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
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Monday, July 17, 2017

Commentary - Jean Vanier's World of Love and Kindness

Jean Vanier



Jean Vanier’s world of love and kindness
https://www.spectator.co.uk/2017/07/jean-vaniers-world-of-love-and-kindness/

"How a visit to an ‘idiot’ asylum inspired the founder of L’Arche"

July 1, 2017

Some of the time, most of the time, it’s tricky to believe in God. There’s just too much that’s sad — and behind it all, the ceaseless chomping of predators. Then sometimes the mist lifts and just for a moment you can see why the saints insist that everything’s OK. There’s a documentary out now, Summer in the Forest, that for a while cleared the mist for me and made sense of faith.

It tells the stories of a group of men and women with learning disabilities who live alongside volunteers without disabilities in Trosly-Breuil, a small French village north of Paris. The community is called L’Arche — The Ark — and it was founded 53 years ago by a French-Canadian former naval officer, Jean Vanier. In his mid-thirties, Vanier visited an institution for ‘idiots’ and was struck by the great loneliness there. Where most of us would scuttle away guiltily, Jean Vanier made a decision in the autumn of 1964 that sent his life’s trajectory off at an odd angle.

He invited two men, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, to leave the asylum where they’d spent their adult lives, and come to live with him in his cottage in Trosly-Breuil. He thought it would be fun, he says. He thought they could go for drives.

In the film, a now elderly Philippe Seux explains what Vanier’s decision meant to him: ‘In the psychiatric hospital, there was nothing to do — just sit on your arse all day doing sod all. When some lads misbehaved, they were given injections to calm down. It was quite a relief to be out of there, I can tell you.’

The cottage became L’Arche, which in turn became an international movement over the years, and there are now hundreds of L’Arche communities worldwide, where men and women who would otherwise live locked up can live as family. The strange and lovely thing is that if Summer in the Forest is to be believed, it’s a family filled with unusual joy.

Jean Vanier is now 88 and, if you ask around in Catholic circles, it’s whispered he’s a saint. He still lives in Trosly-Breuil, but in his spare time he’s a sort of secret superhero for peace — flying around the world to broker between powerful players. Justin Welby called on him this year to mediate between cross bishops, and it’s said he made them all wash each other’s feet. Though Vanier’s life has been punctuated with great accomplishments and prestigious awards, it’s that first invitation to Raphael and Philippe that seems most impressive. You can change the direction of your life — you can change other people’s lives! Deep in my everyday rut, I forget.

When I spoke to Jean Vanier, England was simmering in the aftermath of the election and the Grenfell Tower fire. Summer in this city — all the railing against the rich — seemed a far cry from Summer in the Forest. Vanier lives with and champions the very poorest people. I asked him: All this rage against the rich, can good come of it? Will it be productive? He replied: ‘I mean, it’s not only unproductive but it kills oneself. If you hate people, then you begin to hate yourself. You destroy yourself and no more peace! You are just continually in anger.’

So what are we to do? (When you’ve got a candidate for sainthood on the line, you cut to the chase.) ‘When there is a lot of poverty it should be a call for a lot of people to rise up to share tenderness,’ he said. ‘It’s what the Samaritan did when he bent down and started looking after this Jewish guy somewhere between Jericho and Jerusalem. Something suddenly rose up in him that he could communicate life, and he did it to this guy who was a sort of enemy in religion. We all have that — that’s the beauty, we all have that potential. If we can cool the anger down.’

One way of cooling the anger — better than another smug-fest pop concert — might be a giant screening of Summer in the Forest in Trafalgar Square. This, I think, is actually a genuinely good idea. The residents of L’Arche, unlike most Corbynistas, are some of the least fortunate people on the planet. But they have a laugh. The documentary shows the canteen at breakfast. One young man, David Surmaire, says: ‘I’m a strong man, me. People who treat me as if I’m small — they have to stop it.’ Then he drops to all fours, and barks like a dog while his girlfriend miaows. They’re having a blast. Jean Vanier eats all his meals in the canteen. He sits to one side and gently teases his friends.

Michel Petit, the real star of Summer in the Forest, is a barrel-bellied 75-year-old with the gait and purposefulness of a toddler. In his pre-L’Arche life he spent angry decades in a home. He says, simply and seriously to camera: ‘Jean Vanier is a man who loves us very much. He loves me very much. He taught me about calm.’

