout the years and provided one of the largest order of buses. The State of South Carolina purchased 2,002 school buses from them in 1995. Coleman said, “I really enjoy the people. I like doing business with so many interesting companies and seeing the passion for the different things they do. And ultimately, what it comes down to is transporting people well.”
Visit or call (803)-776-5041 or fax (803)-776-3527.
11/25/2013 12:44:37 PM by Emily Blake, BR Editorial Aide | with 0 comments

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