October 2009

N.D. Wilson has done a good thing with his book, “Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl” — he argues for a creator and then he argues that creation is good, a notion lost to many evangelicals today.

At times, Wilson examines the whole of the world from the subatomic level — quarks, leptons and other tiny things that you cannot see but do exist. At other times, he just seems to get caught up in the joy of living in a world over which God pronounced, “It is good.”

But the part I appreciated the most was that he avoided veering into the kind of hard scientific apologetics that evangelicals have gotten very good at doing very badly — ultimately, that’s not his point. The book is both a superb — if unintentional — argument for general revelation, as well as for another idea, that you should enjoy what God has created.

The writing in “Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl” is kind of like being on a tilt-a-whirl, and I’m not sure how many folks it will suit. I liked it; I’m not sure everyone else will. It’s not irreverent, but I suspect some people will think it so; at one point Wilson comments that Jesus transformed water into wine, and later the wine into urine. Should we deny it?, he asks.

N.D. Wilson’s “Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl” is a good — and even fun to read — book. It’s not the most remarkable thing I’ve ever read, but I recommend it to those who like to read books that can be described as both “sound” and “trippy.”

Thomas Nelson Publishers provided a review copy of this book.


Funerals in the rural southern United States can be a funny thing, and they can be accompanied with all sorts of folk religion. But that makes sense, because — whereas in many places they have been replaced with “memorial services” — for the most part funerals are still considered a religious service in the south.

While funerals are functionally about remembering and burying the dead, they may not specifically focus on the person in the casket. I’ve been to funerals that were nearly indistinguishable from regular church services (with the exception of the body in the front), and I’ve heard an altar call given at a funeral. In one instance, there was even dancing — and not spiteful dancing, as in dancing on your grave, but rather ecstatic charismatic dancing. Chalk it up to eternal hope in the resurrection, I suppose.

Even after the funeral, we have our customs. A few pious Catholics will make the sign of the cross as the hearse bearing the deceased crosses their path, but the most notable southern funeral procession custom is that all business — everywhere — stops until the procession passes. If you’re driving, you pull over to the side of the road until the last car in the procession has passed your back fender; if you’re on the sidewalk, you stand there and wait. I’ve seen a couple of almost wrecks caused by vehicles on four-lane highways trying to get over and park because of an approaching funeral procession; for that matter, I’ve seen vehicles stop on the highway for a funeral procession. Southerners don’t typically know why we do this, necessarily, but we all know it has something to do with respect.

When it comes to burial, graves are dug with feet facing east, supposedly so that during the Resurrection the departed in the Lord will meet him face first as they rise from the grave. I’ve only heard this in books, though, and never from a lay person, and the Jewish graves in our local historic cemetery also face the east. I don’t know if that’s for practical purposes (so everything looks uniform), or because the grave diggers just did it that way (“that’s how we always do it”), but I doubt the Jews had the same theology behind their burial practice as the Christians.

Supposedly, in times now past apostates and atheists were buried with their feet facing south to show that they have turned their back on God, but I’ve never noted it in practice. However, I do know of at least one witch’s grave buried outside of consecrated ground in Natchez. 

But even after the burial, there’s still more, and it involves an almost sacramental southern act — eating. Following a funeral, family and friends of the deceased gather at a central location, possibly a church and possibly the home of the departed, and then they have a large feast. Mourning makes you hungry, and when it’s done the leftovers stay for the family because they are too bereaved to bother with cooking. In the Christian circles I’ve been in, this meal after the funeral is almost always a joyous occasion, where people who have come from out of town for the funeral feel free to catch up with the folks they haven’t seen in years.

Here’s an example of funeral dance:

The King James Only movement (KJO) is an interesting bunch, but first, a few words about the King James Bible (otherwise known as the Authorized Version, or hereafter, AV):

First published as a unified whole in 1611 (including the deuterocanon) for use in the Church of England, the AV has undergone a couple of revisions, the last one in 1769. The changes made weren’t revisions proper, but rather codifications of the text — the original version was published before English spelling and letter use was standardized, and as a result a number of printing errors had crept in through the years. The 1769 text is the one used by the King James Only group (and everyone else, for that matter), except minus the deuterocanonical books.  For years, it was the Protestant Bible of choice, and is still the most widely used translation; in fact, a number of foreign-language Bibles are not true Bible translations, but rather English-to-language (Japanese, Eskimo, etc., ) versions of the AV.

