Thursday, June 26, 2008


Monday night on the CBS Evening News, we were told of the findings of the latest survey, The Pew Survey on Religion in America. 36,000 people were interviewed. Some of the findings reported might be encouraging to us religious folks:
-- 92% of Americans believe in God (or at least a “universal spirit,” whatever that is).
-- 58% pray every day.
-- 74% believe in Heaven (while only 59% believe in Hell).

But most of the findings appear to be disturbing:
-- Only 60% of Americans believe in a personal God, while 25% believe in an “impersonal force.” (That doesn’t add up to the above 92%. I wonder what happened to the other 7%.)
-- 70% of Americans, whatever their persuasion, feel that religions other than their own can lead to eternal life.
-- 82% of Jews believe this, 79% of Catholics, and get this: 57% of Evangelicals feel that there is salvation through other religions!
-- Only 89% of Evangelicals and 62% of Catholics believe the Bible is the Word of God!

Katie Couric briefly interviewed a Catholic priest and an AME pastor. The priest said something about “organized religion” being threatened when “it is no longer about truth but about feelings.” The pastor said this had to do with postmodernism.

In my last blog I asked, “Are we, the Church in America, past our prime? Are we in denial?”

I do not think Katie read my blog, but she sure answered me quickly! If the data presented were accurate, then the answer is yes!

I wasn’t surprised when a lady on that news program said something like: “I can’t believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven.” After all, she was a member of a mainline Protestant church that many of us had written off long ago. (I would have liked to ask her, however, why she would want to follow a liar. Didn’t Jesus say, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me”? – John 14:6)

My problem is with those referred to as Evangelicals.

My Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10th edition defines
evangelical -- adj. 1: of, relating to, or being in agreement with the Christian gospel esp. as it is presented in the four Gospels; 2: PROTESTANT; 3: emphasizing salvation by faith in the atoning death of Jesus Christ through personal conversion, the authority of Scripture, and the importance of preaching as contrasted with ritual.
Evangelical -- noun: one holding evangelical principles or belonging to an evangelical party or church.

But if 59% of these folks believe the Jesus is not the only way and 11 % believe the Bible is not the Word of God, we either have a problem with the definition or a problem with those who claim it for themselves. I believe the latter is true.

The wing of the church with this label is growing. Most of our super churches are “evangelical.” But are all of these churches really evangelical by definition?

The pastor of what is reputed to be the largest church, when interviewed on 2 major TV programs, could not, or would not affirm a belief that Jesus is the only way. (I have to admit that Uni and I attended that church a few times and really enjoyed ourselves, but that was back when the Houston Rockets played basketball there.)

I believe that while that church and its pastor may be extremes, many of our churches are going down the same road and even if the churches aren’t, many of their attenders are. I’ve talked to many people today, even many of my students at a Bible college and find that words like “theology” or “doctrine” are dirty words to them. Worship to them should have to do with singing feel-good songs. Songs, whose main message is something like “God you’re nice and I like you.” Sermons should be practical. They want churches that are like that little blue pill that makes us perform better and helps us to remain in that state of denial.

Yes. I believe that the Church in America is past its prime. And we, like the baby-boom generation in general, are in denial. We have affected our nation very little for right because we often walk in lock-step with our culture.

Katie and company seemed to be pleased with this trend. Much of it can be credited to our desire to be tolerant of others and I believe we should be tolerant. But tolerance doesn’t have to be agreement. I can tolerate those of other religions without having to agree with them. In fact, Jesus tells us we’re to love them And if I love someone, it is not intolerant to tell them the truth, especially when their eternal destiny is concerned.

Bill Ball

Monday, June 23, 2008


“Strangers devour his strength, yet he does not know it; gray hairs also are sprinkled on him, yet he does not know it” (Hosea 7:9).

Last Friday night on the PBS news program “NOW” the topic was the growth of the middle-class in India and China. We were told that as the group grows they will use up more and more of the world’s resources. As their standard of living rises, it appears that ours in America will go down. Some Indian college students were quizzed by the American reporter. The concern expressed by the reporter seemed to be that this was not good for America. I don’t remember the exact words, but the students’ reply went something like this: “Why shouldn’t we get our fair share? We may have come late to the table but we want what’s coming to us. We are going to be a superpower by the year 2020!”

