According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Is There Still Room for A Thinking Christian?

How to Think As A Christian...
A Slippery Slope … or A Two Way Street?
http://musingsonscience.wordpress.com/2011/07/21/a-slippery-slope-or-a-two-way-street/#more-741

by rjs5
posted July 21, 2011

I am still in the throes of paper writing, proposal writing, and travel … so haven’t had time to get back to Joel Green or C. John Collins. These will come, both Green’s chapter on resurrection and Collins on Adam and Eve. Today though I would like to pose a question – with a link and quote from Roger Olson’s blog. On a recent post Dr. Olson wrote about a letter he received from one who had read his book Reformed and Always Reforming: The Postconservative Approach to Evangelical Theology.

This letter was a note of thanks for the influence the book had on the writer.

In his post about this letter Dr. Olson asks Do people ever go from liberal to evangelical? At one level the answer of course is yes – we all know people who came to faith, and did so from more liberal backgrounds. A better question might be this – can one raised or trained in conservative theology, even fundamentalism, find faith and peace when they begin to ask questions, explore options and look with open eyes? Again the answer is yes … but it isn’t always easy. Different people take different paths. Some find a conservative faith most convincing. Others don’t.

A comment on a recent post I wish I hadn’t said that tells a far too common story.
  • I used to be a Christian. First evangelical Baptist, then liberal Mennonite. Now happily atheist / naturalist / humanist (pick a label).
  • I remember thinking, very explicitly, when I was 15 (I’d just read something by Josh McDowell or Lee Strobel), that I knew too much not to be a Christian. In retrospect, that thought is very funny to me.
  • I also had a pastor who said “follow the evidence wherever it leads.” I did.
I will return to Dr. Olson’s post and the letter he received below, but the question I would like to focus on today is the difference between the experience of the the commenter above and the letter writer.

What can be done to change this kind of story – or make it less frequent?

What can the church do? Where do we fail?

Follow the evidence wherever it leads is dangerous advice, without competent guides and thoughtful community. We are not meant to stand or reason alone. Joel Green in exploring the relationship between the Bible, neuroscience and conversion notes that relationships and community are important in moral formation and transformation. These relationships and interactions shape who we are and help form us a Christians. It isn’t the power of God and of the Spirit OR community but the power of God and the Holy Spirit through and in Christian community.

The young man who wrote to Dr. Olson found his faith fading as he read liberal theology such as “Tillich, Bultmann, Hick”, and the gospels with these new insights and ideas. But people and community made a difference.
It was after this I had a most marvellous evening at my cell group: the curate … introduced me to the work of two people who would go on to change my spiritual life, who I thank God for every day. The first was Rob Bell: in watching the Nooma DVD ‘Sunday’ (go to link: http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2011/10/rob-bell-nooma-004-sunday.html), I felt a strange sense of life, that there WAS hope for Evangelicalism still.
After talking to the curate about this video, about how impressed I was, he went into his study and brought out a semi-slim book: Reformed and Always Reforming. … Nonetheless, something stirred within me – it was as if I could be an Evangelical AND STILL be an imaginative thinker; I had a brief image of what it may be to truly be theologically Evangelical, and yet not ignore the insights of all the thinkers I was reading.
Many of us can tell stories similar to this. I’ve never really read Tillich, Bultmann or Hick (I don’t even know who the last is) … the threat was never liberal theology, which holds no appeal for me. Rather the threat was a path more like our commenter above, either find a way to be a thinking evangelical in the fold of orthodox faith or become agnostic with presumption of atheism. I have found a breadth of Christian thinkers who have been a continuing influence. N.T. Wright, Larry Hurtado, Robert Weber and more – thinkers who may not fall within the bounds of some definition of conservative theology, but are orthodox, faithful, and intent on following God. Sometimes I find myself on a more conservative side, sometimes a bit more liberal, but always learning and facing the questions.