To me, Jean said: ‘I’ve been with these people now for 30 years, they are super people. Because they are people of fun, they love to celebrate. Every meal can become a celebration. That doesn’t mean to say that now and again people won’t prod their next-door neighbour with a fork — this is life. But the fundamental movement from many people with disabilities, they have been so pushed down, they don’t know they’re lovable, and then the day that they discover that they are lovable and they can trust themselves, then it becomes whoopee!’

The L’Arche communities are peaceful places, but they’re a puzzle for the West. We all talk great game on equality but the truth is most of us think: ‘I’d rather be dead than very disabled.’ Witness the hundreds of poor babies with Down’s syndrome aborted each year. So how can these men and women at L’Arche be living better lives than our own?

Vanier explained: ‘Look, there are two realities, two cultures. There is a culture of power and there is a culture of relationships. The men and women I live with see that it is good to be together and we don’t have to solve all the problems of the world when we are together. They teach me to lighten up. But then now and again,’ he said, ‘you get people from The Spectator who ring you up and you have to start being serious…’

I looked down at my great list of serious questions, and ploughed on. Here in the UK, the dominant philosophy in the social services is one of ‘care in the community’. The idea is that people with learning difficulties should live not in homes, but in their own flats, independently. Communities like L’Arche are closing down. Isn’t that lunacy?

‘We did that for a while right in the early days,’ said Vanier. ‘We found jobs for people and got them into apartments and everything, but then they found that television and beer go really well together and then we had to work with the AA! The point is not just to have independence, it’s to have friends. People belong together in a shared life.’

‘If I could change the law,’ he said, ‘I would organise it so that industries can be welcoming people with disabilities, meaning they don’t have to pay such high prices, they have much greater flexibility in wages and time and so and so, that could be adapted to people with disabilities.’

Oh what a hot potato this is in England! Rosa Monckton argued the same case in this magazine a few months ago. She suggested that people with learning disabilities who long to work, should not have to be paid the minimum wage. The reaction was apoplectic, I told Jean. ‘What a shame!’ he said. ‘The Down’s people would bring in laughter to the businesses! It would benefit everyone. But anyway…’ Anyway. It’s life, and we’re all in it together.

According to the philosophy of L’Arche, men and women with learning disabilities — loving and guileless — teach us how to live. But, says Vanier, they have another lesson for us too — they also teach us the mystery of living with loss. This I find unnerving. What is the mystery of loss?

‘We all live with loss,’ said Vanier. ‘It’s inevitable. We begin, most of us, by being loved totally when we’re born — then we enter into a world of loss, a mystery of loss. Every time you lose a job, or something precious, or there’s death, there’s loss. We cannot live without this movement of loss and gain. But some people are so frightened of loss, they are just scared stiff of loss.’

He laughed. I didn’t. I thought of a life spent acquiring and keeping safe: a husband, the baby, a house, the great stream of packages from Amazon. The possibilities for loss give me vertigo.

‘You can’t escape it,’ said Jean Vanier, gently. ‘In the end, you even lose what you feel is yourself. We all do. There’s a beauty in that. There’s a beauty even in something like Alzheimer’s, because it is a cry. It’s not a disaster, it’s a cry for a one-to-one.’

But how can that be beautiful? Isn’t it just catastrophically sad?

‘We have to learn to cry,’ said Jean Vanier, ‘because we’ve created an identity of power and not an identity of relationships, and that’s what the whole film is about — an identity of relationships.’

It’s true that Summer in the Forest turns the world upside down. If these men and women, who have so little of what the world admires, can be so happy, then we must be going about things a little wrong. The mystery of loss remains a mystery to me — but I’m left with the image of Sebastian, a member of L’Arche in Trosly-Breuil, whose life is spent lying scribbled up on a sort of motorised bed: limbs useless, head twisted sideways. In the film he’s shown having his heart checked by a doctor. When the doc is done, Jean, standing beside him, leans his head down next to Sebastian’s. ‘You are so beautiful, Sebastian,’ he says. Sebastian, who should by all rights be furious with life, accepts Jean’s love.


