According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, 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
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Learning to Listen to God and to Unmask Ourselves

Just Sit There
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2011/12/just-sit-there/

by Pete Enns
posted December 14, 2011

If you’ve ever tried to be still, just still, you know how hard this is.

We long for noise, distractions–anything to spare us from admitting to ourselves that things are not as they should be: TV, books, music, other people, complaining, that non-stop, self-serving, chatterbox we call our “thoughts.”

Why is it so hard to be alone? Perhaps because we feel awkward in unfamiliar company.

Isn’t it true of human beings that no matter what we may do, the best of what we name ‘me’ seems to elude our understanding? Why is it that no matter what I do, and even at times do well, I am never satisfied? Why, when I am honest with myself, do I discover that I am always on a hunt, not even particularly knowing what I am hunting for” (Listen to the Desert, 3).

Just sit there. Without distractions. If you are feeling brave, even (try to) tell your mind to take a chill pill for 10 minutes. Just sit there. Alone.

It takes courage to move into unfamiliar territory.

It is no small act of courage to face squarely the fictions of your life and the troubling sense that something isn’t quite right about our life. Scapegoating, excuses, self-pity, are common disguises that shield us from deep-seated doubt. These fictions, these acceptable deceptions, are the way we distract ourselves from the nagging suspicion that at the bottom of what I call ‘me’ is something terribly disturbing” (LTTD, 5).

Isolation was a habit the desert fathers and mothers cultivated. They would sit in their cells, alone. They knew there was a valuable lesson to be learned there–alone with only themselves, without the distractions of the games we play with others and ourselves.

Alone, in your cell–whether actual or metaphorical–is where you learn what you need to know about who you are…who you really are. No gimmicks.

Sitting in their cell was no cowardly removal from the bad old nasty world. They were not shrinking from the world. They were brave enough to face themselves, and knew that the demands of daily life worked non-stop to keep them in a dream-existence of their own making.

Neither is this narcissistic self-absorption. That is what happens when we look inward a few millimeters, allowing our false selves to remain unchecked. Leave that to Oprah and Dr. Phil. God will not guide you there.

What the desert dwellers were after was a clear, unburdened, honest view into themselves. And this takes guts.

Do not many of us lack the courage to look into ourselves and name what we see for what it is? Would we not rather look at others and name their shortcomings?

How many truly know themselves with brutal, God-like, honesty?

Learning to be alone a little more can be a beginning to seeing past the masks we wear, not only to posture for others, but for ourselves–because we do not want to see what is there.

And so much of our private and public posturing happens in church.

Maybe God calls us inward from time to time. At the end of the day–both literally and metaphorical of death–our true selves cannot be propped up by others or our false selves.

If we accustomedly flee our loneliness and the lessons it has to teach us, hiding behind the excitement around us and in social company, then we will greet [this] advice with a goodly portion of dread. If, on the other hand, we are weary of the shallow trivialities of the social order and afflicted by the inane discourse of most human communication, then you will likely feel relief at the advice….Whichever way we react, we do not enter the cell alone” (LTTD, 8)

[This post is based on chapter one of Listen to the Desert, Gregory Mayers: "Your Cell Will Teach You."]

* * * *  * * * * * * * * *

MY OBSERVATIONS

As in all of life one needs a balance. Some of us are too busy to take the advice given here but should. Some of us are too lonely having already lived solitary lives for too many days that actually need the company of men and women to talk to and to listen. Life needs a balance and only you can judge this fact. Busy people talk all the time about their need for times of quiet meditation but never seem to find the courage to do this. Lonely people have already found themselves in the ever present silence of their meditation that daily urges their need for community that never seems to come their way. Some have been unmasked by God from early on. While others have refused God's unmasking. We each know the truth of our needs and the actions that we must take. Somehow. Somewhere. Sometime.

Moreover, inasmuch as we tend to lie to ourselves (1 John 1.8), and would lie to God about ourselves (1 John 1.10), it is good practice to seek both inward truth as much as to test that truth in the company of others. The masks that we wear can be disturbingly unclear if left to our own judgments based upon personal shame and guilt. Sometimes it takes the company of people to help us hold up a truer version of ourselves than what we would allow our very selves to wear. At other times it takes separation from the ones that love us (or from those who may not love us in their toxic selves) to allow us to reflect on God's version or direction for us.

The disconcerting truth is, we are made in God's image. That image is both personal and requires fellowship. God is not alone. He exists in the company of a fellowship. A Tri-une fellowship of three, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each reflects the other as much as the other reflects the Three. This reflection holds an image of each in the eye of the Other. They understand themselves through the other's input. But they also hold a true version of Themselves within their own image. It is a refined reflection of Who they are in Themselves as much as in their own Fellowship. They are inseparable. They are forever bonded together in infinite community, personal sharing and unselfish reflection.

