Neuroscience and the Soul

Last week I attended a lecture at Biola University’s Center for Christian Thought on the topic of “Neuroscience and the Soul.” The speaker, Dr. Kurt Thompson, a psychiatrist from Virginia, built off of this basic premise:

– According to Romans 1:20, creation declares the glory of God.

– Neuroscience is a part of creation.

– Therefore neuroscience declares the glory of God.

If this is true, Thompson wondered, why is neuroscience often used as a tool to ridicule God-belief? (Thompson was too gracious to say it, but noted “New Atheist” Sam Harris springs to mind as someone who leverages the language of neuroscience in order to diminish theism.)

I certainly am not a neuroscientist: the only things I know about the brain are from helping Becca study or listening to NPR. But Dr. Thompason did raise a fascinating question in my mind: neuroscience is held up as the definitive language of our culture. If you can cite a neuroscientific study, it is regarded as a more authoritative form of evidence than just about anything else out there. Therefore, how can Christians engage in the study and dissemination of the findings of neuroscience in a way that glorifies God and declares the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Four observations about Bible translations in the United States today

The Christian Booksellers Association announced the top ten selling Bible translations from 2012 in the United States recently:

2012 – Based on Dollar Sales

  1. New International Version
  2. King James Version
  3. New Living Translation
  4. New King James Version
  5. English Standard Version
  6. Holman Christian Standard Bible
  7. New American Standard Bible
  8. Common English Bible
  9. Reina Valera 1960
  10. The Message

2012 – Based on Unit Sales

  1. New Living Translation
  2. New International Version
  3. King James Version
  4. New King James Version
  5. English Standard Version
  6. Common English Bible
  7. Holman Christian Standard Bible
  8. New American Standard Bible
  9. Reina Valera 1960
  10. New International Readers Version

A few things stood out to be about these lists:  




1. Readability – The top two translations (both in terms of dollar sales and unit sales) are the NIV and NLT, both translations that prioritize readability over literal translation. 

2. KJV/NKJV tradition – In pockets of American Christianity, the KJV is considered to be the only choice, with perhaps an allowance of the NKJV for the youth. This is based 

on a preference for the group of manuscripts (called the Byzantine or Received text) that the KJV is based on. I was surprised to see this tradition so near the top of the 2012 list. 

I wonder if the Gideon’s use of the KJV and NKJV had something to do with it. If you aren’t familiar with them, the Gideons are a parachurch organization that gives away  Bibles in hotels, near schools, doctor offices… really anywhere they can, for free. And since the KJV has no license fees, they can get more bang for their buck.  

3. Competing literalist translations – The HCSB, ESV, and NASB all are looking for the same market (those wanting a more literal translation of the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek), but seem to be splitting the pie. The HCSB is the official translation of the Southern Baptist Convention, the ESV is favored by the younger Reformed crowd, and the NASB is the translation of choice for an older group of evangelicals who like inductive Bible study. I use the ESV 99% of the time in teaching, and think that it’s star is rising, as influential groups like AWANA and Bible Study Fellowship switched to it this year. 



4. Reina Valera 1960 and Spanish translations – I certainly am no expert on Spanish translations of the Bible, but I wonder if the market is there for an updated and more readable translation of the Scriptures in Spanish. If anyone knows of one, I’d appreciate the heads-up, so I can help be a resource when asked about what Spanish translation to recommend. 

(HT: Thom Rainer)

St. Patrick’s Prayer

From the famous prayer of St. Patrick (aka the Lorica or Breastplate of St. Patrick)

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

Why is he called “pope”?

Interesting stuff from Joe Carter’s “9 Things You Should Know About the Papacy”:

1. The most well-known title for the head of the Roman Catholic Church—”pope” (from the Latinpapa, a child’s word for father)—does not appear in the official list of titles given in the Annuario Pontificio (Italian for “Pontifical Yearbook”). The Pope’s official list of titles are Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the State of Vatican City, and Servant of the Servants of God.

Read the rest of his list here.

How my position change is leading to a change on this blog

What changed

Just over a year ago, with the retirement of our long time senior pastor Don Shoemaker, my role at Grace changed to a hybrid of “Young Adults/Teaching/Vision Pastor,” though it was always thought to be temporary, since we were in the search for a new senior pastor, and my assumption was that I would (at some point) go back to focusing primarily on young adults. But since Steve Williams was promoted from Associate to Senior Pastor here at Grace last November, I’m starting to accept that there is no “going back” – I’m firmly in the “Associate” role, at least for the foreseeable, God-willed future.

Why now

This is becoming especially “real” as we hire a new “Director of Student Ministries and Global Mission” who will take over college ministry, among other responsibilities.  I’ll still be involved with young adult ministry in a post-college context, and will still be around college students in a general pastoral sense, but my days of surveys and on-campus outreach seem to be in the rear view.