The Silent Tragedy Affecting Today’s Children (and what to do with it)




The Silent Tragedy Affecting Today’s Children
(and what to do with it)
https://yourot.com/parenting-club/2017/5/24/what-are-we-doing-to-our-children

May 24, 2017

There is a silent tragedy developing right now, in our homes, and it concerns our most precious jewels - our children. Through my work with hundreds of children and families as an occupational therapist, I have witnessed this tragedy unfolding right in front of my eyes. Our children are in a devastating emotional state! Talk to teachers and professionals who have been working in the field for the last 15 years. You will hear concerns similar to mine. Moreover, in the past 15 years, researchers have been releasing alarming statistics on a sharp and steady increase in kids’ mental illness, which is now reaching epidemic proportions:


How much more evidence do we need before we wake up?

No, “increased diagnostics alone” is not the answer!

No, “they all are just born like this” is not the answer!

No, “it is all the school system’s fault” is not the answer!

Yes, as painful as it can be to admit, in many cases, WE, parents, are the answer to many of our kids’ struggles!

It is scientifically proven that the brain has the capacity to rewire itself through the environment. Unfortunately, with the environment and parenting styles that we are providing to our children, we are rewiring their brains in a wrong direction and contributing to their challenges in everyday life.

Yes, there are and always have been children who are born with disabilities and despite their parents’ best efforts to provide them with a well-balanced environment and parenting, their children continue to struggle. These are NOT the children I am talking about here. 

I am talking about many others whose challenges are greatly shaped by the environmental factors that parents, with their greatest intentions, provide to their children. As I have seen in my practice, the moment parents change their perspective on parenting, these children change.

What is wrong?

Today’s children are being deprived of the fundamentals of a healthy childhood, such as:
  • Emotionally available parents
  • Clearly defined limits and guidance
  • Responsibilities
  • Balanced nutrition and adequate sleep
  • Movement and outdoors
  • Creative play, social interaction, opportunities for unstructured times and boredom

Instead, children are being served with:

  • Digitally distracted parents
  • Indulgent parents who let kids “Rule the world”
  • Sense of entitlement rather than responsibility
  • Inadequate sleep and unbalanced nutrition
  • Sedentary indoor lifestyle
  • Endless stimulation, technological babysitters, instant gratification, and absence of dull moments

Could anyone imagine that it is possible to raise a healthy generation in such an unhealthy environment? Of course not! There are no shortcuts to parenting, and we can’t trick human nature. As we see, the outcomes are devastating. Our children pay for the loss of well-balanced childhood with their emotional well-being.

How to fix it?

If we want our children to grow into happy and healthy individuals, we have to wake up and go back to the basics. It is still possible! I know this because hundreds of my clients see positive changes in their kids’ emotional state within weeks (and in some cases, even days) of implementing these recommendations:

Set limits and remember that you are your child’s PARENT, not a friend

Offer kids well-balanced lifestyle filled with what kids NEED, not just what they WANT. Don’t be afraid to say “No!” to your kids if what they want is not what they need.

  • Provide nutritious food and limits snacks.
  • Spend one hour a day in green space: biking, hiking, fishing, watching birds/insects
  • Have a daily technology-free family dinner.
  • Involve your child in one chore a day (folding laundry, tidying up toys, hanging clothes, unpacking groceries, setting the table etc)
  • Implement consistent sleep routine to ensure that your child gets lots of sleep in a technology-free bedroom

Teach responsibility and independence. Don’t over-protect them from small failures. It trains them the skills needed to overcome greater life’s challenges:

  • Don’t pack your child’s backpack, don’t carry her backpack, don’t bring to school his forgotten lunch box/agenda, and don’t peel a banana for a 5-year-old child. Teach them the skills rather than do it for them.

Teach delayed gratification and provide opportunities for “boredom” as boredom is the time when creativity awakens:

  • Don’t feel responsible for being your child’s entertainment crew.
  • Do not use technology as a cure for boredom.
  • Avoid using technology during meals, in cars, restaurants, malls. Use these moments as opportunities to train their brains to function under “boredom”
  • Help them create a “boredom first aid kit” with activity ideas for “I am bored” times.

Be emotionally available to connect with kids and teach them self-regulation and social skills:

  • Turn off your phones until kids are in bed to avoid digital distraction.
  • Become your child’s emotional coach. Teach them to recognize and deal with frustration and anger.
  • Teach greeting, turn taking, sharing, empathy, table manners, conversation skills,
  • Connect emotionally - Smile, hug, kiss, tickle, read, dance, jump, or crawl with your child.

