January 31, 2006

Educated PEACE

A few months ago Rick Warren began his PEACE initiative to help end poverty and suffering in Africa. Here is a response to Rick Warren's movement from a Andrew Paquin: Politically Driven Injustice - Christianity Today Magazine. Be sure to visit Andrew's site The 10/10 Project.

Sometimes we must be careful that our excitment about the cause does not interfere with our brain. I think Andrew has a point. We want to help. We need to help. But we must actually help by being smart and doing what must and should be done rather than what we think ought to be done.

January 30, 2006

In Response

One of the problems with being a professional minister is that people often forget that our lives are informed by more than just theological concern. In a response Anonymous said, "Violence is not in the clergy's domain. The Christian, by definition should rebuke violence and hold all life sacred."I do weigh things against the Bible and my understanding of Jesus' preaching on the Kingdom of God. But, those are not the only sources for information used in making an educated decision on something. God gave human beings a brain for a reason. Science, psychology, sociology, and other disciplines all share a part in the formation of an opinion. (See the blog on How to Interpret.)

In response to my post True Justice, Anonymous also responded, "What if the torture of one enemy combantant could save the lives of fifty American troops? How about one hundred innocent civillians?"

Here are some of the more "secular" thoughts on why torture is probably not a good idea.

1. Torture does not net the truth. Yes, there are time when the information gleaned is helpful, but most people simply want the pain to stop. It is yet to be proven that torture, over and above interrogation, gives any thing of value.

2. With terrorists, pain and death are a means to heaven. The war on terror is dealing with a different military force, sociologically speaking. Any militant who dies or suffers in the name of the cause is guaranteed a place in heaven.

3. Those tortured become heros and propoganda. When a terrorist is tortured, their friends are only angered. When an innocent Muslim is tortured, their family members become terrorists. (Not in all cases, but very people are going to stand by while their loved ones are tortured without seeking revenge.)

4. Torture harms the torturer as much as the tortured. Not in the same way, but something inside a person is destroyed when violence becomes part of the equation.

Here is an article by Sen. John McCain, a Vietnam prisoner of war, from Newsweek. Here is a quote from his article, "The mistreatment of prisoners harms us more than our enemies. I don't think I'm naive about how terrible are the wages of war, and how terrible are the things that must be done to wage it successfully. It is an awful business, and no matter how noble the cause for which it is fought, no matter how valiant their service, many veterans spend much of their subsequent lives trying to forget not only what was done to them, but some of what had to be done by them to prevail."

I guess I also realize that if the American government has no problem doing it to the "enemy" they will have no problem doing it to me when the time comes. Besides they are often not even sure they have the "enemy."

January 27, 2006

On The Death of a Stranger

I found out this evening that my grandfather passed away. There were and will be no tears.

He is barely even a memory.

He left my grandmother when my mom was only five years old. I saw him once or twice growing up, and received an occaisional check for my birthday. That nicety ceased the year He accused me of cashing the check and claiming I had not received it.

He died with only his sisters present. No wife. No children. No grandchildren.

This is very much the way I expect my father to go. When he dies it too will be the death of another stranger.

Much Ado

Here is an article from ChristianityToday.com concerning actor Chad Allen's role in the movie End of the Spear: Christian Studio Explains Hiring of Gay Actor - Christianity Today Movies.

End of the Spear is a movie retelling the events of five missionaries who were killed trying to make contact with an isolated tribe in South America. Chad Allen plays the roles of Nate and Steve Saint. The problem is that Chad is openly gay.

This article attempts to look at both sides of the issue. I like where it ends up, but some of the things in it are sad. Why should Chad Allen have to be concerned that money from the film would be used against the homosexual community? Is this really the example of God's love that people in the homosexual community should experience?

I was saddened by Chad's concern. No one should ever have to feel that way. Unfortunately they do, though.

I think the biggest challenge for the 21st Century church is to demonstrate God's love to adherents of other religions and to the homosexual community. We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. The story Jesus used to back up that statement was about a Samaritan. Samaritans were hated and despised by the Jewish community. This has plenty to say to the Christian community about our relationship to the "others."

Seeking True Justice

Here is an example of where the Church is remaining silent in regards to a great injustice: 5 Reasons Torture is always Wrong - Christianity Today Magazine

Our "Christian" president allows this stuff to happen.

