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

Friday, March 3, 2017

Islam, Christianity, and Pope Francis

I provide Dr. Olson's article today in hopes of standing in solidarity with those peaceful sects of Islam dedicated to the peace and love of their religious beliefs and principles. I think it is important to recognize that Islam is as diverse as Christianity is, as urbane as Christianity can be, and even as distraught over Western culture as Christianity has shown. The point being, Islam's "bad press" has come from terror-based fundamentalist sects described as "radical" but far removed from the teachings of Islam. Like some terror-based sects of Christianity (KKK, Jim Crow laws, and today's more radical Dominionists churches) both religions have had their share of ungodly evil shown in the wicked works of terrible acts against humanity. And when juxtaposed with Western culture in its secular or nationalistic forms, has good grounds, as would Christianity, to oppose its ungodly character. As background then, the blog below is written to a base of evangelical readers many of whom are struggling with the meaning of their faith in a world gone mad. To these readers I express my sympathies and encouragement even as I do all Muslim readers joining this post. Thank you for your consideration.

R.E. Slater
March 3, 2017

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Was Pope Francis Wrong about Islam?
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2017/03/4636/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=BRSS&utm_campaign=Evangelical&utm_content=259

by Roger Olson
March 2, 2017

According to many news reports, Pope Francis made some off-the-cuff remarks to reporters about Islam. The “gist” of this informal talk—not a papal pronouncement—was that there is no such thing as “Islamic Terrorism” unless there is also such a thing as “Christian terrorism.” This conversation took place aboard the papal airplane on the pope’s way back to Rome after a special event in France in late 2016. (The precise date does not matter here.)

Some American conservatives are angry that the pope would deny the existence of “Islamic terrorism” and especially that he would seem to place Islam and Christianity on a plane of moral equivalence. Actually, there is much debate and dispute about exactly what the pope said and what he meant. But I will put that aside for now and tackle only one question: Is Islam itself, as a religion, inclined toward terrorism?

*Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.*

But first I need to lay out my credentials for talking about this. During my Ph.D. in Religious Studies at Rice University (Houston) I co-taught an introduction to religion course for undergraduates. I was assigned by the department chair to teach a mini-course, as part of the semester course, about Islam. I dived into the subject and read many scholarly articles and books about Islam and taught the course. I even visited the local mosque and spoke with a group of Muslim men gathered there. I invited to my classroom representatives of different kinds of Islam who I could find in Houston. Two stand out to me as especially, even extremely, different. One was a Sunni Muslim from the Middle East and the other was a Sufi Muslim from Turkey.

One thing I discovered during my studies and later learned more about is Islam’s diversity. Exactly like Christianity, there are different “denominations” of Muslims. Of course they do not call them “denominations,” but I am simply using that term for “branches,” “types,” “tribes” of the same religion. Most people in America are woefully ignorant about the diversity of Islam.

  • For example, how many Americans know which country in the world has the most Muslims? Wait for it….Indonesia. And Islam in Indonesia is very different from Islam in, say, Saudi Arabia.
  • How many Americans know anything about Sufiism—a mystical branch of Islam? (Yes, I know, many Muslims deny Sufis are real Muslims. So what? Many Christians deny Quakers are real Christians [because they don’t practice water baptism]. To sociologists of religion, Sufis are Muslims.)

My point is simply that I do have a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from a major research university and that my studies then, during my program there and then and since, I have studied Islam much more than the average America ever will.

So back to the pope and Islam. His point seems to have been that Islam itself is not inclined toward terrorism or violence but that some Muslims, like some adherents of many religions—including Christianity—distort their true heritage and misinterpret and misapply it to justify violence including terrorism. Who can really doubt that about Christians? Think of the Crusades. Then think of the event in Norway a few years ago in which a devoted Christian slaughtered many young people at a camp for his own religiously-inspired reasons?

The vast majority of so-called Muslim terrorists or Islamic terrorists come from a particular part of the Middle East and are driven by some Imams of a particular branch of Islam especially common in Saudi Arabia known as Wahabism. (I am not claiming that all Wahabi Muslims support terrorism.) Almost none come from Indonesia, for example, although some might be recruited from there and other predominantly Islamic countries.

I think the pope’s point is simply that one ought not to label a whole religion—in this case Islam—with terrorism. That is what some conservative Americans especially tend to do. That is what “Islamic terrorism” or “Muslim terrorists” tends to mean to many Americans especially.

On the other hand… It does seem to me there’s no escaping those labels. So what’s the right solution? Perhaps it is not, as the pope suggests, to abandon those phrases entirely but to teach people—in churches, in schools, through the media—that those phrases do not mean that all Muslims or even branches of Islam are inclined toward violence or terrorism and that there are many Muslims in the world who abhor terrorism.