It should also be noted that the AV contains a number of verses that are omitted in other translations due to original language manuscript choice.

Now, onto our subject at hand:

Some KJO types are so simply because they memorized scripture from it as a child. In other words, they are KJO, “because I like it.” These aren’t really the people I’m addressing with this post.

Others are KJO because they believe the translation is based on superior manuscripts to those used in more modern translations. (I don’t know enough about manuscript tradition to comment; I’ve heard it argued well both ways.) Their problem is not necessarily with new translations, but rather the Greek/Hebrew texts that under gird the modern translations. I’ve heard one KJO proponent say he would be OK with a new translation as long as it was based on the manuscripts used in the translation of the AV.

It is important to note, however, that not all of the KJO proponents are willing to give on the idea of new translations based on the AV manuscripts. In fact, a number of this crowd have argued extensively that every English-language translation of the Bible since the AV has been flawed or otherwise perverted. Their argument is that the AV has offered a sufficient, faithful translation, and that new ones thus far have failed because of shoddy scholarship or outright nefarious tampering. This particular sub-group doesn’t believe that the AV can’t be updated, but rather that it shouldn’t.

From here, KJO proponents get a little harder to follow. Generally speaking, they follow the superior manuscript tradition idea, but adamantly deny that updates can be made to what they believe is an otherwise perfect translation.

One branch of the KJO-family believes that the King James translation is a sort of secondary revelation. The argument goes that God revealed the Old Testament completely in Hebrew (except for portions of Daniel), and likewise the entire New Testament was revealed completely in koine Greek. Thus, a third language is needed to fully unify and universalize the entire text — the language being English, and the translation being the AV. They believe that God guided the translation of the AV to such an extent that it can itself be considered inspired in the same sense as the scriptures.

Another related branch actually believes that, where the AV and the original language texts vary, the AV can be used to redact or otherwise correct the Greek or Hebrew texts. This group is referred to as “Ruckmanites,” after one of its biggest proponents, Peter Ruckman.

I’m not clear about how the last two groups reached their respective conclusions (they’re not attached to any particular ecclesiastical tradition), and I’ve had some trouble finding an argument put forward by them other than the initial assertions I’ve just presented. It doesn’t seem to be based on any kind of scholarship, pseudo-intellectual or otherwise.

Regardless of which camp a KJO proponent falls under, almost all of them would self-identify as fundamentalist, the exceptions being those rare cases who believe fundamentalism is not conservative enough. In a few rare cases, KJO is believed to be a matter of [eternal] life or death.

I’m not sure if the KJO movement is of American origin (a few KJO groups exist overseas, e.g. the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster), but it’s staunchest, most vocal supporters are American in origin.

Sometimes I wonder if Christians realize that the Bible is more than a book of good advice, that it is the book of the Church and cannot be rightfully separated from her. You hear lots of polemics from conservatives about the Bible being inspired, inerrant, infallible, but then you hear about this:


Once you separate the Bible from its context as the book of the Church, you get goofy ideological narratives about it. The stated goals of the project start out innocently enough:

0.Framework against Liberal Bias: providing a strong framework that enables a thought-for-thought translation without corruption by liberal bias

0.Not Emasculated: avoiding unisex, “gender inclusive” language, and other modern emasculation of Christianity

0.Not Dumbed Down: not dumbing down the reading level, or diluting the intellectual force and logic of Christianity; the NIV is written at only the 7th grade level[3]

I have no problems with these, depending on how you define “liberal bias,” though gender neutrality doesn’t really bother me and I think translations that are accessible to those who are only barely functionally literate are a good thing.

But then follow the doozies:

0.Utilize Powerful Conservative Terms: using powerful new conservative terms as they develop;[4] defective translations use the word “comrade” three times as often as “volunteer”; similarly, updating words which have a change in meaning, such as “word”, “peace”, and “miracle”.

Using inaccurate “conservative” terms is just as inaccurate as inaccurate “liberal” terms. Besides, there’s already a conservative version that does just that — it’s called the ESV.

Also, I wasn’t aware that the meaning of “miracle” had changed; and what are they going to call Jesus, the Prince of Not-What-You-Think-When-You-Say-Peace?