The Church remains silent on this issue. Why? Maybe it's because it is happening to the participants of a "pagan" religion, and not happening to them. Where is the denomination that will stand up and call this wrong? Where are the pastors and theologians that will say in public that this should not be happening?

There is an extended version of this article at Dr. David Gushee's website.

January 26, 2006

That's My Question

It seems that Elmo is actually the evil stepchild of Chucky and his bride. Actually the mother probably screamed, "I do! I do! OOOOOh, me, me, me" following 43 straight hours of hear the child hit the same button before finding the "Who wants to die?" button.

local6.com - News - Toddler's Talking Elmo Book Asks 'Who Wants To Die?'

January 24, 2006

Brian McLaren on the Homosexual Question: Finding a Pastoral Response

Here is an article from Christianity Today as found on their blog OutofUrLeadership Blog: Out of Ur: Brian McLaren on the Homosexual Question: Finding a Pastoral Response.

It amazes me how unloving some Christians are to their fellow human beings. Brian refuses to make a public proclamation of right and wrong on the homosexuality issue, and this seems to infuriate people.

Why should he?

For all the frustration and anger over his refusal to answer THE question, they miss his real message. His answer is what is important: Love your neighbor as yourself even if their actions and lifestyle make you feel icky!

That's it. The only reason homosexuality rates as a "worse" sin for most evangelicals is because it makes them feel icky. I don't hear about evangelical, family lobbyists campaigning (or boycotting) an industry because they supply medical insurance to unwed couples.

I, personally, think homosexuality is not God's original intent for the human sexual experience. I believe, though, that God's love is for all of us. I believe that my response to the message of Jesus should be to love them even more because the religious leaders have placed them on the "outside" of faith. Just as Jesus ate with tax collectors and other notorious sinners, I hope my life reflects God's heart of love for all of humanity whatever their sexual persuasion.

Love everyone, let God sort it out.

A Useful Article for Speakers?

I will admit that I have yet to read this article. Putting it on my blog is one way I can keep track of it. I think it will be useful though.

Guardian Unlimited Technology Technology Behind the magic curtain

How to Interpret

The Bible is a complex book. It is actually combination of 66 books from different authors and time periods. It has books of history, books of poetry, apocalyptic books, books of prose, books of history, and books meant for instruction. All of these different books require different methods of understanding them within their own literary genre.

Some in Christian history, and in today's church, attempt to interpret the Bible as though it were only one form. Or, they use the Bible as simply an answer book where they go expecting to find the exact answer to all of their questions.

But the Bible is more than an answer book. It might be better to refer to the Bible as a question book. Jesus' stories are a good example. Very rarely does Jesus give a direct answer to a questions, instead He tells a story. He tells a story that has to be wrestled with and applied in a variety of different ways. He uses allegory, parable, and exaggeration to get His message across.

This makes the Bible more valuable than simply believing the Bible to the literal words of God. God inspired writers through the Holy Spirit to write the books that make up the Bible. The text of the Bible was not dictated by God. The writers authorial stamp is on every word; their personal style and technique.

Scripture was meant to be wrestled with, discussed, and re-evaluated. The Truths are timeless. The only Word of God that 100% represents what God wanted to say and do in the world is Jesus. What if we understood many of the passage in the New Testament that spoke of the Word of God to be referring to Jesus rather than scripture?

The Quadrilateral has been helpful in my study of the Bible. The Quadrilateral is like four legs on a table. Each leg is necessary to help hold the table up. (Yes, I know there are three-legged tables, but it ruins the illustration.) The four parts of the Quadrilateral are: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience.

Scripture: What does the Scripture have to say on the topic? What does it interpret itself? What do the words mean in the original language? What was the original audience like? How would they have understood it? What cultural aspects might play a role in understanding this passage?

Tradition: What has the church and theologians said about this passage? What does theology have to offer our understanding of this passage? What has been handed down through the centuries by men and women much smarter than us?

Reason: What makes sense?Is the understanding and interpretation reasonable? What makes the most sense with all the information given?

Experience: How does this work out in real life? Do we have evidence of this happening? Does it work in the life of the believer? What are the effects in real life of believing this way?

All of these work together to help us understand a passage and how it is lived out. Dr. David Cubie, one of my undergraduate professors, said this should actually be a quinquilateral (meaning he added a fifth). The fifth being love. Is it loving? By love he meant love as defined in the person of Jesus Christ (self-sacrificing and unconditional).

