Mar

14

2014

Kevin DeYoung|5:13 am CT

Who Was St. Patrick?

The question in the title of this post is worth asking for at least two reasons: (1) many Americans will celebrate Patrick’s holiday next week and (2) most of those Americans won’t have the foggiest idea of anything remotely historical about Patrick.

And he’s worth knowing something about.

The holiday also gives me the occasion to recommend one of my favorite history books. It’s not a page turner, but I learned something on every page. Actually, I learned something with almost every paragraph. The book is The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity by Richard Fletcher. For a readable, scholarly treatment on the long, slow, amazing transition in Europe from paganism to Christianity there is simply no better book.

So what does Fletcher say about Patrick?

Well, first you need to know what Patrick did not do.

He did not expel snakes from Ireland: the snakelessness of Ireland had been noted by the Roman geographer Solinus in the third century. He did not compose that wonderful hymn known as ‘Saint Patrick’s Breastplate’: its language postdates him by about three centuries. He did not drive a chariot three times over his sister Lupait to punish her unchastity. . . . He did not use the leaves of the shamrock to illustrate the Persons of the Trinity for his converts: true, he might have done; but it is not until the seventeenth century that we are told that he did. (82)

Determining fact from fiction for Patrick is difficult, in part because his writings were not always passed along reliably. More important, Patrick wrote in particularly poor Latin. He received little education and did not handle Latin well. Fletcher says his Latin is “simple, awkward, laborious, sometimes ambiguous, occasionally unintelligible” (83). This makes it hard to know too much for certain.

But here’s what most scholars agree on: Patrick–whose adult life falls in the fifth century–was actually British, not Irish. He was born into a Christian family with priests and deacons for relatives, but by his own admission, he was not a good Christian growing up. As a teenager he was carried by Irish raiders into slavery in Ireland. His faith deepened during this six year ordeal. Upon escaping Ireland he went back home to Britain. While with his family he received a dream in which God called him to go back to Ireland to convert the Irish pagans to Christianity.

In his Confessio Patrick writes movingly about his burden to evangelize the Irish. He explicitly links his vocation to the commands of Scripture. Biblical allusions like “the nations will come to you from the ends of the earth” and “I have put you as a light among the nations” and “I shall make you fishers of men” flow from his pen. Seeing his life’s work through the lens of Matthew 28 and Acts 1, Patrick prayed that God would “never allow me to be separated from His people whom He has won in the end of the earth.” For Patrick, the ends of the earth was Ireland.

Over decades, Patrick made “many thousands of converts.” He evangelized in cities and in the countryside. He encouraged the monastic way of life, ordained priests, and planted churches.

Patrick, says Fletcher, “was soaked in the Bible.” This was commendable, but not completely unusual. What was new was Patrick’s embrace of the missionary mandate to lead the nations to Christ.

Patrick’s originality was that no one within western Christendom had thought such thoughts as these before, had ever previously been possessed by such convictions. As far as our evidence goes, he was the first person in Christian history to take the scriptural injunctions literally; to grasp that teaching all nations meant teaching even barbarians who lived beyond the border of the frontiers of the Roman Empire. (86)

Sounds like a man deserving of his own holiday. It’s too bad today the forefather of western missions is chiefly celebrated by drinking beer and dreaming of  leprechauns. We don’t know much for certain about Patrick. But what we know of his ambition and ministry should be enough to make all of us a little green with envy.

 
 

Mar

13

2014

Kevin DeYoung|5:45 am CT

Signs That Don’t Show You Much

One of the more ambitious things I’ve done as a pastor, and perhaps one of the more foolish, was to assign Religious Affections as our staff book a number of years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I serve with a very bright, very mature team. But Jonathan Edwards parsing out the nature of true religious experience is not for the faint of heart.

In general, I think everyone found the non-signs more helpful than the signs, not that the signs are wrong, but they are harder to navigate and can lead one into unhealthy introspection. I wish every denominational leader, every elder, every youth group leader, every passionate teenager, and every old saint would pay attention to these non-signs. They would help some of us be more cautious about criticizing emotional experiences. And they would help others be more careful about crediting to the Holy Spirit what he may have nothing to do with

Here are twelve things Edwards says are “no certain signs that religious affections are truly gracious or not.” In other words, if you have affections like these, it doesn’t mean you are crazy, and it doesn’t mean you are filled with the Spirit.