We must make changes in our kids’ lives before this entire generation of children will be medicated! It is not too late yet, but soon it will be…


Brain McLaren - Why Pastors and Priests are Leaving the Church and What To Do About It (Part 2)




Why Pastors and Priests are Leaving the Church
and What To Do About It (Part 2)
http://brianmclaren.net/why-pastors-and-priests-are-leaving-the-church-part-2-what-to-do-about-it/

by Brian McLaren
June 26, 2017


As I see it, there are four options for clergy who are being worn down by an unsustainable status quo:

1 - Start new faith communities.

2 - Precipitate a crisis/intervention.

3 - Launch a transformation.

4 - Retire early or get into another line of work.

Many are choosing Option 4, as I mentioned earlier. But if too many more generations of our most creative and visionary leaders throw in the towel (or are driven away), the Christian church (in America, at least) creates a downward death spiral of boredom, narrowness, shrinkage, and stagnation … or (as I’m actually more worried about) it renders itself easily manipulable by demagogues and extremists who deal in nostalgia, lies, flattery, and violence. As I wrote in The Great Spiritual Migration, there’s something worse than Christianity dying: namely, Christianity killing. It has done so in the past, and it can do so again in the future, only now, with more horrific weapons at its disposal.

So let me say a brief word about Options 1 – 3.

1. Starting new faith communities is not easy; just ask anyone (including yours truly) who has done it. But it is vital to create living models of innovation at this moment – not simply incremental improvements of the existing model, but creative new models that start from scratch, so to speak, returning to sources (Jesus and the Gospels, for starters), and facing current and emerging realities.

New communities who seize this moment will model a kind of engaged spiritual (or contemplative) activism, and they will be aligned from the start to embody the gospel as it pertains to contemporary crisis, beginning with these four (that I wrote about back in 2007 in Everything Must Change):

1 - the planet, unsustainable economies, and climate change;

2 - poverty and obscenely expanding economic inequality;

3 - making peace between individuals, races, religions, classes, cultures, nations, and civilizations; and,

4 - the dignity of all people, no exceptions.

2. Precipitating a Crisis/Intervention often simply means telling the truth and doing something about it. The truth is that most of our denominations and congregations are shrinking and wrinkling. Evangelicals used to take pride in the certainty that their conservative theology would inoculate them from “liberal” decline, but that myth has been largely exploded. (Just ask any knowledgeable Southern Baptist.) If individual congregations (and, please God, denominations) face these realities, they will discover that a non-denial of reality is a wonderful liberator of creativity, which will allow them to think more like their colleagues in #1 above. In fact, the models created by #1 provide examples for imitation and adaptation for #2 and #3.

3. Launching Transformation makes sense in congregations where there is a good measure of health and strength. Transformative leaders can pilot their congregations through a period of reimagining and reinvention. In other words, they can upgrade the airport or intersection while it continues to function.

Leaders who are engaged in these three options need some distinct skills, but they are working toward the same goal. It’s important for them not to see one another as competitors, but as allies. We’re in this together.

---

A quick anecdote to close: some years ago, I spoke at a large denominational assembly. At the end of my talk in a Q & R time, a clergywoman went to the mic and said, “I’m going to retire later this year, and if I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t.”

I cringed, thinking that I had unwittingly unleashed this kind of negativity. She continued, “All I can tell you is that everything I’ve tried has failed. I’ve spent my entire career trying to help churches that are worse off than when I started.”

I was thinking at that moment that the bishop must have been mortified that I had influenced one of his clergy to demoralize her colleagues in this way.

In the middle of my cringe, though, she got a sparkle in her eyes, and continued, “But if there are any younger clergy here who want to try to put into practice what this man [referring to me] has been talking about today, then as soon as I retire, I’m available as a full-time volunteer. Because I’m not giving up. I’m more motivated than ever. I have a whole career behind me of small measures that I know won’t work. I’m ready to get more radical in the years I have left.”

The room broke into applause.

That’s the spirit we need.

+++++

I’ve been involved with these three options for decades, now, and if you’d like to join a cohort of leaders who want to learn, grow, and lead together, I hope you’ll check out the Convergence Leadership Project. Registration is open now for an August 1 launch.