I want to know how a passage is supposed to be lived with (I know the English is uneasy) and what effect a way of thinking has on the life of a believer. Anything that does not help you love God and love others more is suspect.

January 23, 2006

January 19, 2006

What is Sin? 2.0

Last month I asked this question, "What is sin?" And in answering it I focused on sin as a thing. Something a person does or does not do. I have been thinking more on the topic of sin due to some of my reading. What if sin is not a thing but a relationship?

What I mean is that we often think of sin as some impersonal thing that attaches itself to us. We "do" a sin. But what if sin isn't something we do, necessarily, but some relationship we do or do not have.

I guess this comes up because we often struggle to answer exactly why something (an action) is sin for one person and not sin for another. I think the answer is found in relationship.

Why is drinking alcohol a sin for one person, but not for another? Because for the alcoholic, drinking separates them from their healthy relationships. It destroys their families. It anesthetizes them to life. It is their obsession and their God. But for some, drinking a beer is just like drinking a coke; they do it once in a while. I think that is why the Bible says that getting drunk is a sin--because once a persons is impaired they no longer have complete control over what they say and do.

Why is lust, adultery, and pre-marital sex a sin? (This is an example of how an action is sinful in one instance but not in another.) Because it turns a person into an object for the selfish pleasure of another. Pre-marital sex is wrong, not just because it is against God's design, but because without commitment, true love is hindered. Yes, there are people who "love" each other and have sex before marriage, but without commitment there is still a lack of trust and complete honesty. The commitment to marriage is a commitment to the relationship no matter what happens.

This brings up divorce. Do we even have to ask why divorce would be a sin based on the relational aspect of sin? Look at all the damage it does to the family and the children. One professor of mine said, "Divorce is the gift that keeps on giving." But this does point back to the last paragraph, and begs the question, "The commitment to marriage really means nothing." I think this is often a result of sin (again relational) interferring in the marriage relationship and driving the couple apart. Or, the couple enters the marriage for selfish reason and then leaves for equally selfish reasons.

There is much more that could be said concerning sin as a relational reality. For instance the doctrine of Original Sin. Theologian have wrestled with how Jesus, while born to a human mother, could be born without original sin. The answer is simple: Sin is relational. Because Jesus was born connected to the Father, there was no Original Separation. Maybe that is the direction we should go. It should not be Original Sin, but rather Original Separation.

A Coffee Primer

Here is A Coffee Primer. Because we ALL need to know how to make a good cup of coffee. And besides, since I don't drink wine, I have to appreciate something.

God bless Juan!

January 18, 2006

Giving Wendy the Finger

I bet these two are thinking of giving Wendy's another finger.

Stiff sentence for US couple in Wendy's finger scam

Would Someone Please Shut Him Up!

Sometimes those who speak loudest do so in order to draw attention to a problem. Sometimes a person is saying the right thing, but people really don't want that person to say it. Mayor Nagin has created a track record of saying the wrong things at the wrong times in the wrong ways.

US News Article Reuters.com

I think he, and other members of the African-American community, are right to be concerned that the poor, black neighborhoods not be left till last. There is a tendency to make bigger and better accomodations for the wealthy and the white.

But!!!! No one really wants Nagin to open his mouth any more. Where is Jesse Jackson when you need him?

Was it the Football Game...

or was it the years and years of beer and hot wings?

Someone needs to get a hobby other than football.
ThePittsburghChannel.com - Channel 4 Action News - Only On 4: Bettis Fumble Coincides With Fan's Heart Attack

January 17, 2006

High court upholds Oregon assisted-suicide law

High court upholds Oregon assisted-suicide law - The Changing Court - MSNBC.com

The Church has often come down hard on suicide. Sometimes they have even treated it as the impardonable sin. That is an easy stance for someone who has never been pushed so close to the edge or plunged so deep into the darkness that there appeared to be no way out.

Is suicide unforgiveable? Maybe our "legal" understanding of sin creates some difficulties we are not prepared for? Maybe our understanding of sin as a legal transaction is not a problem for us, but it should be?

Maybe the true sinfulness involved in suicide is not that of the person committing suicide, but on the part of the church and Christians who never reached out. Sin is more relational than legal.

Taking Church to the People

Check out this church: National Community Church. They meet in a variety of locations and settings. Primarily in the theaters in the Washington D.C. Union Station.

Here is an article about them on Christianitytoday.com.