If you disagree (and I expect even some of my best friends will disagree) please imagine something with me for a moment. Imagine that a particular sect of Christianity became a fertile ground for extreme violence and even terrorism. (This has happened in history.) Then imagine that news reached you that in some countries where Christianity is not well-known and is little understood most people began to talk about “Christian terrorism” and “Christian violence” such that all Christians living there were under suspicion of being potential terrorists—including members of Christian “peace churches” (e.g., Friend/Quakers, Mennonites, etc.). Would you not want some spokesperson for the dominant religion in those countries to speak up in support of Christians and Christianity as a whole and contradict those there who spoke without qualification about “Christian terrorism?”

Now, please, do not respond by saying “That could never happen because no sect/denomination of ‘real Christianity’ would ever become terrorists.” Perhaps so; I’m inclined to agree. But! Some Muslims say that Islamic terrorists do not represent “real Islam!” My point is not about the meaning of “real Christianity.” My point is that there are many kinds of people who claim to be Christians and it is not at all inconceivable that a group of such might someday become terrorists and people who know little about Christianity would probably equate their terrorism with Christianity. Wouldn’t you want someone among them to correct them? I would.

- RO

*Note to commenters: This blog is not a discussion board; please respond with a question or comment solely to me. If you do not share my evangelical Christian perspective (very broadly defined), feel free to ask a question for clarification, but know that this is not a space for debating incommensurate perspectives/worldviews. In any case, know that there is no guarantee that your question or comment will be posted by the moderator or answered by the writer. If you hope for your question or comment to appear here and be answered or responded to, make sure it is civil, respectful, and “on topic.” Do not comment if you have not read the entire post and do not misrepresent what it says. Keep any comment (including questions) to minimal length; do not post essays, sermons or testimonies here. Do not post links to internet sites here. This is a space for expressions of the blogger’s (or guest writers’) opinions and constructive dialogue among evangelical Christians (very broadly defined).

Revelation: The Challenge of the Gospel to the Apostosies of the Present Time



When speed reading through the NT last fall I discovered The Book of Revelation for the first time as a letter written in encouragement by the Apostle John to the early churches he had founded. That they might greatly persevere in their Christian faith against growing Roman-Greek-Jewish oppression and persecution which was leading to the loss, displacement, even death, of early Christians for testifying to their faith founded in their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

A faith that challenged the early belief systems and paganisms of their day even as it does now in today's post-truth world devoted to patriotic nationalism to the exclusion of the civil and human rights of a society's populations. A nationalism that has slipped into today's undiscerning religious churches and is confusing the gospel of Christ with the gospel of an ungodly Empire regressive in its religious Dominionism; repressive in its anti-intellectual reconstructions of the bible; and holding so many more ungodly teachings and behaviors as to create an ungodly heathen altar upon which another sacrifice is being made to the exclusion of Christ, the Lamb of God, slain before the foundations of the world.

Not unlike today's outbreak of post-truth Nationalism which is contending for the soul of the church, so too The Book of Revelation is a letter displaying John's great heartbreak for his churches as they slipped away into the pernicious teachings of Gnostic mysticism; worldly racisms and discriminations; and a plethora of unchristian ideas and teachings challenging the early Christians founded in Christ and His gospel through faithful Apostolic teaching.

The Apostle's churches were being continually challenged by the incursion of untruthful false teachings and by disingenuous false teachers working hard against the gospel of Christ causing the churches of Asia Minor to slip away all too quickly from the ministries of John and his disciples. These false teachers were more than oppositional to the gospel of Christ. They were highly motivated, caustic, argumentative, duplicitous, conniving, and purposeful in destroying the hard-won ministries of John across Asia Minor.

A ministry which John's churches had testified to by word and by deed, had learned, had even discussed and witnessed, in the Apostle's very presence. At the time of writing Revelation John was discovering through the many emissaries he was sending out of the grave challenges coming against the gospel of Christ he and his disciples had labored so hard to preach and teach. Deeply oppositional challenges growing across Asia Minor's enculturated societies in anger and resoluteness to deny, resist, and remove from their older Hellenistic traditions and customs the Christian gospel that was replacing those beliefs and practices.

So then, the Book of Revelation was yet another letter by the Apostle John to the Asia Minor churches to hold fast to Jesus, to endure persecution, to forsake false gospels, and to grow in the faith and hope they had first learned in Christ. The apocalyptic imagery he used drew from popular "end-time" literature and spoke to their "present time" of hardship-and-trial - that it would continue to increase proportionate to the gospel's outreach into the tribes and nations of the ancient world.

John's final letter to his churches would culminate in what he had sown, taught, and exampled through his earlier visits, letters, and gospel, as the first century quickly drew to a close and a new era commenced far removed from the Jewish-Messianic Christianity John once had transitioned under in his Lord's day in the lands of Israel, his holy ancestry.

Now, into the pagan cultures of the ancient world had come yet another challenge from a foreign religion, Christianity, dismissed and despised as unworthy and unwanted. A religion founded in a Judeo-Christian ethic with the understanding of Christ's culmination of the Old Testament, it's laws, and salvation history to the nation Israel through its cycles of faithfulness and faithlessness. This Judeo-Christian faith was unknown in Asia Minor's Greek-Persian-Roman culture; spoken by a foreign tongue and descended from a foreign culture (Jewish); and didn't make sense to the Gentile populations becoming convicted by its strange teachings of love and sacrifice. And yet, under the hand of God, it was growing in its missional outreach to fast become a fundamental religious belief - if not religious philosophy - that all the Gentile nations across the ancient world were beginning to wrestle with as to its truths, cultural demands, and personal commitments.