For over 200 years, we in the USA have felt that we were world leaders. We’re rich! We’re powerful! We’re right! Especially after WWII we have been seen as a superpower; then with the fall of the USSR, we were the only superpower.

But we are now, I believe, the world’s largest debtor nation. We are borrowing money from the nations of the world we feel we are superior to, and are going farther in the hole – our government, our businesses and ourselves as individuals. Yet we still feel that we are the world leader we once were.

When the nation hit an economic slump (some call it a recession) our President and Congress awarded us a tax rebate, called an “economic stimulus payment” (borrowed from other nations and to be repaid by our great-grandkids) so we can help keep our debt economy afloat by spending more.

Watch our TV ads; walk through the shopping malls. Our whole economy and, it seems, our culture is based on the idea that we can buy our way to happiness. For younger people it’s clothes or electronic gizmos; for us older people it’s some sort of pill, something to make us look or feel or perform as if we were half our age.

Which brings me to the title of this blog. I believe that Viagra (along with its imitators) is a parable of America. When this product was introduced it was as a help to men who had a certain physical problem, men like Bob Dole, men who (I assumed) were getting up in years. Yet now it is touted as if it were an aphrodisiac. Commercials show men half, even a third my age unashamedly singing its praises..

If I am to believe what I see on TV, the men of this nation are suffering from an epidemic of impotence. Maybe they are.

But this is only one aspect of the problem. Throw in all the ads for hair color for men, all the macho ads for cars, trucks and beer and we see something disturbing. We see a nation of men in denial – the baby-boom generation -- who have passed their prime, are afraid to admit it and are doing whatever they can to keep up the illusion.

And I believe that, like this generation, our whole nation is past its prime and we are afraid to admit that. We as a nation want to continue in a lifestyle of affluence which we feel we deserve. We are like Ephraim (the northern kingdom of Israel) to whom Hosea speaks.

America is not a Christian nation, never was and never will be. But it’s always had a Christian influence, sometimes strong, sometimes weak. But I believe the Church has too often bought the thinking of America and blurred the distinction between the two.

Are we, the Church in America, past our prime? Are we in denial?

Bill Ball

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


I taught for many years at the College of Biblical Studies in Houston, TX and learned a lot from my students. Classes were often as much an education for me as they were for my students.

In one class in Bible Study Methods, we were discussing some well-known biblical character (I can’t remember who it was), when a student asked the question: “Why do we study these Bible characters as examples? What kind of examples are they? They lied and cheated; they fought and fornicated; they talked back to God. Most of them are worse than we are!”

I was at a loss for words and just stood there dumbfounded without an answer. A young lady shyly raised her hand. “They ARE examples. They’re examples of grace!”

Right! I think I had known that already, but never had articulated it. But that thought can revolutionize our reading of the Bible. It’s not a record of perfect men and women who led exemplary lives. It’s a record of sinful, deeply flawed persons whom God, for reasons unknown to us, chose for Himself.

Look at some of them:

Noah, we’re told in Genesis 6:8, “found favor in the eyes of the LORD.” In the middle of a passage that tells us that “the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart” (6:5, 6). God chooses Noah to save the world. Yes, it tells us in verse 9 that “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God,” but we’re told this after we’re told he found grace.

We like to turn those verses around. I believe Noah was righteous because he found grace, he didn’t find grace because he was righteous. Later in chapter 9, we see this “hero” getting drunk, doing something perverse and cussing out his grandson. Not exactly exemplary behavior!

Or take Abraham whom the LORD chose and called to be the father of the Hebrew nation. He was slow to obey and move into the promise land. He slept with the maid (Genesis 16). He lied and “pimped” his wife twice. Again, not very exemplary behavior.

Or David. We make a big deal out of the fact that he’s called “a man after His (God’s) own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). But that doesn’t mean that David had a heart for God, but that God had a heart for David! (Compare the Hebrew construction in 14:7 and Psalm 20:4.) Yes, David had a heart for God, but only because God had a heart for him! And he still was an adulterer, a liar and a murderer.

I know this upsets some of us. We want “heroes” for our children to emulate. We don’t like anti-heroes. But real heroes are hard to find – not only in history and the newspapers, but in the Bible as well.

But what we do find in the Bible is so much more. We find a God of grace who extends His help and salvation to people we would consider losers.

That includes us!

“For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).

Bill Ball