Monday, December 10, 2007
McPherson's comic today reminds me of being in a situation where it seems life is working against you. Have you been in that situation? It's the whole "2 steps forward 3 steps back" syndrome. Who's eating your popcorn? Who's ruining your parade?
Friday, December 07, 2007
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Every half a millennium or so, waves of change rock Christianity until they cause the kind of earthquake that forces historians to start using capital letters.
"What happened before the Great Reformation, we all know," said Phyllis Tickle, author of "God Talk in America" and two dozen books on faith and culture. "We know, for instance, that some sucker sailed west and west and west and didn't fall off the dad gum thing. That was a serious blow."
So Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 and then a flat, neatly stacked universe flipped upside down. Soon, people were talking about nation states, the decline of landed gentry, the rise of a middle class and the invention of a printing press with movable type. Toss in a monk named Martin Luther and you're talking Reformation -- with a big "R" -- followed by a Counter-Reformation.
Back up 500 years to 1054 and you have the Great Schism that separated Rome and from Eastern Orthodoxy. Back up another 500 years or so and you find the Fall of the Roman Empire. The transformative events of the first century A.D. speak for themselves.
Church leaders who can do the math should be looking over their shoulders about now, argued Tickle, speaking to clergy, educators and lay leaders at the recent National Youth Workers Convention in Atlanta.
After all, seismic changes have been rolling through Western culture for a century or more -- from Charles Darwin to the World Wide Web and all points in between. The result is a whirlwind of spiritual trends and blends, with churches splintering into a dizzying variety of networks and affinity groups to create what scholars call the post-denominational age.
Tickle is ready to call this the "Great Emergence," with a tip of her hat to the edgy flocks in the postmodern "emerging church movement."
"Emerging or emergent Christianity is the new form of Christianity that will serve the whole of the Great Emergence in the same way that Protestantism served the Great Reformation," she said, in a speech that mixed doses of academic content with the wit of a proud Episcopalian from the deeply Southern culture of Western Tennessee.
However, anyone who studies history knows that the birth of something new doesn't mean the death of older forms of faith. The Vatican didn't disappear after the Protestant Reformation.
This kind of revolution, said Tickle, doesn't mean "any one of those forms of earlier Christianity ever ceases to be. It simply means that every time we have one of these great upheavals ... whatever was the dominant form of Christianity loses its pride of place and gives way to something new.
What's giving way, right now, is Protestantism as you and I have always known it."
It helps to think of dividing American Christianity, she said, into four basic streams -- liturgical, Evangelical, Pentecostal-charismatic and old, mainline Protestant. The problem, of course, is that there are now charismatic Episcopalians and Catholics, as well as plenty of Evangelicals who are interested in liturgical worship and social justice. Conservative megachurches are being forced to compromise because of sobering changes in marriage and family life, while many progressive flocks are being blasted apart by conflicts over the same issues.
In other words, the lines are blurring between once distinct approaches to faith. Tickle is convinced that 60 percent of American Christians are worshipping in pews that have, to one degree or another, been touched by what is happening in all four camps. At the same time, each of the quadrants includes churches -- perhaps 40 percent of this picture -- that are determined to defend their unique traditions no matter what.
The truly "emerging churches" are the ones that are opening their doors at the heart of this changing matrix, she said. Their leaders are determined not to be sucked into what they call "inherited church" life and the institutional ties that bind. They are willing to shed dogma and rethink doctrine, in an attempt to tell the Christian story in a new way.
"These emergent folks are enthusiastically steering toward the middle and embracing the whole post-denominational world," said Tickle. "We could end up with something like a new form of Pan-Protestantism. ... It's all kind of exciting and scary at the same time, but we can take some comfort in knowing that Christianity has been through this before."
Terry Mattingly (www.tmatt.net) directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes this weekly column for the Scripps Howard News Service.
My Faves: The People I KeepCreating a new cell-phone directory tested my commitment in ways I didn't expect.by Gordon MacDonald, Leadership editor at large
From my journal: A few weeks ago the cell-phone people notified me that I was eligible for a new phone at a rock-bottom price and that I should stop by their store and do a deal. A day or two later, I converted from TREO to Blackberry.
A technician transferred the contact data—my electronic "phone book"—from the old phone to the new one. "You've got a lot of stuff in the memory," he said referring to the over-three thousand names and numbers I'd accumulated during the past years. "You might want to think of purging it."
In the days that followed I did what the techie suggested, and shrunk the list from 3,000 names to about 1,500. I ended up with 1,500 keepers and 1,500 deleted…people that is.
It is not always an easy task to separate the keepers from the deleted. The exercise forced me to do some reflecting about the nature of my personal relationships.
I quickly saw that the "keepers" fell into four categories. There were my loved ones: wife, children, and grandchildren (they were not only keepers but they made my speed-dial list). There were my friends—dearly valued people who have long been in my life through the darkest and the brightest moments. Then there were colleagues: those to whom one relates because of shared work. And finally there were the networked: people you think you want to keep in touch with because you have common goals and objectives. Oh, a fifth group: the snow-plow guy, the hardware store, and United Airlines. Keepers: all of them.
The more challenging experience was in the deleting.
