Monday, December 13, 2010

This holiday season...

I am not going to be able to go home for Christmas; flights are just too expensive. I suppose if I had bought a ticket a few months back it would have been cheaper, but, that didn't happen. Oh well. Anyway, that means I need love from all of you this Christmas! :-D Just a note to say hello or whatever, so that I don't feel quite so alone.

At least I'll be able to have Christmas dinner with some friends from the NOOC (the place where I'm staying). And, I will have plenty of time to read, and focus on my research, which - to be honest - I need to do more of! Speaking of research, here's a little glimpse into what I'm thinking about these days:

I am considering how the concepts of sin and grace are articulated in Bonhoeffer and Kierkegaard. This involves an expansion of the concepts, beyond the definitions implicit in the minds of many Christians, and a re-capturing of the traditional picture of both sin and grace as 'states', that is, categories of being rather than specific actions (though the latter is certainly not excluded).

A quote from Bonhoeffer's Discipleship adds, I think, a particularly poignant dimension to this conceptualization:

"'Sin Boldly'--that could be for Luther only the very last bit of pastoral advice, of consolation for those who along the path of discipleship have come to know that they cannot become sin-free, who out of fear despair of God's grace. For them, 'sin boldly' is not something like a fundamental affirmation of their disobedient lives. Rather, it is the gospel of God's grace, in the presence of which we are sinners always and at every place... to whom could such a thing be said ['sin boldly'] except to those who from their hearts daily reject sin... and who are still unconsoled about their daily unfaithfulness and sin?"

This passage, I suggest, may contain a profound truth: there may come a time when we have to acknowledge the desire of some to follow Christ who nevertheless have despaired of God's grace. In that situation, what is more important--that we make sure they have eliminated their sin, or work to relieve their despair, even if their sin remains? God's grace is surely needed at that point more than ever. This is a vital question for Christian ethics.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Christmas season is upon us...

Well, it's December! We just had our first snow here in Oxford this week, and - for those who care about this sort of thing - I've decided that it's a bit colder here than in Seattle, and that it's a bit cloudier and drizzlier in Seattle. But, overall, the weather is fairly similar.

The term is over already (they are only 8 weeks long!) but that really doesn't affect me at all, since a PhD is pretty much an all-the-time sort of thing that you don't get a break from unless you want to. It's really hard to believe I've only been here two months - it feels like it's been a lot longer! But, when I think about how little I've done so far, that's when I remember that it's only been two months. :-)

Overall, I'm really liking Oxford and I'm slowly getting more involved in my academic community, as well as trying to make friends in general. There are several Americans living at the North Oxford Overseas Centre, where I'm staying. So, that's been nice. But, it's equally nice to have the opportunity to meet people from all over the world and talk about their cultures and what they are doing here in Oxford.

I won't be able to go home for the holidays (I'm poor! :-P), but there will be several people around the N.O.O.C., so I'm sure we'll find things to do. They have a Christmas dinner there as well. I have a TON of reading and writing to do, but I am going to try and get out for a couple days and see some sights, etc.

Keep praying for wisdom, financially and academically. I'm wanting to make sure I really am following the right path. But, I am starting to get over my initial fear of 'not being smart enough for Oxford'! :-)

Ok, I guess that's it for now... may each of you have a blessed Advent season.


(And, happy birthday to my late sister, Julianne, who I suppose may be celebrating with angels today.)

Monday, November 22, 2010

A quick thank you!

I just want to say 'thanks' to the anonymous kind soul(s) who sent me a support check. It is greatly appreciated! If you're reading, thank you!


Sunday, November 21, 2010

rough week...

Well, it's beginning to really get cold, gray, and rainy here in Oxford, so I guess it's the perfect time for me to catch a bad cold. Ugh. I've been knocked down since about Tuesday, and I'm just getting a bit better... prayers appreciated. :-)

Of course, I am thankful that I don't have anything that I have to get done right away, but it has certainly slowed down my reading output -- that is what really matters right now, I'm discovering. I just have to read and read and make notes on what I'm discovering, so that I can go to my supervisor next term with a rough outline of my research, including a table of contents and a sample essay. That isn't too difficult a task, but right now it feels daunting. I guess once I'm back to 100% I'll feel differently.

Other than that, things in Oxford are fine. Just a lot of sitting, reading, and thinking about theological connections. And trying to look for all sorts of hidden funding sources. Hope you are all doing well, and an early Happy Thanksgiving to you!


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Now available on Scribd...

...that would be me. :-)

In case you don't know, Scribd is a self-publishing website where you can view/read uploaded articles, proposals, essays, stories, or just random junk from people all over the world. Lots of business people apparently use it, and some authors as well.

I finally decided to do more than just anonymously sign up, and posted a couple essays on my Scribd page. Maybe I'll upload some more stuff in the future. In the meantime, if you're interested in reading a couple things I've written, check out my page: Thanks.

Hope you are all well,


Saturday, October 23, 2010

In case anyone's interested...

I have posted a bunch of new pictures that I took around Oxford last week... it's such a beautiful old city. The photos are on my facebook page, so you can log on and see them there, or just follow this link:

Hope you're all doing well!


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Let's get this party started...

Well, I've been here almost two weeks now, and things are starting to get rollin' around the ole' Oxford... I will be visiting several seminars this week, and deciding which ones I will start attending regularly. I also have to start working on an overview of my research plan and develop my chapter outline, as well as start working on my reading. So, as they say, time for the rubber to meet the road.

On a completely different note, I bought some peanut butter at a grocery store in town today. That made me very happy -- peanut butter will be a staple food for me! :-) And I think I've found a decent church just down the road, so that's good too!

Grace and Peace,


Wednesday, October 6, 2010


I need to give you all an update! So, I'm here at Oxford, settling in... things are fine, but I've hardly had a minute to write and my internet has been acting up. At any rate, here's the latest:

Flew over to the UK last Monday, Sept. 27. It was an overnight flight and I arrived around noon on Tuesday the 28th. After a glitch with my bus ticket, I finally was on my way to Oxford around 2 pm. Got to my lodging at 4 pm, showered and went to my first introductory meeting at 5 pm. Went out to dinner with some other new students, then came back and unpacked everything. Went to bed around 2 am.

On Wednesday the 29th, I woke up thinking that it was mid-morning. I was wrong - it was 2 in the afternoon! So, apparently, I was tired. :-P It's taken me several days to get used to the time difference, but I think I'm finally settling into it. My body just couldn't get the knack of going to bed at a different time. Anyway, a brief overview of what else I've done since arriving...

Went to a few meetings at Regent's Park College, my college at Oxford. Had dinner there last Thursday night. Went to a postgrad welcome dinner on Saturday night. Met up with some new friends for lunch on Sunday, and went to church Sun. night at an evangelical Anglican church up the street called St. Andrews. Seems like a good place. Met with my advisor on Sat. and had a good chat about what I should be focusing on as I begin. Monday I went to library orientation and walked around Oxford for quite a while, getting my bearings. Yesterday (Tuesday), more orientations and today I met with my college tutor about various details.

If that all seems like a blur, well, it feels that way too. It's hard to believe it's only been one week. It feels like I've been here a lot longer. And, there are things going on at the university pretty much non-stop, so I'm sure I've missed some things that I should have attended. Oh well. So far so good! Now I'm off to get some groceries...

From Oxford, UK, this is Geoff, signing off.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

All systems are go...

Well, the visa's here at least. ;-) So, I am set to leave on Monday, the 27th. I would greatly appreciate your prayers for my good health and peace of mind, for focus as I begin my research, and for God to provide me with a solid community of friends and a church. Oh, and if you know anyone who wants to donate 50K or something, let me know. hehe.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Another delay...

Well, I am now scheduled to leave on Monday, Sept. 27. I decided to move the departure date back another week, just to be safe, since I still haven't received my visa. It's frustrating, but at least it's not too much trouble moving the flight since it's being purchased with airline miles. I guess I don't really have anything to complain about, I just wanted to be in the UK sooner. But, it's good to have more time here to prepare and relax before jumping headlong into this new adventure. I have shut off my cell phone (can't use it over there), so email or Skype is the best way to reach me for now!

Monday, September 13, 2010

One week until...

I move to the UK! Well, maybe... if my student visa gets here in time! :-P But, it's looking like everything is coming together, and I will be flying to London on Tuesday, Sept. 21. I actually had to move the date back one week, and I hope that is enough time for the visa to show up. If not, well... third time's the charm, I guess. hehe.

Anyway, I am back from my visit to Seattle - it was a good but stressful trip, for a variety of reasons. But all is well. God is good. And here's a little thought that I've been pondering today, courtesy of Dallas Willard's The Divine Conspiracy:

"The acid test for any theology is this: Is the God presented one that can be loved, heart, soul, mind, and strength? If the thoughtful, honest answer is; "Not really," then we need to look elsewhere or deeper. It does not really matter how sophisticated intellectually or doctrinally our approach is. If it fails to set a lovable God... before ordinary people, we have gone wrong. We should not keep going in the same direction, but turn around and take another road.

Theologians on both the left and the right, and those on no known scale of comparison, are all loved by God, who has great things in mind for every one of them. They are our neighbors, and we are to share God's vision and love for them. They need to love God. The theologian who does not love God is in great danger, and in danger of doing great harm, for he or she needs to know God and believe with assurance concerning God."

Sunday, August 29, 2010

I've been lazy...

