Pilgrims' Progress

Ted Olsen's April cover story, "He Talked to Us on the Road," reminded me of a pilgrimage of sorts from a few years ago. In planning a New England vacation, I included a trip to Williams College in western Massachusetts in search of the Haystack Prayer Meeting monument. While visiting this now-obscure memorial overshadowed by ancient pines, I felt somehow connected to the four young men who were inflamed with a passion for foreign missions, particularly to Southeast Asia and India, and launched a worldwide movement thereafter.

My brief time at that quiet monument wasn't necessarily a holy moment, but it connected me to a powerful work of God in history, a work that spanned the globe and touched my life. It was a pilgrimage I'll never forget.

Kevin Wheeler
Bossier City, Louisiana

I was delighted to see Ted Olsen's story on Christian pilgrimage. As a professor at John Brown University, I take students and staff on such adventures quite often, always with the purpose of using the trips as tools for spiritual formation.

I was surprised, though, that Olsen did not mention some of the most fascinating pilgrims of Christian history, the Celtic peregrini of the early Irish monastic era.Their determination to "seek the place of their resurrection" is a worthy model: that as we leave behind what's familiar, something new and living can perhaps emerge.

Tracy Balzer
Siloam Springs, Arkansas

As a retired minister living on a subsistence income, I have never been to the Holy Land, Taizé, Mount Sinai, Geneva, Rome, or Luther's Germany; even a "pilgrimage" to my alma mater, Wheaton College, is out of sight. Yet I agree with your insight that all Christians need pilgrimages in order to experience ecstasy (ekstasis, literally, "to stand outside oneself"). We need to climb the mountain not only to reach the peak, but also to look back at our daily world, small and comfortable, and see its place in the panorama of God's world.

The Bible says that God rested on the seventh day of creation, and that keeping the Sabbath reflects being made in his image. Of course, the Almighty doesn't need rest like we do, but there is a necessary truth in that term. Rest or re-creation speaks two truths: first, that we are not subservient to the universe of matter—we extend beyond it; and second, despite that, matter, places, and things are real. Created by God, they are good and deserve our attention and care.

Coalman Coates
Nashville, Tennessee

Conflicting Histories

As editor in chief of the Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization (ecc), I found C. L. Lopez's HeadLines piece "Book Brouhaha" [April, p. 15] skewed and incomplete. It ignores significant elements of the dispute and quotes uncritically and sometimes approvingly the assertions of ecc's critics. ecc has 1,400 entries in four volumes with 1.8 million words. The offending passages total only 248 words. By no standard of proportionality is it fair to condemn a work of 1.8 million words on the basis of 248 words.

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Lopez cited in full one of the offending passages on Islamic conquests of the Middle East and Central Asia from the 7th to the 15th centuries. It mentions the original Christian homelands in North Africa being "stolen" by the Arabs, and the vast Asian hinterland from Asia Minor to China being overrun by the Turks and Mongols as locusts. I challenge any historian, Christian or Muslim, to disprove the historical accuracy of these statements. Before they do so, they should read Philip Jenkins's The Lost History of Christianity for a starter. I could give them hundreds of other narratives.

Is it a crime for a Jewish historian to describe the Holocaust because it may strain Jewish-German relations? Are we living in an Orwellian world where crimes against humanity can be condoned but cannot be written about?

There are hundreds of books attacking Christianity for its supposed failings and shortcomings. Has an encyclopedia ever been suspended for being anti-Christian? After all, Wiley-Blackwell itself publishes The Muslim World, one of the most radical Jihadist journals in the world, full of "inflammatory" statements against Christianity.

The whole story will be told in my forthcoming book, Intellectual Terrorism: How Wiley-Blackwell Killed the Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization, to be ​published in January 2010.

George Thomas Kurian
Yorktown Heights, New York

The Nitpicky NCAA

I take strong exception to the HeadLines brief about Abilene Christian University and its encounter with ncaa sanctions [April, p. 17].It stated that there were "numerous ethics infractions." In the ncaa report, there were never charges of ethics violations. The violations were secondary in nature, self-reported by Abilene Christian, and we believe they did not give the school any competitive advantage.