Scot [McKnight] linked to an article yesterday that described Josh McDowell’s fears about the internet. His fears are not totally unfounded. The internet can provide both information and community – and the community can be relentlessly skeptical. Ridicule is a powerful tool, freely used. Who really wants to be backward, ignorant, described as less intelligent and superstitious?

The solution, though, isn’t to eliminate the internet or the increasing interconnection and information it provides. As though we could. The solution, I think, is to model thinking and conversation in community. As we teach and disciple Christians we need to teach them how to think as Christians, not what to think as Christians. This is uncomfortable though. It takes time and work. Small group Bible studies, integration into service in the social structure of the church, and an attractive worship service with an inspirational sermon won’t do it.

What or who has helped you on your journey? What advice would you give?

How can the church create a community of growth and support?


If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net
If you have comments please visit A Slippery Slope … or A Two Way Street? at Jesus Creed.





What Threatens the Church? Part 2/2

Tribalism Old and New?

by J.R. Daniel Kirk
July 25, 2011


A few days back Andrew Perriman’s blog drew my attention to James K. A. Smith’s complaints about the state of theology nowadays.

Here’s the heart of his assessment:
It just seems to me that we have increasing “balkanization,” with everyone carving themselves up into smaller and smaller tribish enclaves, and then proceeding to both rail against straw men and preach to their own little choirs. In some ways, I think this is an effect of the loss of confessional and denominational identity. Instead of training to be Reformed theologians or Roman Catholic theologians or Lutheran theologians we have a generation who are training to become “ecclesiocentric” theologians or “apocalyptic” theologians or “radically orthodox” theologians, etc.
I cannot help but think that Smith’s assessment boils down to this: “People aren’t playing by the rules of the game that I learned when I learned theology, therefore their game is wrong.”

I find more than a little irony in the idea that a Protestant theologian wants people to get out of their “tribish enclaves” and return to their denominations.

News flash! Denominations are tribish enclaves!

Worse, denominations are ghettos. They are places where people become socialized to a certain way of thinking, a certain way of viewing the world, a certain way of articulating their theology, a certain way of paying their dues so as to ascend to positions of influence and power.

One of the ironies of Smith’s post is that he is writing in response to a graduate student who is upset about the ways that theological labels prevent conversation: if you like person x or don’t like person y, you are automatically celebrated or, as often, persona non grata.

News flash! This is exactly what happens in ecclesial worlds defined by a strong denominational identity. That “thick” theology, as Smith calls is, is nothing less than a thick door that enables us to keep out people who disagree with us. All you have to do is say, “Luther” or “Calvin” or “Barth” or whomever, and we know, without ever having touched the book, that they are to be celebrated or, as often, he is persona non grata.

Deep commitment to denominational identity and being a “churchman” does not produce better theology. It produces a more controllable tribe–one that can be policed by church bureaucracies, one that can be guarded by limiting ordination or snubbing theologians for academic posts should they associate too closely with those “others.”

I do understand the pull and strength of denominational identity. I’ve been there.

But the reason there are so many new tribes is at least threefold, it seems to me:

(1) a new generation is recognizing that those old fault lines are bad ways of splitting up the church;

(2) we recognize that people with whom we differ on “traditional” points of doctrine are nonetheless people with whom we share greater affinity about things that are much more important to the life of the church than what we think about church government or predestination; and,

(3) we see the less-than-Christian dynamics that control the power politics of our denominations and we’re over it.

There is nothing lost, and an infinite amount to be gained by the erosion of denominational identity.

What the power brokers and gatekeepers will continue to see as a fracturing and weakening of the church will continue, for new generations, to prove itself as the only strong and viable way forward.

My own field, biblical studies, is so strong in part because we do not divide and discuss based on theological identities that bind the hands of our exegesis and blind the eyes of our hermeneutics.

Allow the old tribes and their hundreds-of-years-old divisions to die.

Then come, open up your Bible and read with me. And take the bread with me. And sing to God with me. And theologize with me while we serve our One Lord together.