Roger Olson - The Disappearing Difference between Rhetoric and Argument




The Disappearing Difference between Rhetoric and Argument
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2017/07/disappearing-difference-rhetoric-argument/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=BRSS&utm_campaign=Evangelical&utm_content=259

by Roger Olson
July 10, 2017

Recently (during and since the 2016 U.S. presidential election) there has been a lot of “chatter” about “facts.” Someone publicly labeled a public truth claim an “alternative fact.” This neologism created a great deal of consternation, controversy, and more than a little tittering.

This event, or series of events, provoked me to think about truth claims, “facts,” and reality. Long before someone uttered the phrase “alternative fact” someone else said that “perception is reality.” I’ve uttered that myself in certain contexts. Some years ago the “sociology of knowledge” became interpreted by many intellectuals and academics as the “social construction of reality.” Others cautioned that the sociology of knowledge should be interpreted only as the “social construal of reality.”

For quite a long time now European and North American intellectuals (and please don’t think you’re not affected by what they think and say, something I’ll explain later here) adopted “anti-realism” or its softer version “critical realism.” The “social construction of reality” expresses anti-realism; the “social construal of reality” expresses critical realism. Both points of view accept the sociology of knowledge but with different degrees.

I long ago gave up any thought that “facts” (truth claims) match reality perfectly—as it actually is. I adopted a critical realism posture toward truth claims. All truth claims construe reality from within some narrative, some story about what is real and important, some perspective on “the world,” some point of view. As some thinker said, there is no view from nowhere.

I worry, however, that many people in the Western world (Europe, North America, places influenced by their intellectual trends) either 1) Don’t know or accept the inescapable social construal of reality or 2) Embrace the anti-realist social construction of reality view.

Some readers may know that much of what I am talking about here comes, at least partially, from American sociologist Peter Berger who died very recently. I was privileged, over the past two-to-three years to call him my friend. He initiated the friendship and I was simply “blown away,” to use an American colloquialism, by that. We met over lunch a few times, corresponded a few times, and he invited me to respond in a public colloquium or symposium to one of his last books. And he suggested to the editor of a volume of essays responding to that book that I write a chapter. By “friend” I don’t mean we were “chums” or “buddies” or anything like that; we knew each other and had some friendly social as well as professional interactions.

Through my friendly acquaintance and interactions with Berger, widely considered one of the “fathers” of the sociology of knowledge, I discovered that he was not, as many have assumed, an anti-realist. He believed, he told me directly, that there are methods of research, in sociology itself, that filter out bias, subjectivity and perspective. This felt a bit inconsistent to me—at least with many people’s interpretation of Berger’s sociology of knowledge epistemology.

It was not Berger, however, from whom I first learned about critical realism and the role that narrative, perspective, and social location play in everyone’s construal of reality. I first learned that, something I already suspected, from…(drumroll)…Wheaton College philosophy professor Arthur Holmes. In some of his writings (e.g., Contours of a Worldview) he used the term “interprefacts” for all truth claims. The point is that all “facts” are someone’s interpretation of reality. Holmes, an evangelical Christian philosopher who influenced two or three generations of Wheaton College students, and through his writings many others, was a critical realist. (I’m not claiming that he was always consistently that; I’m only saying that some of his writings seemed to me to assume that posture toward epistemology.)

Of course, as everyone who has studied these matters knows, a breakthrough classic of critical realism, if not anti-realism, was Thomas Kuhn whose book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) fell like a bombshell on the playground of the philosophers and scientists. Kuhn argued that, even in the “hard sciences,” there is no pure objectivity, no “view from nowhere.” Kuhn used the term “paradigms” for what sociologists of knowledge meant by terms like “perspective” and “social location.” All this is modern intellectual history.

Here’s the point and the “rub.” My own experience and observation of my culture—North American academia—leads me to believe that many people with tremendous influence—even where their names are never heard or known outside of academia—have adopted the belief that because of the sociology of knowledge, critical realism or even anti-realism (belief that “knowledge” never even comes close to matching reality-as-it-is if such even exists), because of the “social construction of reality,” all that’s left to us is rhetoric. The traditional ideas of “facts” and “arguments” are simply “old school thinking.” Since that is the case, many movers and shakers of culture believe, there is really no “line” between argument and rhetoric. All arguments (about what is the case) are actually only rhetoric and therefore….

