Fourth Anniversary of Reading Acts

On September 1, 2008 Reading Acts published its first post, “Why Acts?” I originally set up this blog as a supplement to my preaching through the Book of Acts at Rush Creek Bible Church. My plan was to offer a few thoughts before and after I preached on a particular text in Acts. After the series concluded, I kept the blog going, expanding to Pauline Theology and other New Testament topics. At some point I began adding a link to the audio for the study, although I am resisting the urge to call that a “podcast.” Remarkably, people really do download the sermons. I have no evidence the listen to them, but I appreciate the fact that someone is listening.

Reading Acts has grown consistently over the years. This is not my first attempt at blogging, but the others died a lonely death while Reading Acts thrived.  In the four years I have been blogging, I have written 700 posts and now average well over 500 views a day. This summer I passed the 250,000 mark, and will likely hit 300,000 before the year is over. I find this all quite remarkable and humbling. I sometimes think that 90% of the traffic is Brazillan spam hoping to con me into buying a time-share in the Mediterranean, but that does not always seem to be the case. It is gratifying that Reading Acts is consistently in the Top Ten Biblioblogs (#8 for August 2012), although I know that several popular blogs have dropped off that list in the last year, inflating my rank just a bit. I get the occasional mention in the BiblioBlog Carnivals and some good links from Zondervan and Eerdmans.

I hosted the Biblical Studies Carnival for July on Reading Acts and took over the responsibility for drafting volunteers for the Carnival from Jim Linville about the same time.  I think that these carnivals are important since they highlight some of the more serious scholarship that is happening on the internet.

Last summer I wrote a post on Top Apps for Bible Study in the iPad. This remains my top post by far and attracts more hits every month. The top non-iPad post all-time is “Who were the Judaizers?” A close second is “The Roman Cult of Emperor Worship.” I suspect that I am helping Bible College students with their papers (properly cited of course!) In the last year my post on Paul’s Disagreement with Barnabas continues to generate discussion.  I think that my view is a bit different than what is usually heard from the pulpit, accounting for the occasional dissenting opinion.

Aside from iPad Apps for Biblical studies, the top search engine term which hit Reading Acts were “who were the judaizers?” and “Why did Judas betray Jesus?”  I got quite a few hits from “harry potter praise,” which might be a new genre of church worship (if so I will alert the Barna Group immediately of this trend).  I notice that I often get hits with this sort of a search term: “5. how did paul’s roman citizenship impact his evangelistic efforts?”  Protip:  If you are going to cheat on your homework, at least delete the number from your google search.  My summer series on Bible Commentaries was popular, I am thinking of expanding it into some form of eBook in the future.

One of the new cool features WordPress introduced this year on the stats pages was country flags.  Since February 2012, The US, UK, Canada and Australia are the most common countries to visit Reading Acts.  Philippines, India and Singapore are also in the top ten.  In fact, about half the hits to this blog on 2012 were from outside the US, which is remarkable (insert Brazillain spammer joke here).  Occasionally google translate appears in the site log, so I know that people are reading who are not native English speakers.  I would love to hear from any regular readers who visit from outside the US.  Hopefully I am providing you with material you can use in your ministry or Christian walk.

What to Expect on Reading Acts. Since I am in academia, I tend to think of the year as starting in September rather than January.  (I also think it ends in May, and the summer months do not count, but that is my problem).  Starting in September, Reading Acts will “reboot” and return to the Gospels. Since I am teaching Jesus and the Gospels, I thought I would read through Luke and Acts on the blog, commenting on Bock’s new Theology of Luke-Acts and Talbert’s Reading Luke and Reading Acts. (Sadly, I did not realize that Talbert had written that book when I started this blog!) I am planning on teaching through the Thessalonian letters on Sunday evenings, so I will continue my practice of posting a few comments from that study along with a link to the audio.

I am looking forward to another great year on Reading Acts, thanks to everyone who regularly reads the blog.  I do appreciate your interest and comments.

Worshiping at Summer Camp

I am currently teaching at West Coast Grace Youth Camp, Mount Palomar, California. It is a beautiful sot for a camp, and the people that run the camp give the kids a great week of fun, worship and Bible study. My “task” is teaching 18 college students who will be counsellors next year. I did this last summer as well and had a great time, this year’s group has a lot of potential A few of them would make great counsellors now, but I like the fact that they would like to have a bit more “training” before taking on a cabin of 5th graders.

This year’s camp has been plagued by difficulties which seem to be more complicated that previous years. We have had some discipline problems and a scare with a potentially serious injury, and one of the boy’s cabins has had a little problem with bugs. Any one of these things would have the potential for hindering the ministry of the camp, but that has not happened. Everyone has been able to adapt, they have demonstrated patience, and worked hard to make cabin moves and cold showers less disruptive.

What strikes me about the kids this year is that there is more widespread “ignorance” on key elements of the Christian faith. We do a survey at the beginning of the week and many of the kids who declare that they are Christians think that their good works is what makes them “saved.” Quite a few who at least declare that they believe in God, but a large percentage do not think that the Bible is “literal truth.” In fact, very few know the basic outline of the Gospel even of they say “I have accepted Christ as my savior.”

On the other hand, the campers are extremely fervent in their worship times, As I type this, a group of campers have a guitar and are sining praise songs during their free time. Our Bible hours begin with an appropriate time of praise and worship music, but these are not the “camp chorus” type songs I grew up with. The worship leader has selected songs with rather deep lyrics. (They are almost entirely plagiarized from scripture, but that is not a bad thing in this case. I think they are all examples of intertextual blending of traditions material.) The band is loud, but the music is well mixed and the vocals are clear.