Whoa, haven't posted anything for a while... to the three of you who care, I'm sorry! ;-) But, really, I haven't dropped off the radar completely. I have been working on getting the visa stuff squared away, and doing other things, like visiting relatives in MO and IL. I will be flying back to Seattle for a few days to visit friends - including my (ahem) girlfriend, Megan. She hates it when I say things about her on the internet, so hopefully she'll read this. haha! It will be nice to see everyone again, even if only for a short time. Pray for Megan and me, as the long distance relationship thing is going to be a challenge. Umm... not much else to say at this moment, just thought I'd give a brief update. Maybe I'll post something somewhat intellectually stimulating one of these days. We'll see. :-)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Visa issues...

Sometimes things don't work as smoothly as you'd hope. Profound statement, huh? Well, it's nothing terrible, but the 'getting a visa' process sure is one of those processes that, to be honest, seem designed to not work smoothly. It's almost as if they make it difficult on purpose, creating hoops to jump through just to see if they can weed out those who aren't fully committed. I don't know, but it seems like that sometimes.

In any case, I have to get the photo, the fingerprints, all the documentation, etc. and mail it all to the consulate in LA next week (apparently CA handles the visa apps for people in OK, but whatever) and hope that they get it all back to me before Sept. 14! Of course, it doesn't help that current U.S. loan laws have been changing, so Oxford was late in getting me my financial details. Oh, and it doesn't help that Oxford also lost my Fuller transcript, so I had to resend that - that delayed things as well.

But, I'm trusting that everything will work out and I'll still be able to leave on time. If not, well, I guess I'll be delayed a week or so. Please pray that there are no more delays! Thanks.

Besides that, I'm going with my parents to visit family in MO and IL this weekend. I'll see my brother and his family, and go to a wedding reception for my cousin. Should be fun!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Counting down the days...

Well, it's another scorcher here in OKC - should be over 100 degrees today. I am just not used to the hot weather after spending 10 years in Seattle. I probably sound like I'm whining. Ok, I'll stop.

I leave for the UK one month from today (Sept. 14)! Crazy! It's still so surreal to think that I will be moving to/living in another country in a month's time. Lots of details still to sort out, but I am confident that everything will be in place by Sept. Still have to get all the Visa details worked out, but I don't think that will be too much of a problem.

Looked at my luggage options yesterday, and I think I can just snag a couple of suitcases from my parents - yeah! Actually, I think I can take everything I need in two checked bags, and two carry-ons. That includes books, and what not. I feel pretty good about that. I've never been a person who needs a lot of "stuff" (well, besides books and musical gear!), and that is certainly a plus when making such a big move. Not sure if I'll take my guitar with me or not... maybe.

I feel like I'm rambling a bit here... not much else to report, so I guess I'll get back to my reading/writing, which I've been trying to focus on, as long as I have no other pressing matters to attend to. I'm a bit nervous about studying in the UK since it will be so independently oriented (doing research on my own a lot of the time), and I have noticed that it's easy for me to become lazy when I have no source of feedback or encouragement. Pray that God gives me strength and discipline!

Ok, that's all for now.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Mildly interesting update from OKC...

Well, I've been here for a few days now, and nothing exciting has happened. Not that I was expecting anything. :-) The weather sure is different - and it is NOT making me happy. We've averaged over 100 degrees every day here since Monday. It's muggy, gross, and... my parents like it much better than Seattle weather!? Yep, they say it's too cold and gray in Seattle. I guess I can understand that. They spent nearly 30 years in Haiti, so very hot weather is what they are used to. Apparently it was 50 and rainy in Seattle today.

I grew up in Haiti... still, I think I'd prefer 50 and rain to 100 and muggy. I guess over the last 10 years my body became somewhat acclimated to living in the NW. This all makes me wonder: If people can't even cope with different kinds of weather, how in the world will we ever get along theologically? :-) Haha... of course that's where my mind goes.

I've been reading a couple of books this week that are worth checking out: Finding Darwin's God by Kenneth Miller and The God Who May Be by Richard Kearney.

The first is dedicated to exploring the idea that the scientific theory of evolution and belief in God are compatible. Yes, that's right, you can believe in God AND evolution! Crazy! (sensing the sarcasm?) Miller makes a compelling case, especially with regard to the strength of the evolutionary evidence and the lack of Y.E.C. (Young Earth Creationist) evidence. He also presents a fairly solid picture of why belief in God remains viable, although his theology is somewhat lacking in rigor at times. (Though, to be fair, he never claims to be a theologian.) His arguments seem reasonable for the most part and he is not overbearing or condescending, like many in the Evolution vs. God debate.

The second book is a "hermeneutics of religion," but don't let that frighten you. It's written by a philosopher, and does contain quite a bit of technical language, but if you are familiar with 20th century continental philosophy at all it should be fairly easy reading. Essentially he is arguing for a description of God as "possible" rather than a God who is absolute being (onto-theology), or a God who is absolute alterity/non-being (negative theology). Kearney sees God's possibility as a third option, one that is not only consistent with Scripture (though is careful to point out that he is not performing exegesis in the book), but also offers a more reliable way for us to approach God as human beings who also find ourselves suspended between being and non-being (or immanence and transcendence).

Both books are well-written, clever, and actually fun to read (well, I thought so anyway). If you're looking for something "intellectual" to read this summer, I would suggest either or both, depending on your literary proclivities. And, yes, I only said that because I wanted to use the word 'proclivities.' haha.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

And we're here! (in OKC, that is...)

Got into Oklahoma City tonight and I'm now at my parents house. And I'm pretty tired. Four days of driving is a bit of a drain... but thankfully we made it safely (I traveled with my dad) and the hotels weren't bad. And the truck had air conditioning!! That wasn't a big deal in Seattle, but once we hit Kansas today where it was 110 degrees, we were very thankful! Got to visit briefly with a cousin and her family in Colorado, and had some enjoyable conversations with the old man. (I'm sure he'd love to hear me call him that! haha!) But overall a fairly quiet trip. So, first leg down! Now, the preparations for the BIG move! More exclamation points to come! :-)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Getting things packed up...

Well, only a couple more days... the car is sold, the packing is - well - slowly coming along. My dad flies in tonight (he and I will be driving the truck back to OKC). I am saying goodbye to people and making plans for the future (which may include a certain woman, but more on that later... :-D). And, of course, in the midst of all this, I catch a cold. Not the end of the world, but it does seem like sometimes God (or the devil, or whatever) just likes to throw a little extra at me to see how I'll handle it. haha! Anyway, still a lot to do, but unless there's some major event I will be leaving Seattle on Friday! When will I return? Only God knows... but I'm hopeful! I've loved living in the NW and hope to again someday.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

less than one week left in Seattle...

Lots of loose ends to tie up - probably most of them I haven't thought of yet. :-) In six days, I will begin my drive from Seattle to OKC. I have to finalize the sale of my car, get rid of all the unnecessary junk in my apartment, pack up everything, etc etc etc. I have started working on my Danish - got some tips and lessons from a tutor and now I have to start working on memorization of vocab and grammatical rules. Fun! (sort of) Anyone want to Skype? I'm getting a webcam soon and I hope to keep in touch with people that way. Let me know. Not sure if I'll get a cell phone in the UK or not, still need to figure out how that's gonna work. Anyway, that's my random ramble for the day.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The times, they are a changin'...

Well, it's down to less than two weeks until I leave Seattle: first, off to Oklahoma City for a few weeks, and then it's off to Oxford! Wow... I'm starting to realize that this is actually going to happen. It's weird how something can seem so distant, like a dream, and then reality sets in. I'm feeling a mixture of emotions - excitement, nervousness, sadness, hope... I have the feeling this blog is going to turn into a slightly different outlet for a while... I will try to provide a fairly constant running update of what is taking place as my adventure unfolds. Here it comes!

Friday, July 16, 2010

On the differences between humans and other animal species...

So, I was having a fun discussion with a couple friends last night, and we got onto the topic of human/animal cognition. Yes, that's fun! :-) Anyway, I brought up the concept of "reflexive thinking" in humans, and I thought I'd post a bit about that here and see what sort of discussion it inspires (if any).

A quick online search finds a couple of definitions of "reflexive" or "self-reflexive" thought:

In sociology, reflexivity describes "an act of self-reference where examination or action 'bends back on', refers to, and affects the entity instigating the action or examination."

In literary theory, the term self‐reflexive applies to "literary works that openly reflect upon their own processes of artful composition. Such self‐referentiality is frequently found in modern works of fiction that repeatedly refer to their own fictional status."

The basic idea, philosophically, is one where thinking is reflecting upon itself; in other words, thinking about what we are thinking. My basic assertion is that, as far as we know from all available evidence, human beings are the only species that exhibits this sort of reflexive thinking.

Nearly everyone agrees that there is a big difference between the way humans think and the way animals think. But often this is described merely as a quantitative difference (humans have larger brain capacity, and so we have evolved more complex thought processes) rather than a qualitative one. I want to suggest that human beings actually possess a reflexive quality to our thought that is unique to humans. Whether it is an evolutionary development or divinely created is presently beside the point, though an important question (maybe it's both! ;-D). The main thing is that, for whatever reason, only humans have developed this quality.

Another way to say this is that only human beings ask of themselves, "Why did I do such-and-such?" Only humans apparently have the cognitive means at their disposal to question their own motivations, and reflect upon the concepts/ideas that guide their actions. For example, though an ape or elephant may paint (after being guided by a human, of course), only humans give expression to what may be called the concepts of "art" or "beauty." Why is this? Can it really just be shrugged off by the explanation that our brains are a bit larger and more developed? Or is there something more taking place?

Notice that I am NOT saying humans are necessarily superior to animals. There are, it would seem, still many humans who spend most of their time thinking and acting in ways that are no different from other animals. Humans do have all the animal traits consistent with higher mammals, but it would seem that humans also have something else, the potential for reflexive thought which, I would suggest, may provide a key to understanding ethics and other philosophical systems.