1,500 of my Closest Friends. I found names of people in the phone's memory, for example, whom I'd met here and there over the years. We had promised that we'd keep in touch or get together for lunch or collaborate on some effort. But the promises were forgotten. Well intentioned as we were when we thumbed each other's numbers into our phones, we simply got on to other things the minute we were out of each other's sight.
How many times have I heard my wife, Gail, say as she watched me enter one of these people into my contact list, "I know you want to connect with him, but I also know that you're too busy. He'll expect your call for the next couple of weeks and when it doesn't come, he'll think you were insincere."
My eyes (for connection) are bigger than my stomach (my ability to digest all the relationships I'd like to have)...
These deletions caused me to reflect on the flimsiness of too many so-called Christian relationships where there is far more talk about faithfulness than action. I thought of how easy it is for people to turn on one another the minute things go awry. And I felt sad.
I confess to a feeling of fiendish satisfaction as I hit the delete button on some of these names. I felt the urge to say. "There! You're gone! No way you're going to get into my new phone." It was as if by deleting someone from my phone list I could make a bad memory go away forever.
Now there were those who walked out of my life for "natural causes." "San Diego pays more," they said. Or, "Florida's warmer." Or, "The company is moving me to Des Moines." Having spoken, they disappeared leaving in their trail only an occasional Christmas card or e-mail. But they left, sometimes to my consternation. Deleting their names reminds me that we live in a wildly mobile society where most relationships have short, practical shelf lives. No wonder young people are opting for small groups and less of the big stuff. They seek stability. Me, too.
A few names in line for deletion were those who have died in the past years. Once they had been vigorous, contributive people. Now they're gone. In many cases their loss was grieved for a few days. But then those of us still among the living had to get on with life and its demands. I found myself brooding on how long, when I die, I'll remain on some peoples' contact list. Not long, I suspect.
A significant number of those slated for deletion were people who have simply stopped playing any role in my life. For a moment our lives had connected as they picked me up at an airport or provided hospitality for me in their home. But it was only a one-time shot: pleasant, interesting, but one time. How often I'd said of these people, "I'd give anything to know them better." But it wasn't meant to be.
Now and then as I scanned the contact list on the old phone I saw names of people who might be called evangelical celebrities. They're people it's fun to say you know. But you really don't know them; you just shook their hands once and got their number. It's hard to delete them. Just having their number tempts you to feel important in a very superficial way. (Billy Graham once warned me about name-dropping.)
God's Delete Button-Purging my phone list has been a healthy exercise. It has reminded me that there is a certain collection of people in this world whose friendship and partnership I really prize. Wonderful people whose love for God and commitment to his agenda are inspiring to me. Christlike people who working with has been (and remains) a humble privilege.
But there were other lessons for me. That I actually liked deleting some names forced me to realize that as much as I believe in no grudge-holding, there is always a bit of residual vindictiveness deep in my heart, in all of us, perhaps. It bothers me that in some cases I really enjoyed hitting the delete button.
Oh, there was one more lesson. I was forced to wonder if God would ever be tempted to purge his list of people. Did this happen in the Noah story? Was it about to happen the day he told Moses he was at his wits end with Israel? Has God ever wished to quietly delete me? Does God even have a delete button?
Pastor and author Gordon MacDonald is chair of World Relief and editor at large for Leadership.
| My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is: |
His Eminence the Very Lord Arnold the Chimerical of New Invention
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title
The book revolves around what Barr calls 5 "plot twists" along the way of trying to write off religion and approach the universe in an exclusively materialistic philosophy. He introduces these early, then the remainder of the book is opening up each plot twist from a scientific point of view.
#1 The Big Bang points to a beginning. Materialism had posited an eternal universe, where matter had always existed. This wasn't a new thought (ancient pagan Greeks also thought this) but much of the 19th and 20th century scientists pushed the idea. But evidence pointing to the Big Bang points to a beginning.
#2 The complexity and beauty of the mathematics underlying the laws of physics and the even deeper laws that seem to govern those laws does not answer the question of "why the universe?" In fact it seems to beg the question even further, moving it to the front of discussion.
#3 "The universe and its laws seem in some respects to be balanced on a knife-edge..." Movement either way, and life doesn't exist. There are a series of "anthropic coincidences" that defy the chance-requirements of naturalistic materialism.
#4 The existence of human intellect pushes us to see the human mind as more than just machine.
#5 Quantum theory has brought about a revolution in the scientific determinism inherint in materialism.
This is obviously a very brief summary of the book. But if you're interested in learning some scientific facts and seeing how those facts point for or against materialism as a philosophical explanation of the universe, I recommend this book.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Friday, November 16, 2007
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners? " [Luke 5:30] The error persists: despite very clear evidence to the contrary, men and women insist on thinking of Christians as the good people whom God likes. But Jesus said that Christians are the bad people whom God calls to salvation. The church, like a hospital, is full of sick people in the process of being healed, not well people displaying their prowess.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Actually, reading and travel often go hand in hand. I'm 6'5" and...well...somewhere around 3 big bills. So I hate trying to work on airplanes, even though I'm on them a lot. And since I was in Oklahoma City and now in a hotel room in Dallas today, I read.