1. They are raised very high.
2. They have great effects on the body.
3. They cause those who have them to be abundant in talking about religion.
4. They were not excited by one’s own contrivance or means.
5. They come with texts of Scripture brought to mind.
6. They come with an appearance of love.
7. They come in many kinds of affections.
8. They were fearful and now they perceive comfort.
9. They cause people to be zealously engaged in the external duties of worship.
10. They dispose people with mouths to praise and glorify God.
11. They have exceeding confidence that they are saved.
12. They are accompanied by moving testimonies which warm the hearts of the godly.

You can sense the tight rope Edwards is trying walk across. On the one hand, he doesn’t want people dismissing the revivals out of hand because some strange things were happening. On the other hand, he doesn’t want Christians simply to affirm anyone who speaks with enthusiasm and seems fired up for God. When you see people claiming a powerful religious experience, don’t be an unfeeling curmudgeon and don’t be unthinkingly credulous either.

 
 

Mar

12

2014

 
 

Mar

11

2014

Kevin DeYoung|5:15 am CT

How Do You Explain Home Field Advantage?

March Madness is upon us. Baseball is just around the corner. The NFL Draft is next month. The NHL and NBA will be thinking playoffs soon. So let’s talk sports.

In particular, let’s think about home field advantage. Every sports fan knows how important it is to play your games at home. That’s why NBA and NHL players make some effort to care about the regular season–because the regular season determines home field advantage and home field (or ice or court) is a big advantage. Just look at these numbers laying out the percentage of games won by the home team in major American sports:

NCAA (basketball)        69.1%       1947-2009
NBA                                  62.7%       1946-2009
NHL                                  59.0%       1917-2009
NCAA (football)             64.1%        1869-2009
NFL                                   57.6%        1966-2009
MLB                                  54.1%        1903-2009

In every major sport playing your chances of winning are greater at home than on the road. And the percentages are even higher for the elite football (soccer) leagues around the world.

So what’s the big deal about playing at home?

In the fascinating book Scorecasting, Tobias Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim make a convincing case that home field advantage is real (see the numbers above, found on p. 112 in the book), but not for the reasons you imagine.

Teams win at home because of crowd support, right?

Wrong (or at least not in the way you think). In order to determine the effect of the crowd on the opposing players, we need to find moments in the game where other factors (e.g., referees, teammates, defenders) are isolated. If supportive crowds (and antagonistic crowds) got into the players psyche, we’d expect there to be a significant difference in, say, free throw shooting. But in over 23,000 NBA games played over the last two decades, Moskowitz and Wertheim found that the visiting team made 75.9% of their free throws and the home team made. . . 75.9% of their free throws (118). Absolutely identical percentages. Similarly, in the 624 games decided by shootouts in the NHL from 2005 to 2009, the home team won 49.4 percent of the games and the visiting team won 50.6 percent. At the moment when you would expect the crowd to play the biggest factor in cheering on their team, home field advantage counts for nothing. Likewise, Moskowitz and Wertheim found that punters kick for the same yards at home as they do on the road and field kickers hit with the same accuracy. In other words, when other factors are turned off and you have just a player with or against the crowd, home field seems to have no effect (122).

Well, then teams win at home because the travel is so brutal on the visiting team.

Wrong again. If this were true we would find a different win percentage for visiting teams playing “same city” games (e.g., Clippers v. Lakers, Cubs v. White Sox, Jets v. Giants). But even when the rigors of travel are eliminated, the home team wins at exactly the same rate at which they normally do (124). Moreover, there is no different in home ice advantage for Canadian hockey teams traveling to the U.S. or vice versa. Moskowitz and Wertheim also note that home field advantage in soccer is the same in small countries like Costa Rica (where the travel is minimal) as it is in large countries like Brazil or the United States where the travel is longer.

I know, home teams win more often because they benefit from a kinder schedule.

That’s partially true. The home court advantage is more pronounced in the NBA in part because when teams leave home they often play three games in four nights and back-to-back games in different cities. Moskowitz and Wertheim estimate that 21% of the home court advantage in the NBA can be attributed to the league’s scheduling (125). This same phenomenon is present in the NHL, but is not a factor in football and baseball. The fact that home ice advantage is not more pronounced in hockey suggests that the gentler home schedule isn’t the reason teams are more likely to win at home. (Note: scheduling plays a huge role in college athletics because powerhouse conferences schedule cupcakes at home at the beginning of the season. Once you take those games out of the equation, the home field advantage looks very similar to their professional counterparts.)

Teams win at home because they are well suited for their stadium and their weather, that’s it right?

Nope. Despite all the hubbub about Florida teams playing in the “frozen tundra,” Moskowitz and Wertheim found that climate is largely irrelevant (131). This doesn’t mean the weather never matters in a particular game–or that travel never matters or fans jeering the free throw shooter never matter. It means that when you compile the date from hundreds and thousands of games, these factors are simply non-factors. Even in baseball, there is little evidence that teams are effectively stacking their rosters with just the right players to take advantage of their stadium’s idiosyncrasies (134).