Of course, perhaps I am biased in this whole discussion, due to my belief in God. But, even without a belief in God, it seems reasonable that the view I've outlined might be a valid explanation of the cognitive faculties in human beings versus cognitive faculties in other animals, specifically the apes and other intelligent species.

Clearly, this is just the tip of the iceberg and I am a neophyte in this area with lots of research still to examine. But, these are some initial speculations on my part. For a rather developed article on several facets of this topic, check out this entry at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

More of my favorite song lyrics...

This is really apropos for me, with my impending move to the UK and all the transition accompanying that! Plus, it's a beautiful song. :-)

King's X - The Difference

I walked through a garden in the morning
I walked right into a change
No words were spoken, just a feeling
And I cannot explain

But I can feel the difference
I can feel the difference

Wind it comes and it blows
Where it comes from, I don't know
To look for a reason might just kill it
And I cannot explain

But I can feel the difference
I can feel the difference

And I cannot explain...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

re-post: guilt and conviction

[I'm re-posting this because the original was corrupted by spammers]

I've been thinking lately about the difference between guilt and conviction, and the importance of distinguishing between them for Christianity. A quick dictionary search comes up with the following definitions:

Guilt (n): a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc.
Convict (v): To make aware of one's sinfulness or guilt.

Now, at first there doesn't seem to be much difference between these two terms. Guilt is the feeling that you've done something wrong, and conviction is what causes that feeling. But, for Christians, it is important to make a further distinction, one that will prove vital, I think, for a proper understanding of God's love and our response to God.

That difference is directly related to who does the convicting. Here's what I mean. There are multiple sources that can convict: a judge, society, your parents, your self, God... But in Christianity, the divine source of conviction, God the Holy Spirit, operates differently from any other source we face.

How so? The Spirit convicts us of sin (John 16:8). Moreover, the Spirit is what enables us to live as Christ has called us to live (Rom. 8:11, Galatians 5). But, even more important for the issue at hand, the Spirit assures us of our salvation (Rom. 8:11-16, 1 Cor. 12:3, 2 Cor. 5:5, Gal. 5:5, Eph. 1:13).

So, we have a source of conviction who also assures us of our salvation: The Holy Spirit. This is a great source of hope! And it shows us the important distinction between guilt and conviction in Christianity.

Guilt fills us with a sense of dread, fear, or despair. We feel guilty because we have done something wrong, and we are either afraid of punishment, or of rejection, or embarrassment, or loss. Guilt is a powerful motivator because it reminds us of the horrible results our actions may bring about, and drives us to avoid those actions, or at least to cover them up.

But guilt is also extremely difficult to get rid of, once it's taken root in our lives. Guilt follows us and haunts us and torments us. And, unfortunately, many Christians have been initiated into a life of guilt, due to the sort of "merit-based" Christianity that has erroneously been handed down for centuries.

Conviction from the Spirit is different. This is not because there is no guilt in conviction; of course, we have all done things that are wrong, things that we should do or should not do. We have all failed. But, if the one that points out our guilt is also the one who reminds us of our treasured status as beloved children of God, the outcome should be quite different.

Instead of feelings of fear or dread, a more proper response would be remorse. There is no condemnation, as Paul says, but there is a reminder of the fact that we haven't lived up to our calling. This reminder should cause us to say, "Yes, I'm sorry, I know I should have acted differently" -- at which point the Spirit assures us that we are still loved, and are blessed with God's gifts of grace, mercy, and forgiveness... and the strength to try again!

Even more, because of the grace of God that reminds us of our salvation, there is no need for guilt to remain: it has nothing to cling to, nowhere to hide. Often we forget this and let guilt hang around in our lives, because we find it difficult to believe that God really loves us that much - enough to forgive and forget in a way that seems foreign to us. But when we believe it, we find that our guilt is no longer necessary.

And so, guilt becomes a mere trifle for the Christian, a minor bump in the road, as the Spirit gently uses our stumbling to remind us of our need to repent, and then helps us back to our feet and leads us on our way, so that we can forget about that obstacle and look forward, rather than backward.

If we, as Christians, can learn how to separate guilt and conviction, and recognize that guilt is the piece we can safely eliminate, while recognizing the value of allowing the Spirit's conviction to direct our lives, I believe that the overall health of the Church would vastly improve.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Colin Gunton on knowing God's attributes...

from Act and Being (I assume the title is a nod to Bonhoeffer? ;-D):

"It is too easy to assume that we know what is 'our idea of God', so that the essentially problematic nature of what the tradition has bequeathed us is concealed. Most of the detailed problems derive from that, and the tangled web of interrelations between the Hellenic and Hebrew traditions consequent upon it...

We have already seen that, as with much of our theology, there are in this case especially two sources for what has been developed in the history of Christian thought, classical philosophy on the one hand and the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments on the other... the former tradition - for good reasons - tends to stress the impersonal and metaphysical attributes, the latter the personal...

But it cannot be the use of philosophical terminology in itself that is at fault. Christianity is a philosophical faith, at least in the respect that in its main streams it has never renounced the conceptual task: the task of making clear in what manner the gospel is true, and true in the same sense that other things are true... That is to say, it must seek to give an account of the way things really are...

[T]hat involves answering enquires about what it means for our understanding of the being of our God that he is described as a rock and a fortress and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For that matter, the meanings of such words as love, freedom, and spirit are not self-evident. Love takes many forms and some freedoms are not what they claim to be, while many conceptions of spirit, especially some of those fashionable today, are not necessarily those of scripture."

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

God vs. Jesus - a false dichotomy...

Today, I was talking with a friend about how difficult it can be at times to discern the will of God. I don't know for sure, but I suspect I'm not the only one who struggles with this: I often can't sense God's presence as much as I would like, and I also don't feel like I am getting a clear picture from Scripture regarding what God is saying, and so...

Well, me personally, I either get really frustrated and mad because God isn't doing anything (apparently), or I get worried and afraid to move forward because God isn't doing anything (apparently). I think another common response is to simply give up on God and try to do things on our own, because we think that since God doesn't seem to be showing up, we are left to make our own way. I don't believe any of these options are viable for Christians.

Thankfully, we are given a very clear picture of the will of God: it is found in the life of Jesus Christ as captured in the gospels. Jesus, we believe, IS God. Fully God, and yet fully human. So, if you want to know what the will of God is for your life, look at how Jesus lived, and follow his lead!

"Yeah," people might say, "but Jesus really didn't have to deal with what I'm dealing with. His world was totally different than mine." True enough - but only partially. Yes, Jesus' historical time and place was far removed from ours, but the response he gave to his world is the same response we are to give to ours: announce that the kingdom of God is at hand, and live out that proclamation!

It all sounds so easy when I say it, but, unfortunately, I know full well how difficult it can be. And even though I don't really like admitting it to myself, I am fairly certain that I know the real reason I/we make excuses like this. The truth is, we really don't like the idea of living like Jesus!

I mean, if the will of God is to live like Christ, then it apparently will involve sacrifice. It will mean placing others before ourselves, even to a radical degree at times. It may mean giving up everything we hold onto for security. At the very least, if following God means living like Jesus, it will often upset our comfortable lives. And this - I suspect - is the real reason we often ignore the will of God clearly presented to us in the life and work of Christ, and instead try to look for some mysterious "sign" or evidence of the "will of God" in our lives.

Perhaps when we stop looking for (and trying to fabricate in our field of vision) what we think God's will should look like, and simply start to follow Jesus and live like he said we should, then we will find that God's will has never been far away... it's always right in front of us, waiting for us to take it seriously.

If I'm completely honest, it's easier sometimes for me to create a false dichotomy between God and Jesus, as though God's will and Jesus' will are not the same. But if Jesus is God, then God's will is Jesus' will. And Jesus has given us a pretty clear picture of what God's will involves. It may not always be that appealing, but that's something we will have to deal with if we are going to take God's will seriously.

Maybe I'm just realizing how much I fight against what God really wants, and how much I try to make God's will into my own will. That will never work. So, instead, I'm going to try a bit more each day to follow Jesus. At least that's my desire.

God, give me your strength.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Enrique Dussel on "the poor" and "the kingdom"...

(The complete article from which these quotes are taken can be found here)

"[R]eligion is not some ideological superstructure which justifies the prevailing system; religion is rather the infrastructural undermining of the sinful status quo and the construction of a new order in history as an offering or sacrifice to God, a sharing in that building of his Kingdom which is God's own gift.

The revolutionary who is a believer will not see his religious position as a matter of accident or of little importance. His religion is a radical openness, an enabling condition of greater political and economic creativity in his work, his service of the poor. This service, 'already' in the Kingdom since it is outside the system, is worship of God. Thus the poor are a necessary mediation of the act of worship of the Infinite...

All actual, material, and thus religious service of the poor is in itself worship of God and the building of his Kingdom. To deny poverty is to deny the absence of the Kingdom in the present system. It is to affirm the existing system as the kingdom of this world. To affirm the poor, on the other hand, and to serve their eventual liberation, in the structures and in history, is to witness to the presence of the Kingdom in the satisfying of the poor and to the absence of the Kingdom in the imperfection of society...

The Church, God's remnant among the peoples of earth, has evangelism for its calling. To evangelize is to bring good news to the poor, to turn the many into a people and to make that people aware of the destiny that God has prepared for them: the Kingdom. Not just aware, but active, now that there is a real possibility of conquering sin, of restoring their wealth to the poor and of building a new order in which there will be neither rich nor poor, neither oppressors nor oppressed, neither nations of the centre nor nations of the periphery, neither ruling classes nor those that suffer the rule of others."