A few weeks ago I picked up "Modern Physics and Ancient Faith" by Stephen M. Barr at the library. I finally started reading it today. Barr is a professor of physics at the University of Delaware, and (I assume from the first few chapters) a practicing Roman Catholic. The book is about exposing the anti-religious bias not so much in some nebulous "Science" category (something we talked about recently), but in the beliefs of scientific materialism as establishing the mythical nature of religious belief.
I definitely want to put some of Barr's thoughts down, but in chapter 2 he quotes Augustine of Hippo in a great quote that I had heard bits of before, but this was the first time I had seen it all like this. Let me quote it here, and we'll pick up with Barr in the next post:
"Usually even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and seasons, about the kinds of animals shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics, and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn...If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe our books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren, ...to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture, ...although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion."
Augustine, "De Genesi ad Litteram"
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
It doesn't matter where Americans go, we're bound to be the most arrogant people there. Even Christians. Maybe especially Christians. See TIA points #4, 5, 19, 23, and 35. My wife and I went to Paris (France, not Texas) for our 10th anniversary. People always ask if we saw any arrogant people in France. We did, but virtually all of them were Americans. Same in South America.
The truth is that everyone is proud of where they're from. And they should be. But Americans seem to have a unique way of displaying that pride in a way that puts down every other culture. It really only shows how small we can be.
So go here and read TIA's 38 points for going to Africa for the first time. It's worth it.
Monday, November 05, 2007
"The real reason why so few men believe in God is that they have ceased to believe that even a God can love them. But their despair is, perhaps, more respectable than the insincerity of those who think they can trick God into loving them for something they are not. This kind of duplicity is, after all, fairly common among so-called 'believers,' who consciously cling to the hope that God Himself, placated by prayer, will support their egotism and their insincerity, and help them to achieve their own selfish ends. Their worship is of little value to themselves and does no honor to God. They not only consider Him a potential rival (and, therefore, place themselves on a basis of equality with Him), but they think He is base enough to make a deal with them, and this is a great blasphemy."
Thomas Merton, "No Man is an Island"
Friday, November 02, 2007
Thursday, November 01, 2007
Because of the University I work for being a Hispanic-serving institution, I was asked to lead a workshop on ministry among immigrants. It was a great discussion, with about 30 people in the room asking questions about how to best be Jesus in the migratory flow of humanity we're experiencing in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Of course, the hottest debates are reserved for issues surrounding how to best deal with the 12-14 million undocumented immigrants in the US. Our workshop had a cordial but tough discussion (what you can manage in 15 minutes of dialogue within a one-hour workshop anyway) on how to best do ministry among "illegal" immigrants. Some felt that it was important to share ALL the story right off the bat, something like "Jesus loves you, here's some food, now go back to your country and stop breaking our laws." Others wanted to serve them in the name of Jesus without talking about immigration status, others still wanted to help them become US citizens. Like I said, it was a cordial discussion, hopefully healthy.
But then I heard today about something that just kills me. We often try to place our students in churches as interns, especially in predominantly Anglo churches that have a growing Hispanic community around them. One such church's pastor had been working with our staff for some time, and we thought we have found the right student to come and help this church.
But some in the church had other ideas.
Apparently, when the student went in view of a call (Baptist speak for a church hiring someone as a minister), some church members voiced their concern about a Hispanic being on church staff and Mexicans taking over their church. In the meeting. In front of our student and his wife. With other Hispanic church members also present.
So what is the church for someone who thinks this way? It is a protector of a culture, a bastion of a time when those people heard God's voice and it ministered to them. But it has become a hollow shell, and the Spirit's voice is no longer heard, when the cultural icon that is a church becomes more vital, more important to protect, than getting the life-changing message of Jesus into the world across cultural boundaries and barriers.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
So I drove out there, knowing that not much is left. Here's where our house once stood, best I can remember...
But check these next pictures out. The treehouses that my brother and I and some friends built 30 years ago still have boards up in the trees. I was amazed as the memories of bottle rocket fights and treehouse dreams floated in my head.
It just goes to show you that the things we think are made to last sometimes don't, while the stuff that makes you dream lasts forever.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Check out Enemybook.
Here's a quote about their service:
"Enemybook is an antisocial utility that disconnects you
to the so-called friends around you.
Enemybook is a Facebook app that allows you to manage your enemies as well as your friends. With Enemybook you can add people as facebook enemies, specify why they are your enemies, notify your enemies, see who lists you as an enemy, and even become friends with the enemies of your enemies. Ever wanted to "enemy" somebody instead of friend them? Finally you can. This app remedies the one-sided perspective of Facebook."
I guess if you wanted to keep a list of all the people Jesus told you to love but you just have a hard time following through...
Monday, October 22, 2007
I'm still reading "No Man is an Island" by Thomas Merton for my morning devotionals. I say "still" because like most books I use for devotional stimulation I muddle through them. I'm nearing the end, though, and Merton has really been in my journals a lot, even though I haven't blogged much about it.
But today I wanted to through a few thoughts down on paper, or on a blog, as the case may be. Actually, it was both since I already journaled several pages on this topic. Merton is discussing sincerity, in particular in it's comingling with truth, or as he says "sincerity in the fullest sense must be more than a temperamental disposition to be frank. It is a simplicity of spirit which is preserved by the will to be true. It implies an obligation to manifest the truth and to defend it."
