Book Review: Turning Points by Mark Noll

The other book I've read by Mark Noll profoundly changed the way I perceive Christianity, and for that I am grateful. That book was called The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. It chronicled the history of evangelicalism in the United States and Canada from its roots of Methodism, Presbyterianism, big tent revivals, denominational splits and ultimately new doctrines and current fervour. I highly recommend it.

Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity is probably a university textbook read by ministry students at most seminaries at the introductory level. It conducts a survey of 14 key moments in Christianity that helped define what it is today. In order, these are the events he concludes to be key and my very brief synopsis on why they are key.

  1. The Destruction of Jerusalem, 70 CE: Christianity burst out of an essentially Jewish culture and became very decentralized. It became more hellenistic as a result and shed much of the Jewish customs which defined it in early years.
  2. Council of Nicea, 325: The church leaders met to affirm the divinity of Christ and his place within the Trinity in order to thwart heresies. It also was a massive turning point for Christians as their emperor, Constantine, became a Christian and persecution of Christians basically stopped over night and the empire began to be transformed into what we could call Christendom. New political realities.
  3. Council of Chalcedon, 451: Another important council affirming the nature of Christ (both man and God at the same time). This is where the first major split within the church happens and the Coptic Church affirms a different nature of Christ (as a unique substance) and they no longer share communion with the Orthodox Church. Their roots can be found in the Middle East and North Africa today.
  4. The Rule of Benedict, 530: As some church leadership slipped into depravity, or at least they focussed more on their temporal power and wealth, a new group of Christian leaders emerges in monasteries. Their devout witness and discipline offer an essential example of humility, service and devotion to lay people and church leaders alike.
  5. The Coronation of Charlemagne, 800: The church asserts its authority over the political world by becoming the body who crowns the emperor. Christendom reaches fruition as church and state become deeply intertwined.
  6. The Great Schism, 1054: The Eastern Church refuses to accept the primacy of the Roman Bishop (Pope). The Roman Church strikes out on its own and the Eastern Church becomes isolated from the rest of Christendom. 
  7. The Diet of Worms, 1521: One of many sparks which started the fire which caused another huge split in the church. The response of Roman Catholic abuses of power and wealth cause some Christians and princes to reject Roman rule and the Reformation begins with Protestant Churches sprouting up all over northern Europe.
  8. The English Act of Supremacy, 1534: Another rejection of Roman rule comes when Henry VIII of England is not granted a divorce from the Pope. Fortunately, there are some clergymen and brilliant theologians who are more than happy to establish a revised Church of England, even if the head of the church must be the British monarch.
  9. The Founding of the Jesuits, 1540: The 16th Century was a big one in Christianity. This was one of the beginnings of the Counter-Reformation that occurred within the Roman Church. Ignatius of Loyola's new society gets papal approval and coinciding with the new era of imperialism abroad, missionaries are sent and Christianity leaves Europe/Middle East and North Africa for the first time in history.
  10. The Conversion of the Wesleys, 1738: Along with some continental movements, the Wesleyan movement towards personal piety in Britain cause revival not only in personal spirituality, but also social movements that ultimately take down the institutions of child labour, slavery, the disenfranchisement of women, and other social ills.
  11. The French Revolution, 1789: While the Christian church in all European countries enjoyed a high level of influence over (or at least to the same degree as) the kings and queens for a thousand years, the French Revolution was the beginning of the end. The church sees its authority slip away country after country beginning with the first priests marched up to the guillotine.
  12. The Edinburgh Missionary Conference, 1910: The protestant churches recognize its responsibility to bring the Gospel to the far reaches of the world. Bible translations become a priority and women become prominent in their roles as missionaries.
  13. The Second Vatican Council, 1962-65: The Roman Catholic church addresses issues of doctrine and practice after realizing they must change to remain relevant. Interestingly enough, they seriously consider many of the issues brought up 450 years earlier by the reformers.
  14. Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, 1974: Protestant churches recognize the impact and role of Christian leaders around the world. Africa, Asia and South America take prominent positions in speaking on doctrine and practice.
Noll writes from a markedly evangelical position and is consistent in acknowledging his bias. That said, he writes of Roman Catholicism respectfully and magnifies pre-reformation turning points more than the typical protestant might.

I feel far better suited to focusing on any one of these or other minor turning points as I can contextualize the events and even carry their importance to their current expressions. My favourite part of reading this book was sharing with my son Blaise the various events and hearing his response.


Brew Four: HefeCentury Kleffeweizen

This is my first 100% grain brew. I borrowed Alex's brewing gear (a hacked cooler and a turkey fryer) and headed over to Anne's to make magic. She asked me to help her make some beer for her upcoming 50th birthday party and I gladly agreed. She wanted a hefeweizen and named it Hef-Century Kleffeweizen (a little play on words and her last name).

