Donny's Ramblings


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The Lost Gospels – And a Disclaimer

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m working toward a Seminary degree. The Londen Institute For Evangelism (LIFE), with whom I’d originally enrolled, merged with Hope International University not long ago (the merger was announced in January). Just last week Hope International gave us a list of options that we can choose from based on our educational goals.

THE LOST GOSPELS

Built into me is this inner need to dig deeper into course materials than what is required. I don’t want to be the type of person who blindly accepts the agenda of another person or group of people. What I mean by this is that I want to hear all sides of an argument and not be dismissive towards materials that others before me have decided to ignore. I want to know why decisions were made as they were, and then I still want to hear the thoughts of “the other side”. For example, when learning about the canonization of scripture, I want to know why the books included in the Bible were chosen, but I also want to know why others were not. And I want to read those books that were not chosen.

This applies directly to the Church History course I began in October of last year. The two books that were assigned to me by LIFE were supplemented by several books I found on my own. Amongst other authors, I found it interesting and enlightening to read the work of Elaine Pagels. Ms. Pagels, who is a professor at Princeton University and received her PhD from Harvard, goes into depth on the Lost Gospels. I’ve read criticism of Ms. Pagels online, but it seems to me that such is unjustified. Where critics have said, “Ms. Pagels can’t be a Christian because she believes x, y or z”, I’ve found that she never actually tells us what she personally believes. Rather, she merely does her best to objectively present all sides. I appreciate this, and also enjoy her writing style. If you’d like to educate yourself on topics you’ll likely never hear in church, head to your nearest Barnes and Noble and pick up any of Elaine’s books. I’d suggest starting with Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas. Not only does it present the Gospel that is attributed to Thomas (and written a bit before the book of John) it also dives into a lot of church history. This may sound boring, but if you’ve an interest in the early days of Christianity this book is an easy , informative read.

I’ve also read most of the Nag Hammadi Library and will complete what I haven’t read soon. These books are also referred to as Gnostic Scriptures and pre-date the canonization of scripture as we know it today.

AND NOW FOR A DISCLAIMER

What is it about humans that causes many of us to so easily jump to conclusions? I’ve mentioned the things I’ve just written about to others and am usually cautioned about heading down the wrong path. What part of the paragraphs I’ve written above indicate that I’m ready to turn away from “traditional” Christianity and embrace gnosticism or some other form of religious belief? I’m simply the type of person who wants to know WHY I believe what I believe. I have to admit, I kind of look down on those who choose not to do so. I feel we owe it to the society in which we live to be educated Christians. Is it wrong of me to do look down on those who don’t agree with that? Absolutely. I know it is. This is just an admission on my part.

I remember when I was in the midst of my rebellious years of porn production… I approached various Pastors and asked them a list of tough questions. I really wanted answers, but not a single one of them could assist with such answers, nor could they refer me to someone who could. In the year and a half since surrendering my life to God I’ve gone out and found the answers to nearly every question I used to ask. It appears to me that the Seminary training obtained by the ministers I approached didn’t extend beyond the pre-determined agenda or yoke of teaching that their schools had established. In this time of questioning, I think it’s a mistake not to prepare our religious leaders to address the questions the world asks of us. It’s frustrating to those who don’t believe when circular reasoning is used to answer their questions. If a person does not yet believe the Bible, the Bible can’t be used to prove anything. That’s like me writing a book declaring myself the Messiah, and when asked for proof, pointing to the book I’ve written. There is an enormous wealth of outside proof to the things we believe as Christians, and it’s time more of us educate ourselves about such information.

And that, my friends, is what fuels my desire to hear all sides. Just a few days ago I had an all-day email conversation with a man who produces porn. He kept sending me messages about how I needed to educate and enlighten myself on certain aspects of Christianity. His attitude seemed to be that he had some “secret knowledge” that I as a Christian did not possess. I enjoyed receiving his challenges and kept asking for clarification as to what he wanted me to know about. All the while I had a pretty good idea of the direction he was headed. When he finally sent me the “killer” questions I referred him to names I’d mentioned earlier in our conversation… the names of authors I’ve read that discuss the very issues he thought would spiritually “slay” me. I then elaborated on the very points he made to me. In other words, I was prepared for his arguments. I’ve read and studied them. Recently. The questions he asked of me were the types of questions I used to ask of religious leaders and receive no answers.

I guess the “disclaimer”  I’d like to put out is that those of you who consistently read the things I write are likely going to witness controversial topics discussed on this website.  It may be easy to assume that I’m confusing myself and heading down a wrong spiritual path.  Please, don’t worry.  Wouldn’t you agree that a faith that can’t stand up to questioning is not a very good faith at all?  I’m in the process of learning, and that process is likely to take years.  Or the rest of my life.  This blog is just me thinking out loud.  Feel free to join in the discussion.


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Residency: Notes from Class

I’m clueless and I had no clue just how clueless I was until I showed up here in Louisville to listen to those who do have a clue talk about… their clues. I can’t even begin to describe to you how my cluelessness has been reinforced in my mind in the last 3 days as I’ve listened to some really great speakers giving lectures on really great things.