Saturday, June 19, 2010

How important is orthodoxy?

No small question! I mean 'orthodoxy' in the broad sense, referring to the 'fundamentals' of the Christian faith, what we attempt to explicate in the Apostle's Creed, or other similar statements. Let me start by saying that I try to take these fundamentals very seriously. I say 'try' because there are times I question some of them, and wonder about their necessity. And a lot of the time I am confused by them. (The more I learn about God, the more I realize I don't understand God!) But, I am willing to accept the basic foundations of the faith:

God is one, and yet triune, Christ is God who became a person, and died, and rose from the dead to reconcile all creation to God. The church is essentially the presence of Christ in the world. One day God will complete the reconciliation of all creation. That includes belief in an afterlife, the resurrection of the dead.

Let me repeat, I believe all this - that is, I am willing to place my hope in it, even though I don't always understand it. But, therein lies my question. How important is it for us to correctly believe these fundamentals? The key word is, of course, 'correctly'. I assume that nearly everyone agrees God is beyond human comprehension. I would be very surprised by, and skeptical of, anyone who claimed they have God figured out. God would not be a very impressive deity if we could figure him out!

However, there are still many Christians, I suspect, who - even if they agree with the above assumption, are confident that they way they view God is accurate. They may not claim to know everything about God, but what they do know about God, they know correctly.

How do they know this? Well, they have some particular interpretation of Scripture, or appeal to reason and common sense, or set of experiences, or storehouse of tradition to which they appeal. More likely, they have a combination of all of the above. And, like all human attempts to understand something, Christian beliefs include views that are more general, and more specific.

What do I mean by general and specific? Well, here is an example of a general Christian belief: "There is a God." Clearly, it would be very hard to claim that one is a Christian if one does not believe there is a God. A specific belief, on the other hand, might be something like, "All Christians were chosen by God before creation, and God already has decided who will be saved and who won't." This is a belief grounded in a particular interpretation of Scripture, and at the end of the day, it is hard to see why a Christian would have to hold this belief. After all, you could be one of the chosen, and be following Christ, even if you had never heard about being chosen before creation. In other words, you don't need to know how you are saved, in order to be saved.

But, one might ask, how do we determine which beliefs are general and which are specific? Well, early on, the church developed the creeds and councils as ways to make decisions about what constitutes proper Christian belief. This is how orthodoxy developed; beliefs would arise about which someone said, "That doesn't seem right." There would be a debate among all the church leaders - sometimes they would last for decades! - and finally a decision would be made; this particular belief is/isn't correct, and so was labeled as either orthodox or heresy.

Now, the big problem with this approach is, naturally, that human beings are imperfect and make mistakes. So, decisions would be made that were later reversed. Arguments that could not be resolved sometimes led to factions and splits - although, prior to the Reformation, the church generally had a much better track record of maintaining unity in the midst of disagreement. Unfortunately, there has also been no small amount of violent response to these disagreements, which thankfully our modern world has been able to alleviate somewhat. At any rate, it is clear that maintaining orthodoxy has been fraught with difficulties.

HOWEVER, it is worth pointing out that the basics (i.e. The Apostle's Creed, etc) have managed to withstand nearly 2,000 years of struggle, and the vast majority of Christians still agree on these beliefs. So we can reasonably assume that the general beliefs of Christianity seem a bit more solid and have a wider range of support.

Still, none of this really answers the question of importance. If we agree that orthodoxy has value, then we can also ask about the constitution of that value. Is it simply in believing these 'basics', or is the value in a posture of faith that expresses willingness to believe, in spite of what the 'basics' may be? If we say what matters most are the beliefs themselves, we run the risk of claiming to have figured God out. Additionally, we seem to be setting ourselves up as potential heretics, if and when some of the beliefs are modified. (Granted, with the basics, it seems highly unlikely there will be much modification! Most arguments are about the specifics...)

On the other hand, if we say that what matters more is our posture of faith, that is, the willingness to simply follow Christ no matter what, we seem to be caught in a vicious circle: Who decides what constitutes a posture of faith? A further problem - we seem to be setting ourselves up as potential heretics, since any number of varying factors might influence our posture. So what do we do?

The danger of heresy exists either way. This leads me to think that those who claim to have a 'correct' view of God ought to be very humble and slow to speak, since that danger of heresy is always present. I do not claim to have a satisfactory answer to all of these issues, but I do have a couple of suggestions.

1. When in doubt, relying upon the basic beliefs of Christianity seems wise. In general, there is little reason to deviate from these basics unless one has truly struggled with them in a variety of contexts and with a variety of conversation partners.

2. There is nothing wrong with questioning your/our beliefs! Doubt may lead one away from God, but doubt is always a crossroads: will I be led by this question to a new realization about God, or will I be led to deny God? There is a big difference between rejecting some belief and replacing it with a better belief, and rejecting belief. Of course, the follow-up will be: How do we know what 'better belief' means?! (I'll leave that for another post!)

3. Fear of heresy is still fear. We should be concerned about heresy, but not afraid of it, because God knows we don't have everything figured out. We all slip into heresy from time to time, and with God's grace we are able to wriggle free. But heresy is not equivalent to damnation. If we can learn to be graceful with each others forays into heresy, we will all be better off in the long run, and may actually grow to be more orthodox.

4. Orthodox belief and a willing posture of faith always have to be held together. There is no simple formula. At the end of the day, to claim that one is 'correct' is to answer the wrong question. The question isn't "Are my beliefs correct or not?" The real question is, "Given that I have placed my faith in Christ, how can I best reflect that faith as I live my life?" This involves not only learning to express our beliefs as clearly and coherently as possible, but it means taking them seriously, and actually following what we say we believe. Otherwise, it doesn't really mean much to us, does it?

I welcome your thoughts.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Looking for the goodness in all things...

In the church "small group" study I have been attending, we are reading through C.S. Lewis' small book, Letters to Malcolm, which is a collection of essays in letter form, as though written to a friend (for some time several of us thought they were actual letters, but I grew suspicious when some of the sentences became so ornate that I thought, "man, no one writes letters like that, not even Lewis!" :-P) Anyway...

In the book, Lewis talks about prayer, and a variety of theological topics related to prayer. Tonight we were discussing his idea that prayer often begins with looking around at the simple beauty found in your current situation. Even if there is nothing profound happening in our lives - even if we are in a bad situation - it is still possible to find a bit of goodness and linger there. As Lewis puts it: "Begin where you are."

But Lewis then expands on this idea a bit more, and we found ourselves (or at least I found myself!) drawn to the understanding that goodness is always present in our lives, at least to some extent, and to that extent, God is present. In other words, anywhere there is any good, it is a reflection - even if a very dim one - of God. This, of course, is not a new idea: St. Augustine, for example, viewed God as the source of all goodness, and to the extent that there is evil, he called it the "absence of good." Augustine (following a neo-Platonic route) went on to say that evil has no actual reality to it, because since it is not good, it is also the absence of God, which makes it also lack reality.

Of course, most of us will question such a notion, because evil seems quite real to us. But Augustine's point was subtle. Think of theft, for example. In theft, what takes place? If someone steals an apple, they do not eliminate the goodness of the apple. They just take that goodness (assuming we like apples! :-D) and transfer it from one location to another. In so doing, they take goodness away from someone else. This is the evil; the taking of good from someone else and keeping it for yourself. Even if you were to smash the apple under your foot, you haven't eliminated the goodness. It simply returns to the earth, where it has the potential to actually create more goodness (i.e. a new apple tree).

Lewis makes a similar point, and one that I think is quite helpful for us in developing not only a more accurate picture of evil, but of sin as well. Lewis describes the theft of the apple in Augustinian terms, but goes on to add that in stealing the apple, we are actually doing harm not only to the person we robbed, but also to ourselves, and indeed to all of creation. Why? Because every time we sin, we transgress against God's goodness. Sin is not simply the fact that I took something which wasn't mine, it is also the fact that I contributed, in a small but nonetheless profound way, to the reduction of good in creation.

Now, someone may point out that an apple isn't everything - for that matter, everything in creation has limits. All is finite. We can't all have our own apples all the time, so to speak. It is true that we are, in a sense, caught in a catch-22. We can't solve all the world's problems and eliminate sin. But Christ calls us to live as though we will (see Matt. 5-7 for example). But even though we cannot eliminate evil - only God can - we are asked to believe, by faith, that God will do so. And living with that faith gives us the courage to foster goodness in the world, even when it seems like it won't make much difference.

This is where the dual lesson of goodness can transform the Christian. If we are, through Christ, able to see that any and every act of goodness is a small taste of what God is like, and every act of sin is a small (or big) taste of what it's like when goodness is stripped from the world, we can begin to see what Christ calls us to be. We are bringers of goodness!

And with that goodness (which is really God's goodness), we also hope that maybe, just maybe, our actions have the power to re-make the world in some sense. What we do really matters! Following Christ has the power to transform not just people, but all of creation. Not completely, of course, but God never asked or expected us to do everything. God does ask us to live as conduits of goodness, bringing hope - even in small doses - into the world by following Christ.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Becoming a 'self', according to Kierkegaard...

The following sections are from George Pattison's The Philosophy of Kierkegaard:

"I can never turn around and say of myself, 'Now I have become the human being I had it in me to become'. Why not? Because, as long as we live in time, who or what we are is still open to revision and change. I may 'be' the great leader of a nation but then, in my dying breath, betray that nation to its enemies. Our end can never be had other than in what Kierkegaard calls the mode of 'anticipation'. My 'actuality' then, is not the actuality of a fully realized potential. It is itself a process of actualization whose end is not yet given.