Yes, what follows the “therefore?” Bear with me as I give an example in order to answer that question. A few years ago I met and had lunch with a man who is an executive of a major American “news” corporation that owns numerous “news” outlets spread out all over the United States and even the world. If I mentioned its name every reader would recognize it (or at least one or more of its news outlets—print or broadcast). This executive told me what I already suspected. A high executive of the corporation publicly stated to the people working under him that the purpose of the corporation, other than earning a profit, is to “promote our narrative.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I admire and respect that news organization executive for at least admitting the truth. But this is why I have largely given up reading, listening to, or watching news outlets. Most, if not all, are driven by some “narrative” which means, some perspective on reality that is tied to a particular group’s overall social location and agenda.

Now, some of you, my dear readers, might be thinking, and preparing to say that this has always been the case so why now stop reading, listening to, and watching the news? I believe there was a time in my life—long ago—when at least some journalists actually tried to deliver news objectively—without his/her delivery being driven by a narrative or agenda. Of course, I don’t believe there ever was a time when news was delivered in a purely objective manner such that the words being spoken matched reality perfectly without any distortion and without any perspective playing a role in how it was gathered and stated. But I think there was a time, even during my own lifetime, when most journalists and academics believed the “pursuit of truth” was worthwhile and that there was a real difference between rhetoric and arguments, between information and manipulation. Now, however, it seems to me that all news delivery includes blatant manipulation. If nothing else, the manipulation lies in delivering “news” that people want to hear or read and ignoring “news” that will harm ratings or readership. But I believe I detect also in it a not-very-well-hidden agenda to persuade readers and viewers toward a certain perspective on reality. In other words, much, if not all, “news” is really social engineering. Once your “eyes” are opened to it, you can’t miss it. It’s everywhere. We all know it’s part of contemporary advertising, but many people still dream that somewhere there is a news outlet that is dedicated to facts separated from any narrative.

So, do I blame the journalists? No. In fact, when I do watch television news (which is rare) I actually have feelings of sympathy for the talking heads, most of who probably know that what they are communicating under the guise of “facts” is really part of some nameless, invisible group’s social agenda rooted in a narrative about how reality is or should be.

Oh, I could give hundreds of examples. One very obvious one is how little we read or hear in American news about events taking place in Africa—unless it affects “American interests.” Do you want to know something about Africa? Watch Anthony Bourdain’s CNN series “Places Unknown.” It doesn’t even pretend to be news, but many of his episodes take place in Africa—from Libya to Senegal to Ethiopia to Zaire. From them you will at least realize what earth-shaking things are happening in Africa that you will never read about in or hear about on American news.

So, some of you will want to say “Watch the news on BBC!” and “Read The Economist.” I have; I’ve stopped. In my opinion, both are also driven by narratives and agendas and by people “at the top” who expect them to promote those narratives and agendas.

Some of you, at least, will think I am being “Chicken Little,” but I don’t think so. In fact, I will go further than Chicken Little and say that the sky has fallen already; it’s too late even to hope for a return to real concern with “the facts” separated from someone’s narrative and agenda. In my opinion, relying on memory and on things I have read about him, Walter Cronkite at least cared about the facts, about attempting to tell us Americans about the realities of world events.

Today, as I see it, the lines between argument and rhetoric, fact and persuasion, news and social engineering (and entertainment), have largely been erased both in academia (professional societies are driven by narratives and agendas that determine what is appropriate to think and say and what is inappropriate to think and say) and in journalism. Which means both are dead in any traditional sense.

If you want to watch a fascinating documentary that well illustrates the implicit anti-realism I am talking about, please get your hands on and watch the final episode of the series The Day the Universe Changed: A Personal View by journalist James Burke (1985). It is entitled “Worlds without End: Changing Knowledge, Changing Reality.”