So that in the midst of all this the dear Apostle John was sorrowfully witnessing a fundamental falling away of the church under renewed raw persecutions aggressively challenging everything he and his apostolic disciples had learned and taught. It held a renewed energy unlike what he had ever expected and would require a new generation of Christians to uphold-and-contest in vigor, and personal commitment, against the evils of their generations.

This was the energy of the gospel of God into the dark world of mankind lost in its blindness and sins. And it was the power of God through Christ by His Spirit to release men and women from their torments and chains to find a spiritual freedom unlike what they had ever known. It was the beginning of the era of the church of God speaking truth in love, duty, honor, and commitment that would be led by men and women of God trained to go forth to plant, defend, and wisely shepherd the flocks of God.

"Even so Lord, Come in Power, in Majesty, in Reign, into our hearts!"

R.E. Slater
March 3, 2017

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Things You (Might) Mistakenly Believe About The Book of Revelation
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/things-might-mistakenly-believe-book-revelation/

March 2, 2017

If you grew up in Evangelicalism/Fundamentalism, you probably grew up with a doom-and-gloom view of the future and “end times.”

Me? I grew up with the whole deal: raptures, tribulations, the Antichrist, and even warnings that those things we first called “barcodes” might actually be the mark of the beast.

End times belief is so much more than an area of theology. It is a complex world-view that shapes every single aspect of our faith and the way we see the world, whether we’re able to recognize it or not.

The book of Revelation– the last book in the Bible– is perhaps the most complex book in Scripture. It is also in this obscure and highly symbolic book that much of the doom-and-gloom end times world-view is planted and watered.

There’s just one problem with building an entire world-view off the book of Revelation: it is a book that is notoriously difficult to understand or interpret. While it would be impossible for anyone to truly understand the book without sitting down for an interview with the author, John, there are some things we do know about it. In light of the few things we know for certain, here are a few corrections to things we were mistakenly taught to believe about the book of Revelation:

The Book of Revelation is not about the “end times.”

John’s Revelation was not something intended to be put in a time capsule and opened 2000 years later. Instead, it was a letter written to very specific churches and was addressing imminent events that directly impacted the people it was written to. John repeatedly uses terms like “soon”, “quickly” and “shortly” in reference to his prophesy– he goes out of his way to make it clear that he is writing about soon-to-happen-events, not ones distant in the future.

Simplified version: It was a letter written by one man to a handful of churches about imminent matters that were relevant to them. For us [today], this means that Revelation is mostly a book about past events.

Revelation is not a fear-based book of doom-and-gloom.

The book of Revelation isn’t a doom-and-gloom book at all, but rather is a very specific genre of Jewish literature where the main goal is to encourage the readers. Any interpretation that falls outside of encouraging the specific recipients of the letter, is an interpretation that is inconsistent with this literary genre.

It is a letter from one person to a handful of churches, addressing imminent events, and the entire purpose is to encourage them in the midst of these events.

The book of Revelation does not teach a secret “rapture” of the Church.

If I could count the times someone has told me to go back to Revelation to read about the rapture, the number would be considerable. The reality is however, that Revelation doesn’t teach a rapture at all. It’s simply not in the book. (It’s not even in the Bible.)

Those who believe in the rapture will argue that it’s “implied”, since the Church is only discussed in the first part of the book, but that’s silly. We can’t just make stuff up, but when we say that Revelation teaches the rapture we actually *are* just making stuff up. Rapture theology wasn’t developed for another 1500 years after John wrote this letter.

(Same is true for the Anti-Christ, which is a figure from the earlier letters from John and is not in Revelation.)

No one knows exactly what all if it means, and if they claim to, they’re lying.

Since Revelation is apocalyptic literature, it is by nature massively symbolic. Throughout the book we find symbols, numbers, and all sorts of other interesting stuff. While some of it can have an obvious meaning because of themes in the rest of Scripture (such as a symbolic lamb, which is obviously Jesus), much of what is found in this book has been endlessly debated with no clear way to determine a “correct” interpretation.

The reality is that without the ability to travel back in time and talk to the author who wrote it, and the recipients of this letter, we’ll never know the full and correct meaning of everything. While this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, it does mean you should be ultra skeptical of end-times preachers who claim to have it down to a science.


The book of Revelation is certainly interesting and filled with wonderful lessons to be gleaned, but it is notoriously misunderstood. It is not a book about the “end times.” It does not hold more news than your local newspaper, and it has very little to do with the future.

Instead, it’s a letter John wrote to several churches when he was exiled on Patmos. It was a letter he wrote in the Jewish apocalyptic genre, which was intended to foretell events to immediately occur, and which was designed to encourage those churches as they experienced the turbulent times of the mid first century.

The book of Revelation is a lot of things– but it’s not what your childhood pastor told you it was.