Thursday, August 28, 2008


My favorite program, Pardon the Interruption (PTI), is always better when both Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon are present. They were very funny today...

The Surprising Work of God

Over vacation, one of the books I finished was Garth Rosell's new book, The Surprising Work of God. Rosell, former director of the Ockenga Institute at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, uses the relationship between Harold John Ockenga and Billy Graham as a lens through which to understand modern evangelicalism. Suggesting that the period right around 1950 was crucial for contemporary evangelicals, Rosell explores some of the forgotten names and personalities of the period.

This book has some real strengths and stunning disappointments. For the strengths: 1) Ockenga deserved a book like this; a fascinating figure, the book reads like a biography for the first hundred pages. Rosell clearly has mined the riches of the Ockenga personal papers in order to present a compelling picture of this quintisential evangelical. 2) The focus on the 1950 Boston Crusade provided an interesting lens on Graham's ministry. My only regret here was that Rosell doesn't appear to have interacted with Peggy Bendroth's brilliant Fundamentalists in the City, which closes with the Graham campaign.
But the disappointments, candidly, outweighed the strengths. 1) There was a bit of distracting filler in the book: the lengthy introduction to historic evangelicalism (pp. 22-35) and the discourse on Charles Finney's contribution to education (pp. 189-95) serve as examples of material that a good editor should have removed. 2) Even more, while the 1950 Boston meetings were interesting, it wasn't clear that Rosell made the case that these meetings launched a worldwide movement. If anything, one could make that case for Graham's 1954 Harringay meetings or the 1945 Youth for Christ meetings in Chicago or a range of other important crusades.
3) Yet more, the book felt like it lost focus. While the main focus was Ockenga, the book spends the last three chapters outlining his vision for evangelicalism (Reclaiming the Culture; Renewing the Mind; Reaching the World); and then, it just stops. We go from the late 1950s to his death and the book is over. No mention, really, of the Fuller years (so interestingly covered by George Marsden in Reforming Fundamentalism that my wife actually read the book); no mention of Ockenga's presidency at Gordon-Conwell; no mention of Park Street's continued pulpit ministry in the 1950s and 1960s. The book just ends.
And that seems like the missed opportunity of this book. While Rosell could have painted a compelling picture of evangelicalism through the ministry of Harold John Ockenga, for whatever reason, the book's thesis became divided and ultimately lost. While it proved an interesting read for a summer vacation, it was not the important book on one of twentieth-century American evangelicalism's most important leaders that it could have been.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Finally saw the Boss

This past Saturday night, I was able to fulfill a long-standing desire and saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. It was an amazing concert--29 songs, almost three hours and fifteen minutes. I've clipped in what my favorite Springsteen website, Backstreets, wrote about it.

A real humdinger, and I like it like that. As the last notes of "Twist and Shout" died away, the buzz and general consensus was "best night of the tour." Of course, comparing these final Magic nights to performances from 2007 is like apples and socket wrenches. But no question, St. Louis was a peak performance, with a mind-blowing setlist and the energy to match. As the show stretched to three hours and 15 minutes, with two false endings to "Badlands," Mighty Max simply tearing up the drums, and three songs after "American Land"... Bruce didn't want to get off the stage, and the energized crowd didn't want to let him go.

It all started with "Then She Kissed Me," Bruce's spin on the Crystals classic that he last broke out in 1975. A delirious opener, a song I thought I'd never hear, but hey, we've come to expect such things this month. What I didn't expect was that it would be just the first of five classic covers in the set -- six, if you count the resurrected "Not Fade Away" intro to "She's the One." After granted requests for "Rendezvous" and a full-band "For You," Bruce returned to the signs and said, "As soon as we started doing these requests, people started getting very sassy. Very sassy. Trying to stump us with stuff we played 23 or 30 years ago. Tonight we'll challenge the band... and probably most of the audience, too!" Harold Dorman's "Mountain of Love" followed, a wall-of-sound cover that put me firmly on the path to Springsteen fanaticism when I first heard it on the Main Point '75 recording so many years ago. And in the nine-song encore, three more rock 'n' roll rave-ups -- "Detroit Medley," "Little Queenie," and "Twist and Shout" -- took it over the top.

But the oldies were only part of what shot this one into the stratosphere. Sizzling guitar on the return of a revitalized "Gypsy Biker," "Adam Raised a Cain," and the tour premiere of a muscular "Cover Me," Bruce taking two leads. And then there were the epics: "Backstreets," "Jungleland," and "Drive All Night." Traditional sing-alongs like "Hungry Heart" and "Sunny Day" went out the window to make room for this trio, and judging by the reaction, they were just as crowd-pleasing, if not more. "Backstreets" was played for a sign after "Mountain of Love" -- Bruce laughed, "We know this one!" After "Mary's Place," Steve could be seen miming a steering wheel to get the word around the stage. Bruce showed the "Drive All Night" sign to the crowd, and after an initial cheer there was an extraordinary hush, the whole place seeming to sit back to let it wash over. With the stage bathed in purple and blue light, it was a magical performance -- soulful, understated playing from the band led to tremedous crescendos, and then, if anyone had forgotten, Clarence reminded us of his power on that horn. "Better than Giants Stadium," a friend said to me halfway through the song... and it only got better from there.