...[P]layful self-discovery is entirely positive, as long as we understand that it is just a play and that a moment comes when we have to move from possibility to actuality... Why? Because we are in danger of responding to the demands of actuality by allowing ourselves to atrophy in the domain of possibility. We resist 'getting real' and want to remain perpetual adolescents, unable to take responsibility, unable to commit to a clear and consistent existential task, unable, in the last resort, to be anything... a life frozen in possibility, a life that, so to speak, remains in the theatre - remains the life of a spectator - when it should be getting out into the world of action."

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Now accepting donations! :-)

Ok, it's a bit pushy, I suppose, but I now have a button at the top of the page that provides an opportunity - for anyone who feels so inclined - to donate to my Oxford adventure! I will begin my Phd (or DPhil, as they call it) program in Sept, and I am going without a complete financial aid package at this point (though I'm hoping that will change after the first year - I'm gonna be filling out every scholarship application I can find!).

So, I am relying upon God - and the kindness of blogdom ;-) - to help me make it through the first year! If you can spare anything to help me, as I make the big transition across the pond to a new school and a new life, please consider donating. Thanks, and God bless!


Friday, June 4, 2010

The immigration debate: Where do Christians belong?

Recently, I began a discussion with some friends on Facebook, who were responding to my 'status' statement saying that I disagree with the new Arizona immigration law (and, by extension, the national immigration law). As FB is sometimes a challenging forum for writing extensive explanations, I thought I'd take a stab at a more coherent statement here. So, briefly (I hope!):

First and foremost, I take it to be paradigmatic that, for Christians, our allegiance to Christ trumps our allegiance to any nation or culture. This is a HUGE issue in itself, and perhaps until we really learn to take this truth seriously, debating issues like immigration will be exercises in futility. But, nevertheless, this is where we must begin. As Christians, our primary responsibility is not to defend our nation or its laws (though there is a place for that); our primary responsibility is to live like Christ, doing all that we can to offer glimpses of the kingdom of God breaking into the world.

But what does this mean with regard to immigration? Well, it means basically this: As Christians, our views on immigration (or any socio-political issue) must be grounded in what Scripture and the witness of the Christian faith have taught us, NOT on what is best for our national identity or security. I realize this is probably a big sticking point, but I submit that to ignore this truth is to ignore Christianity. Much of what is called 'Christianity' is nothing more than an idol shaped to look like Jesus, but having only those features which we find consistent with our particular cultural or political views. This must be challenged.

So, with Scripture and the Christian tradition as our guide, what do we see? In Scripture we are presented with a worldview that prefers grace over judgment. We are given, over and over, mandates to take care of the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the 'stranger' or 'alien' (the immigrant - Deut. 10:19). This is a theme developed in the Old Testament with particular intensity: Exodus 22:21, 23:9; Leviticus 19:33-34; Deut. 27:19; Jer. 7:6, 22:3; Ezek. 22:7, 29; Zech. 7:10; Mal. 3:5. The Israelites are even told to create a sort of welfare system for the poor, the widow, and the alien, since those groups are typically the ones most deprived of blessing (Deut. 24:17-21).

It is important to note that these commands (given by God to Israel) treat the immigrant as though they are already a part of the community. Of course, it could be said that such rules and blessings only are meant to apply to legal immigrants, not illegal ones. But Scripture gives us no such categories. Yes, the immigrants should agree to abide by the laws and morals of the Hebrew nation. But this is meant to happen in tandem with the acceptance of the alien by the Hebrew people. In other words, it is the hospitality of the Israelites, and the immigrants subsequent positive response to that hospitality, that constitutes their 'legal' status.

In other words, it is not the responsibility of the alien to first jump through a bunch of hoops before they will be accepted as a part of the community. Instead, it is the responsibility of the CITIZEN to treat the alien as though they are already a part of the community, inviting them to share their lives. If the alien rejects that generous welcome and the responsibilities that come with it, they are simply told to leave. But notice that this is a near reversal of the current American system, where people have to clandestinely attempt to cross a border, thereby breaking a law and preemptively committing themselves to expulsion, simply to have the possibility of receiving the generosity that we, as Christian citizens, should be offering them to begin with. Simply being given the opportunity to cross a border does not constitute hospitality.

This is why those who claim that illegal immigrants automatically deserve to be punished - either by being expelled or by being imprisoned - are simply wrong, from a Christian worldview. Of course, since the U.S. is not a theocratic nation where our national and religious identities are fused (and I am glad we are not a theocracy - that would almost certainly be worse for everyone), this complicates the issue. We have to navigate between our allegiance to national laws and our allegiance to Christ. The existence of a border ought to be respected, but there is a higher calling for believers than the call to protect our borders. It is the call to protect the needy.

This leads to a fair question: Who are the needy? Well, I could point to Jesus' words in Matt. 25, or the parable of the good Samaritan, or any number of other passages in the NT. Jesus seems to indicate that the needy can be anyone, depending upon the situation, and our call as Christians is to respond with grace to anyone in need, no matter where we find them. This offers another glimpse into the connection with immigration: if the first element of a "Christian" immigration policy is the a priori hospitality of the citizens toward the immigrants, the second element might be called "a generous immigration." In other words, we should begin with the assumption that we will try to take care of as many immigrants as possible, with the caveat that they are willing to embrace our generosity.

In Matt. 20:1-15, we read the parable of the workers in the vineyard. In the parable, Jesus describes (in details that sound ironically similar to the situations of Hispanic workers waiting in parking lots across our nation) the owner of a vineyard hiring workers who are standing around waiting for jobs. But, the twist is that the owner pays the same wage to those hired at the beginning of the day AND those hired at the end of the day. Naturally, those hired first feel cheated. But the owner says, basically: "You agreed to this wage. I want to pay these other workers the same amount. Why are you threatened by my generosity?" The parable challenges all of us - citizen and immigrant - to consider the reality that God's economy looks very different than ours. In the context of this current discussion, it suggests that those of us who think we are owed something more than others (whatever the reason) are completely missing the point. And, often, when I hear people talk who oppose relaxed immigration policies, it involves a lot of "they don't deserve it, until..." statements.

Jesus clearly extends the theme of generosity and grace in the gospels, and ties the reality of the kingdom of God directly to care for those who are on the margins, including the foreigner in our midst. Christ asks that we learn to become people who are willing to give of ourselves - our money, our time, and even our land/nation - in order that others might be blessed and come to know God. This is very challenging, but we cannot choose to ignore it simply because it's difficult.

Of course, a nation's laws are important, and as Christians we should respect them as long as they don't conflict with our call to follow Christ. Certainly there is nothing wrong with asking immigrants to obey the laws of our nation, and learn our customs (though I would argue that American customs are a lot more fluid than most of us want to admit - we are an experimental "melting pot" after all). But this, I would argue, is a two-way street. As long as we who are "good, law-abiding" American citizens remain unwilling to embrace immigrants - choosing instead to see them as criminals, or at best second-class individuals here to take our jobs - we are failing to extend the hospitality that will encourage them to join our way of life.

And, of course, this is exactly what has happened in America: we are a nation comprised of thousands of 'little countries', where people can spend their lives hanging out with others who are just like they are, and never have to really get to know the immigrants, or the poor, or those on the margins, who live right down the street. New immigrants pick up on that and do the same thing. Heck, I barely even know my neighbors - I'm part of the problem too, and I confess that.

I have no problem with our country telling immigrants that if they commit a crime, or refuse to be a part of our culture, that they should leave. But if our first and most common response is a lack of hospitality, that is wrong. And I haven't even brought up the issue of how America has systematically built up its own wealth while more or less ignoring the problems of other nations (except when they threaten our 'national interests' of course!). With mixed messages like that - Our country is the best place on earth to be, but we only want you here if you can prove you deserve to be here! - no wonder so many illegal immigrants attempt to fly under the radar.

As Christians, we ought to be trying to offer a different way, one that is hospitable, generous, and yes, demands responsibility. But in that order, not reversed. That's grace - it is given before we deserve it.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Miroslav Volf on God's gifts and our response...

"To want to earn benefits from God or to receive them as payback gifts is to say three wrong things at once: (1) God is a negotiator God; (2) we can give something to God in exchange for something we want; and (3) we are agents independent of God who can relate to God any way we find to our liking. None of these things is true, however.

God is not a negotiator but a pure giver. We can give nothing to God but have received everything from God. Finally, we are not independent of God but are living on a given breath. To fail to recognize these three things is to live blindly and to claim God's gifts as our own achievements. To recognize these truths is to understand ourselves as who we truly are, fundamentally receivers."

(from Free Of Charge)

Friday, May 28, 2010

On Job: Speaking of God...

The following quotes are from Gustavo Gutierrez' On Job: God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent:

"The language we use depends on the situation we are in. Job's words are a criticism of every theology that lacks human compassion and contact with reality; the one-directional movement from theological principles to life really goes nowhere. A quest for understanding that that is based on human and religious experience gives a glimpse of other ways of speaking (and keeping silent) about God.

Job... is, as it were, caught in the middle between, on the one side, a theory from which he cannot manage to free himself (the ethico-religious doctrine of retribution) and, on the other, the personal experience that convinces him of his innocence. Despite this dilemma, Job does not let himself be carried away by an abstract and facile logic: he will never say that God is unjust. Instead of speaking ill of the God in whom he believes, he challenges the foundations of the prevailing theology.

His friends try to corner him by claiming that his declaration of innocence amounts to a condemnation of God. Job... answers that God is not to be justified by condemning the innocent. But the dilemma torments him, and he tries to escape its grip. He does not know how to do it, but he is convinced that the theological method of his friends leads nowhere but to contempt for human beings and thus to a distorted understanding of God.