And without getting too ontological here concerning the infinite mysteries of the Godhead it must be said that our own image  - the one that God created of Himself in us - is first and foremost found in God Himself... and that image is never alone. It exists in the company of a Divine Fellowship. And while it is good advice to seek God in the aloneness of time and activity, it is also very good practice to listen to God through the fellowship of true men and women who have removed their false masks of self. Who know how to love others. Who are not toxic to the idea of God's plan in our lives.

For the sociology of man's self-discovery requires the input of others. We better understand ourselves through our actions and judgments in the community of men and women whom God has placed into our lives - be they believer or unbeliever. We test out our theories of ourselves, our judgments of ourselves, in the company of others, to determine whether we have been able to lay down those false versions of ourselves for a better version of God acting through us. It requires that God de-construct, or unconstruct, our guilts and our shame, and reconstruct our truer personhood and image of Himself through us. It is both a solitary task and a community task. And it is best helped along with others having experienced similar journeys of self-reflection and death.

I say death because the Christian journey is one that requires our old selves to die, to be placed away from ourselves. The selfish wants and needs. The unkind acts of unlove. The unceasing tongue that continually harms and injures those around us. The old man of sin must die. It has to die if Christ is to live in us. For the Spirit of God requires the key to every room of our lives. First to the door of our hearts. Then to the doors of the main room. Then to all the little separate rooms and chests and cupboards that we have locked away from His repair and renovation. The old must be burned up. Consumed by the Spirit of God. It must fully die if we are to fully live as new men and women in Christ Jesus our Savior and Lord.

To do this we must both draw away and draw back - to draw away from the old communities of friends and family to find ourselves in God. And to allow God to draw us back into new communities of friends and family to re-apply the discovery of our newly re-constructed selves. To test its validity and discover whether true or not. To test the spirits as it were - whether of man or of God. Whether this truth we have found is God's truth or simply another lie that we have told ourselves and have allowed to lead us again through the false gospel of lies and deceits applied to us by false teachers and would-be shepherds. Be they people, books, TV programs, or some kind of church or fellowship. Each-and-all must be tested to find if they are truely sent from God for we are easily misled. For some of us this may require several renditions or trials of exploration until we find ourselves in God. Stay strong during this time. Do not give up. Seek good advice and in time your efforts will be rewarded.

Lastly, we each have been created with a personality that does not change with time. This is the real us that we need to find. To discover. But our character can and will change over time. Those character defects that we have imbibed early on to survive or to exist can and must change and adapt. Liars can become truth tellers. Gossips can become silent and learn to hold their thoughts and their tongues. Trouble makers can cease from troubling the affairs of others and seek restitution in the lives of those they would destroy. We can change before God's grace with God's help.

For our characters must change if His grace is real. They must be un-defected. Or, per-fected in God if His image will truly take hold of our lives. For there is no variableness in God's character. He is light and in Him darkness does not dwell. We are to be light bearers no longer submitted to darkness as unthinking, unfeeling creatures or brute beasts. We bear God's image. It is an image of light. It requires the work of the Spirit to which we must give every key. Submit every urge. Yield every thought. Bow to every willful act. It is God's task to unmask us. And that He will do. It may hurt. But it will never destroy.

R.E. Slater
December 27, 2011



Honesty in the Journey (or On the Raising of Young Heretics)


by Peter Enns
posted December 20, 2011

Nearly twenty years ago, my oldest was six years old. One of our bedtime routines was a brief Bible reading.

One evening we found ourselves in the Garden of Eden story—Adam and Eve, a piece of fruit, and a snake with vocal chords.

As I read, my son kept sighing, as if impatient with my reading. Being the only Old Testament expert in the room, I ignored him and kept going.

But he kept sighing.

He even had the audacity to interrupt me.

“Daddy, snakes can’t talk.”

The woman said to the serpent, “we may eat fruit from the tr….”

“Daddy. Snakes. Can’t. Talk.”

With a sense of foreboding, I stopped reading and asked him, pray, to continue his remonstration. For the next few minutes I listened to a six year old deconstruct his faith, which amounted to the following:

Two naked people, magic fruit from a magic tree, and a talking animal. C’mon. This is obviously a story, not too different from the cartoons I watch or the other books you read to me, none of which you expect me to accept as reality. So, it seems to me that the Bible is a story, which gets me dangerously close to thinking that maybe God is a story, too. Hence—follow me here, Dad—I’m not sure why I should really believe God is real, which is to say, please stop reading, and can I have a glass of water?

My six year old was having a faith crisis.

Well that’s just perfect. I can see the headlines now: “Controversial Old Testament professor raises heretic son” (trial footage at 11:00).

My first instinct was fear: “Shhhhhh! Keep your voice down! He may hear you.” But, in one of those moments that for me constitutes sure proof of God’s existence, my mouth was kept from saying what my brain was telling it.

I tried a different approach: “You don’t really believe in God anymore? O.K., well, tell him.”

Let’s not talk about the problem, just tell God. Be honest with him.

My son wasn’t expecting that. He looked at me like I had spiders crawling out of my nostrils. He also looked a bit relieved.