I borrowed the recipe from Alex:

  • 7 lbs wheat malt
  • 5 lbs pilsen malt
  • 2 cups rice hulls
  • 1 oz Hallertau Hops (I used Tettnang Hops instead)
  • Wyeast 3068

Jae and Anne and I completed the mash stage, which is where all the magic happens in extracting all the malt. We had to maintain the temperature at 110F for 20 minutes, then raise the temp to 133F for 25 min, then raise again to 145F for 30 min then finally to 154F for 30 min. Then the sparge. Then the boil - which managed to boil over even with 3 pairs of eyes watching it.

We clearly allowed too much grain into the fermenter - it was like bread dough on the top of it.

In all we got 17.67 L at 5.15% ABV.

So, my fear is that the brew got infected somewhere between the boil and cooling to the point when you pitch the yeast. There is a distinct sour flavour in the one beer I've sampled from the batch. Otherwise, the banana notes in the aroma are killer. I look forward to sipping one this weekend.

Happy Birthday Anne!


Goat Lake, Waterton Lakes National Park

Heading northwest from the Red Rocks in Waterton Lakes National Park is one of my friend's favourite hikes. Chris has done this hike six times and will likely do it several more times.  Our family sets out late morning on July 7 with Chris and Christie for a 7 km hike (with an elevation gain of 500 m).

The first 4.5 km follow a very well maintained path (an old fire road) along a creek between Anderson Peak and Mount Glendowan. We cross a part of that creek at one point by stepping on rocks.

For the last 2.5 km to the lake are a series of switchbacks on Mount Glendowan with stunning views of the valley. Wildflowers dot the steep edges and there is occasional shade from the spruce trees.

The final kilometre is mostly scree and I hold Acadia's hand to ensure she doesn't slip down the mountainside. The kids are enamoured with Chris's walking sticks and he is kind enough to stop, readjust, lend them and then repeat several times as they return and borrow them again and again.

The lake refreshes mightily. I am the only one to jump in and everyone on the mountain hears me exhale girlish screeches. Chris had packed up his dingy and we take turns paddling the kids around Goat Lake. Chris fails to catch a single trout after having talked up the feast of fresh fish we would be having. It turns out they are spawning and therefore not interested at all in his lures.

I have to say that the children impressed me greatly! They managed a 14 km hike with a 530 m elevation gain!! It took us all day, but they were in a good mood at the end and we all devoured our gourmet hot dogs in downtown Waterton.

Book Review: Heresy by Michael Coren

I was interested to see what rebuttals to such accusatory statements about Christianity like

  • Christianity is against science
  • Christianity supports slavery
  • Hitler was a Christian
  • Christianity is anti-intellectual
  • Christianity resists progress
  • Jesus never existed
  • Christians are overly concerned about abortions
There are ten chapters each addressing one of these lies. I personally did not take any issue with any of his arguments to the contrary of these lies. Nearly everyone of his arguments were made in the affirmative. For example:
Lie: Christianity supports slavery
Rebuttal: Christians led the fight for abolition, therefore Christianity does not support slavery.
Lie: Christians are anti-science
Rebuttal: Here are a dozen examples where Christians were the leading scientists in their fields. 
While I appreciate the rebuttals, many of which are nice 2 page bios on important Christian activists or intellectuals, Mr. Coren rarely lends any credence to the origins of the lies and therefore never really counters what would be the honest statements by Christianity's detractors. For instance, I would have appreciated an acknowledgement that there were Christians at one point who profited greatly from slavery, but why those Christians were not living out a historical Christian faith. Or acknowledging that there continues to exist an anti-intellectual segment within the Christian population and simply explaining why that is and why it should not colour the entire faith as anti-intellectual.

It was an easy read, but not entirely helpful as an apologetic text or even as a contemporary analysis of how Christians ought to be viewed.

Marathon Training for Marathon III

2.5 months after running the Calgary Marathon, I decide to run the Victoria Marathon over Thanksgiving weekend in October. This gives me a mere 8 weeks to train, but since I was already somewhat conditioned from the spring I figure this won't be an issue. I had 17 weeks to train for my first marathon and 16 weeks for my second one.

I am half way to the marathon now and I have run 174 kms staying on target with my training regime with the exception of 2 runs when I was sick for a weekend. I experienced some rather severe shin pain in the first couple weeks, but the pain hasn't carried further than that and only resurfaces when I play tennis (mysterious). I have supplemented with a bit of ultimate frisbee and cycling to work.

The RunKeeper app has been fantastic in tracking distances and paces and even providing my training program. The connection to friends who are also running has been encouraging and even delivers a level of accountability. Yesterday I discovered the RunKeeper site which allows for far more analysis. I even downloaded all of my runs and imported them into Google Earth to show all the trails I have pounded in Calgary, Radium and Red Deer in the last 4 weeks.

My longest pre-marathon run is coming this weekend (and the heaviest running week too at 79 kms). I still have 167 kms total to run. The best part is that I really enjoy the runs when I have the time. The cool weather is definitely a bonus too!


Spruce Meadows

Spruce Meadows is the premiere equestrian sport venue in Canada and it is just 30 minutes from where I live. If you saw Ian Miller compete on Big Ben in the 80s and 90s on TV, it was probably at Spruce Meadows. When Amber told me I had the morning to myself during my first week off these summer holidays because she was taking the kids to Spruce Meadows, I offered to take the kids because I've wanted to visit there for a long time. She gladly took the time to herself.