Job is sure that God knows him to be innocent. His friends do not know it, but God does... We, the readers of the Book of Job, also know that he is innocent and that this is how God sees him, for the author of the book has told us so in the prologue. For Job himself, however, the conviction that God knows his true situation is a conviction born of faith."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What are you doing here?

[The LORD] said, "Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by." Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"

1 Kings 19:11-13 (NRSV)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Actually, I like this theory of LOST...

What the ending of LOST is really about, according to the Simpsons... hehe... actually, after seeing the ending, it's not that far-fetched! :-)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

SEX! (a couple thoughts on a biblical view...)

The following is a quoted section from an essay found on the Books & Culture website:

"I do not think the church, in particular, has done an adequate job of explaining the biblical view of sex and marriage in terms of whole-self giving. With ignorance of the overriding principles and purpose of sexual self-control comes a tendency toward technical adherence - following the letter of a misunderstood and disrespected law, rather than the wise and lofty spirit of it. We must do a better job of rooting our understanding of sex in the character of God and his image-bearing purpose for mankind. People may wrestle with the question of his goodness, but an honest fight with the real issues is better than brushing God off as a daft and irrelevant uncle.

Secondly, we must stop speaking of abstinence as if it has no post-marriage value. The fact is, we are talking about self-control — a virtue that matters as much to marital monogamy as it does to premarital chastity. And those are just the sexual applications! But when all we tout is abstinence, rather than sexual self-control, the connection to all other spheres of healthy restraint is lost — and with it the urgency and relevance of being disciplined people, of being adults."

In other words, there is a bigger issue at work in God's view of human activity than just our sexual behavior, it is the issue of healthy behavior as a whole. Have we reversed this and made sex the bigger issue? I think so. But, ironically, BOTH those who argue for "guilt-free sex" AND Christians who over-emphasize (or hide from) sex are a part of this reversal, and thus part of the problem.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

more lyrics I love...

Jimmy Eat World - "For Me This Is Heaven"

The first star I see may not be a star.
We can't do a thing but wait,
So let's wait for one more.
The time, such clumsy time,
Deciding if it's time.
I'm careful but not sure how it goes.
You can lose yourself in your courage.

When the time we have now ends,
When the big hand goes round again,
Can you still feel the butterflies?
Can you still hear the last goodnight?

The mindless comfort grows when I'm alone with my 'great' plans.
This is what she says gets her through it:
"If I don't let myself be happy now then when?"
If not now when?

When the time we have now ends.
When the big hand goes round again.
Can you still feel the butterflies?
Can you still hear the last goodnight?
Close my eyes and believe wherever you are, an angel for me.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Christ's call to generosity...

We read in Matt. 25:34-40 (Jesus speaking): "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we [do all these things]?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'"

Notice that the blessed followers are surprised. This is not because they didn't realize they were helping the poor or the sick. Of course they knew that! They were simply doing what they would normally have done – what they didn't realize was that, in doing just what they had always done, they were showing generosity to Christ!

Our responsibility as Christians is not to figure out how to 'find out where God is' and then become generous. Our responsibility is to begin living generously, developing a heart like Jesus' – and when we do, we will find God, sometimes in surprising places!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

At the PNW-AAR...

I'm in beautiful Victoria, BC, at the University of Victoria for the 2010 Pacific Northwest American Academy of Religion conference. I presented a paper today on "Crowd and Community in Bonhoeffer and Kierkegaard;" it's the third time I have presented here and it's always a great experience. The atmosphere is collegial, cordial, and - this year even more than last - very intellectually stimulating. Just a lot of fun. And, I will be stepping in as the "substitute" co-chair for the Session of Theology and Philosophy of Religion tomorrow (Sunday) morning, since the official chair had to leave early. So, that's pretty cool. It's been good to hang with other Fuller NW folks, and overall a great experience. I'm sure I could say more, but now I'm going to bed. :-)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

"Christ is where chaos ends..."

My devotional today was about lighthouses - how they provide light and direction to ships in stormy seas, and how we as Christians are supposed to be, in a similar fashion, lights to the world. One phrase stood out to me: Christ is where chaos ends. "But, that isn't really true..." I thought to myself. "Christians experience chaos all the time." However, upon further reflection:

If God in Christ is real and trustworthy, then Christ IS where the chaos ends. The problem is that we haven't, in this life, fully obtained Christ. We are caught between the often-stated 'now and not yet'. Sometimes I think we forget what this really means. By faith, we believe that God is for us in Christ Jesus. But too many times Christians - especially, I think, in wealthy, safe, nations - tend to experience our relationship with Christ in terms of wealth and safety. But this is not reality.

The reality of life is that it is fraught with chaos, and although we should not seek out chaos (it will find us soon enough!), we should not run from it either. But this means depending upon Christ within the midst of chaos. If Christ is not enough to sustain us in the chaos, if we prefer to rely upon our wealth and safety, then it shows how little we understand faith.

Of course, we must also be wise... especially when we are responsible for others. But, in a sense, as Christians, we are all responsible to others all the time. We have to weigh the needs of our neighbors almost as if they are the needs of family. We must always weigh our lives as being worthy of sacrifice for the sake of others, and the Gospel. This runs directly contrary to most of what our society tells us, all the time.

To return to the lighthouse metaphor, it is actually that we, as Christians, are BOTH the lighthouse AND the vessel in the storm. We are grounded upon Christ and have the Spirit's gifts to bring light, direction, healing and hope to those around us. At the same time, we are being tossed about and drifting toward unseen dangers and only the light of Christ - primarily as seen through other 'lighthouses' - can help us to navigate our way.

My prayer for every one of us today is that we would understand by the Spirit's guidance what it means to trust in Christ more fully, so that we can truly become beacons of light and hope, grounded in confidence that Christ is sustaining us, even as we are tossed around by the waves of life. Amen.

Friday, April 30, 2010

the future is up in the air...

or at least it feels that way. I am now in a position that is rather difficult; I have been accepted to Oxford for a PhD in Theology. Yay! But, as it's a UK school and I am an American, there is apparently very little funding available for me. Boo! And, I have to fill out a form explaining where I am going to get the money to pay for everything while in the UK. Double boo!

I mean, I understand why they do it, and it's a good procedure to have in place - don't want students coming who can't afford to be there. But as someone who is 1) poor and unemployed, and 2) does not feel right about taking out a six-figure loan, I am a bit worried about the whole situation. I mean, God knows what the future holds and maybe things will work out better than I can imagine (C'mon Scripture promises! hehe), but I still have a decision to make. Prayers for wisdom appreciated!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Paul Holmer on theological trends...

from The Grammar of Faith:

"We do Christianity an injustice... if we think that the lively and widespread interests in various subjects, what can be called fashions, are the points of departure for addressing others about the faith. It is the very stuff of fashions not to last; and theology which gets an easy hearing will as quickly lose the public ear.

A theology that is immediately attractive is often a poor introduction to the Christian life and thought. One must never entertain, therefore, a picture of a Christian theology as a net of causes and reasons, an intellectual proposal, which by constant assimilation of novelties, by continual adaptation to new circumstances, will reclaim the masses by its sweet reasonableness."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A "Christian" nation, again...

Here is a short, helpful article explaining what is at stake in the argument for/against America as a "Christian" nation:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The bind of responsibility...

As I've been thinking about ethics, especially with Bonhoeffer and Kierkegaard looming in the background, it's become fairly obvious to me (though I may be clueless! :-D) that the struggle to find a universal ethic is ultimately a dilemma that humans are unable to escape. It is a goal that we will never reach. The mildly interesting example in my previous post can serve to highlight this. If we have a responsibility to make sure we are always treating our friend the best way possible, and we are also attempting to live responsibly with regard to 1) our personal worldview and 2) the cultural ethics in which we are enmeshed, well... sooner or later, something has to give.

This is one reason why pragmatism is such a seemingly simple solution: We can't possibly know the outcome of every possible ethical choice, and so we make assessments based upon probabilities and ratios. At one level, this is all that we can do - There is no way to know all the factors that, say, may make one life more valuable than another, and so, as the old story goes, if we have to allow 10 people to die to save 1,000, that is our only ethical option. Of course, no one is really happy about this, but what else can we do?

What's interesting, and rather unsettling, about Bonhoeffer and Kierkegaard, is that both of them, in different ways, seem to say something else: There may be a time when, for a higher purpose that cannot be ethically/rationally quantified, it may be right to allow 1,000 to die for the sake of 10. This is not because the 10 are kings or generals, or something like that. That is just another form of pragmatism or utilitarian thinking. No, it is because, in God's 'economy', numbers don't really matter. And neither do ethical principles, at least the way we conceive of them in our human logic.

This is, to say the least, troubling... and deserves more discussion... which I will hopefully have time to do in the near future.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

a little thought-experiment...

I've been thinking about the concept of cultural obligation and how to interpret our responsibility to the various circles of existence in which we find ourselves. Now, I am going to quite intentionally bracket out Christian theology here, not because it isn't important, but just for the sake of the 'experiment.'

So, my thought is this: If we establish cultural values, such as politeness, fairness, honesty, faithfulness, etc, on what are those values based? Do they have any genuine ethical content outside of what we, as human beings, give them? How would we determine this?

Just as an example: Suppose I decide to make a comment that is true, but 'insensitive.' One example might be, "Do I look good wearing this color?" Now, suppose we did all sorts of empirical studies to show that a particular skin tone looks best with a particular color, and we analyzed personal preference to find out what people liked and why, and we could provide a great deal of evidence to show that, in fact, a solid amount of proof is available to show that you do NOT look good in that color.