Today as I was sitting in class I put down pen and paper and fired up my trusty MacBook Pro. I can type much faster than I can write. Another benefit of taking notes on my computer is that later I’ll actually be able to read what I’ve written. For each lecture, I took notes in a program called Journler. I chose to use it instead of Word because I like the layout a bit better for note taking, and I can have multiple tabs opened. I had a tab open for notes on every lecture, and in a separate tab I took notes that I’ve titled Random Thoughts: Londen Institute Residency. The Random Thoughts tab is just that: random thoughts of things I want to remember so that I can write about them later for you, my constant readers.

Here are my Random Thoughts for today:

  • Today any doubts I may have had about the Londen Institute are completely gone. This is a great program. The speakers are actively involved, highly educated, and highly successful. They bring in relevant, current information to prepare church leaders.
  • Many of those in attendance are already working in churches. Some of them are Pastors, even lead Pastors. Others are church Elders. Still others work in young adult or children’s ministries. This school seems to focus on practical, applicable information.
  • When Todd Wilson mentioned that many of the older, (almost) dying churches are coming to his group asking if they can be satellites of new churches I was intrigued. That’s a really good idea, in my opinion. It kind of reminds me of what LifeChurch.tv is doing.
  • Greg Malcom, a fellow classmate and Elder in his church, took the time to explain to me know that many modern churches fall right in the middle of being conservative or liberal, and take a more realistic viewpoint… they are more “with the times”. Those types of churches are really the ones that are growing today. Lots of independent churches fall into this category.
  • 18,000 people supporting a multi million dollar site like Southeast blows my mind.
  • Remember last night’s message about taking a risk. Particularly the “creating a story” story. That was a really good illustration. Be sure to tell W. about that one.
  • Note to self: buy Out of the Saltshaker by Becky Pippert (Becky is one of those who lectured today – the rest of my bulleted notes are things I wrote down while she was lecturing).
  • Jesus was so upset with religious hypocrisy that he threw furniture down the stairs. He isn’t the type of guy who would walk away from someone struggling with a sex disorder, rage, screwed up lives, etc.
  • The “religious” hated him, but prostitutes and lepers were crazy about him! The chief complaint about Jesus was that he was NOT religious enough! The world needs to know what he’s like! Pick out Bible passages that show these parts, and read them with “seeker” friends.
  • Be real. Develop a style of witnessing consistent with your personality. “I want to talk to you about the Bible, but I’m afraid of how you’ll react”. You don’t have to be someone else for God to use you.

I’m not up to date on the “who’s who” of modern Christian culture, but I’ve been told I should be impressed by our list of speakers. I think going into this seminar with no prior knowledge of the accomplishments of our speakers has made me better able to “judge” their lectures based on content, rather than on the reputation of the lecturer. So far I’ve been really impressed! I’ll list some of the speakers: if you know them feel free to “ooo” and “ahhh”. If you’re like me and you have no clue who they are, just know that these people have really accomplished big things for God with their lives:

  • Dr. Ken Blanchard
  • Mike Emmert
  • Allie Harding
  • Pastor Buddy Howard
  • Pastor Ben Merold
  • Pastor Greg Nettle
  • Dr. Bob Pavelsky
  • Becky Pippert
  • Dr. Bob Russell
  • Pastor Dave Stone
  • Todd Wilson

One thing I really like about the Londen Institute is that they’re bringing people into these Residencies who are currently working very hard for God. These people bring relevant insights into what’s going on in their world as leaders of today’s churches. Practical advice is given. Practical knowledge is applied in small group settings, which allows a lot of interaction with the lecturers. There are 3 Residency events per year.

Once I return home I’ll have a series of back-to-back course assignments to complete, each of which last a minimum of 15 weeks and include a lot of reading and a lot of writing. It’s been awhile since I’ve been a college student but I’m looking forward to all of it.

I’ve never seen a church as large as the one hosting this Residency. Here are some stats for Southeast Christian Church:

  • 770,000 square foot main building
  • There are two other buildings (youth center and administration building) of 150,000 and 115,000 square feet
  • 18,000 members (1,500 nursery aged children alone)
  • The sanctuary seats 9,100
  • It cost $80 million for the land and the main building, took more than 3 years to build, and sits on 117 acres
  • It took more than an hour for us to take the tour
  • It has the 2nd largest kitchen in Kentucky (refrigerator is more than 40 feet wide) – 2 coffee machines turn out 10,000 cups of coffee an hour
  • More than 300 staff members
  • It was started in a basement with a handful of people

A few photos are in order (if you’d like to see several more click here – there’s a great coffee shop, children’s area, etc). This is the lobby… to put this photo into perspective let me tell you that the spot where I’m standing to those escalators on the other side is the length of a football field:

Southeast Christian Center

This sanctuary seats 9,100 people:

Southeast Christian Main Sanctuary

Click here for more photos

Days start at 7:30 am and go until around 9:30 pm. I’m pretty tired.

Off to bed I go, looking forward to tomorrow.


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Seminary Begins: From Porn Producer to… Pastor?

I sit inside my room at the Homewood Suites in Louisville, Kentucky.  In two hours I have to be out in the lobby.  Seminary has begun.   This is my first Residency.  Three times a year I’ll be attending one of these Residencies, at 3 different locations across the country. Had I started a few months ago, Max Lucado, who was on the board, would have been the featured speaker.  Perhaps he’ll be at the next one.

The majority of the course work will be completed online… I love the fact that so many education institutions now offer “distance learning”.  It’s perfect for people like me.

I’d write more but I have a lot to prepare and not enough time to do it.  Say a prayer or two or five for me, will ya?