It has become too easy to lie in our culture. "Life has become so easy that we think we can get along without telling the truth. A liar no longer needs to feel that his lies may involve him in starvation. If living were a little more precarious, and if a person who could not be trusted found it more difficult to get along with other men, we would not deceive ourselves and one another so carelessly." Lying is interwoven into our politics, our work, our marriages, even our religious activities, and especially our self-talk. "...the whole world has learned to deride veracity or to ignore it. Half the civilized world makes a living by telling lies. Advertising, propaganda, and all the other forms of publicity that have taken the place of truth have taught men to take it for granted that they can tell other people whatever they like provided that it sounds plausible and evokes some kind of shallow emotional response." (Keep in mind that Merton wrote this in 1955!)
"Americans have always felt that they were protected against the advertising business by their own sophistication. If we only knew how naive our sophistication really is! It protects us against nothing. We love the things we pretend to laugh at. We would rather buy a bad toothpaste that is well advertised than a good one that is not advertised at all. Most Americans wouldn't be seen dead in a car their neighbors had never heard of.
"Sincerity becomes impossible in a world that is ruled by a falsity that it thinks it is clever enough to detect. Propaganda is constantly held up to contempt, but in contemning it we come to love it after all. In the end we will not be able to get along without it...
"The arguments of religious men are so often insincere, and their insincerity is proportionate to their anger. Why do we get angry about what we believe? Because we do not really believe it. Or else what we pretend to be defending as the 'truth' is really our own self-esteem. A man of sincerity is less interested in defending the truth than in stating it clearly, for he thinks that if the truth be clearly seen it can very well take care of itself."
This is exactly why I like living in the post-Christian, post-modern type of world. Because truth has been deconstructed, people don't think that there is absolute truth any longer. We debate people as to whether or not this is true (it is not), but we have an opportunity, a kairos moment, to learn how to state the Truth that is life in Jesus of Nazareth in a way that does not carry all the baggage of the past. And it can (and does!) speak for itself.
The old sermon story of the pastor's notes that reminded him that a particular point was weak, so he should raise his voice and pound the pulpit to emphasize it comes to mind. This is what our telling of the Jesus story becomes without sincerity. It becomes pulpit-pounding, and people often see it for just what it is: an insincere attempt to manipulate someone into the truth instead of a clear telling of the Truth--what Jesus called lifting up himself to the world--and letting that Truth draw people to it.
While I admit that pomos take this idea too far and throw out any sense of "truth", to me this is the epitome of authenticity.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
A better book was Ted Dekker's nonfiction work, "The Slumber of Christianity." His main point is that we have missed the best that this life has to offer precisely because we have focused too much on ONLY this life. We have lost our sense of heaven. If we truly have a living hope for the next life, the pleasures of this one become that much more real, that much more satisfying, because we're not looking to them for ULTIMATE satisfaction. They bring pleasure in their proper context, in the way that God intended for them to.
He describes catching a glimpse of heaven as being like in a dark room where you can't see anything. You have to fumble around and find food and drink, but since you can't see it, some of it is good and some of it is bad. Then one day a brick falls from the ceiling and a shaft of light penetrates the darkness, and you realize that your dark room is not all that exists in life. There is something outside, something beyond the walls. Unfortunately, you get used to this shaft of light, and it too becomes just something to help you see better inside the room, instead of pointing to what will come when the walls fall completely down.
Dekker also talks a lot about the role of imagination in our relationship with God, something that is spot-on. He recommends 3 disciplines: meditation on the hope God offers, reading on the hope of heaven, and the corporate discipline of encouraging the hope of eternal life, especially through singing.
All in all, I like Dekker's book. In my opinion he comes close to throwing the baby out with the bath water with his focus on eternal life after we die, because eternal life begins now and here, in this world. But he's right in this sense: the evil that is real in this current existence makes us only see darkly the truest pleasures of etneral life in the kingdom. There is something to the idea that after death--or maybe better to say after resurrection--the walls fall down and we're living in the light, instead of in the darkness.
Here's his four point summary of the book:
1. We should intentionally set our minds on heaven.
2. We should enjoy pleasure as it was intended because it draws us to heaven.
3. We should allow the pain that comes our way to push us into our Creator's arms.
4. Because our hope is made real by a fully fleshed vision of a reality that awaits beyond this one, we shoudl fan that vision to life through songs and reading and meditation.
John MacPherson is a great cartoonist. Or at least he catches what I think is funny on a pretty consistent basis.
My 6'5" frame carries my 300+ bills well, but man, I need to lose some serious weight. I wish it was as easy as getting a "row meter".
Friday, October 19, 2007
The Miner offense was clicking on all cylinders in the win against Tulsa. Marcus Thomas rushed for 134 yards, Trevor Vittatoe passed for 319 yards and Jeff Moturi led the receiving corps with 174 yards. It marked the first time since the 1987 campaign that the Miners had a player pass for 300-plus yards, register at least 170 receiving yards and rush for more than 130 yards all in the same game. The feat came on Nov. 7, 1987 at Utah, in which John Harvey rushed for 202 yards, Pat Hegarty threw for 340 and Arnie Adkison recorded 200 receiving yards.
Maybe I should have a 20-year anniversary party on Nov 7...
Thursday, October 18, 2007
- Stephen Colbert, in a guest column in Sunday's New York Times. Colbert then announced his candidacy for the president of the United States on his Tuesday show.