0.Combat Harmful Addiction: combating addiction by using modern terms for it, such as “gamble” rather than “cast lots”;[5] using modern political terms, such as “register” rather than “enroll” for the census

See my previous comments. I can’t see why include this except for some kind of sneaky political motive that has nothing to do with the Kingdom of God.

0.Accept the Logic of Hell: applying logic with its full force and effect, as in not denying or downplaying the very real existence of Hell or the Devil.

I don’t really know what they mean by “the logic of Hell.”

0.Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning

See my comment earlier about the Bible being a book full of good advice.

I wonder if they realize that the so-called economic parables were not meant to be about economics, but about stewardship. But then again, most parables are actually about salvation. Of course, expressing them in their “full free-market meaning…” sounds suspiciously like what they’re accusing liberals of doing — corrupting the biblical text for political purposes.

Exclude Later-Inserted Liberal Passages: excluding the later-inserted liberal passages that are not authentic, such as the adulteress story

Nevermind that textual criticism is traditionally a liberal field, I wonder how these folks came to the conclusion that they know what is Scripture in opposition to the testimony of the Church throughout the ages. And I’m not sure how the adulteress story is particularly liberal. Grace?

0.Credit Open-Mindedness of Disciples: crediting open-mindedness, often found in youngsters like the eyewitnesses Mark and John, the authors of two of the Gospels

Don’t really know what they mean here. Like at all.

Prefer Conciseness over Liberal Wordiness: preferring conciseness to the liberal style of high word-to-substance ratio; avoid compound negatives and unnecessary ambiguities; prefer concise, consistent use of the word “Lord” rather than “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” or “Lord God.” 

How about preferring accuracy? As literal as possible, as free as necessary? New Bible translations don’t bother me, but this won’t be a scholarly work — it’ll be a mutilation.

I self-identify as “conservative,” but I read about this and am disgusted and angered.


A rapture survival kit is akin to a time capsule for those who were not <a href = http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rapture>raptured</a>, except instead of teaching them about the past, the materials contained inside will ostensibly teach them about the future.

A rapture survival kit is akin to a time capsule for those who will not be raptured, except instead of teaching them about the past, the materials contained inside will ostensibly teach them about the future.

Source: http://www.rapture-survival-kit.com/

Snake handling is a late 19th/20th century phenomenon that has its roots in Pentecostalism but is not a part of mainline Pentecostalism. Services include speaking in tongues and other ecstatic worship experiences, but eventually the faithful break out poisonous snakes and pass them back and forth while drinking strychnine. The churches that practice this are generally extremely rural, but every few years one of the members makes the news for dying after being bitten.

The basis of these practice comes from Mark 16:17-18:

And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

And also Luke 10:19:

Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.

I understand how a certain interpretive hermeneutic could lead to the practitioners to certain infrences, but how they drew the conclusion that these verses meant that snake handling should be and/or must be incorporated into worship is lost to me.

The practice is technically illegal in Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee, which have laws on the books that disallow the display of poisonous snakes in a way that could bring harm to others. The Kentucky law specifically mentions religious services.

Starting out, my goals are simple: I love history and religion, and I think American religion is a particularly rich field to mine for historical gold. Because America has been primarily a Christian nation in practice, I’ll focus on various Christian sects, but I won’t look at it exclusively.

The rest of what I’m looking to do can be summed up from the about page:

Studies tell us that America is less and less a religious nation, and more and more of the population are self-identifying as non-religious.

They still believe in God, generally, but not necessarily in a specific god or path. While Europe is entering what is their third generation of a truly non-practicing public, America is seeing its first generation of not non-believers but rather unaffiliated, uncaringly unattached nonreligious.

Meanwhile, many of the more popular forms of religion have intentionally shed their traditional garb or incarnations, and as a result, America is losing not only its religion, but its religious practice and heritage. Traditional mountain hymns may get set to contemporary rock music, but the tent revivals in which those hymns were originally sung no longer happen. Reserve your own judgment whether or not this pragmatism is a good thing.

Until recently, America could still be described as a religious nation (and perhaps it still can), and the goal of this blog is to chronicle her religious practices and history. Much of the American psyche has been shaped by religion, and perhaps understanding what she is today can only be accomplished by viewing her through the lens of a religion-tinted past.

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