Ed. Note: I know that at this point you probably think JRDK has nothing good to say about denominations and that nobody should be in one. Tomorrow we will revisit the issue and work through why denominations have value for the church and even, at times, for the Kingdom of God.




What Threatens the Church? Part 1/2


by J.R. Daniel Kirk
July 23, 2011

In the wake of the Rob Bell controversy, his editor at HarperOne, Mickey Maudlin, wrote a reflection on what transpired.

Bell wrote a book many disagreed with, and the disagreement immediately was charged with words like “Heresy,” and was roundly condemned in many circles.

Maudlin points out how blithely the notion of heresy was invoked:
Why would leaders attack as a threat and an enemy someone who shares their views of Scripture, Jesus, and the Trinity? What prevented leaders from saying, “Thanks, Rob, interesting views, but here is where we disagree”?
What list of theological beliefs must be fully checked off before someone can be embraced as brother or sister even if we disagree about other important issues?

Maudlin sees in this reaction itself the true threat to evangelicalism. The threat to the evangelical church’s life is not creeping liberalism. The true threat is tribalism.
But now I think the biggest threat is Christian tribalism, where God’s interests are reduced to and measured by those sharing your history, tradition, and beliefs, and where one needs an “enemy” in order for you to feel “right with God.” Such is the challenge facing the church today and what the reaction to Love Wins reveals.
Or, in the words of Paul, “If you bit and devour one another, take care or you might just consume one another.”

I think Maudlin is on to something. At some basic level we have gotten our story wrong. We have begun to act as though the way that we know we’re faithful to Jesus is if we condemn anyone who seems to be tearing down the walls of the theological circle that inscribes the faithful.

But there is no such wall.

Falling within a theological border is not, has never been, can can never be, the means by which the faithful followers of Jesus are demarcated.

The first-century church had to painfully wrestle through the reality that Jesus came to break down the dividing wall of hostility that was Israel’s Law. It seems that we must come to terms with a Jesus who breaks down the dividing wall of hostility that is Christian Theology.

If we don’t, we may find ourselves in the very position of Paul’s opponents in Galatia, compelling others to become like us if they would be marked as part of the people of God–and thus as agents of nothing less than anti-gospel.



The Fourfold Franciscan Blessing

May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really can make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God's grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.



Jesus Was Not a “Biblical Christian”

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tonyjones/2011/07/19/jesus-was-not-a-biblical-christian/

by Tony Jones
on July 19, 2011


Today on Twitter, Chris Blackstone went out on a limb and said that persons who practice polyamory (participation in multiple and simultaneous loving or sexual relationships) are not Christians. When I pressed him about what he meant, he said that they may be “self-identified Xians (Christians), but def not Biblical Xians.”


Well, that got me thinking. Of course, the phrase “biblical Christian” does not occur in the Bible. Indeed, the word “biblical” does not occur therein.

Then I searched the database at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, which is the largest treasury of Christian documents that I know. I searched the phrase “biblical Christian,” and guess when the first use of that phrase took place:

Augustine?

No!

Aquinas?

No!

Luther?

No!

Adolf Wuttke?

Ding, ding, ding, ding!

That’s right, in Adolf Wuttke’s 1874 volume, Christian Ethics, he writes,
Although the scientific treatment of the subject-matter of ethics in the earlier and (in the main) Biblical moralists of the nineteenth century, may be regarded as relatively feeble, yet they have this not to be despised significancy, that in an age almost entirely estranged from Biblical Christianity they kept alive the consciousness of this estrangement, and faithfully held fast to the indestructible bases of Christian Ethics.
A couple decades later, Adolf von Harnack’s 1896 book, The History of Dogma, Volume III is the second CCEL use of the phrase “biblical Christianity,” in this sentence:
Not to speak of its uncultured adherents, the earliest literary defenders of Modalism were markedly monotheistic, and had a real interest in Biblical Christianity.
A Google Books search shows that there are other, earlier uses, like in the the Baptist Record and Biblical Respository, which exhorts, “A true Biblical Christian must be a true Biblical student.” “Biblical Christians,” the Record goes on to despair, “are scarce.” Indeed.