The church is about making disciples of Jesus. And megachurches don't do it any better than anyone else, they just do it bigger and costlier.
Dismantle the machine, and go back to living life together. It's cheaper, and it actually works.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Where's the prophetic nature of such a commission? Well, to the shame of Southern Baptists, BDW points out that the voice of the prophet is coming from a Methodist. Specifically from the Rev. Joel Hunter. Apparently in a recent sermon he had this to say:
"There are people in this country - Children - and I hear these arguments all the time about these dirty filthy immigrants, these illegal immigrants who come into this country. And they are getting all these benefits because their kids get sick enough to get into an emergency and go to an emergency room. And somehow those children don't deserve care because they come from another country and they are not like us and maybe they don't believe what we do and maybe they don't speak the same language we do. And we want to deny those children healthcare? God would say "what are you doing?" I don't believe health care is a right. But I believe healthcare is the test of our character as a nation. And I believe that any nation that does not take care of the children among us is not much of a nation, is not much of a people, is certainly not much of a Christian......And I gotta tell ya, what are we doing?!? These are children for crying out loud! God would say - there are 100,000 in the city who don't know their right hand from their left, and you would ignore them and not give them what they need because they don't happen to have what you have. If you're a nation that don't take care of your own children, you're not much of a nation, as a matter of a fact you're not much of a people, let alone much of a Christian. These are Children! Here's what we have to understand. We gotta know that God cares for the vulnerable. This is a message to us all. We are to love the ones that we might not love naturally but God does. We are to love according to his standards not according to ours. And I know I may have just made some of you really mad. But I don't care. It's what the word of God says and I will always tell you what the word of God says. Pray with me."
Monday, October 15, 2007
The 7-foot ninja is not a fan of poor thinking of inconsistent reasoning. And he's certainly not going to let me or anyone else get away with our own constructs. Here's a quote from is post:
What about the idea of accommodation, which Gordon invokes and you do as well? The idea that God withheld the whole truth from the ancient Israelites and just adopted the common cultural outlook to somehow express his word through is by no means a new thought. As a formal theory it goes back at least to J.S. Semler well over 200 years ago. The idea that we today have reached the maturity and intellectual capacity to really grasp what God has to say smacks of the chronological snobbery that C.S. Lewis so disdained. This is not postmodern, but thoroughly "modern".
I make no claims that we have "reached the maturity and intellectual capacity" to speak accurately for God. I would go so far as to say that 1,000 years from now those alive then will be questioning our understanding of both Science and Theology on various aspects. They will have progressed in the accumulation and sharing of knowledge in ways we can't imagine, just like we have in the previous 1,000 years. But any smarter? I doubt it. And certainly not any more mature, especially in the things that matter, like practicing the things that the Bible calls "wisdom" or avoiding the things of "fools."
I do however think that there is some merit to the idea of progressive revelation. God did not reveal the whole picture to those who lived before Jesus. And while I fully believe that Jesus' sacrifice was complete for our redemption, I don't think we know everything today that there is to know about that either.
Yes, God accomodates his communication to people for the situation that they are in. He speaks in their language, within their cultural limits, in ways they can understand. Does this mean he accomodates his message? No, not necessarily. And it certainly doesn't mean he waters down his message. Does it mean that we sometimes hear our own voices--whether our own wishes or our cultural norms or whatever--and attribute God's voice to them? Absolutely not. We do this both inside and outside the church, speaking for God or in the name of God in such definite terms on issues that we may have simply made up or we may be crazy or whatever. Do pomos often go overboard and throw out the baby with the bathwater on this accomodation idea? Sure they do.
Then he says, quoting someone who wrote on another blog I referenced:
Gordon says, "If the purpose of the Hebrew creation story was not to provide Israel (or us) with accurate scientific knowledge about the cosmos, why then do so many Christians reject any version of natural history that fails to conform to the Hebrew account?" In response I ask you, "If 'natural history' and 'science' by contemporary definitions automatically exclude God and his intervention in the world, why then do so many Christians accept the presuppositions of such theories and the slanted results that they produce?"
I do not think that "natural history" and/or "science" do automatically exclude God. Every human being has levels of constructs by which they view the world. As you have often pointed out, we rarely examine these constructs, or what Lesslie Newbigin called "plausibility structures" in his great book "The Gospel in a Pluralist Society." I on the other hand, in the proper contexts, love to deconstruct my own and others constructs. I'm wrong (probably a lot) in my assessents. I do it way too much for most of my Christian friends, including my own wife. But I think I do it BECAUSE I'm often proven wrong on things, not because I think I'm right on things. Perhaps I'm getting off point here, but I have come to see at least one aspect of maturity as being a healthy self-criticism. When I was 22, there were 4,208 things I knew to be true about theology, science, philosophy, etc. They were black and white. Now there are only 4 or 5 that I'm willing to stake my life on being true. I think that I have matured, but I certainly don't think that means I can speak for God with his authority on hundreds of topics and viewpoints.
So back to the matter at hand--just because (some, most, even all) materialistic scientists say that the theory of evolution denies the existence of God does not mean that evolutionary theory isn't a plausible scientific theory, anymore than just because Tim LaHaye says that the Bible clearly teaches a pre-trib rapture, premillenial eschatology means that if he's wrong (I think he is) Jesus isn't coming back at all (which I believe him to be).