So how, then, do you explain home field advantage? If it’s not the weather, the stadium, the supportive fans, or the travel–and only a little bit the schedule–what is it? Why do home teams in every major sport win more often than the visiting team?

Are you ready for the answer?

Here it is: “Official bias is the most significant contributor to home field advantage” (138).

It sounds simple, but it’s true. Vocal fans make a difference, but not by getting into the head of their opponents–by getting into the head of the referees. Consider a few of the findings from Moskowitz and Wertheim:

  • In examining 750 matches from Spain’s premier league, they found that in close matches with the home team ahead, referees shortened the game and when the home team was behind they abnormally lengthened the game. There was significant official bias in the allotment of discretionary time. And strikingly, in games that were not close, there was no bias at all (140).
  • Referees also award more penalties in favor of the home team (141).
  • Baseball umpires are generally pretty fair in calling balls and strikes, except as the game gets into the later innings. Then the advantage goes to the home team. The visitors were also shown to be at a disadvantage on tough calls, like pitches on the corners or at a full count. To bolster their claim of official bias, Moskowitz and Wertheim analyzed the called balls and strikes in the stadiums that used QuesTec computer technology to monitor umpire calls from 2002 until the system was discontinued in 2008. In venues where the umpires knew their calls were being monitored, not only did home field advantage disappear, it swung over to the visiting team (146).
  • In the NFL, home teams receive fewer penalties per game and are charged with fewer penalty yards. With the advent of instant replay challenge in 1999, the home field advantage in the NFL has dropped from 58.5 percent to 56 percent.
  • The home team in hockey gets 20 percent fewer penalties called and receives fewer minutes in the box per game (156).
  • In the NBA, home teams shoot more free throws than do visiting teams and are less likely to be charged with traveling. Loose ball falls and offensive fouls–two of the hardest and most ambiguous calls to make–go for the home team twice the rate of other fouls (153).

To be clear, Moskowitz and Wertheim are not alleging any conspiracy against the visiting team. No one is instructing the referees to favor the home team. In fact, they are most likely unaware they are doing so. But it seems that the human inclination to please others and the propensity to conform, takes a toll on fallible officials. In fact, the evidence demonstrates that official bias increases with the size of the home crowd. The larger and more intense the crowd, the more advantage there is for the home team, especially in sports and in settings which allow for a lot of anxiety and a lot of discretion in decision making (e.g., extra time, yellow cards, personal fouls, end of game situations).

The bottom line: fans matter in sports. Not because the athletes find them so inspiring or so annoying. But because, unbeknownst to themselves, the refs do.

 
 

Mar

10

2014

Kevin DeYoung|5:09 am CT

Monday Morning Humor

There is a super abundance of people on the internet singing Let It Go or some “funny” version of the song (and by “funny” I mean “painful”). But in case you haven’t seen it already, this one is definitely the cutest.

 
 

Mar

07

2014

Kevin DeYoung|5:25 am CT

How a Christian Athlete Might Respond to the Questions that Are Coming (and Will Keep Coming)

Okay, you have ten seconds–not a term paper, not a sermon, not a blog post, not five minutes–ten seconds to talk about our country’s most controversial subject with someone who wants you to say something stupid, and you have to state your mind, on the spot, humbly and articulately in a way that honors Christ, tells the truth, is shrewd as a serpent, and as innocent as a dove, go:

Do you think the NFL (or MLB, or NBA, or NHL, or whatever) is ready for a gay player?

I think every team in this league wants to win, and the coaches and the people in the front office are doing all they can to get the best people in here so we can put the best team on the field.

Do you think the guys in the locker room would feel comfortable with a gay player?

I can’t speak for the guys in my locker room. I just know we want to win and want the best players who can help us meet our goals.

Would you personally be comfortable with a gay teammate?

I’m a Christian which means I believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for my sins. It also means I believe the Bible. The Bible tells me to love my neighbor so that’s what I would hope to do with any teammate.

But would you be uncomfortable with a gay teammate?

We’d find out. I don’t really know if I’m comfortable with any of my teammates until we get to know each other.

So do you personally think being gay is a sin?

The story of the Bible is the story of grace for sinners. So naturally the Bible is going to say a lot about sin. And guys sleeping with guys is one of the things the Bible calls sin. But everyone on my team is sinner and that starts with me.

Would you draft a gay player if you were the General Manager?

I’d evaluate him like any other player and look at film, the results from the combine, his pro day, his work ethic, and his character.