The question then becomes, which is more ethically appropriate, and why: 1) The obligation to tell the person that they do not look good in that color - keeping them from embarrassment or pure aesthetic error, or 2) The obligation to be kind to a person we have a relationship with, and 'lie' to them?

There are many factors that might be considered here: How well do you know the person? How will they respond? Is it vital to take cultural expectations seriously? Is there really an imperative to always tell the truth? These are, of course, not simple questions. But I submit that quite often, we do not really consider these questions, precisely because of the complications involved.

Rather, we - for reasons of ease, simplicity, and 'politeness', simply go with the path of least resistance and do what will be the least painful in the situation. By least painful I mean that we do what we think will be the best thing to do that both protects the other person, and protects our obligations. If this is a fair assessment, then I ask: Is this a good way to act? Is it ethically defensible? Or is it misguided? I am wondering...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sleeping At Last - "Naive"

Just heard this album for the first time, and these lyrics are amazing (especially in the wake of the recent priest abuse fiasco):


Religion is a breeding ground
Where the Devil's work is deeply found,
With teeth as sharp as cathedral spires
Slowly sinking in.

God knows that I've been naive
But I think it makes him proud of me.
Now it's so hard to separate
My disappointments from his name.

Because shadows stretch behind the truth
Where stained glass offers broken clues,
And fear ties knots and pulls them tight.
It leaves us paralyzed.

But in the end such tired words will rest.
The truth will reroute the narrow things they've said.
The marionette strings will lower and untie,
And out of the ashes, love will be realized.

God knows that we've been naive
And a bit nearsighted to say the least.
It's broken glass at children's feet
That gets swept aside unexpectedly...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

One writer's take on health care...

Here is a very interesting recent article from The Atlantic magazine on the American health care system. Worth reading... even if you don't agree with all the author's points.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Ellul, American Propaganda, and Tea Parties...

Jacques Ellul wrote "Propaganda" 45 years ago. In the book he articulates a theory about the development of a modern system of propaganda that is designed to enable societies to progress toward certain aims (political, technological, etc). In one section he describes 'sociological propaganda' in the U.S. Here is a very interesting excerpt:

"Another very curious and recent phenomenon (confirmed by several American sociologists) is the appearance of 'agitators' alongside politicians and political propagandists. The pure agitator, who stirs public opinion in a 'disinterested' fashion, functions as a nationalist. He does not appeal to a doctrine or principle, nor does he propose specific reforms. He is the 'true' prophet of the American Way of Life. Usually he is against the New Deal and for laissez-faire liberalism; against plutocrats, internationalists, and socialists - bankers and communists alike are the 'hateful other party in spite of which well-informed "I" survive...'

The agitator is especially active in the most unorganized groups of the United States. He uses the anxiety psychoses of the lower middle class, the neo-proletarian, the immigrant, the demobilized soldier - people who are not yet integrated into American society or who have not yet adopted ready-made habits and ideas... He makes groups act in the illogical yet coherent, Manichaean universe of propaganda, of which we will have more to say. The most remarkable thing about this phenomenon is that these agitators do not work for a political party; it is not clear which interests they serve... but they deeply influence American public opinion, and their influence may crystallize suddenly in unexpected forms."

Now, I have no doubt this sort of 'agitation', if it is genuine, occurs across the political spectrum. But, doesn't this sound a lot like the current explosion of "tea parties" that are taking place in the U.S.? Groups of people are coming together for a common cause that is nonetheless vague: They want to get rid of Obama, or his policies, or "liberalism"; they want "freedom" or "less government" or any number of things. Many of them claim to be neither republicans nor democrats, but independents. And what they desire isn't necessarily bad, but seems to be primarily a reactionary movement held together by the sorts of elements described above by Ellul.

What do you think? Is Ellul's description valid here? Does it still apply today? Have we become, in our age of ubiquitous media pundits and disaffected voters, a nation of 'agitators'?

Friday, April 9, 2010

a quote regarding the philosophical method...

This is always important to remember if one is going to think clearly and carefully:

"When nonsense is spoken or written, or when something just seems fishy, we can sniff it out. The road out of confusion can be a long and difficult one, hence the need for constant attention to detail and particular examples rather than generalizations, which tend to be vague and therefore potentially misleading. The slower the route, the surer the safety at the end of it. That is why Wittgenstein said that in philosophy the winner is the one who finishes last."

Of course, balancing this wisdom against the necessary risk of truly living, especially living in faith - which requires that infamous 'leap', is the great challenge we all face!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A gentle reminder from my devotional for today...

I like this:

"At times God pours out blessings on us. Mostly though, God's blessings are like gentle rain - sometimes coming so quietly that I don't even recognize them. It's not until I see the results of those blessings that I acknowledge how God has provided for me all the little things I need day by day."

Monday, March 29, 2010

an age-old debate among Christians...

I posted this recently as a comment on my friend Phil's blog (see the link to the right), but I thought I'd post a revised version of it here, too, because I like what I had to say. And I'm humble. :-)

The following is an attempt to break down the disagreement between traditional Reformed theology and so-called Arminian theology. Here are my basic points:

1. Either God has given everyone common grace (i.e. God gives us all certain basic gifts/blessings) or God hasn't. It seems very difficult to argue, Scripturally or otherwise, that God hasn’t done this.

2. But if God has already given everyone common grace, then it is not entirely unreasonable to think that God may also choose to give everyone salvation grace. Of course, this would be universalism, which generally goes against Scripture and established Christian doctrine.

3. So, if all persons are given common grace, and not all are given salvation grace, on what basis is the distinction made? In Protestant Christianity there have been two traditionally developed responses: Reformed Christians believe God alone decides who gets what, and Arminian Christians believe we assist God with the decision in some way.

4. This basic division seems to be a false duality. I would suggest many Arminians actually come down on the side of Reformed theology, i.e. God alone decides. But this seems to beg the question, which the Arminians then ask: On what basis does God decide?

5. Reformed folks then say, more or less: there is no way to know, simply trust in God's sovereignty, justice, and love. Arminians say, fair enough, but certainly God doesn't just expect us to assume we're saved, right? Surely there must be some response involved? There needs to be some sort of fruit? (Here's where that pesky book of James shows up!)

6. Yes, say the Reformed folks, but it's a response that is brought about by the Holy Spirit, it's nothing that you would do otherwise on your own. The Arminians respond: But that would make any ability to distinguish truly Christian action from non-Christian action impossible, because someone could 'do' all the right things, and still not be saved.

7. Yes, say the Reformed folks, that's exactly right. There's no way to know, so simply trust God and the obedience will be the fruit of that. This creates a logical circle, wherein your fruit is a result of your salvation, but your salvation is evidenced by your fruit, and no person can be certain of the validity of either.

8. It's right here that we enter a paradoxical reality that falls apart logically. Essentially we've established a tautology, which is: "You are saved by God because God saves you." But even to state this tautology means that I have to agree with the statement, which throws the whole thing back up in the air, because the point is that I (a mere human) can never give assent to what God alone can claim. If we hold that God does it all, then even my agreement that God does it all becomes an impossible thing for me to affirm!

9. This is why faith is such an absurd mystery, but one that we have to cling to nevertheless; faith presupposes a subject that cannot logically be presupposed, if God truly always has priority, and yet we are asked to do that by faith.

All of this makes me sympathetic to the Arminian position, not because it is necessarily more theologically sound, but because it appears to push the ramifications of the paradox a bit further, and that opens up a lot of interesting space that it sometimes appears Reformed theologians are hesitant to pursue because of the 'danger' that they will fall into some sort of Pelagianism. My sense is that both sides can be valuable when held in tension with each other and used as a reminder of the paradoxical mystery of faith, rather than trying to establish a systematic articulation of faith.

Additionally, if God always retains the priority (ontologically, epistemologically, and soteriologically) then God will continue to have that priority in spite of our forays into strange theological territory. So, I guess what I'm saying is, I support the Reformed view, but the Arminian questions tend to be a lot more interesting!

Friday, March 26, 2010

the dilemma of freedom...

Sometimes I wonder whether human beings are really free or not. But, then, sometimes, I think that if we are free, freedom isn't that great of a thing. I mean, everyone loves freedom, right? Until we're faced with a difficult choice, and then most of us - at least in our heads - wish that someone else was around to make the choice for us. That way, if things don't work out, we have someone else to blame. :-) Besides, making difficult choices is a stressful business.

Some people seem to thrive in that environment, but I have a suspicion they aren't always as thrilled as they appear to be. I mean, look at pictures of any president, before and after. They always look much more tired while they're president, and then, a few years later, they always seem more mellow. I know, that's not an objective assessment, but I think anyone, even the most ambitious person, wishes at times they didn't have to make decisions.

Anyway, my point with all this: Jesus said essentially, "If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8:36) And Paul echoes, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free." (Galatians 5:1) So apparently Jesus has set us free, so that we might have freedom. This is merely a tautology, unless we understand what freedom actually IS.

So what is freedom? Certainly the typical response will be that we have been freed from sin and death, freed from God's righteous judgment. And that must be true in some sense if Christianity is true. But I think freedom has an even broader meaning. We are free from the need to worry about making choices. Jesus tells us not to worry, and as difficult as that is for me, I think he may have actually meant it!

This doesn't mean we shouldn't attempt to make responsible decisions. We have to be accountable for our actions. But the freedom given to us in Christ is a freedom that essentially says, paraphrasing Luther's famous quote: Love God, and live as you see fit! This, I am starting to learn, means that we need not fear the dilemma of freedom. If we fail, God still loves us. If we succeed, we should give God all the glory anyway. We may not have a clue about what to do sometimes, but if we trust God, use whatever wisdom God has given us (and others - don't be afraid to ask for help!), and consider the cost... then we just need to DO something! Act!