Church Marketing Sucks

Church Marketing Sucks

This is an interesting site sent to me by my friend Jeff.

Business as Usual

I used to chaff under the thought that the church was a business. I still don't like equating a church, on a 0ne-to-one basis, with a business. The Church is not a business, but the church (lowercase "c") has business aspects. Also, God did not provide a guide to managing a church in the Bible. We find principles of leadership, but not a textbook. I also find that God likes it when we use the brain he has given us, and the business world has given us some pretty good thoughts on organizational structure and leadership.

I just finished Patrick Lencioni's book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. This book has a lot to say to anyone working with ministry teams or church boards.

One item I took away was the idea of focusing on goals are that are measurable and workable. Many churches focus on their Sunday morning attendance as measurable goal. The problem is that Sunday morning attendance is to the church what profit is to the business world--it is the result of many other goals and process. But even attendance is not the ultimate goal. So there must be some other goal that will support this goal and maintain the mission of the church.

I don't think it is ever attendance. I also don't think things like Christlikeness, "impact," or any other such goal is even measurable. This morning I was thinking that one good goal might be the number of people serving. Not just leaders, but serving others. I think this would require something of everyone. Worship leaders, evangelism directors, small group leaders, leadership development, and the Pastor.

The more people who serve, the more people begin attending. More leaders are needed to help lead the servants. More training is needed, more depth is needed, more people are needed, and more jobs or ministry opportunities are needed. It seems to be a goal that is connected in some way to all the other goals. There might be another goal that is manageable, interconnected, and measurable.

January 14, 2006

Ten Theological 'Trick' Questions

Here is an article on Dennis Bratcher's website: Ten Theological 'Trick' Questions

This is why I am Wesleyan. This is why Brian Mclaren and Rob Bell do not seem heretical to me. This is why I am more Wesleyan than Nazarene (Actually I am a follower of Christ, but I have found theological alignment with much of Wesley's thought, though not all.)

I think that many of our churches have been influenced by faulty theology. A good bit of that bad theology comes through "small group theology" or theologically ignorant pastors. (I remember one pastor who's most recent books were from his seminary days, and he was about to retire. That may be a bit of an exageration, but not much. And the majority of his books were from the denominational publisher.)

Information or Formation

This article: CNN.com - Students prefer online courses - Jan 13, 2006 talks about students prefering online to face-to-face classes.

The real question is, "Is education just information or is it also formation?" Online classes, though this is a very broad generalization, demonstrates a philosophy of information. It is the belief that to be educated means that we have a lot of information. The Internet has proven that hypothesis completely wrong. There is so much information and so few educated people.

Education as formation means that spending time with a professor and seeing them live is a vital part of the process. To be educated means that a person has the necessary information, but that information is given in the context of a life and a way to live. Unfortunately, due to overcrowding, much that goes on face-to-face is not really formation either.

So, let the online classes begin!

January 13, 2006

What to do about the homeless?

Here is an article listing the top 20 cities that are the meanest to their homeless population. Groups survey 20 "meanest" cities for homeless - U.S. Life - MSNBC.com

When I read this article, I think the churches in those cities should share the shame. I understand that the term "meanest" is dependent upon perspective, but where is the church and what are they doing to protect and care to hopeless and helpless?

I was shocked to see Lawrence, Kansas at number 2.

January 12, 2006

Naturally Supernatural

John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard Church, coined that phrase. He used it to illustrate that Christians are to display their supernatural abilities in very natural ways. For instance, praying for the sick, and believing that God can and does heal people.

I think there is more to it than that. I believe there to be no such thing as the dichotomy between natural and supernatural. We divide the two because we are influenced by Greek philosophy, and because we want to distinguish between what we believe to be an inconsistency between science and faith.

The problem is that God did not set up two worlds or realms; He works in one. He created the universe therefore He set it up to run as, what is from our perspective, both supernatural and natural. But there is no dichotomy--there is no separation. Our universe is at one and the same time both natural and supernatural with no distinguishing between the two.

This is another area where our eschatology (our understanding of the end of things) has interfered with our theology. We constantly view things in terms of the "end of it all." So, we create this other realm that is supernatural. So for God to do something he "interferes" with the natural order of things. Miracles were seen as God's changing the normal course of things. So, when science or liberal theologians proposed natural explanations for things, conservatives had to back track.

But the supernatural is a natural part of our world.

Miracles are simply God's action in His world. The blooming of a flower is simply miraculous in God's world.