Friday, October 12, 2007
Next, there is a big difference between "'inaccurate' scientific facts" and non-scientific statements based on a phenomenal point of view. The Bible never does claim to be a scientific manual, but to acknowledge this and then claim error by contemporary "scientific" standards, albeit purposeful error, doesn't follow. Non-scientific doesn't mean unscientific.
I almost didn't make a post to reply to this, because I wasn't sure it was that vital to the discussion. But then I changed my mind. I'm going to assume that by "phenomenal point of view" you mean that because of the point of view of an ancient Hebrew--i.e. without microscope, telescope, advanced mathematics, geological understanding of plate tectonics, etc.--they make non-scientific statements that to us, if viewed as scientific commentary, would be inaccurate, but they are really just points of view based on the available information to that ancient Hebrew. In other words, when I wake up and say "Look at the beautiful sunrise" instead of "Look at the viewing of the sun as the earth rotates on its axis" you don't judge my first statement as a scientific inaccuracy. If that's what you mean, I think I agree with you.
But if that is what they are, non-scientific statements, then why do so many Evangelical Christians today take them to mean scientific things?
Scientific facts should be used carefully in situations of philosophic and theological discussion. Today's "understanding" of the human genome could become tomorrow's earth-centric solar system.
My main point is that the whole creation-science movement (of which I was long a part, at least in my belief) tries very hard to make the Bible say scientific things when it isn't. And even more egregious is that they make belief in these scientific biblical statements mandatory for being a True Christian.
it's not the people who are evil. It's the system we've created which generates money in the name of fear. We retreat from the world we were born into, and called to have an impact on, and we create our own Christian-version of the world which is sanitized and drained of power, impact, relevance and meaning.
Generates money in the name of fear. Wow. When I read that thought earlier I knew Keith had hit a home run. We retreat, we run away, we create the "safe and fun for the whole family" atmosphere and the world becomes hell in a handbasket. We become weak and soft and irrelevant. In the name of fear. In the name of money.
But perfect love casts out fear. The love of money is the root of all evil. Love for the Way of Jesus will take us into the world, into the place we fear, and will anoint us with power from on high.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
7-foot ninja is extremely brilliant, probably too much so for his own good. And that's my first response to his post--this blog is much more (for me) about pop issues among Jesus followers and their impact on the world than it is about intellectual arguments for or against postmodernity. Personally, as much as I hate to admit it, I am probably not a great thinker or philosopher at the top level, the level that BWolf likes to read. As I've admitted before, I have only dabbled in the academic readings of postmodernity (sometimes referred to below as "pomo"), and BWolf is far more down that road than I am. So, even though he hates it when I don't argue with him, there are times where I just need to defer to his wider reading at the academic/philosophic level.
But having said that, he asks some great questions, which I want to take a few posts to discuss. I'll try to break them up enough that each post isn't massively long-winded, a trait that both BWolf and I have a propensity for. Let me start with his quote:
you start out ambiguously by saying "Did the writers of the Bible follow the stories and worldviews and cultural values of their time?" This needs some serious clarification before further discussion - does this mean that the Bible is inevitably written in the current language and with reference to contemporary cultural understandings, which in and of itself is not a profound or threatening position? or does it mean the much stronger (and currently trendy) claim that all expressions of meaning are internal to their specific cultural situation and can't be adequately expressed or transmitted to other times or places, which is a subtle cultural relativism? or that the Bible is basically unoriginal and arose simultaneously with contemporary religions through borrowing, modifying, etc., which is basically a postmodernized historicism?
Yes, I believe that the Bible was written "in the current language and with reference to contemporary cultural understandings" of the writer. I don't think that inspiration requires the overcoming of cultural inaccuracies in the biblical writers. Christian scholars of most stripes have long recognized the importance of understanding culture to understand the Bible, something BWolf says later. I would not dispute that. His second question asks if I mean that (in light of my leaning to postmodern thought) do I think that the meanings and expressions of the biblical writers cannot be "adequately expressed or transmitted" in today's language and culture. No way! I do still believe that the message of the Bible is primarily the message that God intended to convey in that time and place, and there isn't this freedom of reinterpreting everything that many in the pomo and emergent church (EC) crowds can be guilty of.
The truth is that each of us has the propensity to make the Bible mean what we think it means, whether we are modern, postmodern, premodern, unmodern, antimodern, hypermodern, whatever. So modern Evangelicals (whatever that animal is--I'm obviously generalizing) take their interpretation of the Bible and evaluate all other interpretations and philosophies and theologies next to their own. EC believers do the same. We all fall into the same trap of comparing everything to our own beliefs and rejecting anything that is different, sometimes without consideration.
There is some value to this. No one wants to fall down the slippery slope of saying that all viewpoints are valid. But we are usually most blind (by definition) to our own blind spots. There should be a healthy self-critique of our own theology and practice. Have some EC/pomo christians taken this too far? Absolutely. Have some Evangelicals not considered their own positions adequately enough in light of EC/pomo criticism? Absolutely.
