Monday, December 10, 2007

Have you ever been here?

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?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Terry Mattingly's Postmodern/Emergent thoughts

This column was syndicated by Scripps Howard News Service on 11/28/2007

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 ( directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes this weekly column for the Scripps Howard News Service.

Here's a great review of The Golden Compass

I was wary from the time I got the email from my mom about The Golden Compass. I have and on my quick link list for reviewing hoaxes, especially ones that followers of Jesus fall for. (Madeleine Murray O'Hare is dead and is not trying to get "Touched by an Angel", "Highway to Heaven" or "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" off TV...)

But there seems to be some truth to the reaction to The Golden Compass. And CT recently had a great review here, offering a lot of balance, something too often lacking in believers.

1,500 of my closest friends

Some of a recent post of Gordon MacDonald on CT's website. Gordon has a great way to make the normal become spiritual, pregnant with meaning.

My Faves: The People I KeepCreating a new cell-phone directory tested my commitment in ways I didn't 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."

Gail's right.

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.

I've always used "Supreme Commander, Lord, Dictator of the Universe, but this will work

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
His Eminence the Very Lord Arnold the Chimerical of New Invention
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

Modern Physics and Ancient Faith, book summary

Okay, a few weeks back I promised some thoughts on Stephen Barr's book. Well, let me first of all say that it's great reading, and it's stimulating information. And while I'm sure he worked at getting it all down to a less scientific reading level, it's also challenging! There are lots of technical explanations of various processes and theories, so I do recommend it, but let's just say I've had to renew it 3 times from my library 'cause it ain't no 1-hour read!

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

Back from Thanksgiving

For the 3.5 of you who read this, sorry I've been unposting lately! Had a great Thankgiving in (cue the chorus) OOOOOOOOOOO-klahoma where the wind comes sweeping down the plain...

Life is just funny sometimes. I've had some people over the years recommend I get into motivational speaking. Here's me, a la McPherson comics:

And then there's this gem, in case you've got an unscheduled meeting with your boss coming up...

We'll get back to the serious stuff soon.

Friday, November 16, 2007

GREAT quote!

"I'm no doctor...but I believe nicotine plus caffeine equals protein."

John Daly

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Great definition from Eugene Peterson

From today's devotional reading from Peterson writing for Howard Butt's ministry:

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

Scientific materialism

Reading for me comes and goes in spurts, usually based on whatever else is going on in my life. The 3.7 people who actually read this blog have sometimes asked me where I find time to read all that I read. I really don't, I just make stuff up...

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, 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

The best travel advice around!

My friend--I hesitate to use the word friend, since I have only met her once and talked via email a few times, but acquaintance just doesn't sound good--my friend over at Texas in Africa had a blog post recently about going to Africa for the first time. It's worth reading just for the the fun (she's usually very funny) and for the application for any trip out of the US.

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.


Study Finds Working At Work Improves Productivity

The Onion

Study Finds Working At Work Improves Productivity

WASHINGTON, DC—The groundbreaking research found that by simply sitting down and doing work, employees can dramatically increase their output of goods and services.

Monday, November 05, 2007

From this morning's reading of Merton...

"Our ability to be sincere with ourselves, with God, and with other men is really proportionate to our capacity for sincere love. And the sincerity of our love depends in large measure upon our capacity to believe ourselves loved. Most of the moral and mental and even religious complexities of our time go back to our desperate fear that we are not and can never be really loved by anyone...

"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"

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Ministry among immigrants...

Two experiences this week brought this hot topic to the forefront of my life. First, Baptists from all over Texas gathered in Amarillo earlier this week for the annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. There's not much more fun to be had than 2,500 Baptists in Amarillo!

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

Childhood Memories...

I'm in Amarillo, Texas for the annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Texas meeting. I went to church this morning at FBC White Deer and saw several people I haven't seen in 25 years--Garry and Jo Ann Gortmaker, who taught my Sunday School and Training Union classes, and in whose car I held the hand of a girl for the first time; Terry Simpson Grange, who my mom took to GA camp when she was young, and a few others. After church I drove to Schaeffer Camp, the collection of houses at the refinery where my dad worked. There's no houses left, and just a little of the plant. Here's a picture of the Camp from a distance; you can see the white tanks in the distance, move to the right and you can barely see the camp--note that there's absolutely nothing around...