January 10, 2006

Hell No!

I just finished reading Brian Mclaren's book The Last Word and the Word After That. It is an interesting look at the commonly accepted, conservative, protestant view of Hell. Which, to be very honest, I have always found disturbing.

The question often goes, "How could a loving God send people to hell?" The responses have included, but not been limited to, either God chooses who does and does not go to hell, or we choose by our own actions. The one that made hell a little more comfortablt for me was, "God doesn't want to, but our disobedience and rejection of Him causes us to be judged." I still, though, had difficulty with the concept.

Before we go any further, I would like to say that by the end of this I will not have decided on an acceptable replacement or theology of hell. I will have simply spoken of a very few problems I have with the concept, and a few of my tensions if it were to be let go.

There are several views of hell. These are very brief and very general. Exclusivist says that only a few people are in, and the rest are out. Inclusivist says that we don't know who God will let into heaven. Conditionalism can have a few different views. It essentially says that hell is only temporary either to purge the sinfulness or to eradicate the soul. Universalism says that everyone is in.

The problem is that none of these options seem adequate. The exclusivist view requires us to set standards and criteria for who is in and who is out. Inclusivist is a little more palatable, but does not answer the question or tension of a loving God and eternal torture. Conditionalism is inadequate because it doesn't fully answer the question either. Universalism, while also considered heresy, does not take seriously our accountability for wrongs.

Here are several things that stood out to me from Brian's book.

First, the words "judgment" and "destruction" do necessarily carry eternal significance, and may have more to say about how our actions will be judged. When we hear the word judgment we automatically think of a final judgment with people being sent to heaven or hell. Everyone will be judged. I love this quote from Brian, "We are saved by grace, but we are judged by our actions."

Second, the doctrine of hell, as we know it, is less biblical and more Dante than we care to recognize. Once we accept that doctrine of hell we read it into passages all over the place.

Third, when we read the word "righteousness" we often miss the "right action," "justice" part of the word meaning. When the Bible talks about obeying God it is speaking of more than just going to church and reading the Bible. It is talking about caring for the sick, the hurting, the widow, the orphan, loving your neighbor as yourself, loving God, seeking justice in our world. The spiritual disciplines (Bible reading, prayer, fasting, worship, fellowship, silence, etc) are meant to form us into people who hear God's voice and do His will and justice in our world.

We often spiritualize things. Being a Christian is so much more than saying the "sinner's prayer." Saying the sinner's prayer will not get you into heaven--following Jesus will. There is a big difference. Obeying God is more than going to church, tithing, reading the Bible, and praying, though these are important. Being saved is about more than just getting my butt into heaven or keeping my butt out of hell. It is about more than whether I follow a specific set of rules. Being saved is about being a follower of Christ, a doer of His works.

Take the word "believe" for instance. The modern interpretation of "believe" is something like giving mental assent. It means you know the right things. For the Bible, to "believe" means to live or follow or do. If you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you are doing what the Lord Jesus Christ did.

Hell kind of fades away in this post. I cannot do the book justice. (no pun intended). I think it fades because hell is not the focus. But Christian theology has made it the focus. Follow Jesus, being a disciple, being a doer of God's will, a bringer of God's Kingdom, that is the focus. (By the way, the Kingdom of God does not refer to heaven. It refers to the reality of bringing God's will and justice to our world. Christians are responsible to take part in this.)

The problem is that our concept of hell has caused us to be complacent. We get ourselves in--we are done. We don't have to worry about the problems of this world because, "one day this will all be over. We will be in heaven."

Maybe there will be more later. This is still rolling around, and probably will for some time.

January 2, 2006

The Virgin Birth

Here is an article from the Slate. It is a discussion between three historians concerning the virgin birth of Jesus.

I don't necessarily agree with their conclusions, but I do agree that historical methodology is not theological methodology. Whether or not the story is true (though I believe it is) it is first and foremost a theological truth. We must also recognize that there is more to determining the truth of something than empirical study and proof.

Why War?

I found this article through a link on the Christianity Today website. This pastor from the Columbus, Ohio area is fighting a WAR against everyone. His language is frightening because it sounds all too much like the Islamic Fundamentalists.

I do agree that the WAR in Iraq, against homosexuals, against evolution, and whatever else are an issue of values. I just thought Jesus' values the Christian faith was to focus on was the idea of "Love your neighbor as yourself!"