As to BWolf's final question in the quote above--if the Bible borrowed certain stories from the culture at large, is that a problem? In the days described in the early Bible books, most things weren't written down, they were told. The creation and flood stories were told for centuries before someone wrote them down. Does that mean they were uninspired or plagiarized when the biblical writer wrote them the first time? I don't think so. God inspired the writers to write down the oral histories that he wanted to use to convey his message to them, and eventually to us. I believe wholeheartedly that that message is still the same message for us as it was 4,000+ years ago, which makes me out of step with pomo thinking. I also believe that many believers today have missed parts of that message because they canonize the interpretation of their favorite pop Christian leaders and turn it into a rote, homogenized, pasteurized theology that lacks some of the life God intended.
More to come.
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
"A walloping great congregation is fine and fun, but what most communities really need is a couple of saints. The tragedy is that they may well be there in embryo, waiting to be discovered, waiting to be emancipated from the cult of the mediocre." Martin Thornton
I don't know who Martin Thornton is or where Gordon got this quote, but it's spot on. Gordon then writes briefly, but in his own generalization, edgy sarcastic way (his words) this thought: the modern Evangelical church sucks at mentoring mature Christians.
What does it mean to be mature? Gordon rightly acknowledges that a definition doesn't just leap out at you. But you know it when you see it. Here's his thoughts...
"The marks of maturity? Self-sustaining in spiritual devotions. Wise in human relationships. Humble and serving. Comfortable and functional in the everyday world where people of faith can be in short supply. Substantial in conversation; prudent in acquisition; respectful in conflict; faithful in commitments."
The only thing I would add to this list would be something about an appropriately serious but playful joy about life.
Gordon is also right when he diagnoses a main part of the problem as our propensity for programming everything. Since a certain kind of evangelism (the kind where you convince someone that they are going to hell without Jesus if they die tonight; true enough, but hardly the whole gospel message) can be programmed somewhat, and since "infant-level discipleship" can be programmed somewhat, plus worship, preaching, etc. all of which seemingly can be programmed, maybe we've just forgotten that maturity only happens when life is placed alongside life, and the apprentice learns from the master. It only happens in real situations, not in sanitized sanctuaries or Bible studies. It happens when people who are apprentices of Jesus spend time with other people. They succeed together and fail together and learn together and serve together and eat together and cry together and drink together and worship together and smoke together and play golf together and wait for their kids to get out of football practice together and have dessert together and lose weight together...okay, I'm sure you get the point.
It's together in all its messiness.
Saturday, September 29, 2007
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Friday, September 21, 2007
"I have been brought up to believe that the Gospel is to be spread, it is to be shared -- not kept for those who already have it," she said. "Well, 'Christian novels' reach Christians. They don't reach out. ... I am not a 'Christian writer.' I am a writer who is a Christian. I think that you have to be the best writer that you can be. Now, if I am truly a Christian, then that will show in my work."
Thursday, September 20, 2007
This idea that Church waits to see what the culture is doing then produces a D grade version with some sort of clever Jesus twist to me is utter blasphemy. The DaVinci Code, for example. You wait for a C grade movie with stars with bad haircuts and then gear your church teachings around a movie that many people aren't even going to see? That seems absolutely anemic.
Amen Rob Bell! May your tribe increase. If you want to read the whole interview, check it out here...
Monday, September 10, 2007
Did the writers of the Bible follow the stories and worldviews and cultural values of their time? Did they write "inaccurate" scientific facts like those based on ancient cosmology, where the universe is basically a globe, the earth is flat, the stars are attached to the globe's dome, and above that dome is an ocean of water? Of course they did.
Gordon, the guest blogger, puts this idea out on a hypothetical conversation after Moses comes down off Mount Sinai...
“Hey guys, check this out. God just told me about creation and guess what? You’re never gonna believe this, but the earth is actually round! No kidding! And there is no solid firmament holding back an ocean of water above us either—can you believe those silly Egyptians? No wonder God kicked their butt! And the earth is actually whirling though space at incredible speeds with the other planets, and there are two more planets that we didn’t even know about! As soon as we get to the PromisedLand, we’re starting a university!”
This would have been nonsense to the Hebrews, just like the Copernican/Galilean view was nonsense to the Church's leaders in their day. It's the proverbial problem of trying to describe water to a fish. Worldviews are usually so entrenched that that must be changed gradually over time. And God had much more important things he was teaching this group of Hebrews under Moses than scientifically accurate cosmology.
The Bible reveals God's love to us. It is the story of his work of redemption. It is not an instruction manual on science, history, or even theology, per se. It is a revelation. It displays a loving God who works passionately to pursue and redeem a bunch of obstinate people that reject him over and over. The Writings ought to be treated with the highest respect because of what they reveal about God and about life. But just because the scientific facts of today don't correlate to the (misunderstood or mysterious) scientific facts of yesterday does NOT mean that the Bible is untrustworthy when it comes to revealing God's nature and redemptive power.
Friday, September 07, 2007
Then I read Brian McLaren's book "A New Kind of Christian." At the same time I'm trying to reconcile emerging truths in the scientific world with my literalist biblical upbringing, I'm really discovering this emerging idea of postmodernity within me. I had read several Len Sweet books, studied a tiny bit of postmodern philosophy, and found that the music of postmodernity resonated in a unique harmony with my own soul. A friend recommended McLaren, and in his semi-fictional writing I found words to describe my world. I rediscovered for myself the mystery of God and the mystery that is Truth. Yes, Jesus is "the Way, the Truth and the Life." But while that sounds simple, it is wonderfully and beautifully deep!