What’s next for this blog

Therefore, I think it’s time to re-calibrate what this blog could be. Last year, as part of our transition process, we went through the immensely helpful resource, Church Unique, by Will Mancini. To sum up the process in one sentence, “How has God built your church to make disciples of Jesus and bring glory to himself that is unique from 10,000 other churches?” In that journey, our leadership identified 5 core values that we think make us “Grace Community Church of Seal Beach”:

Biblical Worldview

Faithful Compassion

Known by Name

Participatory Worship

Missional Life

It’s these five values that I want to focus on writing about in this blog. I’ll still have an eye toward how it connects with young adult ministry, of course, but my main focus will be asking how to do more of these five things here in Seal Beach and in the greater Seal Beach area.

How our life group tries to build authentic relationships

One of our values at Grace Seal Beach is being a church where we are “Known by Name.” The best place for that to happen is in a Life Group.  How can your life group grow as a place of community? 

Here are a few things we do in the life group I lead: 

1. Highlight/Lowlight of the week – We want to know the good and the bad going on in each other’s lives, not just the pretty things that go on facebook. Sure, it’s a bit contrived – we go around the circle, and everyone says something, whether it’s deeply emotional or off the cuff. But we’re asking the questions: what made you rejoice this week, because we want to rejoice with you; what made you weep this week, because we want to weep with you. 

2. Dia de Bob (or Joe, or Jane, or whomever) – Like every group, we like hanging out together. But rather than go for the lowest common denominator every time (blockbuster movie, beach day, etc), each person takes a turn inviting us into his/her world to experience something unique to them. So, we’ve gone to ice hockey games, drawn anime cartoons, even dressed up as TV characters and gone to dinner together. Who are you? Let us see the real you, and enjoy that together. 

3. Sunday lunch – After church on Sunday we go to lunch together. Okay, not the most unique idea in the world, but it still works, especially when you want to make new friends in a new place. 

4. Serving together – While some of the people in our life group serve in a variety of different ministries throughout the church or community, we also try to serve together. For our group, that’s meant adopting Precious Lamb Preschool (or rather, letting them adopt us). We help with childcare, mailers, Christmas parties, whatever they ask for.  It helps us grow together as a group, gives us a common mission together, and develops trust. 

7 questions I ask while writing a sermon

Once I have an idea of what the biblical text says and what that means for us today, it comes time to fill in the outline. Here’s how I do it:

1. What objections should I address? Are there aspects of the biblical  idea that are hard to swallow? Let’s talk about them. These could be theological objections (“Doesn’t it say in Romans…?”), textual questions (“How did you get that from this?”), cultural questions (“Would God really say that today?”), or application questions (“How can I be expected to do that given my everyday life?”)

2. What key words or phrases will make this memorable? Long sentences are precise, but oral communication needs to be clear and memorable. How can I make this complex theological idea simple without being simplistic? Is there a word-picture I can use? Is there a hook word I can use throughout the sermon?

3. What illustrations or metaphors would be helpful?  What can I do to “shine light” (literal meaning of “illustrate”) on the idea the biblical text is presenting? These could be true to life narratives, news items, video clips, historical examples, biblical cross-references, metaphors, or personal stories.

4. Can I use an object on the platform? For the visual learner, is there some “thing” I can bring on the platform that will drive the point home? This could be a ladder, an apple, a guitar, a baseball glove… whatever.

5. How does this sermon create or reinforce vision (“we”)?  Our church has five core values (Biblical Worldview, Missional Life, Known by Name, Participatory Worship, and Faithful Compassion). Is there an aspect of this sermon that can reinforce or encourage ministry in those areas? Is there a “win” we can celebrate in our church that’s tied to the text and our values?

6. How can I encourage the congregation to pray in response to this? I want us as a church to wrestle with the biblical text during the week. Is there a prayer project I can suggest that will help the people to do this?

7. How can I use transitions well in this sermon? This is more mundane than the others, but not unimportant. The sermon needs to feel like a whole, not a series of points. How can I transition well throughout the whole thing?

Hope these help you as you prepare or listen to sermons!

Five questions to ask when reading the Bible

I love good Bible interpretation, and want to know what the original author meant to communicate when I read the Bible. Sometimes, however, that can lead to me neglecting the personal application aspect.

Based on content from Tim Keller, here are five questions you can ask when you’re reading the Bible to make it personal to your life: (Thanks to Steve McCoy

  1. How can I praise God? Since the Bible is fundamentally about God, what does this passage I’m reading tell me about Him? How can I worship as a response? 
  2. How can I confess my sins on the basis of this text? What does this passage tell me about living under God’s authority? Where have I rebelled against that? 
  3. If this is really true, what wrong behavior, what harmful emotions or false attitudes result in me when I forget this? Every problem is because you have forgotten something. What problems am I facing?
  4. What should I be aspiring to on the basis of this text? How does this give me a vision for what God wants me to experience, live out, or enjoy about Him? 
  5. God, why are you telling me this today? Is there a connection between my life circumstance and what I am reading? Why? Is God speaking in a direct way to a decision I need to make?