I don't know who we are watching or what competitions are on, it is just really neat. The riders look super spiffy. From the vantage point of being just on the other side of the fence from the horse jumping, I can tell there is a great deal of athleticism involved in taking the horse around the course and jumping with them over the barriers. Of course the horse does most of the work...

The grounds at Spruce Meadows are beautiful. I do not feel like I belong since it looks like most of the people there probably own jumping horses (there are not a lot of people there, in fact the place is rather desolate) and likely have cars and vacation homes to reflect this kind of wealth. It is not my culture, but I like the well kept gardens and the elaborate jumping courses.

We visit three venues. My kids lose interest in the horse jumping pretty quickly as it doesn't really change from competitor to competitor except for the odd bar being knocked down. All of the announcers have British accents (like in soccer) and one of them butchers nearly every rider and horse name - so that is pretty fun. All the riders are from Canada, USA, and Mexico.

We grab an ice cream and walk around a little. My kids play on the playground while I snap pictures. Oh, and except for the ice cream, the whole thing is free of charge. I even ask where I am supposed to pay the advertised $5 and no one can tell me.

A lovely way to spend a quiet day.


Brew Three: Grapefruit Double IPA

Easily my best beer so far. I combined a couple Brew House IPA kits with a hop-hacked little 1 gallon grain Grapefruit IPA kit from Brooklyn BrewShop. I used 6 oz of cascade, columbus, and falconers flight hops at various stages of the boil of the wort (and kept a little for dry hopping). I also added the peels of two grapefruits during the final 10 minutes of the boil.

A Lagunitas Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale kept me company.

I added 500g of pale spraymalt to the boil too to add a bit more, um, sugar. Note that this is a double batch. I used Danstar BRY-97 yeast, a standard westcoast IPA yeast. In the end the specific gravity (which measures sugar) came in at 1.068 which is quite high. Worried that it was too high for the yeast, I went to a discussion board and quickly got a response:

1.068 is perfect for a hoppy IPA! 18C is a perfect fermentation temperature for BRY97.
You can see it had no problem fermenting.

3 weeks later, Blaise helped me bottle the 36.3 litres of delicious 8.3% ABV very strong grapefruit india pale ale. Unfortunately, about half of the bottles are over-carbonated, but they taste lovely: very crisp, firm citrus hoppiness, and pleasing aftertaste.

Brew Two: Apple Ginger Bitter, Muntons Hopped Pale Ale

My second foray into brewing happened back in December. I wanted to try the syrup kit rather than the slightly concentrated kits I tried the first time. I picked up 2 kits of Muntons: Bitter and Pale Ale (they were out of IPA). I picked up some amarillo, chinook, and cascade hops to add to the Pale Ale.

I simply boiled some of the hops and added the hopped water to the pale ale. A week later, I dry hopped the pale ale and added some cane sugar in hopes to add a bit of dimension and a bit more alcohol to what is normally a pretty bland beer. The results weren't too impressive. The beer is drinkable, just not memorable.

I added some apple slices and ginger water to the bitter fermentation. Some mild ginger aftertaste and a bit of apple sweetness. This darker beer tasted better the longer I let it stay in bottle, not too malty, quite refreshing.


Man Scouts: Shooting Sporting Clays

June 20, eight Man Scouts from New Hope Church drove out to Silver Willow Sporting Club near Carstairs for an evening of shooting sporting clays with shotguns. Few things can compare to the sheer manliness of shooting a shotgun - maybe growing a beard? Anyway, we split into a couple teams and ran through the beginner/intermediate shooting course which is 10 stations with 2 different clay launches at each station where each shooter gets to shoot 5 clays (50 clays in total).

It's been a few years since I shot a shotgun in BC with uncle Terry, but I get the hang of it again pretty quickly. We alternate who goes first at each station since the first clay is sometimes difficult to spot as it flies from different spots in different directions and at different speeds. The challenge is to shoot it early if it is flying away from you and lead your sights ahead of where it will be. The launches are under little wooden shelters and fire clays in a great variety of settings: swamps, clearings, woods, bushes. A few clays come flying from up over your head and you have to spot them as they go flying away from you.

The entire process is very high tech. Your purchase of clay discs is loaded onto a card which is then placed onto a controller. The controller has two options, A and B, which launch the two different clays. The shooter loads their shotgun in a wooden frame and cries "pull" which is signal to the other who is managing the controller. Our group let the first shooter decide what the 5th shot would be: A or B. One of the unique shots was one that was shot along the ground and bounced around like a running rabbit (I didn't hit that one).

I intend to shoot only 25 clays with my buddy, but my buddy doesn't show up so I fire 50 shells and end up with a decent bruise on my shoulder. And yes, I held the gun tight against my shoulder and my face tight too. I end up with a rather modest score of 21 hits out of 50. The best shots are John and Kenton with 35. I admit (or provide excuse for my poor showing) that I got lazy and tired during the last 4 stations. I enjoyed taking pictures and watching others shoot. It was a long week leading up to this night.