If you've not read the "New Kind of Christian" trilogy, I highly recommend them. They are somewhat fictional, although by McLaren's own admission he's not trying to write great fiction. He's trying to fictionally describe his own journey into deconstructing the many human additions to theological (and scientific, and other kinds of) truth. It explores how our own cultures and languages and assumptions and upbringings can blind us to the beauty of truth. Maybe the best example is the word trinity. I am a total Trinitarian--I have long believed and taught that relationship is the greatest thing humans experience because it is the essence of the nature of God himself. But the truth is that "trinity" is a word we made up to describe as close as possible something completely indescribable. We finite humans often do this with truth, and then we decide to draw lines in the sand and live or die by our defining of truth instead of the truth itself.
I have come to think that this is absolutely true of our beliefs on evolution. We drew the line in the sand as evangelicals that evolution cannot be true. We never considered that there are other possible viewpoints that reflect the beauty of Truth, don't compromise on the message of Scripture, and uphold the scientific understandings of our universe. The only thing evolution violates is our construct, our "line in the sand" understanding of the truth of God's creative acts in the world.
The church did this with Copernicus and Galileo centuries ago, with the construct (biblically based and justified) that the Earth was the center of the universe. We now know that church leaders were silly to fight the sun-centered solar system idea on the basis of their biblical understanding. Could we be in the same position with macro-evolution? Have we thrown out the potential for understanding "the language of God" as Francis Collins describes it, because it's in a different language than our evangelical constructs will allow?
I say that we have. And that I don't want to anymore.
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
A WITTENBURG DOOR SPECIAL ALERT!
Door IT Guy Kevin Martin reports:
The American Council of Churches announced today the release of God 2.0, the first major release since God 1.5 – Human Edition appeared December 25, 0000.
According to ACC spokesperson Dr. Len Thorton, "This release has been under development for quite some time. Early beta versions were filled with heresies that caused several groups to split because of interminable arguments over which features were most important. We're hoping that with this release, we can put an end to support for God 1.0 – The Old Testament – once and for all."
The Jewish community has long been committed to 1.0 – refusing even to upgrade to 1.5. "We've heard the upgrade rumors before and have decided to wait for at least the first service pack to 2.0 before we consider migrating," said Rabbi Moishe Dianne. "Our understanding is that G-d 2.0 still requires you to first install 1.5. Unfortunately, we feel there are too many incompatibilities with the Human Edition – incompatibilities that would require us to abandon the systems we've had in place for over 3,000 years."
Installation requirements, cost to upgrade, and on-going maintenance fees for God 2.0 have sparked a renewed interest in God–x, the open-source alternative to God 1.5. God–x, a favorite of the Unitarian movement, is compatible with the largest numbers of belief systems and even allows you to customize it to your specific needs.
Sunday, September 02, 2007
But if you're a typical young-earth creationist, as I was until probably only 10 years ago myself, there are so many things in that first paragraph that you disagree with you can't see straight anymore, and they don't have anything to do with whether or not Lucy is fit for a tour. Creationist viewpoints range from such hominids as Lucy didn't really exist (the totally anti-intellectual viewpoint found in extreme fundamentalism Christianity, where Satan has manipulated the fossil record to trick us) to such hominids existed but are now extinct, not surviving long after the Deluge of Genesis 6. The age of the earth is chalked up to that Deluge, when God told Noah to build an ark and then he destroyed the rest of the world, wanting to start again with Noah's family and the animals he rescued. I hope to spend several posts showing how my own understanding has evolved in understanding evolutionary process and scientific theory in general.
10 or so years ago I had begun to see what I thought were horribly anti-intellectual turns among conservative Christians here in the US. While a staunch conservative myself, I was beginning to be challenged with alternative points of view, mostly as a reaction to the extreme fundamentalism I saw in my own tradition. I will not be able to do justice in just a few paragraphs to my changes in thought, but one early important piece was reading Hugh Ross's book Creation and Time (published 1994 by NavPress). Ross is an astronomer by education, and for him the stars in the sky point to the fact that the universe cannot be only 10-25,000 years old, unless you really start to say theologically that God is trying to trick us.
If the speed of light is a constant, then it took an enormous amount of time for the light of particular stars to come to earth, much much more than 25,000 years. In fact, even most Christian astronomers, according to Ross, believe the earth to be the 4 billion or so years that other scientists believe. To see anything else is to manipulate the clear evidence. Ross is what is called an 0ld-earth Creationist, or progressive Creationist. He rejects the idea of evolution having answers for the variety of life and the intelligence of humans today, but he believes that the clear evidence points to a very old earth. Even this is villified by the fundamentalists as some sort of capitulation to science at the expense of biblical truth. I will deal specifically with this thought (scientific truth contradicts biblical facts) in a later post.
For now though, I had evolved myself to thinking that old-earth creation better represents the facts as I knew them, and did not contradict a reading of the Bible except for the forced pseudo-literal reading of extreme fundamentalism. Conservative evangelicals will at this point probably see me heading right down a slippery slope into liberal theology, just like those who condemn the thinking of Hugh Ross, and leave me for "dead" theologically. But if you're still with me, I will pick up at this point in my next post.