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.

Dang it, another close loss...

The Miners with another heartbreaker...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Okay, this is a little scary...

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

Sincerity and truth in postmodernity

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

Recently read book reviews

I finished two books last week--"Who is My Enemy?" by Rich Nathan, a pastor in Columbus was a decent book, written by a conservative pastor encouraging a more neighborly approach to those we think of as enemies of the church. It would be a good practical read to give someone who is having a hard time believing that God calls us to love people in close proximity, building relationships with them, whether they are postmoderns, homosexuals, or new-age believers (the categories Nathan) discusses.

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.

This is how I sometimes feel about people who stay in good shape...

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

And from the shameless self-promotion category...

From the UTEP vs. East Carolina website last week...

All-Around Attack
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...

Haven't you dreamed of doing this?

Seems that 75 year old Mona Shaw was a little disappointed with Comcast's customer service, so she took a hammer to their office stuff. I had the same fantasy with Time Warner Cable recently...

Read the article here...

Colbert Announcement NOT in liberal NY Times...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

I know who I will vote for!

"I am not ready to announce yet - even though it's clear that the voters are desperate for a white, male, middle-aged, Jesus-trumpeting alternative. "

- 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.

My 100th Post...and Surprise! It's about the Church

Thanks to Victor for pointing me to this blog on CT's blog site today. The past few years I have attended some or all of the Willow Creek Association's Leadership Summit, mostly because my local church here in SA hosts the satellite feed party. But I didn't go this year. It looks like I missed Bill Hybels big confession...

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.'s newest...

Jews and Christians together?

Here's a great article about "The Christian and the Pharisee", a new book out written by a pastor and a rabbi and the friendship they have developed.

Now this is funny!

From The Onion, one of my favorite parody news outlets...

I wonder if Richard Land is jealous...

Yikes! I agree with Paige Patterson on something...

In an article in Towers Online, published by Al Mohler's Southern Seminary, Paige Patterson calls the current Baptist practice of baptizing younger and younger children one of the greatest challenges of Southern Baptists today. Here's the link to the full article...We've talked about this before on this blog.

It's so rare to find something that Paige and I would agree on, I just had to take the opportunity to note the momentous occasion. I can't totally buy into his conclusions on the mandate for regenerate church membership, but that's mostly because I don't think there's much biblical basis for the way Baptists emphasize local church membership and congregational rule. But clearly we've got to stop baptizing young kids in droves, or we're throwing away a key biblical distinctive we've long held.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

These are children for crying out loud!

One of the bloggers I read each week is Big Daddy Weave. He will forever be remembered in my book as the guy who outed Richard Land's man-crush on recent presidential hopeful addition Fred Thompson. I'm not usually one for blogging too much about politics, but the whole SCHIP thing with Bush's veto, well, I disagree with the President to say the least. But the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (misnomers galore) headed by Land agreed with the President on this. And on the war in Iraq. And on virtually every other neo-con point.

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."

Press on!

Monday, October 15, 2007

East Carolina Outlasts UTEP In Overtime, 45-42

Another close Miner game, this one they couldn't pull out.

First conference loss.

How about South Florida #2 in the BCS?

Hawaii and Africa, Hawaii and Africa

For some reason I'm really obsessed with the little map that appears in the left column of this blog. Yes, scroll down to see it. I'm about to hit 1,000 "hits" on this blog. And you can look and see that not all 1,000 of them are just from me here in San Antonio, Texas. Unless I'm traveling the world and logging on to my blog just to show that people come from all over...

But no one from Hawaii or Africa has ever looked here. I mean for goodness sake someone from Mauritius has been here, why not Hawaii or Africa?

So I thought I would just write about Hawaii and Africa to see if that helps.

I've been to Hawaii 3 times. Benefits of playing football in the old Western Athletic Conference. Never there longer than a couple of days, but still, how many of you can say that you've been to Hawaii 3 times? Hawaii is a beautiful and exotic place, just like they say. On a couple of the trips, I tried to surf. The surfboard won. The mahi mahi is excellent, you wouldn't believe how good the fruit tastes, and luaus are all you imagine they are. Plus you can make stupid college guy jokes about getting leied by a beautiful woman while there...