This is a challenge sometimes for overly analytic types like myself. But thankfully, I can take comfort in the realization that Christ has set me free - free to live, free to fail, free to love, free to hope - and that freedom is not a "freedom of choice," it is a freedom beyond choice. It's the freedom that comes with knowing that no matter what choice you make, you have a solid foundation to which you can always return. So the dilemma doesn't have to be. I am trying to learn how to live this way. Actually, I think I'm being forced to... I guess I have no choice. ;-)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Bonhoeffer on church growth...

"It must be considered a backward step when the house-churches [I wonder: and independent community churches?] increase in number at the expense of the local parish churches. This indicates a lack of creativity by the church-community, and a flight from the gravity of the historical situation. The growth of both forms ought to go hand in hand. Attempts at church renewal, such as the Pietist community movement, ought to increase rather than sap the lifeblood from the institutional church."

In one fell swoop, Bonhoeffer appears to have put his finger on, and critiqued, the essence of both the 'emergent' and the 'mega-church' models, and well beyond. But how to deal with this apparent "lack of creativity," as Bonhoeffer calls it? Any ideas/responses?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Bonhoeffer on Christian community and love...

from Sanctorum Communio:

"Christians can and ought to act like Christ; they ought to bear the burdens and sufferings of the neighbor... It must come to the point that the weaknesses, needs, and sins of my neighbor afflict me as if they were my own, in the same way Christ was afflicted by our sins... Christ died for the church-community so that it may live one life, with each other and for each other.

Love demands that we give up our own advantage. This may even include our community with God itself. Here we see the love that voluntarily seeks to submit itself to God's wrath on behalf of the other members of the community, which wishes God's wrath for itself in order that they may have community with God, which takes their place, as Christ took our place."

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Latour on religious speaking as "love-talk"...

Provocative thoughts from an essay by the self-proclaimed "not particularly pious" French philosopher/sociologist Bruno Latour:

"Transport of information without deformation is not, no it is not, one of religious talk's conditions of felicity. When the Virgin hears the angel Gabriel's salutation, she is so utterly transformed, says the venerable story, that she becomes pregnant with the Savior, rendered through her agency present again to the world... On the other hand, asking Who was Mary?, checking whether or not she was 'really' a virgin, imagining some pathway to impregnate her with spermatic rays, deciding whether Gabriel is male or female, these are 'double-click questions.' They want you to abandon the present time and to direct your attention away from the meaning of the venerable story.

These questions are not impious, nor even irrational, they are simply a category mistake. They are so irrelevant that no one has even to bother answering them. Not because they lead to unfathomable mysteries, but because their idiocy makes them generate uninteresting and utterly useless mysteries. They should be broken, interrupted, voided, ridiculed — and I will show later how this interruption has been systematically attempted in one of the Western Christian iconographic traditions.

The only way to understand stories such as that of the Annunciation is to repeat them, that is to utter again a Word which produces into the listener the same effect, which impregnates you, because it is you I am saluting, I am hailing tonight, with the same gift, the same present of renewed presence. Tonight, I am your Gabriel! Or else you don't understand a word of what I am saying — and I am a fraud.

Not an easy task — I will fail, I know, I am bound to fail, I speak against all odds — but my point is different because it is a little more analytical: I want you to realize through which sort of category mistake 'belief in belief' is being generated. Either I repeat the first story because I retell it in the same efficient mode in which it was first told, or I hook up a stupid referential question to a messenger-transfer one, and I do more than a crass stupidity: I make the venerable story lie because I have distorted it beyond recognition.

Paradoxically, by formatting questions in the procrustean bed of information transfer so as to get at 'exactly' what it meant, I would have deformed it, transmogrified it into an absurd belief, the sort of belief that weighs religion down and lets it slide toward the refuse heap of past obscurantism. The truth-value of those stories depends on us tonight, exactly as the whole history of two lovers depends on their ability to re-enact the injunction to love again in the minute they are reaching for one another in the darker moment of their estrangement: if they fail (present tense), it was in vain (past tense), that they have lived so long together."

Monday, March 15, 2010

Theology matters!

Ok, so what would you expect a budding theologian to say? ;-) But, I think it's important to point out a few basic theological principles, which can be found in any introductory theology text, or heard in any theology 101 course -- and that's not the same as a religion 101 course, by the way.

The reason I feel the need to state these principles again is primarily due to some of the feedback I've received (not comments on this blog) regarding my recent skewering of Glenn Beck's comments (admonishing people to leave churches that speak using the language of "social justice"). Admittedly, my comments have been a bit provocative, but I think Beck himself would probably be OK with that. After all, he's built a media empire on making provocative statements! :-)

Anyway, some of the feedback from supporters of Beck takes the following form: Essentially, I am taking Beck's statements out of context, over-exaggerating his claims, and haven't understood the theological basis for his views. To this sort of claim, I can only respond: No. Beck is wrong to make the above statements. And here's why.

1. Theology is not a democratic process. As Christians, we don't simply get to interpret God's revelation in the way that we happen to prefer. I realize sometimes that happens, but it's not what Christ ever intended. Christianity is not utilitarian. Scripture isn't meant to be interpreted according to whatever political/religious/sociological/psychological paradigm seems to be working best for us right now. We have to compare our views with the response to revelation offered by the Church, which ideally is a proper reflection of Christ himself.

2. Does this mean that Church leaders, or ivory-tower theologians, get to tell Christians everywhere what to believe? Of course not. It simply means that, in every instance, what Christianity means - and how we live as Christians - must be held up in the light of Scripture itself, and then interpreted through the Church (with a capital C). There are various approaches taken in order to accomplish this goal, and often there is disagreement, but everyone who takes Christianity seriously has some set of guidelines by which they determine their faith - and "whatever seems right to me" is NOT one of those guidelines.

3. Unfortunately, too often, many of us, even without realizing it, opt for autonomy in matters of theological discussion. We have good reasons for this - we've heard about the terrible crimes done in the name of Christianity, we are suspicious of corrupt preachers, there are so many competing views it makes it hard to decide, etc. But, none of this makes it appropriate to adopt my own agenda when it comes to Christian theology. My own agenda may have some value, but it also must be submitted to Scripture, and to the Church, if I am going to remain a committed member of a Christian community. I don't get to do whatever I want.

4. So, what do we do in the midst of all the confusion regarding what Christians believe and how Christians should live? We must - all of us, not just theologians - seek out good theology! Theology matters - and good theology all the more!

5. How do we do this? We begin by examining the paradigm through which we are currently viewing our faith, and see whether it needs adjustment. This is a constant process, and there are several things that have typically been emphasized by Christians throughout the centuries as ways to provide adjustment:

Scripture: What does the Bible actually say about X? Not just a few cherry-picked verses, but the Bible as a whole... what does it really say? This is a more complex process than any of us would like it to be, and it required serious study, which is something - I hate to say - many of us have neglected as Christians.

Tradition: Where there is a lack of clarity regarding Scripture, we can ask, what have other Christians throughout history said about X? Is there a consensus or have views changed? If so, why? It's not like there aren't a plethora of sources here - read the early Church fathers and mothers. Read Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas. Eastern Church leaders like Nicholas of Cusa and Maximus the Confessor. Thomas a Kempis, Luther, Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley. If you want more modern works, there's Schleiermacher, Barth, Moltmann, Bonhoeffer, Brunner, Pannenberg, Rahner, and John Paul II. And that's just scratching the surface. Find out what all these respected people had to say. Or just get an overview of their thoughts.

Reason: Are there good reasons for, or against, X? Have those reasons been taken into account? This can become complicated, as reasons given often beget more questions. But it is vital that we approach issues with as much objectivity as possible when we are debating an issue. Otherwise, it becomes a matter of opinion, and you know what they say about opinions. :-P

Experience: It would be wrong to say that experience doesn't matter in theology. In fact, it matters a great deal. But experience must always be examined in the light of the other guidelines mentioned above. The experience of a certain church may be a genuine move of the Spirit of God. Or it may be a mistake, created by a false spirit or simple human "mob mentality." But, in our desire to develop autonomous theology, too many of us give priority to experience, and this creates all sorts of bad theology, because - as I already stated - my opinion or agenda does not equal Christianity. And just because I can get a group of several hundred people to agree with me for a few years, doesn't mean I have found truth.


What does all this have to do with Beck? Simply this. I believe Beck is wrong for the following reasons:

First, he misuses Scripture. He provides no solid Scriptural backing for his statements. This alone should make Christians suspicious of his statements. Second, he is not even considered a part of the Christian Church as traditionally defined. Since Beck is a Mormon, his statements can have no authority for Christian theology. So even if he did quote Scripture in its proper context, his statements should not be taken seriously. Third, given that Beck has no authority, Scripturally or otherwise, it is reasonable to assume that he may not know what he's talking about when it comes to Christianity. In fact, this is the case: he repeats the common false assertion that Christianity is about "you." He is simply falling into the trap of autonomous theology.

So when Beck tells Christians to leave their churches, he is really stepping into a discussion wherein he has no business. If churches are abusing the concept of social justice - a concept that has a rich history throughout Christianity - that is something churches need to discuss. Beck is certainly welcome to his opinion, but his opinion should carry no weight within the Christian community. It is an "in-house" discussion, so to speak. And while getting input from outside voices may be helpful by providing a perspective we hadn't considered, when those outside voices tell you to leave home, they are simply wrong, and to listen to them is bad theology.

Thus ends my diatribe. If you've made it this far, I appreciate your attention.