For the most part, the violations involved well-meaning Christian people assisting international students who also happened to be athletes.Christian colleges and universities affiliated with ncaa should make their constituencies aware that doing good is often trumped by ncaa regulations, thus constituting a violation of the rules.

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Royce Money
President, Abilene Christian University
Abilene, Texas

Fessing Up to Ourselves

Way to go, Christianity Today, in your editorial on Ted Haggard ["Self-Examination Time," April]. I appreciate the reminder to know ourselves intimately. Most of us who had dysfunctional childhoods are not aware of how the sins of the past impact our relationships or create a propensity for particular sins today. Christians who wrestle with secret sins recognize them and have confessed them so often, we are caught in the downward spiral of the sin/confess cycle. For me, no substantive change occurred until a crisis of disclosure and subsequent counseling. I suspect the same is true for Haggard.

Scripture tells us to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16). Our pride wants us to tell only God the truth; God wants us to tell the truth to other believers instead of living dishonest lives.

Dale Wolery
Executive Director, Clergy Recovery Network
Joplin, Montana

No Gospel without Sacrifice

It was perhaps unfair to have read Mark Galli's interview with Rob Bell ["The Giant Story," April] an hour after a Good Friday service in which Isaiah 53 was read with power, our associate rector preached on "why Christians gather on the anniversary of a death," and the congregation sang "O Sacred Head Now Wounded" with tears of gratitude flowing freely. Nothing could have drawn a bolder contrast between the gospel presented there and Bell's gospel, which lacks suffering and sacrifice.

I read his responses carefully, searching for anything that would compel me to wonder why God the Son had to die for me. Despite several opportunities to address the issue of sin, or the issue of enmity that God resolved through the Cross, Bell continued to speak glibly of his own version of Jesus. I pray there is something in his ministry that resembles the core truths Christians have believed and lived over the past 20 centuries.

Steven Breedlove
Rector, All Saints Church
Chapel Hill, North Carolina

While i agree with many of Bell's comments and observations, I can't help questioning his main points. Social change is not the objective of Christianity—if it were, then Christ himself failed miserably. Rather, the objective is to die to ourselves and to find freedom in Christ; only then will our world experience a taste of the new kingdom. True life begins with a recognition of sin's mastery over us and our need for salvation outside our selves. Social change is not the answer to the sin problem, but one of the many results of fellowship with Christ.

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Josh Rodriguez

Heeding Augustine

Marcus ross's review of Young and Stearley's The Bible, Rocks and Time [CTReview, April] unfortunately does not acknowledge that both Scripture and the universe have their source in the Creator. As Augustine taught, there is a danger in insisting on an understanding of Scripture that contradicts what we know about the world. He noted that it made God's Word seem foolish to those we want to reach.

As Ross notes, an ancient-earth view can create problems with the literal existence of Adam and Eve, the Fall, the Flood, and other scriptural events. But the church has faced these problems throughout its existence. Will we achieve a general consensus on these problems? Probably not. Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and their followers have not agreed on baptism, the Lord's Supper, and foot washing. Despite such differences, I have found devout fellow believers across denominations.

David F. Siemens Jr.
Phoenix, Arizona

Once we start interpreting the Bible loosely rather than literally, we have no foundation left. Maybe Mary wasn't really a virgin, but just a young woman? Maybe Jesus didn't rise from the dead physically, only allegorically? If we apply the kind of information in The Bible, Rocks and Time to other fundamental areas of the Christian faith, we are left with nothing solid on which to stand. God created the earth and everything there is in six days. There was no death before sin, so man did not come about through millions of mutations and the deaths of different species. The Bible must be understood literally whenever it is possible to interpret it that way.

Brent Vermillion
Valencia, Spain

Correction: We identified the photographer for our April 2009 profile of Doug Wilson, "The Controversialist," as Doug LaMoreaux. The photographer was Mark LaMoreaux.

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