Moving at a Snail's Pace - Reformed Theology's State of Affairs





Dr. Roger Olson has done a little fact-check comparing "what was said then" vs. "what is being said now" to discover several movements in today's Reformed circles:

1) Reformed Theology has loosened up a bit... but not nearly enough; its still buttoned-down and pigeoned-holed by doctrinal presuppositions;

2) Curiously, Reformed churches in general hold to a stricter Reformed theology than its principle heads steeped in doctrinal knowledge; that is to say, the congregant is less forgiving, less imaginative, and less reconciling than their leading theological architects; and,

3) Religious criticism never seems to change. What is "good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander" depending on which governing body grants theological approval. Denominational authority is famous for pushing up their credentials and approvals while pushing down all those they disagree with. Unless, of course, they later say the same thing themselves - then, it is acceptable. Otherwise, all non-approved sanctioning bodies and publications are deemed unworthy.

In sum, Reformed Theology must become un-Reformed if it is to become better conversant with contemporary postmodern and progressive theologies running circles around its doctrinally bound  creeds and confessions. Until that day comes, other church and academic groups will be doing the hard work of comprehending God's Word so that Jesus may be preached to the nations, His gospel sowed, and souls reaped.

As a postmodern/progressive theologian I leave you with this great quote summarizing all theologies past and present - including mine own. It would be wise to remember when defending our faiths that not all knowledge is certain but must always leave room for movement, openness, and discussion:

“Our little 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

R.E. Slater
July 17, 2017

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A New Christian Dogmatics from Eerdmans

by Roger Olson
July 16, 2017
Comments

I recently received from publisher Wm. B. Eerdmans a complimentary copy of Christian Dogmatics: An Introduction by two Dutch theologians Cornelis van der Kooi and Gijsbert van den Brink (2012/2017). It’s a beautifully hard cover volume encompassing 806 pages (including indexes). On the back cover and inside are glowing endorsements by Richard J. Mouw, Michael S. Horton, Charles Van Engen, and John Bolt—all well-known Reformed theologians with evangelical credentials. I have not read the whole volume yet, but have glanced through it and read portions. It is very contemporary, moderate, irenic, broadly Reformed in posture and orientation, and accessible in language. The authors quote a broad range of theologians and philosophers but the influences of certain 20th century Dutch Reformed theologians such as G. C. Berkouwer and Hendrikus Berkhof are notable.

One of the first things I noticed as I scanned the table of contents is that the doctrine of Scripture appears as Chapter 13—on the heels of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Chapter 12). That is not to say, of course, that the Bible is not mentioned or used as an authority for theology before that; it is only to note that a complete account of a doctrine of Scripture follows that of the Holy Spirit—which is ironic (at least to me).

Years ago my good, late friend Stanley J. Grenz published his similar one volume “dogmatics” entitled Theology for the Community of God (also published by Eerdmans) and included the full discussion of a doctrine of Scripture after the doctrine of the Holy Spirit—late in the order of chapters. For that he was pummeled and vilified by certain conservative evangelical theologians. I am waiting to hear from them now about van der Kooi and van den Brink who do the same.

Of course, as an evangelical Arminian, I am especially interested in these Dutch Reformed theologians’ treatment of the doctrines of God’s sovereignty—especially providence and election/predestination. I found them to be very moderate—following closely Berkouwer and Berkhof (Hendrikus, not Louis!). There is no hint here of the aggressive “five point Calvinism” of many American Calvinists.

In sum, if someone asked me to recommend to him or her a moderately evangelical, one volume systematic theology from a broadly Reformed perspective I would recommend this one while cautioning that I have not yet read every page. What I have read pleases me even though, naturally, as an Arminian, I would have trouble using it as my own textbook in a course in systematic theology.

We evangelical Arminians need a good, broadly evangelical (not only Wesleyan), contemporary, one volume systematic theology from an Arminian perspective. I have heard rumors of such—that it is “in the works”—from a British Nazarene theologian, but he has cautioned me not to expect it anytime soon. I hope that it may yet appear in publication during my lifetime. I will not write one; I’m not a systematician but a historical theologian. I will leave it to others to risk systematizing revelation and Christian belief; I’m not at all convinced it can be successfully done. I agree with Alfred Lord Tennyson who famously wrote “Our little 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.”





The Importance of Lay Volunteers to the Church of God (Francis Chan Reflects on His Own Journey)


Pastor, Author Francis Chan, San Francisco, CA


Another short post today on the importance of growing and involving volunteers vs paid staff.  It has been my experience that lay volunteers get more done, with better results and everyone wins.