I see most campers singing. The lyrics are of course projected on the wall, but they are in fact singing bits of Scripture, perhaps more scripture than they read on a daily basis. This puts enormous pressure on the worship leader. He must select good songs which the kids want to sing (fairly easy) but must ensure that the lyrics are “scripturally correct” (quite a challenge). There is a constant temptation to pick the popular song without really thinking about what is being sung. Fortunately, we have a worship leader who cares about that sort of thing.

What does this mean for “doing ministry”? I have to be flexible, since the days of singing a few choruses then a 45 minute sermon twice a day are going away (or gone).


How to Cite a Tweet in a Scholarly Paper

Here is a brief “news story” from The Atlantic on how to cite a tweet in an academic paper.  This might be useful for some of my students looking to curry favor with me by citing my tweets in their research papers.  On the other hand, some of the tweets from @BibleStdntsSay would make for interesting paper fodder.

An example:  Lewis, C. S. (@NarniaJack). “Joy is the serious business of Heaven.” March 3, 2012, 7:50 PM,  Tweet.

Seriously, do not do this.

Shedding the Fundamentalist Skin

In a recent Religion News Service article, David Gibson reports that the great bastion of fundamentalism Bob Jones University has started to avoid the description “fundamentalist.”  The article describes a “sea change” at the university as it consciously tries to shed the negative connotations which are associated with the term in the twenty-first century. It is not as though the school is going to reject inerrancy or the virgin birth.  Nor is the University going to start promoting ecumenical unity or adding Chris Tomlin to their chapel schedule.  They are still über-conservative, although there is at least wi-fi on campus now.  Fundamentalists are the bomb-wielding Muslims, not good Christians from the south.

This is a remarkable development and brings two things to my mind. I was raised in a conservative Bible Church and went to a conservative Bible College.  I was taught that there were some key fundamentals of the faith which could not be compromised, and that there was nothing wrong with the term fundamentalist.  I heard quite a few pastors firmly declare their loyalty to being a fundamentalist (usually accompanied by a pulpit smack or a Bible-waggle).

But some time when I was in college I began to realize that there was something wrong with calling myself a fundamentalist.  The doctrine was fine, but the cultural image of the crazy fundamentalist Christian was too much baggage to carry.  Like most people my age who were more-or-less conservative and sensible, I started calling myself an “evangelical.”  Bob Jones has simply caught up to the late 1970’s and shed a title which has confused people for 50 years.

But here is my second thought about this shift of thinking in Greenville, South Carolina.  If Bob Jones has given up the title fundamentalist in favor of “evangelical,” then it is high time I moved on as well.  I actually started thinking about this over the summer when the media persistently called Harold Camping an “evangelical.”  If Camping is an evangelical, I need to find a new word to describe myself, since my way of thinking about the Bible and biblical faith are in no way related to his wild-eyed prophetic utterances.

So if Bob Jones is the new evangelical, then what is the old “evangelical”?  Is it time to dispense with the term as an overused and meaningless distinction?  Is the media-sullied term “evangelical” helpful anymore?

Worship Time, Harry Potter, and Short Attention Spans

I have been traveling quite a bit this summer and have had the chance to participate in worship times in several churches, two camps, and a family Bible conference.  For the most part I have enjoyed these times, whether I was a member of the band or a member of the congregation.  But I have noticed a trend among younger worships lately which disturbs me.  No, this is not a rant about worship styles (I am pretty to open any style).  Nor do I want to comment on the content of popular praise songs (some newer songs are quite scriptural and moving).  What has really come to bother me is the short attention span of people allegedly participating in worship.

Since I was going to be speaking in the service, I happened to be standing in the back of the chapel, allowing me to observe people as they sing.  What strikes me is the large percentage of people who get up and walk out of the worship time to get a drink, use the bathroom, stretch, look out the window, stretch, then wander back into the service.  In most cases they had been in the chapel for maybe 10 minutes when the need hit them, and they all usually look like they have just endured a mighty struggle and now quite exhausted as they shuffle like the undead in and out of the crowd of engaged worshipers.  (One particular young man left three times in a single service, making me think that he should see his doctor if he needs to go that often!)  Usually these zombies sit in the middle of a row so that they cause maximum disruption to those around them.

If this were an isolated incident, I might have just dismissed it as someone who was not really all that engaged in the whole “camp” thing, or maybe they were genuinely ill, or had “tiny tanks” and needed frequent, medically-approved bathroom breaks.  But in every one of the places I have been this summer, there is a constant migration of people in and out of the service, distracting me and everyone else from their time with God.

I got to thinking about the most recent movie I have seen, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 2).  With the previews, I estimate I was in the theater at least three hours.  I did not see a single person get up and leave the room to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water. Most people sat there with their attention glued on the screen, many were emotionally moved by the death of the characters the loved.  They applauded the movie when it was over.  Many stayed through the credits.  My guess is that this was not the first time some of these people had seen the movie, yet they stayed glued to their seats, enjoying the film, fully engaged.

Why is it that an American can sit through a three hour movie without so much as a twitch, but cannot spend a half hour worshiping God without need a bathroom break?  Why is it that we cannot sit still for a half hour sermon form the word of God without fiddling with our phones?  People tell me that Americans (especially that darn younger generation) have short attention spans, so we need to make things shorter and more entertaining.

It seems to me our attention-spans are long enough for the things we really care about.  Genuine worship and Bible Study do not seem to be among the things we deeply value.