I've never been to Africa. I know that the maps in the US don't do Africa justice--they are nortocentric and make the continent look the same size as North America, when it's really 1/3 larger. There's a lot of fighting there, for lots of different reasons. I have a friend, Nodji, from there, and another friend, Jim, who lives in Paris but goes to Africa a lot. I read Texas in Africa just about every day and learn a lot about the politics of Africa. Desmond Tutu is a Christian leader there. Philip Jenkins says that Africa is on track to soon have more believers than North America, if it doesn't already.

I'm sure I know more, but I'm starting to bore myself at this point. Let's just leave it at this and see if someone from Africa or Hawaii will come by.

Accomodation and Naturalism

FYI, this is a continuation of a discussion started at You might want to catch up there if something here doesn't make sense...

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

Unscientific or non-scientific? Reply to BWolf30 #2

Here's another quote from the 7-foot ninja:

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.

Another Chinese toy recall...

The Christian Subculture

My friend Keith Giles over at Subversive Underground published part 2 of his article on "Destroy the Christian Subculture", first seen over on Keith and I agree pretty much wholeheartedly on this issue. I've been in trouble with some of you before by refering to the Christian subculture as a self-imposed ghetto system. Keith hits the heart of the issue with this quote:

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.

Protecting my son...

At the risk that someone in my family is among the 4 people who might read this every few weeks, I wanted to tell a story that happened over the weekend that really struck me as funny. We had a family boys weekend. My dad, two of his brothers, one of their sons, my brother, my sons and me went to my cousin's ranch for a couple of days of shooting birds and bull. It was a ton of fun--I don't get to see those guys near often enough.

To say that I'm the most "liberal" person in the family is to make the understatement of the week. My dad and uncles wonder if George W is getting a little too liberal with the size of government these days. So when the conversation around the campfire turned to politics, I had vowed to mostly keep my mouth shut, since every adult male had a firearm holstered on his belt or within close reach.

I have yet to make any call on who I would vote for in the presidential election anyway. The conversation was about Fred Thompson's "acting" conservative, Rudy G. taking away people's guns, Hillary being--well, the same conservative punching bag she always is, when my 9 year old son pipes in this this gem:

"I think Hillary should be the president."

The air was still and quiet, like the "Tombstone" scene where the Earps and Doc Holliday faced off the Cowboys. Eyes flitted from one face to the next, searching for some sign of who would blink first. Fingers twitched. The tension was thick.

Then someone made a joke about her, and the anxiety faded. Fortunately, my son didn't press too hard. He'd done a report on Hillary for his class last year, and he really does think it's time for a woman president.

And we still all ended up having a great weekend. Too bad real politics isn't that easy.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Letters from Kamp Krusty

Someday I hope to be as funny as the dude who does the "Letters from Kamp Krusty" blog. This may be the most hysterical post on the "evils" of Halloween ever. Please read it!

Postmodernity and the Emerging Church

BWolf30--otherwise known as the 7-foot ninja and the golfer-who-wishes-he-could-beat-me posted a response to my entry. I thought I would create a new discussion on his thoughts.

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.

UTEP alone at the top of C-USA!

Sporting their all-orange outfits, UTEP came from behind for the second straight week to beat Tulsa 48-47 and go to 2-0 in the conference. It's great to see them win, especially to beat Tulsa, where my good friend Kevin Harlan once played tight end, and where his nephew Garrett Mills was all-everything there a couple of years ago. In fact, I once made Kevin wear a UTEP sweatshirt at a public FCA meeting after a victory over Tulsa as a loss to a bet...wish I had a picture of that to put up here.