How would you feel if he does get drafted by your team?

I’d look forward to meeting him once camp starts.

And if he is watching this right now, what would you say to him?

I’d tell him he probably has better things to do than watch me on t.v.

What is the first thing you will say to him if he’s on your team?

Hello.

Anything else? Would you hang out with him?

Sure, if he likes video games and talking about Jesus.

Do you worry that a gay player might feel offended or threatened knowing what you and other Christians on the team think about his lifestyle?

Not any more worried than I am about the teammates who don’t agree with my beliefs or my choices in life.

How do you respond to the stories that equate this with Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball?

I’ll stick to playing football and let you write the stories.

But do you think there is something historical and ground-breaking about the first openly gay man in your sport?

I suppose a lot of people think it is ground-breaking.

And what do you think?

I’m not sure it’s quite the same as overcoming a centuries-old legacy of slavery and institutionalized segregation.

How do you think the fans will respond if the first gay player is your team?

Depends on if we are winning or losing. I think fans are more concerned with getting wins from their football team than social commentary.

How will Christians like yourself and Christians on your team learn to be tolerant of someone when you disagree with him on something as fundamental as his sexual identity?

I hope we’ll be more tolerant of him as a person made in God’s image than some reporters are of religious people with traditional beliefs.

And why do you think conservative Christians are so obsessed with this issue of homosexuality?

You’re the one asking all the questions.

Thank you for your time. There you have it, folks, at least one Christian athlete questions whether the league is ready for this kind of breakthrough. Back to you in the studio.

 
 

Mar

06

2014

Kevin DeYoung|5:26 am CT

Avoiding Short Lived Ministry

When we think of Paul, we often think of a spiritual giant, going through the Roman world planting churches, routing the philosophers in Athens, writing the most profound letters ever written, getting bloodied by stones, whipped, flogged, and shipwrecked–all by himself. A one man superhero.

Paul didn’t accomplish all this or endure all this by himself. He constantly had people around him: co-laborers, associates, apprentices, friends, partners in the gospel. There’s a reason that when Jesus sent out the disciples he sent them out in pairs. You are not meant to do gospel work by yourself.

If you want a ministry to be short lived, start it by yourself, do it by yourself, and share authority with no one but yourself. If you’re really gifted and dynamic, you’ll see something grow up for a time. People will flock to it because you have a lot of gifts, but then when you’re done it will be done. No team, no partners, no investment in future leaders, no future ministry.

How do you do ministry? Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:2, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many others entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

A huge part of ministry is constantly training up others, releasing others, and empowering others, so that they can replicate what you do or replace you when you’re done. How are we doing?

 

 
 

Mar

04

2014

Kevin DeYoung|5:53 am CT

Jesus, Friend of Sinners: But How?

Everyone who knows anything about the gospels—and even those who don’t—knows that Jesus was a friend of sinners. He often drew the ire of the scribes and Pharisees for eating with sinners (Luke 15:2). Jesus clearly recognized that one of the insults hurled against him was that he was “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (Luke 7:34). As Christians we love to sing of this Pharisaical put-down because it means that Jesus is a friend to sinners like us. We also find ourselves challenged by Jesus’ example to make sure we do not turn away outsiders in a way that Jesus never would.

As precious as this truth is—that Jesus is a friend of sinners—it, like every other precious truth in the Bible, needs to be safeguarded against doctrinal and ethical error. It is all too easy, and amazingly common, for Christians (or non-Christians) to take the general truth that Jesus was a friend of sinners and twist it all out of biblical recognition. So “Jesus ate with sinners” becomes “Jesus loved a good party,” which becomes “Jesus was more interested in showing love than taking sides,” which becomes “Jesus always sided with religious outsiders,” which becomes “Jesus would blow bubbles for violations of the Torah.”

Here we have an example of a whole truth being used for a half truth in the service of a lie. Once, as a younger man in ministry, I made an offhanded comment about how Jesus “hung out with drunks.” I was gently and wisely corrected by an older Christian who had himself overcome alcohol addiction. He challenged me to find anywhere in Scripture where Jesus was just “hanging out” with people in a state of drunkenness. In an effort to accentuate the grace of Christ, I stepped beyond (around, over, and away) from the biblical text and made it sound like Jesus loved nothing more than to yuck it up with John Belushi in Animal House.

If we are to celebrate that the Lord Jesus is a glorious friend of sinners—and we should—we must pay careful attention to the ways in which Jesus actually was a friend to sinners. Omitting the story of the woman caught in adultery (for reasons of textual criticism), I count five main passages in the gospels where Jesus is chastised for getting too close to sinners.