But, as the CCEL search attests, using the word “biblical” as a qualifier of “Christian” or “Christianity” was unknown prior to the 19th century. As I’ve argued elsewhere, it was only in the modern era, after the Enlightenment, that words like “truth” began taking qualifiers. Same goes for “Christian.”

And, of course, it’s well known that Jesus was not a Christian, and certainly not a biblical one. In fact, I’m pretty sure that if we were to ask Jesus’ opponents, one of their main criticisms of him would have been, “He’s not a biblical Jew!” For Jesus, as we know, fulfilled the Law — and in a way that was most unexpected to his peers. They didn’t read the Torah and the Prophets the same way that he did — or Paul did, for that matter. Questions of interpretation divided Jesus and the Jews, and they sadly divide us today.

But I submit to Chris Blackstone, there’s no difference between a Christian and a biblical Christian. Saying that someone is a “biblical Christian” is tantamount to saying that they believe in “true truth.”


142 Days Homeless with God


by Max Andrew Dubinsky

“Why do you think we are reluctant to fear God?” Dave asked two weeks before I was scheduled to leave. I sat back in my chair, a room full of young faces engaged in a Bible study looking back and forth at each other for the answer.

I responded. “I’m reluctant to fear God because I do not know God.” This was not so much a statement as it was a world-wrecking fact. Suddenly it was all so clear. Oh shit. Maybe I’m no going to Heaven after all…I grew up in the church. I’ve been saved three times. I serve at my local church. I give money to the homeless when I have a spare dollar. I attend Bible studies. I lift my hands in the air during worship. How do I not know God?

142 days ago the only God I knew resided inside the four walls of the sanctuary. The God I knew was safe, kind, and only present on Sundays.

“Do you realize what you are doing here?” Mel asked. I was on my way out. Church was over. I needed to catch the bus. But Mel had heard what I was doing. That I was going in search of faith in America. Believing God was calling me across the country on March 1st even though I had no computer, no money, and no car. “You’re being the very faith that you’re going in search of.” She reached out, touched my arm, and smiled.

“I don’t think God is going to give you a car until March 1st,” Christina said. I was sweating this whole thing because I was leaving in less than a week, and I’ve never been great at distinguishing between God’s voice and my own raging inner monologue. I still had no wheels. “God doesn’t give us anything before we actually need it. If He said you were supposed to leave March 1st, then who is to say someone won’t slam on their brakes when you step outside that morning, get out of their car, and hand you the keys?”

I got the car the night before I left. I failed my smog test, couldn’t get it registered, and two hours later the battery died. The next day on the road, my car broke down in the middle of the desert four hours into the trip.

Without missing a beat, I got out and started walking.

It wasn’t until later that night when I finally arrived at my campsite at the Grand Canyon, and saw it was buried 9 feet deep in snow that I realized God was letting these attacks happen not because I wasn’t supposed to go, but because He just wanted to see how far I was willing to take this thing with Him.

Over the last 142 days I have traveled 12,560 miles.

That’s 426 cups of coffee.
279 fast food meals.
36 tanks of gas.
35 different cities.
24 different beds.
8 different couches.
6 motel rooms.
4 air mattresses.
3 breakdowns: 1 car, 2 mental.
2 life-changing God encounters.
And 1 love story.

I spent my first few weeks on the road aimless and without purpose. I desperately wanted to work for God. What exactly was I searching for again? Was I supposed to give a dollar to every homeless man? Preach the Gospel to everyone I meet? Or just look good in my boots and new jacket?

I looked in the mirror. I began to hate what I saw.

Until a woman named Amanda in Florida told me, “I speak to myself the way God would speak to me. When I look in the mirror and don’t like what I see, would God tell me that I’m ugly or fat? No, he’d tell me that I’m beautiful. Because I am. I am beautiful.”