Fox Faith and today's Christian movies

Christianity Today online has a new article today about Fox Faith, the movie production company Fox began to target the Christian niche. It's no secret how I feel about ventures such as this, and I'm not alone. Here's a past CT commentary about Biola's Media Conference, with comments from all sides of the issue.
Several issues are at play here. First, there's the question of art. We've dealt with that a lot in this blog--see the "Christian Art" blog and a bunch of others here... In summary, I love art, I think Christians ought to be doing art, and they ought to be doing it well. I don't like art that is mediocre (or just bad) in the name of "evangelism"--what I often call propaganda art.
Second, there is the question of entertainment. This is a trickier question for believers. Is entertainment a valid reason for doing something? Our culture is so hooked on entertainment, would avoiding pop entertainment choices be a valid counter-cultural movement for us? I personally don't think so, it sounds too much like the fundamentalists who don't "dance, drink or chew, or go with girls who do." But there is no doubt that entertainment shapes our world significantly here in the US, and rather than give up entertainment altogether or do the hard work of figuring out where the good entertainment is, we would rather create the bubbled sub-culture that is "safe and fun for the whole family" and that way we can "escape" the dirty entertainment of the world and still feel good about ourselves. And does "entertainment" need the same standards of quality applied to it as "art" does?
Finally there is the question of money. Fox Faith (and others) have recognized that there are fewer and fewer Christians opting out of entertainment, and more and more that are willing to give up being "in" the world in order to live in the bubble. To be fair, I have no doubt that there are folks at Fox Faith that really want to produce quality art and entertainment. But I also think that major companies would not be jumping into such ventures if they didn't now believe there is a good chance to turn the profit they want, and there are some people who are there only to turn that profit. Believers need to be careful that in creating a "safe" bubble for "Christian" art that we don't create a whole generation of entertainment-addicted Christians, even if that entertainment is "safe and fun for the whole family."

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Where are all the saints?

Okay, so I have lots of favorite authors. It happens when you read a lot. But another one of my favorites is Gordon MacDonald. Gordon first said something in my life when I was still in college and David Kemerling gave me a copy of "Ordering Your Private World." But it was when I read "Rebuilding Your Broken World" after he was caught in an immoral situation that I really started to like Gordon's writing. He writes periodically for Leadership, which I read on the Chrstianity Today website. Today he started with this quote:

"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

1-0 in C-USA on a big upset Sunday

Lot's of unhappy Texans today, with the Longhorns getting pummeled. At least OU lost too...

But UTEP wins again!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Just what the Miners needed

UTEP needed a visit from a 1-AA; er, Playoff Division, opponent. 38-0 at the half. But I guess I should wait until the fat lady sings...

Friday, September 21, 2007

And still another great quote on "christian" art...

Madeleine L'Engle passed away September 6th. I remember the first time I read a quote from her in some Richard Foster work and thought she was some 14th century French saint. But lo and behold, she was a 20th century children's writer. And a very good one too. Here's a quote I found in Terry Mattingly's 9/12 column:

"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."

Rich Mullins

It's been 10 years since Rich Mullins died in a car accident. The last couple of days there have been many tributes to him, here's my favorite...

Rich was a character who loved Jesus in all his realness, no doubt. And while his music was both good and bad, it was and is his life that inspires me. And his most important effect on my thinking is this: Jesus loves the church.

In the midst of my most cynical time about organized Christianity, I read "An Arrow Pointing to Heaven", a biography based on several of his songs. Lot's of things spoke to me in that book and the accompanying CD, but nothing like Rich's passion for the church, with all her faults. Jesus makes the bride whole, she's not whole on her own. I wanted her to be. I wanted the church to be everything that she could be. One day she will, but that day is not today. So I can be cynical and trash the church, or I can love her the way Jesus loves her.

I'm trying.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Down and Dirty on Christian Art...Again

The Whittenburg Door, one of my favorite online reads, this week pointed me to their previous interview with Rob Bell. Most people are shocked when I say I haven't read "Velvet Elvis" or any other of Rob's books. But why read something that you know you agree with? I don't know Rob, but I like him already. Here's my fave quote from the interview:

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

Does Science Disprove my View of the Bible?

We've talked in the past about how Evangelicals today tend to approach the Bible. Steve Martin, who commented on my last post and blogs over at, had a guest blogger recently who has an excellent post on how Modernity has infected the Evangelical reading of scripture...

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.

300 Spartans and Leonidas

I finally watched "300" last week. I absolutely love the story of Leonidas and the 300 Spartans who resist the Persians under Xerxes, and have used that story a bunch of times in teaching. So, I intially hated the previews I saw about "300". I mean, who really believes that Spartan soldiers wore only loin cloths, and all had 6-pack abs and Fabio hair?

But then a few months ago I heard on NPR an interview with the director talking about how his goal was to have a movie that visually showed the legendary telling of tales found in an oral society. Now I get it. It's like a campfire story. So Xerxes is 9 feet tall, the Persian army has Orcs from Lord of the Rings, and Leonidas wears only a leather jock strap.