R.E. Slater
July 17, 2017

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Francis Chan Gets Powerfully Honest
On Why He Left His MegaChurch

by Judy Clair
July 5, 2017

Wow, you don't often hear a pastor saying this. In a powerfully honest talk to Facebook employees on last Thursday, best-selling author and former pastor of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, CA, Francis Chan shared why he really left the megachurch.

"I got frustrated at a point, just biblically," Chan told the group at Facebook, as the Christian Post reports. "I'm going wait a second. According to the Bible, every single one of these people has a supernatural gift that's meant to be used for the body. And I'm like 5,000 people show up every week to hear my gift, see my gift. That's a lot of waste. Then I started thinking how much does it cost to run this thing? Millions of dollars!"

"I was like, 'God, you wanted a church that was known for their love. You wanted a group of people where everyone was expressing their gifts. … We're a body. I'm one member, maybe I'm the mouth. But if the mouth is the only thing that's working and … I'm trying to drag the rest of the body along, chewing on the carpet …"

Chan got really vulnerable about the pride that came with the success of his book, Crazy Love, and how he desperately wanted to return to the person he once was. "I freaked out during that time in my life," Chan recalled. "The pride … [going to] a conference and seeing my face on a magazine … and hearing whispers … and walking in the room and actually liking it."

"Everything you (God) said you hated, that's me right now," he realized. "I gotta get out of here. I'm losing my soul."

Now Chan is doing something completely different from his former megachurch venture. Called "We Are Church," Chan is leading a group of 30 unpaid pastors who are pastoring about 15 different house churches in the San Francisco area. Each church is set up to be small, to build real community and prompt people to use their gifts.

"We've got a few hundred people now and it costs nothing," Chan explained. "And everyone's growing and everyone's having to read this book (Bible) for themselves and people actually caring for one another. I don't even preach. They just meet in their homes, they study, they pray, they care for one another. They're becoming the church and I'm just loving it and realizing that these 30 guys [are] leading this and the women as well."



The Ungodliness of American Politics



Just a short segment here today taken from a friend's facebook post which I'll post as anon while considering it excellent advice on avoiding the ungodliness of American Politics.

R.E. Slater
July 17, 2017

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The following is inspired by a post by Rachel Held Evens (I took her thoughts but shifted the focus):

  • Some people think my preaching is "awfully political." I think it's awfully gospel.
  • I don't say it’s wrong to mock people with disabilities because it's political; I say it's wrong because the gospel of Jesus Christ says it's wrong.
  • I don't reject the notion that demeaning, groping, insulting, and assaulting women is “just how men are” because it's political; I say it's wrong because the gospel of Jesus Christ says it's wrong.
  • I don't demand policy changes, even risking arrest, that address climate change because it's political; I put my body on the line because the gospel of Jesus Christ says I must care for my neighbors, the poor, the vulnerable -- the very people who will suffer the most because of climate change.
  • I don't support a free press because it's political; I support a free press because the freedom to follow Jesus is link to the freedom of speech.
  • I don't speak out when religious and ethnic minorities are targeted with misinformation campaigns that have dramatically increased hate crimes against them because it's political; I say it's wrong because the gospel of Jesus Christ says it's wrong.
  • Don't believe that the president of the United States is above the rule of law because it's political; I believe that everyone is accountable, especially our leaders, to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • I don't say it's wrong to turn away desperate refugee families, including many children, from safety (a decision that is based on misinformation and fear) because it's political; I say it's wrong because the gospel of Jesus Christ says it's wrong.
  • I don't call my Senators to oppose a healthcare bill that would likely increase the abortion rate and definitely leave my friends with special needs kids bankrupt and desperate because it's political; I call my Senators because the gospel of Jesus Christ tells me to care for the sick.
  • I don't expect the president of the United States to behave with some semblance of decorum and decency, even on Twitter, because it's political; I expect proper behavior because the gospel of Jesus Christ expect proper behavior.
  • I don't get angry when Christian leaders shrug off sexual assault, lying, racism, bullying, cruelty to the vulnerable, and unapologetic greed and self-aggrandizement because it's political; I say it's wrong because the gospel of Jesus Christ says it's wrong.
  • I don't turn over tables when Christians sing hymns in honor of this administration's ethno-nationalist agenda because it's political; I do it because the gospel of Jesus Christ says it's wrong.

Sure, it may look political to you, but it's following the Gospel of Jesus Christ to me.

Anon