Until Nick in Spokane said to me, “Max, maybe this trip isn’t about you. What if God sent you across the country to change the life of one man? One individual who might never know God if you didn’t cross paths with him. Or to simply bring someone back to Him? I like to think the God we serve is just big enough to orchestrate that.”

It was time to stop working for God, and to start working with Him.

A few weeks later I paced out front of Barnes and Noble, and called a close friend and mentor of mine back in LA. I’d met someone. And I’d fallen in love. This might slow the trip down. She was beautiful. Smart. Hilarious. She spoke to my potential, and was crazy in love with Jesus. I wanted her to come with me. “Lauren is coming with me on the road,” I said to Steven. “We are getting a lot of heat for being two single Christians traveling together. What am I supposed to do?”

“What are you trying to do?” Steven asked. “Are you trying to gain readers and please everyone? Or are you trying to lead a charge?”

Are you leading a charge today? Or trying to make everyone around you feel comfortable?

This world needs shaken. It’s time to turn this place upside down.

In Tampa, sitting outside in the thick, Florida air, Amanda took a final drag on her cigarette. She had finished telling me stories of addiction and sacrifice. Stories about a woman who has died twice and is still here to talk about it. “I finally fear God,” she said. “So now I am finally getting to know Him.”

142 days later.

I’m 7 days away from my return to LA.

“It’s time to give the people the ending they deserve.”

I’ve driven though the ghettos of Chicago. The canyons in Utah. The mountains of Denver. I’ve hung out with the homeless in Savannah. I’ve seen tornado damage, and spoken to cancer victims and survivors.

And I’ve been questioned about the God I serve. I’ve been asked if there is a Hell and if Heaven is a real place. And how can a God who loves us let such tragedies befall us.

God never promised to reveal why there is so much suffering in the world. He never promised to reveal why things happen. So stop looking for answers and satisfaction. The world is so eager to say, “See! You’re wrong! God doesn’t care. Otherwise He would have prevented this!”

Yet by saying there is evil in the world, we claim there is a moral giver.

“Do you believe in ghosts?” I asked. “Spirits? Demons?”

“We’ve had to perform exorcisms before,” Alexa said sitting on the steps of the State Capital building in South Carolina. “Cast out demons. Whatever”

“If there’s evil in this world, that means there’s got to be some good lurking around here somewhere, right? Otherwise, what’s the point of evil?”

And there is also life. There is so much life out here.

But we get so consumed with ourselves that the moment we believe God has failed us individually, we believe he has failed us all.

If God doesn’t exist for me, He doesn’t exist for you either.

You lose your faith because you are only looking for it in your life.

Today I can tell you this: Even when I feel as though God has failed me, I know He has not failed the world.

We would never lose our faith again if we took the time to see it in everyone else’s life.

Alexa looked at me and smiled. “It’s time to go home, Max. I saw it the moment you walked in that you were done and tired. You could have gone home the first week you were on the road. What you said changed my life all the way over here on the edge of the east coast. Go be with Lauren. She’s been patient enough. Go home. Get some rest. It’s time for the next adventure.”

I pulled the car over on the side of the road. I opened the passenger door and got down on my knee. I kissed Lauren and told her, “3/4 of our relationship has been in this car. We’ve laughed and cried in here. We’ve fought in here, and rejoiced in here. We’ve shared secrets and retold stories. We’ve fallen in love in here.” I pulled out a ring. “So it seems only appropriate that I ask you to marry me in here too.”

The next adventure…

It’s hard sometimes. Living on the road. Some days feel more like running than living. It’s hard to wake up and it’s hard to go to sleep. I desperately want my own four walls. To sleep in a bed that belongs to me. I want to step into a familiar shower. Some days I feel so lost because I don’t have a home.

“But look around you,” the father of the family I was having dinner with in Texas said. “You say that you’re homeless. Look at how you have spent the last 6 months. You have created a home everywhere you have been. You now live in a community that stretches all across America. You have so many people who are for you. And a God who has never left you.”

The father looked at us from his end of the table and smiled. “No. You’re not an orphan. Not anymore.”


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