  1. Matthew 9:9-13; Mark 2:13-17; Luke 5:27-32 – This is the story of Jesus calling Matthew the tax collector to be his disciple. We find Jesus reclining at table with many tax collectors and sinners, “for there were many who followed him” (Mark 2:15). When the scribes and Pharisees grumble about the company he keeps, Jesus tells them that he has “not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32).
  2. Matthew 11:16-19; Luke 7:31-35 – Here Jesus rebukes the “people of this generation” because they rejected John the Baptist for being too tight and reject the Son of Man for being too loose. It’s from this incident that we get the phrase “friend of sinners.” We should note that it was an insult heaped upon Jesus by his enemies. This doesn’t mean Christ didn’t own it and we shouldn’t sing it, but it suggests he may not have owned it in every way. If Jesus was not a “glutton and drunkard” as his opponents thoughts, so he may not have been “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” in exactly the way they imagined either.
  3. Luke 7:36-50 – Right on the heels of this story comes another one like it in Luke. A sinful woman anoints Jesus with expensive ointment and wipes Jesus’ feet with her tears and the hair of her head. When Jesus is corrected for letting this “sinner” touch him, he reminds Simon that those who are forgiven much love much. In the end, Jesus forgives the woman her sin and announces “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:50).
  4. Luke 15:1-2 – The setting for the parables of the lost sheep, lost coin, and lost son of Luke 15 is found in the first two verses of that chapter. As the tax collectors and sinners “were all drawing near” to Jesus, the Pharisees and scribes grumbled that Jesus was receiving them to eat with them. The three parables that follow demonstrate how God seeks out the lost (15:3, 8, 20) and how pleased God is when sinners repent (15:7, 10, 21-24).
  5. Luke 19:1-10 – Again, the Jewish leaders grumble because Jesus “has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner” (Luke 19:7) Though Zacchaeus repents and is a changed man (19:8), the Jews simply cannot accept that the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost (19:10) and that this notorious tax collector has been saved (19:9).

So what lessons can we draw from these episodes? In what way was Jesus a friend of sinners? Did he have a grand strategy for reaching tax collectors? Did he indiscriminately “hang out” with drunks and prostitutes? Was he an easy going live-and-let-live kind of Messiah? What we see from the composite of these passages is that sinners were drawn to Jesus, that Jesus gladly spent time with sinners who were open to his teaching, that Jesus forgave repentant sinners, and that Jesus embraced sinners who believed in him.

Jesus was a friend of sinners not because he winked at sin, ignored sin, or enjoyed light-hearted revelry with those engaged in immorality. Jesus was a friend of sinners in that he came to save sinners and was very pleased to welcome sinners who were open to the gospel, sorry for their sins, and on their way to putting their faith in Him.

 
 

Mar

03

2014

Kevin DeYoung|5:37 am CT

Monday Morning Humor

World’s worst dad? Or is he the best dad ever? (Sorry for a couple OMG’s).

 
 

Feb

28

2014

Kevin DeYoung|5:54 am CT

Red Letter Nonsense

An excerpt from Taking God at His Word on the implications of 2 Timothy 3:16 for the authority and unity of the whole Bible:

Just as crucially, if all Scripture is breathed out by God, then there is a unity to be found across the pages of the Bible. Without minimizing the differences of genre and human au­thorship, we should nevertheless approach the Bible expect­ing theological distinctives and apparent discrepancies to be fully reconcilable.

The unity of Scripture also means we should be rid, once and for all, of this “red letter” nonsense, as if the words of Jesus are the really important verses in Scripture and carry more authority and are somehow more directly divine than other verses. An evangelical understanding of inspiration does not allow us to prize instructions in the gospel more than instructions elsewhere in Scripture. If we read about homosexuality from the pen of Paul in Romans, it has no less weight or relevance than if we read it from the lips of Jesus in Matthew. All Scripture is breathed out by God, not just the parts spoken by Jesus.

God’s gracious self-disclosure comes to us through the Word made flesh and by the inscripturated word of God. These two modes of revelation reveal to us one God, one truth, one way, and one coherent set of promises, threats, and commands to live by. We must not seek to know the Word who is divine apart from the divine words of the Bible, and we ought not read the words of the Bible without an eye to the Word incar­nate. When it comes to seeing God and his truth in Christ and in Holy Scripture, one is not more reliable, more trustworthy, or more relevant than the other. Scripture, because it is the breathed-out word of God, possesses the same authority as the God-man Jesus Christ. Submission to the Scriptures is submission to God. Rebellion against the Scriptures is rebel­lion against God. The Bible can no more fail, falter, or err, than God himself can fail, falter, or err.