For the first "extended play" song after "American Land," Springsteen decided to set a wrong right. "We got the hometown of Bob Costas here, am I right?" In case you haven't followed the corrections coming out of NBC, both Costas and Brian Williams have offered mea culpas for reporting that Springsteen dedicated a song to Olympic wunderkind Michael Phelps -- "news" that thrilled Phelps himself -- when no such thing ever happened. Well, it hadn't happened until St. Louis. Costas had conculded his correction by writing: "Now if The Boss could just cover our butts by giving Mr. Phelps a shout-out on Thursday night in Nashville, or Saturday night in my hometown of St. Louis -- a show I’d definitely be at were I not in Beijing -- I think I'd feel a lot better." Though he didn't have a sign, Bruce decided to grant that request. He made good retroactively on the news reports, continuing with a knowing smile, "We're gonna send this one out to Michael Phelps. Eight golds -- whew!" And again, very deliberately, "To Michael Phelps," before launching into "Thunder Road." Not "Born in the U.S.A." as reported, but Bob, Brian... butts are covered, you're in the clear. (And Brian, thanks for the shout-out.)

From there, the whole place was fist-pumping go! go! go! for "Little Queenie" -- hey, this is Chuck Berry's hometown, too. And no one actually expected the band to stick around for yet another one, but a prominent sign reading "Sophie loves Bruce" was just the excuse Springsteen needed to keep things going. "We gotta do one for Sophie!" he shouted, kicking off "Twist and Shout" to wring the last drops of energy out of the Scottrade Center. Bless you, Sophie, wherever you are, and hail, hail rock 'n' roll.

Setlist: Then She Kissed Me/Radio Nowhere/Out in the Street/Adam Raised a Cain/Spirit in the Night/Rendezvous/For You/Mountain of Love/Backstreets/Gypsy Biker/Because the Night/Not Fade Away/She's the One/Livin' in the Future/Cover Me/Mary's Place/Drive All Night/The Rising/Last to Die/Long Walk Home/Badlands* * *Encore: Girls in Their Summer Clothes/Jungleland/Detroit Medley/Born to Run/Dancing in the Dark/American Land/Thunder Road/Little Queenie/Twist and Shout

Dr. Wilber Wallis (1912-2008)

It is with great sorrow that we announce the recent passing of one of the Seminary's founding fathers and a great man of faith: Dr. Wilber B. Wallis, who went to be with the Lord on Wednesday, August 20, 2008. Dr. Wallis, who had been in declining health for several years, died peacefully in St. Louis, Missouri. He was 95 years old. The entire Seminary community grieves with Dr. Wallis's family and friends at the loss of this faithful servant of God, yet we rejoice as well that he is now face to face with the Savior whom he loved so much.

A founding member of the Covenant Seminary faculty, Dr. Wallis had a full and illustrious career as a pastor, scholar, administrator, and dedicated churchman. He taught in the Seminary's New Testament department from 1956 until his retirement in 1982, when he was granted emeritus status. In addition, Dr. Wallis translated the book of Acts for the New International Version of the Bible, was a contributor to the Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible and the NIV Study Bible, and, along with his wife, Marie (who preceded him in death by several years), the co-author of Troop School for Christian Soldiers, a manual for instructing children in the Christian faith.

We extend deepest sympathies to the family, friends, and colleagues of this remarkable man. Though he will be sorely missed by all who knew and loved him, we celebrate his life of faithful service and look forward to the day when we will be reunited with him in glory.

A memorial service for Dr. Wallis will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, August 28, at The Covenant Presbyterian Church, 2143 North Ballas Road, St. Louis, MO 63131. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Wilber B. and Marie C. Wallis Scholarship Award Fund at Covenant Theological Seminary.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Back in the saddle again

Well, I'm officially back at work. Actually, that happened on Monday, but today was the first day that I was able to get away to blog. Our vacation was wonderful--I got up Mt. Pisgah, went to Devil's Courthouse, had lunch on Sam Knob, and prayed Psalm 8 on John's Rock. We splashed in Courthouse Falls (and Hooker Falls; Triple Falls; and Bridal Veil Falls); played lots of Rook; and watched the sun set each night beyond Toxaway Mountain. It was a very good time away.

Also read a bit. I took all those books, but only finished four: Barbara Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible; Eugene Peterson's Working the Angles; Garth Rosell's Surprising Work of God; and William Guthrie's The Christian's Great Interest. Now, it is time to crank up for the semester--this is retreat week when the Seminary President's Cabinet retreats on Monday and Tuesday; the faculty on Thursday; and we welcome the new students on Friday. We are also moving into our new Founders Hall (I'm sitting on the floor in my current office right now; my secretary thought it was so funny, she took a picture). Sometime I need to finish my syllabi (I'm teaching Ancient and Medieval Church History; Story of Christianity; and Jonathan Edwards).

It was good to be back home on Sunday, to worship at our church and to preach there in the evening. And it was good to sit at a meeting today with faculty and enjoy the brotherhood we have. Even though I miss the mountains, it is good to start a new semester and to appreciate God's calling to this place and task at this time.