Over the years, I have been thankful to God that I didn’t correct my son’s theology, for that would have been utterly stupid. Had I shamed him or coerced him into saying the right thing (so I would feel better about my parenting skills), I would have been responsible for creating another religious drone, another one who, at a young age, was already learning to play the religion game.

I would have taught my son a crippling lesson, that faith in God requires him to be dishonest with God and with himself.

I am proud of that little six-year-old, who trusted himself enough not to play games. And I am thankful that I, by a flickering moment of God’s grace, didn’t blink (too much).

Life in Christendom can sometimes feel like a show. We can be quite concerned to put on appearances—even though the Gospel humbles the proud and unmasks the hypocrite. Dishonesty cheapens the Gospel as yet another commodity to be controlled and manipulated for personal gain. It ceases being that which gives us our true identities to that which is manipulated, along with everything else, to hold on to our false selves.

We construct many reasons for maintaining a posture of dishonesty. For many, the failure to utter before God where we really are and what we are real think reflects a lifetime of corrupt spiritual teaching: "God went through a lot of effort to save you, so the least you can do is have your act together so as not to disappoint him."

In a perverse twist, “holding on to the Gospel” becomes a motivation to hold on to self-deception.

I have learned that God, for our own sake, does not let that condition continue indefinitely.

This post is adapted from my recently published commentary on Ecclesiastes (Eerdmans, 2011).




Barna 2011 Survey - Pimary Reasons Young Adults Leave the Church


Barna Survey on Young Adults Leaving the Church

by Peter Enns
posted December 23, 2011

Have you seen the 2011 Barna survey on American Christianity? Below are the six primary reasons why young adults leave the church.

With Christmas upon us, I may have to hold off on making some comments (though I have highlighted some things that struck me). All of these reasons resonate with me on some level as I have interacted with college students over the years. The question is, how should these issues be addressed?

I have written a fair amount on #s 3 and 6–the latter in blog posts and the former in blog posts and my upcoming book, The Evolution of Adam, where I try to address this very problem.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Reason #1 – Churches seem overprotective.

A few of the defining characteristics of today’s teens and young adults are their unprecedented access to ideas and worldviews as well as their prodigious consumption of popular culture. As Christians, they express the desire for their faith in Christ to connect to the world they live in. However, much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse:

  • One-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” (23% indicated this “completely” or “mostly” describes their experience)
  • Other perceptions in this category include “church ignoring the problems of the real world” (22%)
  • “My church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful” (18%)


Reason #2 – Teens’ and twenty-somethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.

A second reason that young people depart church as young adults is that something is lacking in their experience of church.

  • One-third said “church is boring” (31%)
  • One-quarter of these young adults said that “faith is not relevant to my career or interests” (24%)
  • Or that “the Bible is not taught clearly or often enough” (23%)
  • Sadly, one-fifth of these young adults who attended a church as a teenager said that “God seems missing from my experience of church” (20%).


Reason #3 – Churches come across as antagonistic to science.

One of the reasons young adults feel disconnected from church or from faith is the tension they feel between Christianity and science. The most common of the perceptions in this arena is “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” (35%).

  • Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%).
  • Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%).
  • And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.”
  • Furthermore, the research shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries.


Reason #4 – Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.

With unfettered access to digital pornography and immersed in a culture that values hyper-sexuality over wholeness, teen and twentysometing Christians are struggling with how to live meaningful lives in terms of sex and sexuality. One of the significant tensions for many young believers is how to live up to the church’s expectations of chastity and sexual purity in this culture, especially as the age of first marriage is now commonly delayed to the late twenties. Research indicates that most young Christians are as sexually active as their non-Christian peers, even though they are more conservative in their attitudes about sexuality. One-sixth of young Christians (17%) said they “have made mistakes and feel judged in church because of them.” The issue of sexuality is particularly salient among 18- to 29-year-old Catholics, among whom two out of five (40%) said the church’s “teachings on sexuality and birth control are out of date.”


Reason #5 – They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.

Younger Americans have been shaped by a culture that esteems open-mindedness, tolerance and acceptance. Today’s youth and young adults also are the most eclectic generation in American history in terms of race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, technological tools and sources of authority. Most young adults want to find areas of common ground with each other, sometimes even if that means glossing over real differences.
  • Three out of ten young Christians (29%) said “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths” and,
  • An identical proportion felt they are “forced to choose between my faith and my friends.”
  • One-fifth of young adults with a Christian background said “church is like a country club, only for insiders” (22%).


Reason #6 – The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

Young adults with Christian experience say the church is not a place that allows them to express doubts. They do not feel safe admitting that sometimes Christianity does not make sense. In addition, many feel that the church’s response to doubt is trivial. Some of the perceptions in this regard include not being able “to ask my most pressing life questions in church” (36%), and having “significant intellectual doubts about my faith” (23%). In a related theme of how churches struggle to help young adults who feel marginalized, about one out of every six young adults with a Christian background said their faith “does not help with depression or other emotional problems” they experience (18%).