But in a sense I respect it more now. We've lost the art of telling good stories in our culture because of the impact of television and movies. Our love affair with modernity has left us slightly (or sometimes not so slightly) jaded, and very few things take our breath away anymore. We've seen too much, experienced too much, for our souls to still be amazed. And while not necessarily historically accurate, "300" is definitely amazing.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Open to Evolution?

So when we left off a few days ago, I had journeyed from a 10,000 year old world to a 4,000,000,000 year old one (give or take a millenium or two), but still saw the need for God to have been involved in creating the world in a unique sort of way without the process of darwinian evolution. I still had a hang-up about God having to be directly involved for it to be "true" somehow.

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

And this may even be funnier!

God 2.0

This is hysterical from The Door's website...


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.

Great article from Brian McLaren...

One of my favorite writers, Brian McLaren, had this post recently on the God's Politics blog. Where do we as followers of Jesus need to stand on the line of balance between self-protection and love for enemy?

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Lucy and the Beginning of Humans

This morning's San Antonio Express-News announces that a museum in Houston will continue with their plans to display the remains of Lucy, the most famous member of the australopithicus aferensis species. Scientists for many years believed that hominids probably evolved a larger brain at least at the same time--if not before--as they developed a full bipedal mode of walking. But Lucy changed that thought. Discovered in the early 1970s, she stood about 3 feet 8 inches tall, clearly walked on two legs, but still had a small brain capacity. Her kind roamed parts of the earth 1.5 to 4 million years ago. The big controversy for most people is whether or not Lucy should be allowed to travel and be displayed, or should such a find as this be protected from the probably accidents such a trip would incur.

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.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Language of God

I recently read Francis Collins' "The Language of God", and I'm going to spend a few posts trying to sort out loud (okay not really, but on paper. Okay, not really paper either, but digitally) my own evolution of thought on evolution.
First, some background on Collins. My first introduction to him was at the National Prayer Breakfast this past February, where he was the keynote speaker. Collins is the head of the Human Genome Project, which just a year or two ago announced the complete mapping of the billions of codes within human DNA. I'm not going to even pretend to understand much about this at all, but I do find it totally fascinating and--much like Collins--awesome. Collins saw himself for many years as a skeptic and agnostic, eventually as an atheist. But the beauty of molecular biology drew him back, along with what he calls the universal sense of a Moral Law. He read C. S. Lewis voraciously in his late 20s, and eventually became an evangelical Christian.
And therein lies the rub for most people who call themselves evangelical Christians. Collins is a confirmed evolutionist. And in most evangelical circles that's just a no-no. You can rant about Christian morals and then be outed as having homosexual sex and still get Christians to support you, or you can have a very public divorce and still pastor and make millions, but you better not say you believe in the theory of evolution, cause that's "straight to hell, do not pass go, do not collect $200" kind of stuff.
Last week I was in El Paso, and drove through my old campus stomping grounds at UTEP. As I drove by the student union, I remembered that day 20+ years ago when I stood there with a microphone and speaker and debated students on various topics. I made several (stupid and/or ignorant) comments about evolution and those who supported it.
I was wrong.
Tune in to the next post to see how wrong I was.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Finally, WHITE...

I got to read the 3rd book in the Dekker trilogy last week. WHITE was the conclusion to the overlapping worlds story of Thomas Hunter. It was worth the read.

I am impressed with Dekker's work. He is a good writer, but his best skill is the creativity at making allusion. So many authors these days who are trying to allude to truth in their work end up banging you over the head with that truth. Dekker is softer, gentler and, in my opinion, more interested in you getting the story than in you getting his truth. He knows that if you get the story, the truth will work its way into your psyche. Maybe even at a better, deeper level than intellectual understanding of truth...

The novel brings to a close (an open-ended close however) the story of the Circle, a group of Scabs who have been bathed in the pool of Justin's redemption. In WHITE, the Circle debates their own relationship with those who are still the diseased Scabs. There are those who would return to fighting and killing the Scabs as Elyon's enemy. There are those that believe the Circle should make peace with the Scabs and maybe even lower their standards so that Scabs are more welcomed in the Circle. Then there are those willing to risk it all for the love of Scabs, even willing to die for one of them.

I recommend the books. And looking at it seems that he's about to release the trilogy as a set of graphic novels later this fall. That should be worth looking into...